2018 –> 2019

The Year in Review

January:
The year began in Cuzco as we prepared to take on the Inca Trail. It was auspicious, yellow, and beautiful. Peru is a very special place and the Inca trail was amazing every step (and stone) of the way.

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February:
Life at the AltSchool went sideways. I would learn much later from those who would stay on that I had been somehow accused of trying to destroy Altschool – which is hilarious given that I thought the problem arose from an off-handed comment I made about my manager’s cheap shoes. Anyhow, I was working with a crazy person who could not tell the truth about anything and it was decided that I would part ways with “The Company”. And my leg was killing me.

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March:
After a niggling and consistently annoying pain in my hip that had revealed itself over MLK Weekend in Tahoe started to impede my ability to walk (forget about yoga) I started to try to figure out what was going on. MRI’s, Arthrograms, Physical Therapy: no improvement. I felt fortunate to be in Hong Kong and held by a lot of very special people as I contemplated big changes coming my way.

April:
Hip worse. Job crazy. Job search unpredictable. So I made time to be with old friends and spend some time Petaluma. And at least the Warriors were in the playoffs again – though second seed… that was weird.

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May:
New job acquired… interestingly with the help of the parents at “The Company”. In hindsight I really hope that my manager read my exit interview, she bet on the wrong horse. At this point Altschool was hemorrhaging employees faster than people could count. And summer was on the horizon, although my hip still really hurt.

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June:
Got the flock out of Alt and tried to ready myself for summer. Warriors (unsurprisingly) won a 3rd title. Cousins and Anti come and we went to Pride… But things really went squiffy on the 22nd when I found out I would be getting a total hip replacement on July 3.

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July:
New hip and deep appreciation for health insurance. Two pounds of metal, 22 staples, six inch incision. That is about it really. Moved to Petaluma for the recovery, and the cats enjoyed a stay at their summer home. I missed a wedding I really wanted to attend, and got to spend a lot of time walking around the old neighborhood. With a walker. The photo below is actually my new hip.

August:
New job commenced. Politics got even fucking worse than one could have ever imagined. New hip seemed to be integrating well enough to work. Fires began. Got a student teacher – yet another example of how this year so often presented itself as an opportunity but it was actually just an unbelievable amount of (not so rewarding) work.

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September:
Lots of numbers: Another birthday… 48! 30 year high school reunion! The A’s win 97 games and clinch a wild card berth! 15% pay raise… and a handful of new private clients. Making it rain, teacher style.

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October:
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in the Park. Nahko in the yoga studio. Political nightmares like Kavanaugh pushed through to reality. Head down and working. Back to yoga.

November:
Beastie Boys and Blue Waves. Then more fire. The worst yet in north and south. Smoke so bad school was closed. Escaped to Seattle for fresh air, Chihuly, Kidd Vally and great friends. Thanksgiving and lots of learning. Oh, and I lost all the photos from my phone due to a combination of my aversion to the cloud, non-genius Genius Bar kids, and a firmware problem on the iPhone 7 (which explains the inconsistent photographic support of this post.)

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December:
A mix of many things. Said goodbye to the first semester, and the student teacher. Hunkered down and did a lot of work. Went to Pacific Grove to see the Dudes. And then, for the first time in quite some time, I took some time. For myself. A staycation was had.

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And now the end of 2018 is nigh. It was supposed to be a dog of a year for us Dogs… more on that on the turn of the lunar new year.

Here is hoping for a 2019 of positive change, honest living, and a few laughs in between.

Oh, and iCloud storage for all your photos forever. ūüėė

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I teach, therefore I am employed in education. Again.

