Learning is Change

The Writing Club – Personal Digital Graveyard #1

Every other Wednesday for two years, I called together a group of disaffected youth to write and talk and think together. We would move desks into a little huddle, allowing the kid who could solve Rubix cubes with one hand to perform when she wasn’t writing. We would share poems and short stories and art of all different kinds. And sometimes the kids would just talk. They mostly didn’t come because they wanted to write new words or to be inspired by a teacher who was clearly trying to get a new generation of punk kids to like him. They would come because they had something to say about their existence, something that many other kids and adults in their lives were not interested in (or perhaps capable of) hearing.

And, we would listen.

We listened so hard that we started to hear the resonant song of self-expression. We heard it throughout not only the kids who were brave enough to join Writing Club, but also those who wished they were. We started seeking out those voices and trying to amplify them to the whole school. So much so that we made a Zine: Cracking Voices.

This is how I announced it over the PA (caution: the cringe is strong with this one) –

“Hello. You know that moment that you want to say something. You start to say it and then your voice does a little hiccup. Whether you are talking to your new hottie or just speaking in class, odds are that your voice has cracked or broken or fallen completely to pieces just at the moment that you need it most. Well, as the writing club sponsor, I would like to put those moments on a pedestal. Declare that they are the most beautiful of all. And in the spirit of bringing the most incidental moments of your adolescent lives to the forefront, I would like to introduce a new literary zine for Cresthill this year: Cracking Voices.

Cracking Voices is a place to publish all of your thoughtful and Cresthill students. So, if you write stories or poems, submit them. If you take photographs or draw pictures, submit them. And if you have random bits of twine, you can give us those too. I’m not saying that they will get in Cracking Voices, but we will take them in to consideration. This week and next, Cracking Voices representatives (aka The Writing Club) will be coming in to your Language Arts classes and talking to you more about this cool opportunity to get your voice heard. They will also be placing discreetly decorated boxes in your Language Arts rooms for you to submit from. In keeping with the tradition of not wanting to be remembered for each crack in your voice, all submissions should be anonymous. We will judge your works based upon merit and not who submitted them. The zine will be published in the last few weeks of school, and anyone who wants one will be able to pick one up. I hope to see your words and images in print this year. Submit to Cracking Voices.”

This invitation was met with the typical mix of excitement and apathy that middle schoolers are perfectly calibrated to produce. One participant said this of our little group, “The people in writing club are understanding. Nothing is too weird, no imagination too big to not find a home in the writing club.”

So, for those two years, we made some deeply important work (and relationships). Not important because it was particularly good. Rather, it was important because it made meaning for those dozen or so students who needed it most.

In an effort to try and make some kind of meaning for a new cadre of would-be writers and thinkers, here are the best prompts from the Writing Club at Cresthill Middle School circa 2005-2006:

