Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Industrial Life

The rhythm of the world is not
the rhythm of the heart.
The heart does not break its beats
into pieces,
slicing its day into bite-sized chunks
only to have no knowledge
when the new day starts
where the old day has gone to.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blatant racism, latent racism, and one-issue voting

As the actions of the Trump administration become increasingly disturbing, I'm put in mind of three categories of voters and their roles in this new reality: blatant racists, latent racists/xenophobes, and one-issue voters.

Blatant racists: I hope and believe that this is truly a small group of Americans. Unfortunately, though, (as Aziz Ansari pointed out) they are empowered and emboldened by Trump's election. Somehow they feel they can be openly racist now. I'm just certain that when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s you could not claim free speech to protect your bigotry. I remember ass-kickings and threatened ass-kickings for the white boys who dared to repeat what dad or grandpa was saying at home. It was just clear: you don't say racist things. Whether that was a real or imagined reality, it's one worth pursuing.

Latent racists and xenophobes: Another small group, but closely tied to the one-issue voters. These are the white folks who aren't loudly or actively racist, but because of a lack of diversity in their world they generally distrust other cultures and races (definition of xenophobia) and won't get riled up as a result of Trump's ban on Muslims or racial injustice in our nation. If it doesn't hurt them, they don't really care. On the flip side, if it does hurt them (ie jobs in WV or PA) they don't mind policies that hurt others if they think they'll get something (jobs) out of it. They're selfish and misguided, but arguably not actively hateful. That leads us to the largest, and most shameful category.

One-issue voters: No matter what other negative outcomes may be possible, the only thing that these voters care about is their one issue. As far as I can tell, the biggest group are the anti-choice abortion protestors. The funny things is that the vast majority of the anti-choice bloc claim to be Christians*. Yet, they abandon all of the other teachings of Jesus Christ in order to perseverate on poetic descriptions of YHWH's love for humanity (Jer. 1:5; Psalm 139:13). These voters don't care that their candidates abandon the poor, addicts, refugees, the elderly, widows/widowers, veterans, children (students), the sick, minority groups, and immigrants; all of these being things that Jesus Christ directly addressed. Hypocrisy runs deep. These are the voters who are to blame for the fascism that is on our doorstep today.

What's strange, is that despite the steady decrease of abortions since Roe V. Wade, they fail to see that policies which improve the plight of all of these groups would reduce the need for medically-unnecessary abortions because it would address the desperation that often accompanies unplanned pregnancy. Not to mention the ridiculous notion that birth-control interferes with God's plan.

So, thank you, one-issue voters for sacrificing our good name as human beings on the altar of your piety. As convicted as you are, you've gotten it very, very wrong.

*It is important to note that there are perhaps as many as 40,000 separate organizations identifying themselves as Christian denominations. Some organizations represent different bodies with shared beliefs, while the full spectrum of doctrine runs the gamut. So logically, though the voting bloc I'm critiquing largely identifies as Christian, it should not be perceived that all Christians hold these beliefs.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dreams and realities

I've dreamed my whole life of running for elected office.

In late-November 2016, when discussing the possibility of making this dream a reality, I was advised to "clean up" my social media presence. The advice (well-intentioned and sound) was not directed toward covering up my benders or morally questionable photo ops, but toward softening my liberalness for the south-central Kansas audience whose votes I would need.

I've been sitting with this advice ever since. I've even sat down a couple of times to assess what a "clean up" might look like and entail.

Ultimately, I've come to the conclusion that I'm very proud of my progressive, liberal values. I've arrived at them over a very long--still winding--road, and for very specific reasons. So, whatever it means for my dream of holding elected office (and with respect to those who do choose to moderate their positions), I'm not going to soften my stance on the things in which I believe, and I'm not going to keep quiet when I could be speaking up. If it means that I find other ways to affect change, then so be it. There are many roles to play in society, and the older I get the less desperate I am for the roles that traditionally bring the spotlight with them.

I'm lucky to be surrounded by people who make this world a better place every day through small and unceremonious actions. Whatever my role(s) may be, I'm proud to believe that a more generous, more accepting world is a goal worth working toward. I believe that I'm on the gentler side of the issues.


Sunday, October 4, 2015


Whenever I feel exasperated about my inability to control others' actions, I remind myself that the need for control is a fear-based response. The thing to do, in that moment, is to ask, "What am I afraid of?"

As likely as not, I cannot exert any force against the actualization of my fear. In other words, I cannot change what is.

I try, in each moment, to be aware of my fears and discomforts--to recognize them, acknowledge them, and to follow where they lead, knowing that I have no control.

And yet, if we spread love or spread hate, perhaps we do have some control over our world after all...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Killing in the name of

The screenshot above is a conversation I had recently on Twitter. It began with an article posted by NPR reporter Renee Montagne discussing whether or not women are suitable for combat roles. As I considered the role of women in combat, it occurred to me that no one is suitable for combat roles. This is why we struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, veteran homelessness, veteran addiction, veteran suicide, veteran divorce and, I would not be surprised to find out, other ailments with which I am unfamiliar.

Killing and combat have become unnatural. We have evolved beyond their necessity.

Why do we continue to do this? Why does the (I assume) man responding with the @EVEbestofus account hold so dearly to his hope that combat will always be necessary? Why does he label my wish for peace "incredibly naive?" Why do we cling so tight to a race, a nationality, a religion, a dogma that we are willing to kill in its defense, or in its offense? What is it that makes us need to be "better" in some way?

Obviously, the answer is complicated. I do, however, see one common thread that I think plays a large role: greed. Our greed for so many things drives our desires. Our attachments keep us from settling, keep us from knowing what is "enough." Greed takes many forms and has many foci: money, power, influence, sex, and perhaps innumerable others. All of these things create a false duality of competition against one another. There are those things of which we want more, and there are those people who are in our way. Sometimes, it's ourselves.

I can't pretend to know what motivates the man behind @EVEbestofus. I only know what he's told me. He has told me that he believes we will always have to fight. I fear he may be right. Evil is aggressive. Evil is always willing to force its way where peace will not. That certainly seems to be an advantage for evil things.

But, as always, who's to say what is evil? I wonder if @EVEbestofus is willing to discuss the possibility that America has committed evil, and thus created its own evil nemeses? Haven't all societies?

I paraphrased an arguably great American statesman to @EVEbestofus, hoping to draw common, American ground. Robert Kennedy (the greatest Kennedy in my mind, for all his faults) said, "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask 'Why?' I dream of things that never were, and ask 'Why not?'" @EVEbestofus wished me luck in my dreamland, while he and the other warriors "handle things."

I wonder, what if peace were achieved? Would @EVEbestofus and the other warriors let it be? How would they handle a world that didn't need them? That had evolved beyond them? What greed would drive them? What role could they play in a peaceful society?