You almost had a job in tech…

Just over a year ago, I took a pretty big chance and walked away from the stability and reliability that a permanent teaching position offers. The pay was/is crap, but the benefits and calendar are reliable, although the day-to-day is always unpredictable (most of us who go into teaching and stay there are a bit addicted to that if you ask me.) Like a growing number of people in San Francisco and the surrounding area, I was getting tired of being poor (relatively) and with two decades of professional experience I realistically thought I was armed with a skill set that would make me valuable in a host of different jobs/careers/opportunities (what are people calling them now?) I looked (accurately, I thought) at the emerging professional pathways (that sounds like something people around here would call them) and considered how my skills matched up:

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Cultural literacy
  • Leadership experience
  • Creative thinker
  • Organized
  • Detail oriented and goal oriented
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Commitment to excellence
  • Well read
  • Trivia master
  • Some other skills that are hard to explain if you are not down with Bloom’s Taxonomy, but let’s just say I reside at steps 5 and 6¬†
  • I can recall a movie reference for nearly every life experience that arises
  • Ridiculous memory for sports data (and for most things in general)
  • What-the-fuck-I-have-worked-with-kids-and-their-families-and-public-sector-bureacracy-for-decades-don’t-try-to-tell-me-what-it-means-to-have-a-growth-mindset-and-an-ability-to-pivot-and-assume-positive-intent-the-fact-that-I-am-still-standing-and-working-underscores-those-abilities-to-a-degree-you-cannot-possibly-understand

Seriously, when I read job descriptions I was interested in, I feel like I would be a quality candidate for the majority of them.¬†Apparently this does not always translate. And, it turns out, people don’t really like other people to change – they really like to keep everyone in the compartment that makes sense to them.

“But you’re a teacher…”
“You don’t really have the specific experience we are looking for…”
“Don’t you teach?”
“I’m curious why someone at your point in their career is looking to pivot…”
“This is not really the same as teaching, I mean I know it has the same name, instructional designer, designing instruction, but it is not really designing instruction per say…”
“Is there a reason you do not want to teach anymore?”

The fact is, as my neighbor succinctly expressed, I was looking for a job in tech – but I was not being honest about why. So, why was I? Well, philosophically I am pretty convinced that the problems we are seeing across the “tech industry” have a lot to do with the diminishing role of humanities education, or at least the innate interest and ability to think abstractly. This is not surprising to ¬†people who enjoy thinking, and the general consensus is that¬†“while software developers are skilled engineering solutions, their focus is not asking what problems need to be solved, or asking what the consequences are of solving a problem in a particular way,”¬†and this is having logical consequences that suck [too many examples to note, but Uber, Facebook, Cambridge Analytics, and the general disgustingness of the scene make the point effectively.]

I also firmly believe that we are in a position to do amazing things by merging our technological capabilities with our humanity. In education, agriculture, economic growth and sustainability, the potential is really amazing. Not withstanding,¬†people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today‚Äôs biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context‚ÄĒsomething humanities graduates happen to be well-trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history, and philosophy nerds.¬†I felt hopeful about all of this. And empowered (as somewhat of a film, history, and philosophy nerd.)

Also, I liked the idea of what outsiders hear about working in tech: lots of money, unlimited vacation if you get your work done, lots of money, free gym membership, free gourmet meals, beer bashes, perks, lots of money… Just think for a moment how those kinds of benefits look to a teacher who works 70-hour weeks during the school year, pays for everything they need in their personal and professional lives, and is generally too tired to bother making a single meal all day long. I got emotional considering it. It all seemed so lively, dynamic, and inspiring to be working with people who were super into the work they were doing and brought their best everyday.

Uh, yeah. It is awful…

At a dinner party recently when the Warriors decided to turn it around and actually win the Houston series, I was telling two of my friends (who work in tech) as we stood in their stunningly remodeled home, “God, you know, it was really bad – the whole start-up vibe, it was just… bad. I had no idea.” They both looked at me, only surprised by my surprise. I was unsure who would respond – one definitely does not work at a start up but the other has been bouncing around more than he would like amidst the culture. He spoke, “Uh, yeah. It is awful.” My confusion prompted a more elaborate explanation. “Yeah, they don’t care. About anything. They don’t have to. He didn’t even get paid by his last company – it was ridiculous.” I still don’t understand how this fly-by-night charlatan-esque behavior is okay, but I hold on to my na√Įvet√© where I can.

This truth was something I guess I had to arrive at in my own damn time, but it is the truth, no matter how you look at it. The ethos (and ethics) of the start-up culture are a concentrated milieu of the extremes of our American entrepreneurial spirit: ingenuous, aspirational, fantastic Рfor sure. But cutthroat, greed centered, myopic, and socially Darwinist to Lord of the Flies levels.

