Category Archives: Just for Fun

Potawatomi Revelation

Few things clear my mind like living in my van in the woods for a few days with my wife. Two Octobers ago, as I was eating a Belgian sausage and a beautiful deer ran through our campsite, I stopped eating animals products then and there. To say it was a spiritual moment in my life is a huge understatement, and I can’t imagine ever going back to using animals for food, clothes, or work again.

This October for Bec’s birthday, we went to Potawatomi State Park in Sturgeon Bay, WI. Before I left Indiana, I got poison ivy on my eye, and by the time I arrived in WI, my eye warranted a trip to the Urgent Care. After we left Urgent Care, I took my pharmaceuticals, which if you know me is a huge deal, because I hate prescription drugs, but I felt so much better that we went for a hike.

I always feel so much better after physical activity and some time meditating in nature and hugging trees. Yes, I quite literally hugged a cedar tree; I am not allergic to those. I decided as we came back to our campsite from the Eastern Terminus of the Ice Age Trail that I want to try to hike the whole Ice Age Trial with Bec when we retire; we should probably practice small bits over time, so we know what to do. She also learned that if we walk to opposite way from our campsite, we can get into town and find a pretty cool hiker bar, so we’re going to do that next time.

In order to move back toward health—don’t get me wrong, I am feeling really good these days, but my friend Sarah just posted about the merits of doing hard things, and I haven’t done any hard things for just myself in a good, long while—I set myself some new goals for 2022. I plan to run four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. On the days I don’t run, I plan to ride my bike to school, starting tomorrow. All of this has the eventual goal of running a 50K, hopefully in October or November of next year. I also plan to be sober from alcohol, which is a depressant anyway, and lots of extra empty calories., which I hope to avoid by eating better food too.

Anyway, I’m getting old, so I should probably take better care of my mental and physical health. Prayer meditation, running, biking, and good wholesome caloric intake will get me far in feeling fine.

Down to the Church and Back to Grace (Street)

I wrote most of this as a caption for a post on my Instagram: fatvegantrailrunner.

One SOUL-filling mile: down to the church and back to Grace (Street). No, seriously, that’s my one-mile route in my neighborhood: down to a church and back to Grace Street, which is a block away from my house, my brother’s house really. 

I’ve been fucking up a lot lately: being angry for no really valid reason, crying over things that are out of my control, feeling displaced when my place is wherever I am, and generally feeling sorry for myself when there’s really nothing to feel sorry for. This is a combination of not living with my wife, being a teacher during COVID-19, and simply reaching middle age.

I’m trying, really trying, to give people the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent and believing that people are doing the best they can. I’m trying really hard to extricate myself from family things and friend groups whose “best they can” still feels wrong or bad to me. I want for myself a healthy and fulfilling life, so sometimes someone else’s best and my boundaries don’t work together.

I never wish them ill, but I want the best for myself in this life. And at this point I am not willing to sacrifice my best I can for their best they can. Is this selfish? Maybe.

So, I guess this is to say that I don’t want to hurt people, but I also don’t want to be hurt. 

This is to say that I am trying with each new day to make a new me. To make good choices that don’t hurt people, to say I am sorry when I have hurt people.

Down to the church and back to grace. I have a few I am sorries to say.

So This is the 20-21 School Year?

Shortly before school began, I accepted a position teaching back at my old school in Muncie, and shortly after my school began and before their school began, I accepted a one-class overload teaching at another school in Muncie, so to say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

For some reason, even though school is online, I feel like I am spinning my wheels and can’t get a good footing on my teaching. I try something, and it doesn’t feel right, so I change to something else that still doesn’t feel right, and then I try something else, and so on. I think part of the problem is that I feel like I am just having my students do tasks, and that it’s hard to make those tasks meaningful for them.

I wonder if it’s because I feel unsettled in my own life, so that rubs off into my teaching. I live on the East side of Indianapolis with my brother, but on Sunday and Monday night I stay with some friends on the outskirts of Muncie. With my dog. In my van. And it is hot right now. Today the temperature was in the high 80s, and there is no air conditioning in the van when it’s parked, so Luna and I are roasting as the van cools down, and I am working on school stuff and writing about my life.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I love this life I am living right now. I have a beautiful dog. I live part time in a van, which feels super free. I am teaching in a place I really enjoy. So, here I am, sweating something fierce, in a van, in Muncie, IN, while my dog sits on my right arm, and I think about what I’ll have my students do in class tomorrow. And I love it.

But even things you love can give you stress.

Force-Feeding “Literacy”

A young African American male sits directly across a typical American middle school classroom from me, sighing heavily every time the computer puts a new question on the screen. He’s asked me several times how many questions there are, and all I can tell him is somewhere between 30 and 50, because this test is a test that gives a different amount of questions to each student dependent upon their success or failure on the proceeding question. Another young African American male keeps falling asleep so frequently I ask him to stand up to take the test, so he’ll not be tempted to put his head down. He is only on question 14, and I am sure this moment in time is only further cementing his hatred of reading. A young white female, who has obviously done this before, flew through the test, just fast enough for the “disengaged student” filter not to catch her apathy. A young white male clicked through too fast yesterday, and had to take it again today.

