2015 – A Few Things I Learned and Relearned

I was inspired to write this blog after I read Jeremi McManus’ blog post recently. A former roommate and long-time friend, I don’t feel bad almost plagiarizing his title and idea – because I liked it and what are friends for? Find his post here.

Over the course of 2015 there were many lessons learned and relearned. I can’t pretend to create an exhaustive list nor aim to, but here are some of the highlights from the year.

1) People would rather see a sermon than hear one.

I was leaving a dinner with family just the other evening and I heard myself tell my father perhaps the one fact of my life that I am most proud of… My father’s job is to consistently remind me that he’s waiting on me to become the bread winner of the family. All he has to do is bring up my career, and though I’m almost immune, I’m still instantly transported back to the little boy intimated by the demands of his father. “When are you going to get a real job, Adam?” I quickly assured him that I was taking steps to work on just that, but I needed more. I had to come up with something more powerful that reminded us both that I’m on the right path. The answer? – my sobriety. It’s humbling and powerful, but it is the greatest work I’ve ever accomplished. I learned and re-learned this fact all year in the rooms of recovery. There is no other substitute for living more sufficient than spiritual principles. I got this beautiful moment to reflect with my father about how important my recovery is for my nephew. He witnesses how I live – though imperfectly – day by day according to spiritual principles. My life speaks the message my voice communicates. As I walked away from my father I remembered the line so many old-timers in the rooms of recovery have spoken, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one.” In that moment he remembered that he was proud of his son too… despite my waning financial adolescence.

2) Tears are still absolutely essential.

I’ve had my fair share of up’s and down’s this year. Joy has been abundant and continuous. I have grown immensely as a professional teacher, an active participant in family and community, discovering more of who I am. AND, this year the tears have been plentiful. The sadness over losing an amazing teaching job that I loved. The mourning over losing my last grandparent just recently. And omg…was I diagnosed with skin cancer this year? Yes, plenty of tears over that too. Don’t be concerned, I’m fine – the new scar I have goes with me as a constant reminder that when in doubt, question doctors – they’re absolutely imperfect.
I’ve written a fair amount on the power of tears in the past. Tears are one of those indispensable opportunities to shed pain and connect deeply with our lives. In fact, I don’t believe there is any other substitute as powerful for mind/body/spirit healing. No one can cry for me – like they could feed me or clothe me. It’s more akin to forgiveness or love or death in that way. No one can love for me, forgive for me or die for me – like these, my tears are my cross to bear or gift to receive. AND… it takes a certain capacity to cry. My most sincere cries are always alone with God. If you spend enough time in the rooms of recovery you’ll start to notice the suffer’s face warped by pain. I’ll never forget how profound the revelation – I was witnessing faces that hadn’t wept in years – decades even. They were the faces of unexpressed, repressed, forgotten, drugged pain. If you watch closely and stay present you also witness those same faces heal and literally grow younger. I have to remember that tears are still absolutely essential.

3)  I am ready enough.

I like movies an awful lot. While the rest of my demographic is currently obsessed with Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” I am re-watching sci-fi cinematic favorites like, Ender’s Game. The book is outstanding. The film earned a solid tomato somewhere in the 60 percentile. There is one line in the film that continues to resonant with me. Harrison Ford’s character is pushing Ender to his psychological, social, and physical limits in preparation for his great work leading – AN ATTACK TO DEFEND EARTH!! As the time arrives for Ender to lead his psyche officer demands that Ender be given more time to prepare, “He’s not ready!” And Ford replies, “You’re never ready. You go when you’re ready enough.” YESSS!! I love it.
So many moments in 2015 came and went under this mantra. “I have to teach 6th Grade girls about what? Shit. Here we go!!” Telling myself, “Don’t curse in the classroom, Adam! And don’t be weird!” Whether it was hosting a huge Culture Fair for the entire 6th grade and their parents or holding soccer practice as the head coach for the first time, the entire year was filled with the feeling that I wasn’t quite ready, but I was ready enough. I did wonderful. In the new year I face the same calling only this time I feel I am the more unprepared, yet all the more “ready enough” to embark on my own private practice as a life coach. With each new goal it’s essential that I keep reminding myself and practicing – I’m ready enough.

4)  Spiritual Principles Are Facts of Life.