It was certainly a departure from public education.

At what cost greatness?

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For me, the cost of my decision was relatively lightweight: the unpredicted outcome that can come with taking a risk, a temporary float in the River of Failure (which is better than some of the other destinations imagined above… but the ego says: ouch.) I left a sure thing that I was unsure I could sustain for the promise of shiny new things. But I did not pay attention to how close the Gate of Ideals is to the Tower of Weak Morals and the sewage pipe of Fakery. One only hopes I climbed out of the River of Failure headed to True Knowledge and not the Hotel Know It All, the Right System Railway station, or other parts unknown in Oblivion or The System.

This past year I saw first hand what it looks like when good intentions are superseded by gross profits and – more importantly – I realized that what I do for a living is not something anyone can just do (contrary to popular belief!) Professional licensure (in any field I would suggest) is important and does make a difference… I would no sooner want a child to work with an unlicensed teacher as I would want to visit an unlicensed doctor or lawyer. I also saw what it looks like when promises made are not kept and the subsequent impact on morale among those to whom the promises were made. I saw how the resilience of these innovators had less to do with resilience and much more to do with insulation from consequence. I saw that fancy semantics (oh-the-grammar-is-so-bad-when-y’all-are-trying-to-be-clever-by-renaming-the-wheel) and slick slide decks do not lead to quality professional products – those outcomes are achieved by professional quality people.

I work in education.

Someone once said that the way we answer the question, “What do you do?” says more about us than most inquiries. An obviously open-ended question, I think most of us would assume (in the US version of Western Culture anyhow) that it is trying to get at how you make money.

“What do you do?”
“I enjoy – ”
“No, but what do you¬†do?”
“Oh, for work…”
“Yes, obviously, what do you do?”

What do you do means, simultaneously, how do you make money, how much money do you make, and how respectable are you. That is one loaded question.

The answers, when you are done being cheeky, generally have a limited range.

“I…”
“I am a…”
“I work in…”

Try those out with a variety of jobs. See how the semantics change and the meaning is altered.

“I teach.” Okay, that works. But “I tech?” “I doctor?” “I engineer?”

“I am a teacher.” More latitude here (although the implications of identity through profession underscore much of the weirdness I am trying to get at here), “I am a doctor,” “I am an engineer,” I am tech?” Scary.

I like, “I work in education,” because I do a whole lot more than just teach (which is a whole lot more than most people do in a lifetime but that is a polemic for another place) and it eliminates the very annoying and widely accepted idea in my field that what I do to earn income is me in my entirety. It is worth noting that most of the jobs in which people who perform them are typically described as being them are the jobs that elicit¬†the most extreme positive and negative reactions – police, firefighters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians).

I wanted a chance to attach myself to a professional descriptor that suggested power, savvy, ingenuity, wealth, and social currency. I thought working in the start-up culture would bring that, and in some ways it may have. But it also brought with it a sense of being disposable, disingenuous, and necessarily superficial – don’t get attached to ideas they say, always be ready to let go and move on to the next thing. I lost the good parts that come with being a teacher: being respected by people (even if it is only out of habit and not actual), and having a job that did not take two paragraphs to explain. For the record, an EdTech company and an Education + Technology are the same thing no matter how much you want the extra letters to carry extra weight and in both – as in society – the teachers (even if you insist on calling them educators), remain second class personnel: under paid, under appreciated, and under valued. In spite of the fact that in many ways teachers are the most prepared for the dynamic, think on your feet, constantly pivot, nature of the start-up world, their skills are still mistaken as useless, archaic – even quaint – by the private sector.

I was promised too much when I took the chance to jump into what I thought was the tech world. I see that now, and I should have been aware of this. Had I talked to my peers immersed in the start-up industry they would have alerted me to this. I also, as I am prone to do when I have my sights set on something, did not acknowledge the myriad red flags: the immediate reversal of promises; the professional practices I knew were questionable after two decades of experience; a place that normalized inappropriate behavior; the allowances given for having a “fail forward” attitude that really just allows bad practice to perpetuate and grow.¬†I still fully believe in the benefits of technology, and beyond that, the potential for merging it with education. Beyond believing in it, I am committed to it in a variety of ways. But one thing I can say with confidence now is that the successful merger of the two will need to be led by true visionary educators who have willing technologists in tow. It will not be the other way around.

