Smoothing Out the Kinks

The Path

I’ve sustained an injury that has prevented me from running most of this summer, and in some ways, the story of that injury serves as an adept allegory for larger issues ongoing in my life.

First, for those of you (i.e. ALL of you) who haven’t been following this blog since 2005[1], I’m a runner. Not a marathon running-check-my-heart-rate[2]
kind of runner, just someone who runs. Because it brings joy and fosters well-being. I don’t run far, but I run fast, and I like running alone and somewhere peaceful, like by the water or in the woods.

I had major shin splints in high school while running track and cross-country, and discovered (thanks to a well-informed employee at my local shoe store) that I was over-pronating, so I got a shoe that fixed me right up and has served me well in the 15 or so years since, such that I haven’t ever sustained ANY injuries until now. Pretty amazing for a runner, apparently. That shoe is the Brooks Adrenaline GTS, and I highly recommend it if you are a runner and require more support in a shoe.

Two years ago, I got swept up in the barefoot running craze, as I have documented on this here blog, and shucked my ample GTS cushioning for the unsupportive, callous inducing barefoot lifestyle of running. Not completely barefoot, mind you — I’ve been running in Vibram FiveFingers. It was rough at first–it took me a whole summer to adapt– but once I broke in my feet and adjusted my form, I fell in love. Not only does barefoot running appeal to my philosophical biases for self-sufficiency and natural principles, but it also just feels really good, as it seems to better stretch and work out your feet and legs during a run.

The injury that has reared its evil head is a muscle strain in my right leg, which tells me that something has been wrong for some time in the way my right foot has been striking the ground. The symptoms are inflammation right under my kneecap and–especially–on point of my hip. When this started up, I first tried to run through it, but it only got worse. So then I gave in to the inevitable and stopped running to see if some R&R would make it go away.

It didn’t. I tried running after a break of 2 weeks and it flared right back up, as if it had never subsided. The frustrating part about this is that the summer is the one time during the year that I can finally run consistently almost every day and get myself back into shape. What happens when I don’t run? Beers go straight to my belly. It’s disconcerting how quickly my gut begins to protrude. Now, yes, I COULD go to a gym, but that goes against my aforementioned philosophical bias for self-sufficiency. Plus, I just think they are nasty and don’t want to be around a bunch of stinky strangers when I work out.

So my belly has been slowly distending as I’ve been waiting, fruitlessly, for my injury to subside. I finally realized that I had to do something about it. But I’m wary of doctors, and I’m skeptical of the ability of a doctor to tell me much that I don’t already know. I decided that I would find a good deep tissue massage therapist, instead. I like getting deep tissue massages, and I get them for myself as a treat once a year or once every 2 years, depending on my budget. I see it as a necessary “defragmenting” of my body, a way to purge built up tensions and knots that accumulate over time. But I’ve never gone specifically to a masseuse for the purpose of physical therapy for an injury, so I wanted to make sure I got one who was decent.

I found one via a quick Google Maps search for “deep tissue massage,” and after checking out her website and seeing that Trey Anastasio had given her a positive review, I figured she must be aight. She was. She pinpointed some major knots in my back I wasn’t even cognizant were there, as well as introduced me to the incredible pain that is the IT band massage.

She informed me that as an active person, I should really be getting a massage more frequently. When I delicately let her know that I can’t afford such luxuries, she charitably gave me an insider tip about using a “foam roller” to give self-massages[3].

I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of these things (probably cuz I’ve never gone to the gym). Given my proclivity for self-sufficiency, it certainly seemed right up my alley, so I went ahead and ordered me one. They’re cheap.

I’ve started using it, and let me tell you, rolling around on your IT band is no joke. It’s incredibly painful[4]. It brings tears to my eyes. But it’s made it fairly apparent to me that my right IT band must be getting strained and perhaps at the heart of my injury, because there is major pain all along it. I’m thinking that if I continue to iron it out, it should do much to alleviate the strain keeping me from running.

So I ordered me a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12. I’m not giving up on barefoot running completely, nor do I blame it for the injury, though I think it played its part (I’ll get more into that in a moment). I plan on easing back into running with daily foam rolling as physical therapy, and the increased cushioning of my running shoes to help to ease the strain. Once I’ve gotten back into rhythm, I want to go back to my Vibrams, though I might never go back to full-time barefooting. I’ll see how it plays out. All I care about, at the end of the day, is that I’m running.

What are the causes of the injury? Is barefoot running to blame?

There’s a number of factors that could have played into it. They are as follows:

  • During the school year, I run more and more inconsistently as the year progresses, due both the shortened days and coldness of winter, and because of an increasing exhaustion. Teaching special education in the South Bronx, in case you didn’t know, is demanding work
  • When I did go out for a run, I was most likely going out harder than I should have, given the time that might have elapsed since the last run
  • I wore old dress shoes with heels to work intermittently, and I had a bit of a walk from the train station. I generally tried to wear a barefoot style shoe that I have, but they look kinda funny, so when I wanted to look good for whatever reason, or if there was ice on the ground, I wore my dress shoes
  • I am getting older. I know 33 isn’t that old, but I ain’t no spring chicken anymore, neither. I may not be able to get away with the same level of body stress I once could
  • A few months ago, I sliced open my big toe on my right foot, had to get 7 stitches, and apparently severed some kind of nerve, because I can no longer bend the toe completely, which may have subtly altered my running form
  • I think either my legs are different lengths, or my hips are askew[5]

Any or all of these factors, combined with the reduced support of barefooting, could have easily resulted in the strain that I have incurred.

Well, OK, so now that I’ve thoroughly bored you with the details of my diagnosis, how does any of this serve as an allegory for other life issues, as I suggested at the outset of this post?

Basically, it has to do with the principles of myofascial release that I’ve learned from my massage therapist and from foam rolling. When you hit a point of stress, you press on it until it relaxes, then you iron it out through the length of the muscle, kind of like rolling out dough. It’s akin to exorcism. By calling out the point of stress that had been hitherto unnamed and stepped daintily around, you then force it to abandon its temporary abode. The longer that you’ve ignored this encroaching negative spirit, the more painful it is to dispel.

How apropo this concept is to our emotional lives, is it not? In terms of my own life, I’ve been under a lot of stress. This year in my job was easier in some ways, but harder in others. This is something I’m still trying to work through and write about. And I’ve been letting many of my feelings remain unvoiced. And over time, those feelings began to get knotted, and embedded, and tangled, and then began to seep into and infect other areas of my life, such that eventually all I knew was that I felt tired, unsuccessful, unsensual, unmotivated, and uncentered.

This dim feeling and lethargy has pervaded even my summer, and in this way, my injury serves as its allegory. As if the strain in my leg embodied the strain in my heart. I had gotten to a point where I felt as if I could no longer write, no longer run; in short, I had lost my mojo. This wasn’t any form of overt depression, by the way. It was more like something that lurked behind every day, but was easily subsumed behind the hustle and bustle of my busy mind and life. In this way, it gathered. It gathered, and I ignored it. This is how storms gather in our bodies and in our hearts.

And so the allegory of this injury is the allegory of an emotional life. We must go to our points of pain, and we must lay them bare, push them down until they run. And that alone is not enough. We must then pursue them, all the way down along the path from which they’ve mounted, until we have pushed them out, evicted them, banished them. But we must be ever vigilant, for each new day brings new barbs of tension, and the longer we ignore them and wish them away and pretend, the deeper they embed themselves. Until we find ourselves, one day, in that place of hopeless despair, and must reach for help from another, and others reach down their hands to us and help us back to our feet, and then inform us, gently, that the path to healing is our own, and we must go back to that place of darkness alone, but here is a gift of knowledge to support you on your journey.

Here, this is my gift. Thank you for following me thus far.

1 Before blogging, I sent out emails of my writing. I have most of those logged here as well, dating back to 1998

2 I did purchase a heart rate monitor recently, but I’ll post more on that later

3 Just as a side note, now that I’ve found her, I will certainly go back to her when I am able to afford it. I highly recommend her if you’re in NYC.

4 Painful doesn’t quite do this feeling justice. It’s not quite pain, so much as being extremely uncomfortable and wanting it to stop. It reminds me of the feeling of sitting in an ice bath up to your hips. Our gym at my high school had a giant ice bath, and after a few minutes, right before you go numb, the same feeling of burning discomfit hits you. You have to force yourself to stay in until it goes away.

5 Interestingly, I haven’t really thought about it until now, but when I was younger, I ran to jump over a tennis court net, and my foot got caught in it, so I landed right on my hip. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents about it, and though it hurt for a while afterwards, eventually it went away. That’s the exact hip that is hurting now. Possible I may have fucked it up that long ago and it just showed up now after moving to unsupportive shoes.

Content is at the Heart of Teaching

Finding the main idea is a frequently taught strategy in classrooms across this nation, as are other skills such as inferencing, summarizing, and so on. It’s sad that so often these strategies are taught in general isolation from any kind of deep and enriching content. What’s the point in finding the main idea unless the main idea is worth contemplating?

Now, I work with students who are learning English as their second language and with students with exceptional learning needs. It’s fairly well established that students facing these challenges with language and learning benefit from explicit strategies. I am therefore not opposed to teaching strategy use by any means.

But as a newer teacher, I’ve struggled with getting my students to progress. I’ve taught these strategies and re-taught them, in a classroom devoid of rich and engaging books at their reading levels. So I’ve printed out and made copies of anything I can find at their level. Guess what type of content this stuff is? Short passages on isolated concepts, such as is found on state assessments. The students I had in my last two years of teaching, furthermore, were reading at a pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade level. They were doubly frustrated not only by their difficulty with fluency, but also by lame material.

Without rich, deep content, strategies are irrelevant. Pedagogy, even, is largely irrelevant. This is why I’m excited by the Common Core Standards which have been adopted by almost every state. Finally, the focus in literacy is back on content, in the form of non-fiction and complex texts.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve begun reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass with my students. This stuff is deep. His language is powerful, the history comes alive, and best of all, the kids are into it. They are engaged by it, and not turned off by the profusion of antiquated and confusing words. This has made me thirsty to engage them in more of this sort of deep content, the primary documents that ground our history and our knowledge.

The Common Core is on the right path. We need to steep our children in rich, foundational texts and let them struggle and become immersed in the language even as we guide them through it to the deep meaning embedded therein. We’ve been relying too much on watered down drivel processed by publishing companies. What’s the point in knowing that Frederick Douglass was a great writer and orator without reading his own words? What’s the point in discussing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy if we don’t read or listen to his own words? Too much of our historical understanding is based on second-hand descriptions and accounts.

This might seem like a “no duh” sort of thing when I put it to you like this, but let me set the scene of what it’s like in schools for you. We are taught that we must focus on kids’ deficiencies, by analyzing their results on exams. Oh, we say, these children can’t make inferences. Let’s teach them how to infer. Let’s put up charts on inferences. And so on. And we are furthermore taught that children must only read at their assessed reading levels, and that we must “differentiate” all our material so they can access it. So Barney gets a 2nd grade level text, while Lakshmi gets the higher level passage. And this is what we get beat over the head with, in all our professional development sessions and in all the consultants that come into our school to tell us how to teach.

What gets lost in all of that superficial and money intensive blather, of course, is that none of that means anything without rich content. So we’re teaching inferencing with test prep books, and we’re differentiating texts with worksheets. And that’s all fine with the textbook publishing industry, and that’s all fine with the educational consultants. But it’s not fine for the kids.

So I’m refocusing myself back on the idea of core knowledge, which E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has been calling for for decades and most people have been ignoring. The Common Core is here, and with folks like David Coleman speaking bluntly and passionately about the necessity for engaging children directly in rich and deep texts, teachers are finally getting the chance to throw off the shackles of bullshit and focus on what matters. I’m going to write another post soon about Coleman’s message, and also about some other great tidbits of wisdom I was excited to glean from a recent conference on What Works in Urban Education. To be continued . . .

Growing Awareness of History

Public school door knob

I recently did a research writing unit with my students, in which they explored the history of their school building and neighborhood through an interview with our school janitor, on-line web searching, and a trip to the public library across the street. Our janitor, who has been in the building for over 20 years, told us that our school was 126 years old (I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but I have no reason to doubt him). We learned that our building used to be connected with the firehouse next door. The firehouse part of the building was a church, while the school part used to be a psychiatric hospital for children. Also, we learned that our cafeteria used to house a pool!

We weren’t able to find much on-line. I hadn’t realized how complex and difficult finding out the history of any given building in NYC was. So I then expanded the scope of our research to our neighborhood.

The library across the street has also been around for a hundred years, one of the original Carnegie libraries. The librarian showed us historical pictures of East Tremont, and we discussed pictures of the old police precinct headquarters, which looked like a mansion, and pictures of Italian immigrants dressed in hats and formal attire, all lined up to get into the library. Pictures of farmland and fences. A Texaco gas station with gas for 11 cents a gallon. At first, the students said they didn’t see much of anything in the pictures. Then as we began discussing it, the history opened up before them in all of the little details, the old cars along the side of the road, the cobblestones in the streets, the pigtails the girls wore, the way their dresses were cut.

Richman (Echo) Park

It opened up history for me as well.

I’ve begun paying more attention to the sights around me as I walk from the subway station at Grand Concourse down the hill. The glaciated rocks at Richman Park. The Tremont Baptist Church perched on the winding hill above the chaotic traffic circle of Webster Ave and East Tremont. The stone masonry at the base of some buildings that seems to denote historical longevity. It has made me begin to appreciate the Bronx in a new context. I don’t just see urban decay anymore (though my growing awareness of the impact of the Cross Bronx Expressway has set a context for that as well). I see a community of newer immigrants, striving to make their way, just as generations of immigrants before them have done. I’ve begun to become aware of a rich, underlying framework of history all around me, requiring only attention to become aware of. This growing awareness of the cultural beauty of this community somewhat assuages some of the gap left in my heart after living for years in the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe,

Tremont Baptist Church

California. When I used to bike the 9 miles in and out of work in my last year there, I remember always reminding myself to try to absorb the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains, ringed in pine. I knew that someday I might not live in such pristine beauty and wanted to try to savor it while it was there, and hold it in my mind, however fleetingly. That has turned out to be prescient, and those images come back to me still.

Similarly, I know I may not always live or work in a place with such a rich and dynamic history, and it is my task now to savor it, to take it in and build my awareness of it.

Simultaneous to this growing awareness of history all around me, I have begun reading The Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass to my students. I had downloaded the book from Project Gutenberg, waiting the 2 months it took to receive print-outs from my school, and downloaded free questions and vocabulary for each chapter from The Core Knowledge Foundation. The language of the book may be well above the reading level of my fifth graders, but they comprehend the content deeply, in a way atypical to much of the content that I teach them. The oratory grasp of the power of words emanates from Douglass. There are two paragraphs in Chapter 2 in which his articulate voice rings through the ages, impassioned, as he reflects on the songs that slaves traveling through the woods would sing. These songs of the slave, Douglass wrote, “represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.” And suddenly, his outrage at the inhumanity of slavery lashes out from the page, lashes out from history. It’s a powerful moment.

There is never enough time to teach much of anything deeply in school. It’s hard to be consistent when schools are disorganized, schedules change on a moment’s notice, and there are constant interruptions from phones, loudspeakers, and children’s emotional outbursts. But reading this book is one thing I want to follow through on, because at some point, our children require us adults to make a decision on what is most important, and home in on that thing and stay true to it.

I have begun to feel the weight of history, and appreciate the power of a narrative in conveying the sense and awareness of that history. Our children, just like most of us adults, suffer from a disconnectedness from the wider context they live within. Though I may not be an inhabitant of their community, I can certainly make it my goal to become more aware of that community’s history and to help grow that awareness in my students.

Like much of the things I teach, I find that I learn the best material alongside of my students, discovering new ways of looking at the world and growing my own awareness.

Curriculum

An Introduction and Discursive Rambling On Why I’m Writing This

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long while, ever since the EWA conference where I met some great fellow educators and education reporters. At dinner after the conference, I was speaking with David Ginsburg, Samuel Reed, and Michael Hicks about the concept of equity and a level playing field in schools and how this critical need so often gets shoveled under the rug in current public discussions of education, and I brought up one of the concepts I’d come up with after my first year of teaching, which is the idea of what I called an “invisible curriculum.” Michael Hicks informed me that this concept has been around for a while and was entitled the “hidden curriculum.”

This was a critical concept to me, so at the behest of Mr. Hicks, I did some “research” (Google questing) and found that the Wikipedia article (BTW, why do people always debunk Wikipedia as a viable source of information? There’s some really well written articles on that sucker!) provides some fairly good background on the subject, tracing the concept of “presumptive teaching” back to Dewey, up through Philip Jackson, Benson Snyder, Paulo Friere, and more recently to John Taylor Gatto. Now that I had a trail, I was determined to do some deeper investigation.

Not to make excuses, but I don’t have allocated time for research, and I’ve thus far been stymied by the craziness of a public school right before state testing, writing graduate school papers, creating IEPs, wedding planning, and other assorted tasks that keep pushing this research aside. I’m currently reading Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (good stuff—he doesn’t even hesitate to discuss love in pedagogy!), but that’s about as far as any of my own research has progressed.

Rather than wait an indeterminate amount of time to gain deeper theoretical background knowledge on the subject, I am electing to post what my thoughts are so far on the subject, and I will elaborate on it further as I learn more.

Curriculum and Equity

There’s a few strands which I will be pulling together around the concept of a curriculum. The first strand I will examine is the concept of a hidden curriculum. The second strand is the concept of a unified core curriculum. The third strand, which I have explored somewhat already, is the concept of open source curriculum development.

These strands are unified under the idea that if we are truly committed to the concept of equity in public education— or the concept of education as a civil rights issue—then we had better take curriculum seriously. What we choose to leave out of our curriculum are often the most critical pieces of knowledge that our students require to succeed in an extremely polarized and socially and economically sick nation.

Hidden Curriculum

There are a couple of ways of interpreting the notion of a hidden curriculum. One is from the perspective of class or cultural oppression, as in the biases of a dominant culture are propagated through unwritten but clearly expressed social rules, thus perpetuating inequity. Another is from the perspective of socialization, in which there is an assumption of implicit understanding, as in the “unwritten social rules and behavior that we all seem to know, but were never taught.” In the first interpretation, the deficit lies in the oppressor, who enforces their dominant perspectives either blindly or coercively. In the second, the deficit lies in the student, who fails to recognize implicit social or behavioral rules.

I think there is a middle ground to be found between these two interpretations of hidden curriculum, in that in either case, it is the responsibility and duty of the educator to render explicit what is assumed implicitly. Teaching is all about making tangible what is abstract, dredging up the invisible conceptual and procedural foundations that underly knowledge. If we are going to instill values from a selective standpoint, then we should give voice to those values and make them readily apparent, thus allowing parents and families a choice as to whether they feel that is the right kind of school for their child. If we are going to be addressing social skill or behavioral deficits with our students, then we should be clear about what social norms are and how healthy relationships are fostered and sustained.

We fail our children when we don’t acknowledge the hidden values and rules of our society’s social behaviors. We also fail our children when we pretend that there isn’t much more to succeeding in our society than academic success and intelligence, and ignore the critical need for the development of character. In a recent article in American Educator, The Economics of Inequality: The Value of Early Childhood Education, James Heckman makes the case for the dire need for recognition of character development in education.

While important, cognitive abilities alone are not as powerful as a package of cognitive skills and social skills . . . Cognition and personality drive education and life success, with character (personality) development being an important and neglected factor.

I believe that children and families in disadvantaged communities desperately want to understand these rules. They want to become empowered through knowledge. We oppress them when we pretend they already understand or that they should implicitly understand class rules and values. And all of the terrible behavior that you will witness in inner city schools–the fighting, the cursing, the bullying—are calls for understanding. Students need to be taught what these unwritten class expectations and rules are. They already understand the rules of poverty, of the street. They already know how to speak that language. Some educators throw up their hands and say, “But they don’t want to learn! They aren’t motivated! They don’t value education!” That’s not true. It’s just that we aren’t being clear enough about what that learning will do for them. We assume that they understand the implicit value in formal education. We assume that they know how to sit in a chair and behave appropriately in a formal setting and respect formal authority figures. We need to stop making these assumptions. We need to assume, rather, that when a child enters our schools they need to be taught everything about how to succeed in a democratic and capitalistic society. And I mean that just as much for the child in the wealthy suburban enclave as the child in the ghetto. The child who sits in a wealthy classroom is just as much in need of understanding implicit societal rules and values, such that they don’t take their luxury and status for granted, and live a sheltered life unexamined. Inequality is perpetuated most fundamentally by ignorance, not by willful avarice.

Business leaders are telling leaders in education that they are looking for employees with social skills and interpersonal capabilities. Research tells us that self-control is far more important in predicting future success than IQ. Educators keep telling the world that they have kids that don’t know how to sit still for more than one minute, don’t know how to organize their supplies, and don’t know how to interact with each other in a positive way. Is anybody listening? Schools need to do much more than teach academic content. They need to teach—as many educators have been saying over and over again—the whole child.

Core Curriculum

Not only does our society fail to acknowledge the hidden curriculum, but we furthermore fail to acknowledge the foundations of any curriculum. We have politicized content, such that it has become an issue of nationalizing required content, as opposed to rationalizing the foundations of learning. Anyone who has been a teacher—most especially anyone who has been a teacher of children with exceptional learning needs—knows that all academic concepts have underlying foundations that must be clearly and explicitly taught for students to master the content. Let’s take one mathematical skill as an example: rounding. Rounding is easy, right? All you have to do is round a number up, or round a number down, and bingo! Right?

Wrong. If you think that’s true, then you’ve never tried teaching it. My students struggle with mathematical concepts, especially with procedures that require multiple steps, and most especially with concepts that require any level of abstraction. Let’s break rounding down into the steps required to perform it: 1) You have to decide what place value you are rounding to; 2) starting at that place value, you then must look at the number to the right; 3) you must ask yourself “do I round that number up or down?; 4) you must remember the rounding rule, perhaps taught to you via a rhyme such as “5 or more, let it soar; 4 or less, let it rest”; and 5) finally, you must move back to the original place value you are attempting to round to, then alter it accordingly (add one, or let it remain the same, and change the remaining place values to the right of it to zero).

