Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Hero

Heroes are hard to come by.  And when you find one, invariably they let us down.  The fault lies in Human Nature.  We are irrational and emotional.  We keep secrets far from our public personas, and the information age increasingly brings them to light.  Heroes fall to earth and become as human as the rest of us.

Until now.  I've found my hero, and it's this man here:

Meet John Green.  I met him through his online Youtube series Crash Course World History, a channel of quick, funny and totally fresh takes on the story of man.  I loved it, devouring the episodes like a new series on Netflix.  This man has a unique ability to take very complex things and make them understandable.  Though my class couldn't handle too much of the fast paced videos, they enriched my understanding of world history, and made me a better teacher.

As I'm coming to learn, that's just a drop in the bucket of what this guy does.  There's a great primer here, that I won't retype.  He doesn't just make history fun, he's on a bigger mission to fight "world suck."  He does this largely by making videos that take confusing, contentious and often politicized issues and explaining them in a remarkably clear, and remarkably fact based way.  And that gives you hope, once you can grasp the issues and problems in your mind, you know you can find a solution.  This video on why health care in America costs so much opened my eyes, pissed me off, and cheered me up all at the same time.

John Green is who I want to be.  He is why I became a teacher.  Funny and engaging, he inspires me.  To learn.  To understand the world.  And to make the world a better place.  That's essentially what I've been hoping to impart to my students these last seven years.  Who knows if I've made an impact, but I've tried and will keep trying.  And now it's a little bit easier since I've got someone showing me the way.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy Old People, Drunk-y and Dance-y

I went to the St. Josefs Winery grape stomp celebration today.  Located in Canby, Oregon about 30 minutes southeast of Portland, St Josefs is twice as fun, twice as cheap, and half as pretentious as the more popular Newberg-Dundee wine tasting area.  
The very aged and very friendly owner immigrated here from Hungary, and the whole place looks like an old central European villa. It surprised me to see the grape stomp was another iteration of the ever-popular Oktoberfest celebration.  Same songs.  Same sausages.  Same chicken dance.  German flags at shirts dotted the crowd, a little ironic since the owner was probably alive when Germany invaded Hungary during World War II, before losing it to the Soviet Union.  Hungary then essentially lived out an Orwellian Big Brother nightmare for 45 years under communist rule before winning independence in 1989.

Alcohol makes us all brothers, I suppose.  I've been to many an Oktoberfest, but never have I seen so many happy old people.  The crowd was aged.  Young and middle aged pockets cropped up here and there, but at nearly every table sat lots and lots of old people, in their old people sweaters and old people pants that are always tugged up too high.  And they were rocking.  Singing.  Dancing.  Swigging beer, swigging wine and chowing on bratwurst.

One old timer and his wife hopped and bopped in the conga line, the returned to their seats next to us.  The old man looked at me and my girlfriend, and in a thick, central European accent said "You are weaklings!  You should dance!  I am 82!"

I don't know if they all hailed from Hungary or from the same nursing home, but the event felt like one big family reunion.  Everyone beemed with joy.  The crowd cheered every song.  And everyone just danced.  I find it so heartening to see old people living it up.  30 is almost here for this blogger, and while middle age looms, I learned today I can have at least 52 more good fun years ahead of me.

For a $10 admission (that included a glass and three tastes), I got more fun, more wine, and more life lessons than I could ever have hoped.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Serendipity, Coincidence or Just One Of Those Things

After writing my latest blog post two days ago I headed to bed exhausted and frustrated.  Before nodding off I picked up The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which had been collecting dust on my night stand.  Long ago I perused the first pages about a shepherd boy in Andalusia, before setting it down in favor of The Game of Thrones.

I don't know what inspired me to read a few pages that night, but I did.  And after a evening spent venting and pondering about my direction in life, I read a few pages to find the shepherd meets a very Jesus-like fellow.  What came next gave me goose bumps. 

This Jesus-like guy spoke to the young shepherd about how our life's dreams fade with age.  When we are young, we dream big, but then somewhere along the way, the realities of life weigh in, and we are forced to settle for less.  He pointed out a baker who wanted to travel the world, but feared to leave behind his comfortable lifestyle his job provided.

It was like the book spoke to me!  I can't say that I've ever had something so prescient happen.  The cynic in me says it's just coincidence, but it still was a special moment.  

I once had big, clear dreams.  Dreams I sometimes can't remember.  But seven years ago I started a business with a close friend that was supposed to change the world.  I believed in the power of each and every one of us to affect change.  I wanted to see the world.  Start a business.  Or two.  Make a difference.

I chose another path and became a teacher, which isn't something that I regret.  Indeed, I saw teaching as an avenue to do as much, or more good, than my social enterprise.  Kids are awesome, kids are our future, and our society will only be as good as they are.  If I could do my part to make them well-educated, civicially-aware citizens who were conscious of their effect on the world and empowered to change the world for the better, well, that would be the greatest service of all.

Yet somewhere along the way my aim drifted.  Some mix of professional responsibilities, frustration with co-workers, student apathy, emails from parents, ever changing education standards, Family Guy reruns after work, or who knows what, blunted my purpose.  Things became frustrating.  Things became dull.  Things became routine.  Ideals worn down by the harsh grindstone that is reality.

And all that made me think.

More than pursuing dreams, a secret to a happy life is enjoying the little blessings that happen each day.  A great class discussion.  A conversation with a friend.  A student inviting you to eat lunch with them.  Playing with my dog.   Its amazing how the petty details and frustrations of each day can smear themselves like ash, blotting out all the good we encounter, or preventing us from experiencing the at all.

The last two days I've let go of those gripes the best I am able.  And my last two days have been better than the previous 20 combined.  I'm not fighting the battles that don't matter and focusing on the things that do. Teaching has been more fun than it has in years.  And maybe if I keep this up I can hope to accomplish what I originally wanted to: making a difference. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Was Afraid of This

School has started and my blog has stopped.

It's hard to make time to write, so it seems. Sometimes I don't know what to say.

This is my seventh year in the same place.  And I think I have that seven year itch.  I do like my job.  I love teaching what I teach, and I really like kids.  But most days at work feel stressful.  Maybe I need to slow down and take some time to enjoy what I do a little more.

Sometimes I wonder about all of it.  Work.  Come home.  Do a little this, a little that.  Work again.  On the weekends watch football and hang out with friends.  It's not bad.  It's good actually.  It just all feels a little done before.  Year 7 of Groundhogs Day.

I'm not sure, but it seems that before my everything in my life was a little sharper.  My life had a little more purpose, my views had a little more clarity.  I knew where I was going.  Now I'm not sure exactly.  Life has ups and downs, but this seems to be a flat.  Nothing to do but keep going, looking for a signpost to somewhere.