I work in education.

And you need me along with my professional peers, to affect¬†positive change in our field… and probably yours.

The Change Chronicles: Part 5

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It is important to acknowledge that change is the constant state of things. But, beyond that there is no real dictate that you have to love it or be comfortable with it. I mean, I suppose doing so is better than the alternatives but, sometimes it is just a lot of work. However – newsflash- if you are seemingly existing in a real state of flux it just becomes the norm and somehow the lift is not as noticeable. It’ like that fish – “How’s the water?” “What’s water?”

Oh the feeling
When you’re reeling
You step lightly thinking you’re number one
Down to zero with a word
Leaving
For another one

Yeah, okay, so I know it is going to work out, I have no idea what that is going to look like, but I am getting that my being okay with the not knowing is really freaking some people out. Like, for real there are some folks out there that seem to think my state of mind about this is like some sort of psychotic break.

I recently went back to Hong Kong for a visit. This is not huge news – I go back almost every year (missed last year) and I have a family/community/circle there that is paramount in life. This was a great trip for a lot of reasons (I got to stay in my old flat – how cool is that?) and just hang out with people I love. What was a little unique about this trip was that I was waiting on news about whether or not I was going to get a job (stateside) that I had just gone through and arduous but awesome interview process for. It led to a lot of conversations about what was on the horizon for me and gave me a chance to get super real with how I was feeling about it all.

The most interesting thing about all of these conversations was the difference in tenor among my expat and Hong Kong Chinese friends. The general take on the job transition over there was the abundance of options and all the interesting directions I could go… the inquiries were all, “Oh! What about this? This would be amazing? You could do this! Or this!” There was no overlay of, what about your retirement, what about if it doesn’t work, what are you going to doūüėĪ, do you have a back up plan,¬†what if everything goes straight to shite?!

It was shockingly different.

While admittedly the tone laid heavily on – you really should come back to Hong Kong, the reality was I found that an attitude that had made me really uncomfortable back in 2010 when I was considering (and then actually) repatriating, suddenly resonated as something so much more authentic to me. I remember thinking so clearly at various points in my time in Asia – wow! how are these people so comfortable with never knowing what lies ahead? I used to call it suspended animation. I thought it was just some sort of avoidant childishness.

And for some, I imagine it was. But for the majority of the people I know there, it is this unbelievably refreshing can-do attitude. And people I know are doing awesome things. They are not relying on just doing what they have always done because it is what they do (or- ugh – who they are.) They are doers. Don’t mistake my observations as some superficial rosy glow – I am very aware of the challenges of this approach and have witnessed (am witnessing) first hand the complications that arise from making less fruitful choices with this mindset. But the idea that doing what one has always done is not what actually has to be done was a great mental shift for me to make.

I think that the general approach to work in the US – among a lot of people I know¬†– falls squarely into the green ikigai circle. I am not convinced this is ideal. I know I have mistakenly judged folks who are squarely in the yellow circle as layabouts or avoiders… but if I had to choose between the two now I am not sure where I would want to land. I think my friends who have freed themselves from the homegrown expectations of their home environments feel much more comfortable dancing between circles – and have found some super creative ways to do this.

I did not get the job I was waiting on hearing about while I was over there. And this was interesting for a host of reasons including the time and place in which I got the news. But most of all, I was absolutely shocked I did not get it Рfor real. And I am not actually some super arrogant person about things like this. In fact, I generally fall much more into the imposter syndrome category. But I was so sure I was getting this job I was actually really thinking about what I would do if I got it: did I really want it? how would I manage the commute? it was going to be a really big commitment Рdid I want that? was I ready to jump back in the river?

Now you walk with your feet back on the ground
Down to the ground
Down to the ground
Down to the ground
Down to the ground

All those questions were rendered mute when I didn’t get the position. I sat with the news and was like, wow. But I wasn’t crushed, it was just like, huh… okay then.

