Everything Looks Different When itโ€™s the Last Time

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” -James Dean

I am a huge fan of traditional ceremonies: graduations, retirement dinners, birthdays, and other rites of passage. Life is unpredictable but tradition gives us a chance to plan and react slowly instead of abruptly. You never really know when it’s your last time to do something. For example, when we had a ceremony for the last day of AYSO soccer for my son, I didn’t know that would be the last time I would coach him. I planned to do it many more times but alas, it would never happen again. If my wife and I hadn’t held that ceremony at Nick’s Pizza and handed out trophies, we would have lost that season to scattered and chance memories. As it is, we have photos of Nick’s Pizza and the smiling kids’ faces that I recall coaching and helping to have fun that season. I was thinking today about how we don’t know when what we are doing is about to end. I think it is natural for us humans to think as if what we are doing is eternal, or at least something that will go on a long time. The truth is, people are plucked from this ethereal delusion every day. It may sound morbid but what about the guy or girl who gets killed by a drunk driver on the way to her/his wedding? Or what about the guy who teaches guitar and then loses his fingers from diabetic complications to never play or teach guitar again. These are bummer thoughts I admit so I will step away from them now. I am not really talking about death or other “unhappy endings” as motives here. Instead I am talking about transforming ones consciousness. I’m appealing to you the reader and trying to get your agreement that everything, when it’s the last time, looks different. Still, I want to drive home the reminder that we are not really in control of whether we continue or discontinue even in terms of living or dying. So, we should live in a state cognizant of that.

I would recommend that we live each event and moment as if it is our last. There is more consciousness and awareness in that place than in assuming there will be more. It also is an excellent antidote for boredom. It is impossible to be bored when you know something is almost over. As a teacher, my kids sometimes get bored when we are reading a story aloud or watching an educational video. When I tell them, “This is the end part,” I always see them pay closer attention. What if we could get into that habit in all the tasks and experiences we go through. The result would be deeper experience. We might give more time to our children if we knew we didn’t have as much time as we thought. Tonight, at my daughter’s dance class, I know we won’t be back. We may try tumbling but the experiences here have not been the best a customer could experience. As a result we are moving on. I guess that’s why I am writing to you tonight to enjoy any classes or games or recitals you may get the luck to attend as if it’s the last time. In a way, everything we do always is. You might say there is a last time for everything.

“Life is always walking up to us and saying, “Come on in, the living’s fine,” and what do we do? Back off and take its picture.” -Russell Baker

I Hate Harry Potter and iPhones and I Like Punk Rock

I have an attitude and sometimes is gets me in trouble. Other times, I know it has saved my life. I’ve been walking past my TV all morning trying to fix my central heating system that died a couple days ago. My son has been sitting on his derriere the whole time gawking and Harry Potter. Like I stated in the title, I hate this show. It reminds me of what the establishment wants us to pay for. It has no history in it for kids, no culture. It really is a stupid story if you asked me and every movie he has forced me to see has sucked … period. My wife reminds me that people in my family may take issue with this post so let me just not apologize in advance. You like it? Explain why on your blog ๐Ÿ™‚

I relate it to Johnny Rotten singing:

I am an anti-christ
I am an anarchist
Don’t know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the passer by cos I

I wanna BE anarchy!
No dogs body!

Anarchy in the UK illustrates my attitude well I think. I was a punker through the 80’s and I aim to stay one now. I use my iPhone but I will never love it. Rest his soul, Steve Jobs had some great ideas but he was no messiah. I see him as more of a large scale Billy Mays pushing Oxy-Clean. I want to challenge every system that takes hold of this Earth. I want to be a free spirit. I’ll never forget my friends who were through my history. I hope my kids follow me but if they don’t and choose to pad the pockets of JK Rowling and Stephanie Meier then so be in. They will have plenty of fragrances, shoes, and lego collections that will match Holywood puke. I guess that would be one advantage if I was trendy, I’d have a lot more to buy and do. Alas, I prefer being the rugged individualist. I’ll close with my favorite fight attitude poem to date (by Dylan Thomas):

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I say, fight the system and don’t let it define what cool is, or what anything else is for that matter.

Life Feeling Lighter for Me

I’m feeling lighter than air lately. It’s as if a field of seeds is finally sprouting. I’m not worried about much these days and I have little to no anxiety. So, what am I doing differently? Nothing. I am simply doing my meditation and exercise along with the other diet stuff I have opened up to in the last year. I take a multivitamin every morning after my mandatory breakfast. I jog most every day. I have all but cut out sugar from my diet. My wife has been great in helping me to keep my glucose numbers down. I am not diabetic yet but I do have elevated glucose levels which has pushed me to eliminate all forms of sugar and empty calories.

