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Three Parks.

Friday, 11. August 2017 20:54

I have spent the last week in the desert (literately and metaphorically). Using Mesquite Nevada as home base, I’ve relaxed and visited the three most famous National Parks in Utah, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Arches.  Aside from some wonderful drives and exhausting but beautiful hikes, I also noticed more than ever before the varying character of these parks, and how each awoke a different emotion and connections inside of me.  As hoped, the journey outward focused me inward during this transitional time.


Bryce Canyon
I visited Bryce first.  I’ve been there before and seen how beautiful it is with its thousands of stacked “Hoodoos” standing sentinel over the canyon.  This time I was amazed by what a hidden gem the canyon is.  When you arrive in the park, the terrain looks like any other wooded park.  Trees, mountains, trails, it is remarkable in its unremarkableness.  However, when one walks up to the bluff and looks down, the true beauty and utterly unique character is shown.  I stood on that initial bluff and enjoyed the reaction of others as they first saw this monument reveal its indescribable beauty.  Upon looking at this picture, a friend said, “It looks like the Grand Canyon,” but I have to disagree.  The Grand Canyon overwhelms with its scale, its immensity, its remoteness.  Bryce in comparison feels small, intense, completely present. It is relatively easy to hike down through most of the Canyon and walk amid the Hoodoos (walking back up is another story, however).  Bryce is an inward journey, finding and exploring beauty one would never have expected from the outside.  


Zion
Zion is the park that I’ve visited most often, and I would argue that it is the most beautiful and wonderful of the National Parks. The experience of Zion is opposite that of Bryce. You see the glory of Zion’s peaks miles before you enter the park, and though there are hidden views and treasures at each turn as the tram takes visitors into the deepest folds of the park, the bigness is apparent in every direction. I think Zion is the best named park (ok, Arches is on point, but perhaps a bit on the nose), as no place on earth captures God’s glory more completely. Hiking in Zion is wonderful, but to some extent, it doesn’t make one feel closer to the heart of the park. That heart is found on the horizon. I took this picture at the end of a hike, I saw pools and waterfalls, but this picture (which I think is the best I have ever taken) is the essence of Zion. The immensity of the world, its glory, and possibility is alive in whatever direction you look.


Arches
I haven’t been to Arches before, and my visit was truncated a bit by a 7:00 pm curfew caused by nighttime roadwork.  However, I hiked out to see Delicate Arch, the most famous landmark in the park, and probably the most photographed site in the state.  It was a rigorous hike (which I had to do at a quick pace to make it back in time), but the work was worth it as I turned the corner and saw something unlike anything in any other park in Utah or any other state.  Before me stood a massive gateway, carved by wind and water, both calling me to look at it and through it.  A picture of Delicate Arch is not of the arch alone, but the sky and landscape behind it (there are postcards with the moon centered in the arch).  Whether taking a picture from across the rock bluffs, or standing in the middle of the arch, one understands that the Delicate Arch exists simultaneously as work of art and frame. 

These three park experiences, hidden immediate beauty, immense and somewhat remote grandure, and focus both at and beyond the goal monument, suggest obvious metaphorical truths should one be in the desert searching for truth.  But whether one is looking for truth or just spending a week, there are three different natural realities all within a day’s drive of Mesquite Nevada.

Next week it’s back home and creating various new realities for myself.


As always, I welcome your comments.

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Relaunch

Tuesday, 1. August 2017 18:18

Returning to a blog after several months is like taking an old car out of storage.  There is quite a bit of maintenance work that needs to be done before it is running smoothly again.  First, you have to update all the software and go through all the thousands of spam comments to see if anything legitimate slipped through the cracks.  Second, you have to figure out how to resume the conversation…perhaps with a creaky metaphor about automobile operation, and you have to remember what it is like to write in this form.  Finally, once something is done, you have to reach out to former readers who have long forgotten your existence and beg them to return, promising that you will be a more faithful writer in the future.  It is a lot of work, and probably not worth it unless there is something fairly significant to make it worthwhile.