Over the past 5 years my life has been re-fashioned by spiritual principles. I’m not so sure that I’ve been doing the work either. I feel its more accurate to say that the spiritual principles have been working me and not the other way around. These principles are stronger than I would like to admit – they’re forces not subject to my whim and want; they’re ego crushing and lawful – more physical like gravity. I align myself with them and they work – not some of the time, every time. The degree that they work is dependent upon my surrender or how honest, willing, and open I am to be a channel for their presence. I’m only beginning to practice living upon this foundation and so far its been like gravity – attractive. The same principles that got me sober, that sustain my life currently, are the same principles that unlock my future potential – as it is written in the Big Book of AA, “We apply these principles in all our affairs.” Let me take you more deeply into one of principles I’ve been working with recently.

5)  You become what you think about.

I’d like to say I came to this idea out of an intellectual inquiry, but no. After depressions, bottoms, and multiple humiliations, this is a tool I need to survive. If you haven’t ever taken the idea seriously, I would suggest it. One of the most powerful talks I’ve heard on the subject is called “The Greatest Secret in the World” by Earn Nightingale found here. Earls talk is weighed with authority – his heavy, deep tonal voice captures the authority of a convicted preacher having pasted through fundamentalisms into an emancipated and inclusive worldview still grounded by a perennial truth. He communicates over and over the fundamental principle (secret)…that, “We become what we think about.” or in the words of the famous 20th century philosopher and psychologist, William James, “Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.”
It’s one of those things most of us have heard before. Negative thoughts attract negative experiences; positive thoughts attract positive experiences. In the past I’ve associated the idea – that we “become what we think about” – with those fascinated with “The Secret.” I’ve been really critical about the entire matter for some time: “So poor, black Sudanese should use ‘positive thoughts’ to bring themselves out of poverty!?” Post-structuralist criticism aside, (or just prejudicious) its been interesting to take an honest look at the evidence for such a claim in my own life because there’s plenty. I could site the years I was consumed by my fear of becoming a pot-head and how I attracted everything I need to fulfill this fear. Or I could talk with you about how often I thought life was deeply unfair and unjust which put me in a constant state of self-pity and victimization. Positivity worked the same way. I surrounded myself with recovering people, and I find sobriety comes to me with ease today. I do not fight to stay sober; it is a non-issue; the struggle does not exist for me. Currently, I am using the same tools I applied to get sober to build my dreams. The very principles I have been taught to apply and practice on a daily bases to maintain and grow my sobriety are the same principles that will make me successful at anything I choose to do or become. I become what I think about. I’ve been reading my goals to myself for the last month. All the sudden I’m attracting people who are accomplishing the very things I hope to achieve. Still, over the holiday season, as I have drifted from my practice so have those connections – the momentum has waned according to my conscious thought and action. So I have to remember to practice again, and relearn and relearn in 2016.

Attitudes of Mind

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.” These are William James‘ words – the famous 20th century philosopher and psychologist. They came to me via Earl Nightingale’s talk on “The Greatest Secret in the World.” Earls talk is weighed with authority – his heavy, deep tonal voice captures the authority of a convicted preacher having pasted through fundamentalisms into an emancipated and inclusive world view still grounded by a perennial truth. He communicates over and over the fundamental principle (secret)…that, “We become what we think about.” I’m not boasting here, but the condition of my conscious thought hasn’t been shot through with a beacon of light as of late. Boasting into the darkness. Everyone’s shit is terribly unique, isn’t it? We find this blue-balled attitude in each other’s churches and recovery meetings all over the world, “I’m terminally unique. Haven’t you heard? …my shit!?” But, I digress. I wanted to bring your attention to the power of your thoughts and reflect on mine own recently. I am convicted, or rather, I have borne witness to the truth in my experience that our lives are largely our thought manifest, be it conscious or unconscious. I would very much like to measure my thought. And in fact there are plenty of methods – as many methods as there are traditions. For a number of years I have very much appreciated and referenced David Hawkins‘ conscious calibration scale from 1-1000. I’ll spare you the full disclosure but the higher one rises on the scale the more powerful the conscious thought and thus personal and circumstantial experience. If I reflect on this past weeks conscious thoughts I have to include the desperation I felt at not having a meaningful human partnership nor having manifest my goal to be a paid life coach. This week those thoughts have not only come, descending on me like some cloud of absence, but I have opened the door, wrapped up in them for a time, befriended the unfulfillment. A friend recently told me that having a pity party is the most expensive party you can throw that no one wants to attend. So now the transition… I have come so very far to achieve a new life, with new power and capacity. These desperate thoughts cannot contend with my ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines. It’s impossible for self-pity to continue very long because I get too many hugs, I spend too much time surrounding myself with people whose lives are full of healing, courage, sobriety, and grace. So I think about failure, absence, loss less. I dwell in God more – where God is flow of conscious thought of high calibration. God is an action word – a verb. Courage, acceptance, willingness, open-mindedness, humility, love, fulfillment, peace, neutrality, forgiveness, hope. According to the principle, “We become what we think about,” as long as I keep practicing these high forms of consciousness my life will continue to grow in power and fulfillment.

