Thanks for Sharing

Frankie Heck: Okay, listen, Mike, I was thinking. You know how we always say that only losers and sad, pathetic people go out to dinner for Thanksgiving?

Mike Heck: So you’re saying we’re going out this year?

The Middle, “Thanksgiving VI” (11/19/14)

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Have you ever had a vegetable garden? They’re a lot of work at first, but if you plan carefully, a lot of the effort can be spread out over time and you end up having a much easier time of it in the end.

Once the garden is established that first season, the key is to plan ahead and start assessing what happened this past year: what went well? What was successful? What did you grow too much of, and what did you not grow enough of? Did you have all the tools you needed? For things that needed more than one person to complete, were you all coordinated, or were the lines of communication fuzzy? And how did this affect the final outcome?

And so you take this information, and you start planning for the next season. Too many green beans and barely enough potatoes. And perhaps you should have started some things sooner; better get a jump-start on ordering stuff for next season so it arrives in a timely fashion, rather than your going panic-shopping because you forgot. And so on.

Time passes and it’s time to start that garden again. You plant seeds and you water, and you fertilize, and you take care of stuff, and everything is great at first, until…

Destroyed from the inside…the Infestation.

It’s happened to me, a couple of times. The first time was the worst. Many years ago (mid-1980s), I planted a garden that included, on a lark, pumpkins. The pumpkins did fantastically early in the season. Then suddenly, they began to die. The die-off started at the ends of the vines and worked its way inward. After a few days of this mystery, I thought, “Maybe if I just cut off the dead stuff, it’ll encourage new growth.” So I worked my way along some dead vine until I found the point where it was still healthy, and I cut the vine. As it turns out, pumpkin vines are hollow tubes, so in my hands I had one healthy tube, and one—holy cow, look at all the borers inside there!

It’s some insidious stuff, let me tell you. An insect gets into your garden and somehow you didn’t count on it, which doesn’t make sense. Everything is OUT THERE, and what you’re trying to do is bring it in, take some slice of the world in with you and hold it close, get close to your earthly roots, bring order to chaos. But the world doesn’t play that way. It doesn’t know what your rules are, nor does it care.

The insect wants what it wants, and it doesn’t care about anyone else, because it’s an insect. And it’s amazing how much damage one insect can do to an entire garden. It can take the whole thing out and before you know it, your harvest is gone, just like that. More often than not, by the time you discover you’ve got something like that, it’s far too late.

So instead of eating your freshly-grown food which you created with your own two hands, you find yourself out somewhere, spending much more money than you would have in the first place, eating someone else’s work instead of your own. Despite all your work, despite your planning, despite everything, you don’t plan on an insect coming in and destroying everything. Because, really, you can’t plan on something like that. An insect’s actions are short-sighted, without consideration for the ramifications down the line and the effect that it’s going to have on the gardener—and everyone else who depends on that gardener to provide them with food.

And that’s just kind of sad.

True Stories Can Be Parables

The Mandarin: A true story about fortune cookies. They look Chinese. They sound… Chinese. But they're actually an American invention. Which is why they're hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

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The school I’m working at is holding a city-wide event today. They’ve got all the bodies they need, so I decide to go up to my office and do a little catch-up work.

The school has assigned someone to assist me from time to time (she gets pulled a lot for classroom coverage so giving her any regular tasks is troublesome at best), and she also happened to be at the school this morning. So when I went up to the second floor, I wasn’t surprised when the door to the office suite was open.

I was surprised, however, when I stepped through that doorway and spotted a small child trying to open my office door with a set of keys he had.

“Uh…hello?” I said, as he finally managed to get my door open and step inside.

“I’m just looking for a doorstopper,” he said.

“There aren’t any in this office,” I replied.

He stepped out and started working the keys on the conference room door. “None in that room either,” I said to him. From there he ambled into the hallway. He may have tried some of the classroom doors; I don’t really know. I re-closed the suite door and headed downstairs, where I spotted the assistant principal.

“Hey, do you know why there’s a kid rifling through my office?”

I'm going to Bovine University!The AP confirmed that he was just looking for a doorstop, which really cut no ice with me. “There’s no doorstop in that office, there hasn’t been one in months, since a student threw it down the hall and it broke in two,” I said. “And frankly, I’m not comfortable with anyone who’s not supposed to be up there—especially a child—running around unescorted.”

