On Living

Friday Thought : Leave it at the door. be Awesome.

My friend, Ron Hardy

My friend, Ron Hardy

I was in my third year of teaching, I think (maybe fourth) when much of my life was far from where I'd hoped it would be and I was beginning to struggle with confidence, joy, and purpose. Unsurprisingly, it began to impact my teaching, my classroom, and my students. Only, I didn’t notice.

Then, I somewhere around Christmas, I received an anonymous email from a student that was written from an anonymous email account informing me that I was not doing a great job, that my teaching was sub-par, and that he (I think it was a he, at least) and his classmates deserved better. Luckily, I received that email on a Friday so I could spend the weekend sulking, arguing, excusing, then finally accepting that he was right. I needed to do better. Because he and they and my colleagues and my family deserved better. And because I was better.

The following week I started writing, "Leave it at the door. be Awesome." on the bottom of every lesson plan. A few weeks in, I made it the footer to my lesson plan template which I have used ever since, reminding me each and every day I sat down to create a lesson to leave whatever struggles, issues, and frustrations I might have at the door and be Awesome.

I wasn't perfect after that, nor did I always leave everything at the door. In fact, every now and then I would gather it all in my arms, squeeze it through the door, then drop it right in the middle of the floor for all my students to see. Like the day I spent sharing memories of my childhood best friend because the night before I had discovered it was the anniversary of passing. He had been gone for almost six years, and I never even knew. We had lost touch over the years, and when I discovered he had passed away six years prior, I felt terrible, guilty, and at a loss.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

So I wrestled through it with my students, I shared some of my favorite memories, talked about how the night before I could only see so much of Ronnie in my son that I ended up holding him for almost an hour while I talked about my childhood friend, and I talked with them about loss and life and the struggle in between. Then I had them share memories of their friends and families and write brief notes to those they mentioned. It wasn't all that academic of a class, but kids referenced it for years as one of their favorite classes and, ever since, I have committed to sharing his story with whomever I can during the month of October, the month he so abruptly left this world.

Sometimes life and circumstances seem more than we can bare. Or, as Bilbo Baggins said, it can make us feeling exhausted and "thin . . . stretched, like butter, spread over too much bread."

In those moments, for me at least, it is healthy to remind myself that I am needed - by my students, my colleagues, my family, and my community. That I am bigger than my circumstances, better than what some might think or say about me, and that I am able to help and serve and do great things, even when I don't feel like it.

People need us. They need us to be great, to be better than we often feel and sometimes think. They need us to be their mothers, fathers, friends, counselors, encouragers, planners, champions, and safe places. They a need us to be Awesome. Which means, sometimes, that they need us to be vulnerable and open and raw. They need us to be human. Which is great! Because that is exactly what humans are. Awesome.

And because we are, we can also be.

Leave it at the door. be Awesome.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  Friday Thoughts : Ron Hardy

#insta_repeat : an instagram account that duplicates and connects

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#Outsidemagazine recently published #insta_repeat, an instagram account dedicated to to portraying the replication of art and creativity.

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I was instantly drawn to this sentiment. Recently, wife and I have been discussing the pros and cons of entering a social media break for this very reason, to see exactly where our creativity would go if we had no input or influence from others. What images and creativity and thoughts would we have, in what direction would they wander?

We talked well into the night.

But then, as it often happens, I went to bed and she stayed up. She ended up heading back to the post to read the comments.

She found this one:

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“So what?” What a great question.

So what if we duplicate, if we find inspiration and innovation from those around us? So what if we imitate them, model them, and join them in their creative pursuits? So what?

It's easy to mock or scoff at all the perceived wanna-be's out there. "Be original!" we might say, because nobody likes a poser and everyone wants to be uniquely different. Just not too different. Because we also don't want to be alone, misunderstood, or an outcast. We want community and relationships and to be included. We want to be known.

"Being original," Adam Grant writes, "doesn't mean being first. It just means being different and better" (via). It means learning and absorbing from those around us while using our individuality and identity to progress an idea or truth beyond its current state. 

And that is exactly what is happening in so many areas of life and art and #insta_repeat, people are finding connection and community by embracing and participating in a movement, an idea, or a trend because it makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves, in their own unique way. Just like everybody else.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  : Outside Magazine

Wendell Berry: Thinking Globally, Locally

I came by this quote through the book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schoolings. The book is okay. The quote is full and worth a long digesting.