Those are the steps, which we could easily add more to, as it could be argued that I condensed some mental steps into one. Now think about the foundational concepts needed to perform this operation. First, you must understand your place value and be able to locate the given place value of any number. If you don’t, you can forget about rounding, because you are lacking in the necessary understanding to simply begin the operation independently. Next, you must understand the rather abstract concept that when you round that place value, all the remaining place values after that are changed to zero. Also, they must understand and be clear about the idea that when you rounding “down,” you are not subtracting one from that number, you are simply “letting it rest.”

Try explaining that to a child who struggles with basic numeracy. Suddenly, what was such an easy concept, implicitly, has become an extremely complicated concept when you attempt to render it explicit.

But the point is here that there are concrete steps that can be developed, and we can pinpoint and target exactly where a student is struggling based on the evidence or discussion of their work. Different teachers will have different ways of addressing that struggling student’s needs, but the foundations are there.

Why would we pretend that the foundations underlying concepts don’t exist? Why would we leave it up to the independent exploratory process of a student, a teacher, a school district, or a state to determine these foundations? Why wouldn’t we pool together all of our evidence, from teachers, researchers, and content experts, to create a sequenced map of the foundations to learning?

I recently (randomly) learned about the concept of “learning progressions,” which I found in an article from a publication from the Teacher’s College educational policy program. This concept has been around for several years, and apparently had some influence on the development of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. I’m surprised, frankly, that the concept isn’t wider known and more fully explored.

Another concept aligned with these ideas which has been around literally for decades is E.D. Hirsch‘s notion of cultural literacy. I remember buying Hirsch’s The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy when I was a kid! I was fascinated by the idea of having a tome that would teach me the secrets to my society. It turned out to be kind of boring, but I thought some of the quotes in it were interesting. I still have the book, and now as a newer teacher, I have discovered that Hirsch’s concepts were developed into a Core Knowledge Sequence, which is available for download.

I can understand the criticism of Hirsch’s concept as an attempt to simply indoctrinate all students with the dominant culture, and the concern that having a unified curriculum would be an impediment to true learning. I share the criticism of the Core Knowledge Sequence from the perspective of it being fixed, in the same way that I would criticize any set of fixed standards by grade level. I teach students with disabilities, and I am angered by how they are made to feel stupid because they are 2-4 years behind grade specific benchmarks. Benchmarks should be based on individual student capability, not by this antiquated concept of grade level (/end diatribe).

When I introduced the Core Knowledge Sequence to the teachers at my school at a faculty staff meeting as a tool to guide their curriculum mapping, I expected to hear some of the critiques I just offered above. But on the contrary, teachers were overwhelmingly thrilled by the sequence and gratified to have a copy of it to refer to. Aides and preparatory teachers were snapping the copies up like candy, such that we ran out of copies for core content area teachers! Teachers, just like students, are desperate for guidance.

At some point, we have to come to an agreement about what knowledge is important to the content that we elect to teach. And at some point, we have to come to an agreement about the benchmarks that students must reach to acquire knowledge at the level that will best enable them success in an academic or career setting, whether we elect to do so by grade level or other tracking method. In terms of indoctrinating students with the dominant culture, I will refer you back to the concept of the “hidden curriculum.” It’s not about protecting students from the dominant culture. It’s about handing the keys to that kingdom over to them. And that requires not only academic content knowledge, as I argued earlier, but knowledge of social skills and the self-knowledge that comes from self-control.

And I think that simply because content is “fixed” to some degree does not necessitate that it is dead. No teacher comes into a classroom (at least, not in a self-contained classroom; I would welcome someone who thinks they can fly by the seat of their pants coming into my classroom every day and trying to perform free jazz pedagogy; in a classroom, you have to be able to perform jazz on top of a classical foundation) and begins to conjure the content they are to teach out of thin air. What a good teacher does is to conjure critical thinking and dialogue around the essential content of a subject. The content may be given, but not how we approach it and develop it as a class, with students and teacher exploring the concepts together to recreate them anew. Curriculum must be able to adapt to these explorations and to the creation of new knowledge, but that does not mean that we should not come to a consensus as to what content should be taught. In other words, a unified curriculum does not necessarily mean a dead one, and I think we have move beyond such polarizing notions; I will explore this idea more in the next section on open source curriculum development.

Currently, there is a movement, spearheaded by the Shanker Institute, to reintroduce the idea of a core curriculum of content, which has been cosigned by many different leaders in the education field. Of course, this is making people who are politically right leaning shiver in their boots, because the idea of anything being nationalized gives them nightmares of socialism. But this is a perfect example of how the political grandstanding and petty oversimplication of adults operates to the detriment to children. Knowledge cannot be nationalized—but the underlying concepts necessary to achieve mastery can be outlined and unified.

The process of establishing any sort of national consensus on matters of education, such as through the current establishment of the Common Core Standards, is ridiculously contentious (read Diane Ravitch’s The Life and Death of the Great American School System for more history on the political machinations behind the standards movement) . But that should not stop us from having those conversations. Adopting a voluntary, common set of national standards was a great first step. But in comparison to the actual content, standards are relatively clean of contentious items and specifically applicable items for classroom use. The only item where standards provide direction on the actual content to be learned is in the math standards, as they are fairly clear about what content will be focused upon within each grade. In ELA, social studies, and science, however, the standards are intentionally vague, as these are the areas that can swiftly become politically contentious.

We need to stop being cowards and hold the essential public discussion over core content. Our children are sitting in classrooms that are all too often simply boot camp preps for a lifetime of imprisonment, with none of the essential knowledge that will enable them to succeed in this society. Our teachers are spending hours alone planning their lessons, attempting to dissect concepts in order to teach them effectively to their students. Why are we throwing our children and our teachers’ knowledge and ability to the wolves?

Open Source Curriculum

Reflect for a minute on the last image I just concluded the prior section with: a teacher sitting alone at their desk, planning lessons for their students. It’s after a long day of teaching. That teacher may or may not be a content expert in the lesson that they are crafting, given that most teachers are treated like widgets (as described well in the policy paper, “The Widget Effect”) and are thrown into different grades and different subject areas every year. Why is that teacher alone? Why does that teacher not have the guidance of other experts in that content area to guide their task analysis? Why is that teacher not sitting with other teachers during a scheduled, paid time of their day?

That image is of a dedicated teacher, a teacher who knows that they must reflect and ponder the underlying foundations of content in order to teach effectively. Other teachers are downloading lesson plans of questionable value from the internet, or simply turning to the next lesson in the curriculum that is provided by their district, which was purchased from a contractor who makes a lot of money supplying flashy, colorful textbooks to schools. Meanwhile, people are arguing against providing these teachers with any sort of direction or guidance on content whatsoever. Are you kidding me? When I began teaching, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content I was supposed to be teaching my students (http://gothamschools.org/2011/04/01/persistence-through-failure/). I would have loved a sequenced guide to the underlying foundations of the concepts I was expected to teach and that my students were expected to learn.

Now wouldn’t it be better if that teacher was sitting at a table with colleagues, discussing the content of the lesson, performing task analysis through the process of dialogue with other knowledgeable experts of pedagogy and content? In some schools, this sort of collaborative lesson planning does occur. In all too many, however, it doesn’t. In either case, imagine extending that table to include teachers from all sorts of different settings, with all sorts of different students. They can discuss how they alter the delivery of the content to challenge their gifted students, how they alter the delivery of the content to reach their students with exceptional learning needs, how they alter the delivery of the content to reach their students learning English.

This is what we can do with technology. Why wait for one of the big curriculum companies to develop our curriculum for us? In fact, this is the very problem: how we’ve been developing anything in public education, whether policy or content: everything is developed from the top down, then handed to the teacher. But we need to stop this never-ending cycle of dissociation. A unified core curriculum incorporating social skills and character development should not be developed by some group of distant “experts” and think tanks.

I’ve been thinking about this concept ever since I learned more about open source software development. One of my friends is involved in the open source software industry (yes, people other than Microsoft are making money by developing open source software! Who woulda thunk?), and in conversations with him, I began to think about how the process could be applied to education. He recommended a book for me to read to learn more about the history of open source and how it works, and the more I learned, the more I grew excited about the potential for transferring the fundamental concept of open sourcing into curriculum development.

The revolutionary transformation of open source in software development in the computing industry was that it turned the concept of intellectual property on its head. Intellectual property, under the GNU license, shifted from the right of exclusion to the right of distribution. This allowed software code to be developed outside of a proprietary license and outside of hierarchical business models not always conducive to creativity and collaboration.

This is what the development of curriculum requires. Curriculum development is creative and challenging work, and teachers shouldn’t be doing it by themselves. We should be doing it together, via collaborative networks, not via conventional, hierarchical pathways remote from our classroom work.

I’ve started the process in my school by first creating a file structure within our school Google Docs to store and share our curriculum mapping. Then, I introduced the Core Knowledge Sequence, as described earlier, as a resource to be used in the mapping process. Next, I created a unit plan template, based on a format provided by ASCD, within Google Docs to guide and standardize the development of unit plans across grade levels. Finally, I will create a spreadsheet to synthesize all the unit plans as they develop school-wide, so that different grade levels can examine each other’s work.

My next plan is to open this process to teachers on a national level. I’ve created a wiki for this purpose, but swiftly realized that I had to create an underlying structure to guide the process. So this summer I will be working on building an underlying structure based on those effective in software development.

It’s going to be messy. It’s going to be challenging. But I firmly believe that teachers can create a viable and unified curriculum that will be far superior to anything that will be published by giant textbook corporations. And the best thing about doing it via the open source method will be that it can be a living, breathing curriculum that will adapt to new input and feedback by teachers.

A Summation and Wrap Up of the 3 Strands of Curriculum

In creating a curriculum that can target inequity and enable disadvantaged students to gain access to the middle and upper class tiers of our society, we must address these factors:

  • Curriculum must explicitly address the non-academic skills proven necessary by research for life and career success, such as social skills, self-control, perseverance, and character
  • Curriculum must be unified to clearly delineate the underlying foundations of content
  • Curriculum must be an adaptable, living creation developed collaboratively by actual teachers and content experts via networks operated under a GPL style license

If you believe in any of these precepts, then I encourage you to follow some of these steps:

  1. Go to www.ashankerinst.org/curriculum.html and sign to support the concept of a core curriculum
  2. Notify your local representative about the necessity for a core curriculum that incorporates the concept of character development or write a letter to your newspaper
  3. Go to my website and keep up to date about my progress in developing an open source project for curriculum development, or start your own and let me know!

Open Source as it Applies to Education: Part II

Two distinct but equally real organizational forms exist in parallel to each other. The dynamic relationship between hierarchies and networks over time determines both the nature of the transition and the endpoint. One form may defeat the other through competition. Both may coexist by settling into nearly separate niches where they are particularly advantaged. Most interesting will be the new forms of organization that emerge to manage the interface between them, and the process by which those boundary spanners influence the internal structure and function of the networks and the hierarchies that they link together.