Now, there are some people who would think I’m kind of foolish for going to an administrator with something like that. She sent him up? I don’t care; you don’t send a small boy into that space by himself. That’s MY house, and those are MY rules, and if I’m being insubordinate then I’ll eat the consequences. I have an open-door policy the whole rest of the week, but if I’m coming in on Saturday, I think it’s a reasonable expectation not to find a child poking around in there. Even the best-behaved kid can get nosy, and next thing you know, I’m catching crap because when I brought in my own tools to install that bulletin board, I left a drill bit on a counter that he subsequently put in his mouth. Or perhaps that’s the day he spies the extension cord and decides that’s the day he tries to find out what electricity tastes like. No thanks, ain’t happening. There’s no way I’m backing down when my integrity is at stake.

When I was working for Central Office, one of the things that drove me crazy was the fact that I’d often have to break some bad news to a principal or some other staff member at a school, and I usually took the “rip the band-aid” approach: say it plainly, say it bluntly, and then let’s move on to how we can solve the problem. As it happened, some people (one or two) didn’t really like that approach. That’s OK, I can roll with that because not everyone appreciates that level of candor. But the part that bothered me was that these people rarely, if ever, came directly to me with their complaint. They’d wait until I was out of earshot, then call my boss, or fire off an email, so that when I got back to the office he’d be asking me just what happened. And there I am, not fifteen minutes later, having to explain myself all over again and demonstrating how I’d actually gone easy on those folks, because they really deserved the flamethrower treatment. And usually my boss would back me up. (There was one time when I was really pissed about having my time wasted and was an absolute snot about it; so that time I took the hit.) But in the long run, it gets very tiring walking on eggshells and checking yourself because you have no idea what’s going to offend someone who, when you get down to it, has exactly zero control over your destiny.

Hey, if you don’t like me then you don’t like me; that’s just one more birthday card I won’t be getting next year. But don’t be a coward about it and go crying to someone else. I’m right here.

Mug Protocols

Captain Stemkowski: Don’t drink my coffee from my cup, Jilette!

No Mercy (1986)

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I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Florida. My uncle died last week, and his memorial service was scheduled for this past Saturday, so Wife and I made our plans, got in the car and headed south on Thursday evening. We left Baltimore at about 6:30 and stopped in Manning, South Carolina at about 3:00 AM Friday, where we crashed in a motel for about six hours, then had breakfast and hit the road again. There was a pretty bad accident on I-95 that stopped traffic somewhere in the realm of Ridgeland. We were maybe a hundred yards back from the accident so it was pretty easy for us to see the helicopter land on the highway and then fly right out again. They don’t waste time when that bird is on the ground, I guess. At any rate, we managed to get to my mother’s place in Port Richey by 6:30, almost exactly twenty-four hours after we left home.

I got re-acquainted with my cousins, one of whom I hadn’t seen in literally years, and introduced my wife to them, and the tone was as merry that night as it was somber the next day. I’m starting to turn into a go-to guy when it comes to saying stuff at funerals, so I prepared something on Saturday morning and—because my brother’s printer didn’t have any ink in it—I saved it to Microsoft One Note and read it off my tablet instead.

But I’m not going to tell you anything about my uncle, or his memorial service, or anything else I might have done in Florida (which wasn’t much, really). I’m here to vent about the Mug Protocols.

You don't see these much anymore. My ex wife had a wooden one and nearly burned up the kitchen when she left it in front of the oven vent during a self-cleaning cycle. This actually started…oh my gosh, about twenty years ago. I was staying at my grandmother’s house, and we’d just returned from a restaurant. Everyone was in the mood for some coffee, but I’m a tea drinker. So I put the kettle on for tea and started up the coffee maker. The hot water was ready first, so I grabbed a mug from the little mug tree that my grandmother had on the counter, put the tea bag into it and poured the hot water in.

A minute later there was some murmuring over what I’d done. Apparently I’d grabbed the “wrong” mug. I looked at it again: it was just some mug, the first one I saw on the mug tree. It was a giveaway from Duval Federal Credit Union, and it read “Duval Federal, You’re Incredible!” on one side. It’s possible that they think this phrase has an internal rhyme to it; I don’t really know. What I do know is that I’d inadvertently taken my stepfather’s traditional coffee mug and soiled it with my tea. After some questioning I discovered that everyone in the house had a mug that was “theirs”. Most of them didn’t even live there, but that was no matter. So every time I made a cup of tea, I’d check with everyone to ensure that I was using an unclaimed mug. This was the beginning of the Mug Protocols.

XmasMugs_1At some point, while I was down there (back then), I was in a dollar store and I spotted a Christmas-themed latte mug. I wanted a Christmas mug for school, so I picked it up and took it back to my grandmother’s, fully intending to take it home at the end of the visit. As frequently happens to me, I neglected to bring it home with me, so my grandmother just put it away in the cabinet. The next time I came down, everyone made a point of noting that “my” mug was in the cabinet on the top shelf. By this time I’d completely forgotten about the mug, so I had no idea what they were talking about until I opened the cabinet and saw the Christmas mug up there. At the end of that trip I left the mug behind again, and again I forgot about it until my next visit. In the interim, though, they’d all got it totally ingrained into their heads that this was MY mug and nobody else was to use it. Once I left, my grandmother stashed it away until I came back.

Several years later, my grandmother decided that she was getting too old to live on her own, so she moved in with my mother. In order to do this, she had to divest herself of nearly everything in the house—furniture, bed linens, glassware, cookware, you name it. Whatever wasn’t getting sold or given away was going to go either into my grandmother’s bedroom in my mom’s house, or it was going into a storage locker. And those lockers fill up fast.

countertopI actually managed to get a couple of things from this purge, but my one regret is that I didn’t get my grandmother’s cutting board. It wasn’t a genuine cutting board; it was actually a cut-out from a Formica countertop where they removed the piece of counter so they could put the sink in. It was a deep red (red countertop!), and was a rectangle with curved corners and a hole drilled through it, and then a cut from the hole to the edge. See, they’d drill the hole, and from there they’d use a jigsaw to cut the main hole in the counter. The picture at left is for an oval sink, but I think you get the idea. Either my grandfather or my uncle had rescued it from a construction site about a million years ago, and my grandmother took it and used it for a cutting board for years and years. And even all those years later, despite the abuse from thousands of knife cuts, the countertop/cutting board still looked pretty good. But I spoke up too late, and it was gone.

So the first Christmas after my grandmother moves in with my mom, and I’m there for dinner, and after dinner we’re going to have some kind of dessert and, of course, hot beverages, and I reach into the cabinet to pull out a mug for my tea. Of course, without even looking and the first mug I grab is Duval Federal. Nope, can’t use that one but I’ll leave it out for my stepfather. “How about this one? Can I use this one?” Yes, that one’s fine. Then my stepfather pipes up, “You know, your mug is in the other cabinet.”

“Oh, yeah!” my mother exclaims. “Look in that cabinet over there, on the top shelf.” The cabinet in question is actually on the opposite side of the kitchen. I open it up and there, on the top shelf, is “my” Christmas mug. They were all very pleased with themselves for saving that mug when they were getting rid of all my grandmother’s other stuff, and for holding it aside for my use.

But here’s the kicker: when I went down
this past week to attend the memorial service, after Friday’s dinner I start pulling mugs out of the cabinet and I start asking “Is it OK to use this one? How about this one? After all, I don’t want to violate the Mug Protocols. Is there one designated as mine?” My brother says “Yeah, I’ve got your mug,” and shows me a souvenir Baltimore, Maryland mug that my mother bought about ten years ago when she was visiting. “You want it?”

“No, Brother, I really don’t care. I just don’t want to upset anyone with this mug business.” And that’s when it somehow turned into MY quirk, that I just had to have a certain mug or things could get ugly for everyone.

“You know,” my mother said, “your tall mug is still in the cabinet up there, if you want it.”

“No, Ma,” I said. “I’m not drinking out of a Christmas mug. I really don’t care what I drink out of, so long as it holds my tea. It’s you guys who get all up in arms if I use the wrong mug.”

They’re not hearing me, I think. I’m just going to have to continue to observe the Mug Protocols. Either that or quit drinking hot beverages when I’m in Florida.

Tele-gone.

Bart Simpson: You should treat yourself. You work hard for us, or at least you’re out a lot.
Homer Simpson: You’re right. I have been acting like Telethon Jerry Lewis, when I should have been acting like rest-of-the-year Jerry Lewis.

The Simpsons, “Million Dollar Maybe” (1/31/10)

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The art goes WAY back, but this is from 2004. Well, the 2011 Muscular Dystrophy Telethon has come and gone. If you were with me on Twitter and/or Facebook during the show, you pretty much have my opinions. After all, I nearly doubled my total Twitter output. (To be fair, it’s a new account.) However, I wanted to get in a few extra thoughts before I let it go for good, and perhaps clarify a few of my tweets besides.

  • I'm not sure of the date of this photo. I'm guessing it was the late 70s. I realize that, given what I’ve seen on websites everywhere in the past day or so, many, MANY people feel that Jerry Lewis was screwed over with regard to his hosting of the telethon this year. Given that both MDA and Jerry have been kind of tight-lipped about the details, this is a debatable point, but I’m thinking that they’re right. Yes, Jerry is 85 years old and won’t be around forever, but between May and a few weeks ago, this telethon was to be his swan song, a genuine passing of the torch to someone else. As a result, the notion at the beginning of the show that Jerry “retired” felt disingenuous.
  • The final tote from 1977. A lot of people are also calling bullshit on the fact that the donation total for this year—which never appeared on screen but was instead reported the next day—was over $61 million. I’m willing to accept that figure as more or less accurate, even if the final take winds up being somewhat less (it always is). I’m thinking that a lot of the corporate sponsors and other groups (e.g. firefighters) pushed extra hard this year, thinking that it was Jerry’s last year, and trying to ensure that he’d go out with a big bang. Next year will be a different story; that’s my guess.
  • There are several elements of the previous telethons that were missing from this year. One of the things we didn’t get was an array of “old-school” performers coming in and doing their thing. I’m willing to bet that a lot of today’s adults were first exposed to people like Norm Crosby, Freddie Roman or Henny Youngman through the telethon. Their heyday was over but there was still some respect for their brand of performance. Stars who were on the way up and down came by. Take a look at this clip from 1968, the first year of the “Love Network”, when the telethon appeared on four stations. Joan Crawford—who may be a little drunk, I’m not sure—comes out and reads a rather maudlin poem. I don’t remember this appearance, but I do remember when the telethon ran multiple phone numbers on the screen so that everyone’s phone call would be local:

    or, check out Jerry’s reunion with Dean Martin in 1976, as orchestrated by Frank Sinatra. There’s a bunch of unscripted clowning going on that could only happen here:
  • The other thing that happened back then was, Muscular Dystrophy was very mysterious and absolutely untreatable, never mind curable. So the focus of the telethons then was more of a “pity these poor children and let’s fund a cure” mindset. As the years wore on, the focus moved into “look at the good your money’s done”, with the short films showing all kinds of Science Going On Here. But I still remember one film they showed when I was a kid, in the early 70s. A YouTube search didn’t turn it up, unfortunately, but it went like this: an older gentleman, sitting on a stool and with a black background, starts talking about Muscular Dystrophy. It quickly becomes clear that this guy is Muscular Dystrophy, personified. He says stuff like, “I am Muscular Dystrophy, and I hate people, especially children. I love to make their limbs shrivel up.” Next we see a small child sitting on the floor, playing with a toy. This man walks over to the boy, tousles his hair a bit, and walks off. A few seconds later the kid lays down and dies. This film absolutely scared the shit out of me. If I’d had an income, I’d give it all to MDA just so the guy wouldn’t touch me and make me die. 
    • As a side note, I also mention this story from a couple of years later: I was in fifth grade so this would have been in 1974. I woke up one morning and, as I got out of bed, I fell to the floor. My thigh hurt and wouldn’t support my weight. I couldn’t walk! I worked my way down the stairs and tried again. I still couldn’t walk. It actually went through my head that I might have Muscular Dystrophy. The guy from the film came by in the night, touched my leg and now I’m crippled. I’m eleven years old and I’m going to be in a wheelchair; soon I’m going to die. By the end of the day, my leg had loosened up enough for me to walk, if still in a bit of a gimpy fashion, and I figured that I really wasn’t at death’s door. So that’s my story of how I beat Muscular Dystrophy, I guess. (In retrospect, it was probably a Charley Horse, but how I got one in the middle of the night is anyone’s guess.)
  • Let me say something about the acts that were on during the telethon this year: really, none of them were all bad. Some of them were weird, but Jerry would have some weird stuff going on at about three, four in the morning too. I could have done without the Singing Tampon act called VocaPeople, but this is the sort of thing you get from the telethon. But it’s what comes in between the acts that holds the whole program together, and the four people who’d teamed up to replace Jerry just weren’t getting it done. Everyone simply handed off to the next act without linking anything together. And it was pretty clear that Nigel Lithgoe was cashing in a lot of American Idol chips.
  • Abbey on the telethon with Jerry in 2008. She's been the National Ambassador for four years, now. The best on-camera personality throughout the show? It was absolutely Abbey Umali, the 12-year-old MDA National Goodwill Ambassador. Her clumsiest moment was probably when she tried to identify 7-Up as her favorite soda, but even that came off as a little charming.

So with Jerry’s untimely removal from the show, I think we’ve lost an important part of show business in general. It’s not as though Jerry was going to hand the reins to someone else who would continue in a similar tradition, but I think that, with this event, we’ve been given an actual date for the end of this particular brand of showmanship, and we’re all the poorer for it.

You Know

I’m a knowledgeable guy. But there are times when I’m hampered by the possibility that there’s someone out there who’s more knowledgeable than I am.

This is going to happen; there’s almost always someone more knowledgeable than you are. And there are going to be times when acknowledgment of that fact is going to help (I’m pretty sure it got me a job once), and other times when it’s going to hold you back.

There’s a concept in business known as the Peter Principle, which reads that an employee tends to get promoted to his level of incompetency. More specifically, a competent person will continue to get promoted until they reach a level where they are no longer competent. There they remain, unable to be promoted any further. This is something of which I’m hyper-aware; I don’t want to move beyond my own competency. However, I’m usually a quick study and, more often than not, can reach competency without too much difficulty. The hard part, for me, is being comfortable in that level of discomfort.

One of the things we experience throughout our lives, but rarely take the time to understand or to acknowledge, is the fact that you have to be bad at something before you can be good at it. Instant success is rare in this world, and if it comes then it wasn’t a challenge in the first place. So for me I think the question for the future needs to be not “What do I know about this?” but rather “How can I learn what I need to know about this?”

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Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We live in a society of advice columns, experts and make-over shows. Without even knowing it, you can begin to believe someone knows better than you how to live your life. Someone might know a particular something better – like how to bake a three-layer molten coconut chocolate cake or how to build a website – but nobody else on the planet knows how to live your life better than you. (Although one or two people may think they do.) For today, trying asking yourself often, especially before you make a choice, “What do I know about this?”

Suicidal Behaviors

Given Waldo’s definition of suicide below, I’m quite the suicidal fellow. However, this particular version of self-annihilation I’ve used as a springboard.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in this building. When I was at C. W. Post and working on my Master’s Degree, I was in a cohort with nine other students. Because we took all the same classes at the same time, we got to be quite the well-known little group among the Education Department staff, not to mention the Speech Department and a couple of others. And as we came to be a known element, we each slipped into our own roles within the group. One of us, the only other guy, was the rebel Bad Boy type. One was the Ivory Girl because she reminded you of the women in those commercials,  a sort of fresh-scrubbed All-American type. One was the Mom (naturally). One was the Organizer, who set up the graduation party we threw ourselves.

NEVER did I make it look this good. One of our professors dubbed me The Divergent Thinker, because nobody knew what was going to come out of my mouth at any given time. I had this odd habit, and a “tell” which the others learned to watch for: I’d take a point from the lecture and start turning it over and over in my head, run it through a few permutations and then suddenly I’d have a question. Of course, it was several minutes later, so the question, while reasonable, usually felt as though it was out of the blue. My tell was that I’d start biting on my pen. Once I did that, I was told, they knew that my hand was about to go into the air.

This is still a habit of mine, although I’m learning to channel it into making my own work better. Start with the intention of imitating, then work it and massage it and make it into something a little more mine. By the time it’s popped back out, the originator would have very little idea that it was their own work that was the nucleus of what I’d presented. And while good writers borrow, and great writers steal outright, perhaps it’s time that I spent a little more time seeking the Original Me.

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Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Write down in which areas of your life you have to overcome these suicidal tendencies of imitation, and how you can transform them into a newborn you – one that doesn’t hide its uniqueness, but thrives on it. There is a “divine idea which each of us represents” – which is yours?

Five Back, Five Ahead

Five Back:

The Safe Place, by Daniel Peci. Click the pic to see this guy's stuff. Hey! Let go already! You’re allowed to say things. You’re allowed to express yourself. You’re in a safe place, at least when you’re at home. Relax a little bit. Maybe things will go a little more smoothly for you if you do.

Say your piece, but work on your diplomacy skills. There’s a fine line between candor and being abrasive. I still haven’t figured it out yet, but who knows. Maybe you will.

Good Luck!

 

 

 

 

Five Ahead:

I hope you think it was all worth it. All the bullshit, all the politics, all the general crap you put yourself through, and to what end? Was it worth it? Are you in a better place now than you were then? If it was, then good for you, I guess. If not, maybe something needs to change today. Or perhaps tomorrow. Heh. (That’s an inside joke to myself. Tomorrow I’ll know if it was funny.)

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There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

One Week!

Curiously, today’s prompt is something that I’ve been pondering for awhile. Of course, it’s been longer than a week so I’m all dead now and stuff, so what are you going to do.

There are so many obstacles that we perceive to be making it difficult for us to move forward with our aspirations—if only this, if I didn’t have to deal with that, if the other thing were more cooperative, if I knew someone in the business, if, if if if ififififififif.

But a lot of these obstacles are self-imposed. Not all of them, but certainly some of them. I think our lizard brains tend to hold us back with the little nagging “what if I fail?” fear. We think there’s far too much at stake: I could lose the house, my credit rating will suck, my family will disavow knowledge of me.

The website I nicked this picture from notes that balance is only found in retrospect. Whenever we try to balance, we lean to one side. Thirty years ago, I had no house, no credit rating and a family I didn’t get along with very well. And it took several years before any of it improved. Was I in such a terrible place then? The higher we climb up life’s ladder, the more we feel it sway. It wasn’t swaying back then; I just wasn’t aware of it.

“Yes,” one might argue, “but you had your whole life ahead of you.”

All I have now is the life ahead of me. Everything else is just stuff.

The key is balance, and the maintaining thereof. What can I do to restore the balance to my life? I don’t think that’s going to be so difficult to figure out.

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Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

Hello, Pot? This is Kettle.

Harry: Yeah, I called her up. She gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her, or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

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Last week, most of the teachers in Baltimore City returned to work. They spent some time putting their classrooms back together (most rooms get taken completely apart during the summer for floor waxing and other maintenance), they began planning for putting together lessons, they took care of a hundred other details. nicked this from here: http://drb.lifestreamcenter.net/Lessons/process_maps Click on the picture to go there. And, in between all of that, there was professional development. The principals put together a few things that they’d like to concentrate on this year, and there were sessions based on those.  If, for instance, you have a youngster in Baltimore City schools this year, look for the word “rigor” to pop up a lot. Also, “attendance”. Schools all over the city took a beating on attendance last year, partly because of the H1N1 flu and partly because of the snow, but Baltimore also seems to have a culture on attendance not being that important. If for no other reasons than it could mean literally thousands of dollars that go directly to your child’s school, it’s very important.

In addition to the professional development sessions that the individual schools put together, there were also city-wide PD sessions that were created by the folks at the Puzzle Palace. I didn’t create one, but a few of my counterparts did, and I helped present it to special education teachers. All thirteen of us in the Networks office teamed up with someone from another office (most of them were from the Nonpublic office) to ensure that the overwhelming majority of special education teachers were given PD on the changes to special education policies and procedures in the wake of the consent decree’s ending, and a new initiative for writing IEP goals and objectives called “One Year Plus”.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of One Year Plus except to suggest that it’s really a common-sense kind of thing, in my head: if you have a boatload of details regarding a student’s current level of academic achievement and functional performance, then you should be able to write appropriate goals and objectives for that student. We all have boatloads of data; we just don’t always document that data. So the key to One Year Plus is documenting the data. This is at the heart of the PD session I presented last week.

I had four groups with which I worked over the two-day period. One of them was incredible: they were interested, they were dedicated, they were smart, and they were genuinely able to grasp the concept and see that there was a concerted effort to present this as a true city-wide initiative. The other three groups were a mixed bag. One woman actually fell asleep twice (TWICE), so there’s an interesting way of expressing your opinion.

Computer lab from Ajitdada Pawar College of Edu. That's what the website says, "Edu", not "Education". Go figure. Because part of my presentation was supposed to take place on-line (a little hands-on training session in using some software), I worked in a computer lab. The room looked much like the one to the right, but let me note that this is NOT the room I was in. However, it’s important to get a handle on the layout of the room before I can tell this little tale. So picture this room with two tables in the middle, several feet apart. Got it? Good. Now, because the room is lined with computers, naturally the early arrivals grab a terminal and want to check email or some such. And really, who am I to complain about that? As long as you’re engaged during the session, do as you like before it starts.

So one woman came in before a session and sat in a corner of the room. She broke out her own laptop, fired it up and then connected it to the City Schools network using her own cord and an available network jack. When we began working, however, she left the laptop in the corner with the lid open. Well…okay. So long as you’re with us.

The problem was, she didn’t stay with us. At one point, about a half-hour into the session, I asked the participants to read a passage and then discuss it in small groups. Instead of reading the piece, she abandoned it on the table and went to her laptop, and started to surf the web. Now, if you’re sitting in a corner of the room with your back to everyone else, all of whom are sitting by the tables in the center, that’s going to catch my attention sooner rather than later. This holds especially true if the entire group (not counting me and my partner) is composed of only nine people.

I walked up to her and stood behind/to the left of her, essentially reading over her shoulder. I didn’t say anything; I just waited for her to sense my presence. This took at least a full minute. Finally, she turned around and looked up at me. I said to her quietly, “You know…your school isn’t good enough that you can afford to be over here.”

“Huh?” she cleverly replied.

“You need to be over there,” I said to her.

“Oh. Sorry,” she said, and she moved to the table.

A moment later, I think what I’d said had finally sunk in. She called me back over to the table. “What was that about my school not being good enough?”

I said to her, “I’ve been to [School XYZ]; I know what kind of reputation they have.”

“Have you been there in the last three years?”

“Oh yeah. There’s been improvement, but there’s still a ways to go.”

Now, this was all done sotto voce; I wasn’t calling her out in a public fashion. Anyway, I’d already engaged this argument much longer than I’d intended to, so at this point I simply walked away to let them finish what they were working on. But she wasn’t done with it. She kept trying to call me back and I kept ignoring her, assisting the people who were working on what they were supposed to be doing. A minute later she broke out a “smart” phone and began furiously texting to someone. Meh, whatever.

I will say this: when she participated, she did a great job, so more’s the pity that she couldn’t let this go. She gave me the stink eye the rest of the session, even when I kept referring back to good points she’d made, and noting immediately when she’d said something that everyone else could benefit from. Nevertheless, when we got to the end of the session, and I handed out the evaluation forms, she couldn’t wait to get her hands on it.

Comments on these forms are rather rare; I’d say about 20-25% of the participants will write something on the forms unless things go especially well or especially poorly.
But needless to say, it was pretty easy to find hers. This is a paraphrasing but it’s pretty close: “He unprofessionally insulted me and the reputation of my school.”

Here’s the thing, though: she’s rather a trusting soul, given that she has to hand the completed form BACK TO ME, with the expectation that I’ll review it (or not) and then turn it in to the folks at the Puzzle Palace without A) destroying it, and/or B) replacing it. I did neither, but I did take the time to point it out to someone and give them the story behind it.

So if my calling her out on failing to pay attention and participate in this exercise was unprofessional of me, then how would she classify her own behavior? And, more importantly…

How does one “professionally” insult a person and the reputation of their school?

And The Horse You Rode In On

Rufus T. Firefly: Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it – I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing. You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here? You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.

Duck Soup (1933)

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So despite my worries—and I was getting kind of worried in the last couple of days leading up to the event—my Annual Pig Roast was a success. My mother came up from Florida and we got to play Tourist and see some of the sights in addition to the party prep. I picked up the pig on Friday night instead of my usual Saturday morning, and we iced it down (it was still semi-frozen anyway) for the evening so that it would be ready to go when we got the fire started.

Let me tell you: it’s kind of tough to get a fresh pig around here, despite being so close to farm country. To be more specific, I promised someone that I’d make an effort to get a pig from a local source, with a low cruelty factor and a few other criteria. This proved to be very, very difficult, and quite expensive for reasons unrelated to the pig itself. I called one place that couldn’t help me (and was 30 miles away besides), and when I did get through to someone who could, his smallest pig was far too large for our needs. Plus, we’d have to pay an extra $65 butchering fee—to the first place that was 30 miles away. And—AND—that place only butchered on Mondays. What was I supposed to do with this huge pig the entire week? So: I tried, but I had to fall back to my usual source, which is Fenwick’s Meats in the Cross Street Market. Fenwick’s, as it happens, gets its pigs from a place in Iowa, at least according to the sticker on the end of the box.

