24 Days of Blogging Day 4: You and Me

Tuesday, 5. December 2017 5:43 | Author:

Occasionally I discover a great obscure song from a group that I’ve never heard of.  This morning in my weekly recommendations on Spotify, I found “You and Me” by Penny and the Quarters, which has an odder than usual journey .  The group was a no-hit wonder that recorded the song likely in the early seventies (far later than I would have thought by the sound) as a demo that was never released.  The demos were purchased in an estate sale and “You and Me” was put out as part of a collection which somehow was heard by Ryan Gosling who insist that it be included in his current film Blue Valentine.  After the movie release, there were efforts to find any remaining members of this group in order to share the royalties, but according to the Wikipedia account, none of the original band members were located.

I love the raw sound and the simple feeling of the lyric.  I also love the thought of a group earnestly recording what they hoped would be their shot at fame.  The shot died like so many others, never to move beyond the demo, however, it found new life 30 years later and is a golden oldie that we have never heard before.  I wonder how many other amazing songs were never heard by Ryan Gosling.

Anyway, enjoy the song and share it with someone you love.

As always, I welcome your comments

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24 Days of Blogging Day 3: Come thou Fount of Every Blessing

Monday, 4. December 2017 0:03 | Author:

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and within the Christian Calendar this marks the beginning of the anticipation of the celebration of Christmas.  By the lay of the calendar this Advent falls as late as it possibly can.  In fact, the Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve, a once on seven year occurrence that confuses parishioners, exhausts celebrants and singers, and gums up church parking lots.

To most, the opening statement about beginning anticipation of the celebration of Christmas is laughable.  Every media and commercial vehicle has been in full scale celebration mode for over a month.  I went to a Christmas party last night, and I noted in a store yesterday that Christmas decorations are starting to be discounted, a sign that fewer and fewer “oddballs” have yet to decorate…It’s December 3!

This post, however, is not going to be a tirade over consumer culture commercializing and hastening Christmas.  We feel what we feel when we feel it, and in this world of so much anxiety and pain, it is wrong to turn our back to the peace and generosity of the season whenever it is felt.  Telling people to temper their celebration doesn’t increase joy at the proper time, it just lays guilt on top of natural feelings and tells us to embrace the unnatural.  I enjoy the Christmas tree, decorations and songs in the days after Christmas, but I am lying if I say that I don’t enjoy them much more in the days before.

So what do we make of Advent, a time of waiting designed to parallel the centuries waiting by humankind for the Savior?  Three aspects of Advent can actually enhance and improve the celebrations we enjoy whether they be religious or secular.  The first is recognition of the incompleteness of our world and our need for the hand of God to bring peace and justice.  We celebrate in joy tempered by knowledge.  The second is the recognition that we are accountable for our time, and our lives have meaning primarily for the impact we have on the world and the lives of others.  Most importantly is the recognition that we should live and work not in despair but in hope (sounds like a good title for a web page).

So put up your tree, play the songs, celebrate with friends, remember those in need, but enhance these joys with the purpose and hope that we also celebrate in this season.

As always I welcome your comments.

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The 24 Days of Blogging Day 2: By a thousand cuts

Saturday, 2. December 2017 16:29 | Author:

 

I received an email yesterday inviting me to “save” money on my Spotify account by paying a year ahead of time instead of my monthly payment.  I love Spotify,  it has transformed my music listening by giving me access to a virtually unlimited catalog and good curation tools, and I will most likely take advantage of their “generous” offer to save $20, but it called to mind the huge transformation to personal finance that the digital age has “generously” given us.

Apart from basic utilities (being generous to include cable and cell phone in this list…and don’t get me talking about storage!) I pay a monthly fee to the following services

  • Spotify
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime
  • Mubi (an independent movie service)
  • MoviePass (probably will write about this later)

I’m sure that my list is not unique, and that others may have longer lists.   All of these payments are tied to my credit card, so aside from my monthly review of the bill (which isn’t all that careful) I never think about them. I have carried services that I no longer use for years before I took the (often onerous) steps to cancel them.  I suspect I’m not unique in this as well.