I don’t think “global thinking” is futile, I think it is impossible. You can’t think about what you don’t know and nobody knows this planet. Some people know a little about a few small parts of it…The people who think globally do so by abstractly and statistically reducing the globe to quantities. Political tyrants and industrial exploiters have done this most successfully. Their concepts and their green are abstract and their abstractions lead with terrifying directness and simplicity to acts that are invariably destructive. If you want to do good and preserving acts you must think and act locally. The effort to do good acts gives the global game away. You can’t do a good act that is global…a good act, to be good must be acceptable to what Alexander Pope called “the genius of the place”. This calls for local knowledge, local skills, and local love that virtually none of us has, and that none of us can get by thinking globally. We can get it only by a local fidelity that we would have to maintain through several lifetimes…I don’t wish to be loved by people who don’t know me; if I were a planet I would feel exactly the same.

By thinking and acting globally, all of us, we take care of the globe. Seems simple enough. It breaks down quick, however, when we begin to peer over the fence, evaluate our neighbors work, and believe we can do better.

Acting globally requires trust in millions acting locally , which is why it’s so damn hard to do.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Wendell Berry Literature

What we've learned from Justine Sacco's tweet

Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favor humans over ideology, and those people who favor ideology over humans. I favor humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.

Let’s not do that (via).

What a challenging TED Talk. I especially loved the contrast between what social media’s intention, to connect us all through our faults and mistakes, and the reality of what it has become. Namely, a stage to celebrate our false perfection and a spear to hunt people. So we can hang them with their shameful secrets.

As Ronson says, let’s not do that.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  : On Living : TED Talks : Jon Ronson

Dear Self : An Open Letter to Those Who Wander

photo by  @wayleadstoway

“What advice would you give to your teenage self,” is asked at the end of every Wild Ideas Worth Living podcast, and the answers are often what you’d expect. “Be brave,” “be kind,” or “be adventurous.” All good advice, but not all that helpful because, what do they mean? What would they look like? Especially for a teenage kid?

I’ve often wondered what I would say to my younger self, if I could sit and chat with him a while. It probably wouldn’t be much different than what I share with my students or children. But then recently, the son of my good friend recently left his job, bought a van, and hit the open and free road, and I found myself living vicariously through him. I saw myself packing the van, scouring maps, and anxious to go, to start the adventure, and to see what sort of story would unfold.

So I sat down and wrote him a letter. His name is Austyn, but as I thought and wrote and considered his coming days, I found myself writing more to myself than to him and answering the question, “What advice would you give?”

This is my answer:

Dear Self,

When I heard you were embracing the Road, I instantly longed to go with you. To sit in the co-captain’s chair, arm bouncing out the window, and small worries packed into a small bag. The open road and an empty journal. Wonder and bliss. Life. Or at least, it can be.

Self, know that to you I'm little more than a name on a page, and thats okay! But if you don't mind, I'd like to share some thoughts with you. Thoughts that are bread from experience, from the reflections of those who have gone before you and I, and thoughts that are inspired by the endless train of the faithless who have desperately reached for, and occasionally captured, a glimpse of Understanding on this journey called Life.

I hope you find them beneficial. If not, no worries! Writing these words has brought me back to my own travels with family and friends, like running my finger along a map of life, and I'm okay with that. Because that too is why we wander, so that one day, we have something to look back on.

Self, Be Inspired:

Heading for the unknown is, I think, just as natural and crucial as the need for food, shelter, and love. Throughout history, cultures across the world have valued the process of "finding yourself" - especially in the West - which is why guys like Kerouac (On the Road) and McCandless (Into the Wild) are so damn inspiring, because they're scratching the itch that many of us choose not to reach. These men, and the many that came and went before and after them, wanted to “suck out all the marrow of life,” and they did, making them uncommon among the common and pillars of inspiration.

“Being original doesn’t mean require being first,” Adam Grant writes in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant, “It just means being different and better. (pg 105) As you prepare for your journey, I wanted to give you a few examples of people who did things different and better. They, I think/hope will provide some possible clarity and direction to your coming days and months:

180 Degrees South : Conquerers of the Useless : "My whole life I've been drawn to open country. I always come home a little different."