Taking the position would have for sure put me in the little olive colored area on the southern side ikigai diagram: ‘comfortable, but feeling of emptiness’.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I saw a position that looked really interesting, but it is part time. Historically, I would have not even bothered with this because of the green-circle tendencies I have. But I thought about this differently this time. Maybe I should bounce over to the little brown area on the eastern (coincidence? I think not) side of the chart: ‘excitement and complacency [odd combo], but sense of uncertainty’. Maybe actually relying on the excitement of the hustle, with a little of the safety of a regular gig is just the right thing.

Or maybe it is not.

Either way,

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Brand new dandy
First class scene stealer
Walks through the crowd and takes your man
Sends you rushing to the mirror
Brush your eyebrows and say
There’s more beauty in you than anyone

The Change Chronicles: Part 4

Let me start by saying I have had some very good news from the Zone of Employment Transition recently. It is always a little weird to be re-envisioning one’s gainful future, but all things considered I am not really worried about any of it – which is really uncharacteristic for a Virgo/Dog getting deeper into middle age everyday who chose to be a teacher in a city that values youth only slightly less than it values obscene wealth.

But the thing is I know I can get a job. I am good at what I do and there is always a need for people who do what I do – they even need those of us who will never carry a gun. [This is probably not the time to remind every single human who can read that we do not expect any other service professionals to be armed as they carry out their duties – and also worth noting that their duties pale in comparison to those of teachers… you know the ones who are supposed to do, well, everything apparently.]

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Anyhow, in spite of the positive news coming my way and the solid odds that I will be gainfully employed before my current contract even terminates, I found myself being a little Goldilocks-y yesterday, like nothing quite fit. I was thinking about how I made this really intentional change last year to do something different and in so doing seemingly changed my career trajectory.

Or did I? [Unsure.]

Did I need to? [To be determined.]

I certainly had some clear ideas about the kind of changes I wanted to see in my career. I thought I was being really conscious about it all – but maybe I was just buying into the prevailing narrative that surrounds us about what makes a person successful –> mo’ money(?) I have no idea if making more money is going to make me happier – although I like the possibility of that outcome.¬†Here’s what I know is true, you can only be as conscious of any situation as the circumstances allow. And it is no secret that the job I took was not the job I applied for. So, why the hemming and hawing about returning to a situation that is more similar than different to my former professional incarnation?

“You almost had a job in tech…” Said my very insightful neighbor who is the best roommate I never had.

“Yeah, I think that is it, you know? I thought maybe I would be going that way…”

“Why would you want to do that?” She asked, gently, but sincerely.

And she is so right. What I saw and experienced on the tech side of edtech (which I have a whole lot of opinions about as a concept after this year…) was not anything I thought it might be. In fact, when I think about it, even the things that I had looked forward to in the tech world turned out to be sort of sad, hollow efforts to seem cool. I was often reminded of those kids you know from school who are always trying so hard¬†to be all that, and really they just end up being so painfully extra.

The tech culture felt empty. Soulless, even. And this is not for a lack of amenities or money or confidence. I just could not find the authenticity in it that I had become accustomed to from two decades of working in a profession where authenticity is one of the only things that can’t be scratched from ever-diminishing school budgets. Ironically, the tech sector, especially start ups, cannot afford authenticity – they don’t have the time to be invested in people, committed, loyal. They need to be flexible, they have to pivot, they have to have no reservations about walking out on people they promised to build something with; it is the nature of the beast.

This is not some effort to lambaste the tech industry (not that it would be undeserved) and it is certainly not a critique of my current company – it is just the simple acknowledgment that all the flash in the world cannot replace the realness that I have found in every classroom I’ve ever worked in.

So when I find myself considering a return to a more traditional teaching environment (at least in terms of priorities and workload) maybe I don’t need to worry about turning into Mr. Hand (right away¬†anyhow).

I was worried that I was passing my expiration date, or losing my (required) ability roll with the crazy of working in a high school. But I think, if I am being really honest, I was tired. Really, really tired. And I was feeling like the remedy to my fatigue would be working less and getting paid more. I thought a more tech centered job would offer that. I was not thinking about what would be missing.

