graduates

Dear Seniors,

You didn’t have any way of knowing it, but you were my playlist at a huge time in my life. Before our time together, I lived in a sinking city. I jumped around in grade levels and in content, working lots of side gigs trying to figure out what was the best fit for me in this whole “adulthood” thing.

In our class, we departed from fanciful standards-based instruction and data-driven assessment and we explored deeper life. You became academics at the peak of the awful beauty of adolescence. 
I depended on you. I needed your humor, your triumphs, and your struggles. I hope I brought something different to the table. I tried. Each day we were together, I felt alive. Inspired. It’s not something that happens often as the decades pass.
I knew you were a special class, but I confess I underestimated your impact. Something was missing when you went to the next grade. Our merry little band of dreamers broke up, and life wasn’t the same. 
You taught me more than I taught you. 
Working with your creativity and your brilliance made regular public education an unreliable narrator. Grades were rendered irrelevant, in the larger scheme.

For our time together, one was either “there” or not. There wasn’t anything else.
I don’t teach in a classroom anymore. I know that you were irreplaceable. So, now that you are graduating, this is the birth of Possibility. Once you cross that stage, you have officially traversed the first void. You are now free to fill your worlds as you see fit. Make sure you try everything. Never tell yourself that what people planned for you is enough. 
Thank you for the gift of walking a little way with me.
Dream a little dream for me, Class of 2017.

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Routine comfort

I become aware of how utterly relaxed I am  as the alarm jars me from a dream in which an other-career acid folk guitar strummer leans into a microphone at an amphitheater venue and has a nice sunshiny connection with the crowd. His is a micro-set, and even though he has played for years, he’s not really sure if he is good enough. There is a sunset, a breeze, and his chord progressions are springlike. 

The alarm sounds. I am face-down, a lower-case “h” and my body temperature is just right. I touch the Snooze button on the face of my phone, and while the nine-minute counter ticks away, I drift back into the most remote level of dream state. This time, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King of Carrot Flowers” is playing, and I’m really still half-awake, trying to remember exactly when I ate and how much wine I had last night in order to hopefully simulate the same sleep experience again tonight–every night–if possible.

Nine minutes are up and now the layers of sleep are drifting away. Still in awe of how at peace I am, I slowly pull my legs up until I’m in a curled position. I breathe in slowly through my nose and hold the air in as I swing my left leg first out from the bed. Once I stand, I close my eyes for just a second to stretch briefly. Left hand cupped over right, I noiselessly close the bedroom door behind me. With luck, I’ll sleep like that again tonight.

Saturday morning

I’ve become barrel-shaped, which is an odd look for someone of my build. Blood pressure is too high. Sodium is lower, mostly thanks to a giant drop-off from my (at least) four beers a night routine from the last, oh, twelve years. Wine last night with and after dinner, but inexplicably I was dead-tired and was asleep before 10. I’m sure being worn out from the adults with whom I work is a factor, but still–before 10 on a Friday night is sad. 

1.5 miles on an elliptical followed by 1.5 on a treadmill to start the day. The big difference was that I put on my shoes and got started instead of thinking about it. Time to do the same thing elsewhere. 

Not going to be a fitness junky. Just want to get some things done. 

At Lower Heights

In another life I was a mountaintop teller of tall tales. I sat on the wraparound porch of a small cabin and looked through the trees to see a stream sparkle at sunset and sipped from a mug. Only those that wanted to listen sat on the porch, and we all took turns talking. At night we closed our eyes for peaceful rest, oblivious to the demands of the coming day.

Air is cleaner a thousand feet high. There are no calendars to sync, no phone calls to return, and no follow-ups to meeting objectives. Trees do not care about deadlines. My blood pressure lowers from better breathing and thirty floors of elevation change. I feel less stress just by walking. It is a simple trick, but unexercised.

The surreality of a town like Eureka Springs is not far-fetched. I have seen it in other forms: Thomas, West Virginia. Snowshoe Mountain. Coeur d’Alene. What makes all of those places unique to our daily travels: people seem to be doing what matters to them. This is not to suggest that we do not do that at lower heights, but if we do, we do so inconsistently. In such cases, nature bests nurture.

I am twenty feet in the air as I write this. Earlier this morning I stared at the back porch for a minute or two as I stood at the kitchen sink, but the sun was moving and the coming shade would have decreased productivity. Even now, I am wandering in and out of characters and settings. I am not there yet, but I will be. It can take a long time to awaken habits.

