Monday, January 25, 2016

Motivation for Monday (and for every day)

I guess I've been taking it on the chin lately. Last Friday, my colleagues said to me,  "Kid, you're looking beat.", "You're the shit catcher, you gotta keep your chin up.", "Man, I wouldn't want your job." I mean, I did literally throw one kid to safety and restrain another that day, so maybe I looked slightly worse for the wear, but overall, I'd say that I am looking pretty rough these days anyway. At some point, we all pay our dues. As a dean, I guess I pay more of mine on a daily basis, and it seemingly manifests on my already-haggard physical appearance. Next time you see me, don't comment on the bags under my eyes. They've only enlarged since the last time you saw me. Be nice, and let's just drink in relative silence, or talk about sports. Go, sports.

Let's be honest. Being in education can really suck sometimes. Most of the time, it's as rewarding as a career can get, but the job can take a serious toll on you. That's because this is a job that's unlike any other. There's no monetary or otherwise extrinsic motivator to do better for your constituents. The only thing you really get at the end of the day is peace of mind that you did your best. Everything about education is intrinsic. That's why the burnout rate is so high for fledgling American teachers. If you've ever wondered why 3-5 years is the average career span of a teacher, look no further than the long hours, low pay, and endless hurdles that teachers go through every day just to do their jobs.

Aside from those reasons, being an educator is unlike most professions. You wake up at some ungodly hour, and the job is there with you, sharing your bed with you and your significant other. You leave work at whatever ungodly hour you can manage, and the job follows you home, or to the restaurant, or the bar. You try to take a vacation, and the job follows you there too, to the beach, or the resort, or the bar. Did I mention the bar? It's no wonder so many teachers burn out so quickly. The job latches onto every fiber of your being if you actually care and do it right.

So, here I am, looking to give all of my fellow educators a leg-up on Monday. We've made it this far because we've found something special in education. Is it the scant pay and inordinate number times we facepalm every day? Possibly. Or maybe it's the feeling of being indoors so long that you've forgotten what sunlight looks and feels like. I personally enjoy mounds of paperwork. You know you like it too. Let's admit it, if you're a lifelong educator, you're fairly masochistic. However, you also know how to thrive under pressure, and you do it knowing full well that you won't get thanked for it very often, but you do it anyway. Your sense of silent virtue is stronger than most. How many students have now come through your doors and made something of themselves because of your efforts? I bet that number is pretty damn high. Those are the educators I love and keep in touch with, even if they knock out at 9pm on Friday nights. They keep doing it, and no one sees or thanks them for it. You want humility? Find a good teacher.

The only thing I have to say to you is: whatever you need to do to keep making it worthwhile for your students, do it. Whether it's daily yoga sessions, getting up early for a run, or shooting the breeze at the local watering hole with your favorite soldiers-in-arms, don't forget to lean on your fellow educator every once in a while. It's a long and thankless job, but here's a thank you from a lowly dean. You kick butt, and sometimes, your students recognize that too.

(Always remember, wear a tie, and keep your finger out.)

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Upside of Fear

Mark Twain once said, "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." I'd be lying if I said that I didn't spend a lot of time in my youth being scared; some days, when things get really rough at work, the concerns about the future and the fear/stress of tomorrow still weigh heavy on my mind. In fact, my lack of any modicum of courage actually lent me the nickname of "play it safe" when I was younger (you can thank my brother for that one). That was a...not so pleasant time for me. Think 6th-grade Danny holding up an entire line of people trying to cross a suspension bridge because of his fear of the ropes snapping, which consequently paralyzed him at the halfway point. Add on some pretty disorienting swaying, and you've got me clutching onto the ropes for dear life. And then imagine my mom coming to try to rescue me from my crippling fear (and also from the hoards of angry tourists piling up behind me), and you pretty much have the whole scene. Embarrassed beyond belief wouldn't even begin to cover that moment.

Do I still worry about the future? Hell yeah, I do, but most days, I can hide the crazy. If you've seen the crazy though, I apologize to the less-than-handful of people who have had to deal with me losing my cool. It's not pretty. These days though (for the most part), I embrace the possibility of failure with gusto. Because, here's what I've learned about fear over the years - it has two faces. On the one hand, it can paralyze you with concern about the future so much that you cannot enjoy the present. That's really no way to live. On the other hand, fear has an upside too; it can be your best friend. Fear lets you know that you care, just as much as love does. The things that you're scared to do, the feelings you've kept locked up, and the people you're concerned about losing, that's fear letting you know that something is probably worth doing. That's fear telling you that you're invested in and care deeply about someone/something. And that's fear putting you at the fork in the road - Choice 1) Let fear freeze you and stop you from putting yourself out there. Choice 2) Embrace fear and put it on the line (with the potential for catastrophic failure, but at least you'll have a great story to tell). That would be you choosing what is right over what is easy. Your move, chief. New year, new you?

