Saturday, February 7, 2015

Larry's Lesson

About twenty years ago my boss Larry laid some humility on me. I wish the lesson had landed at the time, but I'm a slow learner and needed a few more lessons in humility before it made a dent in my own hubris.

I was a young teacher, it was my first job and I had a lot of passion. I also had a lot of self-righteous anger. One day I found myself in the middle of a rant when my boss Larry put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Corey, you're not that important". Before I could say, "well, thanks Larry.....fuck you too", he finished his sentence, "and guess what ....neither am I. No one is...because it is not about us."

Twenty years later I'm spending a lot of time repeating to myself, "Corey, you're not that important." It's been a liberating and joyful insight.  When you are not that important It is easier to hear what other people are saying. I cringe at all the amazing people I missed when I was busy being important. Thanks Larry!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Cold Saturday Morning

I'm sitting in bed covered by five thick quilts painstakingly pieced by my wife. The weight of them is delightful and they do a pretty good job of keeping the frigid air that flows freely into our converted porch of a bedroom from reaching most of my important parts. At this time of winter I tend to go to bed wearing a thick hoodie, flannel pants, and wool socks to stay warm. Yeah, I'm that sexy. I have considered mittens this week, but I can't scratch the cat when he comes at 2 a.m. for his nightly scritch sessions. It is morning now, and the temperature is beginning to climb from a low of 5 degrees. It is Saturday morning at the launch of a three day weekend, I am covered in heavy quilts and sipping very strong hot coffee. Kids are asleep and Emm is staring at another half finished quilt hanging on the wall near her sewing machine.* It's one of those rare moments when life is perfect if you can push the specter of overwhelming debt out of your mind.

To top it off I just read a turn of phrase that made me brave interrupting Emma's train of thought. Under certain conditions it is okay to interrupt Emma's quilting, if it involves books you are pretty safe. This demands nothing of the quilter, which is key (see previous footnote). Sharing something you just read is one of those great intimate moments that makes life worth living.

If I go back to sleep now, this might turn into one of the best days ever.

*  Never bother a quilter when they are staring a wall. It looks like they are doing nothing, but the are actually quilting. The problem with quilters is that they are never very far from sharp, aerodynamic objects.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Teaching a fish how to ride a bicycle

Einstein famously said, "..... if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid".

So how do you know you are a fish? And what if your deepest desire, as a fish, is to climb a tree? Or ride a motorcycle, because riding motorcycles would be really cool.

Sometimes we don't know we are fish until we have jumped out of our pond and are desperately gasping for air. If we are lucky enough to survive that leap and make it back to the environs we were made for, what do we do then? Accept our fishiness and enjoy a good swim? Or do we invent, create, and strive against our limitations, knowing full well that we may not survive?

* Ten years after writing this, I feel like some revision is in order. This quote from Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s  helped bring clarity to the ambitious fish in me, “ cannot value dreams according to the odds of their coming true. The real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire.”

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Look Mom, no hands

I've tried to restart this blog so many times over the last year. I ran into a few problems. First and foremost among them was that my writing sucked. A close second was that I didn't have anything to say.

My hope was to be clever and entertaining. Trying to be entertaining was paralyzingly. Especially when I had nothing important say. The quickest way I know how to manufacture writers block is to reach for the funny. A paralysis comes over me and if I ever did have a point to make at the outset of a piece, it got lost in the ether of trying too hard. If I were being honest with myself about why I am writing in those moments, it's really to say something like, "hey everybody.....I'm still here......look at me".

So as I restart this blog, I want to be cognoscente of that trap. The other piece of wisdom that allowed me to re-engage in the blogosphere is the realization that my writing doesn't have to be any good. I'm not getting paid and no one reads this. With that liberating thought I can proudly say, "hey everybody.....I'm still here......look at me".