This design was something I came up with several years ago. About a year or two ago, my brother and I independently located a website that used a nearly identical design. Synchronicity! On Friday afternoon, Daughter, Wee One and I assembled the grill in the alley behind the house. We laid down a couple of sheets of aluminum, then a single layer of lava rock was thrown in. The cinderblocks (4 x 8 x 16, if you’re keeping score) are held in several places with rebar, which also provides anchors for the grills themselves. The grills, in case you don’t recognize them, are stainless steel industrial shelving. We’re able to remove (or pivot) several of the blocks to add or move fuel, or to squirt down flare-ups.

On Saturday morning, Wife woke me up at 8:00 and I stumbled downstairs by 8:30. I made a pile of about 10 pounds of charcoal and squirted lighter fluid all over it. Once that burned down to ash, I took an iron rake and pushed most of it to the sides (specifically the corners) of the pit. Then I put the pig, which had been butterflied by the butcher, on the grill. From there on out, about every 20-30 minutes I’d throw in either more charcoal bricks or a chunk of wood. Partway through the day, a co-worker of mine brought down pieces of apple wood and apricot wood, and while they were prone to burning outright instead of just smoking, they did a lot (I think) for the finished product. So the pig cooked on this arrangement from about 9:00 until about 5:30. Nice timing, that, since many of the guests were at the house by then.

I’m going to dance around a few details here, so my apologies if the next couple of paragraphs don’t feel especially linear.

My co-worker friend and I cut up the pig and put the meat into pans, and enlisted a couple of people to bring the pans inside. As we got near the end, I decided that I needed to wash my hands and took one of the pans in myself. So with my greased-up hands I went into the house and wound up ducking around some people who were blocking my way. I dropped off the pan (Wife and her mom were parceling out the food to people). On my way out of the room, I again found myself blocked by the same people. They hadn’t moved at all despite their standing more or less in a doorway. So, clearly a little impatient but trying to maintain some sense of humor about it, I said something in what I thought was a“ha-ha” tone of voice, and moved on through. (I don’t remember specifically what I’d said, but it’s not really germane to the story.)

Only, they didn’t take it that way. They got insulted, they got pissed off, they left the party. They said nothing to me about it, although at one point one of their kids came over ranting about something and I had no idea what he was talking about. But here’s the kicker: they weren’t so pissed off that they stomped out right away, no siree. They took their time to eat our food and then decide that they were too pissed off to stay. They were there at least a half hour before they left, which is one of the reasons I didn’t know what the kid was going on about. (The other reason is that he doesn’t always make a pile of sense anyway.)

Wife was annoyed at me as well, because I’d managed to drive them away and they’re such good friends. Really? These are the the folks who are such good friends that you gave them their Christmas presents at this July event because it’s been that long since we saw them? (They weren’t too insulted to leave those behind, go figure.) These are the folks who, when you look at the caller ID and see it’s them, you have to decide whether or not to answer the phone? These are the folks who left Pig Roast 2007, also in a high state of insult, because we didn’t want them in the house while we attended to two simultaneous medical emergencies? Really? Would those be the good friends you’re referring to? And, let’s not forget that these were the people who called around 11:00 the day of the party to say that they were having car trouble and wondered if we could go pick them up from their home an hour from our house. Because clearly on a day when you’re having fifty people over, you’ve got nothing to do before they arrive. Frankly, I’m not sure that she holds the same opinion at this point. Her mother probably talked her down a little bit; She pointed out to me that they’re probably not going to stay “mad at us” because sooner or later they’re going to need some favor out of us and by then, All Will Be Forgiven. She also noted that I say plenty of things to piss her off too, but she just writes it off as being part of my personality. Thanks, I think.

So their departure went largely unnoticed, and their absence was not at all conspicuous. The party continued on until a little after midnight and so far as I could tell, everyone had a very good time.

And if my mother-in-law is right (I gotta say it: she often is), then I’m just going to have to enjoy the peace until “sooner or later” comes along.