The Success of Open Source, by Steven Weber

One of the most intriguing chapters in Weber’s book on open source is the final chapter, in which he examines the potential of generalizing the open source model to other paradigms. I found his delineation between open sourcing as “networking” and traditional, propriety methods as “hierarchies” particularly useful, especially in my considerations of applying open source to collaborative curriculum design. This interfacing by innovative “boundary spanners” between hierarchies and networks is precisely what is at issue in the field of education and so desperately needed. Schools are operated primarily in an antiquated hierarchical model in nearly all structural forms. Nearly all decisions, from curriculum to school programs to scheduling are passed top down. Some decisions must be made in such a manner, and this is why hierarchies exist, but the decisions that are similar in all schools yet exist under different conditions necessitate distributed, localized, network based decisions. Curriculum should be developed by the teachers that implement it. The knowledge and learning that is obtained from students (because learning is not a two way street–the students are teaching adults what they need) must be incorporated into whatever decisions are made that will impact a classroom or school directly. That means connecting classrooms and teachers directly to policymakers. The leveling platform of technology can enable this to happen (I’m going to discuss this more in another post soon).

I don’t know if I subscribe to such a dire black and white portrayal of networks vs. hierarchies that Weber presents above, however. I think they can and will successfully coexist in the same manner that the structure of a leaf or a body is hierarchical in coexistence with networks, such as veins. I’m not sure if that’s the best analogy to make here, but I think it conveys what I mean. Perhaps more akin to the idea of holons portrayed by Ken Wilber in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality?

The notion of open-sourcing as a strategic organizational decision can be seen as an efficiency choice around distributed innovation . . . The simple logic of open-sourcing would be a choice to pursue ad hoc distributed development of solutions for a problem that (1) exists within an organization, (2) is likely to exist elsewhere as well, and (3) is not the key source of competitive advantage or differentiation for the organization.

The reason this open source model applies to education is because education and knowledge should be considered a public good, a product of the commons. This is why it doesn’t make sense to develop curriculum within closed, proprietary means. Effective methods of teaching and learning content should not be copyrighted. As Weber effectively details in his book, the power in open source is that it turns the notion of property on its head, from that of exclusion to that of distribution. Knowledge and learning should be disseminated and shared as widely as possible, because everyone benefits from it.

Note that I am not suggesting that companies or individuals should not be able to profit from offering services to schools. They will continue to do so even when effective curriculum begins to be developed via open sourcing; it will simply be that the nature of their services will change, just as the music industry is (still) learning to shift the nature of its services to accommodate the digital information age.

The open source process is more likely to work effectively in tasks that have these characteristics:

  • Disaggregated contributions can be derived from knowledge that is accessible under clear, nondiscriminatory conditions, not proprietary or locked up.
  • The product is perceived as important and valuable to a critical mass of users.
  • The product benefits from widespread peer attention and review, and can improve through creative challenge and error correction . . .
  • There are strong positive network effects to use of the product.
  • An individual or a small group can take the lead and generate a substantive core that promises to evolve into something truly useful.
  • A voluntary community of iterated interaction can develop around the process of building the product.

All of these conditions exist for curriculum design in public education, in addition to other aspects of teacher collaboration, such as research (as I suggested in my last post on this subject) and policy.

Journey

There are times when I need space to reflect, a mountain to climb. A venture into the wilderness, where I can become, momentarily, a lone animal following his instinct, reliant solely on his own wiles. Once I am there, at the peak of solitary vision, all I can think about is going home. And so when I return to my safe harbor from the world, it is new, it is warm, it is imbued with the light of re-discovered love.

Dirty Hands, Clean Mind

You’ve formulated these full, glossy lit pictures of perfection in your mind. You’ve established how you believe the world should be. You’ve determined how you want those you love to be. And now you find yourself putting up walls between yourself and reality, constantly on retreat, the ebbing colors of your idealism flowing into the eroding moat outside your acceptance. You hold on tight to your imagined versions of who you love, as they slip away invisibly from between your bestowed masks and costumes like a greased pig. You clutch at ghosts, you cherish empty husks, you bed with demons. You dig yourself in deeper, unaware of how alone you have become, how lonely, how lost, how stranded.

Those who love you become your enemies. They talk about you behind your back, unable to confront you with a reality that you can’t accept. There is no possibility of change, no potential for a different outcome, until you’ve come to the end of your own rope. Until you are ready to reach out from behind the walls of your idealism and step back into the world that exists beyond your limited desires. Until you drop your selfish ego and accept your diminutive status within the world. Until you drop the burden that you have created and free yourself to become involved.

To become involved in the nurturing and growing of living things, you must get dirty. You have to struggle, get down onto the ground on your hands and knees, work at the earth, sweat into your clothes. There is no easy way to create beauty that will survive apart from you.

There is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist, with being an idealist, with wanting the world to change, with being angry and bitter with the way things are. But if this idealism is preventing you from becoming effectively involved in your own life, then it is just as dangerous as greed, just as dark as blood shed by warfare. In order to act, a thousand other potentialities must be destroyed. The question is: is this action the right action? Is this involvement the right involvement? These are the things that frighten you. These are the things that hold you back. While your plants are withering. While reality grows ever more desperate, more detached, more inclined towards despair. The real question is not right or wrong; the real questions are: how selflessly can you act? How fully involved can you be?

If you can give yourself completely, then there are no questions.

Dirty your hands in the challenge of your world. It is best, of course, to think and choose the best course of action. But how many times have the options only become apparent after you have already committed yourself? In the streamline of successive moments, the right way will become manifest. You must believe this. You must have faith in what is beyond yourself of which you are but a part. You can’t out-think the physical manifestations of the universe. You can’t formulate a perfect philosophy to encompass each and every moment. You can only open yourself to learning, like a child. In response to reality, you will know what is the right way to act.

Open yourself to the suffering transparency of the light. Break down your walls to the invading hordes of the world.

It is only your mind that misleads you.

Confidence To Intuition

How do we descend into the thick of it, the thickened, coagulated density of emotion necessary to destroy illusions like a bird descendant upon its prey? By what authority, by what necessary quality, trait, experience do we find the strength to proceed intact through the cutting throng of desire and anger? How can we sever through doubt and despair, conveying truth and beauty to their highest destination point of divinity, through vehicles so dumb, so shredded by toxic interference, as our bodies?

There would seem to be two fundamental points of answer: possession of the confidence (point 1) to proceed beyond the superficial and into intuition (point 2). There are many other outlying tenets, no doubt, such as focus, humility, devastating life experiences and/or the ability to attune oneself so finely to pain that it becomes akin to bliss. But if we allow the complexities of circumstance and personality to fall to the side for the moment, these two points become apparent. Point one, confidence, being the conveyor, the arrow through the surface worlds, penetrating within. Without confidence, belief, conviction, knowledge, there is no means of fulfillment, no facility to proceed progressively to inner sanctums beyond surface tangents of perversion. Point two, intuition, being the explosive fruit onto the scene, the fecund address of the potential needs of future and present. The voice that speaks beyond oneself within oneself that knows exactly what must be done to preserve the delicate balance of life and death, of space and form.

How difficult to possess these jewels in tact, in full, in every moment of everyday, to reach across the void of ourselves true to form eternity. Our world crumbles out of balance all around us, within and without, flying apart at the handle that we hold so blithely, so close to our hearts. Do we possess the strength to listen? Do we have the faith for empathy? Do we have the knowledge to learn?

Universal Skin Care

Females got them all kinds o’ products that they apply to their faces, their hair, their skin. It’s probably mostly a slew of completely nonessential crap, but at some point, a guy kinda notices that in general, women tend to take fairly good care of themselves, at least in terms of immediate appearance. There was a point in my development, years ago, when I suddenly rejected the idea that female skin is fundamentally different then my own. And I was tired of having clogged pores and dodgy skin. So what were the womenfolk doing that was different then simply washing their faces with soap and water? I decided to look into it, surreptitiously, and observe, in an anthropological sense, how women took care of their faces.

I learned about the concepts of cleansing followed by exfoliation, toning, and moisturizing. It’s not quite as alien to guys as it might seem, given that men have to take care of their faces somewhat in terms of learning how to shave. Applying aftershave is toning, and applying an aftershave balm is moisturizing.

So that was just a general introduction to the personal development I underwent in defeating sexist notions of taking care of my skin. I realized that there is nothing wrong with wanting to have clean, healthy skin. This is not a topic, however, that I would discuss at the bar drinking a whiskey with the guys. Hey guys, what kind of toner you use? What? You don’t know about toner? Shit, brother, well let me clue you in to some beauty secrets. . .” Taking care of our skin is just not really something that guys generally discuss amongst each other.

I have discovered, however, that when it comes to talking about the art and techniques involved in shaving, that suddenly all the beauty secrets begin to come spilling out of the closet. Guys love to talk about their shaving techniques. It’s really a touching thing to witness, actually, after all these years of self-repression and denial. I discovered an on-line community, Badger & Blade, which demonstrates this very well, when I was in the process of learning about ‘wet shaving’, since I was having major issues of razor burn with electric and cartridge razor shaving methods. I mean, guys are chattering away about their colognes, their aftershaves, how many times they swirl their whisks to achieve the perfect crests in their preferred shaving creams . . . It makes you realize that guys have just been holding all this shit back, just waiting for the proper forum with which to express their skin care discoveries.

That is also the forum where I learned about ‘the oil cleansing method.’ This is where you mix up castor oil with other oils such as coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, or olive oil and rub it into your face, then ‘steam’ it out of your pores by opening them up with a hot washcloth draped over your face for a couple of minutes. It’s cheap, effective, natural, and simple. Given my penchant for self-sufficiency and non-toxicity, it felt like just the right thing to do. After having done it for a few weeks now, I can definitely recommend it. When I moved out to the East Coast, my skin wigged out, because I was used to dry climates, and now I’m in extreme humidity. I was breaking out like I was a teenager again. The oil cleansing method has re-balanced my skin. And it also leaves the skin feeling like its breathing, relaxed, and alive, not all taut and stretched out like harsh acne soaps do.

So there’s not even any reason to rely on your conventional array of expensive and probably toxic cleansers and moisturizers. All you need are the oils you want, which you can mix yourself, and then probably a toner on hand to finish it up. This can save you a lot of money down the road. And this method of skin care, best of all, is gender neutral. It’s just about the simple conception of oil as the most basic and essential of skin functions.

Organize Your Self

I grew up with my momma cleaning up most of my scattered detritus after me. I’ve never been a terribly messy person, but I certainly wasn’t clean either. I considered myself organized because I would make piles in terms of accessibility: the most recent thing that I had just used would be on top, so I would know where to find something I used frequently.

Since then I’ve learned how to maintain cleanliness and organization. Having girls as roommates for a couple of years has helped, as they would yell at me about being messy until I started cleaning up after myself. Then after working in the housekeeping department for a few years, I developed a higher level of personal standards of organization and cleanliness, because I had to tell other people how to clean, and not only how to clean well, but furthermore why they should want to clean well. I would generally approach this issue from a philosophical standpoint regarding the broader issue of why working hard and applying yourself fully to work–no matter the given task–is a definitive life-skill.

I’m going to take the argument for why working hard is an important capability for everyone to have and broaden that concept a little more to introduce the idea that how we think, act, and organize ourselves in our private lives is deeply and intimately related to how we develop and achieve our goals professionally. This might seem simple to you in concept, but in reality not many people really make that connection. So let me see what I can make of it.