Life Lessons from a 7-Thousand-Mile Bike Ride: "I had this fear of building {a} routine . . . and so promised myself that I had to do something radically different. I'm gonna do something that scares the crap out of me and see if that changes my brain chemistry."

Loved By All: The Story of Apa Sherpa: “The true beauty of Nepal isn’t the mountains, but the people who live in their shadows.”

Breath: a "deep punch to the creative soul" : Mike Olbinski is a storm chaser, photographer, and an overall inspiration. 

Be Original:

It's easy to be inspired by others and their adventures, because that's life!!! It's also dangerous, because in following the inspiration of others, you can easily lose your own path. As you travel and rub shoulders with others, be cautious. The purpose of such trips is to find clarity, not lose yourself in someone else's noise. 

Like these people:

. . . people didn't really enjoy the moment and were hooked to their smartphones. As if the ultimate goal of travel was to brag about it online and run after the likes and followers . . . "These Instagrammers are collectively sucking the joy and spontaneity out of travel . . . Social media encourages the memeification of human experience. Instead of diversity we see homogeneity. It’s extremely boring” (via).

In short, don’t be boring. Don’t be common. And don't take this picture. 

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Or this one.

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Instead, be original.

"We are all social chameleons," Kevin Ashton writes in How to Fly a Horse, "adjusting our skin to blend in with, or sometimes stand out from, whatever crowed we happen to be in" (pg 224) which makes sense because we all want to be accepted, to have our Tribe, and to know that we are known, that we belong. But we also want to be uniquely ourselves, to stand out, and to provide our own stamp and worth upon the greater world or small Tribe. Just remember, "Being original doesn't require being first. It just means being different and better.”

Be different, be better, AND be known.

Head out on your adventure, like the many men and women who have done and gone before you, at times following their footsteps, like a child struggling to meet the gate of his father's long stride but confident he is headed in the right direction. Other times, veer off and find your own stride. Explore. But then come back.

Be like this guy; not one of "those guys."

Self, Don't Get Lost:

Remember that trip you took as a sophomore in high school? You were planning to visit you sister in Philadelphia and had one friend lined up and ready to go. But with only a week or so before departure, he backed out. "My mom said she's nervous we might break down or get lost" he had said, and you were devastated because you thought the trip was off. When you Dad, he said, "I would think so. That's part of the adventure! Find another friend who would like to adventure with you.” So you did. And nothing happened. No tires exploded and no accident occurred. You didn’t even get lost! But you did stretch a 10 hour drive into almost 18 because, well damnit, there were just too many roads that needed exploring!

Self, getting lost geographically isn't a problem. In fact, you might find it the most enjoyable part or your journey! Getting lost mentally, however, is a terrifying thing. I mentioned Kerouac and McCandless in the beginning, and I did so deliberately because they tend to be the faces of contemporary American adventure, inspiring hundreds (if not thousands) to quit their jobs, wave goodbye, and hit the road in search of "ultimate freedom.” Yet, at the end of their journey what they were left with was a wake of pain, destruction, and death.  And I don't mean physically, but humanly. I mean the kind of death that can only be born from selfishness and the isolated pursuit of personal gain. The kind of death destroys the soul, the spirit, and the beauty of those around you. That’s the death I’m talking about, the living kind, and the kind I hope so desperately to steer you away from.

Self, as you travel, as you spend countless hours driving, thinking, talking, and living, consider this: who can you serve? Initially, road trips were inherently selfish. With a thumb pointed towards the sky, wondering travelers required the help of strangers. They bummed rides, spare change, and simple meals. The more outgoing supertramps were offered a bed. Yet, how many of them actually helped others? How many used their gifts and talents to serve and bless others? Kerouac didn't. McCandless for sure didn't! Both thought only of themselves, their journey, and how others might help enhance their experience. In search of truth or experience or whatever, they forgot the greater and deeper purpose of life: to help others.

There may never be a time such as this, where your days are your own, the road is open, and responsibilities at a minimum. What an opportunity to find yourself! To discover what you are good at, what you love, and HOW BEST TO GIVE IT AWAY!!! You are gifted with many things, and hopefully, those gifts also align with what you're passionate about. So try them out on strangers, offer them to bypassing wayfarers (I think I just made that word up): old ladies walking across the street, mothers with their hands full of groceries, the man on the corner holding a cardboard sign. Whatever it is, and to whom ever it is, FIND WAYS TO SERVE!!! If you do, you will never be lost. 