For my foible, I am naturally greedy for affirmation. It is an outcome of this life I've lived. I am actively wrestling to manage that greed (which makes this blog somewhat of an oxymoron for me). I sometimes think that I'd like to replace it with a greed for peace and human harmony. But I realize that it is a greedy mind that creates war and disharmony. Given the chance, what evils would my greed commit for the sake of my goal? If I could achieve peace and harmony with a dozen or so well-placed assassinations, wouldn't I do it? And wouldn't it be worth it? Peace, at what cost? There is so much truth when J.R.R. Tolkien gives the wizard Gandalf the foresight to turn down the One Ring, knowing that anything evil at its core cannot beget good. Thus is it ever with greed.

Evil must be pulled out at the root. Evil by whose definition? And how does one peacefully purge it?

I must work to recognize my own greed, and to master it. I hope others will do the same. The road to peace is perhaps only paved one mind at a time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A (mostly) final reflection on what I've learned during Graduate School.

*Excerpted from the final personal reflection required of my MSE/Licensure program

I learned to read at 4 years old, skipped the 2nd grade, tested into the gifted program, and was the apple of my schizophrenic mother’s eye. As my home life worsened, my grades dropped until I was failing almost all of my classes by the 6th grade. I was then dropped from the gifted program, which set my confidence spinning and took me years to get over (if I have at all). I went from being “very smart” to being “very stupid.”  

I knew I wanted to change my trajectory in high school, and worked very hard to do so. Lacking sufficient home support, though, I was only able to manage a 2.5 GPA, which was much less than I might have had. I failed out of college on the first try, again the victim of a lack of study skills and confidence. Over the years, I have fought back, having to be admitted on probation for every degree I’ve pursued (BA in History, most of an MPA before deciding to become a teacher, and now my MSE). I know what it’s like to feel stupid, and I’m determined that I will not allow a student’s classroom performance to affect my love for them. 

Last year, I had a difficult time talking to my students in ways that they could understand. This year I have become much more adept at working where they are. An old version of me laments this “dumbing down” of what I have worked so hard to achieve, but an even deeper version of me is driving me onward, never losing touch with how important it is to show respect to the disrespected, and hope to the hopeless. Unfortunately, I do not believe that those terms are hyperbolic when they describe the experiences of many of my students’ educational journeys.

I’m not much for “callings,” or any other religious-style description of how our lives play out. I think, however, that I am beginning to understand what people are feeling when they say those things. I have never been challenged as I have been these two years; and I’ve never wanted so much to be good. Working to wear this “hat” has improved the fit of my other hats: parent; husband; community member. What I have the potential to be is well-suited to the name “educator.”

I do not believe the journey ever ends. I do not believe that learning ever ends. I am not interested in taking up a position on the way. I am not interested in being “finished.” My experience has shown me that, at 38, I laugh at my 35-year-old self. In turn, that self laughs at my many other selves as I look backward down the road. The backward gaze only lasts long enough, however, to be reminded that the way is forward, and there is always much to learn. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Living into a new identity

I was just interrupted in my pursuit of homework, hoop-jumping, and lesson-planning by the loud whooping of young children in my front yard. I looked out and saw two young boys and a girl, all around 7ish years old, staring intently under the culvert next to my house, one with a hammer in hand...

These ducks live in that culvert, and likely have a nest nearby. Being fond of them, the hammer made me a little uneasy so I threw on a sweatshirt and walked outside. As I stepped outside, hammer-boy launched his missile toward "my" mallard. My body got a shot of adrenaline and my heart went up to my throat. Somewhere inside of me, Hulk raged to get out and tear those kids a new one, verbally or otherwise.

But I'm working to be a better me all the time. "Hulk" is a long ways in my past, but "asshole" is a little closer to the surface. But I credit my experience and knowledge teaching with what happened next.

"HEY." This was my manliest, firmest teacher voice. They all stopped dead in their tracks and stood at attention. They remained still as I covered the 100 feet between them and me, seriously but not threateningly keeping my eyes on them. I stopped about 10 feet short of them.

"Hey guys, those ducks live around here and they've got a nest that's going to have babies soon. If you kill those ducks with that hammer, those babies won't have any parents to take care of them." This was my quiet, focused, "you just fucked up bad, but I still love you" teacher voice.

Their expressions changed from Lord of the Flies to cute-and-cuddly, we-love-baby-animals.

"You guys don't want that do you?" "No!"

Now I'm smiling. Where do you guys live? What are you doing with that dead rabbit carcass (mmm hmmm)? Do you know what kinds of animals might want to eat that? Etc.

They waved goodbye and ran off to their house, heads, pride, and tears intact. They're just kids. They just needed a helping hand in the right direction. Yeah, I'm tootin' my own horn. I'm proud of myself. Because I. Was. Pissed. :)

Now, I'm sitting here wondering if a dad will come shoot me. Thanks, Brownback.

Homework. Hoops. Lesson plans. 21 days until I'm a Master of Education. On paper anyway.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


I have a particular way I do most things. I get a little bit of insight to something, then I think and fold and sift and knead and turn over in my head, sometimes for extended periods of time. I've been engaged in this organizing process with Buddhism for some time...and with religion for far-longer. 

I was brought up short a couple of years ago when a revered Buddhist, Thich Nat Hanh, wrote in his book Living Buddha, Living Christ, “I always encourage them to practice in a way that will help them go back to their own tradition and get re-rooted. If they succeed at at becoming reintegrated, they will be an important instrument in transforming and renewing their tradition." Here I had been looking for an escape from Christianity, and the revered teacher to whom I was looking for a path told me to go back. That's what I've been sifting for awhile. I recently came to the conclusion that his advice is good, but I'm not quite going to take it.

First, I feel quite well-rooted in my home tradition of Christianity. (I'm not going to back up that argument in this space, but a fireside chat and drink on the topic are always welcome.) Knowing what I know, I'm very confident in saying that it doesn't work for me. It doesn't add up, and I just see evidence neither for the verifiable existence of the God of Abraham, nor certainly of the complicated treatise that was the mission of Jesus Christ. I'm working very hard for my separation from Christianity to be amicable, because I believe it would be wrong to show disrespect to Christian believers.

Secondly, I see in Thich Nat Hanh's advice a call to "know where you come from." In my mind, this means to always search for the bias, for the conditioning and assumptions that exist in my mind and heart based on my roots. This happens to be a type of reflection that I have gotten very good at over the years while trying to make my way. This skill has been particularly painful, useful, and honed during my almost two years now as a teacher. I am deep in the process of trying to achieve mindfulness and control over my ego and emotion.

The quote at the top took my breath away when I read it today in the book Entering the Stream: An Introduction to the Buddha and his Teachings. It's actually from the teachings of the Buddha, but was quoted in the manuscript.

You have to do your own work. Those who have reached the goal will only show the way.

This captures not only my life, but my philosophy on "doing" life. 

I feel there is something for me on this road of exploration, in this new recipe that I'm learning. It just makes sense. I still feel silly, though, saying it out loud.

Friday, April 17, 2015


When I consider the Christian doctrine of God's grace for our sinful nature, I consider the state of this world. I find I believe that any loving God is as much in need of our grace as we of God's.
I concentrate on acknowledging, and releasing, the anger that awakens inside me, toward that God.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Middle School

Butterfinger candy bars taste like middle school to me. Specifically, they taste like middle school spring: that time when you can feel that it's getting warmer and the smell of green is in the air. Butterfingers are also a way that I find teaching middle school makes me subtly work through issues or memories that are 25 or more years old. Finding myself in a middle school setting these last 18 months, I have been surprised to find how often I have to put the brakes on a middle school mindset. I've written about that at length in another post.

