Tomorrow I begin my 18th year of teaching. Roughly 1,800 students can say that I attempted to teach them. I’ve grown an immeasurable amount since that first period bell rung so many years ago.
Summer break has come to an end. It really came together, much accomplished, much learned and the experiences I lived through recharged me, brought me back to a good place. I think I might finally be where I’m supposed to be. Thank you to everyone, I’m so lucky.
One final last trip into the backcountry this weekend. The weather didn’t cooperate, but even on her worst days Montana is where you want to be.
A decade ago somebody told me to find a picture of myself as a kid. I had to find a picture in which I looked happy. Furthermore I was instructed to think back to the mindset that I had when the picture was taken so that I could capture the innocence, joy, unmitigated happiness of youth, if only as a memory.
Perhaps life’s greatest tragedy is that we lose that sense of youth.
Some places are so iconic that they exist only in our memory and on movie sets. Gruene Music Hall is an exception. Nestled on the hill above the Guadalupe River in central Texas this little piece of Americana has the smell, feel and look of everything that is good about Texas, Country Music and America.
Just a few miles west of Johnson City, Texas, is the LBJ Ranch. Then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson bought the ranch in 1951 a few years into his first US Senate term. The ranch became the center piece of LBJ’s political career, the backdrop to many visits by world leaders, national politicians and cultural icons. When Johnson became president the ranch featured an expanded runway that brought the president to his home. A scorching August day seemed like the perfect time to take a look.
The runway on the ranch was not big enough to handle the full size Air Force One so President Johnson sourced some JetStars to bring him from Austin to the ranch.
MK and I have been driving across the landscapes of life for the past 17 years.
What a difference patience, wisdom and maturity add to any situation. This has been the summer of waiting for those first reactions to pass. There is power in letting fierce emotion blast through your consciousness and waiting for the right and true response to develop. Caught between the poles of getting things done and getting things correct is a sweet spot that allows for you to be genuine.
This summer I bought a good microphone. A Podcast is coming. No great theme, no great mission. Me talking to people. I love good stories, interesting people and intelligent arguments. Stay tuned.
Douglass referred to the Civil War (1861-1865) as the Slave Holders Rebellion. No state’s rights, no question about the role of federalism, no war of northern aggression, he called it for what it was, the Slaveholders Rebellion.
As a young man a fell for the myth of the lost cause. I was persuaded that there really was something more than slavery, something noble. Those blinders fell off for good when I read Stephen Sears’ Gettysburg and paused when I learned that large number of Southern soldiers invading Maryland and Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863 were tasked with rounding up freed slaves in these Northern states and sending them back into bondage. R.E. Lee knew this, tell me, where is the honor in that?
In this age of disinformation, fake news and a resurgence in White Supremacy let’s us honor Douglass by calling it for what it was, no ambiguity. Take a moment to watch this short video of United States Army Colonel Sy Seidel explain that slavery was the core of reason we fought each other to make this nation what it is today.
Today’s reading in Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic dealt with recognizing joy. We often live in constant hunger for more, something we don’t currently have. Imagine that, with the blink of an eye, you have all that you desire. Would it be joyous? Bliss?
What if we have already achieved joy, but desire masks the symptoms? What would make you happy right now? Don’t let desire cancel joy. I spent three consecutive days floating the North and Middle Fork of the Flathead, pure bliss. My mind was unsettled, my conscious convicted and my attention erratic. Always ask, “Is this joy?” If it is, savor it.
I’m traveling far and wide in the next few weeks. I’ve also given up on Facebook (for now) which was the primary way people linked up with this blog. If you think what I have to say is at all worth sharing, please do.
This past weekend Whitefish hosted the first Under the Big Sky music festival. On almost every level, musically, organizationally, socially and any other metric you could think of this event was nearly perfect.
Years ago I was in a book club that read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11. I didn’t read the book then, but was fascinated during the discussion, particularly with the story of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian academic and political dissident who came to the United States in the 1950s to study at the Univesity of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. Shocked by the sexualized secularism and racism of this rural Colorado town, Qutb returned to Egypt and wrote a book titled, Milestones, that became the seed for the anti-western thought that fueled terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, Amman al-Zawahiri.
Another interesting note from the book is the role Jamal Khashoggi played as an interminteary sent by the Saudi Government to Sudan to lure bin Laden back to Saudi Arabia with the hope that he would give up his jihad rhetoric. Of course after 9/11 Khashoggi would begin to critique the Saudi royal regime for being undmeocratic, till he was eventually murdered by the Saudi Goveernment on the orders of Prince Mohammad bin Salman in October of 2018.
The book is a stark reminder of hubris that has marked America’s greatest blunders of the last 100 years. From Vietnam to Iraq the false superiority generated by technological military might has killed thousands upon thousands of Americans in the pursuit of policy that is created by people who have no idea who their enemy is.