And Lastly, Self:

Here are some simple pieces of advice I wish someone had told me, when I was your age:

Learn a new skill of any sort - music, photography, drawing, whittling, whatever. Learn something new. You've got the time and endless amount of inspiration.

Journal - a lot! Even the mundane. I would truly recommend a blog (wix, squarespace, etc) only because, from experience, journals tend to be lost or damaged. Plus, if you and your journey truly are an original, people will find your journey inspiring - so why not give it away!!! However, many would argue a 99 cent journal, black pen (I recommend the InkJoy 700RT 1.0 M, found at any Walmart or Target), and a picnic table are just as, if not more, inspiring than a blog. Whatever your fancy, WRITE!!! You won't regret it. 

Take pictures. Keep them safe (like on a blog!!!) You're gonna want them someday.

Write letters. Not emails, not texts. Letters. Especially to people who help and encourage you along the way and to those who come to mind on your journey. Not only will you bless those fortunate enough to receive them, it will serve as a constant reminder of just how many people have helped you along your greater journey. Which should, in turn, inspire you once more to help others.

Thoughts for the Road:

I know you’ve already planned your playlist for the road, so I won’t waste time on that. However, what I can provide are podcasts. Below are a few of my favorites.

Reality: Invisibilia

Feminism in Black and White: Scene on Radio

GREGOR: Gimlet Media

THE TRUE HARD WORK OF LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS: On Being

DECLUTTER: The Minimalists

GRASS IS GREENER: The Moth

Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis: Revisionist History

Do Meaningful Work and Change the World with Adam Braun

Tom Petty and the Creation of "Wildflowers": Broken Record

Ami Vitale – Traveling the world, Telling Stories, And Creating Awareness Through Photography: By Wild Ideas Worth Living

One Head, Two Brains: How The Brain's Hemispheres Shape The World We See: Hidden Brain

(And if this isn’t enough, there’s plenty more where they came from).


I envy the journey you are about ready to embark upon, and in many ways I wish I could go with you. But maybe this is good enough, joining you in mind and spirit, at least for now. Who know though. If you stop in, and if you have room for the family, we might just join you.


Good luck to you!!!

Safe travels.

(Older) Brian

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  : Adventure : Inspiration

Calvin and Hobbes head out on an adventure

The first of anything is difficult. Even, sometimes, if you’ve been doing it for a while. For me, the first post of the new year is completely nerve wracking. There’s something about the first post that seems to set the tone, and it always makes me incredibly nervous. Sometimes I just dive in, like I’m jumping into a cold pool and I just need to get it over with. Other times I take my time, waiting for the perfect idea to come along.

This year, it took just over two weeks. But the wait was worth it.

On December 31, 1995, Bill Watterson published the final 'Calvin & Hobbes' comic strip. Little did he probably know how his little cartoon would inspire, encourage, and entertain the world.

Or inspire the beginning of a new year.

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It’s a magical world, and I’m ready for another year of exploring all that it has to offer, are you?

What Mr. Rogers' Quiet Neighborhood Can Teach Us About Our Loud and Busy Lives

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Fred Rogers began the episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood just like he’d done a hundred times before, “by putting on his cardigan and buttoning it up.” Only this time, according to Hedda Sharapan, a producer and actor who was often involved with the show, something wasn’t right. “He had started at the wrong buttonhole; he was one button off.” The crew expected Fred to start over. Instead, He gave Sharapan a look and kept on, ad libbing an explanation to his children audience just “how easy it is to make mistakes” and then spent the extra time showing them how to correct it (pg, 193).

Any other show would have snubbed the first take and instantly recorded a second. Not so with Mr. Rogers. He understood that mistakes were a huge part of life, that they were essential to life, and that his young audience needed understand that. So embraced the silly mistake and used it as a teachable moment, because he cared deeply about children, and because he knew exactly what they needed most.

