Summer at Home

IMG_5814This summer COVID-19 and a series of Friday furlough days have conspired to keep us at home more than usual Julys, lots of dog walking in the neighborhood, some journeys to the park. We still slip away for day trips into nature, and we’ve mastered the art of drive through ice cream cones, but we won’t be on a plane or road trip any time soon, and while that’s okay (we do want to be safe and there is still lots to be done to have fun as a family unit at home), the summer sun still stokes an itch to travel. 

In years past I’ve used those trips as inspiration for summer blogging: hiking with a friend in the Bay Area, visiting my old haunts at Hood River Valley High (the first school where I taught), and this summer, in lieu of any kind of travelogue of posts inspired by contemporary summer ramblings, I offer this look back at a trip to Canada from a couple of summers ago. I like the posts and if you’re in the mood for a sentimental principal talking about British Columbia, look no further than…

A flight delay reminded me that I am not patient, and reflecting on that now I see the connection to the sometimes frustrating time we’re in right now as educators (trying to plan for a very uncertain fall). At some point in the next few weeks, I may even find myself  saying to my students and families: “Thank you for your patience…”

The trip to Oh, Canada reminded me of the importance of balance and the complicated dance of boundaries.

More now than ever, as we navigate school closures, remote learning, and our students’ mental health, I’m reminded that being a principal very often feels like I’m on a Two Way Traffic/One Lane Road

Trouble exists, even in paradise, as evidence when I overheard a woman shout: “I’m not paying for someone else’s meth habit!”

Acrobats unnerve me. I assume they do you too.

I wish all my readers a good summer, safe, different, but good.

Summer Salmagundi

This is a strange summer. The sky is blue, the sun is hot, and the flowers need watering before another warm day, but this June and July feel different from every other summer I’ve experienced as a principal. 

The pandemic, of course, has changed things; taking the kids out for a boba tea or a matinee on a hot afternoon isn’t part of the equation, masks are hotter to wear in June than they were in April, and there’s always that thought lurking in the back of my mind that I neither want to get sick, nor pass anything on to my elderly parents. What’s the right line to walk between avoiding COVID-19 and still supporting the mental health of our kids and our families? How much is too much? How much is not enough? Is there any answer to any of those questions, any right answer anyway?

Our country’s newfound widespread acknowledgement of racial inequity is another force that has altered the tenor of the times. Difficult and important conversations are taking place all over the US (and beyond) and thinking about what these discussions might look like when students return to school in the fall is on my mind and the minds of school administrators everywhere. So too is the soul searching of white educators like me, the purposeful reflection about how to be a part of the solution, and thinking about what concrete steps we can take at our schools to promote a community that is anti-racist, values students who are LGBTQ+, and embraces as its identity the diversity of our many members.

But what it means to “return to school in the fall” is an unknown as well, and a part of this strange summer is preparing for an opening of school that is as yet undefined. We know that things will be different, but whether we’ll be on campus together for part of the week, have to transform to all remote learning, or some kind of ebbing and flowing between the two models has many of us doing our best to mold a system that can be flexible as it supports students, teachers, and families. We learned lessons from the spring of 2020, and know we need to make the fall (and winter?) of 2020 better for everyone. How? We’re working on it, step by step by step by step.

And those many steps, as well as an ongoing march toward some kind of senior celebration in August, and the usual planning that (in different budget circumstances) would have taken place in April and May are replacing the summer hikes and walks on the beach that usually fill late June and July. With furloughs dictating that employees like me who work year round can’t take vacation days during July, I wonder what the fall will feel like without that opportunity to step away and unplug that usually happens on camping trips or out of state visits to family or friends. We’ll see in August, I suppose, but the tether to work has further blurred the line between what I was doing in April and what I’ll be doing in July. Believe me, I’m thankful for a job I love, but more than 25 years into this career I never underestimate the value of some time away.

IMG_5684So…

I took the kids crabbing on Nehalum Bay. We barbecued corn and shrimp and some veggie burgers with my folks. A handful of paperbacks found their way off my shelf, silly books to entertain. My son and I watched the Back to the Future trilogy. Drive through ice cream cones have become familiar. Our family is figuring out day trips to natural areas where we can avoid crowds and be active. We’re doing our best.

Because the importance of that “time away” (in whatever incarnation it takes) is important for educators and for students, and while a coronavirus imposed separation makes the notion of summer vacation feel different than it has, the importance of finding ways to renew remains unchanged.

We’d all like to be back around each other: students, colleagues, the marvelous energy of school. We miss performances, talking in the hallways, and spending time together in class and beyond. Knowing that there are real limits on what we can (safely) do makes that desire to connect in person even sharper, and as much as we look forward to the day we can be together again, it’s just the truth that we don’t know exactly when that will be.

So we watched May turn into June, classes disappear, the days get longer, and summer arrive. The Fourth of July is next week, at least that’s what my calendar tells me (though as I work to plan some kind of senior ceremony for the Class of 2020 it feels unreal to be heading into July). 

We know we need to prepare. We know we need to renew. We know we need to plan and rest and stay connected and step away and be ready to step into another unknown. It’s all a salmagundi of questions, contradictions, and emotions. All will be well, but just how it will be is still up in the air, and any reassuring smile is hidden behind a mask.

This is a strange summer, but it is summer.

A Treasury of Memory

My 1942 edition of A Treasury of Great Poems has been kicking along on my bookshelf since I stole the volume from my dad on my way to college. I have memories of him reading the book in bed, though I never spent too much time thinking about it at the time. Later, much later, when I became an English major, I lifted the battered blue collection and have kept it close ever since.

IMG_4911A Treasury of Great Poems went with my wife and me to the coast on some of our early dates. I have a framed photo of us with ridiculous 1980s hair and equally silly sunglasses laughing on the beach, the book open in front of us. 

The volume traveled with me to Michigan State, where I went to graduate school, and then back to Oregon, where I got married. It saw a decade in the San Francisco Bay Area, and shifted to a bookshelf in Southern California before my wife and I came to our senses and returned to the rainy home we’d known most of our lives. 

Now it occupies a place on a bookshelf in my office, between a two volume set of Sherlock Holmes stories and a book of Borges’ collected non-fiction. I knew it would be one of the last books I picked up for this Year of Poetry, and one of the few anthologies; I also knew that I wouldn’t let this silly project end without returning to its pages, at least for a little while.

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With more than 1200 pages of verse, A Treasury of Great Poems is broad river and this modest post a teacup, so I’ll limit myself to three poems, and allow the reminiscences that this week has brought me to infuse what it can with a sense of nostalgia.

Starting nostalgically, earlyish in the collection are selections from Shakespeare, including one of Oberon’s monologues from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.”

It’s always a little weird to excerpt from a play, but spending time with A Treasury of Great Poems made me realize that some bits of Shakespeare I encountered first in this way, even before I read or saw the play as a whole. “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” is, in this book, its own entity, and as such invites a closer reading and encourages us to pause there in the forest and really listen. Rereading that poem now took me back to a time before I had as much poetry on my bookshelf, when my area of lit’ry expertise extended about as far as Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe, and Moon Knight comic books. I’ve come to appreciate language much more since then, and I think A Treasury of Great Poems contributed to my being able to slow down and appreciate words more. Shakespeare’s rich language, lulling us “with dances and delights” shows the power of poetry to capture, in just a few words, the spirit of something grand. 

Nothing could be grander than love, and some 500 pages later A Treasury of Great Poems finds “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The book opened to this poem, an envelope tucked inside with my name on it in the handwriting of a college coed who would become my wife.

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?—

See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?”

Was this one of the poems I read aloud with my wife to be on the beach? I’m a gentleman, so I’ll leave our courting for more private revery, but more than thirty years later she’s just in the next room, so I think I really ought to pause in typing this and go read her a poem.

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Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” is a nice end to the earthier subject matter from the other two poems. An old standard, this poem speaks to life and loneliness, class and culture, death (of course) and what it means to live.

Gray’s opening stanza, a powerhouse of literary devices (that any reader who has stuck with this post this long knows without me enumerating them) sets the tone and gives us four of the most memorable lines in poetry.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”

Gray goes on to describe the landscape, a landscape that a century later writers like Hardy will make real for readers of novels, including a “moping owl” complaining to the moon and swallows “twitt’ring from the straw-built shed.” Within that landscape he places the rustic inhabitants of his poetic vision, and introduces the death that prompts the elegy in the title.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.”

It is a noble death, or noble life as it were, and Gray warns “the boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r” not to discount that hand-wrought honor.

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.”

Death is death, and like Hamlet chiding his uncle with the king going progress through the guts of a beggar, Gray puts rich and poor alike in the same reality of death, asking:

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?”

Gray spends some time reflecting on poverty and the injustices it brings to the potential of the poor.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.”

Then Gray’s elegy takes us into that country churchyard of the title and invites us to walk the grounds with the poet, far, as he tells us, from the madding crowd.

Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.”

We walk in “lonely contemplation” with Gray as he takes us to “the foot of yonder nodding beech / That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high” where the subject of our elegy was wont to sit, past the “brook that babbles by” and “the heath and near his fav’rite tree,” all vacant now that our rustic has been borne to the churchyard of the title, where we are invited to: “Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay, / Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.”

IMG_1047I thought a lot about my dad when I read this poem. His memory (except for a few people and places) has been brushed away by dementia. His poetry reading days are gone.

I can still see him with a book in his hand, his favorite Don Quixote, a little poetry, or one of the more philosophical books he read when last he read. That younger man is gone, replaced by a fellow who takes delight in the dog and watching ducks at the pond, rustic pastimes if there ever were any.

The poetic epitaph inscribed (by a poet within Gray’s poem) on the gravestone in that country churchyard reinforces the ideas from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and reminds us to keep perspective, even as the world around us slips continually away. 

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.”

I could spend a year reading only poetry from A Treasury of Great Poems and not run out of subject matter. Instead, I’ll keep this volume close to my heart and bring this post to a close.

I don’t know if either of my kids will steal A Treasury of Great Poems from me. Right now neither show any signs of such imminent thievery, though at their ages neither did I. Until one does it will stay with me, pulled from the shelf when I need a spot of verse, treasured as much as anything I own. It is my first memory of poetry, my introduction (even before poems in school) and a fitting (almost) end to a year of living more poetically.

 

Finishing this year of poetry next week with one final post that takes us back to William Butler Yeats.

Dungeons and Distance

COVID-19, week seven: the one where I learn how to be a Dungeon Master for my kids’ first game of D&D.

I’ll start with the acknowledgement that I am very, very fortunate to be sheltering at home during this time of global pandemic with people I like (and love). I get to continue to do my job (albeit in a way I haven’t before), and I even have a dog to walk. Which is awesome. While I don’t like not being able to visit my parents or browse Powell’s, technology allows me to Facetime with my folks and I have more than enough books here on my shelf.

I’m happy that one of those books is The Lord of the Rings (well, three books, but you know what I mean). It has been serving as inspiration not only in this time of pandemic, but more specifically for my attempt at the collaborative storytelling of Dungeons & Dragons.

IMG_4644We picked up the “Starter Set” of D&D for $20 at Target earlier in the week, our jigsaw puzzles and some of our well worn board games having exhausted their best efforts. It seemed like a natural place to begin. Then, with a spring rain filling the gutters and encouraging us to stay inside, we gathered around the kitchen table on a wet Saturday, mugs of tea at our elbows, and started down the road together toward the Lost Mine of Phandelver. We were a merry fellowship, making up in creativity and curiosity what we lacked in experience.

I’d read about D&D and the positive impact it can have for kids at school, first in an article in which one ninth grade teacher in Texas summed it up this way: “Participation in narrative role play can open up interests in topics such as mathematics, science, history, culture, ethics, critical reading, and media production. When D&D and its cousins are played in an inviting, encouraging, compassionate, and intellectually engaged environment, play opens the door to truly amazing possibilities for learning.”

We weren’t doing anything quite so grand at our kitchen table on Saturday; the three of us were simply trying to encourage some sanity on a rainy day of COVID-19 sheltering at home. But I could see what that teacher was talking about. The best parts of our game came when impromptu inspiration (that long haired goblin with a broken nose who lost an arm to my son’s fighter’s broadsword) and collective decision making brought my kids together and inspired a laugh or two.

I was the Dungeon Master in that D&D epic, and because I’m a bit dorky and don’t like to do things poorly, I prepared for the role by reading more than a few words of wisdom online. There are lots of D&D sites that have advice for novice “DMs” and I was struck by where the list of DM tips overlapped with what I do for a living: Be prepared, make things fun, err on the side of the players, improvise, tell a collective story. And I thought…

Being a DM is a lot like being a principal. 

In the best of times the preparation we put in (over the summer, on evenings and weekends, and behind the scenes every day) helps to nurture an environment that is positive for students, teachers, and families. We can tell when things are going well by the laughter in the hallways and in the classrooms. At our best, we show mercy and understanding to everyone in our school community, and we always do our best to put kids first. Improvisation is a part of every school, and when we do it in concert with the people around us the collective story we tell can be amazing.

In “5 DM Tips for Running Your First Game” an experienced Dungeon Master advises: 

Carefully listen to your players. Yes, you should hear them when they tell you what their characters would like to do. Yes, you should pay attention to the intent of what they are describing their character doing. But your players communicate with you in a number of other ways.

It’s easy to tell when your players are having fun and engaging with your story. People having fun will smile. People having fun will exclaim! People having fun will argue with passion. That means that what you are doing in your game is working and you should note that and do more of that thing.

Communicating your expectations and thoughts and perceptions of your game to your players is also very beneficial. Let them know what you think is working and what you see could be improved. They may agree with you, but even more likely they will offer you a point of view on your game that you had not considered. That is invaluable data for planning your game moving forward.”

He could easily be writing about school administration. Students at school should be having fun and engaging with the stories of their lives. They are helped most when we listen to them, engage with them, and can see that “people having fun will smile. People having fun will exclaim! People having fun will argue with passion.” We want that in our young adults, and don’t have to be facing a pack of orcs to see it happen.

Back to that article on D&D in schools, the author, educator Paul Darvasi, invites us to wonder: “These intriguing case studies point to what a comprehensive learning program might look like if subjects and skills were not taught in isolation from each other, but integrated into a single cohesive system where students are intrinsically motivated to participate.”

It is so easy to be so siloed in a middle or high school, and this grand experiment in remote learning that every school in our state is struggling with has exacerbated that separation even more. I’m fortunate that a few creative pockets at my school have actively worked to collaborate, but it’s harder to do online than fending off a stone giant.

ACMA has an active D&D club, and when we went into sheltering at home a few reached out to me to see if they could come to campus to pick up items so they could keep playing online. Like so many of our students these intrepid adventurers find themselves in a situation no roll of the dice can overcome. They’re working out ways to play from home, connecting with their community, or at least a part of it, and working together to accomplish a goal. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

And… at some point in the not too distant future we’ll go back to school. Those D&D Club members will roll dice together on campus. The teachers will be able to step out of their classrooms and see familiar faces and possibilities for connection. All of us, students and teachers alike, will return from this experience and have the opportunity to write our own story. 

Will we be different, more inclined to connect, more appreciative of the community we get to be a part of? Trying adventures do change people (and elves and wizards). I’m hopeful that with every experience we learn and grow, and that when we are done sheltering at home we can all go back to the people and places we had to separate from and engage again, like travelers coming home from the Lost Mine of Phandelver.

The Times

IMG_4129These are weird times. Stuck at home, but with company I love (thank heavens); struggling as a principal to help my school keep its center, even as we’re all “doing school” from a few hundred different kitchen tables; and unsure as I squint into the future to see just what might be coming next …except, of course, taking the dog for another walk, a dog who seems quite happy with this COVID-19 nonsense keeping the humans at home thank you very much. Weird times.

A friend of mine, a classical guitarist, sent me his “Coronavirus Isolation 2020 Playlist.” “Remember,” he told me, that “some will perplex you. It’s filled with chaos and balance. Some will make sense, some will make you go “what the hell?” There is no guitar music. That one is coming soon.  And it will not hurt my feelings if you do not care for most of it. These were handpicked.”

IMG_4459“Chaos and balance.” There’s something that rings true there, and the mix was as eclectic as I thought it might be, The Kinks nestled in next to Johnny Cash, Mozart, Tom Waits, Bob Marley, and Death Cab for Cutie, this was a musical landscape as confusing as the times suggest. The Smiths, then David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Nine Inch Nails. Perplexing, but in a way so much better than the perplexing world around us right now. Weird times.

But truth be told, “Isolation 2020” is not my soundtrack to this sheltering at home. For me right now the music is live, my fifteen year old and his acoustic guitar. He’s pretty good, and getting better each day; lots of time inside means time to practice. And not one day of this time at home has gone by when I haven’t heard his voice singing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’.”

Yes, they are.

And feeling that change, which impacts all of us, makes me wonder what the kids will take out of this. As an adult going through the social distancing of COVID-19 I can see a few things that I will do differently when this is all over and much that I won’t take for granted again. But, as both a principal and a dad, I can’t get out of my head my concern for the impact this is having on the younger crowd.

IMG_4462I was a kid in the 1970s, which left me with a healthy fear of nuclear war, a musical taste shaped by The Clash, and the fundamental knowledge that Han shot first. The experience that these kids are living through, the enormous and close to home reality of school closures, and the uncertainty of a world around them filled with adults who right now don’t know exactly how this will end …how is all that hitting the kids?

We won’t know the answer right away, of course, but as we navigate these weird times, it’s important to remember that the kids around us, both in our own home and those educators like me interact with remotely, are looking at us and how we respond to the stress we’re all facing.

We might be filled with chaos and balance, we might want to turn up the volume on R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as we Know it” (and that’s just fine to do), we might look around and wonder what’s next. And as we do, I’d encourage us all to also reach out to some of the younger crowd we know and be a reassuring adult. I think they need that right now.

Right now, as the events of the world become the formative influences on the youth of today, as some feed on the fear they see in the eyes of those they see, some find strength in themselves, and some aren’t sure what to do next as they hear Dylan’s call to:

…admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone”

Thirty years from now, when the “kids today” are the adults in charge, these weird days will have played a part in forming who they are at their core. How important then that those of us who have a chance to support them do just that. We’ll get through this, whatever our soundtracks, and we’ll get through this best if we do so together. What it will look like on the other side, that’s a story for a future day.

Right now, the times, they are a’changin’.

Dog Days

IMG_4008At least the dogs are happy. That seems the most universal silver lining when I talk with friends. People home from work and school, walks a joy (for homebound humans as well as four legged bundles of fur clad love), the COVID-19 induced time at home means that while many of us wrestle with uncertainty, anxiety, and a dollop of boredom, the pups are active, appreciated, and bounding into what mother nature tells them is spring. They are angels, and perfect reminders that there is still much that is right in the world.

But that world.

Today, in addition to a video conference on how our district might facilitate online learning and how we can support our soon to be graduating seniors, I spent two hours back on campus to allow teachers and counselors time to come in and collect plants, files, and anything they need before we’re away from campus for a spell. (I’d say until April 28, the governor’s latest return date for schools, but the world seems to change every morning when I get up and a date like that could seem antiquated before anyone reads this post).

It was wonderful (and a little surreal) to see the adults I work with coming back to campus during the allotted window, even if we all kept a sensible distance between us and weren’t quite sure what to say (“See you soon?”) as each person left the building.

We’re all trying to figure out what happens next, both as an education system and each of the individuals who make up our school. I know students are feeling the strangeness of it all; I’ve gotten concerned emails from some and marvelous emails from a few others, sharing the art and music they’re making and ideas for when we get back.

I got another email from a teacher who had driven by our old campus, soon to be our new campus as they build a new building that we’ll move into in the fall of 2021. “Sun is out,” he wrote. “Weather nice. Construction going well. Even though we are all stuck things are moving forward. Thanks for all you do. See ya soon.” He threw in a few photos of our building rising up against a beautiful blue sky, and I could believe that all will be well.

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The first full week without students, teachers, and staff is finishing with a sense of the unknown looming over all of us. We’re about to go into what would have been our spring break, a week usually filled with renewal and maybe an adventure or two. 

We’re all on a huge collective adventure instead, maybe one navigated primarily from our living rooms and shared over Zoom. Heading into week two my thoughts go out to all those whose situations are filled with much more stress than my own. They are many, and need all of us to show kindness, patience, and support.

I wish I had answers to the questions people are asking me as a principal. (When will we be back? What will it look like when we are? Why can we just switch to online learning now?) But the truth is that while I’m fortunate to have lots of autonomy in my building, the answers to all those questions are beyond the walls of the schoolhouse. I know that our district is at work on what it can address equitably and thoroughly, and the state is assessing things every day. So, I believe the answers will come, some we like, some that may frustrate us, but those will take time.

Time that my dog tells me would be well spent on a walk.

The Thing With Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
                               Emily Dickinson

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hope. By February, in climates like mine, the world around us has been gray and rainy for months, car windows need ice scraped off in the dark of morning, and it’s easy to let gloom, or pessimism, or frustration creep in to hearts otherwise open to something more noble. 