Definitely not my proudest moment. As you can see, the bridge was only wide enough to go single-file in each direction. I stopped it in both directions. Go, me.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Boy with the White Box

There once was a boy who carried a white box wherever he went. Inside of the box was something that had shattered a long time ago, but it wasn't always that way. It was once whole and thrummed with energy; however, after years of lending it to others and wearing it down, it had slowly fallen into disrepair. So, he took it upon himself to find a way to piece this fragile object back together. He drove south in high hopes of a cure, but found only more pain. He journeyed east with cautious optimism only to meet its cold, frigid, and unwelcoming lights. He flew to the mid-west, hoping for deliverance, but finding nothing of the sort. He traveled far and wide, wearing down the soles of his shoes, collecting stories and souvenirs, and finding everything except for what he had originally set out.

When he finally returned home, he told his friends and family tall tales of faraway places, fascinating people, and forlorn heartache, but no matter how many stories he had accumulated or how many people he had run across in his travels, the pieces remained broken in their white box. And so he settled down in the city he once called home, and over time, the boy became a man, who stayed hopeful, but dismayed. Every day, he would pull the white box out of his dresser drawer and stare it, wondering if its contents would ever be whole again.

But, as life would have it, he found that for all the traveling he had done, there was already someone right where he had been his whole life, someone who knew about his white box and how to repair its contents. This someone could melt him with a single smile, could make him feel like he was looking at her for the first time every time he saw her, and could call him out whenever he wasn't at his best. But most importantly, she opened the white box that he had hidden away for so long and bit by bit, she made whole what was broken so long ago, until his heart again resembled its original shape.

Monday, November 30, 2015

No Bullshit

I'm going to ask something of you that I have no right to ask, but at least hear me out.

I am an after-thought, a person of convenience, the guy you call at 3am to bail you out of a jam. I've been that guy my entire life. Maybe it's an unsustainable way to live, to be everyone's #1 when you know that you're not prioritized reciprocally. Maybe it's why I asked one of my best friends why I'm so defective. Maybe it's why I constantly hear, "You're too fucking nice." But I have no problem being nice, I have no problem being your secondary or tertiary priority, or at least I didn't until a couple of weeks when I thought that maybe I deserved better, that I was shouldering too much. I still don't know.

What I do know is that it's really easy to make a New Year's resolution. It's the start of a new month and a new year. It feels like a chance to start over and reinvent yourself. Today is not January 1st, however. It's not the start of a new anything. It is actually the end of a month, exactly when people tell themselves that they'll start something new when the calendar flips, but I have a November 30th challenge for you. For however long you can stand to do it, a week, a day, or an hour, I want you to try this: accept no bullshit, and give none in return. Life is already too short, and you have enough people and bureaucracy to answer to on a daily basis. You don't deserve to waste any of it on a sugar-coated version of reality, and you certainly don't deserve sugar-coated versions of people in your life. You deserve life in its most unadulterated form, with people who truly appreciate and care about you.

Life should not be an exercise in keeping people in the dark as a means of "protection" or bottling up and dismissing our own feelings, both positive and negative. This doesn't mean you completely remove your filter, a la Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar. What I'm asking is that you don't put forth a second-rate version of yourself. No one deserves a second-rate, glossy, fictionalized version of reality or people in their lives. The world deserves the best version of you that you can muster every day, and you deserve the same in return. Accept no substitutes. Let's leave the bullshit for the bullshitters.

The human experience should involve good, honest, genuine, compassionate people, and that's the non-bullshit version of me you're going for as long as you have me, and I'm hoping for the same in return because the 19 year-old boy to the left, who watched your amusing drunken escapades and cleaned you off at 2am is now a 28 year-old man, but he hasn't changed. His phone stays on, and he'll pick up your late-night calls to come get you Tuesday night every time you ask him to. The only thing that he asks of you in return is that you don't bullshit him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Only Human

This is a long one, so I apologize in advance, but the majority of it is thanks. It's been a long year. I haven't had a single month, or even two-week stretch, this year without finding out that I've lost another family member or friend to illnesses or violence. And, while I've been angrier and more hurt than I've been in years past, I haven't externalized most of these feelings. Instead, I've spent a lot of my time feeling frustrated with all these pent-up thoughts, but as the year progressed, these events served as reminders that at the end of the day, we are only human. We cannot control everything that happens to us, and we have little say over when we go.