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tread Marks

I think school administrators like a world that is black and white. They like problems to have expedient and inexpensive solutions.  So do all of us for that matter. Unfortunately most real world problems are complex and take some time to solve. The world can't be wrapped up into neat packages of right and wrong. Our imperfect world can be hard for the folks in charge. Too often they mistake being in Command for being in Control. All too often dishing out punishment gives them a sense of order and purpose. It makes them feel that they are doing something and therefore they must be in control.  Control is a myth. And lets be honest here, school administrators are in the business of covering their asses. Perhaps this is true of all of us at some point, but it certainly seems pervasive in those folks who gain authority over others.

Far too many administrators I know are guilty of this kind of thinking. They are not, in fairness, bad people. Just flawed leaders living in a flawed world. The problem is that courage or conviction of purpose gets trumped by survival every time. In their world success is measured by how much they can appease the squeakiest wheels. This system, as you might imagine, has created a lot of squeaky wheels- all trying to out squeak each other for attention. That is when the hyperbolic chorus of privileged suburban parents tends to run amuck. When the rhetoric hits the fan the survivalist administrator reaches for the most expedient solution to appease the swarm of suburban privilege. That solution inevitably involves throwing a  teacher under the wheels of the bus. After ten years in my system and seventeen years of teaching, I've got the tread marks to justify my cynicism.

Once, just once, I'd like to hear a principal acknowledge that this is the way the system works. Just once, I'd like to hear someone say, "I'm sorry, I know this sucks, but it's the only way I can get this crazy vindictive person off our backs".

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A footnote on the One Week Challenge

I was initially disappointed in the results. I had no idea that following a few days of recovery I would discover that an authentic change had occurred. The “after burn” of calories is still with me almost one week later! Bottom line: By the end of the week following the challenge I saw a dramatic improvement in energy, stamina, and strength. Rethinking the lessons learned- adding patience to the list.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rumi and Husam, revisited

After completing the self-indulgent "One Week Challenge", I have decided to re-post this piece. I have added MEW's comment to the body of the text. It's the day before returning to school and a healthy dose of humility is in order as I return to my classroom. -C. 

I just read something about Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, and his friend Husam[1]. The story goes that Rumi pulled a piece of paper from his turban and read the first lines of the Mathnawi, which he had written that morning to Husam. 

                  “There must be more”, said Husam.
                  “If you will write for me, I will continue”, replied Rumi.

Twelve years later Husam had scribed six volumes containing over fifty-one thousand verses of poetry. Husam recalls that, “He [Rumi] never took a pen in his hand while composing the Mathnawi.” I can’t help but wonder at the remarkable sense of humility Husam had achieved. I’m not sure how much Husam is ever mentioned in discussions of the great poet, but I have to wonder if there would have been a Rumi without a Husam? Husam replied to Rumi, “From this moment, I am your servant” after hearing the promise of more poetry to come.

         I’d like know Husam a little bit better. Was it love? It had to be. My 21st century brain wants to know if it was romantic love, but my second thoughts dismiss the question as irrelevant. Did Husam have an intuition that there was twelve years of brilliance hiding in Rumi’s head? Did he recognize his own contribution to the creative process? Without a witness, without a scribe, I don’t believe Rumi could have produced the body of work that he did. His words would have been the proverbial tree falling in the woods. Husam reminds me of how different people draw out different aspects of us. What was it about this seemingly humble man that liberated the master to delve so deep into thought? Did Husam care for Rumi, feed him, cook, and clean , and serve?

         I think the Husam’s of this world go uncelebrated, and perhaps they prefer it that way. They are, after all, a modest and humble group. But, they make the world work. They make room for the genius to happen. They make the container that can hold the creation, which would otherwise spill onto the floor and be lost. I have no doubt that the world would be a better place if there were more Husams in it and less aspiring Rumis. 

MEW'S Comment:
as teachers aren't we all Husam? we get things out of others that might never come to light if we didn't ask for them. yet our role in their creation is never the focus of the final product.

[1] The Longing: Poetry, Teachings, Stories, and Letters of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne