Tag Archives: personal

The Edge of Tension

A few weeks ago, right around the time I started to really get to know my students, a shy girl–the brooding artistic type lingered after class, nervously asking me if I had read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When I mentioned that I hadn’t, she insisted that I should “definitely check it out.” She assured me that I would love it.

Coincidently, a short time later my wife read the book, and I began to hear about it from different people everywhere. It has since been passed around the grade eight and several of my students have taken to blogging about it. My wife was surprised that so many grade eight “kids” are reading it, as some of the main themes are “inappropriate.”

Since I am still mired in Infinite Jest, I haven’t had time to read the novel, but I just returned from a movie date. Yup you guessed it: sex, drugs and rock and roll and suicide and sexual molestation, and mental illness– it is all there. I would have loved this book in grade eight, so why do I feel nervous talking about it with my students? I have a book that kids are exited about it. They are asking me to read it. Isn’t this what we want?

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by helen☺

Realistically there is nothing new here, nothing that wasn’t covered in Catcher in the Rye, but for some reason, anything that veers ever so slightly from the sterile narratives of life as puppies and rainbows makes us nervous. We pretend that young adults and teenagers do not swear, they don’t think about sex and they don’t drink or do drugs.

We tell them not to do these things, without giving reasons why, only to act surprised when they experiment and get lost, but here is the thing–whether or not we admit that kids are thinking about these big ideas, they are! They want to talk to us about drugs and sex and alienation. We owe it to our students to meet them at the edge of tension and their interests or we will lose them to sanitized versions of life that bore us all. Kids gravitate toward the dark frayed edges of life and we owe them literature, culture and media that helps them navigate these edges, but how do we know when is too soon?

I hate to pin everything I do based on who I was in middle school, but it is my main point of reference. I know that I really could have used some adults to talk to about so many topics deemed inappropriate. I figured it out on my own, like most of us do, but why do we force kids to do that? We have been there, don’t we owe it to them to help?

Experience has taught me that we underestimate kids at nearly every turn, but what do you think? I know many grade 11 and 12 teachers who are not shackled by taboo themes in literature. But what about middle school? How do you decide which themes are age appropriate? How do you know how far to go down dark paths? Can we teach this novel? Should we? Talk to me people…


Power in Energy

I have never been a fan of numbers. Can’t (don’t, won’t?) do maths. Physics ain’t my thing. I do, however, have a nagging curiosity about the nature of the universe and the magic with which it is made up. I simply choose to express my curiosity through words–poetry and metaphor, stories and allusions. There is a poetry in numbers, I am sure, but I only feel it when I translate it into pictures and words.

So when I saw the video below about the power of stored energy and chain reactions, my mind immediately sprung to an analogy and a song:

Until your back’s up against the wall
You never know yourself that much at all
So you’ve got to share your love with a friend
That’s all that you’ve got left in the end
Living in this city of pure confusion
People misled by their own illusion
All this action, no satisfaction
We’re all linked together like a chain reaction
Play or fold, love is bold
What is the future that will unfold?

Beastie Boys

Take a look:

I couldn’t help but think about the concept of stored energy and release, of change and revolution in– politics, in education, in personal growth. My mind lit up to reveal how, “a person is a person no matter how small.”  I am so often frustrated with the slow pace of change in terms of educational reform, or politics change, or social justice, but this clip reminded me that we live in a universe of stored and released energy. I may feel like the tiny 1mm x 1mm domino, but perhaps someday when I simply lead forward a bit and reach that tipping point, the larger dominoes (traditional schooling, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc….) will to topple over. Or maybe they are in the process of falling as we speak, but we are stuck in a slow-motion frame and it feels like it is taking forever.

Then I thought about the power of positive energy and love and karma and what this energy could be capable of when released! Not to get all metaphysical here, but there is power in energy, as evidenced in the clip, so be aware of how you harness, store, use and release it.


Launch Forth

Did you know that Walt Whitman wrote a poem about social media and the internet? Yeah, I didn’t either, until Ze Frank told me in his video Thinks Like Me.

Side note… I am in love with Ze Frank. Not in a weird– please be my best friend, stalker sort of  way, although I did start digging through his online closet after he started following me on Twitter and sent me some great advice, through a spat of DMs, concerning my Daraja fundraiser,–but more in a, I really respect you man, sort of way.