Talking About Recovery & Transformation

A few years ago I took a position teaching 6th grade Social Studies at a top independent girls school in Chattanooga, TN. I’ll never forget the first talk I had with the head of my school on a matter of significant importance in my personal life. “Please do not discuss your recovery,” she says. And adds, “All your social media, especially your blog, need to be made private.” At first I was taken aback by the comment, I felt subtly insulted. I have always blogged a great deal about my own recovery. It’s compelling for me – spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. It’s my medicine for the cliche and superficial. As it turns out, speaking openly about the spiritual nature of my recovery wasn’t professionally strategic! Turns out. It’s true that no administer, nor I for that matter, wanted to find ourselves defending against an attack from a concerned parent about their daughter’s teacher being an addict. Still, I was saddened to adopt what I felt was an inauthentic posture, saddened that an intimate part of myself and my gifts of personal transformation would never be a part of my classrooms. It’s akin to quieting the very life blood of education. Oh…the paradox!

Usually folks can get on board discussing “transformation.” Who doesn’t like to entertain becoming something better? But, having the conversation about our dirt, the twisted compromise of heart and mind, the betrayals and shame that makes transformation necessary is much more difficult. So, talking openly about recovery from addiction can become unsettling for many people, especially in bars which I love doing because it is hilarious (for me). Unfortunately though, we seem to be killing the conversation in our schools and places of worship, in the home and among friends, place where it’s really important to have these conversations. In our culture of privilege, excess, and accommodations one of the most frightening questions one can entertain is, “Am I an alcoholic?”

We’ve past the point in American culture/history where its a terrible taboo to identify as an alcoholic or addict. Nevertheless we have our assumptions and prejudicious about people in recovery. We judge them. We watch them on shows like ‘Intervention‘ to remind ourselves that, “Thank, God. We’re not that bad.” The satiating feelings of catharsis are always in direct proportion to the degree of our repression. So, we naturally judge, and we unconsciously shy away from being completely honest about how much obsessiveness we truly face on a day to day basis – food, sex, caffeine, internet, tv, football, porn, alcohol, weed, speed, music, sugar, tech, exercise, movies, co-dependencies of all color – work, especially work. Who is really desperate to do the work of inner transform and face their shadows, besides the folks whose very lives depend on facing the truth about themselves? “And those people are confused, weak, something other…not us, not me!”

The more honest I become, the more transparent and openminded, the more apparent how vital recovery and transformation are for my growth, and my life is dependent upon my growth. Strange how it took such great misery and compromise and addiction to arrive at a turning-point. Folks to do not arrive to the rooms of recovery on winning streaks – the sliding off rainbows and unicorns of light were our twisted, intoxicated imaginations. They arrive, I arrived, with a broken life, and we’re all told the same message, “You’re going to die from this disease, and the only chance you have is to leave behind everything you thought you knew and follow our path.” Reality was our velvet hammer and there was a cost of admission. The cost wasn’t just “my drug of choice” it was my entire life plan – my entire life.

I like to think of my recovery, as my sobriety. In a broad sense “sobriety” isn’t simply not drinking if your alcoholic – there are plenty of sick people out there who don’t drink or who drink a little and go on polluting everything and everyone around them. Sobriety in the broadest sense is purity of heart. That purity brings us into a sacred arrangement with ourselves and our world.  It’s an absolute turning – turning one’s life and will over to powers that call us forth, heal us and draw us near to others in service. We gain access to dimensions of our self that would otherwise remain unrealized. In that way each day of sobriety is a promise of transformation, but also death to a former version of my identity no longer fit. Sobriety consistently asks for my entire life – the price is still my life. My life as I know it will be crushed, abandoned, disregarded or ruptured – like breaking out of an enclosure or being born. Sobriety, as I understand it, is a path that never ceases to develop our spiritual fitness. On this path I have grown or it has grown me…and as I continue to grow I elevate my awareness and my own sense of responsibility and belonging.