All these healthy habits have not been fun to develop but now they are my habits. In the past week or so I have noticed I have less of the irrational fears I have suffered from most of my adult life. I am so glad to be alive. I have grown to believe it is okay to be vulnerable on this human journey. I believe it is all there is and perhaps that is what has ameliorated many of my anxieties. Anyway, I got that going for me. I just thought I’d let you know.

Shipping the Whirling Leslie

I worked with a musician once who swore his whirling leslie was the only instrument able to make his song perfect. He actually had it living on the other side of the country and in order to get it here for our band, we had to have it shipped. Why wouldn’t a Target keyboard suffice? In the end I was very glad we had it shipped but the process seemed daunting when we first started, This was Hammond B3 organ with a whiling Leslie speaker and once we found a trusted place for shipping furniture, it was the most exciting thing in the world waiting to hear him record it.

When it arrived, he was elated. Chewing his Dentyne gum he got the thing up and working and starting wailing out trills on the thing. I could finally see that his vision was correct. When I told him it might be expensive he said: “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” When the song was fully recorded, I had to say I knew and agreed with exactly what he said. What an amazing sound it had. Every time I hear that song, though the quality is not perfect, the sound of that whirling Leslie gives me the chills. Since then I have learned that with music and any art project in life, it is best to pull out all the stops and get the instruments/tools you need to do it in style. Below is one of the songs we recorded with the Leslie, in case you are interested.

Talk to Me – 1992[powerpress]

3 Health Goals

Three letter acronyms like UFO and VHF have been used through time to make terms memorable. I create my own acronyms in various aspects of my life to define goals and set thereby set more focused priorities. As a personal blogger I really have no more or no less to offer my readers than my personal areas of knowledge. I have a large array of bits of information on an exclusive set of things. Up to now, that has included teaching, blogging (the nuts and bolts), movie reviews, humor, and some others.

Recently, health has, by chronic necessity, become a study of mine. I am by no means an expert on health and relaxation but I am gathering crucial and valuable information on it daily. It is for this reason, I am attempting to start a new category here called appropriately “health.” Since health affects every human alive, I am hopeful it will interest some. I also know that most, myself included, find the topic dull until they are in the throes of a health scare. I hope those in the healthy and disinterested camp will read these posts but if they don’t, I will fully understand if they pass this category by. I will try to keep these posts as universally relevant as possible.

Today, in the post of introduction of my new category I want to share the three essential health goals I have for myself these days (they are not in order of importance):

Relaxation
Exercise
Diet

The acronym “RED” has a lot to do will well being and health. I look forward to sharing what I am learning in these areas. How do you feel about the topic of health?

Prioritizing Rest

This is more of a philosophical, stream-of-consciousness post than I usual write so bear with me. I think the message is a good one. It is such a privilege to be a human in 2011. I treasure every moment I have in this existence. I have learned about so many things up to now and I am hungry to learn more. I want to experience what I can in this life and listen to others’ experiences through art like reading and cinema. Of course, the good old fashioned listening to people that I come in contact with is a great approach to life as I see it. I am a human having a mortal experience. I am dedicated to valuing people as a priority. All these things I have mentioned are so important to my life mission. It is important to note they happen best when I practice relaxation and get rest.

Rest and relaxation keep my mind clear and focused. When I am rested I am more efficient at loving. It benefits my wife, my kids and my career. Everyone I come in contact with benefits to some degree when I have taken the time to find peace in rest and relaxation. So, how do I get to that place? By looking for it. I can think of many places in my life when I would make material pursuits my motivation. I failed to stop and smell the roses. Those times were damaging to my peace and I think I am less now because of those times. If I would have been like the wise man, taking his mental and physical health seriously, I would be more rested and effective today. It is never too late to start.

These days I worry less about eternal sepulchers and more about the privilege of being down here in the dirt. There is lots to do while we are here. If we take the time to restore or minds and bodies through rest, we can have more clarity and presence of mind. To me the most important thing these days is to treasure every moment as if it was holy, because every moment we have here as a mortal is indeed holy.

Choosing Boundaries, Changing Backgrounds

I’ve set up my CSS stylesheet to change backgrounds readily. That means when I get tired of the way my blog looks, I don’t have to completely adapt to a new set of templates known as a “theme.” I drew a parallel to this tonight in my head as I was doing dishes. I thought about the friend psychology of my life and how people exist in a sort of “background” if you will. I seem to be neglecting great people in favor of people who are negative and don’t share my dreams and vision. In fact, they tear me down. I am the type that tries to please everyone, especially certain people who probably would be happy if I failed at everything I try in life. I’ve chosen to pander to these no more. Like Morissey said in the 80’s:

In my life, why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?