Well, today marks a double relaunch.  Not only am I relaunching the site, I’m relaunching myself.  After this Friday I will be leaving my position as Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Orange.  Leaving the position I’ve held for seven years (and a total of thirty-five years working in Catholic Schools in the Diocese) is a disorienting life event for which one can never be fully prepared.  It is the type of change that I have so glibly talked about for years.  Professions are more fluid than ever before, and I have been preaching that we all must be ready to remake ourselves to meet the needs of the changing world.  Now it’s time to remake myself, to relaunch.

I launched this blog seven years ago when I first became superintendent as a forum to discuss my experiences and my ideas about schools, education, and technology.  With this relaunch I want to talk about where I have come in these areas and others and where I see myself and education going.

While I will admit to some uneasiness (read white-knuckled terror) at this transition, I can’t help but also feel both excited and indeed lucky to have this opportunity.  So seldom are we given a chance to remake ourselves, to stop and reorient our direction to meet the realities of a changing world, or to take those changes in ourselves that have been happening for some time and break free of the chrysalis where this growth was protected (Oh my God! Is he actually using a butterfly metaphor?). Probably my favorite quotation of all time comes from Charles DuBos, “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”  

I have treasured my time as Superintendent, and I have to admit, I will miss the simple clarity of that role, as challenging as it was at times.  I will mainly miss people, the people in my office, the principals and teachers, the children (not entirely certain how much I will miss the parents, but I suppose I will miss them too).  I will really miss the superintendents from across the state and across the country, some of the finest people I have ever met.  I hope that any new incarnation will allow me to cross paths with my friends again.

I’m not entirely certain what I will do next.  I have a million thoughts and few plans. I suspect I will be remaining in education, though I hope to use my skills in different ways, perhaps sharing with a broader audience.  I know that I immediately want to start writing again, hence the relaunch of this blogging enterprise.  I have always felt that writing helped me to best understand my own world while sharing my ideas with others, and I hope some will come along with me on this undirected pilgrimage called life.

As always, I invite your comments

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 24: “Let your love flow to all living things”

Saturday, 24. December 2016 22:18

First to the title, I know this is not a quote from a Christmas song, but a dear friend once pointed out how it was in many ways the underlying theme of much of great literature, and if it isn’t the message of Christmas, I don’t know what is.

Well, we’ve made it…again.  Whatever is going to get done is done, and we will discover again that what didn’t get done doesn’t change much.  In a little more than an hour, I will be heading for Christmas mass, and then (at least in a post Santa Claus world) Christmas is fully here.  

I’ve struggled with my Christmas wish this year more than any other, not because I can’t think of something to wish, but it seems there are too many things needed (and like Aladdin I’m not able to wish for more wishes).

There’s no getting around it, 2016 has been a very hard year for many people, lots of struggles, lots of loss, lots of pain.  And, let’s face it, there is a lot of fear and not much optimism for 2017.  Daily reading of the news feels more and more that our country and our world are a drug-induced vision that is horrible, but from which we must certainly, eventually, come down…only there is no coming down. Cynicism has always been a protection for some like me, because by believing in the worst of our fellow human beings and our world, we are seldom disappointed. However even the hardest of cynics have to look at 2016 and say, “Wow, I didn’t see THAT coming!”

This is the worst Christmas message I have ever read

So my wish for you, for us all, this year is a little different.  It is a wrapped gift.  Inside is whatever is needed to see and make possibilities that we can’t see today.  I know that we will be faced with a multitude of challenges and will need many reserves of energy, hope and love.  These I wish for you.  This gift contains whatever is that thing that will keep us each working and fighting for the world that this day represents. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.  He has come to his people and set them free,” reads the banner hanging on the wall behind me.  Christmas is the story of the ineffiable stepping in and changing the story for the good of all people (that’s 100%, not 1% or 99%).  In 2017 let’s dedicate the year to changing the story, and the yet unwrapped gift contains hope, perseverance, and above all love.  I pray that in the coming year you will each be given that thing you need to carry on, to believe, and to change the world.

