Give Me Some #$%&@*% Coffee, Not an Existential Experience!

Most Rhode Islanders would swim in their iced coffee if they were just one more size larger.

Coffee has a special place in Rhode Island.  Coffee milk is the state drink.  Dunkin Donuts, once regional, went from a local caffeine fix to a national institution.  “America Runs on Dunkin.” And yes it does.

Even though Rhode Island has been surpassed by Washington DC and Baltimore as having the worst drivers in the nation, there are still tons of accidents and near misses, most related to Dunkin Donuts parking lots. It is a fact that most of the traffic accidents in the state do not occur because people forgot to purchase the blinker package on their new cars (yes, you do have to request it separately in this state) or because they thought the moon roof was for the middle finger. They happen due to a lack of Dunkin Donuts coffee.

I know, I used to investigate claims for a major insurance company.  Everyone crashes in a Dunk parking lot because they do not properly process the law of physics that states “two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time” until their coffee has actually been consumed. And even though it’s impossible to travel more than 5 mph in the space between the entrance and the drive thru, the before-coffee accidents are never pretty.

Coffee is so important in Rhode Island that even the old Providence Civics Center has been renamed–in an age of corporatization, it seems only fitting to name it “The Dunk.” I used to think that was because the Providence College basketball team was pretty good and people enjoyed the players slamming the ball into the hoop (ergo, “dunk”). Incidentally, they should be good with the tuition they are charging these days.  But that’s not the reason for the name. It is because Dunkin Donuts bought, I mean sponsored, the renovations to the Civics Center, doing an excellent job including all the typical shades of pink and orange one associates with a hot, steaming, fresh cup of coffee.

Except that most Rhode Islanders drink iced coffee in all seasons. The fact that someone shoveling snow does so with an iced coffee in hand used to mystify me, but I’ve come to realize that there are things about Rhode Island I will never understand–like the accent and why Del’s lemonade forgets to peel the lemon, leaving in chunks of sour rind.  Iced coffee in winter, I can accept. What I can’t accept is the seven-cup insulation system that Dunkin Donuts uses to keep it cold until the next polar freeze, killing a little piece of the environment with each large satisfying cup.

We have Starbucks here, too, but that’s expensive. A West Coast subversion, actually. Most locals can do without it.  Rhode Islanders aren’t fancy people creating grunge music and investing in four-dollar lattes that no one can spell let alone pronounce.  I love Starbucks, but I STILL can’t translate which size is which into Italian. Just give me a really big coffee that doesn’t cost half my paycheck. Sorry, that doesn’t exist? Well, give me the one over there, then.

My friend and almost-colleague agrees with me on that point.

“I just want a %$^* cup of coffee, not an existential experience.”

I agree.  I do think it’s super cool to see people obviously much smarter than me dressed entirely in black, huddled around books and electronic devices–the types of people who have hair sticking straight up on one side of their head because they are constantly tugging at it while ruminating about the root cause of human suffering.  Sometimes it gets in the way of getting my caffeine, though, because each one of the beverages they order takes roughly five hours to make. When I need a “coffee quickie” to boost my spirits, I can’t wait behind people talking about the meaning of life.

I know that the reason they are there is because either someone paid a lot of money for their particular breed of graduate school or because they are truly smart enough to order their cup of coffee properly–and that, I respect. Not me, I always get it wrong. I was advised that using the right word order is actually part of the Starbucks’ training program. The size, kind, flavor additions, exclusions, and cream choice must go in the right order and flow like the most elevating spoken-word. I don’t know what that word order is. I don’t flow. That fragments the harmony of the universe causing everyone to frown before taking my fifty dollars and asking me if I’d like anything else.

I don’t want a coffee that requires a sentence, paragraph, personal statement or membership to Mensa to order.

I also don’t want a coffee that requires me to buy an additional Rosetta Stone language system to order correctly.

I don’t want a coffee that has exclusions like, “no whip, half-decaf, just a touch of soy, light on the styrofoam.”

And I don’t want a second mortgage. The first one’s enough, thank you.

I just want a really strong cup of coffee. And once in a while, when I’m certain no one is looking–even a flavor.   I usually make my own coffee with my Keurig or French press, but sometimes I go to my local joint–Brewed Awakenings. They’re a small business in the community getting much bigger. I’m rooting for them.   They always smile, grind my pounds of coffee when necessary so I can use it in my Keurig environmentally friendly-kill-no-spotted-owls refill cup, and tell me to have a nice day. Because if they forgot to tell me, I’m sure it wouldn’t be as good.

And no one even crashes into me in the parking lot.

[image: Amy Sussman of Getty images via CNN Money. This photo sums up Rhode Islander’s worship of coffee perfectly. Thanks, Amy–we give you a key to the state]

The Frankenstorm of the Century–Storm Prep Rhode Island Style

The hype has begun.

“Frankenstorm” has hit the tv news cycle. I’m not sure if Frankenstorm will be a whopper or if it was created to take advantage of weak news ratings. Either way, the name sure does sound bad. It’s a little late in the season for a hurricane, but after last year’s “Halloween Storm” which piled snow on much of the state, people want to be ready.  For Rhode Islanders, being ready is no joke. It’s a very specific science perfected by generations of people cutting each other off and failing to signal turns to the “mah-ket” to get the last loaf of bread.  And even though I’m cheaper than a bastid [sic: insert RI accent], and technically from Connecticut, I decided to take part in the pre-game festivities. I’ve prepared this helpful guide for storm prepping Rhode Island style:

Things you must buy as soon as the weather man says there might be a storm: 

The fact that there is still milk here is a very good sign.

Milk: I’m happy to say that the milk situation is quite good three days before the storm. There were shelves and shelves of it. I bought a gallon just for fun, even though I have a second fridge with a couple of gallons already inside–I’d hate to run out, then I couldn’t make greek yogurt or chowda [sic: accent returns]. And it’s on the list–so I must obey.

Bread: I’m mystified as to why all Rhode Islanders buy tons of bread for storms. Even the celiac were out today beating each other with loaves of French bread and grabbing it up like it was manna from the desert that would disappear.  I skipped the bread–I didn’t want to get too close. I bake my own.  People looked at me like I was making a very, very bad call opting out of the bread rush, so I might just whip up a second loaf before Jim Cantore or Mike Seidel arrive.

Water: I do not believe in plastic bottles. I find them wasteful. I have a Brita pitcher and an old college Nalgene bottle.  But since everyone else was buying water, I did, too. Storm prep is no time for personal assessments–it’s time to race old ladies to the last whatever-you-don’t-need and claim it victoriously.

I bought a couple of cases of water with the fancy tops that my husband can take to the dojo if we don’t need them, and for me, I got the cheap bottles that I can use for a function at school if necessary. We’re not used to fancy bottles at school, anyway.   I also got some paint buckets to fill with water because most people don’t realize that the toilets won’t flush if the water pump is out, but that there is a secret method using gravity and water. And if you think you’re afraid of a hurricane, indulge yourself in the fear of being a member of a one bathroom household with a toilet malfunction. That’s something that would make Chuck Norris cry.

Snacks: I don’t really eat processed food, and I hate cans of soup and all the other garbage that seemed to be flying off the shelf.  But I got some Easy Mac, which I also hate. If we don’t use it, it’ll last the next 50 storms and still be ready for a bomb shelter. Or I could stack it in a pyramid outside the office of my New Boss; he eats that garbage.  They don’t give bosses much time to eat, thanks to the requirements of ed reform, so he eats Easy Mac. What’s worse–he likes it.

Tonight, I’ll bake up some cookies, make some trail mix, whip up some paleo brownies, and we will be ready on the snack front.

Duct Tape:  I’m not sure why I buy duct tape.  Maybe I picked up someone’s crime list accidentally instead of the storm prep list. The way I figure, you can fix anything with duct tape, but I think I’m going to save it for minute six when the TV is gone and I have to quell the screams of panic from the men of the house.

These batteries are gone.

Unnecessary Flashlights and batteries: Okay, so I have six flashlights and all last season’s batteries.  But I’m really superstitious–I lived in Russia for a time and the old ladies beat it into me. They’d tell me things like “Don’t sit on the cement, you’ll be barren.”  If by “barren,” they meant “You’ll have a mutant child who will never listen to a thing you say unless it is a string of swears uttered three rooms away,” well, they were right.

So, I believe in all superstitions. And as such, before every storm, I buy unnecessary batteries to ward off the evil spirits.  I even saw a lonely Maglite on a shelf that had been picked clean. He couldn’t sit there alone. So I bought him, all the while thinking great thoughts about my old faithful 4D cell Maglite that used to double for such useful things like a bat in an impromptu game of baseball, a walking stick on a hike, or a tool for self-defense in a rough neighborhood.

For the last two storms, buying unnecessary flashlights and batteries has been my modus operandi, and a very effective one at that. I sort of felt bad, though, that the last time I redirected a storm by purchasing unnecessary items, it instead went to New York and crushed all the Mets and Jets fans, which is totally sad because they get crushed enough already. Sorry. I truly apologize.

According to Rhode Island standards, I’m well prepared for this storm, so right now, I’m just doing my work in order of electricity–doing the tasks that need it, so in the event Frankenstorm isn’t just a media exaggeration, I’ll be ready to curl up next to the wood stove with my five thousand flashlights and read a good book.

Spreading Goodness: Thanks for the Award

I got an award–this one’s special because it came from someone who herself has a beautiful blog. Thank you, Allie! Part of the rules were that I have to divulge seven things about myself, then pass on the nomination to fifteen deserving writers.  Fun! It’s like chain mail but with something nice attached instead of a curse.  I generally try to delete chain mail before the curse scrolls up and reveals itself–just in case it has power. I always felt if I didn’t read the curse, I’d be safe.  Today’s honor comes with love, and will be passed on in the same manner. So, in honor of the first “chain award” I’ve ever received, I’ll start.

Seven Things I Probably Shouldn’t Share about Myself:

1. I was the lowest scoring starting varsity player ever on my high school basketball team.  Who knows, maybe someone sucks worse than I did by now, but it was a longstanding record. I was proud. I kept the trophy. People used to bring signs and give me standing ovations if I scored. The only reason I got to play at all is because of my level of dedication–I emerged as a great defensive player.  It’s a lesson I never forget–defense is as important as offense in life. Only no one sees it. It’s important to remember that some of the best influencers often go under the radar, but are game changers no less. I want to be one.

2. I am a history nerd. I love local research, research on social justice, and research on things overlooked in society. I’ve delved into issues like New England mills, gravestones, racism in the North, sports and equality, religion in Colonial era, a bunch of Russian and Soviet stuff, Cold War civil rights, and the origins of very old Japanese martial art that made its way to the United States during World War II. And sneezed in a lot of dusty archives.

3. I appreciate the people who were unkind to me in high school.  They made me into the witty, fun, compassionate person I am today. Today, we take a zero tolerance policy toward bullying. I never tolerate it in my presence, but in my life, negative experiences often have had positive influence–I just have to look a little harder. They always teach a positive lesson. I’m grateful for that ability to see that.

4. I started this blog as a promise to a friend. And he had to beat me up to do it. I’m eternally grateful, because I’ve met many people who are truly amazing, and through them, I have chosen to try to reach that bar myself.

5. I have changed my views on life as a teacher.  I was lucky to have had a top quality education, both in and out of the classroom. I never take that for granted. I want my students to have incredible lives. I want them to use their inner genius to be game-changers and innovators. And when they do, I hope that they’ll come back and give me free copies of their books or tickets to their TEDx talks.

6. I fired myself from my own business.  This sounds harsh, but my husband is an entrepreneurial rock star–a true visionary.  I had to learn to stomach the risk. I’m grateful to my many entrepreneurial friends who have taught me this lesson–your $5 copay is on the way. I am now truly enjoying the business he created and proud of its growth.  Even though I have a career of my own, I think I’ll take him up on his requests to “employ” me as a staff writer. Everyone needs a staff writer. Even if it’s a writer who never shuts up.

7. I often pull posts so I won’t get myself into too much trouble. Sometimes, I’d like to talk about education and ed reform but it’s always safer to write about green beans, sustainability, or the silly musings of a five-year old and not fight windmills. Truth is, I should probably post more things that matter–the deep stuff. It’s not easy. More than once, a serious writer has told me to release a post–“You’ve got to bleed on the paper.”  And maybe one day, I will. It’s that important to be real.

Fifteen people I nominate for this award:   I read lots of blogs.  Please consider reading these yourself.  Some are touching, some are fiery, some are stepping-stones to books or other projects, but contain brilliant writing just the same.

My Nominees: 

The Green Study tells simple stories about everyday life. And I love every one.

The Outdoor Canvas “Motorcycles, Hiking, Nature Photography, and Thoughts” is a blog about living the way life should be lived–outdoors, simply, and enjoying the gifts in the natural world.

Wonderful Buddha is serious and lighthearted at the same time. It contains some of my favorite poet-philosophers–Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz–swirled around with striking photography and a section of good, clean zen jokes.

BeeBee’s World is full of beautiful imagery that I read when I need a smile. My favorite post on this blog is still a short family history called “Legacy.” 

The Altucher Confidential is by recovered economist James Altucher, currently writing on the topic of making life wonderful. He is indirectly responsible for the existence of this blog. I remember James’ writings from the old days, and quite honestly–though I’m a sucker for a political or economic pundit, I like the zen James better. James is also an author whose books you should read if you need to be lifted up just a bit.

Kamal Ravikant is an author, entrepreneur, and direct reason this blog exists. His blog Founder Zen has some amazing short pieces on it–the type that make me wish I wrote like that. Truth be told, however, you’ll really want to read his first book. The reason I say “first” is because I’m rooting for the many more I hope will follow. 

Lesley Carter’s The Bucket List is a serious blog about adventure, family, and culture. She posts quite often, and through her I feel like I’ve done some living vicariously.

Pat Wood is a fiction writer extraordinaire. I love to read her stories, both mystical and realistic.

Simple Tangles–Benedicte’s blog about the her family, life, and her unwaverable spirit humbles me each time I read it.

The Room Mom–Caitlyn is a teacher, mom, and thoughtful crafty person whose ideas I love to steal for my class and life.

Elle’s blog Living with Passion has the theme “Forty Things to Do Before Forty.”  It’s witty and energetic, and well worth a read.

A beautiful blog about life and the humor of the everyday–

Kat B’s travel blog, Travel, Garden, Eat has stunning pictures and experiences we all long to have.

Anna Boll’s blog, Creative Chaos tells about the life of a writer, mom, teacher, and illustrator. She is one of the most talented illustrators I know. You’ll be seeing a lot from her! She already won this award, but I’d pick her again.

Cool Cat Teacher Blog–Vicki Davis is a rock star.  Anyone interested in education should be reading her blog.

The Rules:  1. Thank your nominator (done). 2. Add the badge (done) 3. Share 7 things (done) 4. Pass on award to 15 nominees (done) 5. Inform nominees by commenting on their wall (almost done).

Please Be Quiet Right Now

I have a five-year old who is getting even with me for being a five-year old who never shut up.  It’s a curse.  Parents say, “I hope you have one just like you.”  Well, I did.  And while I never walked across the house to turn around, bend over, and pass gas in people’s faces running away laughing like an evil little monster, I certainly did the following:

1. I had to be right.  Yes, if there was a suspect commercial on the television, I had to comment like I was in training to be an opinion-laced TV news pundit on a not really fair and biased news outlet I mention from time to time.  My son returns this favor by commenting on everything.

2. I had to ask questions about everything.  I asked so many questions that my mom bought me a book “Tell Me Why,” which answered much of the more frequently asked meaning of life questions, like how basic things worked, why God allowed suffering in the universe and the one I remember best, how gelatin is made from animal bones. This started my slippery slope to vegetarianism, I believe, and provided a story I use to disgust my students to this day.  Declan gets even with me by asking questions to which he knows the answer. “What’s ‘scary?'”  It means frightening. “What’s ‘frightening?'” Something that makes you afraid.  “What’s ‘something that makes you afraid?'”  It’s the rest of my life if you don’t stop asking questions! Alas, the experts tell us when you get exasperated by the questions, to be grateful that they are choosing you to ask the questions to–it helps to control the indoctrination process.

3. I didn’t listen very well. I might have obeyed the letter of the law, but I twisted it to fit my purposes. I’m getting repaid for this in spades.  If I say “Please don’t jump on that,” I’ll get “I’m not–it was a bounce.”  If I say, “Don’t touch,” guaranteed there will be a touch.  Yesterday, I found a fresh, warm piece of toast on the counter.

“I told you can’t use the toaster by yourself.” There is a reason for this–I bake my own bread. Part of making toast requires using the big French knife to cleave off a hunk of bread to stuff in the toaster. I’m not making the kid go gluten-free or starve.

He replied, “I didn’t.”  What do you mean you didn’t? There’s a piece of toast there. How did it get there?”

“I don’t know.”

Let’s review. “I told you not to make toast by yourself, yet there is a piece of toast there. And it’s warm. And I heard the toaster pop…How did the toast get there?” Logic finally prevailed like when a police officer catches the crook red-handed. “But you have the stuff in your hand.”

“Okay, Mommy, I made the toast. I didn’t really make it, I just pushed the button. The toaster made it.”  Apparently, Johnny Cochrane has reincarnated in my son.

4. I knew everything.  I had a fact and an annoying comeback for everything. I still do on some days. Quite honestly, though I admit to being a nerd and fringe character all throughout school, I’m surprised I didn’t get locked in a gym locker.  I guess the nerds and bad athletes serve the purpose of providing enough free entertainment for the rest of the community that it’s best to keep them around.   I can see this tendency in the boy as he relentlessly peppers us with every dinosaur fact known to man–he has books, little video clips on PBS, and fact cards.  I don’t know any of this stuff, but I’ve had to study on the down low because heaven forbid anyone mispronounces a dino–you’re in for a 45 minute lecture from the youngest paleontologist in the world.

5. I never shut up.  I still struggle with this one.  Maybe it’s the way my brain thinks in so many directions at once.  Maybe it’s because I see so many connections between things that other people don’t see, (because they may not be there?) and I want to explore them all at the same time.  In emails, maybe it’s because I type fast, a skill for which I will always be grateful to Mrs. Stanulonis, my eighth grade math teacher, for teaching me in a couple of hours after school. I went home and practiced on my cast-iron Royal antique typewriter–apparently the same model used by Hemingway, never realizing I’d use that skill to torture the recipients of my emails and research years later.  I can see that Declan is going to hang tight in the “never shutting up” karma competition.

6. Weird foods.  I am now a vegetarian, though when I was five, I was forced to eat all the yucky foods that we had–liver, bad cooking, unseasoned food.  One time, my mom made soup starter and I loved it.  She cried.  All the cooking she put time into, we wouldn’t eat, but we loved processed soup.  Declan has proclaimed himself a “fruititarian.” I’m not sure whether to shove my cooking down his throat or not, so I just let him eat the stolen hunks of  bread and foraged apples from the fruit bowl. I choose not to fight on this one. We’ll see in twenty years if I ruined him.

So, to all the people who buy stuffed animals cursed with voodoo, charms, and spells under the guise of gifts and incant “I hope you have one just like you,” let me tell you–it does, in fact, work.