  • Blowing it way out of proportion. – A short writing exercise that asks you to take a small issue and make a big deal out of it.
  • Brutal Honesty – Write to tell someone off or get something off of your chest.
  • Character-driven writing – 5 mini-prompts to help develop characters in interesting ways. My favorite was writing a story with an inanimate object as the main character.
  • Fully Flippant – I was trying to bring back “Flippant” as a concept to folks who had likely never heard the word. The prompt is to create a scenario for a character (or themselves) to be Flippant.
  • Strange Half-Thoughts for Writing – 5 different prompts that really were just to get ideas flowing. My favorite was the “reverse pathetic fallacy” in which you had to write a story with the character’s mood and the weather being entirely out of sync.
  • Hope is Useless – This prompt asks folks to consider what can be learned from a disparaging outlook. This is super good for those kids who do not naturally have a positive disposition.
  • Idea-based Writing – This is the alternative to the character-driven writing prompts. This one is all about writing to an idea; no characters necessary.
  • Location writing – This was an effort help folks understand setting on a deeper level. The prompt is to simply list all of the settings that a story could take place in. Sometimes making a list is a lot easier than writing a story.
  • In Cups of Coffee – This writing exercise is about choosing new ways of measuring your life (a la the musical “Rent”). The goal is to determine what kind of character would measure their life in “dishwasher cycles” or “speeding tickets.”
  • Quote Re-writing – The goal of this exercise is to rewrite famous quotes to better fit your perspective.
  • Splayed Out on a Table – Feeling vulnerable in your writing is really difficult. This exercise is about getting better at it by, “Splaying yourself or something in your writing means showing it completely in the objective light of the operating room.”
  • Stand in the Place where you live – An exercise to explore your daily haunts through writing.
  • The Three Minute Interview – This was a really fun prompt that asks you to interview someone with some extensive restrictions on what you are able to ask about. You then have to write story about the person you interviewed, but only about the things you couldn’t ask.
  • Writing Braille – This one is all about descriptive writing. The goal is to write with such beautiful imagery that anyone (including those who cannot see) can visualize your story.
  • Chain Reaction – In this writing exercise, you are tasked with connecting two seemingly different events with a single plot/story.
  • Dialogue: The Stuff of Champions – This prompt focuses on your ability to write dialogue for a given situation and character traits. It is meant to be used as a challenge to get outside of the characters that you would normally write about.
  • Driving Themselves to Distraction – This one is all about planting details that can “distract” your reader and get them thinking.
  • The Point of Performance – This was a series of prompts that focused upon getting your writing to the point where someone else could read it. It was about writing confidently and allowing your written words to speak for you.
  • Rescuing an Idea – Rescue is a powerful concept for understanding vulnerability and interdependence. This prompt asks you to consider yourself as the rescuer or the one being rescued in your writing.
  • I’ve Got Rhythm – This exercise is about the rhythm of the words that you write. In it, you are challenged to write in a specific cadence.
  • The Discarded Travel Guide – This prompt asks you to write the story of a discarded item that you have found by the side of the road.
  • The Toughest Thing to Talk About – There are some topics that are incredibly difficult to write about. This writing exercise asks to tackle at least one of them.
  • Use it wisely – You are given a set of objects (like, a dead rat or glue stick) and you must write about how those objects were used to do something incredible (like, scaling a 40-story building or winning the Nobel peace prize).
  • Writing Crutches – In this very “meta” exercise, you are asked to consider the genres, words/phrases, themes, and images that you rely upon too heavily, forming your “writing crutches.” This one is all about how you can avoid those in your writing in order to expand your writing repertoire.

It is my sincerest hope that some of these writing ideas from 15 years ago can help to inspire those who are in need of inspiration. Or, at the very least that they come in handy for a future teacher out there who is looking for a quick lesson plan idea.

My Own Personal Digital Graveyard

A huge amount of my life has been spent in the effort to create digital files of one sort or another. There are absolutely images, videos, and text files. But far more numerous are the inscrutable file formats of the web. There are xml files that can be rendered in thousands of ways. There are php and css files that determine what content on the web looks like. A quick look through my Google Drive(s) or my Dropbox or even my external hard drives that have my high school essays will show the thousands of cycles of excitement, creation, and abandonment that I have embarked on throughout my 38 years.

And yet, whenever I look back, I get overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of what has been created. All of it is my “digital footprint,” and yet I can barely make out the shoe size.

Yesterday, I read through lesson plans that were the most important thing in the world as I was creating them. I also dug into the abandoned archive of old student WordPress installations. They were so valuable for a few short moments, and now they form a graveyard of files that serve no purpose.

I always imagined that at some point, I would have time to reflect upon all of my contributions and finally come to a conclusion, a verdict for what it all meant. I would take a look at the word documents and low-res videos and the truth of it would be apparent. I would learn the lessons of being a teacher, a husband, a father, and a human being living in a digital age.

Rather, I look upon the sheer ton of created works that I have amassed, terabytes of them scattered across the world on servers that quietly hum away in some remote city, and I only see obituaries to former selves that never panned out. I see the things that might have been far more than what sill might be. These files represent the doors that are no longer open to me.

And perhaps it is only fitting that I create a final resting place for these ideas, these former selves. Just as we malign (or, perhaps celebrate) every time that Google shuts down one of their products (245 at last count), it might be worthwhile to become my own archivist and perform an autopsy on the projects in my own life that didn’t quite make it. Learning from these files by officially burying them in my Digital Graveyard may be the only way to fully know what they meant and why they had value in the first place.