Maybe in love is the wrong way to put it– I love Ze Frank? Still sounds weird. I respect, admire, am in awe of…no no love will do. I love Ze Frank. Perhaps my admiration stems from the fact that I am new to his work. Yes,  I knew of him through the Young Me, Now Me project, but I had never fully explored the extent of his work. Now that I have, explored, I  realize that much of what he does is everything I love about the web, about people, about life. His work is light, funny, deep, poignant, collaborative, beautiful, loving, self-deprecating, and true. While he doesn’t take himself too seriously, the work speaks volumes about the human experience in the digital age. …end side note.

Sorry this wasn’t meant to be a declaration of love to Ze, it was meant to be about Walt, Spiders, and The Interwebz. I love it when my passions collide: Poetry by ancient bearded queers, social media, arachnids, and online collaborative artists? Yes please. I am assuming you have already watched Thinks Like Me.

What you haven’t watched it yet? Decided to skip that hyperlink, cuz there were too many? I can’t say I am not disappointment in your lack of media literacy, but that is fine. You are learning and I am a teacher. I get that too many links can be annoying, but sometimes you need to stop and read the links that is what a hyperlink is after all: an embedded connection to other content to clarify and add context to existing text.

Anyway, watch the video, you need it for contextual reference if we are to continue. (Man! That is a lot of alliteration or is it consonance?) We will be dealing with the part around 2:3o where he casually mentions that (this) Whitman poem:

It’s about the web right? You and me? Connecting? We are the spiders right? Isolated exploring the vacant, vast surroundings? Launching forth filament, instagrams, filament, Facebook updates, filament, out of ourselves. Aren’t we ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them. Aren’t we surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of (cyber) space. Ceaselessly musing, blogging, venturing, you-tubing, throwing, tweeting—seeking the spheres, to connect them. You to me. Us? Till the bridge we will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold? Aren’t we hoping that flung gossamer thread will catch somewhere? That someone will read? Comment? Re-tweet? Spin the web of our consciousnesses?

O my soul indeed! I get it Ze. I get it. And so did my grade seven students when we looked at this poem and I mentioned it might be about the internet. They smiled, cuz it is that simple and clear and obvious. That technology and social media is not about technology or social media, it is about connection. It is about the human need to launch forth from itself! Whitman got it, over a hundred years ago. Only difference is that now, it is easier to find an anchor hold. The gossamer threads are  fiber-optic and packed with multi-media, which in and of itself adds layers of complexity, but the need to connect, to create, to share is timeless.

All of this philosophizing reminds me of a post I wrote last year, Far From Home on a Dark Night.

Maybe what you are feeling, someone else feels. Maybe what you are feeling, someone else feels.Wow! That is what I wanted all along.

Seems relevant somehow. Looks like more and more of us are feeling it. Interesting that Justin also uses the metaphor of threads. What do you think? Walt Whitman- social media expert? I can see his Twitter handle now:



Identify The Boundaries

People who know me, the ones who I have met, the ones who follow my tweets, the ones who read this blog, know that I am obsessed with identity. I have written on the subject extensively on this blog, and I have explored the subject in depth on my personal blog. While on the surface it may appear that I am being a narcissistic ego-maniac, I assure you my intentions are good. For the last seven years, I have been conducting an experiment of sorts.

What do we feel comfortable sharing online? What is or should be private? What can we gain by over-sharing? How does this theory of openness help us connect to others? How does it affect community? What is everyone so afraid of? Should I be?

There are countless other questions, but you get the point. I have tried to share as much as I can, to see if by sharing every aspect of my life, I can build an authentic “brand.” One that will help me gather a tribe of like-minded people who will not only help me learn, but who will also become close friends. I am hoping that by revealing as much as I can, you will help me identify the gaps and help complete me. See this stuff is deep.

None of what I have written so far is new, so why write this post again? Firstly, I wanted to share my second online stalking! A few years ago, Clarence Fisher’s English class, investigated my online footprint and discovered some interesting things. No surprises. They got a superficial, yet accurate, image of who I was in 2010.

I am happy to announce that I have been stalked a second time. This time as a part of UMW Digital Identity course taught by Martha Burtis. One of her students was assigned to dig up all she could about who I am now. You can read her complete reflection here, but there is not much out of the ordinary this time around either. Beyond being impressed that she was able to identify my daughter’s addiction to Nutella, there was little in what she found beyond my blog About Me page.

She asked me to answer some questions in a recorded interview, which I do at the end of this video. Her introduction is hilarious, despite the poor sound. The interview questions at the end of clip, however,  sound fine. The worst kind of criminal–an educator…

One of the biggest criticism of social media and online sharing is that it is somehow inherently false and duplicitous. Because we can choose what we share, the thinking goes, we only share the best of who we are. We somehow build these better alter-egos of ourselves. We never shed light on our faults, show ourselves being ugly, or delve too deep into the darkness.