The stresses of the workaday world feel more real in February than they do in other months, and this year I’ve written far, far too many condolence cards. The stress of our culture and the very personal stresses of a thousand different origins seem to be on display everywhere. And…

If Emily Dickinson is to be believed, somewhere in our souls perches this thing with feathers whose singing never stops at all. I believe that.

I believe that because I caught a verse of that song when I read something a friend wrote last week, and since then hope has felt more real to me than it has in a long time.

photoHe wrote: “Hope has been a central theme for me these past seven weeks. Hope for a good PET Scan, hope for a negative biopsy, hope that the cancer hasn’t spread, hope that the chemo treatments will kill all the cancer, hope that I can grow old and have grandchildren. I have always loved to hope – whether it is looking forward to a vacation during the summer, or watching my favorite show on TV after a long day of work. Hope to me -means you are still alive and you have a chance to make it better. Hope is a wish and belief in your heart of good things to come. This is what sustains me during all these treatments. I am reading a book now called 50 days of Hope written by a cancer survivor that had a highly aggressive type of cancer and is doing well. This summer after I am done with my chemo treatments my doctor wants me to spend a month at a hospital in LA called “City of Hope” to do a stem cell transfusion. The hope is that this treatment will keep the cancer from reappearing. I need that hope – it keeps me going!”

It is people like my friend who keep me going, and inspire me to believe that as crazy as the world around us can be, as difficult as situations prove (and it’s true that sometimes the difficulty is profound), there is still room for “belief in your heart of good things to come.” I’m inspired by his definition of hope as meaning “you are still alive and you have a chance to make it better.” That notion of giving to others, of making a difference, of improving the world (all hallmarks of my friend) makes the concept of hope active. We are not called on simply to listen to the song of that thing with feathers, but to sing along, to ask ourselves how we can make it better, and then get to work doing just that.

2017 World Series Champs

Once a year I allow myself to write about baseball. Just baseball. It happens in February, right before that magical day when pitchers and catchers report to spring training signaling that spring is really truly coming and somehow all will be well. 

This year that return feels a little different with the news of an ongoing campaign of dishonesty coming out about the 2017 World Series, cheating that helped one team win the World Series by the thinnest of margins, a margin one can imagine would not have existed if it weren’t for a few folks willing to put integrity in the garbage can they were pounding on to tell hitters what pitches were coming.

photo-3I know I am not an impartial observer. I’ve been a Dodgers fan since LA’s infield was Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey. More than forty years later I didn’t have to look up that lineup, or have to double check that Steve Yeager was the Dodgers catcher, or Dusty Baker, Rick Monday, and Reggie Smith patrolled the outfield at Chavez Ravine.

The Dodgers lost the World series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, formative years for me that instilled a dislike of the Bronx Bombers that rivaled —in my young mind— the expected animosity reserved for the dreaded Giants.

I didn’t like watching Reggie Jackson becoming Mr. October, but when he hit those legendary home runs I understood that it was part of the game. Sometimes your team won, sometimes it lost. Sometimes a slugger walloped your starting pitchers.

I could even (almost) allow myself to appreciate it when years later, in person at a spring training game when Reggie was back with the A’s (and playing against a Cubs team that included Ron Cey) I saw Jackson hit a towering home run over the right field fence. Earlier that morning I’d stood six feet away from a batting cage marveling at the combined power of Mr. October, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGuire hitting pitches one after another. Their power felt unbelievable.

So, yeah, that.

I also understood that when in 1981 Fernando Valenzuela and his Dodgers won the series that too was part of the game. The magical part.

Magic happened again in 1988, and then a long drought in Dodgerland before my bums had another chance, this time against the Astros, in 2017.

Two things stood out for me about that series. First, my kids watched it with me. Eight and eleven at the time, there were increasingly fewer entertainments they both agreed on, but baseball (at least World Series baseball) was one of the few. 

Second, there was a moment in game three when an Astros player hit a home run off Yu Darvish and made a racist gesture to add insult to injury. Watching that with my kids, both of them half Asian, my heart dropped. We spend so much time talking about the importance of kindness, both at my home and at school, that to see an action so arrogant and mean spirited injected a sense of sadness in the game. Just why? At least, I thought, in baseball there are second chances; perhaps the team that isn’t racist might win.

And then they didn’t. 

