Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Vexing texting

Just before sharing a book talk about Jeff Zentner's Goodbye Days, I polled three classes of eighth graders whom I teach.

"How many of you have sent a text message recently?" I asked. At least three-quarters of their ~80 hands went up.

"How many of you have seen someone else send a text recently?" Most hands raised.

"How many of you have texted or seen someone send a text while in a car?" Similar show as prior question.

"How many of you have seen the driver send or receive texts?" More than half of hands up.

Seems like, drivers, we could improve the example that we're setting for young people -- at least until the autonomous vehicles pull up to the curbs of the future.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Pedestrian lesson

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." --Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

As an English teacher, I regularly deal in metaphor, which perhaps explains why taking something too literally on Monday morning felt both delightful and more-than-a-little transgressive.

I was shuffling the short distance from the bus stop to school in the chill December dawn when I noted a thin layer of overnight snow coated the sidewalk. It was early enough that I was just the second person to traverse the white canvas. The heavy tread of someone else's bootprint made this case plainly.

An unexpected compulsion throbbed through me: I needed to walk in those same steps. I wasn't being followed, nor trying to conceal how many of me there were; I just had to do this. So, I adjusted my stride to let my foot land on top of the next print. Each step following suit, a smidgen shorter than my natural gait, I made my awkward way along the walk. Turns out occupying someone else's shoes -- just the outline of them, really -- is hard, uncomfortable work.



Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Road-trip notes

A drive to Crested Butte, Colorado around Thanksgiving illustrated the familiar adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In the change column, a roadside barbecue joint -- landmark in its own right -- had ceased operation since our last time through. The Hog Heaven sign now read, disappointingly, "Salon."

In the unchanged column, the top of Monarch Pass remains treacherous. I remember on a previous trip the fast flashing headlights of an oncoming car going down the pass while we headed up. We slowed in response, rounding a sharp corner to see a car flipped over, the victim seemingly of excess speed meeting black ice. The car's passengers had extricated themselves and appeared okay as they shakily waved other traffic past the flares hissing in the highway. Fast forward to this Sunday at the identical spot, another car now flashing its déjà-vu brights. (In fairness to the Fates, we were now driving east rather than west.) Turns out that same shaded curve had claimed another casualty, this time the car, tires still touching pavement, had spun around a different axis and into a snow bank.

So the journey is marked in memories, increments, and sometimes constants.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Wise Man's Ear

I'm not a big reader of fantasies, but when I do commit to that genre, I go big. That's how I find myself over 900 pages into the second book in Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicle, The Wise Man's Fear.

I read the similarly-sized opener, The Name of the Wind, a couple of years back, taking a series break thereafter. On occasion, I would check the local library's holdings for book #2, yet it always proved to be borrowed. I resisted placing a hold as I prefer to let serendipitous discovery govern most of my reading life. I waited patiently, not unlike the series' main character, an innkeeper with more backstories than I can count.

June found me in a second-hand bookstore where the book and I intersected. I made my purchase even as I knew I wasn't ready to start it at that moment. (Readers always makes plans!) It sat on my shelf for two months of prime summer-reading time.

In August, a chance encounter on a street corner with a long-lost grade school classmate unexpectedly led to chatting about the series. "The second book is better than the first," my friend wrote. "The series is a deep contemplation on the nature of stories and storytelling." Not a hook I could resist for long...

I'm happy to report: The novel is delivering on his promise. It also turns out to be a deep contemplation on teaching and learning, which brings me to another crossroads, where the book, a follow-up conversation with my friend, and my professional life intersect. If we are the stories we tell and coining new stories has inherent power to change us, I would do well to listen better to what my students narrate -- both to the world and themselves. "Only that which bends can teach," says Vashet, one of many literal teachers in The Wise Man's Fear, reminding me to bend my ears when school resumes next week.

Friday, November 16, 2018

#MyRelaxing5

Who doesn't appreciate a blogging challenge that's a well-timed kick in the writing pants? Well, Mari Venturino, #sunchatbloggers instigator in residence, launched a digital gauntlet for five self-care techniques, and I'm ready to answer her call with #MyRelaxing5:
  1. Run somewhere. Trails clear of wintry residues prove excellent for clearing my mind.
  2. Cook something. When school tumult has spiraled well beyond my control, I retreat to the kitchen where more-or-less precise applications of ingredients, utensils, and temperatures can generate reassuringly predictable results.
  3. Travel somewhere. Escaping my usual frame of reference offers welcome perspective -- on what I'm taking for granted, but shouldn't, as well as anything that might be bugging me, but needn't.
  4. Read something. Losing myself in others' stories has been a fine and long-time way for me to unwind.
  5. Ski somewhere. 'Tis just about the season in these parts, for an activity that helps me connect with friends and focus for a few hours on dancing down the slanted expanse of white in front of me.
There you have my five leading self-care habits. Your results may vary.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

World's youngest youngster?

My wife and I took a walk Sunday. It was snowing, and we needed a new disposal to replace an old, leaky unit, so we turned the chore into an excursion, rewarding ourselves en route with lunch out.

Leaving the restaurant, we bundled up against the elements -- knit hats on, puffy hoods up, jackets zipped. We pushed through the door, into the squall, which brought us face to face with a little girl solidly in her single digits, accompanied by (I'm guessing) her dad.

"Hey," she shouted, though we stood close to each other. "Hey," she repeated, now pointing at us. "It's not winter yet, you know."

Um, we knew, and we still like your pluck in the face of Mother Nature's might.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

World's oldest youngster?

I glanced from my book to see a kid board the bus. He looked in age fairly new to the realm of double digits. He wore a red and heather hoodie and high socks to just below his knees; had a slim, black Under Armour pack slung over both shoulders; carried a zippered binder by its handle in his left hand.

Outside, it was raining steadily, lightly.

"You like this kind of weather?" the bus driver asked the boy.

Conditioned by my experiences working with middle-schoolers, I braced for the boy's mumbled one-word answer. What he said instead was, "I do, yes, but sitting out in it isn't all that pleasant. I like the dreariness of it."