I am sure there is truth to this. This is what I want to challenge. I am not sure where the boundaries are, but I am very curious. I have tried to be as open as possible, but I am sure even I have held back. I know there are some definite no-nos. Never talk about sexuality. I will promote gay rights and gender equality, because I feel they are human rights, but personal thoughts on sexuality is a no go for me.

I have begun to share less about religion these days. I am openly atheist, but I hope that as I get older, I am becoming more tolerant and focusing on my own slow Zen practice. It’ a process, a journey. I am on it. Enough said.

Politics? I used to be more outspoken, but even my energy in that field has been subdued. I am trying to sort myself out first. I will speak up about injustice and criticize system I find unfair, but I seldom get into heated debates these days.

What is the next step of this experiment? How else can I dance on the edge of private vs public, personal vs professional? This is where you come in. I need your help. I am going to ask you a few questions.  I do not expect you to answer them. I would just like you to think about where your boundaries are? What would you never share online? What kinds of questions are just too much? Then I want you to ask me those questions. Leave them in the comments below.

I am not asking you to ask me these questions, because I will necessarily answer them; I just want to see how they affect my comfort zone. I want to sketch out my no-fly zone. Identify the boundaries. I am also curious what you feel is out of bounds. I want to test the waters. I am expecting that based on your culture and personality we will have a wide range of ideas in regards to privacy.

What is too much?
What do you feel is too private to share?
What would make you feel uncomfortable?

Thanks for playing along.


Be Sparks

“You can’t go into work like that. It is not professional. That is not a teacher’s haircut.”

Those were the first three sentences out of my wife’s mouth as soon as soon as I got home from my haircut this last week. I shrugged off her professional prudery as paranoia, thinking to myself, I can do whatever the hell I want, but deep down I was a bit worried. Was the mohawk a bit much? Was I pushing too hard?

After a week, I am convinced that not only is the mohawk good for me, but I am here to say that it is good for our school. Hear me out:

Everywhere I go, all week, people smile, pump their fists, and light up when they see me.

“Man, I love that haircut.”

“Really suits you”

“That is just awesome!”

Teachers, principals, students- it doesn’t matter. It is as if everyone is tapping into the sense of freedom one can only feel when one shuns the shroud of conformity and tip-toes along the edge of the preverbal box. You know, the one everyone tells you to think outside of, but choose to sit in comfortably themselves. Schools like all institutions can become stuffy dens of routine. How can they not? With so many procedures, programs, time-tables, curricula, it is almost as if they are designed to bore people to death. Is it any wonder that students and teachers sleepwalk their way through lessons and grumble because they have to write essays, lab reports or report card comments. I can only imagine hospitals, banks, and prisons as places that are more dreary.

But not this week at our school, not for me. Walking through campus with a mohawk seems to have awaken people. It has reminded them that schools were never met to be factories of the status quo. The hair-do is screaming to us all that schools are meant to challenge and excite. There have been times this week that I have been talking seriously about character development with my grade tens and they start cracking up. I mean how absurd right? A 37 year old man with a mohawk spouting off intensely about some ancient novel.

I love the lightness that comes from not taking oneself too seriously. I thrive on the silliness of authenticity and vulnerability. So often we ask students to take risks and express themselves, while we teachers sit behind our walls of adulthood professionalism. If I wanted to be a suit I would have been a banker. I am in the teaching business to be myself, in hopes that kids will see that being yourself, in the face of societal pressure is not that hard to do. We can all be sparks when we are not afraid to get burned. Tell a kid to take a risk…well try it yourself first.

I want my students to realize that adulthood is not some mono-chromatic path to death and professionalism. We are not all mind-numb zombies stressed and chasing bills. We are alive and filled with creativity and passion. I want them to understand that adults come in all shapes and sizes, and our diversity is what makes us such great role models. The way we look, the way we dress, the ink on our arms, the hair on our head is not the only indication of who we are or what we believe. I want my students as well as other teachers, administrators and parents to understand there is no one way teachers should look or act.

It has been a great week. I never thought a haircut would give me such a sense of empowerment. A Swagger. A purpose. Every institution needs a mohawk to remind it not to take itself too seriously. To remind it that life is fun and exciting and that sometimes we need to stand tall and be noticed. I have a challenge for you- what can you do to help ignite a little fire at your school? What can you do to rock the boat a bit; shake things up? Share your ideas below, better yet take some pics of you doing whatever it is you think will enliven your school and add links to the comments below.