You come to the rooms of recovery in search of people who have done the seemingly miraculous. They had gotten sober, something I sought to do with increasingly demoralizing failure. I needed them to show me the way. I needed to be nurtured by their presence and energy, their very lives were medicine. Here, today as I write, I am 6 years sober, and I still need this medicine to do things that seem impossible – like build a business, become an author and professional speaker and the president, of course. Or, perhaps, I’ll spend my life in search of way to communicate to my students the message and life that sobriety has given to me without inciting fear in the faces of their parents or my administration.

I would never trade what I have now for the life I surrendered to get here. I live in a place where the miracles I see don’t just pass me by in a cloud of obtuse cynicism and self hate. I have a host of friends and a quality of fellowship about me that few humans experience, and I am of great service to many who find my presence extremely valuable and they let me know, often. I get to continue to work toward my own sobriety and the principles behind recovery, the same principles embedded in the texts of our most sacred books, hymns, poems; principles written into the lives of people whose presence transformed the communities around them.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a Hole in my Neck

There’s a hole in my neck. It’s healing. I’m fine, but I’ve been needing to write about this matter for some time. Tonight’s the night. There’s enough distance between me and the event… so…..

In the beginning there was a mole. On my neck, right behind my right ear grew a suspicious mole. It was small. It continued to grow. Irregular, undefined edges, a steady stream of people taking notice over a number of years: “Hey, what’s that?” “Have you had that looked at?” “Oh, I thought that was a tatoo for a second.” etc, etc. I had it biopsied three years ago and nothing. They didn’t cut it out mind you – they took a little sliver out with a knife. I never heard back about the results. I never checked on it. Flash forward to this summer. I saw a physician for the first time in over a year and just briefly discussing it we both agreed it should be removed. Feeling positive about the entire matter I saw a dermatologist about a month ago. She takes one look at the mole and we decide together to take it out – right then. Another instance of unified agreement between doctor and patient – success. She and her nurse laid me on the table and she cut the mole out and stitched me up. The entire procedure took no more than 20 mins and done. The cut was clean, the stitches looked good, minimal swelling and little pain/discomfort. The skin felt a bit tight for a week. I remember walking out of the hospital feeling relieved and content that I made a good decision – done deed.

Now, this is where things start turning. I get a phone call from the doctor (nurse practitioner) about a week later informing me that the mole they cut out of me was in fact melanoma – the worst and most deadly type of skin cancer. I grant that she did her best (mildly unskillful) to navigate the sensitivity of the issue and impress on me the importance of having another procedure to do what’s called a secondary or wide excision taking out a larger margin around the melanoma site. I immediately found myself critical of the idea. I told her that sounded excessive. She let me know that she had indeed cleared the margins of the mole by 1mm and that she was 99% certain she got it all. But, she insisted, because of the seriousness of the cancer it was standard best practice to cut a wider margin. She continued informing me that evidence based research concluded that after secondary excision the chances of successful removal, with non-recurrence increased to 96%. Yes, Yes. I understood. She told me that she had gone ahead and scheduled the procedure for me. Ok. Wow. When I got off the phone I found myself feeling violated and a bit angry. The way our conversation went it was like I was supposed to feel scared, blindly accepting her recommendation and the further skin removal. Whose body? It was like an entire new spirit of fear had started to inform and direct the negotiation of my body. Fear, and this is what upset me: after I said that it sounded excessive the doctor’s reaction was to tell me that the melanoma could end up in my brain! It was almost laughable. Yeah, I get it. Melanoma has ended up in people’s brains – that’s a possibility – but REALLY? That’s what your going with? It will eat my brains? It was like talking to a child wanting her way and she started telling me these horrendous tells of death that could happen unless I agreed to another surgery. I understood that the mole was bad and it needed to be removed and it was, successfully. The difficulty I was feeling was the cognitive dissonance between what she was saying and my…intuition is it? Or perhaps the experience of the first procedure flowing so smoothy or…what was it exactly that was off about this? 