While we are often "too busy" to talk, lost in a quagmire of work, or failing to honestly connect because of our phones, we are reticent to express ourselves or disconnect from that which matters little to actually connect with those who matter most. You're never too busy to say thank you, I love you, or I miss you. Work or school will always be there the next day; those things are constants. People who matter won't stay around forever, especially if you neglect to let them know just how much they mean you.

To my brother William, you will always be the first on this list. You are my role model and my inspiration. I am understanding, loving, forever patient, creative, athletic, nerdy, neurotic, over-zealous, etc., etc. because of you. I am my best because I never want to let you down. You have supported me and my dreams my entire life, and this year was no different. Your advice and love mean the world to me. There's no person that I respect more than you. You are my front line and my pillar.

To my other brother, Michael, you come to my side at the drop of a pin, and you ask for nothing in return. I can't thank you enough for picking me up over and over again. You've seen me at my worst, and you've never judged me. I've been a poor friend over and over again, but you have been unwavering. My only wish is for the two of us old Trojans to live to a ripe, old age and share many, many more memories.

To my sister, Emily, I never knew I wanted a sister, but now that I have one, I don't ever want to lose you. We've put up with a lot of heartache and pain these past few years and despite the many, many tears that have fallen between the two of us, we have genuinely stood by one another as siblings should. I can't believe what an amazing young woman you've become, and I can only say thank you for all the times you've listened as I've talked your ear off. I can't thank you enough for the unconditional support you've shown me.

 To my cousin Carly, we grew up as close as two people on opposite sides of the country ever could, and I could not imagine where I would be this year without you. You showed me love when I couldn't love myself, and you held me up when all I wanted to do was give up. You know all my secrets, all my weaknesses, and all of my greatest aspirations. I don't know what I'd do without you.

To Fred, one of my newest, but best friends, you are a genuine human being, and that is very difficult to find today. You play no games, and you are the definition of honesty. Thank you for being such a great support system for me this year, even though we haven't known each other for very long. We are kindred spirits, and I'm glad we found each other.

To my wifey, Laney, I have been incredibly blessed these past few years not just to have been able to work alongside you, but to have had you by my side as a good friend. Your advice has kept me calm, and the example you set reminds me to try to empathize with my students. You are one of the good ones. Don't let bureaucracy or the system pull you down. I will always be here for you like you've done for me for so long.

To my fellow amazing educators, Meredith, Erick, Alex, Alma, and Nichole, your drive to do the best you can for your students gives me faith in humanity, and it reminds me daily to treat my students with respect and compassion. I know our profession is often a thankless one, so here's one from me: you are all wonderful and strong people for choosing and staying in this field. There is no greater calling than dedicating yourself to bettering youth, and you are all doing a phenomenal job, not just for your students, but in setting examples for budding educators.

To David Rink, the best running buddy I've ever had: not only were you an amazing teacher that the students and I looked up to, but the times we shared, runs we conquered, and conversations we had all made me a better person. I'm sorry that we didn't hang out as much after you left Terra Nova, but that last 10-miler we blazed through this summer reminded me of all the great times we had together. When I run now, I constantly think about how great it would be to find another you, but I know that there is only one Senor Rink, only one teacher friend that I connected with so heavily because of our life goals, mutual interests, and running passions. Thank you for being such a great friend all these many years.

And, finally, to my baby, you are more than I could ever ask for. You make me a better man every day. I'm constantly reminding myself to be patient, loving, and caring towards everyone that comes into my life, and while I may go home exhausted every night, I hope you know that you're always my priority, that I'll do whatever I can to make sure you're happy. You're always the first and last person I want to talk to, and you're first thing on my mind every morning. When I wake up, I think about how I can be a better boyfriend than yesterday, what will come up at work, and how I can deal with all of the madness of the day, but it's always you first. <3

Friday, October 16, 2015

Break in Case of Emergency

I haven't been able to sleep this week. It's been a continuing episode of tossing and turning with no relief. My mind keeps coming back to one thought - life is fragile. I've lost count of how many friends and acquaintances have passed since this school year began, some to violence, some to natural causes, but it disheartens me when I think about how diminished the value of life has become. We're quick to open our mouths or leave an abusive comment online when it comes to gossiping or putting down others, but when it comes to spreading love and positivity, we keep a vice grip on our hearts and our mouths until it's too late or there's been some sort of calamity. It's as if our feelings are locked inside of an impenetrable case labeled, "Break in Case of Emergency".