Good question. My blog is cool now because I have about 10 backgrounds I have sized and uploaded and they are always ready to go 24/7. What a powerful metaphor that my life background can change anytime I choose. I can spend time with people who take from who I am and the dream that lives or I can try to please those who will never be pleased. They hang on me like an ugly background I don’t take the time to change.

I’m a big fan of the words of Jesus. He says throughout the Bible that we should serve others before ourselves and thereby put God first. I want to be much more of a giver. I can tell you the coming year will be one in which I focus more on giving to people who receive me.

When it comes to having to choose and sometimes change people backgrounds, we’re all in the same boat. It’s the human condition. Nobody gets out of these choices alive and the results can make a huge difference in this temporal life.

When Justice Feels Like Inspiration

Yes, those wonderful words were likely uttered by my friend’s Principal recently as some kids were told they’d done enough damage to the school-year and were asked to leave. One was given independent study, the other kicked out … for good reason. Apparently, his parent gave the school a false address in order to attend. I have no idea why. The school is getting more prestigious in the inner city where it sits but it is hardly a place yet where one would lie about their address to attend.

It is more probable the student couldn’t get in somewhere else … due to fighting … due to suspensions … I’m not sure. They were both fighters who showed little respect for teachers. In times like these when justice is served, it can feel like inspiration to teachers. With these particular kids, the teachers had patiently gone through all the avenues of referrals and classroom discipline etc. with mixed results. It was beyond their control when the students both, in their own way, continued to make learning difficult for the students around them.

I’m not a big fan of showboating “justice” at another’s expense. At the same time, isn’t that what justice is all about? All I know is that their former classrooms will a lot more conducive to learning now that justice has been served. In my classroom, there are many days when I don’t document a repeat offender. I just try and get through the lesson. That is wrong, I see that now. I need to be tireless in documenting when these type disrupt class. My friend is like that, and justice is now the result.

I am all for giving second chances but how many should you give kids who seem unable to respect the rules of the classroom? I had heard too many stories from my friend. You can be VERY forgiving all year and lose a lot of learning opportunities. -OR- You can document students who disrupt over and over again to one day eventually, deliver them back to their parents. I know my friend is rejoicing that “towing the line” and following lengthy discipline procedures paid off in the end.

Think About What it’s Really For

Most the time on my job as a teacher I get the instant rewards of kids making me those ornately folded origami shapes that when opened say “Mr. Riley, you are the best teacher in the world.” I get stuff like that once in a while and it keeps my spirits high. Unfortunately, there are many other times when adults in my life let me down. When they treat each other (and me) poorly. Sometimes people around me are so immature it makes me want to just move to Berkeley and make money selling Herman Hesse books … of course, that is not an option. Drat.

I put those little notes from my students in a folder labeled “inspiration.” When I’m having a bummer day, I go through those notes and they remind me why I teach. They fill my spirit up. They remind me why I teach.

Whatever your job is, I am sure you can take the time to remember why you went into it. Our jobs will never be perfect but we can be an example of the way we want it to be. When no inspiration is coming from outside ourselves, we have to be “grown-ups” and find the strength within. Once we find it, we need to share it with others, even as hard as that may seem sometimes. Be the light of your life and remind others what it’s about.

What Will We Do With Less?

Things in the past 10 years have changed incredibly. Where college graduation used to require hours and hours in a classroom and commons, an online degree has now virtually surpassed that as the degree of choice. The changes continue. It is certain the next 10 years are going to be rough for teachers. Even if the economy comes back, it will take a long time for those dollars to “trickle down” into the state budgets for education. Already, we teachers are learning to do less with more. I of course am always looking for new ways to use less paper. My goal was once a “paperless classroom” but I have since learned that “less paper” is probably the only rational thing I can pursue. Kids need to practice with pencils and the dry erase get dry really fast. But what about the rest of the world and all the occupations therein? How much paper will the high-rise buildings save now that times are so tight. What positions will be deemed “unnecessary” and which ones will take on twice the work thereafter?

It is a daunting thought but I see a silver lining in all this. Perhaps we will develop human pathways to success we never would have thought of before. As I said, I am using my overhead and powerpoint lessons more than handouts and recycling anything I can at work. I have a childlike sense of wonder as to how the working world will become less “fat” in its waste of paper, ink, and a million other things that are useless. Our meetings are no longer catered by a ocal sandwich shop and I would assume that is the case for businesses across the grid. I’m curious to hear how your work is cutting costs. Have you learned some ways to save supplies? Let us know … I am sure this kind of stuff is happening and we should get ideas from each other to make the recession just that much more bearable. We should all be inspired by this opportunity to rise above and excel amid adversity.