Otherwise, they are just the detritus of my digital existence, ready to be deleted and forgotten. I would much rather pay my respects to those former ideas, creations, and selves.

The Student Becomes the Teacher

On a field trip in 2007. My former student is among these boys. They are all older than 25 now.

Last week, a former student reached out to me via an Instagram DM. To be clear, this is a student that I taught in 2007. He is a first year teacher in New York City, and was hoping to get some advice (and to catch up too!). It is incredible to me that after all of these years, he would reach out to me, his 8th grade Language Arts teacher. While I found it incredibly flattering, I also found it concerning that he might not have encountered any other teachers in high school that resonated with him or had as much concern for him as a human.

It has always been my contention that the vast majority of teachers care deeply for their students. And yet, for some kids, the experience of learning from (and with) a passionate and adept teacher is rare. And upon speaking to this former student on a video call last night, I could tell that he was looking to connect with his students and be that “rare” person in the lives of those he serves within his AP US History classes.

So, as we talked, he asked for advice and recommendations for how to engage students while ensuring the rigor of the AP coursework was maintained. Having not been in the classroom for over a decade, I was not sure what authority I should still have for making pedagogical suggestions. I have not taught during a pandemic. I have not taught high school (unless you count the few months I spent at East High School as a student teacher). And yet, I told him that I would try to pull together a reading list.

Here is what I came up with:

However, this former student of mine asked what the modern version of “wikispaces” was (which we had used extensively when I taught his class in 2007). After thinking about it for a few minutes, I thought that the most innovative work I had seen done with modern tools were efforts to create active learning opportunities using Slack, Discord, Instagram, and TikTok. So, after our call, I started looking to see if that was true. And it is. All of the examples below are from searching for 20 minutes on TikTok. Innovative teaching and learning has continued throughout the pandemic. And (some of) it looks like this:

While I don’t claim to have all of the answers for his teaching needs, it was a wonderful experience to get to know this version of my former student. He is an incredible adult and is doing wonderful things for children. I could not be more proud that he decided to teach.

In an effort to continue to provide support for him (and any of my other former students who became educators), please drop me a line if you think there are better books (or better modern tools) to support his growth in the field.

Mobile Safari Extensions That Changed My Life

It is no exaggeration to say that the web is my home away from home. It is the place where all of my work gets done (Google Drive, Slack, and Email are just the starting point). It is also where the majority of my entertainment and commerce is served up (YouTube, ShopGoodwill, and Twitter). And yet, the web mostly didn’t feel mine on my phone or iPad.

On a “desktop-class browser,” you have always been able to change the way in which the web looks and works. For years, I have used Chrome Extensions, Greasemonkey scripts for Firefox, or Safari Extensions that work in my preferred browser, Safari Technology Preview. These “add-ons” to the browser have helped me to build far better workflows on the Mac without any of the headaches of Ads, Tracking, or other user-hostile actions that companies try to build into their websites.

And yet, on more mobile devices (phones and tablets) this option has mostly been absent (short of jailbreaking your device or moving to an alternative operating system, like ChromeOS). That was until iOS 15 and the launch of a unified Safari Extensions system in which the same code can be used across phone, tablet, and computer. This means that the same workflows I build on my Mac can be used on my phone and vice versa.

And this event has been an absolute game changer, it has just taken me six months to fully understand their true power. It also took me this long to realize just how much my life has changed as a result of these tools being available on the devices I use the most. So, I wanted to take an opportunity to share the Safari Extensions that have made my time on the web more joyful, more productive, and far less annoying!

