Only Bullies Give Wedgies

Declan is fighting me. I’m supposed to be the bad guy from a show he loves. He has it choreographed to the last detail.

“Side kick me, Mommy.” That’s something you don’t hear a six-year old say often. I aim for the stomach.

“Woosh,” he says. He angles. Pretty impressive.

“Kick me again.” I try. He angles. I’m getting real-person impressed, having flashbacks to learning to angle and evade in my martial arts studies, back when I discovered martial arts wasn’t really about kicking and breaking stuff, it was about avoiding the fight completely. And doing peaceful things, like meditating and arranging flowers.

Eventually, he breaks through, and starts punching me for real, because that’s what good guys do. I throw a knee. He punches it. He punches my arm. That little kid hurts. I explain, “We’re playing. Mommy doesn’t want to hurt you. We’re not really punching.”

“Throw me across the room, Mommy.” I pick him up a little and put him straight down. He throws himself ten feet–a Hollywood stunt man.

He gets up, “You can’t defeat me that easy!” Who’s trying to defeat anyone? I’m just trying to drink my tea. In a superhero flurry, he races over and punches me again.

“Punch me, Mommy! In the stomach. Like this!” It’s a good punch. I lose a little bit of breath.

“You don’t have to show me. I told you, we’re not really punching people.”

“It’s what the bad guy does!” I can take no more.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.32.30 AM“Does the bad guy do THIS?” I pick him up and give him a very big wedgie.

He laughs. Then he stops.

He looks at me. Deeply. Like I’ve made a mama joke or insulted his dog.

“Mommy. You can’t do that. You can’t give wedgies. That…is bullying.”

I kneel down. “What do you mean?”

“Bullies give wedgies. You can’t do that. Bullying is mean. You shouldn’t be a bully.”

“Where did you learn that?” I ask.

“School. Bullies are bad.” He holds my gaze. He is teaching me.

I want to explain bullies don’t usually give wedgies. To tell him bullies sometimes punch and hit, but more often they’re subtle, insidious, hard to recognize until they’ve already infiltrated the soul, done their psychological damage. Made us feel we have little value. And because of that, we need to be strong. To know our own self-worth, and to refuse to let the outside world hit us with the resistance that makes us believe what they say–makes us stop short of being great.

I want to teach him that bullies can be people we don’t know on the schoolyard, but more often they’re people in our inner circles. People we thought were on our side. And most of all, they can be ourselves. We hit ourselves the hardest. That’s the truth.

But I don’t teach that lesson, because he breaks the gaze. With a flurry of activity, he’s a superhero again. I don’t give any more wedgies. I throw him across the room, as he requests, and to drink my tea. That’s what bad guys do when they lose.



Drugs Are Illegal. Reform’s Scary. Coffee Fixes the World.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 4.45.17 PMI want to have coffee with a friend. We struggle to squeeze it in.

“How about two Fridays from now?” Why can’t we get our calendars to stop fighting so we can drink coffee? Eventually, one calendar wins. Coffee arrives.

What starts as coffee with a good friend ends as vision. Always does. Soon, note pads, pens, Macs, iPhones and iPads clutter the table, pushing our freakishly healthy foods aside.

Usually when two or more teachers are in the room, venting begins. Bitching even. Everyone opens the valve a little. My husband doesn’t understand this. He wonders why teachers bitch. He hates it. He won’t go to “teacher things.”

“It’s not bitching,” I explain, “It’s ‘looking for solutions.'” Sure, there are People Who Bitch. They’re the ones speaking negatively about others–students, colleagues, and leadership. When good teachers gather, it’s not bitching. It’s seeking answers for real problems. When the fixes are out of reach, there’s frustration. Especially when frustration takes good people down.

“I’ll never go back into the classroom,” I hear it more and more. “I can’t do all this testing and stuff.” People go into leadership, guidance, or whatever because, they say, they’re “done with the classroom.” Others–good people–jump into those roles to save the world, finding windmills to fight on that side of the fence, too.

“This isn’t for me. I’m no good. Didn’t realize it would be this way–I wanted to change lives, not tabulate test scores.” That was roughly the quote I got from someone leaving the profession–literally, box in hand. Midyear.

Good teachers fear tests and evals. Sure, accountability’s in every profession. Can we do it better though? I heard Steve Blank talk at last year’s Business Innovation Factory conference. “Fire the idea, not the person,” he said.

