Monday, October 13, 2014

Where The Future (writing) Unfolds

I feel lucky to live in a place so beautiful as Maine, and yet too often, as is the case with many folks, I suspect, I also feel I am neglectful of my home. Acadia National Park is at my doorstep, a destination for more than two million visitors worldwide, and yesterday was only one of a handful of visits my family and I made to the park this year. With the peaks of Acadia always in view, it is strangely too easy to forget.

Jordan Pond by MT Nickerson
I can hike, run, snap photos, picnic, stand on my choice of two dozen peaks, all with spectacular views of the ocean, the foliage, the small towns and fleets of boats of all sizes, from one person sailboats to cruise liners. This is there everyday. Proximity breads neglect, the sense that it will be there for me always, unchanged and accessible whenever I choose. Acadia is a natural wonderland where ‘I will visit tomorrow, or next weekend.’

I’m reminded of my neglect and the fallacy behind the thought that tomorrows are guaranteed each trail I hike, each peak I crest. I’m reminded of how I miss as a person, a Mainer, as a writer, when I cast my surroundings as another item on the To Do List. If I can cross an item off, then great, but if not, it will still be there waiting for me, right?

Ollie-dog  by MT Nickerson
As a writer, the concept of ‘tomorrow’ should scare the crap out of you, because I realized yesterday while hiking how many tomorrows never came for me, how many To Do Lists I wrote, how many of those lists were replacements for unfinished replacement lists that were themselves replacements that wound back into my childhood of unrealized ‘tomorrow tasks’. Writers must be in the world, daily, because procrastination gets us nowhere in a hurry.

Writing is the process of transforming words to wonder. Living in the world, living now, with immediacy, is the key to making that transformation occur.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Too Easy To Hate

Often, when I get stuck in traffic, or while walking through a parking lot, I seek out bumper stickers to read so as to pass the time, and just as often, I end up engaging in long mental arguments with those same bumper stickers. I can’t break this silly and ultimately frustrating cycle no matter my resolve and renewed vows to find any other distraction, whether it’s fiddling with the radio or mindlessly fiddling with my nasal passages.

Anything is better than bumper sticker arguments.

There are too many know-it-all, smarmy, pseudo-intellectual bumper stickers out that just beg for a retort, and so, I always seem to step up to the challenge and get sucked into another argument. I mean, many of these bumper stickers, rather than sticky vinyl, should be carved in stone and hurled through car windows at the uneducated and the unbelievers.

The ‘peace’ bumper stickers, these one line commandments in their various forms, have especially driven me crazy in recent weeks. Sure, it better to treat folks with respect, not to bop them on the head, take their stuff and all that, but isn’t the concept of peace a bit more complicated than what can fit on a bumper stickers?

First of all, telling someone they should practice peace is, in of itself, a bit on the aggressive side, not to mention declaratives immediately irritate my inherent stubbornness. My back stiffens when I am told I have to do something, and my quick reaction is the thought, ‘or what?’ Second of all, and more important than personal reactions, is the over-simplistic notion behind the call for peace, because, really, is it that simple, to achieve peace by putting it on a bumper sticker? If so, why hasn’t it happened, yet?

I believe a person who presumes to make life decisions for those who can read their stupid bumper stickers should be held to a higher standard, that they should be made to back up their pronouncements with specific details, with clear how-to guides. Along with a bumper sticker that tells others what to do with their lives, the own of said bumper sticker should be required to plaster the rest of their automobile with an idiots guide to achieving world peace, energy independence, a cure for cancer or any of hundreds of equally complex issues.

I regards to peace, what do folks suggest is the best path? My own quick outline looks like this:

  • How to achieve peace
    • Stay ignorant
      • Don’t ask probing questions
      • Distain curiosity
      • Avoid news
    • Accept life at face value, skim the surface
    • Choose not to defend  personal actions or words
    • Avoid conflict
    • Never hold strong opinions
    • Be nice
    • Find a way for 100% population buy-in in the above rules

It seems to me, unless the above is observed 100% of the time, peace is kind of a bitch to achieve. A worthy life-goal to be sure, but ultimately, unachievable. And though popular with the bumper sticker crowd, peace, or any other concept reduced to a handful of words, does not represent the world in which we live.

There is too much to be passionate about, to fight for, to struggle to achieve, for a bumper sticker to encapsulate. Peace, condensed as an ultimatum on the back end of an automobile, is possible only if a populace willingly gives up passion, decides to allow uniformity to supplant individuality, checks their collective brains at the door and ceases to explore the limits of what it means to be human.

And being human isn’t a bumper sticker. We’re too complex and contrary to allow limitations and personally, I like life that way. It may be too easy to hate in this world in which we live, but alternately, it is also too easy to turn away, to shut off our brains and pretend that there aren’t things we should be willing to hate, to fight against.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I'm Sure It Isn't Leprosy....

I have nothing profound to say, no cute story to tell, no wisdom worthy of imparting. I don’t even have a point, so if you read to the end, remember, I told you so. What I do have is a right thumb which is numb on the tip and has been for two straight days. Normally, and for no real reason, I would automatically think of leprosy, much in the vain of Thomas Covenant, only with far less drama and zero alternate worlds.

Leprosy seems horrible, so of course I expect to contract it, though I can’t say I’m in a high danger zone for such an event to occur. It just seems like my luck. And who can argue luck, right? Luck is like religion, though I refuse at this time to extend the metaphor further. I choose not to offend either the luck crowd or the religious crowd by any attempt at cleverness with my words.

I love everybody, so let’s forget I mentioned luck, religion, or leprosy. And forget Thomas Covenant, too, ok? I met some folks with very strong feelings concerning the Unbeliever and they seemed quite serious.