Using Checklists to Raise Self-Esteem

My ideal checklist

I made a learnboard on Learnist about checklists. It was based on a fabulous article by Dr. Todd Finley, who researched everything related to checklists. He read all the research on checklists, poured through every website about checklists known to mankind, and read books covering all manner of checklists. I’m told he even improved Santa’s checklists to help him more efficiently discern which children were naughty from those who were nice.

I learned a lot about checklists. First, I learned that there is, in fact, an entire branch of academics who research checklists. And they’re super smart and accomplished. Who knew? I bet they don’t forget organic almond butter at the store. Second, I learned that there is a right way to use checklists and a wrong way. One should prioritize, include things that can realistically be accomplished, and act as one’s own boss–treat yourself as if you were your own assistant.

I don’t do any of that stuff. My method is simple, and so, so wrong that Dr. Finley didn’t even think to chronicle it. Should he ever discover my method, he would probably drive out to Rhode Island, risking all manner of political corruption and potholes, just to smack me upside the head with a rolled up copy of Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, one of the definitive guides in this genre. If I were really treating myself as my own boss, I’d be the dumbest boss on the planet writing the types of checklists I write. I’d be forced to write “fire myself” on the top of that list.

Don’t get me wrong, I love checklists. But I never use them to try to organize my life, to remember groceries, or to avoid forgetting critical appointments or tasks–I use them to feel better about myself. It’s not the remembering that makes me feel good, it’s the crossing off. Sure, I could have remembered to cure cancer or save neglected kittens at the ASPCA, but I’d much rather cross ten insignificant things off a list that than complete one critical item that’s hard–that takes too much time. The longer the checklist, the more I have accomplished.  It makes me feel like a rock star–like I can conquer the world.

My use of checklists goes something like this:  Get up. check. Write. check. Drink coffee. check. Pack lunch. check. Find keys. check. Make coffee in a travel mug. check. Decide if my shirt is too wrinkled and fail to do something about it. check. Go to work. check.  See, before I even arrive at school, I’ve accomplished eight things. That’s the mark of a high achiever. Then it gets better.  Correct the papers I hid under my keyboard. check. Enter grades. check. Sort through ten piles of data and make it serve the purposes I want. check. Teach two classes. check. Eat lunch. check. Teach four more classes. check…Threaten to assign homework. check.

And so on and so forth.  If I’m really feeling bad about my life, I can break down these tasks even further.  Put on left sock. check. Put on right sock. check… If it’s a grocery shopping day, I not only get to check off things by task–let’s say, shopping, but I can subdivide things by store, item, or brand. That means I accomplish a hundred fifty things.  Two hundred fifty if I buy something in individually wrapped packages.  LIke I said, rock star status.

Maybe this isn’t what Dr. Finley and Atul Gawande meant by using the checklist for “making a hundred small things go right” but it sure makes me feel good.  After all, isn’t someone who accomplishes fifty things worth more than someone who accomplishes only five?  I think it’s all in the spin.  But I didn’t learn that from Dr. Finley, I learned that from FOX News.


ADHD and Me: Tales of a “Different” Thinker

In my day, we didn’t have “ADHD.” We had “Shut the hell up and do your homework!” and “WHAT is your PROBLEM?”  They were both a valid educational diagnoses entered into the DSM Negative 5, the book of guidelines on such things. They were reinforced and treated by a backhand, in the case of some families, or eternal isolation in solitary confinement by others–being confined to The Room to miss out on all the three-channel major networks had to offer.

I think I have ADHD.  Nobody’s ever really diagnosed it except for my family and all my friends, but I know I think differently.  I consider this a blessing, but being around linear thinkers is often a challenge.  I am not permitted to rake leaves or mow the lawn, for instance. I go from pile to pile raking or mow in pretty designs, when my husband, the approved mower goes straight in rows as if a scout from Yankee Stadium is about to come by our yard.  I clean like a waitress, always having my hands full, bringing things to their place and picking up something else for my return trip back. I say this is efficiency. He says it’s chaos.  “Can’t you just finish cleaning in one damned area?”  No, because who would put back this glass?