But this is baseball. Sometimes your team loses, even close series like this one. The Astros outhit LA, and even if actions like that cruel home run celebration helped to define the Houston team, they were the champions. For my team, well, there was always next year.

The next year meant losing the championship to Alex Cora’s Red Sox.

So, yeah, that.

And now word is out that the Astros cheated. Their power, like the power I saw in that spring training batting cage, was as fake as it seemed real. And the hardest part of watching the Astros beat the Dodgers became that much harder.

The 2017 World Champion Astros are still the 2017 World Champion Astros. The cheaters won.

It’s a sobering thought in a sobering time, when integrity (in the world even beyond the baseball diamond) sometimes feels strained. Fairness, clean competition, and good sportsmanship, which were easier to imagine were true when the Yankees beat the Dodgers back in the late ‘70s, feel like they’re in short supply.

So this week, as pitchers and catchers arrive at baseball parks in states warmer than the one I live in, I want to believe that this is the year. 

I want to believe that this is the year that my team might win the World Series, but truth be told, it hurts my heart to say that I’d settle for this being the year that they, and every team, just have a fair chance. 

A long time ago…

I write a lot about Star Wars. I realized that the other day as I paused composing a post long enough to preorder tickets to the new movie, making good on a promise to my son that I’d take him to see the show early in the Rise of Skywalker run. For the last half decade or so stories inspired by that epic space opera pepper this blog, usually nostalgic, always heartfelt.

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Me looking like old Luke

With the latest in the series opening this week, I thought I’d take some time over the next five days to celebrate a few of my Star Wars inspired posts. I’ll link to one a day on Twitter, but for any constant reader who’d like to know what’s coming…

A few years back, when my youngest son was very into Star Wars action figures, we happened on some toys that an 8 year old me had purchased in 1977. A plastic C3PO got me thinking about technology and the differences we’ve seen emerge in the past four decades.

Star Wars has always been about imagination, and on the eve of taking my son to his first Star Wars movie in the theater, I got to remembering “Space Week” and a host of creative enterprises I shared with students when I was an English teacher. I’d tried to capture some of that magic in a post called “Young Jedi.”

When Star Wars Legos first took over my house I wasn’t sure what to make of it. When I saw my dad and my son building Lego ships together I figured out that it was all pretty swell. These “Couple of Jedi” were, and are, an inspiration.

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 6.35.26 PMIf you’re still reading this post, you’ve probably muttered to yourself “Star Wars Nerd” at least once. I take that as a compliment.

Finally, being a principal means many things, among them sometimes feeling like cloud city Lando Calrissian. There are certainly worse ways to feel.

Whatever your Star Wars, I wish all my readers some fun escapes this winter season. I hope that you and yours can find time in the wild rumpus of the school year to breathe, laugh, and maybe even visit a galaxy far, far away.

Thank You

A short (work) week and a short post with one simple message: thank you.

Being an educator means being busy, and being a principal in November means that the world feels like it’s rushing forward and only picking up speed. For teachers, and students, and administrators too the pace and intensity can be unforgiving, and as much as we talk about getting up early to work out, eating well, or taking care of ourselves, if others are much like me the reality involves far more black coffee on the run and late nights than my doctor would like to hear about.

With Thanksgiving break, and the five days in a row free of an alarm clock, I almost feel like I have the chance to take a deep breath, close my eyes for a moment, and appreciate those around me.

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Because I do appreciate the amazing educators, spectacular kids, engaged parents, and the many, many kind, caring, and patient people who help make my world a better place.

With a small gesture like a smile or “good morning” (which in the moment doesn’t always feel so small) or a grand one, I am so fortunate to have people in my life who care.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten emails from former students and former colleagues, had such care shown me from colleagues and parents, and benefitted from the exuberant joy and kindness of the students I get to work with. To each of them my appreciation is real and too seldom articulated.

The world can be overwhelming at times, especially around a school in November, and Thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving break for educators like me) is a good time to pause long enough to appreciate those forces for good that are also a part of our lives. Whether in a moment of reflection, an email to someone who makes a difference to us, or a note of thanks, now is the time to embrace Dickens’ line: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

For everyone who is one of my present blessings, and there are so many of you, I say “Thank you!”

 

…and I’ll add a special thank you to everyone who reads these little posts from time to time. I appreciate your comments, your kindness, and your time. Happy Thanksgiving!