The first procedure flowed, each part’s (doctor/patient) input and interactions solid, confident, and professional. But I immediately found this notion that they “didn’t get it all” or “we can achieve a better ‘margin’ of certainty” to be bound up in fear rather than “best practice,” hubris rather than care, and further, a proprietary notion of certainty. If you (the doctor) and I (the patient) agree to a 99% probability that the first surgery was successful then upon what basis are we discussing another? The basis, “best practices, evidence based medical research,” I understand as absolutely valid when taken as a general rule. But its the political economy that constitutes the general rule that disturbs me, and the underlying assumptions about the unquestioned authority of institutional medicine. These ‘general’ practices are put into place after an increasing number of first surgeries failed at preventing melanoma recurrence. The ‘general practice’ further protect the margins of error, the prevention of law suits, security of continued dependence model of medicine, and victim centered patients, the standardized practices are thought to be beyond doubt – authoritative, even lawful – doctors cut twice when they find melanoma. And this is where the contemporary standard of care fails – right as it approaches the power of certainty. Indeed, here we have highlighted the plight of all modernity. For failing to understand the power of the individuals autonomy in treatment, for failing to have a clear diagnosis of my body as a psycho/somatic phenomenon and instead interpreting my body as a mechanism, ripped from every context except the measurable physicality, the separation of mind/body, subject/object, patient/doctor. I would even submit I could have lived the remainder of my life with the mole, never dying from melanoma. An accurate diagnosis would have understood the connections between my brief history of addiction/depression and the growth of the mole. They would have correctly understood the cancer to have corresponded with the toxic growth of my dependency issues and would have understood that the power of my recovery, the turning of my spirit into light, not to mention my age, skin tone, general health practices, positive attitude, social value (light) made the possibility of recurrence almost zero after the first cut.

So…I was angry (fearful) at the notion of getting a second surgery, but here’s another matter: I resisted in only in thought to having the second procedure – all the critiques went only as far as thought… because once I told even the first person of my circumstance and the doctor’s recommendation EVERYONE told me to have the surgery done. EVERYONE. Oh the power! Please remind me to bow before the safety of my community. My most wise council instructed me to be grateful for medical science. I followed the course of anger and resentment only briefly (ok, maybe I’m still as sore as my god-awful scar!) but I got the surgery done. The scar is horrendous, but healing. BUT, the notion that I’ll forget about it, as people suggested, will not be my course. BECAUSE, even though I can access gratitude for medical science, the power of healing, the amazing restorative powers of skin itself, the true care and expertise of the my doctor (who I very much like btw)  the critique is still valid and so are my feelings. My circumstance only highlights the problem in a minor, obtuse way: The current medical model is built upon the power of research. But even more fundamentally authoritative is the unconscious cultural myth of progress founded upon the power of science and certainty. It’s such a powerful myth that no one sees it operating, secretly acting upon our very bodies. The power of the Christian mythos – eternal life through salvation – is desperately trying to be realized through science. Donna Haraway at UC Santa Cruz first clued me into this mythical motivation – a secular-Christian motivation attempting salvation through better science. Our bodies – now my body – is a marker of an age of medical science not-yet having arrived at its destination and mutating bodies along the way. YAY! See the book: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down for a cultural critique and just a fantastic read about other limits contemporary medicine is meeting in a global context.

So just a few more remarks about my experience here and I’ll be done:

There was a really interesting moment during my first interaction with the doctor. Right before her first cut she said something that raised a curious red flag. She was talking about the aesthetics of the scar and she said she wanted it to look good because, “It will be my signature.” I think if one were to see into my mind they would have seen me do a double-take. Did she just say… I repeated the phrase back to her to make sure I had heard her correct and to give myself a second to digest the notion. Her… ‘signature?’ like a piece of art? Or like, she owns it? Ok. “Yeah, I guess she’s about the cut the shit out of me,” I thought or said… I can’t remember. I do remember joking about how archaic the entire surgery would seem to our future selfs – the future of medicine: “Yeah, they would actually cut out the skin and use stitches – like piece of cloth! Isn’t that unbelievable!”

Another interesting moment was when the second doctor came in to perform the second surgery. At first she petted my head. It was both comforting and infantilizing/disturbing at the same time. The subtle gestures of power dynamics in the room between myself and the two female doctors. “Is she petting me? Yes.” I thanked her for this actually. She had traced a huge section of skin to be removed around the original site with a sharpie. OK. I did like how I was able to be a more active participant in the procedure and even marking out where the cut would be. I think this is reflective of gender as well. Working with two competent medical doctors who happened to be women was significant because I believe their perception and capacity as women offers a space that welcomes more participation. We went back and forth for a few about which type of cut to make and where exactly the cut should be… “Where was the mole again?!” My thoughts: “Holy shit, man… or woman.” She let me watch the surgery with a mirror which I found extremely engaging. I even took a few selfies and a brief recording of the surgery.