  • ActiveTab – While I added this extension to my workflow when Apple was testing out a new version of Tabs that made it harder to determine which tab was “active,” I have kept it as an essential part of my workflow because I find the visual cue of a subtle highlight color at the top of my active tab to be an essential bit of information for quick navigation.
  • Convusic – My music streaming app of choice is Apple Music, but many folks use Spotify to share their music with me. While I love using tools like Odesli to share universal links with others, not everyone goes to that length to ensure that everyone can take advantage of their preferred music service. So, Convusic does the work for me. Whenever I am sent a Spotify link, it will automatically search Apple Music for the same song/album and open it within my app. It is a magic experience to never worry about converting from one platform to another.
  • Dark Reader or Noir – I go back and forth on which of these two “dark mode for the web” extensions I like better. At the moment, I’m using Noir because the auto-detection and matching of dark colors for websites that don’t natively support dark mode is a little better. But, the way that Dark Reader handles images is more sophisticated (i.e., they don’t get inverted Google Docs in an effort to make them darker on the screen). Regardless, I love not going blind when I use the web at night. Dark mode is beautiful.
  • Mapper for Safari – Google has the most effective search engine, but I have become far less interested in Google knowing where I am at all times. To avoid this level of tracking, I have to stop proactively giving them my geolocation. This means using Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. So, while I still search for locations using the excellent Google Maps search functions on the web, whenever I get directions, this extension will automatically convert the request to Apple Maps and allow me to skip the copy-and-paste dance that I was doing in order to have a privacy-focused turn-by-turn experience.
  • Raindrop.io – Bookmarks are not entirely dead. While I most often just search for what I need or use the “recently viewed” auto-complete that is built in to Safari, there are many times a day that I need a specific resource that is hard to access without being saved and categorized ahead of time. I use Raindrop for all of my bookmarking needs, and it is wonderful! I love the way that it can capture notes, tags, and even custom icons without any issues. It is a full-featured app that just lives in my mobile browser now.
  • StopTheMadness Mobile – Many web developers, particularly for those who make their money through advertising or data collection, are not good stewards of the open web. They will “hijack” your browser, putting banners all over the place or even disallowing you from copying text on their pages. These are all user-hostile actions that can be fixed simply by disabling the code that tracks and limits your web browsing. With this extension for example, I can navigate anywhere without worrying that the webpage knows I am looking at it (the Page Visibility API is disabled). This is a huge quality-of-life improvement, and I don’t think I would ever use the web again without it.
  • Tweaks for Twitter – I no longer see Ads or Promoted Posts on Twitter. I no longer see trending topics. I do not see “who to follow.” In fact, whenever I use Twitter, I only see tweets from those who I have explicitly followed. It has radically changed how I feel about the service. Whereas, I used to get bogged down in the deluge of current events that the “what’s trending” told me were important. I now only go to Twitter to see what my little corner of the internet is up to. It is glorious.
  • Vidimote for Safari – I have always watched videos at 1.5x speed or higher. This is the best way to not only control the speed of your web videos, but also to allow for better Picture-in-Picture and video playback settings. It takes the best elements of the YouTube App and provides them within the browser.
  • Vinegar – Tube Cleaner – This is a pretty basic extension, but it is one that I use daily. It essentially replaces any custom video player (like the one on YouTube.com) with a vanilla HTML video experience (the native player that your device already has built-in). By doing this, it also removes ads, provides great picture-in-picture support and allows for better background playing as well.
  • GoodLinks – I often cannot read all of the articles that I want to within the course of a given day, so I sometimes need to save them for later. Goodlinks is my absolutely favorite way to do this. It has the cleanest interface for reading, the best options for tagging and categorizing articles, and the most elegant syncing across all devices (including the reading progress for each article). This extension allows you to save articles from anywhere in Safari (and other apps too!).
  • Wipr – This is the only ad-blocking extension I have used that actually works on the vast majority of websites that I use. It works for the news sites that I want to read as well as the random storefront that wants to sell me ever more of their wares. It also gets rid of GDPR notices and other bits of tracking and web annoyances. It is like the web got a fresh coat of paint.
  • Unobstruct – I often find myself looking at a Medium article or looking at a link from Reddit and getting annoyed that an overlay of “open in app” or “sign up” shows in front of the text. It can destroy my ability to read the article entirely when I am on my phone and there are multiple competing overlays that are impossible to navigate past. Unobstruct gets rid of these overlays on all of these sites, and if you find one that it doesn’t natively support, then you “Unobstruct the page” from the share sheet and it will remove them from that site too!