I am still regularly disheartened with the salaries I see people earning in tech (and no one is telling them they need to carry guns). Further, I am unconvinced they are making the impact on the world that people may credit them with. But, if you are lucky enough to build a career that you are really good at, even if you are horribly underpaid, maybe staying the course is not such a bad decision. As my sage little buddy next door said to me, “if you don’t want to be a grumpy old teacher, don’t be a grumpy old teacher.” Exactly.¬†Whatever I end up doing next year will be so different than anything I’ve done before even if it looks similar from the outside because I am not the same person.

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Tomorrow I am going to see if my barista can spell Heraclitus.

Stay tuned.

 

The Change Chronicles: Part 3

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So, in some fairly dramatic ways, it turns out the more things change, the more things change. This is not ideal.

The last few years have been a real roller coaster for my generation. For a while I was thinking,¬†Damn, what is¬†going on? Why are all these people dying/bad things happening/disconnects appearing TO US?¬†Then it hit me – it was not “US” because we were particularly cursed or tragically unlucky.¬†It was “US” because we are arriving at (upon?)¬†a certain age.

When every fashion trend you despise returns (high-waisted jeans I am totally glaring at you), every movie you grew up with is being remade (seriously,¬†Footloose? That borders on sacrilegious), and your icons are leaving you at a pace that defies explanation (Leonard Nimoy, BB King, Dick Van Patten – was Eight really ever enough? – Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Morley Safer, Mohamed Ali, Garry Marshall, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson (I didn’t even have television growing up and I know The¬†Brady Bunch¬†is just My Three Sons¬†without her), Fidel Castro (who made Che after all), Zsa Zsa, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore (“I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda!”), John Hurt, Chuck Berry, Roger Moore (nooooooooooo), Adam West… in only a few short years….), and the political landscape enters into the realm of Mad Magazine, one starts to wonder if they were born under a bad sign.

Turns out no… one was just born a long time ago.

Samantha ‚ÄúSam‚ÄĚ Baker wakes up on her 50th birthday. She reaches for the iPhone on the nightstand and immediately feels a tear in her rotator cuff. She heads into the bathroom to pluck the white chin hair that grew overnight.

I started noticing things were not as they should be about four years ago. My hair color regimen had to be bumped up to every four weeks – which is both costly and demoralizing. My aesthetic expenditures shifted from the lower half of my body to my chin. My skin began to look, well, like someone else’s I remember with love and warmth, the soft and slightly crepe-y feel of my grandma Joan but a grandma I am not (I am still spending money on Hanacure regularly like only a true believer would). Add to this that the creaky knee decided to announce substantial arthritis and then.. the hip.¬†You know who has hip problems? OLD PEOPLE.

How did this happen? I am starting to sweat even thinking about it. #hotflash And just be glad I am not going to publicly regale you with the joys of the onset of “The Change of Life.” At least, not yet.

As the reality of turning 50 looms, it dawns on me that I actually didn’t realize I was getting old. I mean, I can read and count, and I understand through a very tenacious Facebook group (yes – I know Facebook is only for old people now… that is sort of the point here) that my 30th Class Reunion is coming to fruition, so I am clear on the whole passage of time thing, but looking around at my friend group and our lifestyles, I was deluded into thinking that things were not really changing. Not in some sad or pathetic way at all, but in a more authentic and unconventional way: we are doing what we want, how we want, when we want. But, we probably have to come home a little earlier (who goes out at midnight people?) And really, if it is not VIP it is not for me, I mean who can deal with all those people? (To be fair, VIP has always been for me, but at a certain age¬†it is actually a requirement, and one we can afford.)

In some ways talking about getting older amongst ourselves in a jokey sort of way has been a way to own it – but outside of the peri-AARP circle, it just sounds a little sad and creepy. I happen to work around young people and this has a variety of effects: in some ways it keeps me a little bit more on the hipper edge of life, in some ways it accentuates the reality that I am so not hip, which can be it’s own quasi-cool characteristic and allows for a slightly more full embrace of the No Fucks Given position (although truth be told, that has been my life’s work). But mostly it just makes my view into the abyss of later middle age all that more clear.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the increased freedom to do/say/afford/act as I please, but really, I am not endeavoring to enter the realms of caricature. I just want my hip to stop hurting, to stop worrying about whether or not I actually could grow a full beard, and whether or not someone is looking at my resume and wondering, “How is someone this old looking for a new job?”