I am not okay with my students being this frustrated and disengaged with the written word.

I’m sitting in this classroom, giving my student the NWEA assessment, which isn’t a bad assessment in and of itself, but it’s one of three assessments I will give to my students within the first three weeks of class, and I will give another one the week after next. We use Achieve 3000, IXL, NWEA, and SRI to assess our students’ reading levels. We are expected to share this data with the students, have them track their own progress, and have them reach for grade level by the end of the school year.

I am not okay with giving more assessment than are absolutely necessary to gauge my students’ abilities.

Having students be responsible for their own data is like multi-billion dollar corporations asking me to ring out my own groceries, so they can cut the jobs of my fellow workers. I work with students who do not need one more thing to make them feel bad about themselves, students who are on average a couple of years below grade level, and it is my job, as the one with the college degree and license in education, to make sure they improve, to make sure they learn, and to make sure they grow.

Most importantly, my job is to help students love language and literature. If they don’t love it, they won’t engage in it, and they won’t change the world for the better, because they won’t know how to read. But I cannot do this by using a canned program that exists solely to make money for its purveyors, no matter how well intentioned it began.

I am not okay with Capitalism in the classroom.

Language and literature appeal to me precisely because they are wild and unruly and unpredictable. These facets of culture move with us; they are alive and changing and growing. They aren’t subjects that are fixed in time or place, and they should bring us joy, sorrow, information, relationships, anger, love, and all those human emotions. We shouldn’t expect students to read something, answer a couple of program-based low-level comprehension questions, and be done with it. We shouldn’t put a dead and static text in front of a teenager and ask them to fall in love with words.

I am not okay with teaching students to hate reading by participating in what passes for English Language Arts in American schools.

Those of you who love to read: when was the last time you read something you were forced to read, other than for work? When was the last time you sent your friends a list of basic comprehension question when you had a book recommendation for them? Do you keep reading a book or a text you hate because you have to? Is there someone in your life who forces you to read things that have no meaning to you or for you?

Personally, I like to pick my own texts, talk about them with my friends, and write about them in my own ways. I like the freedom to stop reading something that doesn’t interest me. And, you know what? I end up reading all types of texts, having all kinds of amazing conversations with people I’d normally never discuss those subjects with, and I write all types of writing in response.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could afford our students the same pleasures we have with language and literature, instead of jamming them inside tiny boxes of canned programming and contrived literary situations?

Peace and Cats

There is perhaps nothing more peaceful than sitting in a quiet house after a long, rather unfulfilling day at work and being surrounded by cats. Sleeping cats.

Just to my right is Pudge, our big, grey tabby cat, whose breath could knock out a rhinocerous, but he’s snuggled right up against my right thigh and purring softly as he sleeps. When he’s awake, his purr is the most amazing thing you’ve probably ever heard. You can actually feel it from quite a ways away, like the new $8,000,000 speaker we have at work that thumps and vibrates on the display table.

A bit further down the couch is Frodo, our “little” orange, toothless cat. He had to have all of his teeth pulled at once, so he just has two sticking up from the bottom or down from the top—he never lets me get close enough to see what’s up with the remaining ones—and he eats big chunks of dry food like it’s going out of style. He snores, but very quietly.

Three cushions down sits Kermit, Elizabeth’s Cuban boyfriend, and an all-black menace. When he was younger, we jokingly said his Mafia nickname was Pubes, because he has white chest, underarm, and pubic hair. He snores loudly and likes to stick his very white butthole in my face whenever he can. When E lived with us, she would also say he looked Cuban, like he needed one of those straw hats and a cigar. He does. She was right.

Across the room, on the floor, in her special spot, is Spaz, and it’s a mighty miracle that she’s not here in my lap, prohibiting my typing. She smells bad, her hair is constantly and magnificently matted, her teeth fall out occasionally, and her claws are very pointy in all the worst ways—I have numerous pairs of pants that have been ruined by her affections. She is my love, my harbinger of peace and wellness. We hold paws whenever possible, a habit that began when I was tired of being skewered, but that continues because having her paw in my hand heals me. Every time.

I look around and there are four animals within eye sight that don’t care if their electronic devices aren’t working; they don’t care if their email syncs or if they don’t know what their home button is. And I think we, as humans, have it all wrong. Life is about naps, food, and love. Life is about resting, snuggling, and love. Did I mention, life is about love?

I am so lucky to have a beautiful old dog and five odd cat children who love me unconditionally and who show me every day what life is really about.

Beauty and peace and love are where we find them. For real. And usually we find them right below our noses wherever we last look.