Your mileage may vary with these extensions, but I have found them to be an essential part of my working and waking life. I also believe that these extensions represent only the beginning of what is possible on the mobile web. I see this as a return to what made the web so important in the early 2000s. We are once again in control of what it looks like to us and we do not have to take “the app experience” as all that we are allowed to have. The fact that I no longer see ads in the vast majority of circumstances means a less cluttered brain, and that in itself has changed my life.

Rooting for a Racist Football Team

I have been a fan on the Football Team from Kansas City since I met my wife in 2002. She introduced me to the wonderful world of Priest Holmes, Trent Green, and Tony Gonzalez. She introduced me to winning, as I had only known The Cleveland Browns growing up (for those of you who don’t follow football, the Browns lose more than they win). And while I had certainly been aware of the problematic use of Native Americans as props and mascots with my hometown Cleveland Indians, I mostly ignored “The Chiefs” as a racist construct.

But, there is no easy way to ignore the “Tomahawk Chop.” Its pervasive use at Arrowhead Stadium and around the league as Kansas City played their games around the league made it so you can’t get away from it. And it is truly something strange to watch tens of thousands of fans all imitating a fictional Native American war cry. Each year that fans continue to do it, it gets harder to justify the ongoing insensitivity towards fellow human beings. It seems as though the entire team (and the “Chiefs Kingdom”) is insisting that performing a chant is more important than respecting a fellow American’s culture.

And yet, I continue to be a fan. I like to watch the new crop of amazing football players do things that I never could. From Patrick Mahomes no-look passes to Travis Kelce’s yards after the catch, they are an incredibly entertaining team to watch. So much so that my family made the decision to go to one of their games. It was the last game of the season against the Denver Broncos, a team that hasn’t won against Kansas City since 2015.

From the moment that it was clear to be another Kansas City victory (this fumble and touchdown was it) the chants started. They got louder as the game ended, and they echoed around the stadium as we all walked to our cars and the light rail. It is clear from how widespread this chant is, that it means something to the people doing it. It means victory, sure, but it also means “community.” It is a way to communicate the supremacy of the team and of the fans. And that supremacy is never more felt than when those chanting are white men. They sing the loudest, likely because they have been drinking most heavily. The chant the hardest because they like to reassure one another: “we are still on top.”

The loudest voices, though, are not the ones we should be listening for.

We should listen to those most directly impacted by the use of this racist practice. The National Congress of American Indians says that “the Kansas City Chiefs… continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were common place… and should not be a vehicle of institutionalized racism.” They are saying to fans and to the team itself that a tradition of winning does not require a turn toward white supremacy. It does not require traditions be built and maintained in order to subjugate others.

We can just be a better football team.

And yet, I cannot as a single person, get the entire stadium to stop chanting. But, I can write a blog post. I can amplify the voices of those who need to be heard. And maybe some day soon, we can be louder than those who wish to keep racist war cries at the center of their identity. Maybe one day I can be fully proud to root for the football team from Kansas City.

Taking down the Decorations

I have often heard that the right time to take down holiday decorations is the first full weekend after we ring in the new year. That means that today and/or tomorrow is the exact right time for us. So, I will dutifully go down to the basement and into the crawl space. I will bring up the MANY different bins where we store the Xmas ornaments and the seemingly infinite strands of lights. And we will begin the work of putting away the past.

This past has years within it. It has the many Ugly Ornaments that we get every year, trying to outdo ourselves with each one. It contains all of the little animal ornaments that represent our family as it has grown and changed over the years (we started with two peas in a pod and this year we were 5 frogs, all with our names written in far better handwriting than I could ever muster). This past has our own childhoods represented by the pieces of plastic that have somehow made it nearly 40 years before getting lost or disintegrating.

But, we put the past away into these boxes. We put away both the good and the bad. The moments of conflict as our family becomes more and different than it was when we were just two peas in a pod. The sadness of those who have died since our first holiday as a family. We put them away.

And what do we hang in their stead? Are there decorations that we hang on the mental mantle, that represent our lives to us in little moments and memories? Yes.