I was reflecting about this the other night after a long gaze of discontent over my healing scar. After my first surgery I came home confident. I was pleased and felt good about the entire matter. When I came home after the second surgery. I was an emotional basket-case. That night – alone in my room I wept so violently my wound oozed and bled bad. I was so deeply disturbed and upset. I’m still upset about it.

I remember being on a bus in San Francisco and there was a black woman setting across from me with a whole in her neck. It was from smoking. She had a band-aid over it that had fallen off so that the whole was exposed. She was panicked, out of mind, dirty, poor. I found a bandaid in my bag and put it on for her, covering her neck whole. She gave me a NY hoodie for my act of kindness… and thanked me over and over in front of a crowd of astonished onlookers.

I don’t know why I’m not that bad off. She… was in a bad way. I’m not dead. I don’t have cancer. I used to fight so many things. I’m learning not to fight. I’m learning to surrender, to practice acceptance, trust. And surrender is power… Surrender, even in the wrong – when I’m wronged. Perhaps, I was right and the doctors wrong. So what? What gifts do I bare so proudly that I earned? What price have I paid for the privilege to exist, to have access to health care, to have a father who drives me to the doctor? This woman on the bus had no one. I was her best gift and I was off the bus a few stops later. So there it is…

I’m still human.

Toe Nail

I want to write about my toe nail for a few minutes. Yesterday was the first day in my life that I have ever, EVER, lost a toe nail. I guess it was over a month ago that I kicked the shit out of a guy in a soccer game. I kicked his damn heel, hard. The entire game was a mess of frustration culminating in this silly injury. There’s a few paths of discussion I could take here. I do want to mention that I have played more soccer over the past year since my collegiate career. It’s been amazing and the result of more power, more love, and self-discipline than I’ve been able to conjure in many years. I worked hard for a few solid semesters in grad school but in college I had a level of persistence that only till recently I’ve been able to reproduce. I mean recently, like the past year. The past few months I have been loosing some momentum, but over all, in the past year I have experienced unprecedented growth – growth grounded in sustained relationships to community, professionalism, income, service, autonomy, sobriety. BUT, back to my toe. Yesterday I pilled the dead nail back from the un-wanting cuticle already hard at work to grow a new nail from beneath the dead material. The night of the injury I came home to find a bloody nail, not exceedingly painful. After a few pieces of sound advice from fb users (what other knowledge is there?) I took a 1/16 inch drill bit and like a surgeon bored half way through the nail and then used a needle to finish the job: Gushing, Squirting Blood! TRIUMPH! It is so fulfilling to drain wounds! Why is that? There’s an entire youtube archive for popping zits – just any kind of wound draining seems to capture the interest of on-lookers who refuse to turn away in disgust. It’s like peering into some world of materiality that shouldn’t be looked at, a fascination with the grotesque. Anyways, I worked on that toe for at least an hour. I let myself down though, I only recorded the beginning of the procedure. BOOOO!! I was thinking last night after I removed the nail to reveal the unfamiliar, gross vacancy beneath it that I should have taken a picture every day of its healing process. Apologies for that failure. But, I have wondered what other things I might draw from my nail. What other meanings are there? Is my toe a symbolic representation of some other sort of shift within me, a physical, external representation of a psychic, internal transformation? I haven’t figured it out yet. But let me know if you think of anything! Thanks.

A Summer With My Father

I have been sad as of late. Human’s get sad. My sadness has a lot to do with my the ongoing encounter with difference – the difference between what I actually am and what I dream to be. The distance can be suffocating. I believe I can be more than I am – more professional, more published, more listened to, more capital, more socially valued. MORE. It’s the obsession of every addiction. I’ve been learning how vacuous “belief” can be when weighted against the actual. I have to practice states of gratitude. It’s actually a practice. Just like the ridiculous amount of running I’ve been doing takes practice so do these precious qualities of consciousness – faith, hope, love, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, even heartbreak, even mourning. I have to practice.

