Countless times I’ve read, heard and been told that what David Foster Wallace said at the Kenyon College Graduation in 2005 is as close to perfection that words written and then spoken can achieve. For years I resisted reading them, when a fellow teacher showed the youtube audio of the speech I would hurry past, trying not to hear. And then one day, on a Friday, a trying Friday of a long week, you listen. And you realize that it was true, it is genius, beauty and undeniably true and not trite praise for a genius complexity of a man, gone, far too early, by suicide.
Maybe you too resisted, fearing it would disappoint. This time you should listen.
A few springs ago, I was driving my family south from the Canadian Border to the Wurtz Forest Service Cabin on North Fork Road. As I slowed the rig down before the bridge at Whale Creek, a Grizzly Bear jumped out of the creek and onto the road. I slammed on the breaks and the bear eyed us wearily before walking across the bridge and then trotting down the burrow pit into the scrub pine.
I fumbled to get my DSLR camera set up and drove forward to get some pictures. I was excited and didn’t realize that the autofocus was getting the small trees in the foreground and not the bear. I was, of course, disappointed by such a missed opportunity and when I did come across those pictures always felt the pang of regret for not being a better photographer.
Winter is always a bit of a dark time for me. This winter no different. I have to make a conscious effort to focus on the things that keep my head above water. Yet, it’s a battle to do the boring things that keep me healthy and not wallow in depression, shame, and guilt.
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at battle.
One is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred, and fear.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”
That bear in the picture.
He’s always out there for me. Waiting to wreck my perception, attitude, creativity, judgment, destiny, emotion, decisions and determination. That picture, I’m glad the bear is a blur in the background. He’s out there, the good and bad bears, just like the good and bad wolves.
Were you to live three thousand years, or even countless multitudes of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can one be deprived of what’s not theirs?
Making Sense with Sam Harris–Sam Harris, neuroscientist, atheism apologist, philosopher, meditation promoter and thought provoker has done more to change my life than almost anyone else in the world right now. The guest in this show is always challenging and interesting, Harriss’ book on Lying has been a huge influence on me as well. A word of caution, Harris has an extremely slow voice. I have to speed up the playback to stay sane. The app Overcast is what I listen to podcasts on and playback speed one of the many easy to use adjustments this app allows.
2. Brian Lamb, the founder of CSPAN is a hero of mine for reasons I’m not going to bore you with. But his podcast, Q&A-CSPAN with Brian Lamb has been my favorite podcast since I first started listening to a decade ago. Authors, policymakers, lots of names you know, some you don’t, always interesting. If you want to learn the art of a good interview takes notes on Lamb’s style. He never overshadows his guest, asks the questions most ego-driven media types wouldn’t and allows the subject to answer fully and completely.
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius
3. The Daily Stoic Short and always hitting that sweet spot. Need to center yourself right before you start your workday? Stoicism is all the rage right now, but no wonder, it is a game changer. Hosted by Ryan Holiday, the man who brought stoicism to Silicon Valley and hipster America dispels a daily dose of wisdom to get your thinking and acting.
4. The Art of Manliness–Damn, do I loathe the name of this podcast. Hate. The content, however, is great. Interesting authors, ideas and skills are discussed with a good host with good questions. If you can get past the works name for a podcast ever. Try it.
5. The Cult of Pedagogy podcast–if you teach then this is a great podcast to gain new insight into trends, ideas, strategies, and other useful teaching tools. I’ve tried to listen to one of these a week which has resulted in lots of cool experiments in my classroom…with some very mixed results.
Lots more Podcasts to talk about, but give one of these a listen.
A difficult two days of teaching. Doubts swirl, rumination abounds and memories linger. I always read the play or watch the movie, “The History Boys” to attempt to regain some grounding. Lots of themes in the movie but central is the conflict between Hector, the aged master teacher, and Irwin, the young imposter, fresh out of university and flush with the latest pop history. A long drive up the North Fork road brought some solace. I brought my camera and attempted to frame what I was feeling.
I am your teacher. Whatever I do in this room is a token of my trust. I am in your hands. It is a pact. Bread eaten in secret. ‘I have put before your life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live’
Hector-The History Boys
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
Hector–The History Boys
“Shall I tell you what is wrong with Hector as a teacher? It isn’t that he doesn’t produce results. He does. But they are unpredictable and unquantifiable and in the current educational climate that is no use.”
The North Fork of the Flathead River Valley could care less about five middle-aged men shooting shotguns and clay pigeons for three hours on the first gray and white day of 2019. Those mountains remain tonight, silent and cold, clouds keeping their ridges hidden. They have survived hellish winters, sweltering summers, wind, snow, and fire have scarred the long memory of this place. We are a second long flutter of a bird’s wing in the history of those ancient mountains and rivers.
We must claim our days. Even if all we build in our lifetimes will be forgotten in one generation. We must claim our days with meaning and connection.
The world we live in is a divided, broken and shallow land. It is now undeniable that depression and loneliness are on the rise, in all age groups. According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades. “Zero” is also the most common response when people are asked how many confidants they have, the GSS data show. And adult men seem to be especially bad at keeping and cultivating friendships.
As Ryan Holiday explains in The Obstacle is the Way, there are eight things we can control; emotion, judgment, creativity, desire, decision, attitude, perception, and determination. And so in 2019, let us desire to be making the connections we need to. Let us make the decisions to reach out and not hide behind screens. We can be determined to claim our days with the perceptions that keep us open to new people and determined to maintain those old friendships. Let us be cautious about opinions and judgments that close ourselves off to others.
No monuments will be built to us. The North Fork Valley of the Flathead will little remember today from the other millions of years that have shaped it. We must claim the days we have before they are gone.
Salsa is the first bird dog that I trained. Huka was started by others before he came to me. One September, a decade ago, Salsa drove home in my lap from Idaho where she tumbled out of a kennel to say, “choose me”. She has always been quiet and thoughtful, prone to sudden outbursts of pure joy, especially in tall grass. She loves going after moving pheasants in cattails or irrigation ditches. She can be stubborn but more often than not is all too eager to please.
I’m training my next bird dog now. Many times when I’m hiking the younger dog, I will be bringing him in, honing him to hunt close. On “here” Salsa will immediately return to my side as the younger dog pushes his boundaries. She looks up at me as if to say, “I remember, I know this, I have not forgotten”. The love between a man and his hunting dog sit somewhere near the top of the greatest loves of all.
Montana, like me, is prone to extremes. Endless sun-baked days in August yield to the endless gray and the early dark of December. Late fall, early winter I stumble a bit, and the wolf of depression makes a visit. We must remember to stay pragmatic, do what you know helps, don’t listen to your thoughts, for they are, thoughts. We too should revisit what Lincoln said nearly 160 years ago.
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away”
Abraham Lincoln, Wisconsin State Agricultural Society Milwaukee, Wisconsin September 30, 1859
I sometimes ask students if they had to give up one of their five senses, which one would they give up. Sight is not a common answer. I happen to think we underestimate how powerful hearing is and that we often tune out so much of what is beautiful. But if you walked out of Glacier High School tonight and saw the mountains you would have seen the alpenglow on the mountains and it would have taken your breath away.
The stoics said that we should constantly remind ourselves that everything can be taken from us without warning. Life, health, friends. reputation, career, everything is temporary. Here’s to taking every moment as they come, to living each day as if it truly is a gift. Every conversation engaged, every friendship sacred. Every alpenglow sunset special.