Candy bars, however, conjure a memory and a mindset I don't mind. Not one bit.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Catching up

It really does get easier the second time you do something. Not easier...better.

I'm still often exhausted, and there isn't enough of me to go around, but it's better than last year. When I need perspective, I can just look to my overwhelmed, tired wife, and know that I'm in a better place than I was...and than she is (not to rub it in).

At this point, I think I have so much to say that I can almost say nothing. I'd like to start chipping away at those things, but no promises.

For now, despite it still being hard, it's better.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hacking away at thoughts

I'm 36. This fall I feel a little bit like the grown up. I've had kids for 13 years. Sorry kids.

At the same time, my greatest success as a teacher and parent has come from letting go of "being the grown up."

These ideas that ancient traditions discuss, there's reality there.

Pride born out of brokenness is one of the major problems in our world.

The only way to win a war is to kill all of your enemies. All of them. This is the biggest reason they shouldn't be fought.

In Star Trek, do people on earth all get along as a result of having formed an planetary identity as humans?

Holidays are hard for me. I'm starting to learn this. I don't understand how people are supposed to enjoy each other. This is a mountain I need to climb.

There are 14,000 ft peaks to conquer in the minds of our children. Depths to dive into in their hearts. Many, many children are lacking good love in their lives.

Life is sweet, in spite of the misery.

I do not understand affiliations. I do not understand allegiances to faith, race, culture, ethnicity, etc., etc...

I often hope that I'll know when it's my time to die. I hope that I'll be old. I hope that I'll have the opportunity to just walk into Yosemite and die in the arms of the earth. I hope my children will understand.

I should be doing homework and grading right now. I'm drinking a beer instead.

I've learned about 300 new names in the last 4 months. That's not an exaggeration.

I really do want to record an album.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pressure. Next. Pressure. Next.

I enjoy myself most when I can be very present in a moment. I enjoy myself most when I sit down with a child and teach them something.

I've been told to confess that it's going well.

That's a whole different kind of pressure. If it's going well, then better is...well...even better.

Early in the year I was chanting the mantra, "Everything is not this moment."

Now I find myself wishing I could really be present in all of the moments that are happening in my room.

I learned on Tuesday, during New Teacher Induction, that pain is relative and irrelative at the same time. Relative to the guy I met with 36 kids in a room smaller than mine, 30% of whom don't want to work, I've got it really good. Relative to the really good classrooms, I'm underwater.

Eleanor Roosevelt

“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, October 11, 2013

First quarter done

I just finished my first quarter teaching. It looked like this.

1st Quarter Data:

  • 1.5 12oz bottles of hand sanitizer
  • 54 pencils
  • 100 sheets of notebook paper
  • 5:30 am wake-up time
  • Gallons and gallons of water
  • at least 1 dozen observations with feedback
  • 8 graduate school assignments
  • 1/2 a box of copy paper
  • 4 different table arrangements

Everything else I lost track of.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Little kids

Teaching middle school, I feel myself wrestling with middle school feelings that I didn't really know about before.

I really believed that I didn't care what people thought of me.

Standing in front of my classroom, I have to squelch the desire to be liked by the cool, powerful kids. I have to quiet my laughter at the awkward kids. I have to come to terms with my need to be cool, myself.

I am surprised by this reality, and humbled by my own humanity.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Automatic for the People

Tonight I'm wondering about the sweet spot between depth and efficiency.

So much to learn, so many to teach at one time. In a learning factory.

At the end of every day I get a pit in my stomach for the moments I didn't give love. For the moments I wasn't gentle with the little and big kinds of broken that I encounter every day.

Give love. Which requires stopping.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

To my hero

Dear Megan,

Meditate on all you've done.

Take a breath. Get through this moment. You can do anything.

Meditate on all you've done.

You helped a boy mature into a man who can love with a healthy passion instead of dysfunction.
You helped turn a surprise into a loving family.
You finished your college degree while battling difficult depression.
You fought hard to overcome your postpartum, life-change-induced depression.
You worked hard to become a teacher when you'd had no training.
You held your head high and gave love in a time of dying.
You are a loving, giving daughter.
You fought through six months of painful baby croup and crying with love.
You care for the creation of a young woman, and a young man.
You jump in.
You make it happen.
You build things.
You build people.
You build relationships.
You do.
You are dignity.
You are elegance.
You are class.

Things seem hard. They've seemed hard before. You did it then. You'll do it now.

You're my hero.

Hold your head up, you silly girl. Look what you've done.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Do the Evolution

The part of teacher evolution I'm thinking about today, as I prepare to walk in to my first set of P/T conferences, is spatial ownership.

There's this space that I occupy at my school every day. Its number is assigned to me. All of the students who share the space during the day are assigned to me.

About six weeks ago, I blindly, frantically shaped this space in to a "classroom." In the time since then I've added to and taken from the space, both physically and emotionally.

Today, I feel like I belong in this space.

Today, I feel some ownership.

Today, this space is mine.

It's not a conquest, and it's not a hostile takeover.

It's an evolution. It's the propagation of helpful adaptations, and the annulment of old ways. It's the creation of a new being, in a new habitat.

I am evolving. One way I know this to be true is the way that my new home is starting to look, smell, feel, and live to me. I'm learning the ecosystem: both the local and the regional. I'm caring for it, and it is caring for me.

In addition, today I figured out a conversation that has been happening around me, but of which I was not a part. I figured out feelings and responses from my teammates about having three brand new teachers on a team of 12.

This was important not because of the knowledge it imparted (ok, that too), but because of the familiarity of that discovery. Gauging and understanding subtext and unspoken norms are things I'm good at. It was nice to feel that familiar warmth of understanding; nice to put knowledge in my pocket.

They say I'll slip back down this mountain more than once before next August.

So let it be written.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Just keep swimming


Had a sub for the first time Friday. Monday was no big deal.

First parent-teacher conferences tomorrow. I'm a little nervous.

Taking 45 minutes of my night and listening to Elton John on Fresh Air. This is a little peace of terra firma for me.

Winfield happened. It was good.

Something is happening inside my brain and my heart. Something is growing.

I'm different, I'm told. I think I know this to be true.

One thing that's different is stress.

Stress is because I care about what's happening during my days.

Something is growing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What's new? It's always new.

What's new?

It will be August of 2014 before I am consistently doing things that are not "firsts."

I have a very supportive principal who is willing to be tough on me, shoot straight, and push me to be better. And who texts after she's been out of the building to ask how new strategies worked out for me. That feels good.

I love many of my co-workers.

I can see the line between firm and mean from where I stood today. It was a sight for sore eyes. ("Site for sore eyes," which I almost typed, would work too. And it's more fun to imagine.)

I love teaching about history. I love talking about current events.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of 9/11. I have at least 1 Muslim student, whom I love dearly. Today my students asked me, almost every hour, what were were going to talk about for 9/11. When I talked about this with them, I thought I was going to cry.