There are many other things I do differently–my mom tried to alphabetize my spice cabinet.  Even though each jar was uniformly labeled in Martha Stewart blue, something bothered her and she started to move jars around. I had to stop her. “Mom, the amchoor does not go by the adobo. It goes by the garam masala, hind, and kalonji.  The adobo goes by the guajillo and chipotle. Cinnamon and cloves go in the middle, because they’re for curries AND baking. Understood?  No, they don’t understand. Nobody does; it’s my cross to bear.  Thoughts are not linear–they are a spider web, reaching out in many directions.

I say perfectly logical things that connect all parts of the universe.  One thing reminds me of a thousand different things–strings connected to frequencies that all join together.  “What do you mean you don’t understand the link between that cappuccino and coffee farming in general which led me to think about fair trade and a project I can do with my class? It makes perfect sense to me.” Admittedly, few close people in my life have been able to follow these connections, and they probably have ADHD worse than me.  One is now finishing up a Ph.D in something to do with the brain that I sometimes understand. I’m want her to switch gears just a little bit and study me so I can go to my husband and say, “SEE!  I told you I was awesome. And now it’s been proven by medical science!”

Thinking differently is not a curse–I get a flash of an idea, and I stop, write it down and make connections. The fact that no one sees those connections immediately only makes them more valuable to me.  Eventually, I’ll convert them to something, but even if I don’t, they didn’t hurt anything but a small section of a rainforest by taking up a page in a notebook. This makes me wonder why schools–and life–always seek to put thinkers in a box, make them conform, and make them bow to The System.

In school, I always carried one notebook–a marble composition book. I could not have a separate notebook for each class.  If I did, would have had the wrong notebook constantly.  Instead (this worked for high school, college, and 1.5 grad schools) I dated each entry by class and subject, creating a time capsule of sorts.  I dreamed, doodled, thought, and connected away never taking “the notes,” only making connections with the world around me–books on the topic, comments the instructor made, independent thoughts that filtered through.

The notes weren’t in English per se–they were a combination of symboled shorthand and the shortest word for the concept in any language I happened to know, all floating through in lines and patterns on the page. No one dared to ask to borrow my notes so they were perfectly safe with me.  The notebook had to be a black marble composition notebook, because otherwise I’d rip out pages for other things, leaving me with an anorexic tattered notebook full of holes.

Years later, I have a row of these things on my shelves, and I can pick up every single one and use the contents inside–I’ve used them to teach even 10 or 15 years after the notes were taken.

That’s effective!  Again, why do we, as educators, shove every kid in The Box? Why won’t ed reform break us out of The Box instead of building new ones?

I show these notebooks to my students to tell them individuality is a beautiful thing–a gift–and when combined with dedication, motivation, and passion, it does breed success.   My failure has been predicted by no fewer than the following:  An elementary teacher.  I’m told I  was a “gifted underachiever” as early as second grade.  My physics teacher. I liked him, but apparently I didn’t take notes using “the system.”   One of my undergraduate advisors.  He assessed that I didn’t “have what it takes” rather than finding out I worked full time (and often overtime) off campus during college to eat all while taking a double-overload. “You’ll never make it in grad school.”  Finally, my student teaching supervisor who told me I couldn’t teach on crutches, must come back to the program later, and shouldn’t expect to get a job like that.

People just think differently than me. And I’m glad.  I spent enough time listening to the voices of failure and reason in my own head, as do we all.  Writer Neil Gaiman gave a commencement address this past year, advising the graduates that he was grateful he never knew what was impossible, because then he never would have done it.  How many things have I failed to do or not done to the best of my ability because of the voices of “reason”, or because I “think differently?” How many times has that affected us all?

I’m not sure–but when I see a ninth grader with books barfing out of his backpack pull out a little marble composition book for my class with papers filed in a system only he can understand, I always smile.