Clean Up, Organize, and Maintain Your Life

Yeah, I know. This is sounding like a self-help, motivational thing all of a sudden. But sometimes hearing it from other people is refreshing, because I can tell ya, hearing it from myself is refreshing. Look, you need to clean up after yourself. And I’m not just talking about your dishes or your clothes. I’m talking about behind your couch, behind the toilet, underneath the sink, those boxes full of junk in the attic. Every inch of living space that you leave to fester unattended is representative of a space within yourself. If you have a tendency to hoard things and allow them to pile up until it overruns your living area, then guess what? Chances are quite good that you allow emotional baggage in your life, both professionally and personally, to build up until they affect and infect your everyday existence as well.

Obviously, there’s differing levels of maintenance required, dependent on high and low traffic areas. But it’s all ultimately part of a whole. You’ve got to get a handle on the whole thing in order to know that you are on top of it, and the only way you can do that is by starting now in tackling all the areas that you’ve been pushing away and allowing to sit unattended. Once you’ve done a “deep clean”, or “spring clean” or whatever you want to call it, then you can settle back into the daily routine of doing your dishes, picking up your clothes, vacuuming your carpet, etc, and simply doing semi-deeper cleans periodically. But every single space, outer and inner, top to bottom, must be accounted for if you want to get your life in order.

Don’t believe me? I don’t got no psychology degree, but I can tell you that cleaning (please only use non-toxic cleaners!) is indeed therapy. We reflect our living environments. There are some things that we can’t control, like the guy on the subway who curses us for no good reason, or the pinecone that fell on top of our head right as we walked underneath it. But in the areas of our lives that are under our control, it is imperative that we empower ourselves to organize and maintain those areas in order to allow ourselves to develop.

I’m not saying to be OCD about it. But I’m letting you know that allowing your baggage to build up and sit for years in a corner is equivalent to effectively blinding yourself to your own problems, even as they culminate to become a visible monster, visible to everyone except yourself.

This baggage, this junk, this dirt, mildew, mold, mice, and other assorted benefits of laxness will manifest itself in your life in terms of your relationships and work life as well. You will be the person who never moves upward in job responsibility, who never moves forward in a relationship. You will be the person who wants to ignore their own hand in their failure to achieve. You will be the person whose computer runs so slow that it’s basically an Apple IIe in boot time.

Present Yourself Well to Everyone

We like to think that when it comes to friends that we can let our guards down and just let it all hang out, without being judged or condemned. But in fact, it is often our friends that are our harshest critics–for the very reason that they have greater insight into our lives and how we live it. Unfortunately, our friends don’t often want to tell us straightforwardly their criticisms, and so we rarely get the feedback from the people that are best capable of giving us that feedback. Instead, we get that critical feedback from strangers or hostile acquaintances, and by then, we aren’t really positioned to listen to them.

It’s important that we present ourselves well to everyone, from strangers to family members. Everyone judges. It’s human nature. We aren’t saints–we use our brains and our eyeballs and we compare and contrast other people with ourselves. With friends and family members, we CAN let our guards down, and we know that we can always come back to open arms. But only to a certain point. You see, if you keep acting like an inconsiderate slob or snob around a loved one, at some point, they will get fed up with it. And no matter how much someone may like you for your wit and company, they will probably not recommend you to their employer when you are looking for a job if you walk around all day with the crack of your ass showing. You can’t take your friends and family for granted. In fact, you shouldn’t take anyone for granted. You should treat every single person in your day with the same respect. Because it all comes back to you.

And another point here is that appearance is related to integrity. That ties in with my overall theme, which is that your personal life ties in intimately with your professional life. The way you look, the way you talk, the way you think. How you lead your private life has repercussions on the way your interactions on the street and on the job go. Call it karma, call it do-unto-others-as-they-would-do-unto-you, call it what you like. Just recognize that everything you do is related to everyone else, and that people may not be able to see who you are in your fundamental being, being as it are that they are not saints, don’t really give a shit about you, and have enough to deal with in their own lives, BUT, even completely random strangers on the street get a vibe from you. People in your workplace get a feeling from the way you talk, the way you carry yourself. Your friends know you for certain qualities. Your family jokes about how you always did this and that as a tyke. Who you are and what you do are unimpeachably interrelated.

Take All Criticism Into Consideration

I kind of went into this point a little bit above when I talked about how even the closest of friends can be your harshest critics. But sometimes a complete stranger will criticize you. Sometimes it will be your boss at work. And you will want to say “fuck you” and disregard everything they said to you. And that’s completely understandable, and in certain situations, that is exactly what you should do. However, there are also many times when you should be listening. Criticism, especially when it occurs on the job, should be taken as constructive, even when it sounds harsh and demeaning. Some managers simply aren’t good people, aren’t good managers, and don’t know how to communicate well with different people. But they are trying to get something across. And sometimes your friends, family, and even complete strangers are as well.

Taking a criticism of yourself into consideration does not weaken you unless you feel that it is so valid that you can’t see any way of answering it. So you need to take it head on. Let yourself be challenged. Take every criticism as a lesson from a teacher, and see how you can use it to develop yourself and make yourself stronger.

It’s like on American Idol. Paula Abdul thinks she’s everyone’s friend. She’s not. Simon Cowell is the one to listen to. He is honest, to the point of being brutal. If you did a shitty job, he will tell you that you did a shitty job, while Paula blathers on about dreams and how wonderful you are. If the contestant listens to Paula, and shuts out Simon, then he/she is most likely just about to be voted off the show. Simon may be harsh, but he is attempting to provide constructive criticism that should be taken into consideration if the artist wants to develop and progress.

Sometimes people just don’t phrase it to you in the right ways so that it can slip in past your ego. So you need to just drop your ego sometimes and really listen to other people when they critique you. Let yourself be judged. Learning to wade through other people’s problems and picking out what is of use to you and what drags you down is how you grow. Often in the midst of the bricolage of someone elses’ jealousy, desire, rage, and anguish is a gem of constructive criticism that is waiting to be taken into your consideration and worked on.

Alright, so I think I am just about cleaned out on any further burning nuggets of wisdom that I feel the need to bestow on you right now. I’ll plop out any new ones as they come along. I’ve still got a lot of growing and learning to do myself, but I’ve been thinking about these particular things that I’ve learned as I’ve been coming up against extreme change in my life, both professionally, emotionally, spatially, and otherwise.

Resumé Writing

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on resumés lately, both my own and my girlfriend’s, and I’ve learned a little bit about resume writing since then. I’ve never liked looking for jobs, most notably due to the self-advertisement that is required in the process. I don’t like having to sell myself, and I’ve never really put much effort into writing my resume in the past, so it’s not surprising that I haven’t heard back from many employers now that I’m applying for more challenging jobs on the other side of the continent. So I’ve been doing my homework and putting in the effort to really beef it up and present myself well to a potential employer.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can—and should—be creative with the format of your resume. There is no reason to present yourself according to a template in your word processing software, nor according to what “experts” might say you should do. There’s a lot of good information out there, of course, but you’ve got to take it all with a grain of salt, because ultimately, a resume is about presenting you, not anyone else. Like a wedding or an essay, the format of a resume exists to convey specific information. Within that format, you can be as creative or as traditional as you like, just as long as that information is effectively and powerfully conveyed.

Another thing I’ve learned is that making bullet point lists of your job descriptions and functions is just as boring for a potential employer to read as it is for you to write. They don’t really care if you had to answer phones or input data into a computer: they want to hear something interesting that you accomplished or contributed. Even if you’ve just been a shoe salesman or a clerical monkey, you’ve contributed a lot more to the success of your company than you might think. You have to pull out your viewpoint to the bigger picture: think of the numbers that can help convey what you’ve done, such as the revenues that were pulled in while you were a sales rep, or the amount of applications of students that you processed, etc. You want to convey not just what you did but what you were a part of.

When I help people with revising their essays and personal statements, I always make sure that any piece is written to assume that the reader knows nothing about what is being discussed, even in specialized fields like law, business, and medicine. I believe in describing things lucidly enough so that a “layperson” can get the gist of what is being conveyed. The more obtuse and jargon-filled a piece is, the more likely that it’s a bunch of bullshit. I’ve found that the same principle applies to a resume: never assume that the reader of your resume will read between the lines for you. Clearly explicate your accomplishments and contributions so that anyone can understand them and be suitably impressed.

And this is not easy to do. It’s not really the kind of thing I enjoy applying myself towards. But I’ve realized that if I’d like to get a job that I’m really into, I’ve got to put a lot of work into it. I’ve realized that I knew that my resume was weak, I just didn’t know how to approach it; after all, it’s not something you learn to do in school (though you should). So I’ve been looking at examples and formats and getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Another annoying and time consuming process is that you should target your resume for each specific job you are applying for. Each employer is looking for certain things, which they convey through keywords in their job posting. The “experts” on resume writing say that you should cut and paste these keywords into your resume, but I feel that can be a bit conspicuous and even desperate. I think it’s just as effective to take the meaning of those keywords and elucidate it in new ways through synonyms and arrangements according to your own particular and unique experiences.

It’s a lot harder to create a good resume than one would want to think. It takes a lot of time, brainstorming, concentrated effort, and endless revisioning. But you’ll KNOW when you’ve written a good one. If you don’t feel confident about your resume then there’s probably a reason for it. It’s like writing a poem or story that will hold up to the minute scrutiny of a highly critical academic audience—it’s got to be hewn out of stone, every surface holding just the right amount of light to convey a whole perfect piece of understanding.

My Grandfather’s Rifle Collection

I’ve been spending the last few weeks researching my grandfather’s rifle collection, and I figured that I might as well share the fruits of my labor here, for those interested in history/firearms/collecting things. My grandfather, whom I never knew except as a wee babe before he had a sudden heart attack due to all the fried chicken he ate, was into the whole Wild West thing (my older sisters recall his house—which is now my parents’—adorned with pictures of cattle and the like), and he loved to target shoot, and was a card-carrying member of the NRA. I even have his sharpshooting medals. He certainly knew his guns, and amassed himself a handsome little collection of rifles, extending from the late 1800′s to WWII. 2 of the guns are considered ‘antiques’ (pre-1899, which means that I could UPS them straight to your front door step without any legal issues (kind of scary)), and the rest are WWI-WWII era, which makes them ‘Curio & Relic‘ guns (C&R). He obtained 4 of them through the NRA (I know this because I have his original receipts), and the rest who knows—maybe from when he was a Coast Guard or something.

In any case, I’ve been doing a fair amount of research on them these past few weeks, which have included: 1) an on-line appraisal to get some idea of what I was looking at, as I didn’t even know the first thing about guns or their worth; 2) a trip to a local gun show to talk to dealers and corroborate their info with what I knew from the general appraisal; 3) going downtown to the central library to sift through a Flayderman’s guide on antique guns; 4) scanning through my grandfather’s book on rifles that I had at home, as well as another book on bolt-action rifles I picked up at my local library; and 5) extensive internet googling and wading through the on-line threads of other people’s queries, historical information pages, gun auctions, and other various catalogs, cross-references, and resources that could be plundered for free.