So, not offending, not telling interesting stories, nor contracting leprosy, but, and here is where someone might think I have a point, my thumb. It remains numb to the touch and all I can think is, disregarding the leprosy, perhaps my thumb has decided on its own to emulate my heart, cold and unfeeling. I might be in a position where I am a great big, numb hunk of meat, devoid of connections to anyone and anything. And it started with my thumb, folks.

I guess you can say, I will soon be as numb as a pounded thumb.

Was that too much? The joke too obscure, too obvious, just plain dumb? It was strictly organic, building as I wrote and just popped out, all fully formed. But it wasn’t my point. All kidding aside, my thumb is numb and I’m not sure why. I guess if it suddenly falls off, I’ll know it was serious and then I’ll really regret the joking attitude I took while writing this.

Soldier on, folks, and I guess I can only attempt the same. (And see, there really was no point, so don’t get mad, because I did warn you).

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Future of Teaching (is me?)

I can’t help but yawn. The rain makes the classroom dark, especially in this tech happy world when lights are off more often than on. The cold temperature, upper thirties at best, makes the day a little more dreary. The lecture tips the balance, creating soul-deep yawns the students see behind my feeble attempt to block with a closed fist.

I’m bored.

If I’m bored, what hope is there for the students? I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life looking at a clock on the wall, waiting for the final bell to ring, all while my brain operates at the level of a juiced up turnip. I have a countdown of days left for my student teaching obligation. Each day I cross off is one more victory, one more weight lifted.

But then, what happens when I’m a teacher, the chief architect of future young minds, the dispenser of knowledge, the wizbang in charge of the whole shebang?

I want to engage students. The question is simple; do I have the ability, the training, the creativity, to actually reach students, to turn boredom into active engagement? I mean, I hope I do, but really, until I get a classroom of my own, how will I really know? How will I know if spending a year trying to earn the right to teach will be a year which turns me into an individual who can teach? Will I even want to teach when the time comes when I am given a job to do so?

One question I have the answer for is the kind of teacher I want to be if given the chance. I want to be the teacher who excites students by being legitamitely excited about teaching. It is that pesky second question, the question of capability, that keeps my ops pressure up, my nights long with obsessive doubt. 

Am I a teacher? Or am I a pretender, a potential black hole of boredom, sucking all joy from the lives of future students?

The day I find out gets closer and all I'm left with is, "who knows".

Friday, October 25, 2013

After All This Time, My Heart Beats The Same

Early morning and for the first time in a long time, I am forced to sit and do nothing. No responsibility as I ride in the back seat of the car on the way to a conference. Usually I drive everywhere, but I'm carpooling and rather than randomly Pin in Pinterest, her I am, typing one finger at at a time on my iPhone.

Side thought- am I a hipster for blogging in the back of a Subaru on an iPhone? A fanboy? A tech geek? I need a label, quick! Otherwise, how can keep keeping on?

Anywho, here I am, uncategorized, rolling in solitude at seventy miles an hour on the highway and it is odd to be alone in my head after is long. Graduate school is draining, my new baby (another month!) is taking up what brain waves are left, and somehow life keeps going in a forward direction. 


I could complain that there is no time, that I'm stressed or that I just need a break. Then I realize that I have this moment. I have a beautiful wife, a great family, a dog who keeps me on my ties and a baby on the way. 

Who should complain under those conditions? I have a moment. I think I'll roll with it, down the highway, me in my head and feeling good.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The "Giver" and Precision of Language

I admit to never hearing of the book "The Giver" by Lois Lowry before last week and yet now it seems I can't escape this text as my observation teacher kind of, sort of assigned me the reading Monday for my next observation in her eighth grade class. For those of you who have read the book, you may remember the section where the protagonist Jonas asks his parents if they love him and in return, they admonish him for using imprecise language. Instead, they suggested that 'enjoy' and 'proud' were more appropriate, more precise.

It struck me (as I smoked my cigar and sipped some Jameson's on my front step- which leads to some of my best thinking, at least it seems so), that this particular passage ties together our first two class sessions for this course. What I mean is the diverse definitions given by everyone when discussing the question of "What is love" and the demonstration of how precision plays such an important roll in reliability as it relates to rubrics.

While precision may be an ideal, at what point do we sacrifice  the variability of who we are as humans for the sake of a result reproducible by everyone? In other words, 'enjoy' and 'proud' may be more precise, but then does that mean the more ephemeral and harder to define, love, must be set upon the alter for sacrifice? Are reliability and precision worth the loss of love?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Stuck in the Middle of the Education System

Too dumb for college, too smart for the workforce. Feel Like a Michael Jackson song, just stuck in the middle.

I was hoping that having had some recent experience with college last Fall, that would ease my transition into graduate school. The results thus far have been poor. A two week course to start things off and I’m supposed to learn all about educational psychology? Two tests, a paper and an oral group report all in those two weeks, too and if you don’t think my head is spinning, then let me tell you, I can confirm a speedy revolution, folks.

Maybe it is the early morning work schedule, the attempt to cram forty hours of work into each week plus attend class (an hours drive away) and deal with all the regular day to day stuff. Getting up at four hasn’t been easy and after more than a month, it doesn’t appear to be getting easier any time soon. I remember a day when I could stay up for two days straight and still have a bit of brain power to function.

Now I need a nap at noon time or I get cranky.

Yesterday at work, I spent fourteen hours agonizing over a take home test/ paper that is due today. There was minimal explanation and though in the past I would have powered through- I mean, come on, fourteen hours on one paper?. Yesterday I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way. Maybe I have reached my upper limit of education. Maybe my mind is full-up.

Or maybe I’m just a maintenance man at heart and I should forget this masters program in education. I should be mopping classroom floors instead of standing on them and pretending to be a teacher.

Or maybe, like any endeavor, you just have to suck it up, put on the blinders, and do the best you can.