I will be back in 11 months to do this again.

Merry Christmas! I love you all.

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 23: “Still muddling”

Saturday, 24. December 2016 6:18

Part of the “rules” of this blogging exercise each year is that there are no themes, no structure, no preset topics.  Each day’s topic (with the exception of the two carry-over posts) was thought up on the day.  I don’t keep a notebook of possible subjects ahead of time (though that might be a great idea).  The only two days for which I have a yearly agenda are the 23rd and 24th.  Today is the day of reckoning, looking back and trying to make some sense of the previous twenty-two entries.  Tomorrow is my Christmas wish for anyone who has patiently slouched toward Bethelehem with me.

So what do I make of the “24 Days of Blogging” 2016 version on this penultimate day? Like past years, it certainly is a mixed bag.  There have been a couple of ed-tech pieces, a few pieces about weird Christmas traditions, a couple of rants, a few cheats, and several unclassifyable rambles.  I wrote much less about Christmas carols than in previous years, and I didn’t mention. A Christmas Carol once.  I found it harder to discover odd traditions from our history and from other countries and I’m wondering if that vein is getting tapped out.

Though it’s a bit risky to judge the quality of the pieces so soon after writing (I often appreciate one year’s work a year later) my general feeling about this exercise as a whole is that it has matched much of my life during this past year, “muddling through.”  This has been a hard year in many ways for me and for many others, and that has been reflected in my life, in my work, and in my writing.  So few of the pieces had real passion or enthusiasm, many of them lack a clear defining idea, much of the writing lacked the cleverness or spark of previous years.  On several days I wanted to simply say, “No mas!” and retire from the venture.  I was also much less enthusiastic about promoting posts after they were completed.  I didn’t put links in twitter, and missed many days in Facebook.  I know far fewer read these than in past years.

But I wrote (something) and I posted (something) every day, because this is what you do, you muddle through.  Sometimes ideas are plenty and the writing flows through the fingers to the touch screen like electricity, but sometimes it doesn’t.

There is a beautiful winter song called “The Fallow Way,”

I’ll learn to love the fallow way

And gather in the patient fruits 

And after autumns blaze and burn

I’ll know the full still, deep roots

That nothing seem to know or need

That crack the ice in frozen ponds 

And slumbering in winter’s folds 

Have dreams of green and blue and gold 

I’ll learn to love the fallow way 

And listening for blossoming 

Of my own heart once more in spring 

As sure as time, as sure as snow

As sure as moonlight, wind and stars

The fallow time will fall away

The sun will bring an April day

And I will yield to Summer’s way

So maybe this has been a fallow year, but I hope that by muddling through, there might be a springtime not too far behind.

Will I do this again next year?  I don’t know.  I suppose in part it depends on if there is a next year, which I mean only somewhat facetiously.  I enter 2017 with the same fear as most, the dread that perhaps we in our narcissism and recklessness have passed the tipping point, and we and our old world will not be able to correct the path we have “chosen.” I pray that we and our good old world will be stronger than that, and I will leave it there for now.

Thanks to any who have read these posts.  You are a miracle.  I have repeatedly said that I would write if no one read this, but I am blessed that people do.

So I’ll end here, because I have to think up one hell of a Christmas wish for tomorrow.

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The 24 Days of Blogging Day 22: “How I miss that old fashioned Christmas! “

Friday, 23. December 2016 3:42

There is nothing better than an old Christmas tradition.  Whether it is the tree, or the mistletoe, or Krampus, these yearly reminders of our past can’t help but bring joy every year.  However, there is nothing worse than a fake tradition, a “tradition” that has grown not from our past, but from our desire to create a past in the future.  Let’s examine two examples of this today.  