I’m not criticizing these services, I use all of them regularly (though I wonder at times if I need both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video), nor am I turning curmudgeon about the cost and complexity of modern living compared to my analog youth.  However, I can’t help but note that we are moving from an ownership society to a rental society.

A good example of this is that staple of digital life, Microsoft Office.  When I was a digital youngster, Office was a purchase.  It was expensive, but it was yours (one might argue that based on user agreements, it was never as clearly a possession as we thought, but it felt that way).  About five years ago, Microsoft decided to switch to a complete subscription model.  Now, one could argue that that this actually was a superior model for users.  The software was kept current automatically and could be shared over several machines and platforms (which was always a problem with the limited use disks).  The cost was approximately the same as one would pay to use and update office at a reasonable pace, and users also have access to OneDrive, a cloud storage service.  However, I no longer “own” Office, I rent it, and my payments are tied to my credit card to assure that I will continue to rent it unless I go out of my way (far out of my way) to cancel.

Again, I think there is value to this system, but my fear is that without regular examination (and reflection) we run the risk of becoming tenant farmers in a new feudal system, owing more and more of our existence to the Company Store.

So I propose that we all start to celebrate a “Digital Subscription Liberation Day.”  Once a year (or more often) make a list of all services and subscriptions and decide whether or not they ate used enough to merit the yearly (not the monthly) cost.  For the ones that don’t make the cut, we dedicate a day to sever these leeches.  The end of 2017 is as good a time as any; get out those scissors!

As always, I welcome your comments

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The 24 Days of Blogging Day 1: Marley was dead, to begin with

Friday, 1. December 2017 22:40 | Author:

I’m sure that everyone who notes the turning of the Calendar page from November to December has a slightly different reaction to the big December 1. Some must wonder at the passage of time, pushing out 2017 before we ever really got our footing. Alternatively, some must feel equal wonder the the world might actually make it to the end of a year that has been fraught like none other. For those less concerned with global musings, the new month certainly triggers anticipation (and anxiety) for quickly approaching holidays, and Im sure there are children who can’t believe that they still have to find that darn elf 24 times before it pays off.

For me, of course, it means the beginning of my yearly 24-day marathon of blogging. On the slightest of chances that there are any new readers this year, I’ll explain. For the past four years, I have set a goal to write a new blog post each of the first 24 days of December in anticipation of Christmas. The themes are always completely random and dictated to me by the experinces and thoughts of the day. Though Christmas always lurks in the background of the chain, I’ll write about all aspects of life as I experience it, professional and (quasi) personal. My goal is 24 short pieces here and a greater mindfulness and focus in my life in general. Thank you for participating in my yearly therapy.

I am writing in a different world from that which I started in 2016. I started today by reading some of the posts from last year in which I expressed my fears about what was to come. Sadly, most of these fears have been realized in spades, as parts of our world are far uglier, far more brutal, and far less tolerant than I can remember (and I certainly am not writing about “Baby It’s Cold Outside” this year!). It has also been a year of immense personal changes for me, few of which I could have seen from the ledge of 2016.

But before you abandon me as an unneeded anchor in your own winter depression, I don’t intend these posts to be primarily negative (and I hope they won’t be sappy and self-indulgent). I have good news in my heart. I have found care and friendship and love of many whom I will never be able to repay. Even fate, ever the trickster, has thrown me some unexpected silver linings, even when I drove perilously near the cliff. I have great stuff to share with you…I can’t wait to see what it is!

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the title of today’s blog, this is the opening line of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (I noted that I didn’t talk about this novella at all last year, so I’m kicking off with it this year). It is the most somber of openings, which is followed by five more mentions of Marley’s expiration, but for those who read past this line, the narrator assures us, “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” I hope to be relating a truly wonderful story…wonderful in every sense…and I am so grateful for you to come along.

As always, I welcome your comments

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/advent-calendar-door-golden-advent-525684/

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Three Parks.

Friday, 11. August 2017 20:54 | Author:

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 | Author:

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

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mindfrieze/2664033713

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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 | Author:

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 | Author:

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 | Author:

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 | Author:

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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