Because I am. And there is this thing going on where experience is not actually a sought after trait anymore across industries and institutions (how is that working out for you all in Washington you foolish lemmings?)¬†These days experience translates as: conventional, inflexible, old-fashioned, and close-mided against a world where thinking of the un-thought-of is the goal. I think this is called agism¬†by some. I definitely know that it is a conundrum for me because I am able to think quite far outside of the “box.” It just so happens that¬†I am also old¬†enough to know when relying what has worked in the past is the¬†right¬†thing to do. I mean really people, you still like the damn wheel¬†right? The 60-second minute? Checkers?¬†¬†Ancient Sumer gave you those around 3500 BCE – not to go all History Teacher on you.

I have no idea where the next stop on my professional journey will take me. I am confident it will be somewhere informative and significant and I know I have a lot more to offer creatively, intellectually, and through straight up hard work so I am excited about the potential of finding something really interesting and inspiring, and dare I say, different. But I am not wishing for anything, I am getting back out there and looking people in the eye with zero fucks, straight up honesty, and fearlessly keeping my chin up because I have a great electrologist.

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December 2017: In Lima at 47 with no make up, no fucks given, and a couple of Pisco Sours.

Sam replies, “I‚Äôm 50 years old, motherfucker. I don‚Äôt have time for wishes.‚ÄĚ

The Change Chronicles: Part 2

Bill of Goods: as a phrase, has two meanings. The less common is a delivery of goods, a consignment. The more common definition is something that is knowingly presented in a false way, usually with the intent to deceive or gain something by the trickery. The vast majority of the time it is used with the verb sell. Occasionally one will see the phrase with the verb buy.

Change is weird. It shouldn’t be because it is basically the only certainty I have come across in my life. Although, still thinking about last week’s MSDHS massacre – or as I like to call it, Massacre Rubio – incidentally,¬†the 18th school shooting we’ve had this calendar year, it seems somethings never change. Much more on this later….

I am unclear why some people embrace change so easily and some balk at the idea of it. I am also unclear where I actually fall on that spectrum – sometimes I feel like I am cool with all the changes and other times… not so much. The only recognizable pattern I can see is that it comes down to who determines the change is going to occur. I guess it is just like the rest of life – a control issue. I am in the midst of some pretty big changes these days and as I reflect on them and think about whether or not I am finding them thrilling or depressing or terrifying, I keep going back to a turn of phrase that was laid upon me by one of my agents of change on February 9:

You probably feel like you were sold a false bill of goods, huh?

The (unintentional?) mic drop gave me pause then (actually, it rendered me speechless, which was both a benevolent miracle and a total surprise) and now as I am looking at the definition and seeing that false bill of goods is actually a redundancy.

So, that is annoying.

I have been saying (repeatedly) that I intentionally embraced a huge change last year by leaving the public sector and taking a position in a private school, and not even a traditional school but a company that is trying to sell “school”. In some ways that is as bad as it might sound, but in some other ways, it is really inspiring. In this day and age of design thinking the belief is that the way to revolutionize something is take a quasi-nihilist approach and take nothing from the past. To rely on cliches one might say chucking the baby out with the bathwater, but in the interest of avoiding a reliance on two cliches in one post I will go with quasi-nihilist. A focus on solutions rather than problems is something that the public sector is really missing – even if it was not really the fault of those within, it is hard to be expected to do everything for nothing after all – and I was thrilled to think that I was working with people who were focused on facing the problems I have been witnessing for years in American education. We need a fresh take on what we want from education and this seemed like an ideal merger – ideas and experience and energy.