I told them the stories of two of the worst moments in my life: watching the towers burn with my 1-year-old child playing in front of the TV, and watching the Challenger explode as a 3rd grader. I told them that bad things happen. I told them that we still had learning to do. I told them that evil people aren't representative of their race or creed or gender or religion. I told them that we shouldn't stop the world to remember the time that crazy people did crazy things. I thought I would cry. It was the ethos I dreamed of imparting.

When my children and my world ask me the question, "Did I do all that I could? That I should have done?" I pray that the answer will be yes.

And I look forward to the day that I'm not running scared so that more of my moments are teaching and fewer are scrambling.

If that day is a myth, please don't tell me until next August.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I'd like to teach the world to sing...

There are so many things I'd go back three weeks and do differently. Not just because I see how they'd be better, but because I'm reaping the whirlwind of not having done them well.

So many things make so much more sense to me now.

I hope this chart that my friend shared with me is wrong. I've been told on a number of occasions that I'm already very reflective. I hope that's true. I think that's a good way to live a life. Maybe that means I'll be ahead of the curve.

I definitely dreaded going in today. Friday I had a mutiny in first hour. They just didn't care for my rules and my discipline. Hello, blind side.

Anything worth doing is hard. The big thing for me is regret that these kids won't get the teacher I someday hope to be.

Onward and upward. Or downward. Then upward.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Little lessons and questions

1. Don't use wet-erase spray to clean your dry-erase board. It makes a gunky mess.
2. There is no reason that 8th grade girls roll their eyes, make those faces, and sigh those sighs. It's just how they're built.
3. A little quiet respect goes a lot farther than volume and yelling.

1. Why do I feel like one of the primary goals I've been asked to achieve is to quash personality?
2. Why has no one ever explained to these kids why they say the pledge of allegiance? Or what it means?
3. My students, my loves. If Dr. Martin Luther King can't keep your attention for less than 1/3 of the incredibly powerful "I Have A Dream" speech, then what hope do I really have?
4. Are there really new teachers who can't own up to their own shortcomings? I can't really see anything else right now.

Today was good. I'm learning things for home at school, and things for school at home.
Today I achieved my goal of over-preparing.
Someday soon I will have to tackle the problem of different hours trying to learn at different paces.
That will probably look a lot like differentiated learning.
I need to go back and read up on differentiated learning.

What am I looking forward to about summer?

Time to lesson plan.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The hotter it is, you know the harder it gets (Lyle Lovett, "It Ought To Be Easier")

Today was good.

I gave my first test. Classroom management was decent. Being observant and clear-minded makes a big difference.

So does preparation. Preparation makes or breaks my day. Am I ready to engage my kids in their learning? Am I ready for what I don't know is going to happen?

Someone told me, "The thing you think will take ten minutes takes an hour. That's no big deal. It's when the hour thing takes ten minutes. That's when you're screwed. Are you ready for it?"

There's so much to say. There's so much I want to tell you all. So much I want to remember.

Right now I'm like the Pink Floyd lyric:

so you run, and you run
to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
racing around, to come up behind you again
The sun is the same, in a relative way
but you're older
shorter of breath
and one day closer to death

I love it.
It humbles me.
It humiliates me.
It grows me.
It ages me.
It breaks me.
It wrecks me.
It makes me.

The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else's story. And that's enough. (quoted from here.)

*Oh yeah, the average grade on my test was 46%. That's on me. Mostly.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Too much

Yesterday (Friday) was too much. Parents asking to have their kids taken out of my class, students who just wouldn't quit talking, more discipline than I wanted to hand out in a year, tears and/or embarrassed anger from my students.

Yesterday was too much. Yesterday I didn't feel good about things.

I've never welcomed a weekend with such fervor.

More later.

I just want to alert you all to the resurrection of this space.

Friday, October 12, 2012

So much

One of the things that keeps me from blogging regularly is having too much to say. I let three or four commentaries ruminate in my brain and end up losing them all.

One of the things I've been thinking about lately is social media, and the way I think it might give us insight into the world views of our friends and acquaintances. As I read my News Feed every day, I see all kinds of languages. Some are "love languages," some are coping languages.

In snippets of observation, publicly whispered prayers, jokes, jabs, wishes, hopes, and dreams, I imagine that we see a little bit of each of our paradigms. I'm all about the paradigm.

My people know the language of pain, the language of love, the language of loneliness, of stress, of critique, of the mind, of the heart, of the body, of age and experience, of youth and confusion, of the human condition, the human condition, the human condition.

What a damned beautiful mess.

And I wonder about you all. And I wonder about me.

Here we are, sharing this life.

Who hurt you? What scared you? Where did those scars come from? That persistence? That belief? That strength? Those secrets? That steely gaze, persistence, and drive? Who are we all?

One of my learned languages, one of my coping languages, is music. I process it all, see it all, hear it all, through the observations of rock and folk songwriters. Just about everything brings a song to mind.

One of my default settings is "melodramatic," turned up to 11. Today, at 35 years old, it's a funny observation about myself. For years, it was hard to understand why my lovers and friends weren't on board with this.

So know this: my love for you, my friend; my love for my long-suffering wife; my love for my children, our world....all processed through a soundtrack of melodramatic pop music. Blame my mom, and then just keep blaming her for everything.

Classic melodramatic pop is the Bee Gees (catalog 1964-2000; way more than disco). I'm laughing as I even try to choose what song.  :-)

Okay, pay special attention to the keyboard playing, the bass clef, and the bass guitar during the chorus. It's crazy theatrical. Check how hard the notes are being struck.

I want to post so many melodramatic songs.  I'm dying of laughter here. Ask me about it some time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

So tired

The question of whether I COULD be ready for work or not by the time the kids go to school is easy. I could.

But I usually don't. I am woefully in need of a slow ramp up in the mornings. Not like the lovely lady who "sleeps" next to me. Despite rarely getting a good night's rest (she's highly stressed), she is unbelievably more disciplined than I. Like now, when I'm blogging instead of those other, required things.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Here's this: the heart of life is good

When Megan and I were dating, I would often ridicule her insistence on adhering to Anne Frank's quote, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

The concept was foreign to me: completely. People were bad.

I had a myopic experience with people.

I am blessed to be a part of a community with people focused on the other--focused on making this world better. Focused on loving.

And always, at the center of my community, of my world, that 19 year old girl with the hippie-dippy belief that people have good in them.

It doesn't mean they're in touch with it. But she is, and that's enough for me. Enough for me to love. Enough for me to care. Because she loves me, I love you.

That's kind of good.

Be well.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lonely week

Sometimes I think, "It's weird to be everyone's friend, and no one's best friend." Then I have a week (maybe even just a couple of days) without Megan and I remember that I'm married to my best friend. And it is good.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


It's been almost a year since I've posted here. I'm trying to decipher whether both of my blogs send notifications to the same group. Please comment below if you were notified of this post.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life lesson

Something occurred to me this morning, and I've shared it with almost everyone I've seen, so I'd just as well put it down here.

I think some of what keeps me from being a more regular blogger is just this: that I say what I'm thinking to all of those who cross my path.  By the time it comes down to creating a post, I already feel redundant.