In the process—which has actually been somewhat thrilling in a nerdy sleuthing kind of way—I’ve learned a bit about the history of each gun, as well as learned that almost every little mark somewhere on the gun has some kind of significance which can lead you to more information. Now let’s begin:

1) Remington Rolling Block Military Argentine Contract Rifle

Remington Rolling Block

Details: 3 bands; full-stocked; .43 Spanish caliber; Patent dates May 30, 1864; May 7th June 14th Nov 12th Dec 24th, 1872; Dec 31st 1872; Sep 9th Jan 12th March ? 187?; U” on barrel; “R” on stock; no other discernible markings. Over 1 million made.

History of the Rolling Block Rifle: The Remington Rolling Block was one of the most successful single shot weapons yet developed. The “rolling block” refers to the system of a rolling breech block on a pivot backed up by the hammer for centerfire cartridges. According to Wikipedia, the first rifle based on this design was introduced at the Paris Exposition in 1867, and within a year it had become the standard military rifle of several nations. This rifle is also well known for being the rifle that drove the American Bison to extinction in the 1870s-80s.

According to Guns Magazine, July 2005, the rolling block was “universally popular in military circles” because of its “simplicity. The rolling block is a deceptively simple and ragged action with few moving parts and an operation that is self-evident. Any untutored conscript could be taught the manual-of-arms with a rolling block in quick time. One merely cocks the hammer, rolls back the breechblock, inserts a cartridge in the chamber, closes the breechblock and pulls the trigger. In function, the hammer not only strikes the firing pin but progressively cams under the breechblock, locking it firmly in place at the moment of discharge.”

2) U.S. Springfield Trapdoor Model 1873, 3rd model

Springfield Trapdoor 1873

Details: Serial #: 216xxx; 45-70 caliber; 2 barrel bands. Model 1879 rear sight. Tulip-head ramrod introduced in 1882. Year of manufacture 1883. “U” on barrel bands; VP(graphic of eagle head)P (barrel proof marking) and “R” on barrel; 1882 stamped on stock, with “SWP” in cursive; SWP refers to Master Mechanic Samuel W. Porter who inspected the rifle at Springfield in 1882. (For a picture of Sam W. Porter, scroll down on this page at the Springfield Armory Historic site; he’s the dude in front in the black suit). 73,000 total of all types made.

History of Springfield Model 1873: This is a famous “Indian War”-era rifle, the first breech-loader used in standard military service. It is nicknamed the “Trapdoor” due to the flip-up breech-loading feature, which was first utilized on the Model 1866 to convert the slew of percussion rifles (muzzle-loaders) left over from the Civil War. The Trapdoors were used frequently by the Army against the Native Americans, and vice versa (Sitting Bull and Geronimo were both captured with their Trapdoors in hand). The Trapdoor was also used in the Spanish-American War. Manufacture of all models was terminated in 1893.

3) Winchester Standard model 1906 slide action rifle, Blued-Frame version
Winchester Model 1906

Details: Serial #: 642xxx; .22 caliber; 12-grooved pump forearm; “B” on barrel, as well as “P” with circle around it. Manufactured in 1924; 13,562 were produced in that year alone.

History of the Winchester Model 1906: The 1906 (introduced in 1906, of course) was essentially a modification of the most popular pump action Winchester made, the Model 1890, which was mostly used in target shooting. The 1906 was made to be sold at a lower price and available to wider audiences. The 1906 was also very popular, and 731,862 were made until it was discontinued in 1934 to make way for the Model 62.

There were three versions of the 1906: the first model, the .22 short, only accepted short bullets; the second model, the Standard version, was able to shoot short, long, and long-rifle bullets; and the third model, the Expert version, had a better stock and metal. My grandfather’s is a blued-frame version of the Standard.

4) U.S. Springfield model 1903 bolt action rifle

Springfield 1903

Details: Serial #: 1404xxx; 30-06 caliber. Year of manufacture 1932. Star-gauged barrel. Stock is stamped as a rebuild by Rock Island Arsenal, RIA over FK, inspected by Frank Krack, 1920-1930. Barrel stamped SA (Springfield Armory), with cartouche, followed by 10-30 (October 1930).

I have my grandfather’s original receipt for this gun. Purchased on Jan 13th, 1949 from the San Antonio General Depot for $15.00 + 2.85 S/H.

Signs point to this being a National Match 1903, which greatly increases it’s value, as only 11,000 of these were made and are superior target shooting rifles. However, there were also an unknown number of guns re-manufactured with star-gauged barrels for NRA members. Because of the rebuild stamp from Rock Arsenal, it probably points to the latter.

History of the Springfield Model 1903: According to Philip B. Sharpe in The Rifle in America, this is “one of the finest rifles ever designed and constructed.” This model was officially adopted as a service rifle in 1903, until its replacement in 1936 by the M1 Garand. It was used in both WWI and WWII, and is still utilized even today by drill teams and color guards, due to its superb balance. The 1903 is seen as the successor to the popular “Krag” rifle–the Krag-Jorgensen–which was an invention of two Norwegians.

Each year between 1920-1940, Springfield Armory would make a small quantity of specially selected 1903 rifles for National Match target shooting. These were distinguished only by their “star-gauged” barrels (meaning that they underwent testing to ensure uniformity, and were stamped to display that they passed the test), and the fact that they were selected for superior bolt and receiver quality, with the receiver and bolts made of either double heat-treated carbon steel or nickel steel.

5): Eddystone 1917 bolt action Enfield rifle

Eddystone 1917 Sporterized

Details: Serial #: 376xxx ; Year of manufacture 1918. Barrel: JA (Johnson Automatics) with graphic. Sporterized with Fajen stock.

I have the original receipt. My grandfather purchased this on Sep 11, 1947 from the Red River Ordnance Depot in Texarkana, Texas for $7.50 +1.85 S/H.

History of the Model 1917: The “Enfield” rifle was originally contracted for British use by manufacturers Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone when Britain entered the war in 1914. The Brits then canceled their contract in 1917, as they had enough production ability by then on their own turf. When the US entered the WWI in 1917, the government enlisted these three large manufacturers for help, as they were already equipped for rifle-making. They had to re-design the Model 1914 used for the British to accommodate the .30/06 Springfield cartridge, as well as standardize all the parts for interchangeability and assembly speed. This new design was the Model 1917.

Enfields were made available to members of the NRA in the late 40s through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship for less then ½ the cost of a brand-new gun. I guess my grandpa took advantage of that deal–he bought one for $7.50 in 1947!

6) Remington model 03-A3 bolt action rifle

Remington 03-A3

Details: Serial #: 3881xxx; Year of manufacture 1942; 30-06 caliber. On the stock: “P” with circle around it; RA, FJA with square around it. Remington Arms (RA) followed by the ordnance escutcheon and the inspector’s stamp (“FJA”), presiding inspector Lt. Col. Frank J. Atwood. Most likely a government rebuild from various parts. On the underside of the stock: 14, 22, 69 all with circles around them, and 33 with triangle around it.

I have the original receipt. My grandfather purchased this on Jan. 27th, 1958 from the Anniston Ordnance Depot in Anniston, Alabama for $15.00 + 4.50 S/H.

History of the Remington 03-A3: During World War II, the US suddenly discovered that all of its war reserves of rifles was pretty much kaput, as the government had charitably donated most of their stock of 1917s and 1903s to Britain after the Battle of Dunkirk. As rifles were desperately needed, the Model 1903 was resurrected, as all of the tools necessary to make it were in storage at the Rock Island Arsenal. The machinery was shipped to the Remington Arms Co. in Ilion, and they began re-making the basic design of the Springfield 1903, except this time with a few modifications. They made three different versions: the A1 Modifed, the A3, and the A4 sniper rifle. The “A” refers to “Alternate.” The most notable modifications for the A3 was the new rear sight, as well as the fact that since 03-A3s were needed in vast quantities—and quickly–they were modified for mass production, and thus were slightly less superior than the original 1903.

7) Ranger .22 bolt action target rifle

Ranger .22
Details: .22 Caliber LR. Has target sights and front sight hood. No other identifying information marked on it. Judging solely by its appearance, it seems like a Savage Model 19 Target Rifle, given that “later production [was] equipped with extension rear sight and hooded front sight” (Gun Trader’s Guide, 9th Edition). These were made from 1933-1946.

History of the Ranger .22: The Ranger was a Sears Roebuck brandname made by various manufacturers. I looked up all the Sears models that I could find, and none seemed to quite match up with the version I had. In any case, this is a quality target rifle, and I’m quite certain that it was gainfully employed by my grandfather.

Update: I since determined that this rifle is in fact a Savage NRA Model 1933.

8 ) U.S. M1 carbine Caliber 30

Details: Serial #: 1895xxx. Receiver marked Quality H.M.C. (Quality Hardware); Stock: “RMC”, referring to manufacturer Rock-ola, with cartouche; Barrel: “Rock-ola”, “P”.

I have the original receipt. My grandfather purchased this on Sep. 4, 1964 from the Tooele Army Depot in Utah for $17.50 + 2.50 S/H.

History of the M1 Carbine: The result of a series of experimental designs for a fully automatic gun by Winchester, which after testing along with other models by the US Ordnance Department in 1941 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, was developed into a semi-automatic gun, which became the US Carbine Caliber .30. Winchester’s engineering department was on an extremely short deadline to design the new semi-automatic gun; 14 days for the first model, and 34 days to perfect that design. The day before the scheduled testing of new models, they had all the parts assembled and complete, but discovered that there was a malfunction with the piston receiving insufficient gas. Pressed with time and sleep-deprived, the engineers took a last-ditch approach—they drilled a larger hole in the gas port, and hoped for the best. This turned out to solve the problem, and the gun outperformed all others during testing.

Large quantities of this new feat of engineering were desired, far beyond the scope of any one gun manufacturer, and a number of other companies were enlisted in the effort: General Motors, IBM, Underwood-Elliot Fisher Co, National Postal Meter Co, Standard Products Co, Irwin-Pedersen Arms Co, Quality Hardware, and Rock-Ola all manufactured M1 Carbines during the war. Not all these manufacturers were associated with guns in any way—Rock-Ola, for example, was best known as a manufacturer of jukeboxes. Due to the large quantities needed, and the difficulties involved with machinery and engineering, not all manufacturers always made all the parts. Rock-Ola and Underwood-Elliot-Fisher mostly manufactured the barrels, which were then supplied to Quality Hardware, Standard Products, and National Postal Meter. My grandfather’s M1 is an example of this: the barrel and stock components are made by Rock-Ola, while the receiver and serial stamp are Quality Hardware’s. From a collector’s standpoint, the Rock-Ola-issued components add a premium, as Rock-Ola only manufactured 3.7% of the 6,221,220 M1s (228,500). They also are valued as collector’s items because of Rock-Ola’s fame as a jukebox maker.

Now for the foreign rifles:

9) Japanese Arisaka type 38 bolt action rifle

Japanese Arisaka Type 38Details: Serial #: 82xxx; Caliber 6.5; Series 22; Manufactured by Kokura, 1933-1940. “Mum”is intact.

History of the Japanese Arisaka: The Arisaka is named after the Colonel who oversaw its manufacture in 1897. It is called a Type 38 in reference to the 38th year of Emperor Meiji’s reign. Most Western thought on the Arisakas during and after WWII was that they were inferior rifles and not well-constructed. This was a bias that was quickly debunked by field tests and direct battlefield experience by soldiers. Arisakas are some of the strongest and most well-designed bolt actions ever made.