What became clear not long after I began my new adventure (and it has been an adventure in all the best and worst ways) is that I had only pulled a geographical, I wasn’t in some magical place – because magical places are not where shit gets done. The truth is the necessary work to effect change in systems as entrenched as education cannot be treated in the same way we see in other areas. While an extremely dynamic approach to applying solutions will certainly lead to a lot of new strategies, this kind of fluidity has unusual consequences in a classroom – and I am not talking to the kind of classroom most people like to imagine when they think about schools (cue Pink Floyd), I mean in any learning environment. Still, I’m willing to bet the majority of kids in America feel like they have been sold a bill of goods regarding their education: do well in school, get a good job as a result, win at life. Clearly that equation has devolved to disingenuous and beyond.

I am deeply and unrelentingly committed to working towards education reform and creating environments where students are inspired to learn and try and do, rather than recall and release, but I have a much clearer understanding of the kind of strategies that might require. I have my current job to thank for that.

And at the end of the day, it is not about the place, or the computer platform, or the strategic plan. It is about people. And relationships. And really believing that education still can transform lives in meaningful ways. It may happen where I have been recently, or not. And I know change will come to education eventually, regardless of the role I play – but I hope I get to have my say. Although, it will definitely not be where I am right now.

This may or may not be because I was sold a false bill of goods. I am still working out what that means. But it will be because I had to learn that I don’t fit in everywhere even if I think I can, and that sometimes when someone awkwardly turns a phrase like “I bet you feel like you have been sold a false bill of goods, huh?” they see that your ideas and expectations are not what they can support – and possibly (hopefully?) acknowledging their contribution to the ill-fitting circumstances – and all of it is okay. Especially because as a naturally inclined change resistant human, in some ways it is more than okay, it is necessary.

And if¬†it’s not actually all about me, a lot of it is, because the person I am has ideas and solutions to offer and although delicacy might not be on the menu, I am going to continue to unrelentingly try to be the change I want to see and be encouraged by the changes that I come up against at the hands of my agents of change.

 

Ziggy played guitar.

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I woke up this morning like millions of other people to the news of the death of David Bowie. Like those millions of other people I was shocked to the point of disbelief, and surprisingly devastated by my sadness. I felt like I had lost someone I knew. I am sure this was exacerbated by the fact that it was, for those of us not in the know, a complete surprise. Not to mention the fact that there are some people you cannot imagine the world without, and David Bowie is definitely one of those eternal souls.

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I listened to his music all morning and was somehow consoled by the fact that my social media feeds were completely and totally dedicated to Bowie. That all my friends felt – maybe as unwittingly as I had, or maybe not – as equally distraught by this loss made me feel like it was okay to be feeling the way I was.

And that was what David Bowie always did.

He made it okay to be who we were.

There are hundreds, more likely thousands of tributes and testaments and honorifics that emerged instantly from his star dust. And I probably don’t need to add one more. Still, so much has been said about how Bowie was there for the “weird kids” or the oddballs, or the ones that didn’t fit in. But he was more than that.

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David Bowie was so damn cool that he gave the generic kids – the kids like me who weren’t edgy or cool or different enough – a”in” in the same way he gave the aforementioned people validity and acceptance. I cannot think of another person who had that much cool: enough for everyone.

By simultaneously giving a voice and validity to kids who didn’t fit in so easily and showing the kids who needed an extra push to step out of the pains of adolescent (or other) conformity, Bowie became a conduit to a kind of energy that changed my generation entirely.

He fed us pure inspiration, beautifully strange and always unpredictable, yet somehow everything made perfect sense. No other musician was more influential for our generation. David was a pioneer, and inventor, a space traveller, a superhero, a truly astonishing songwriter and a friend. – Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran

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In 1983, I was tall, skinny, awkward, and trying to figure out what mattered to me at a really weird time to be alive. I listened to this album non-stop for nearly two years and was completely taken with the tall graceful man who defied any sort of label my 7th grade self could come up with. 

Suddenly, I had someone who helped me be a little less awkward and something that I knew mattered.

The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.

That he mattered this much to so many other people who I never understood were just as desperate to find an entity-oddity-starman like Bowie makes me feel connected to humanity in a way that defies explanation but seems even more important with every passing day of my life.

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Ubiquitous, ever-present, fluid, transcendent.

He will be king.

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we’re lovers, and that is that…

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[All images from public domain.]