Today was the day on my Flatrock 25K training schedule when I was to run 6 miles.  The training schedule I'm using, and most schedules I've perused, use the weekends as a long run opportunity.  It's become clear to me that this is a common method because it works.  Now last year, as I trained for this same race, I decided that the long weekend runs were a bad idea.  In all of my wisdom as a novice long-distance runner I knew I could outsmart the system.

This morning as a began to think about the long run ahead of me (having only run 3 miles 3 times this week, and poorly running two 4ish mile legs (minus mistakes) during the Brew-to-Brew Relay in April - or March - I don't remember) I began once again to have feelings of misgiving regarding this long run.  Thankfully my friend Zach didn't wait for me to call him, and texted me with a suggested time, to which I agreed, otherwise I think I may have skipped it altogether.

As I was preparing to go meet him, I was struck by a realization.  I was scared.  I was scared to go out and try to run 6 miles.  As that thought started to sink in, it became clear that fear was the real reason I altered my training last year.  The long runs intimidate me.  Not for the distance I think; but for the fact that they might find me wanting.  Wanting in that very area that I hope running will help me improve: self-discipline.

I shared this realization with Megan, and it felt good.  It felt good to let go of preconceived ideas about manhood and worth.  It felt good to own and embrace what I see (saw?) as a shortcoming.  I was free now to meet this challenge, face this fear, on my own terms, within my own limits.

All I did was go out, comfortable in that skin, and have the greatest running experience of my life.  No world beater of a time at 10 minutes/mile, but exactly where I'd hoped to be, and I never felt strained.  I was in my skin the whole time.  I know not every run will be like this, but I've given myself permission to do my best, not anyone else's.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Win or lose: a tie is like kissing your sister (unless you're from Kentucky, in which case a tie is like kissing someone more than one relative away)

I was able to overcome the damage that Spanish class and (what I believe to be) a less-than-stellar professor did to my undergraduate record. I am a graduate student.

This has been a pain in the ass.

The Master in Public Administration program at the college in question requires a 3.0 in your last 60 ours in order to gain admission to the program. Exceptions are made based on career aspirations, work experience, and letters of recommendation.

I have a 2.85 in my last 60 hours. In my next-to-last semester I had a C- in Spanish. In my last semester, a D- in Spanish. 8 credit hours out of the last 60 with a sub 2.0. Ouch.

Take out those 8 hours and add in 8 hours that didn't get counted otherwise? 8 hours that happen to be a 4.0? Over 3.0.

Here's the pain in the ass.

The folks at the university stopped at the printed GPA. I got my letter of declination based on a sub-standard GPA.

So I called. And I emailed. And I called again a week later after my email was never answered.

"What's the process for appealing a decision?"

What follows here is an approximation of what that conversation sounded like to me:

Let me get your email.
I think I...oh...I guess I didn't reply...
Let me get your file.
Basically you don't have a high enough GPA.
Let me look here.
Really you just, you need to have a 3.0 in your last hours.
Let me look.
I see here a D- in Spanish.
And a C- before that. And a C in Biblical Literature.
Oh, those are 8 Spanish credits, but let's look farther back.
Oh here is an F........oh wait, that was retaken and replaced with an A.
Well, if we go farther back...oh...well that semester was a
Here is....
(sound of tearing paper) you're letters of recommendation are very impressive...I just..well...
There's really no process...but...well there's definitely an argument here...
Let me do a transcript analysis and I'll call you back.

They guy repeated that same outloud thought process twice after telling me he'd look into it and call me back. I shit you not. Unimpressive.
He said he'd call me back the next morning.
No call.
I just about wrote them off.

Today I got an email from the very VERY helpful administrative assistant informing me that I'd been admitted to the program.

You're damn right I have been. Dumbasses.

Some perspective for those of you who are doing the math: My first 24 hours of college credit attempted (1995-6) resulted in 24 hours attempted, 9 hours credit, 1.0 GPA, and an invitation not to come back to college. Those hours obviously affected the final outcome of my GPA.

But let's analyze my conversation with the guy at the grad school. I don't think my letter of intent was even read, because in it I laid out the whole Spanish thing and it's effects and my performance if you ignore those classes, etc. No one had even opened my letters of recommendation, based on the sound of opening envelopes I heard right before he commented on them. He was going through my transcript piece by piece to show me how I was not good enough, but surprise to him, my grades were great!

Tirade over.

That was poor customer service, but I advocated for myself and I got results.

So despite that bad experience, I'm still going to become a part of the program because it's convenient, it's a good price, and my plan from the beginning was to depend on myself to get everything I need from the program. They only underscored my need to depend on me, and not them.

So I'm a grad student. I'm excited. I'm happy.

(Longest post ever.)

11 years ago today, we were pregnant, unmarried, and completely lost. 6 months before that we weren't even together. The four years before that were filled with the most dysfunctional dating experience you've ever heard of, and you wouldn't have bet your hard-earned money that in 2011 Toby Tyner and Megan Upton would be together and in love.

So there we were trying to figure out how to make a go of it. Megan dropped out of college. I was a college failure trying to figure out what kind of job I could get to support a family. I had no family network to lean on, and Megan's folks were feeling the strain of being our only safety net. Three weeks later we'd be newlyweds. Some of the most downtrodden newlyweds you've ever seen. JOP marriage so that the baby could be covered by the insurance from my job.

In the 11 years since that time, Megan has finished her undergrad and is now 12 hours from finishing her Master's Degree. Megan is a college professor. Somewhere deep in me, though I've seen the imperfections of those humans, that is still a damned impressive job-title. We created a marriage and a family from something that was destined to be a statistic in the decline of American values. We had another baby. They're both beautiful pains in the ass. We fixed my terrible credit and bought a house.

Then we crapped on our credit for the sake of getting me a degree. A degree that, if I stop and appreciate it, I'm still very proud to have completed. Now we're fixing our credit again. Hopefully for the last time.

11 years ago we were pretty much alone. Now, we have a robust, wide net of deep friendships and meaningful acquaintances. We lost Jim. We lost Grandma. We lost Aunt Kay. We gained a modicum of adulthood.

And now I'm going to prove that Megan believing in me, and Jim suggesting that she should all those years ago, was the right decision.

It ain't perfect, but it's more than I deserve.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I become a censor

I tried to watch Gangs of New York tonight.

Couldn't do it.

This is entertainment?

We think it's a good story? Children watching men and women carve eachother, driven to the edge of humanity for the sake of survival?

You think that's fiction?


Children see their parents murdered every day.

It's not glory.

It's not legend.

It's horrid.

It's sad.


When will it end?

I don't think I can watch violent movies any more.

The knowledge is too much.

There is nothing for which I would wage war.

War is not righteous.

War is carnage.

War is animal.

I had the same experience with American History X. And Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan had as much to do with me becoming a pacifist as anything.

That child in Gangs of New York watched hundreds of men kill eachother. Watched his father be killed and then had nothing left.

Maybe he brings peace in the end because he sees the futility.