When the Japanese soldiers surrendered their arms, they ground out the imperial seal on their Arisakas, which is known as the “rising sun” or “chrysanthemum” emblem, in order to preserve the honor of their emperor. Arms which have been captured on the battlefield retain this insignia—or “mum” to collectors—intact. When my grandfather’s Japanese gardener found out that he was trying to acquire these Japanese rifles, he walked away and never came back. Having the “mum” intact may be a boon to collectors—but to many Japanese, it was simply dishonorable.

10) Japanese Arisaka type 38 bolt action rifle, half stock

Japanese Arisaka Type 38 Half StockDetails: Serial #: 1990xxx; “S” on barrel; No series marking; Half stock; Manufactured by Koishikawa (Tokyo), which switched from “B” to “S” barrel proof mark in the late 800,000 range. 1906 – 1935. “Mum” is intact.

11) Birmingham Small Arms Cadet Martini Rifle .310 Model 4

BSA Cadet Martinia Rifle .310 Model 4Details: Serial #: 290xx; Commonwealth of Australia; Stock: C.M.F., N.S.W. (New South Wales) 13621 8 / 11
Barrel: +310 12-120 *; Kangaroo on top of receiver. Manufactured by the British B.S.A for Australia, 1910 – 1921.

History of the Cadet Martini Rifle: This is a colonial-era gun (known as the “weapon of empire”), manufactured by Greener and Birmingham Small Arms Co, both of which are British; they made this gun for sale to the Commonwealth states. In 1910, the Commonwealth Government introduced a system of universal cadet training, and they were issued the Cadet rifle. This rifle was also popular for small game hunting and target shooting. 80,000 made.

12) Italian Terni manufactured Fucile Corto Carcano model M38 carbine in 7.35 caliber

Italian Terni Fucile Corto Carcano M38 7.35Details: Stock: 046xx and Terni cartouche; “PB”; Barrel: R.E. Terni, graphic, 1939 XVII, 046xx, stamped over with “6A”

History of the Terni Carcano M38: The Carcano bolt action rifle was adopted by Italy in 1891 as their official military shoulder arm. The Carcanos were unusual in that they are the only military rifle in the world which employed the “gain twist”, in which the rifling starts wider and increases in pitch towards the muzzle. Italy had a problem of supply in terms of arms and ammunition, because they made so many different types and calibers of weapons that they never had enough for any one type of gun. Italian troops often carried assorted ammunition on them that sometimes didn’t even fit the weapons they were using. Reflecting this confusion is the plethora of markings to be found on the Carcano. The dating system used on the Carcanos manufactured during the fascist reign of Mussolini included not only the date, but also the “fascist year”—so on my grandfather’s Carcano, for example, it is stamped 1939 XVII, meaning the 17th year of Mussolini’s reign in the year 1939.

The Carcano is also infamous as being the gun which Lee Harvey Oswald used to assassinate JFK. He obtained his rifle through mail-order.

References

Here is a cursory list of the references I used in compiling the information on my grandfather’s gun collection. I stumbled across an infinite amount of web pages that I didn’t mark—this list serves more as a guide to anyone else who might be doing similar research.

Books:

The Rifle In America, 2nd Edition; Philip B. Sharpe, 1947—This was my grandfather’s—perhaps it was used in determining which guns he wished to acquire. The author is opinionated and All-American.

Bolt Action Rifles; Frank de Haas, 1971

Flayerdman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms, 7th Edition; A good reference for antique appraisal and values

Gun Trader’s Guide, 9th Edition; Paul Wahl, 1981; My dad got this at a Big 5 Sporting Goods store in the 80s when he half-heartedly did his own research into the collection; he gave up and stowed them up in the attic instead. I was surprised at how handy this guide turned out to be in the end, even though it was outdated.

Websites:

Gun Appraisals.com — I used this site initially to get a rough idea of what type of guns I was looking at and their approximate value. The guy doing my appraisal did a really good job given that all he had to go on was some pictures.

Homestead Firearms — This site was useful for specific model and serial information on the Springfield Trapoor and Winchester 1906.

1903A3 Rifle Site — Good site for research into all things 1903A3.

United Kingdom’s NRA Historic Arms site — I found initial info on the BSA Cadet Rifle on this site.

Digger History Info — Great history and background on the BSA Cadet Rifle.

Carcano Info — Excellent information on the Italian Carcano, especially under the Model Identification section.

Cross Reference of Store Brand and Manufacturer — I used this cross-reference in an attempt to identify what model of Ranger .22 I had. Highly useful if you’ve got some identifying markings to work with on your gun, which unfortunately, I did not.

Markings on Arisaka Rifles — Highly detailed and useful information on what the markings on Japanese Arisakas signify.

Pocket History of the M1 Carbine — Concise details on the making of the M1 Carbine, as well as useful statistics on the numbers from each manufacturer.

Military Surplus Rifle page — Quick reference guide with links and specifications for all military surplus rifles.

Springfield Armory Historic Page — Some nice pictures and condensed history of all Springfield weapons.

Gun Data.com — Good reference for historical firearms; some of its data actually conflicts with some of the other pages (such as Homestead Firearms), but it seemed more accurate given some of the other data I had acquired.

Knowingly Into the Unknown

Standing on the cusp of the breaking wave of my life, I look out into the wide horizon and see only unknown, only uncertainty, only the undefined. And this is as it should be. If I knew any more about who I will be, and what my future will hold, and what I am supposed to be doing in the next year, then I’m afraid that I would start to feel confined. I suppose it’s in my Sagittarius zodiac sign or something. As much as I am self-controlled on many personal aspects, I could never feel comfortable with all of my future already defined. I’ve always been naturally allergic to plans and formulas and expectations. I am firmly in the Fukuoka school of acknowledgment that I know nothing, and will never know much of anything, and that no one else knows nothing just about as well as I do. That’s about the best summation of my view of philosophy, science, religion, and humanity in a nutshell right there.

Who cares, though, what I think anyway? Why do I bother scribing random scribbles across this computer screen? I suppose I am always hoping for the flash of inspiration that only too rarely ever fully hits. I am waiting for that cathartic spill, that cathedral dirge, that cataclysmic splooge of beauty that every now and then filters somehow out through my fingers. Tonight, unfortunately, is not one of those times. But the practice and training of forcing myself to write is good nonetheless, even if I know that I alienate my fickle imaginary audience. But part of why I write (as opposed to why many other people write) is for the very reason of combating the thought (in my own mind, at the very least) of writing as needing to be perfect, grammatically sound, soul wrenchingly deep, suspensefully clever, and/or breathtakingly beautiful. I wish to combat this Hollywood-ified ideal of writing that the industry of New York Times bestseller lists and college writing workshops uphold. I want writing to be about me, and you, and what our actual mundane lives truly constitute. And then, of course, I want it to be all of that other aforementioned stuff as well, but that’s secondary to the mission.

Because our lives be messy, imperfect, trivial, glorious, and filled with worldbreaking news everymoment, everysecond. If only we learned to pay more attention to it. The live-brought-to-you-now of our eyes, of our fingers, of our feelings. And while we might like to think that we’ve got our selves kind of nailed down and our friends supportingly cast and defined, the fact is that we only know our future just about as well as weather stations with the latest up-to-date data and supercomputer technology know the long-term forecast: with some percentage of certainty only for the next few days, if even that. From then on out, it’s all subject to change.

Because every little thing is a part of every bigger thing. Because every door that is opened into a new perception is another pillar demolished upholding the former universe, and another jack sprung up into the sky of some new one. Every part interacting with every other part combining into an incredibly complex whole that is unknowable, uncertain, and uncontrollable. No matter what anyone may think the future may hold, the only thing that is verifiably certain is that we don’t know shit.

So to get back to me and my little trivial bullshit daily life: like I said, I’m just a-sitting here up on the crest of a crescendoing adulthood, looking out into the open unknown that is my future and only knowing this: I’m looking forward to a few months of 90% chances of dancing, aguardiente drinking, malaria prophylactic taking, and numerous blog post making. After that, god knows. And she can keep it to herself.

The Eye in the Middle of the Storm

In seconds of self-awareness, Janet felt bliss in the middle of all of the noise. It was as if all this anxiety, madness, fear was designed just so as to enhance and demarcate clarity in the moments when it came, crystalline, dew-dropped, silent before the storm. There was no denying that even in her weakest, most insecure of times, Janet still knew that she was beyond all of it, beyond the stifling imposition of other’s jealousy or indifference, beyond her own vanity and ever-shifting self-image; she was somewhere already still, sitting neatly next to the stream, taking it all in, letting it all wash away of its own accord. Like a sieve, like a net of the heart, a purity that dirt could run through untouched. All that would be left of herself in the end were these treasured moments of beauty, when the light focused through her and everything she was and everything that she touched was perfect, in tune with everything that is. Then the light faded and she became human again, petty, insignificant. But the diamonds were there, hidden, nestled into the back of her heart, and she waited inside of herself quietly for the moment when the treasures would become illuminated into the outer world again.

Janet knew that these moments could be sustained, lengthened, and increased in frequency. But she also knew that she could not produce them herself out of thin air. She had to learn patience, and learn how to open herself to the light when it came showering down into her face. It seemed that the more that she relaxed and allowed herself to be herself, the more frequently that she felt ecstasy.

All of the noise, the fear, the anger, the gossip, the taking for granted, the holding onto things, the materialism, the fake spiritualism, the pseudo-intellectualism, the superficial, the one-dimensional, the apathy . . . all of it added up to barriers between herself and her own heart. She was already free, if only she listened correctly. The knowledge was there, flagrant, demure, unappealing direct and simple and baby-soft and harder than steel.

Janet slipped out of her seat on the bus and stood swaying calmly in the stuffy heat of a Phoenix afternoon. The double doors pulled apart, hissing, and she dropped down the steps with gravity like water, centered, moving with music and light. A man stared wonderingly after her, his hand looped in a supportive strap, craning to look through the graffiti strewn window. She had something that he could not see.

Currents of Thought

100_1421.jpg

I sit and wait for the words to come, listening to the wind tear down through the mountains in the middle of the night. Attempting to get to the rooted source of beginnings, I know that this wind comes from somewhere much farther away than the Pacific Ocean. That in fact, we could never track down that first movement of air, the first current of water, the first shifting of pressure that brings the wind into our moments. Everything in life, whether it is the weather in the sky or the emotions within us, is a part of a process and flow and intertwinement so deep and complex and refined that we could never wholly define it and lay it out on the table completely visible. We have to step outside of ourselves simply to know this concept to be true, beyond theoretical formulations. We have to disassociate ourselves from ourselves in order to know how we are something much bigger, much deeper, much more expansive than what we know from our daily actions, our fleeting thoughts, our stormship emotions. We have to go far away in order to know where home is.

To truly include all of anything that any one person or thing is, you would have to include all the world.

In the surface day to day transactions that we know as our concrete existence, things appear so discrete, boundaries so insurmountable, shadows and reflections so determined. But the farther inward or outward you go from there, the more indistinguishable become the lines. At what point is there me, and at what point is there you? From outer space, we are the earth, a webbed set of links, determined by cycles and currents. On the level of molecules, we are porous chains, determined only by what can be embraced.