Last weekend was an important small victory in reminding us how easily we can reframe. I never could work for the weekend; it always seemed like a pop-up book of surprises that somehow stole all of that free time, and the promised land of rest and focus never materialized.

We will be in the mountains again soon.

grotto-lights

 

The Only Way

Too many explosions in my brain right now to get all of it down, but here is the punchline: we have to play to our strengths. I’m borrowing from Gary Vaynerchuk heavily right now, as his content currently rings most true across industries for me, but roughly a month ago I realized that I have not embraced true disruptions enough in recent years. Not just social, but creative, spiritual, physical, and mental disruptions. A few more. There is no thirty-year career and pension for me. There is no great fade. I’m not built that way.

The is only One Way, and it is this: we have to do what we should be doing. Most of us know what that is, or we are pretty sure we know. If we don’t know, we should be looking. Maybe we can make money from it. Maybe there is no money in it at all. We should do it anyway. For me, this has never been more relevant. 

Over the coming weeks, there will be a burst of energy streaming forth. Some of you may be put off by it. I apologize in advance. I’m really interested in bringing a few of you into my little world. Maybe some of you will give it a try (I hope you do). If not, that’s okay. 

Look for the signal.

Disruption: Mental, work

One action leads to another action, so physical disruption paves the way for mental disruption. Anyone who starts to really see what is supposed to happen (or how he or she is supposed to make something happen) knows: Disruption is clearly necessary.

On the drive to work this morning I worked myself into a minor fury, a small fit of indignation at what I considered to be menial tasks–little things that were only going to get in the way of my giant ideas. Luckily not long after I reached the peak of my rant, I came back down the other side of the mountain. I completed the stuff I didn’t want to do, morning job stuff, and at lunchtime I traveled east about twenty miles and had my mind blown.

My PD session was simple enough–more of an information session or an update, really– but the introductory presenter casually mentioned that Oculus Rift had been introduced into some Arkansan schools, and time sort of froze for a minute. I looked around the small room in which twenty of us were seated, and nobody else seemed to respond to that. The presenter continued, discussing early-release virtual learning software. At that point, I took the pen from behind my ear and closed my laptop to really give my attention to what exactly was going on. It occurred to me, in a very clear fashion, what was being communicated: there is a substantial amount of resources down here. Ridiculous. And some people know this, and some people don’t. I started trying to frame this new understanding, and something deep in my brain came to life regarding my current industry. I’m not going to lament numbers. I don’t care about free and reduced lunch. I don’t care about attendance. I don’t care about test scores. I have ammunition. For the first time in more than ten years, I have actual ammunition on this side of the fence. Lesson plans are gone for me, unit plans are gone for me, and curriculum mapping is just a resource for the teachers I am trying to help. Learning itself is now the big picture, and I get to facilitate it.

Literacy is not just for English teachers. Literacy is a specific term, but literacy is part of the fundamental understanding we have about a subject. Financial literacy. Political literacy (looking at you, angry Facebook posters). Psychological literacy. Investment literacy. Communicative. Intrapersonal. Digital. You get it. Literacy is everywhere, and we don’t know what to call it. In high school, literacy is often limited to reading and performance: decoding and comprehension and test scores, but it is oh so much more.

Grad school was my best disruption. “What do you want to learn?” is a simple question, but it was posed to me sincerely, and now it is my driving question. In my new office, it will be an interrogative sign and a mission statement, displayed right next to a weekly calendar showing my whereabouts. (Now that I am not in the classroom spending all of my time managing behavior and scheming how to reinvent the wheel, people think I’m employed in creative. I am okay with this.) I am not built to rinse-repeat. I really never have been.

Here is the beginning of the grand work reframing. Here is the mental disruption for which I wasn’t looking, but what found me instead: I want to help people read and write more effectively, and I want to do the same thing for myself. Learning doesn’t end. So, so simple. It’s a throwback to the beginning of why I even considered being a “teacher,” which I never truly was. I am a dreamer first, followed closely by being a communicator. The other roles just link up to those primaries at intervals, and they are always fluctuating. A pension is nonsense. Retirement from doing the same thing for three decades is nonsense. People are innovating every day, and whether or not we seek it out and embrace it is completely up to us.

Disruption: Mental, work edition activated.