I'll never know.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Last week, as is not unusual for this time of year, there was a well-defined thunderstorm line immediately to the west, which we were driving toward on our way home. Lennon didn't ask me anything about it, although it was a very distinct characteristic of our immediate view. It occurred to me that, as a Kansas kid, this is probably no longer an odd sight to him at nearly six years old.

But I couldn't remember ever needing to explain to him what the giant shadow with flashing lights in the sky was. I wondered what I said. I bet I told him about storms in a very scientific way. I bet I told him everything I've learned that other people discovered about weather.

Then I thought about the Plains tribes who didn't have the meteorological knowledge--just experience and superstition. What did they say?

They created the best explanation they could for this monumental, unavoidable natural force that was holding their children's attention. Just like I did. They probably told the same story they were told as children.

And then I wondered, did they believe it to be fact? Or were they comfortable with metaphor?

What if they were?

And, as is not unusual for me, I wondered about all ancient religions and their lore, their explanations. I wonder at what point the story to explain the unknown and tame the wild crossed the line into "fact;" into religion. Was there an elder who knew it was bullshit?

What if we're the simple ones for elevating campfire stories to god status?

A long way to go

True story:

As I sat in a parking lot in Wichita on Saturday, waiting for Megan to come out of the Dollar General we'd stopped at to get Maggie socks for her performance, I watched a black man approach the door.

He was tall to me, maybe 6 foot, had long, straightened hair, was dressed all in blue, held his left hand over his crotch and walked with a swagger. He had on dark sunglasses and white boat shoes. I wondered if he was a Crip.

From the other direction, a small white woman, maybe in her early to mid sixties, approached the same door. She was white-haired, well-dressed, a little swollen from middle-class living, with dangling sterling earrings that flashed in my eyes as I watched her.

I wondered if she'd be scared.

The man reached for the handle at the same time she did. He pulled the door open and took half a step back to make room for her to go through. She stopped, looked up at him, spoke something I couldn't hear, and touched his arm. His head threw back in laughter and I saw her shoulders shake with laughter at the same time. They shared a few more words and another smile and she went into the store as he followed right behind.

As the door closed on them my self-righteousness was torn ragged from my eyes, my prejudices bared to me.

They were beautiful, human, and right. And I was glad to see it. And ashamed of what I thought would be.

I have a long way to go. My only solace is that we all have so much to learn.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not What It Used To Be

Not What It Used To Be
Toby Tyner
All Rights Reserved

Sittin' in a lawn chair
Wastin' my time
Sippin' on a cold beer
That was brewed by a friend of mine

Kids in the back yard
Dog in the sunlight
Strummin' this old guitar
Singin' everything is gointa be alright

Our love is not what it used to be
I just don't love you like I used to
Baby you've changed and it's clear to me
Our love is not what it used to be

I see you walkin' by
A book in your hand
I used to see just your eyes
But now it's those and the woes of the years that have gone by

See you how you used to be
But remember in a different way
With everything you've given me
I amazed with you and I just gotta say

Our love...

Love's so much deeper
Love's so much more fun
Your kisses are sweeter
Than they were when we were young and dumb

Thinkin' 'bout someday
Sittin' in a rockin' chair
After you fly away
Consumed with the room and the time that we spent there

I'll cry for a minute
Miss you for a lifetime
Love is for givin'
I'm forever in debt for the love that you made mine

Our love...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't hit

There is something satisfyingly corporeal about hitting someone.

Football players know what I am talking about.

It's inherently kinaesthetic. Contact with another person's body gives you a distinct and measurable sense of the position and balance of your own. It's like sex that way. So much of the experience is in the depth of your own existence relative to another's.

I've seen it. I've done it. It's been done to me. I've wanted to do it and haven't.

I'm not talking about the desire to swat your kids, or bop them on the head, which I've also wanted to do, and have done - usually with regret.

I mean a full-on desire to punch someone in the face; to define for them where their world stops and yours begins. It's satisfying and primeval. It is a basic and animalistic assertion of authority.

But we are not animals. It is virtuous to control those animal instincts. Whether because we believe god created us differently, or that we've evolved beyond them, it is a show of civilized behavior (civilised behaviour if you're British) to rise above the violent reactions.

I wish I never felt that way. I wish there was nothing to rise above. I wish there was no anger.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's a big big world

I don't really know what to do or say about the realization I had this evening. I was redoing the sheets on Lennon's bed, mattress back on the springs he'd dragged it down from, protective covering for accidents, sheets and blankets, etc., and I had a very vivid flash of a man somewhere in this world laying his child down on the hard ground to sleep. It was real, and it happened as the same sun slipped under a connected western horizon, perhaps my horizon.

How did this come to be, that I would take for granted more swaddling than millions of humans ever had? How did it come to be that people should expect so much just for sleeping?

I'm not saying comfort is wrong of itself, but to be comfortable through luck when the unlucky suffer....

There IS enough. There is enough food. There are enough blankets. There are enough mosquito nets. There is enough medicine.

Why are human beings so afraid to care for each other?

Why am I?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A lightning flash of self-revelation

A thought just occurred to me about my nature: I have always been quick to fall in love. Eager even. Certainly always willing. That disposition provided a lot of drama in all of my relationships. Looking back, it existed in romantic and platonic relationships. The quickness/eagerness/willingness always came with an intense need to know that I was loved back. Most of those relationships, romantic and otherwise, that pop into my head ended poorly. I have zero former "girlfriends" with whom I discourse, and most of my longtime friends can speak to some awkward interaction or another which I can link to a feeling of needing to feel that we were "in love" (thought they may not know/have known that). Certainly Megan can speak to that reality, and she's the one who had the stones to get through it all. She's the one.

There is still some truth to all of that for me. I'm pretty unsure how to be friends with someone without being "besties," and the comfort and ease of friendship is something I'm only just learning to know. But I am learning. This blog has documented missteps, confusion, and even a little drama from me about how to walk, how to think.

All of this is to say...I don't regret my propensity to love. I love you all.

I love.

And that makes me happy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some might call it a guilty pleasure...

...but Rob Thomas and his bandmates got me through some of my darkest days. Unbridled passion. I felt it, he gets it. I still feel it, he still helps me tap into it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A new song: Alone

I can't say why the river flows
Where it goes, I guess everybody knows
You can't say what's been on my mind
Whatever it is I think about it all the time

Cuz it's a long, long lonely road
But only if you go alone

People everywhere with a heavy load
Thoughts turned in, heads sinking low
Shine those eyes on the world outside
Cuz nobody here gonna get out alive

And it's a long, long lonely road
But only if you go alone

Cry if it makes you feel better
To remove all the dust from your eyes
When you do, I think you see things much clearer
And what you find just might be a big surprise

There's a room with a real good view
Come on in, we been waiting for you
Take a drink of the cool night air
Feel the beat of your heart and the wind in your hair

Don't hold in, put on your dancin' shoes
You're gonna dance away all of your blues
Come a day, you're gonna need a friend
And you and me, we gonna do this again

Cuz it's a long, long lonely road
But only if you go alone

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Your white elephant exchange

I never look longingly back at the way it used to be. I am lucky enough to say that every period of my adult life has been an improvement on the previous. I am also lucky enough to know that I can't change what's already happened.