At all levels, whether surface, inner, or cosmic interactions, everything is interconnected. To speak of individuals as isolated from each other is to speak of a world that does not exist. It is more accurate, perhaps, simply to say that many people are disconnected from themselves without awareness of it. To be aware of your separation is to be aware of your greater connectivity. We formulate words to string them into creations that stir the pot of what we know, that push our perceptions yet further into self-knowledge. We will never know everything, we will never know ourselves completely, so hence the struggle, the foment of unsayable things, the despair and the beauty, the tragic events and the transcendent moments. The current moves, and a storm occurs, and a child cries in the night.

Dreaming of Dreaming

Jamie’s pic of potted plant

What dream do you choose? The dream of success, of money, of multiple abodes across the globe? The dream of idealism, of righteousness, of home always within your heart? The dream of bitterness and self-vengeance, drinking and wasting away all hope? The dream of union with your beloved, the dream of searching always for fleeting pleasures, the dream of yourself as beautiful, the dream of yourself as nada?

All dreams are dreamed by the dreamer plugged into a subterannean extraterrestrial world of subconscious desires. The pulls and tugs of what could only be understood as destiny and happenstance, one and the same. Everything moving according to the inner weight of necessary becoming. All players in a play determined by respective positioning in the spatial field of time, the temporal plane of existance. Even the rocks and trees stand dreaming, so rooted in essential is-ness that their dream is inseparable from reality. Mankind branches out far into the dark unknown, leaping across collective synapses, gene pooled neurons formed of generations of conscious suffering. So far into the emptiness that their dreams can become seemingly severed from what is. Conscious tears in the fabric of self, riven of the struggle to know itself. It Self as ultimately everything that is and could be. The stars and the stuff of legends, the matter of fear, the synthesis and culmination of evolution.

Leading us musicmakers to here, this point of knowing and not knowing, this movement into future. Into death of what we thought we have known and birth of what we will know, can know, because we have known it all before. Because spring comes after winter, and there is no philosophy that could deny that life is recurring, continuously—so life is recycled after death into life anew. The dream was a dream conceived to move yourself into yourself. The Dreamer at the end of the worlds dreams of itself in the trizillions of forms. The play of moonlight upon the water. The play of emotion across your face. The play of prayers playing at pray.

Ever More

Aguaje Tree

This moment is you. Standing hopeless on the brink of your desires, your washed up dreams. All the fantasies that you cultivated in solitary stimulation. The world moves on, distant, primal, alien. You listen to your mind striving to form some narration that would fit you in, lock you into a perfection and beauty undeniable, eternal, broadcast across time and space to shine into understanding and love and sex and money. But you know, of course, that your spirit is undefinable. Incapturable. That the only things that come out of you that are beautiful are not your own. That this darkness, this doubt, this everyday struggle simply to look in the mirror and walk out the door into the unseeing crowd is the keystone to this very moment.

When you stand face to face with your death, you understand then that such moments are everything. That all the times of wasteful heedlessness—spent suckered into some suit’s notion of what you are supposed to want, given your date of birth, sexual orientation, and geographical location—were exactly that, a waste. That most of your life has been wasted. That even despite all of this waste, all it takes is one moment of truth, purity, and honesty to clear it all away. The tally is tipped every time by one simple look into despair. You could never be good enough. The world could never be enough. And yet, it moves, it breathes, it feels, it floods. Death and movement are one and the same. Periods are a pause in the formation of thought, like the pulling back of the sea before it moves to crash itself into the shore. Again and again. There is no stop. No end. No final dark night that has no meaning.

What do we call this thing within us that fears and hides and spits at the world? It has been called ego, it has been called self, it has been called humanity. It is our suppressed divinity showing forth as demonic manifestation. Let it shine. Let it out. You know everything that there is to know about yourself. You were born crying, helpless, misunderstood in your inability to articulate. You learned to buffer yourself by silence, conformity, and following the drawn lines of tradition. You found moments of freedom when you rediscovered connection, empathy, intuition. These are the tools that take us into the future.

Draconian regressive clutchings at domination and anger, addiction and blame, have defined our history. These egos. This humanity. These childlike gods, terrible in their bitterness. We all must grow up eventually, one way or another. To face our extinction or our transmutation. Both which appears the same to the uncritical eye.

The alchemist leaves behind his learning, leaves behind his doubt, leaves behind his fear. To make magic. To believe in what has been taught to us as impossible. To find in one moment the key that would unlock all of sleeping eternity. To move beyond himself, his attachment, and his desire.

Because beyond death there is a greater power. It has nothing to do with the transformation of lead into gold, or of water into wine. Nor the movement of mountains, or of the stars, or of your heart. What stupidity! It is the power and binding strength of communion. The severing of self to find union in your Beloved. The letting go of what holds you back and pins you down to find that you can fly, that you have been flying all along, that the world flies and holds you and cradles you and pushes you beyond yourself at every turn to look down into what seems inevitable and certain impossiblity. Can you handle it? Can you handle what you were given? Can you handle what you were made to become?

It is not one or the other. It is not you or them. It is not life or death. It is love, or it is Love. It is death, or it is Death. Nothing less. Ever more.

Behind and Beneath and Behold

Here’s an exercise in possibility. Take a look at the picture of the sky between the branches and needles of a pine tree. Look at how the lit sky in the space between the nebulous branches of the trees resembles constellations, milkyways, galaxies sprawled across the cosmic distance. Then think of this: scientists know that there is something dark and invisible (dark matter) that constitutes the unseen mass of the universe, exerting force and direction.

We can see the lights of the stars. Everything else appears as empty vacuum, empty space. But we know, indirectly, that this space is not empty.

Perhaps this space that we cannot see is in fact the majority of what is. What is seen is in fact the slim space in between. See what I mean? That what we know and can directly envision is in fact only the tip of the iceberg. That the trees, the formations that connect and form and breathe the universe, is constituted by what we do not understand, and can only sense indirectly by the undertow and impulses that guide our existence.

That in fact this visible world that we have investigated so thoroughly is in fact only a petty and slight extension of what is, of what truly forms our lives. And that to get into connection with this unseen mass of the cosmos is to get to know the truth. That most everything else is somewhat of a distraction. Fool’s gold. Glimmers and glints of surface residuals from the dark cavernous depths that lie voluminously beneath and behind everything.

Sea

Pennies in a pond

It isn’t there, if you have to look for it, see. It’s already envisioned, already happening. It’s moving. You’re on it. You’re in it. You are it, every step of the way, every hurt, awakening, joy. The godhead, this beautiful presence. That’s what you’re looking at. Don’t look for it. It’s there. It’s here. It is, it be, it now. This has all been said before, but it has never, ever been seen quite the same way, through quite the same eyes, in quite the same form. Quietly, the world revolves into wholly new arrangements of recycled material. Spiraling coils that stretch into any space given. A beauty that is everpresent, evergreen, all inside everything that exists, as long as you can see it. Look at yourself. You really believe that you are anything else? Anything but you? Who you been listening to?

Because it sure as hell can’t be said. This is just kind of a reminder, you know what I’m saying? This is a memo between me and you so that we remember. Remember that nothing in the world is as important as what is manifestly occurring right now within us. Here. Beholden only to our own sacred knowledge of what we feel. No one can tell us that, not even ourselves. We’ve just got to be listening real close to the world which is ourselves in different times speaking in different voices through different movements that we are one, that we are many, that we are all in this shit together and that it really don’t matter what anyone holds onto—because everything has already been made into a picture that moves and defines and clutches at hungry bittersweet beauty when we all know, all we know, we already know quite well that we are this, peace, whole, center focus of all understanding and polyrhythm and harmonious atonal interconnectivity that thrusts and crawls and flies into love, into love. Into what we can only call love, belatedly and in sad departure because we are full, as the apple is full when it falls to the earth, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of everything, falling out of fullness and inevitability into the future. Because it must be. Because it is. Because this wind has blown in this current out of the circulation of this sea from this sun in this exploding set of dust and stars and energy.

We Were Made to Connect

Flower Light

We were made to connect with one another, as a species, as an evolutionary cumulative formulation. We were made to mesh, to fuck, to fly across spaces, boundaries, and time into each other’s minds, mouths, and futures. Our eyes and skin are secondary to the ultimate sense that is only to be found within, which entails inevitably a subsequent reaching out. Because what is found there in that lonely place inside is not solely some infinite dark emptiness—what is found is everything living that has come before and is to come and simply is.

We were made to be strong with each other, to interlink into divinity through the tessellation of our bodies and souls. Alone, we find each other. Through each other, we find ourselves.

For the more scientifically inclined, this can be explained quite simply through the sharing of germs. When you love someone, you share their germs, their daily experiences—everything that contacts and interpenetrates them goes into you, to become part of you, such that essentially you two are one—but more than one: a new hybrid identity created from the intimacy of molecules that had individually completely different characteristics. This sharing, this interconnectivity—if properly aligned with the stars and signs and genetic happenstances—makes the both of you stronger. Where one is weak the other is strong. Bodily fluids and mental spelunkings are shared continuously, the diversity of bacteria and permutative emotions are biodiversified into a deeper beauty, an expanded harmony with external shifts and ebbs and floods.

The social studies or psychology major may understand this phenomena in terms of the survival rates of groups of persons subjected to dire situations wherein they are stranded, where their survival is dependent not only upon ingenuity and weather conditions, but also upon their ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Thus, groups which share strong interconnections and dependencies have higher survival rates. Those who separate and isolate themselves, thinking they will better survive only place themselves at greater risk.

We must be weak together in order to be strong. We must cling to the raft of ever shifting emotions, pain, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and fickle humanity.

In terms of evolution, if our ultimate purpose was to only be alone, isolated, and detached from one another, then why do we instinctively, biologically, mentally, and spiritually desire to bear or foster children? Children renew the cycle; they bring us back down the evolutionary ladder to day one, where we are developing our sense of selves, our sense of cosmos, where we cry and wail beyond language, where the universe centers around us, where we suck nutrients from our bearer’s breasts. Children bring fully developed adults back to reality, back to tomorrow, back to the everexpanding horizons of humanity, the need for not only movement forward but for movement to preserve, a rocking back and forth like the soothing motions the parent makes for a fussy baby. Nurturing, developing, recognizing the importance of all that has come before and what is to come.

Because no one man or woman is the pinnacle of anything but a moment of a spiral that must rise only to fall again as fodder for the next development in time and space. No one moment or thought or action can ever define anything except that current universal vision. The vision must be renewed, from up to down, from back to forth, from human to microbe, from man to child, from tree to fruit—continuously, like the shoreline etched by centuries of waves, a picture will be formed, is being formed, will be erased. We collectively are growing to greater heights, but these heights can only be measured by how inclusive they are of what is unseen, rooted, and fundamentally basic.

Humanity spills into ourselves, into each other, filling the spaces between what is known and what is felt and what is taken for granted. Beyond breakage, beyond war, hatred, and greed, we form a picture of one another that reflects our children, which reflects ourselves, which inflects and extrudes and proclaims our divinity and light and beauty. Only through each other, through ourselves, through the messy beautiful struggles through sex and through touch and through understanding, will we know this source.