Steve Blank is a pretty smart guy. As one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People in Tech,” he’s not only written textbooks on how startups should be created and grown, he even changed the way the National Science Foundation spends money to align with the systems of successful entrepreneurs–systems he invented.

Anyone who changes the way government spends money has the ear of this lowly teacher.

His thoughts were simple. Sometimes you need to fire the idea, not the person, he said. Run the numbers without blame. Then fix the problems.

Getting rid of judgment helps people be objective and take risks. Risks produce results. Taking risks in education can get a person low scores, though, so there’s fear.

Fear about things real or imagined shuts good people down.

Fear does not produce vision.

Fear is conquered by vision.

Vision, luckily, is found in a cup of coffee with a friend. It pours out our hearts into the vortices swirling throughout the mugs into reality. All the little things mixing and colliding in the swirls…that’s the vision. Every sip, gulp, cup waiting for a sip–vision. Leaving the cup on the counter to go cold is missing the possibilities–so easy to do when rushing around. Steam goes uncaptured into the universe. Vision lost.

But sitting with my friend, vision pushes aside inconsequential girl talk. It says things like, “Sounds like you might consider,” and “That happens to me. I’ve tried…” or “I notice you write a lot about this, but I’d really like to read it if you wrote this…” or “I’d buy that idea…”

Every single time I meet Vision Friend, I leave with a dozen working plans. On a good day, I have pages of notes. On a crazy day, we’ve got blogs, businesses, books, and concepts racing around the room trying to get to the finish line first so we might convert them to reality.

Vision conquers fear. And accountability defeats complacency. Inaction. Inertia. This is why vision needs company. It needs someone to say, “Hey, you told me you were going to….how’s that going?”

Otherwise, we’re tempted to “forget” we promised to do something, and vision dies. Vision often requires courage, support, and the swirly things in a cup of coffee to produce results. Follow-through. Reality.

I know vision’s in the room when my heart leaps just a bit and the notepad comes out. The more I surround myself with friends who make my heart leap just a bit and pages fill on notepad, the better I become. I want to be better. And I want to make other people feel that they are better for having known me.

It’s a simple goal. One I hope I can meet. I think I can, if I have just one more cup of coffee…with my good friend.


My “vision” friend, Alicia, blogs here: WriteSolutions under the tag “Student Learning Is No Accident.”

Using Your Head: Not the Same As Getting Hit

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.17.39 AM“You box?” asked my friend.

“Boxing” is a specific art. I can’t say I box. Do I own boxing gear? Full contact safety stuff with a gag reflex mouthpiece, “get bashed in the head” Olympic headgear, and 14-ounce gloves because I don’t need the full pound? Yes. I own boxing gear. I’m trying to give it away. I don’t need it anymore.

I sparred as full contact as I could when I was able. My opponent always survived. For me, sparring was a chance to use my head–if only to protect the wall behind me. Fixing walls is hard. If the dent’s small, it’s not so bad–just patch it up. Matching the paint is a whole different matter. It’s never exact. Bigger holes are much harder. Better to keep the wall whole or it’ll be more work for me.

I confessed I don’t “box” box. It’s an art best left for those tougher than me. I’ve knocked myself out before, I don’t need to step in a ring and let someone else do it. Good fighters get angry–fired up. I’m calm. I’d rather shake hands with someone than punch him out. Japanese sword was better for me. I still got hit in the head, but first I got to meditate.

I’ve fought in and won competitions though.  A lot of times I won because there was no one fighting in my bracket. I guess girls don’t want to stand in a square and get duke it out. I got trophies just for breathing. 19th century swordsman Yamoaka Tesshu, one of my favorites, called this “The sword of no sword.” To win a fight without fighting is the ultimate victory. He was known for stranding challengers on islands, saying, “Oh, I forgot my sword…back in a minute.” It worked pretty well for him. He lived.

When I did fight, it was all very simple. No smoke and mirrors. No “wax on-wax off.” Step back, side kick. Point.  My opponents were serious. How could something that simple cost them the match? They got mad–they were highly rated. I was not–I competed for fun. I repeated the strategy–it worked. Angle, side kick, point. Something a first-grader would do. Why does everything have to be complex? Why can’t it be fun?

Regarding real life fights, someone much older and wiser advised, “If you get into a real fight, you’ll never use this stuff anyway. Better to keep both feet on the ground. And run.” 