The elf on the shelf, what a charming Christmas tradition.  A mischievous elf (in the form of a doll) travels around the house, scouting the way for Santa Claus and verifying that the children continue behavior that will merit his visit.  Occasionally a very clever child will spot the elf, but by the next day he will have found another hiding place.  Generations of children remember scouring the house for the clever elf and watch fondly as their own children take up the search.  

Except the elf on the shelf is not a tradition that is generations old.  The entire activity seems to date back to 2004 with the publication of The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell.  The book was sold with a doll so that the tradition could be taken up in the houses of the buyers.  But it is faux tradition, something that feels like it has been done for years, when it actually was a fad, the Pokémon of the early 2000s.  The desire for this marketing approach can be seen, well, in the title of the book.  The inventor of a game is not allowed to say it is a tradition, and the way that the word tradition is used to give gravitas to the activity is in the best spirit of commercial Christmas (in this way perhaps it is traditional). The Elf on the Shelf tradition is the Monkees of Christmas traditions…prefabricated and prepackaged with the faint whiff of false authenticity.

The second fake tradition is a game for adults that does have a short history, but has degenerated into the same commercial crassness in a short number of years.  The Ugly Sweater Competition was a healthy and enjoyable mockery of overly earnest and overly ornate Christmas wear. It was a terrific time for friends to gather with Aunt Bertha and Uncle Fritz’s old sweaters and laugh (and drink) at the excess of glitter, pom poms, and misguided yarn.

Though the USC (Ugly Sweater Competition) never claimed to be a generational tradition (in fact, they drew much of their popularity for their mockery of tradition), in a short time the purity of this mockery became tainted.  Target and other retailers sell “Ugly Christmas Sweaters” specifically for these competitions.  To create something gaudy pretending that it was not intended as gaudy is such a contradiction (I suppose hipsters would call it meta).  An even more disturbing development is “Ugly Sweater Chic,” people simultaneously wearing and mocking gaudy Christmas fashions, creating a level of cool beyond that of the North Pole.  Starbucks sells gingerbread men with ugly sweaters. The Ugly Sweater tradition has very quickly jumped the, well, reindeer.

As always I welcome your comments.

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 21: “Walking in a winter wonderland”

Thursday, 22. December 2016 2:28

Despite the fact that we have been bombarded with winter scenes and winter songs, today is the actual first day of winter.  The shortes day of the year.  I understand that it actually isn’t a shorter day, only shorter daylight,  it this sort of leads to the kind misperception I want to talk about today.

I was watching a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson about common misconceptions.  He quoted the general perception that days get longer in the summer and shorter in the winter.  This jives with our general feeling about this, we think of the darkness of winter and the eternal daylight of summer.  Tyson said that not only this not true, it is the opposite of truth.  Days get longer in the winter and shorter in the summer. This is so counter intuitive that I had to think about it for a while, but of course, he’s right.  Today is the shortest day of the year, so each day after today gets longer.  The first day of summer is the longest day of the year, so each day after is shorter.  

While there is no intrinsic value to daylight over night, there is an internal optimism that is felt by all with more daylight.  If this is true, then winter is an optimistic season, a season of light.  Of course most everyone knows that the Christian feast of the Nativity was a baptism of a former feast of the unconquerable sun.  Ancient peoples saw daylight going steadily away, and the feast celebrated the yearly recognition that the world was not going to disappear into unending darkness. 

So winter is a season of growing light, not darkness, and the last day of winter will be the same length as the first day of summer.  Happy winter, the season of light!

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 20: “and have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”

Wednesday, 21. December 2016 5:06

Ok, today I have to beg off.  I have a cold, or allergies, or hay fever, or the plague, or something that makes me want to bang my head against the wall because it feels better than the headache I have!  