Last week, I put myself in harm's way to protect someone whom I care about. After the incident, he said to me, "I want to say thank you for doing that, but you're just a kid. I'm almost twice as old as you are. You shouldn't have had to do that. You don't know what could have happened." He was right. At some point, I figure I'll make an error in judgement, hopefully while trying to do the right thing. It might be a small injury, but it also might be a large one, so I'm going to take the time right now to write my future self (and everyone reading) a letter. It will be both a prescription for life and a reminder to live it:

Dear Future Me,

Between October 7 and October 15, 2015, you faced the fragility of humanity in a way that you never have. In this span of a week, you lost two friends to gun violence and an incredible mentor teacher to a broken heart. You also put your life in danger without thinking about the consequences. I hope you haven't had to do it since, but considering the line of work you've chosen, I can only assume that you've done it many more times now. Also, owing to the fact that you're re-reading this a long way off in the future, I'm going to assume that you've faced more difficult hardships than the ones you encountered this week, and I'm also going to assume that you've slightly (but hopefully not immensely) lost your way and need to find a road map that will take you back to here, to October 2015, when you were pushing yourself to be a stronger educator, top-notch student, and semi-decent boyfriend.

If you have indeed lost your way, here's what I want you to remember: First, you're damn fortunate in that there's no dearth of "I love you" or "I miss you" between you and your girlfriend. Don't lose that; not everyone will be so fortunate as to even hear that once a week. Some call you two gross and cheesy, but you just call yourself lucky. You're also fortunate that she would ever fall for a workaholic, reckless git like yourself, so I hope you've kept your heart open and continued to do spontaneous things, like telling her to pack her things because you're going to Disneyland or driving thousands of miles to see her. I hope you've continued to listen to her and write things down and show how much you appreciate her because feelings are not meant to be tucked away, even if you get "too busy".

Second, there is nothing deeper than the bond between siblings. I hope you're still as close to yours now as you were in 2015. If you aren't, try to remember how they stood by you and made sure you were okay, even when you couldn't look after yourself. Remember how they picked you up again and again without ever judging you. And, above all else, remember how they made you a better man, one who loved deeply, laughed freely, and gave openly. You owe them quite a bit.

Above all else, I hope you remember that you once believed in making a difference. You went into work every day, believing that you could help the students in your hallways. Some days (most days), they gave you headaches and kept you up at night, but you never gave up on them, and you loved them and your staff fiercely. I hope you at least kept this part of yourself intact, but if you haven't, and you're no longer in education, I'll tell you right now that you need to find your way back to helping people. It made the long nights and early mornings worth it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Part 3 - Knowing (To Be Continued)

"How do you know?"

I'm not sure how many times I've been asked this question in the past month, whether it's been by people who are unsure of their partners, people thinking about breaking up with their significant others, people thinking of proposing (or thinking their significant other is going to propose and how they should answer), or people just looking for dating advice in general, but here's my answer: I have no answer for you. Let's be honest. I'm a fairly booksmart person, and I'm sort of creative when it comes to dating, but you're asking a guy who has a blog series about how much he sucks at dating. You might be going to the wrong person for advice.

When it comes to dating, I don't pretend to know much, or anything at all really, but here's what I do know: when simple things like spotting a gingko tree, eating an oatmeal raisin cookie, drinking boba, hearing the "bom bom bom" part of Shake It Off, cutting raw vegetables, or seeing a Chinese drama play in the background of a cafe (anything that could carry even the tiniest association to you and your significant other), when everyday things like that remind you of that person you're wondering about, you probably already know the answer to the question. I don't know a lot, but I do know that.

Here's the thing. You're going to wake up tomorrow morning, and you're going to be 60, and you're going to come to one conclusion: "I wish I had spent less of my life worrying." You're not going to know everything. You're sure as hell not going to be 100% positive about all of your decisions, especially when it concerns matters of the heart, but as far as those questions go, your heart knows what it wants. I've been saying that for years, and I'll continue to stick by it. There's only so much you can do and know, but when you know, you just do. Sure, you'll make mistakes, probably plenty of them. And, maybe what you want might change a year or five down the road. Maybe it changes a week later, but you can't anticipate that. I certainly couldn't anticipate that the time and distance I spent apart from my girlfriend made me a better and more appreciative man. All I know is that I'm happy now. That's as best as I can articulate it.

So, what ever happened to that dense boy and the split with his crush? That's a story still in progress. But, I'll say this - they've had several more adventures since then, and there are several more lined up. Some of them will involve more nerdy things like building Gundam models, but the fair majority of them will be accompanied by plenty of ice cream because what's life without dessert?