On the other hand The Looming Tower also provides a stark assessment of how lucky Al-Qaddafi and bin Laden was time and time again. It was only the United States’ complete failure to understand the threat that allowed the timeline of horrors that began with the African Embassy bombings to continue. Bin Laden too misunderstood his enemy believing that the 9/11 attacks would propel the United States to disnegrate as a world power and withdrawal from the Middle East while also believing hundred of thousands of faithful Muslims would flock to Afghanistan to join Al-Queda and bin Laden.
Lawrence Wright is a gifted writer who has a unique ability to thread often complicated plot lines and unfamiliar concepts together while providing the reader with a narrative that never bogs down. Unfortunately, almost ten years after the death of bin Laden, most Americans have moved on from Al-QaedaQ and bin Laden. The lessons will be forgotten, even now I wonder what threat looms in the fog.
Saturday, May 18, 2019 was exactly 100 days till the 2019-2020 school year begins. As a joke I posted that fact to my facebook page and raised the ire of a number of teacher friends. Though at times I may be rightfully accused of being a contrarian I wanted to make light of one of my biggest struggles, future planning and time management. Being a high school teacher means that for the majority of my life, I have had summers off. Like kids, teachers also begin the summer in a state of suspended bliss knowing that for seventy plus long days they can craft their own destiny and do what they please. Teachers have the added beauty of knowing that long delayed plans, projects and dreams can be tackled during these halcyon days.
And yet, like students the summer days slip away, like trying to cup water in your hands the time pours out till the next school year is here. How many times I have felt a churning of regret in the middle of August about the opportunity lost from another summer. And when you look back at what emergency must have stolen your summer hopes away, rarely can you find one. Instead you are left thinking of the mundane things you did to whittle away the summer.
This summer is going to be different.
Last month, while visiting DC, I was shocked by the number of people I saw navigating life in the city on their phones. It’s not that I don’t see people in Montana, on their phones all the time, I do. What was different in DC was the number of people in transit on their phones.
I too spend far too much on my phone, on my computer. One thing I know for certain, I’m not going to regret spending more time on my phone at the end of this summer. “I wish I had checked the weather more, I wish I had seen if anyone emailed or texted” are all things I will not being saying. “I wish I had one more ride, one more run, one more adventure” is what I will be wishing for.
Turning my phone off is not going to win this summer. It’s often been said that the power of procrastination is the idea that “I have to” and that simply thinking “I get to” can transform the procrastinator into a force of action. Despite hearing this hundreds of times I have always struggled to implement this important cognitive change. Then I heard Sam Harris talk about gratitude and it clicked. Harris’ own words will show you,
I’d like to talk for a few minutes about gratitude.
There’s now a lot of research that suggests that gratitude is good for us. (No surprise there.)
And, as an emotion it is very easy to invoke. Unless you are living the worst possible life, it should be easy to find something for which you’re grateful.
And it can be very skillful and wise to do this.
Now one reflection I find myself doing when I’m in some ordinary contracted state of mind—let’s say I’m stressed-out by something not going well, I’m reacting to some hassle. I could be caught in traffic and late for an appointment—I sometimes think of bad things that haven’t happened to me.
I might think that I haven’t been diagnosed with a fatal illness. I’m not caught in a war zone. And I think of all the people on earth in that moment who are suffering those sorts of dislocations in their lives.
And then I reflect that if I were in their shoes, I would be desperate to get back to precisely the situation I’m now in: just stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, but without any care in the world.
I noticed this at dinner the other night with my family. Everyone seemed to be in a fairly mediocre frame of mind…We were all in some way disgruntled or stressed-out. I had a million things I was thinking about.
And I suddenly noticed how little joy we were all taking in one-another’s company.
And then I thought: “If I had died yesterday and could have the opportunity to be back with my family…” I thought of how much I would savor this moment with my family right now.
And it totally transformed my mood. It gave me instantaneous access to my best self. And a feeling of pure gratitude for the people in my life.
Just think of what it would be like to lose everything and then be restored to the moment you’re now in—however ordinary.
You can reboot your mind in this way, and it need not take any time.
The truth is, you know exactly what it’s like to feel overwhelming gratitude for your life. And if you have the freedom and the free attention to listen to this lesson right now…You are in an unusual situation.
There are at least a billion people on earth at this moment who would consider their prayers answered if they could trade places with you. There are at least a billion people who are suffering debilitating pain, or political oppression, or the acute stages of bereavement.
To have your health—even just sort-of.
To have friends—even only a few.
To have hobbies or interests, and the freedom to pursue them.
To have spent this day free from some terrifying encounter with chaos isto be lucky.
Just look around you, and take a moment to feel how lucky you are.
You get another day to live on this earth. Enjoy it.”
And so to really enjoy this summer, not only am I going to bury my phone, unplug, but I’m going to remember that I truly “get” go for a run, tackle those annoying projects, prep for another school year, spend an hour playing soccer with my kids, hike another ridge and be alive.
What are you going to do to make this a life worth living?
One of the best parts of Spring in the Flathead Valley is the slow opening of the Going To The Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. As the National Park Service works to plow and remove the snow to Logan Pass, the road is open to cyclist only. And so for roughly two months unparalleled road riding is available. It’s a treasure and a gift that I simply can’t get enough of.