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.19.42 AMRun. That’s a strategy I like. It served me well in the day. I like to think mankind is good, but truth is, there are bad guys out there. I used to live in the bottom floor of a house near the psych ward, not too far from the jail in Rochester, New York. Once in a while the criminally insane waiting at the bus stop in front of my window would rattle on the front door. I learned to leave the shades open and twirl my French knife in the air. I don’t think I looked menacing, though. I think I looked equally crazy standing there in the living room hacking up an air turkey that wasn’t there. I suppose I could have glared into their souls and said, “Vegetarians–that’s how we roll,” or if I were a better actor, “I ate the last one that touched my door.”

Running’s effective when the insane finally catch up. When a guy gets out a car with no pants on–in Rochester, where the windchill is a million below rendering man’s best friend a popsicle in five seconds flat–something’s not right.  Running is nothing short of perfect.

“He who lives to run away, lives to run another day.” Tesshu had it right. No fight’s a good fight. He had wits. I had run.

I’m old now. I know the best way to deal with an opponent isn’t to avoid fighting him–it’s not to have one at all. Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. He kept his friends close and his enemies closer. If you hated Lincoln, he’d give you a job. You’d love him before long. If Lincoln were a boxer, he’d show up, touch gloves, and take you to lunch instead.

I’ve watched a lot of fights in my careers–people fighting others, fighting policy, fighting the workplace bully, and fighting themselves. I’ve been in some of those fights, and I’ve done a lot of running. I don’t like to fight and running isn’t always the right choice.

“Not fighting” doesn’t mean being a doormat, either. There’s a fine line between fighting in vain and challenging a wrong, standing up for oneself. There’s an equally subtle distinction between ignoring and outflanking. But sometimes a person has to be willing to step in the ring.  As I get older, I have few hits to the head left in me. So, I work on my strategy and try a little harder not to protect the wall.

Finding the Vegan Worcestershire Sauce

2043_AnniesNaturals_P-300x300I was at a large store. I don’t often go if I can avoid it. So many boxes, and bags, all that extra wasted packaging. I prefer to go to the farm and get a carrot. But there are some things the farm doesn’t have, like King Arthur Bread Flour and vegan Worcestershire sauce. Besides, the farm is blanketed in snow. There are no carrots in the winter, only eggs and meat. And farms don’t grow vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Even living the simple life, there are things I can’t make. I’ll never completely live the dream of ridding myself of bottles, boxes, and bags. I’m resigned to the fact that being a food extremist is just too–extreme. I’ll bring my iced tea in mason jars and get locally roasted coffee. I’ll rid myself of processed sugar and look with disdain at grocery carts filled with Captain Crunch, for a moment allowing my feeling of superiority decrease my overall daily dose of karma. Who’s better, really? I’m at the big store with everyone else hunting down a product no one can identify or spell. I have to ask a helpful employee.

“I know you probably don’t use this every day. You can make up an answer if you don’t know…” I say to the friendly employee sweeping up a mess in aisle 5,430. I phrase the question to give him an out should he not know. “Would you happen to know where I can find vegan Worcestershire sauce?”

He blinks two times. I continue, “Do you know where either the regular condiment aisle is or where the vegetarian stuff might be?” He blinks at me. He furrows his brow. Just when I think he might give me directions to the store where people like me usually go for things no one but second-generation hippies and world-saving sustainability nuts can identify, he speaks.

“Oh, I never make up answers. I always tell the truth. God will bless you that way. The truth will set you free. It’s done so for me,” he says. He pauses. Good. If anyone can guide me to the vegan Worcestershire sauce, it’s the Almighty. You might not think vegan Worcestershire sauce is worth the hunt, but it’s very helpful in soups, dressings, and stews.

“Go down this aisle. Look through these products here.” He waves his hand back and forth over the aisle. I look. “If it’s not there, check on the other side. Then follow the helpful green arrows to the next aisle. Check there…” Great. Vegan Worcestershire sauce is close by. Right around the corner. I start to thank him and go.

But he’s not done. “If it’s not there, look up. You’ll see another green arrow that’ll take you to the next aisle over. Follow that one and look on both sides until you find it. If you don’t, check the green arrow at the end of that row and then…”

Is he busting my prepackaged canned beans? He’s sending me row by row through the megastore. This happened to me once in Boston. I was running late for my sister’s concert.

“Yeah, it’s close by,” said the Bostonian. “Go to the end of the block. Take a left. Then, go to the end of that block and hang anotha left. Go down to the end-a that street. Take a left. When you get to the stop sign, take a left. You’ll be the-a.”

We did. Four lefts. A perfect block. Right back where we started. I wasn’t falling for that trick again.