So I thought I would reflect briefly on something that I am very grateful for – time with my father. People keep asking me what I’ve been “doing” this summer and it rubs me wrong because I immediately expect a better answer from myself like, “I’ve been making loads of money and being awesome! What the hell have you been doing?!!” BUT, upon a deep breath and a moment of reflection I’m struck with a humble gratitude at the simplicity and beauty of my reality, “I have spent a great deal of time this summer with my father.” What a gift! I was recently sharing this thought with a friend and I heard myself say, “I believe that I’ll look back on this summer with deep gratitude.”

I remember being called downstairs to my fathers work bench to endure his instruction on woodworking or a striped screw or a house hold plumbing problem. This summer all those lessons have been revisited as we have worked on my house together. I say “my” house – inheritance and responsibility are intimately linked – it was my grandparents home. My father grew up in this house. I painted his room purple. I painted a green ombre wall in another room. We’ve solved plumbing problems – those are like achieving small miracles. We’ve laid quarter round, completely gutted and remodeled a bathroom. He’s been showing me things that “men” should know – little things – like chainsaw maintenance: “Shit. Ok, I’ve got to stop and sharpen these little blades now?! So, when I’m putting on plumbers tape I have to tape clock wise, ok.”

I’ve stopped attempting to explain to my father C.G. Jung’s theory of synchronicity or how Christianity and Darwinism can be complementary; I’ve stopped trying to make him someone he’s not, but damn if I don’t still have so much to learn from my dad. I told my friend on the phone that this summer will in all likelihood be the last time my father and I have such an opportunity. My father is growing elderly. His ability and mobility is decreasing – ever so subtly yet steadily, and I continue to grow and professionalize. Its doubtful that I’ll have the time and space available to me.

So, I am grateful for the time I have with him. He just bought me a 100psi air compressor. It’s setting in my living room. I have no furniture, but I have an air compressor! Thanks dad.

Tears

Has love been thrown down under the curved needs of lust? Bending toward the needs of others, and the very laws of attraction, I have laid down the rigor of some new beginning to honor conviction – unsure forms of responsibility. It was another necessary experience to expose the vein, its familiar repetition and codependencies. Another love; Intensely valid, absolutely brief, and another final visitation called the desolation of some hope. So again, I have wept and need the tears. It’s the storm above that speaks the needs below, within, the undying thirst of life. Tears are charged like yesterday’s red weather. I witnessed the storm’s lightening – symbolic scars of a wounded heart. It never really heals. It learns to live with its scars and lets their history speak through new encounters. The hope is with the history, the learning, the bending, stretching, the mourning for differences. So we cry. The faces of people without tears is absolutely tragic. If you pay close attention to pain you can see it. Their tears are forcibly repressed and their faces full of jealousy and full of pain. Years of contortions – years and years of unacknowledged sadness, years of hemming stone around their hearts. More drugs please. More substitutes – “Fill in for me a moment; Let me settle, and all that is striving for conscientization… Let it become unconscious again.” – this is the mass appeal and the steady practice of identities forged from capital relations. The message: “Tears are not productive; tears are weak; tears are dangerous.”

In tears the pain flows forth in messages – fuck the self, the becoming, the evolution – and still I celebrate the feeling because it is real and it is me. The scripture was with me recently: my tears turn to laughter. Its a well-spring of humanity. In that release healing is a part of me and God draws near – I draw near to God. I put God on. Tears create space for the active imagination to offer the unconscious an opportunity to meet the self – for a compromise, a compensation. I’ve heard, “Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.” So grow.

Greater Teacher

I write this in anticipation of a conversation that I am afraid to face. What’s worse than death save sitting on the edge of it, looking over the coming consequence in a laborious, heart-aching wait. I’m just being fired – not even fired, I should be able to apply for unemployment. I expect to be told that GPS will not renew my contract for next year tomorrow at 3:00. If I were the head of school and had the information she surely has, I would make the same decision. I can’t fault her. BUT, she’s decently unconscious concerning me. I guess its my fault for not claiming more space, demanding my voice be heard; I’m so deeply accommodating and kind to the point of ineffectiveness. This is my most critical judgment against myself, but one that pales in comparison to how well I have done over the past year teaching 6th grade girls Global Cultures.