Today is the last day of Autumn, and suitably Autumn has ended with the dry winds that set my sinuses into a four-alarm fire.  I always get this around Christmas time.  For years when I was singing in church, this attack was also accompanied by a nice bout of laryngitis, which more than once made midnight mass a challenge.  

What’s the worst is that I can’t sleep.  I came home after my last meeting today intending to sleep the rest of the afternoon, but I sat fully awake watching episode after episode of Murdoch on Netflix.  

So you’ll have to pardon me.  I can’t write one word today…nothing from me at all.

Image:  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/34/Blepharitis.JPG/320px-Blepharitis.JPG

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 19: “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us, once more.”

Tuesday, 20. December 2016 5:00

This past weekend I had a little problem with my iPhone.  My work email account suddenly stopped downloading, and I wasn’t able to access it despite reentering my password or even deleting and recreating the account on my iPhone or iPad.  At the same time a large number of my contacts suddenly disappeared on my iPhone, but not on my iPad.  This didn’t make any sense at all, because these two devices were supposed to sync.  I tried every fix I could think of or find with no luck.  I spent a weekend unconnected and furious.

I often work with people who have trouble with their devices.  I sympathize with their challenges, and luckily sometimes I can fix them.  However, I know there is always a sense of betrayal.  We sell these devices, literally and figuratively, to people and promise that they will make lives easier.  When they fail in this function, it is a betrayal.  For them, it is a betrayal by a stranger.  However, when I have a problem and when I can’t figure out what’s going on, I feel like I am being betrayed by my own children.  My wrath is without equal.

Luckily I found that the email problem was caused by an expired password.  After I restored the email accounts, my contacts reappeared.  This was an incomplete resolution, because though I understand the email part of the equation, the contact disappearance still doesn’t make sense.  I watch my phone like a, unfaithful friend, I hope that things will go well, but I can’t trust…at least now.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 18: “All I want for Christmas is you”

Monday, 19. December 2016 5:13

As I said in my post yesterday, I attended my favorite holiday part of the year last night.  The house was beautiful, the conversation was flowing, and the food was delicious, but my favorite part of the evening was the white elephant gift exchange. I have participated in these activities at several parties and gave generally found them to be tedious and dull; however, this exchange with this group transcends these experiences and becomes something truly memorable. 

The white elephant gift exchange is actually a hybrid of two traditions, the gifting of white elephants, useless objects around the house, and the yankee swap, a picking and trading gift game.  However in most areas these two have become synonymous and combined. Even if the gifts are purchased and desirable, the game is still called “white elephant.”

The yearly exchange at this party is fun and memorable because it has three elements crucial to a successful WEGE (White Elephant Gift Exchange).  The first element is tradition, lots of stories about past years’ gifts and recipients, yearly arguments about the rules,  and certain players known for their ruthlessness.  The second element of success are gifts that balance strangeness and wit.  It’s fine to put a used horseshoe in a gift bag, but unless there is a story attached, the gift (whether found or purchased) falls flat.  The final element of success is controversy.  If there are no arguments, brutal steals, and general poor behavior, then there is nothing to remember or laugh about next year.  This year we had one recipient of a very nice present actually leave the party and go home to protect his find. This morning Facebook is overwhelmed with discussion, real and facetious. 

With these elements the WEGE can become, not a lengthy experiment in tedium. 

As always, I welcome your opinions. 

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The 24 Days of Blogging, Day 17:  “The door is always open, the neighbors stay at home”

Sunday, 18. December 2016 1:42

I’m off to a Christmas party tonight, so I can’t write much.  As I grow increasingly (and frighteningly) older, I find I look forward to a couple of select parties more than any other part of the season.  Tonight I go to the house of my dearest friends who yearly throw the party I look forward to all year.  I’ve made a new appetizer, Beef Wellington Bites, and I’m wearing my finest. I love this party, I love these people.  Gave a great Saturday before Christmas week everyone…drive carefully 

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