Is it a form of looking back, though, to try and understand how the past created and continues to create who you are today?

There is no better way to listen to music than through headphones.

It's just humbling to be so imperfect. I crave to be more contemplative and less sharp-witted in the immediacy of the moment.

When Bono sings "all the colors really bleed into one, and yes I'm still running," I think he's saying that he's still in the process of melting into the rest of the world. And I like that idea.

I believe that George Harrison is the gentlest person I've known.

One great lyric that not enough people know:
Saw the people standin', thousand years in chains.
Somebody said it's different now; look, it's just the same.
Pharoahs spin the message, round and round the truth.
They could have saved a million people. How can I tell you?
John Fogerty "Wrote a Song For Everyone"

I'll be presenting a forum in Pittsburg, PA in July about social networking for the Mennonite Church USA national conference.

What the hell does Steve Miller say? Is it the pompetice of love?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Moments: an epilogue and a repost (or riposte at myself)

I am blessed with friends. Blessed. And I should be thankful. I wonder if losing sight of that thankfulness, replacing it with entitlement, is one of my great unseen crimes? I fear it might be.

On that note, a reminder post for myself, of something I've already reminded myself of in the recent past, but clearly need again:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The moments we miss, in a moment we experience, are infinite. Among those billions of starry moments are many that we dearly wish we could have been present for. A group of friends gathered together; a birth; a death; a song; a kiss.

On some level, that has to be okay.

I think the easiest way to drive yourself insane is to be too acutely aware of all of the things that are happening without you, and allowing yourself to feel small, insignificant or unloved in that knowledge. Life goes on around us, everywhere.

I cannot allow myself to blot out the moments I experience by mourning the moments I WISH I'd experienced. The world--even my own personal world--moves without my direction; and it CAN. It is okay not to be chosen for every moment, it's not a critique.. They're allowed. You're allowed. I'm allowed.

Breathe. Let go. Live.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Mornings. What mysterious variances they are. What things they say to and about each of us when they arrive.

You were up too late.
You didn't sleep well.
You had a nightmare.
You couldn't sleep at all.

You're well-rested.
You slept like a log.
You fell in love again in your dreams.
You overslept.

You popped up ready to go.
You couldn't drag your ass out of bed.

Every morning in our house I experience a sort of looking glass reality. Megan is always up first. She's the responsible morning person. It doesn't matter if she slept well or at all, if she has to get up to get ready for the day she does it. Period.

So I most often wake up to the sound of Megan pleading with Maggie to get up so that she'll be ready for school in time. Maggie cries...and yells...and whines...and refuses..and groans...and begs for more time.

The funny thing, the looking glass thing, is that all of the things Maggie says and does are in my head, too. She and I feel exactly the same way in the morning. Those moments when you see yourself in your kids are always so neat. And so, lately, I've been actually getting up with a wry outlook, even a wry smile, and helping to rouse Maggie because I totally get where she's at. I used to get angry, and frustrated. Then I remembered being on the receiving end of that anger and frustration, and how I felt it was unfair because I wasn't choosing to be so hard to get up. I look at Maggie and I know, it's just how her body works. So it's a long process to get her up, but I totally get it.

And, like always, I learn from my kids how to be a better adult, a better father, and a better husband. I have taken "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2 as my opus for parenting. I have climbed highest mountain, I have run through the fields, only to be with you; but I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

I have come so far for the chance to parent you, but I'm not good enough yet. I'll keep climbing, keep running.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I read the news today, oh boy...

That is the opening line of The Beatles' "A Day In the Life," John Lennon's evocation of despair and hopelessness in a world of violence. It's beautifully contrasted by the bridge of Paul McCartney's carefree daydreamer character, cruising through his day with seemingly no weight on his mind. Check this song out, and really listen to the emotions and how the music and the lyrics perfectly compliment each other.

But why do I bring this up?

Well, I've sung this lyric tens of thousands of times, but it's not always as meaningful as it was this morning when it popped in to my head. I was, as you might have guessed, reading the news. And what did I see?
  • War
  • Corruption and censure
  • Rich getting richer
  • Murder
  • Theft
  • Hate
  • Oppression
  • Religion
  • Suicide
  • Disease
And in my mind, John's tired voice singing: I read the news today, oh boy...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hot Baths

As I think back, more people have shaken their heads than nodded them when they discover that I prefer baths over showers (assuming I'm alone in there). They usually say something about bathing in the dirt you just washed off your body. Overactive hypochondria. Or maybe they should stop getting so dirty.

I've usually chalked it up to the difference between air temperature and water temperature, much preferring to be covered in warmth than wetted down and left to stand in the cold air. But yesterday, whilst plugging my nose and limply lying in the bath, I had another, altogether more primal thought.

As I pinched my nose and sank beneath the steaming, still water, sounds became far away, sight was gone, the incessant need to inhale and exhale became calm, my muscles completely relaxed and I was suspended in time and space. Into that space came the metaphor of a womb, the ultimate iconography of protection and warmth. For those precious seconds in my hot bath I can feel protected and insulated, free from the hurry and worry and the constant drive that even my breathing and heartbeat demand from me. It is more than relaxation; it is freedom.

Be well.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I know that I learned growing up that grudges are important, and are to be held. I think grudges and relationship "scorekeeping" may have actually been the primary ingredients of the adult relationships I witnessed as a child. Wrongs were never forgiven, never forgotten, but held as a living part of every relationship, always on the table.

I hold some grudges, not many I hope. The baggage from that childhood lesson for me tends to manifest as a fear, an expectation, that others will hold grudges against me. That leads me to be hyper-paranoid about every glitch, every misstep, every impropriety. As a middle-schooler, I was so hyper-paranoid of being judged and pigeon-holed that I would silently mouth back to myself every sentence that I spoke, just to be sure it was correct. My friends noticed this very obvious practice and would then (and sometimes still) tease me about it. It probably looked very funny, and I look back and can laugh about how it must have appeared. But I still remember the terror of speaking. The terror that I would offend someone with words or syntax and it would be forever held against me. These days I just quickly repeat my sentences in my head. :)

I'll just breathe now.

Be well.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A seed of thought

What does it look like, a revolution that overthrows and kills corruption without killing people?

King, Carmichael, and Malcom X were all at odds about the use of violence to achieve their goals.

What did Ghandi achieve in the end?

Can it be done with votes?

I'm not sure it can.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stuck in my head

I love music. It's the one thing that's always been important in my life.

Right now I have this lyric from Gordon Lightfoot stuck in my head:

Her name was Ann and I'll be damned if I recall her face/She left me not knowin' what to do.

I love that lyric. I love the way it frames a man's struggle with heartbreak. Pretending to be strong, with a vulnerability that is at once immediate and a thousand miles away.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I'd like to further explore (but probably not very deep) a concept I introduced in my last blog.

Skilled and unskilled.

I've discovered that I feel guilty because I don't have a real job.

That doesn't make any sense. I have responsibilities, outcomes, paydays, reviews, co-workers, projects...all of the things that make a job.

But I've realized recently that I don't FEEL like I have a real job.

Now I think I know why.