I smiled and thanked him. He God blessed me, looking deep into my soul through my eyes. As quickly as if I’d never seen him, his gaze broke away. He continued sweeping aisle 5430. And just like that, the connection was broken.

I never did find the vegan Worcestershire sauce. The soups, dressings, and stews will have to do without. But I didn’t get sent down the wrong road this time–a lesson in and of itself. There are lots of things we think we need in life. Like vegan Worcestershire sauce. They’re superfluous. Clutter.

The important thing is staying on the right road, even in the face of distraction.

I succeeded. For once.

Sit and Eat Chicharones (Or Find Your Passion)

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.06.52 AM

“What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning and exercising?” 

“How do you write every day?” 

“Why do you teach even though the climate is so bad for teachers?”

These are three questions that crossed my feed this week. On the surface, they’re all unrelated, but in truth, it’s the same question.

“How do you….(insert habit here…)” There’s a one-word answer for every one of these. Passion. Stop reading. Continue drinking coffee. That’s really the essence of the solution.

Never having been one for brevity or one-word answers, I’ll elaborate.


I exercise because I love the feeling it gives my mind. Most view it as a chore. If you view it as a chore, you should sit on your couch and eat chicharones (fried up pork rinds…dead pig crisps apparently taste better than vegetarian things like carrots and chips). I love to run five, six, seven miles because it clears my spirit and gives me ideas.  I’m grateful when I can exercise–I remember being on crutches for months after a bad game of basketball wishing I could get off the couch and run. I try to see each opportunity to work out as a privilege. The feeling of freedom I get when I run, lift, do yoga, go kickboxing, or pick up a game of basketball makes my body and soul smile. Once, when my doctor grounded me, my friend said “Man you’re lucky. I’d love to have a doctor tell me I can’t exercise.”

If that’s the case, you’re viewing exercise incorrectly. See it as a privilege. Only then will passion develop. You will exercise. You will eat well. You will respect the limits of your body. And your body may decide to treat you well, too. Life’s too short. I try not to do much I don’t feel passionate about these days.

Write Every Day: 

Use the Nike method, “Just do it.” I write at the same time each day. 4AM. This means I don’t have to shove my family in a closet or ignore them to concentrate, and I can enjoy the most beautiful time of day, the sunrise. I sit with my cup of coffee and the glow of the wood stove. Because I carry a little notebook, I usually don’t run out of ideas. I scrawl them when they gift themselves to me, and I develop them when I have time–4AM. So many people want to write, but view it as a burden. It’s not. It’s a privilege. Think, “I want to do this every day…I’m grateful I can. I’m grateful to have something to say, and furthermore that someone out there might enjoy it or find it helpful.” I look forward to 4AM because I’m deeply honored by my readers–the friend’s I’ve made through my writing journey. I owe them my best. Life’s too short, I may have said, to do things about which I don’t feel passion. 


Sure, the climate’s bad. Awful. There are days I feel the press hates me, and times I’m convinced I should’ve majored in accounting or stat, because the pendulum has swung in that direction and–the kids say–away from all the things that made them love school. This breaks my heart. But to get in there, roll up my sleeves, and give them something to love anyway, even if I have to fall on the sword once or twice, gives me passion. To watch their eyes when I connect them with a noted scientist or author, or see them generate ideas about their future?  It’s worth chopping through all the vines in the jungle, I think, to give them that same passion. Remember, life’s too short to do things without passion.

Who knows, maybe the passion for these things will leave me. That’s okay. Then I’ll find something else to do every day. More art, more calligraphy, animal husbandry…rekindle old passions, and discover new…let a few present ones ebb away to make room for more. Nothing’s permanent, and there’s a ton out there to discover. To feel passionate about.

Exercise, writing, teaching–or anything else, really–it’s all the same. It all boils down to passion. Do the things you love. Because passion is what makes life so beautiful.



Not Dead Yet. But Decaf Is Close

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 2.53.48 PM“I have a confession to make,” I said. “I’m drinking decaf coffee.  And it $%^% sucks.” 

Decaf coffee is what doctors sentence a person to when they have no more medical hope or advice for them. “Start drinking decaf.” It means “I’ve gone to 15 extra years of medical school and I have no idea about your problem. I have nothing else to tell you.”