After years of training, researching and observing young children in the classroom and in life, and after studying and listening to them and their stories and thoughts, Rogers become a master teacher who cared deeply for the holistic development of children. They became his chief concern. More than money, more than fame, more than job security, Fred Rogers cared about his children audience.

Which is why, in contrast to his competition, Mr. Rogers’ show was slow, even crawling at times, because he knew that was what his young audience needed.

“Rogers’s embrace of reality also included breaking one of the established rules of television, a prohibition against footage that is essentially empty. While Sesame Street used fast pacing and quick-cut technique to excite and engage their viewers and keep them glued to the screen, Fred Rogers deliberately headed in the opposite direction, creating his own quiet, slow-paced, thoughtful world, which led to real learning in his view” (pg, 194).

Fred Rogers believed children were entertained enough. That instead of another fast-paced tv show that kept children distracted, what they needed was time.

“He really was interested in the child as a developing person” Maxwell King wrote in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, which is why Rogers feared constant entertainment; it would engage his audience but weaken their minds. And if they had a weak mind, they would not fully grasp who they were, what they were, and how they thought.

“Our job in life,” Rogers believed, “is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is - that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside which is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness, and to provide ways of developing its expression (pg 237).

For Mr. Roger, in order for children to discover their uniqueness, they needed silence, time, and space. Silence so that they could hear themselves think, time to consider those thoughts, then space to work them out, to fail, and then to try again. They need opportunities to be human, and they needed adults to model humanity for them, to teach them, and to encourage them that life can be hard but that we can always work to correct it. Even when it’s something as simply as a missing a buttonhole.

“One of the major goals of education,” Mr. Rogers believed, “must be to help students discover a greater awareness of their own unique selves, in order to increase their feelings of personal worth, responsibility, and freedom” (pg 328).

In contrast, classrooms, living rooms, and car rides that fill the silence with gimmicks, screens, and distractions leave little room for such self-reflection and no time for imagination.

“Fred Rogers lived out the conundrum of modern life: embracing technology and using it in imaginative ways to benefit children, while rejecting the dehumanizing aspects of complex technological advancement” (pg 80).

For our children’s sake, for our future’s sake, embrace the silence, fight for the quiet, and allow time and space for children to think, make mistakes, and try again. It’s what Mr. Rogers would do. And he was the master of a pretty amazing neighborhood.

But so can we.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  Parenting : Living

Post-it: A Perfect Mistake

“Spencer Silver, the scientist who is partially credited with the creation of the Post-it,” Sinek writes, “was working in his lab at the Minnesota-based company, actually trying to develop a very strong adhesive. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. What he accidentally made was a very weak adhesive” (pg 168).

Instead of throwing away his mistake, he passed it around throughout the company, “just in case someone else could figure out a way to use it.”

A few years later, a fellow scientist was in church choir practice, “getting frustrated that he couldn’t get his bookmark to stay in place.” It kept falling to the floor. Until he remembered Silver’s “weak adhesive.” It would make for the perfect bookmark.

That mistake is now “one of the best-recognized brands in history, with four thousand varieties sold in over a hundred countries” (pg 169).

Instead of seeing his mistake as a failure, Spencer Silver saw it as a “Not yet.” He also saw that he didn’t have the solution, that he needed a fresh set of eyes to look at the problem. He understood that he needed help. Which is exactly why he chose to work for 3m.

3M “knows that people do their best work when they work together, share their ideas and comfortably borrow each other’s work for their own projects.” There is “no notion of “‘mine’”, which is why, at 3m, more than 80 percent of their patents “have more than one inventor.” It’s also why, in 2009, “when other companies were slashing their R&D budgets to save money, 3M still managed to release over a thousand new products” (pg 170), because “they have a corporate culture that encourages and rewards people for helping each other and sharing everything they learn.”

Rather than serving and celebrating the individual, they consider the group and others above themselves. They stick together, just like the adhesive Spencer Silver attempted to develop in the beginning. (I know, my brilliant display of a word play amazes me too.)

“Successful failure,” my son says, reading over my shoulder, and he’s right. Perfectly so. Because in a society that considers others above themselves, failure is not something to be feared. It is something to be embraced, shared, and endured.

Imagine what our homes, schools, and communities would look like if we lived with a similar approach. Imagine the bruises and the failures. The freedom. The healing. And the beautiful success we would experience. Together.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  On Living