Maybe

candid, education, Montana, People

I’ve been teaching high school since the fall of 2002. I suppose teaching is the only career I’m going to have. I’m a mediocre teacher. Strictly junior varsity. On good days, I think I can explain things in a way most seventeen and eighteen-year-olds understand. I lecture too much, grade too little, don’t plan enough, tell too many stories.

I used to be so certain about teaching. I thought I was changing the world. But the world goes on without me and my students.  Forces much larger are at play. I get depressed when I read the utter stupidity displayed in my local paper’s letters to the editor. I dread the day I realize some former student is the author of some ignorant screed.

Some former students have been wildly successful or moved into lives that are admirable, and impressive.  Students have graduated from challenging schools, moved a world away, started families, taken over ranches, and made me proud that I know them.  I’m not naive enough to think I have anything to do with their success. Certainly, teachers can help, but we are such a small process in the equation that includes parents and inner drive.  

Last year a student attacked me and my teaching in an anonymous letter I found left on my desk. It devastated me. It’s been hard to forget when every time a student sighs, rolls their eyes or snickers under their breath, I remember that letter.  It’s made me question everything I do, and don’t do. I thought this year would be the year that I dedicated myself to the passionate energy and brilliance I had when I began. I had an image of all the best practices I would adopt, all the lives I would inspire.  The truth is on a good day I’m lucky to walk out of school feeling like I’ve made any difference.

Down the hall is the classroom of a junior AP literature teacher.  He coaches policy debate and he often tells me what their debate topic is and I spit out some ideas supporting and attacking the prompt.  Sometimes it is on a topic I know a lot about. Periodically he asks me to visit with his debaters and give them my take on a topic. I enjoy it, it’s usually an interesting topic that can be turned over lots of different ways.  It’s fun to watch the kids wrestle with these hard issues.

Two days ago he told me that I was being awarded a “Friend of Forensics” award for my work with his team.  Tonight they gave me the award. I struggle with praise, but it was nice to hear his kind words. It’s been hard to look other teachers in the eye this year, maybe this will make it easier.  

As I sat listening to the debate team award ceremony I looked around and so many of the students I teach.  Many of these students are students who compete with for my Model UN team, many are involved in my We The People Constitutional Debate team.  Both of these groups performed extremely well for me this year. Maybe I am doing better, maybe I am changing lives. Maybe these kids are naturally talented.  Maybe they are lucky. Maybe I’m lucky.

It’s hard to say.  As the Stoics teach we know not when it’s all over.  We should live our lives knowing that we might not get another shot.  Maybe it’s all going to come together.

Sonder

candid, People, Street, Washington DC

“Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.” —from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

January 20, 2009, Washington, D.C.

“The Purpose of Time is to Prevent Everything From Happening at Once”

Beach, Landscape, Nature, north carolina, People, poetry


Suppose your life a folded telescope
Durationless, collapsed in just a flash
As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop
Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash
Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste
A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen
With lover zipping up your pants in haste
Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs—all one.

Einstein was right. That would be too intense.
You need a chance to preen, to give a dull
Recital before an indifferent audience
Equally slow in jeering you and clapping.
Time takes its time unraveling. But, still,
You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?

X. J. Kennedy
Corolla, North Carolina

Break Time

Glacier national park, Landscape, Montana, Mountain Life, Nature, People
Above Hole In The Wall, Glacier National Park, Montana

In the past seven days, Whitefish has been covered with two feet of snow. As I’m sipping my coffee and starting the day the temperature stands at -6. I see another long boring treadmill run in my future. On days like this, let your mind turn to planning, and dreaming of the future. Allow your thoughts, the same consciousness that is the engine of thoughts filled negativity and darkness, to breath the promise of something different, something better.

Summer is coming, with every day the sun hesitates before setting. Soon our concerns will not be about how warm to dress but if the smoke from wildfires has made it unsafe to be outside. All things pass. Dream for summer adventures, stir dreams for future insight, dream for better days. Unfold those maps, let your fingers trace the countries of future memories.

Advance permits for backcountry backpacking in Glacier National Park can be submitted starting March 15.

The Anxious Wait

candid, Montana, People, Street

Members of the Flathead Sheriff Mounted Posse wait nervously as a protest march led by thousands of Whitefish residents begins. Citizens demanded the tarring and feathering of infamous WF resident Richard Spencer, a reduction in water rates, affordable housing for the underpaid and overworked service industry workers, the creation of two elementary schools to bring relief to the overcrowded Muldown School, an explanation of what that creepy guy who wears latex gloves at Safeway is talking about and a $15 dollar per day per person tax for Canadian at Whitefish City Beach. Wait….my bad, a view from the Whitefish Winter Carnival Parade.

5 Podcasts I Listen To, and You Should Too

Landscape, Montana, Nature, People, Street
Spotted Bear Wilderness, Montana
  1. 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.
North Fork of the Flathead River, Montana

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

World Professional Cycling Championships, Richmond, Virginia

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.

Rodeo, Lewistown, Montana

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.

Cabin Life, Spotted Bear Wilderness, Montana

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.

Mountains, men, and the claim

Landscape, Montana, Nature, People

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.