Instead of saying that, they look you right in the eye and say “drink decaf” with a look of conviction as clear as if Jesus Christ himself was staring you down to cure blindness. I’ve been looking for solutions for migraines forever. This past month being particularly hellish, I wound up in the walls of various medical establishments enough that they were quite sick of looking at my “yeah, but that didn’t work” face.  Modern medicine’s supposed to be able to cure anything as long as a person walks in sporting the correct copay. I’ve stumped my good docs though. I feel bad for them–they want to tell me something comforting.

I’m a fairly holistic person. I studied Eastern medicine myself for a couple of years, but never got more than a cursory foundation and deep appreciation. Eventually, though, I migrated to the Motrin and caffeine aisles, and did the best I could as a quasi-western holistic fake with a touch of Eastern poser. 

“I need you to detox,” said the doctor. Detox? Me? I looked over my shoulder thinking we had some kind of cost-saving HMO group appointment. I don’t even drink.

“Excuse me?” Maybe he forgot I’m the one who refuses all narcotics, plants my own herbs for medicinal tea, and grows half of the vegetables I eat until I overplant and the garden attacks me. 

“Detox,” he said. “You’ve been taking far too much of this stuff.” This stuff, apparently, is all the harmless OTC drugs I take to avoid the Big Guns… the things the street corner pharma guys will give me if I simply look like I might cry.  

“Well,” I said, “I found this migraine diet that you add the foods back in one by one until cured…” 

He assured me that a diet of brown rice and fresh beans would get me nowhere. “Detox.” 

So, here I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I confessed to friends that I bought a bag of decaf and now sit with a cup of decaf lotus tea. I’m certain it’s karma. How many times has a waitress asked me “Decaf or regular?” and I replied, “I’m not nearly old enough for decaf.” I’m insulted. Decaf is for people who set their white hair in rollers on the way to bingo. And take the leftover sugar from the packet holder. Do I look like a sugar-stealing roller-setting white-haired early bird special eater? Gosh!

I’m ashamed. I can’t go out to an early dinner again. I’ll have to look at Everywaitress in the eye. She’ll be thinking, “Here’s a coupon. The special ends at 4:30.” 

And in the mean time, I wonder how much time I wasted in life–taking care of myself, being healthy, exercising, growing my own organic food, avoiding drugs and alcohol. All garbage. None of it worked. I’ll need a new strategy…The most I can do is get up and have the balls to buy myself a bag of good old processed food filled with MSG and eat it every day until I cure myself. And then go to several parties drug seeking like an A-list Hollywood actor with twenty lives.

But instead, I sit here, obedient. Drinking decaf coffee and lotus tea. Waiting for my hair to turn white and someone to pass the rollers.  

Alas. It’s almost four. Time to leave for the blue plate special. 



I’m Not the Jesus of Education

I stand in front of my students. I say, “Listen, it’s your decision. Research it, make the call.” Blank stares. Pause. More blank stares.

I explain. “I’m not the Jesus of education…I’m just a nerd. You need to interpret things the way you want.” I give examples using facts, figures, case studies…

“How will I know I’m right?” Students need that sense of “I must define the right answer so you can give me an A. I MUST KNOW!!!” Right answers are seldom right. Only shades of right. It’s a lesson nearly impossible to teach–one I’m still trying to learn.

I tell them, “You’ll know you’re right because I’m the one reading it. It can’t be wrong if you back it up.”

“You see,” I say, “Life doesn’t work that way. I think I have a plan for school, for business, for life…but it changes constantly. Life evolves. Real learning is about taking the input and research–whatever you can find and whatever comes your way…and using it to be awesome. Digging deep, defending, explaining, pitching, selling, convincing…to do that, you have to collect knowledge.” Rake it into a pile…jump in the leaves. 

“Then trust yourself and take it to the next level. Who knows what the right answer really is? No one. That’s life. The answer is that no one knows the answers. That’s really what happens. I wish I had something different to tell you.”*


“The good news is, you can get used to that and blow by the people who can’t.”

Eventually, one student cracks a smile. Then one more… until a whole bunch of smiles light up the room.  Students begin to re-engage, finding solutions to the problems of the world once again. Because I’ve told them that each one of them is a genius, and the world needs their contributions.**

*The actual phrase was “loose corners.” (Kamal Ravikant). Truly the best of lessons. I’ve passed it on. The best of lessons, kept to oneself, simply withers up and dies.

**Angela Maiers asks the question, “What breaks your heart?” then makes students solve those problems. For real. I’ve brainstormed these things, even called my students geniuses, but never made them iterate on the ideas. And that small paradigm shift, I see, makes all the difference. The power of one single student can light a thousand cities. Amazing to behold. Angela–I hope you are proud. I am.