I am white-collar. Decidedly. But I don't have any white-collar references. All of my frame of reference is blue-collar, and bitter blue-collar at that. I grew up in a place where you don't trust men in ties. They have the money, and they don't want you to have it. They don't get their hands dirty. They don't work for their money, which makes their having it all the worse. They are pencil-pushers, or schmoozers. They won't be useful after the nuclear apocalypse. They won't be able to weld things, or build things, or fix things...or anything.

But that's me, white-collar. I have a degree, but feel as though I have no skills. Not the skills that the paradigm in my mind finds valuable. I'm soft.

So, I rail against my white-collar job. I sabotage myself. People like me (paradigm-me, blue-collar me) don't have to dress up, so I don't when I should. People like me don't have to shave our ratty beards because we're REAL, not like those pretty softies in glass offices. People like me, people like me, people like me...

It's weird to realize that you are not who you feel you are. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with what I am, intellectually speaking--I just don't quite know how to be that. I'm not inauthentic, I'm just out of my own league.

So here I am, white-collar. Weird.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Our House, is a very, very, very fine house

This is a photo of the last house I lived in with my parents. I visited a friend this spring, but he wasn't home, and I found myself sitting on his porch, face-to-face with a relic from the past.

This is a lousy house. It was lousy 15 years ago. It's worse now, but not a lot. The windows are covered--with blankets, not curtains. The front door appears unusable. I saw a woman pull up and use the back entrance while I was watching; the back entrance that leads to a mudroom where our cocker spaniel, Leon, lived in fleas and feces, neglected until he finally died. We can all share the blame equally, we rarely paid attention to him.

This is the house to which I brought Megan to meet my family.

Though my siblings will blanche, I really feel that I have a lot of experience with the houses of the poor. I wonder about them, at the same time that I remember living in, and visiting, them. Why do they all look so similar? The sunlight is blocked out of so many of them. More often by blankets than curtains. Why? Odd sleep schedules defined by the only work available to the unskilled?

Unskilled. I've been thinking about this word a lot lately. What market skills do I have? On the surface, I can talk to people. That's about it. And it's not the sort of skill that skilled workers like welders or electricians put much stock in. It's not a man's skill.

What are those windows hiding? The world from the occupants, or the occupants from the world.

More later.

It's all so overdue

Winfield was great, after this almost killed John and me:

We continued to build depth in our village, most of which is at Winfield with us, in our camp and elsewhere.

I'll try to get back in the habit of recording these things that, without record, fade too quickly.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Something worth posting

I had two moments today that have changed the way I see the world.

This morning, Maggie, as 10 as the day is long, donned a pair of baggy denim overalls over a T-shirt and headed off to school. She was the reflection of the Megan that I met in 1996, 18 years old and living in a couple of pairs of denim overalls. She looked so much like Megan to me that in that moment, as I looked at my wife, all of the girl that I knew, all of the child that has been a part of how I've known her, melted away. I saw for the first time a woman, a professional, an educator, an adult. I saw her cares, her responsibilities, everything she balances--she was suddenly mature to me. I could see all of the times I've treated her as a child because I once knew her as one. She's accomplished, respected and driven. She even looked different. I've used the words "class" and "elegance" to describe her before, but I see now it was only in reference to what I thought she could be. Today I saw, for the first time, that mature grace and soulfulness that she holds. And I knew that I was in over my head.

And so, as if to reinforce my new discovery, she gave me a second moment to shred my paradigm.

Megan has been leading her students for these many years, and I've never been in the right place to witness her connect with them. Well, today she did her faculty introduction, which is a tradition for new, full-time faculty at Bethel College. It was stomach-punch sincere, with complete control over her audience. I've never been enraptured by her like I was then; standing tall, confident and in control, she handed her students (the entire student body) a piece of herself with the dignity and grace of Jacqueline Kennedy O'nassis. And I knew that I was in over my head.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New Song - Fear of Failure

Will there be no one to mourn me,
on the day of my demise?
No enemy to scorn me?
No legacy to revise?
'Cause many were chosen but few ever called,
and loneliness winds up as shame.
But I have a story with sins to absolve,
and I don't even know their names.

It's a hell of a thing to be standing there
when the last of the heroes falls.
It's another thing all together,
to be the hero taking the fall.
When the last thing that you counted on
is the only thing you can see,
It's a hell of a thing to be standing there
wishing there was some place else to be.

Who's gonna help me fake it
when I'm sad and crazy from the pain?
When my soul is heavy and jaded
and the love that I gave was in vain?
'Cause many were chosen but few ever called.
And loneliness winds up as shame.
But I have a story with sins to absolve,
and I don't even know their names.

Will there be no one to mourn me
on the day of my demise?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

America Revisited

I found America, bleeding and dying
In an old dusty well by the side of the road.
Where lawyers and bankers'd tied on old rusty anchors
And left her for dead with their dollars in tow.

I found America, all out of breath
And blue in the face at the end of a rope.
A sign there did read, "Passers-by ye take heed,
The death on this rope once was our great hope.

I found America, witless and wandering,
Matted grey hair and a tattered old coat.
Once the strength of the people, the spire of the steeple,
But twisted by greed her own downfall she wrote.

You can hitchhike for four days from Seattle or Saginaw,
Board you a Greyhound for Tucson or Maine.
By plane or by train, it's all one and the same,
Of America's future only memories remain.

I found America, waving and smiling,
Her hair it was perfect, her teeth nearly shone.
I drew back the curtain just to be certain
But her smile was for sale, her words not her own.

I found America, red, white and blue,
Lost in the distance between me and you.
Send your tired and your poor to her great golden door,
But remember, above all, to thine ownself be true.

I found America, hope for tomorrow
In the cycle of life, the cycle of sorrow.
Are the deep and dark eyes of my son and my daughter
The one saving grace of my mother and father?

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Without violence there is no pacifism, there is only peace.

Pacifism is the active seeking of peace in the face of violence. Pacifism and peace are very different. Many people are committed to, beholden to, pacifism and experience little peace because of that commitment. Since it is, by definition, in defiance of something, pacifism is not a peaceful experience. It's much the same concept as, "Imagine there's no heaven" or country or hunger. Peace is something achieved only after the struggle to achieve it becomes obsolete.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A new song - The Road

The Road - Toby Tyner

As you roll
out on that highway tonight
If you should stray
far from your path
Fear not my soul
if you should wrestle the past
all good news travels fast,
there is freedom at last,
at the end of this road.

You'll meet a girl
fresh like the daisies of spring
She'll take your hand
bumps along the way
She'll always be
there in the front of your mind
with your heart keeping time
eyes that sparkle and shine
like a beacon on this road.

A little child
cast in her mother's design
A piece of God
right in your hands
How can you ever
be the same again
it's not if, but when
will the struggle begin
to protect her from this road.

A little boy, will he look just like you?
Will he wonder the things that you do with the questions you ask?
A little boy, and what will you do
When his eyes turn to you and he says show me how I should act?

As you roll
out on that highway tonight
If you should stray
far from your path
Fear not my son
if you should wrestle the past
all good news travels fast
there is freedom that lasts
at the end of this road.

all good news travels fast
there is freedom that lasts
at the end of this road.