What’s “Global Cultures?” you ask. It’s a combination of geography and social studies. I learned a great deal of information this year. I improved as a teacher. I didn’t cuss in the classroom. I didn’t commit sexual harassment much. (JOKE? gosh.) I really did very well. With grace, I handled the head of my department’s consistent, relentless self-propelled anxiety about me all year. With each passing critique I improved. Unfortunately, each advance seemed to codify my bosses narrative about me – each time I defied her narrative the effect seemed to only make her the more sure that she intended on replacing me. She seemed to be upset at the idea of me succeeding. Until the past month I felt pretty self-assured. Even the most ardent opposition would have to admit that my attitude was exceptional, I fit really well in the community of the school, and I continued to improve all year, the students loved me, learned, achieved, no parent complaints. What more could you ask of a first year teacher? Even when my department head started to bring in other teachers to instruct my class, I responded with professionalism. This hurt though – I was called into the office and told that it was unprofessional of me to discuss my contract with other employees. I had mentioned in a 6th grade team meeting that my contract had not been renewed – was being held – and I guess teachers started talking about it. That was a bad thing in the eyes of my bosses. They said, “SILENCE! We do not talk about contracts!” I felt like I was being responsible to my team and the truth. I did examine my motives and I can’t say that at least 15% fell under the motivation: “I hope people hear this and get pissed at my bosses for being idiots.” The other 85% was a pretty legitimate response to reality – to being me. I don’t do politics very well when I’m on the down side of power.

I’ve been on the down side of power for a while now at GPS. It sucks. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m playing the victim role again. I encountered this tide of circumstances in the past – the same fury, anger, loss, and fear; the same call for surrender. I haven’t been able to get out of my head about the whole matter. I want to scream and shout about politicized silencing, subtle to blatant discrimination based on issues of race, class, sex, culture, and especially gender. I am consistently the only male in the room. I am routinely infantilized in meetings. Can’t you see how I am a victim of magnificent proportion? Christ. Blah. Blah. Blah. In front of me sits Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and a few of bell hooks books on black feminist thought. If I can just integrate enough emancipatory discourse before I have the meeting tomorrow maybe I can convince the head of the school (a woman of color by the way) that I’m actually the liberatory scholar I think that I am and that getting rid of me would be like getting rid of one of the most radically inspired and enthusiastic teachers on the planet! Who would get rid of that teacher?! NOOOOO body. 🙂

What’s interesting is my practice surrounding these thought caverns and employment notions. I watch my thinking dance around the conversations. She’ll say… then I’ll say and keep saying…?” WHAT? I’ll just keep talking till she and everyone else at the school knows that I’m amazing. Where is surrender? When I surrender I admit that in all honesty I don’t know what will make me happy. I don’t know what will make me throw myself off a bridge or descend into a depression. I don’t know how love will offer itself or what configuration of events will yield my dream state of purpose and potential. I have not arrived. I doubt whether living as a 6th grade teacher will offer me the opportunity that I seek. God has cared for me this far, and I am not deserving of doubt. Yet, I argue with the unknown future. I am wounded. Heartbroken.

If God were to say, “What would you have me do? I’ll give you your hearts desire.” I would make a claim to enact justice. I would have that space of freedom. “Is it not your purpose to be of maximum service to the greatest number of people?” I would ask that I become the greater teacher.

A David Whyte quote that speaks:

A David Whyte quote that speaks:
“HEARTBREAK is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control, of holding in our affections those who inevitably move beyond our line of sight. Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is our indication of sincerity: in a love relationship, in a work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is just as much an essence and emblem of care as the spiritual athlete’s quick but abstract ability to let go. Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.
“Heartbreak is inescapable; yet we use the word as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream, a child lost before their time. Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around; the hope is to find a way to place our feet where the elemental forces of life will keep us in the manner to which we want to be accustomed and which will also keep us from the losses that all other human beings have experienced without exception since the beginning of conscious time. But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way…”

What does the future of education look like?

ideas.ted.com

What’s the future of education? It’s a popular question right now, with answers ranging from online learning to charter schools. But Liz Coleman is focused on a more fundamental issue: what will schools teach? And what does that mean for the future of our society?

In her eye-opening talk at TED2009, Coleman shared her hopes and fears for the future of the American liberal arts education. Then the president of Bennington College, she critiqued the status quo in higher education: a university system more concerned with growing endowments than with training the next generation of public servants. Universities, she said, are not producing students equipped to address pressing global issues. She called for a radical reimagining of the liberal arts education, and shared her vision for a school system that produces engaged citizens with a strong sense of civic duty.

In 2011, Coleman set out to make this a…

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