As I look around my house and notice all of the things on the countertops or hanging over the banister, I know that it is all decoration. The piece of homework that is yet to be completed. The coat that has yet to be warn. The golden electric mini-tree that we illuminate whenever we have company. These are decorations that are ever present, but also ever-changing. Even the pieces of a stuffed animal that our dog has strewn about on the carpet and we have not collected enough energy to gather. This is our menagerie to the past, and even this trash is a part of it.

And we cannot take our decorations down or put them away fully. Everything we wear or put on our shelves is a testiment to who we have been and what we have wanted and hated and built and collected. We are our past, and we cannot put it away no matter how much we want to. There are not nearly enough bins to store our history. Which is why it doesn’t much matter whether I take down my Xmas tree or put away the lights. They are just the most obvious representation that time has, in fact, passed.

So, leave your tree up. Or don’t. Just know that for every ornament that you call an ornament, there are hundreds of other objects in your house that perform the same function: helping us to remember.

I remember my family. And my own history. And I will hold on to both and never put them away.

Standing in the Cold

Yesterday I wore 2 hats, 2 pairs of gloves, a pair of long underwear and a black suit. I wore these clothes to attend the funeral of a family friend: Jamie Lynn Sullivan.

I stood outside at Fort Logan Cemetary with nearly a hundred others. It was far below freezing (hence the clothing), but I wasn’t cold. I was with those who loved her most, those who respected her work and her life. The community who gathered is one that has only grown in my estimation as I have gotten to know them further since Jamie was killed on December 4, 2021.

Love is a funny thing. It grows with commitment and support. It dies in isolation and with division. As we stood together with one another out in the cold, I could feel the love growing and surrounding us. We were not warm because we wore multiple layers. We were warm because we were gathered together in a single purpose: to remember her and support those she left behind.

We will continue to stand together: for warmth, for community, and for love.

Newsletters for Truth

Email is simultaneously the default operating system for work and the cluttered antithesis of all productive activity. The convenience of having a single “inbox” for all of the messages that I might need is so seductive that I have subscribed to many different news resources that I regularly read. This is in addition to time reading Twitter, Apple News, and GoodLinks articles that I have saved for later (or possibly, never). I do not subscribe to these outlets because I want to distract myself from work. Rather, I have actively sought out these perspectives in the same way that I used to read blogs regularly. I want to hear from particular voices. I want to make sure that I am informed and I want that information to be intentional, not incidental. I wanted to enumerate these sources so that others can take advantage of the insights, or at least know how I am filling my morning reading time:

  • Heather Cox Richardson – A friend of mine recommended this one a couple of years ago, and I read it EVERY DAY. Her way of writing relies heavily upon historical research and modern political science. While her perspective is decidedly left-of-center, her ability to communicate current events in a way that makes sense in the broader context is a welcome respite from news articles that lack all historical perspective.
  • The Factual – I pay for this service to serve up the top 5 news stories of the day with a balanced set of articles to support each one. There is also a daily survey that gives me a pulse on exactly where my opinions stack up with other users of the service (short answer: I’m far more liberal than many other folks who are looking for a “balanced perspective.”). It is one of the biggest ways that I catch stories that fly under the radar in my carefully curated bubble on Twitter.
  • City Cast Denver – This is the only local newsletter that I subscribe to, but it is essential reading. I get 100% of my restaurant recommendations from this daily message. I also learn what is happening in my city in a way that a local newspaper would have done in the past. However, City Cast has an obvious personality that makes it worth reading too. It includes personal anecdotes from a Denver native, a perspective that I enjoy but could never understand. Denver has changed so much in the last 40 years that only someone who has been here for that whole time can describe. It is the Colorado history that I didn’t get when I was in school because I grew up in Ohio and they didn’t teach Colorado history there. Go figure.
  • Observatory: Institute for the Future of Education – This is one that I came to pretty organically. It is from Tecnologico de Monterrey and it is the only newsletter/website I know of that actually talks about progressive education that also is influenced by online and blended learning pedagogy. While this is obviously a niche interest, I really like staying up on what is happening at Innovative educational institutions around the world.
  • Rewire News Group: The Fallout – Ever since Texas passed Senate Bill 8 (the EXTREMELY restrictive anti-choice “heartbeat” law that allows anyone to object to an abortion and receive damages for it) I have become far more active in learning about and fighting for reproductive rights. It will come as no surprise that this kind of reporting was not making it into my news diet enough (Men do not get algorithmically recommended these kinds of articles, so I have to seek them out).
  • Tedium – While I do not read this newsletter from top to bottom, I often find the whimsical look at pop culture and technology to resonate when the topic crosses over with my own interests. The in-depth look “natural scrolling” for example was truly fascinating. The history of coupon clipping was far less so. Regardless of the topic, the writing is well researched and oftentimes hilarious.
  • Press Run – I have yet to decide whether or not I enjoy partisan pandering when I seemingly agree with the majority of what a person says as well. It feels like I am falling into a trap, but a trap for what? Is it a trap where I end up learning the truth about world events, or is it a trap where I cannot tell what I true because things are so slanted to only represent part of the story? I use Press Run to help me answer that. I end up reading this newsletter to determine whether or not I believe in each plank of the democratic platform or if there are some things that I different upon. It is a great check for my own sanity whenever I dig into a claim to see if it is backed up by other sources and viewpoints as well.
  • OnTech with Shira Ovide – I don’t always agree with her perspective, but I truly appreciate the way she questions the role of technology in our lives. She makes the most important elements of any story into an easy to understand narrative. She takes vague concepts like data privacy and makes them concrete and palatable on any given Monday morning. She also does the thing where you link to other articles multiple times in a single sentence so that you can see how her thinking has been informed. (For Example: “America’s cities are so reliant on cars not because we lack tech options or alternatives. It’s because we have policies that subsidize automobiles. There is free parking, zoning that separates people’s homes from work and shopping and a lack of investment in public transit, walking and cycling to make alternatives to car trips more appealing.”) It is a pleasure to view the tech world from her skeptical viewpoint.

While there are a few other newsletters that I still subscribe to, I rarely read them. They will all get purged when I do my next “great unsubscribe.” More importantly, though, I am thinking of starting back up my own newsletter. I wonder what my perspective will lend to others. Will it allow for better context or a wider world view? Or, will it simply be something to pass the time as you struggle to work up the energy to answer the far more pressing email in your inbox?

Apocalypse Soon

I have been watching a lot of (post-) apocalypse movies and television shows. I watch them because I find them both comforting and terrifying. Comforting because I know that our world has not actually devolved into killing one another for food or shelter. And terrifying because I see the seeds of each of the world-ending moments in my life.

Given that I am drawn to these pieces of media, I thought it might be useful to enumerate them and dig into why I find them so resonant. So, in no particular order, here are the shows and movies I’ve been watching that feature an end to the world as we know it:

  • Invasion – While this one is technically about an alien invasion that brings about the apocalypse, I found that the human elements of the story (children trying to survive on their own, a soldier trying to get back home, a family just trying to survive in the face of something they don’t understand) connected deeply. Just because the world is ending doesn’t mean that we instantly become better (or much worse) people. We will still be selfish and contemplative and loving and desperate. My takeaway: I’m trying to hold on to our humanity in a moment that feels totally out of control (i.e., do we live in a democracy?).
  • Station Eleven – After a deadly pandemic wipes out most of the planet’s population, a group of actors and musicians live the very small, dangerous, and intimate life of traveling performers. Also, there is a quasi-magical story book that has morphed into a prophecy for those who were born after the pandemic. While our pandemic is far more “slow rolling,” the way that society breaks down in this show points toward what is possible when the whole world shrinks into a single quarantined apartment or a few people that survived a tragedy. My takeaway: The world is always dangerous and people will create a story to help them survive. It doesn’t really matter what the story is, so long as people can hold on to it. And that is both devastating and beautiful.
  • Y: The Last Man – When a sudden and unforeseen illness kills all of the men on the earth with a Y chromosome (except one, of course), the world is run by what is left of the government (the women who were in the line of succession, etc.). It is a story about how a seemingly ordinary man has to embrace (or run away from) the label of “savior of the world.” All of the women are reminded of what they have lost (and what they have gained) whenever they look around and only see themselves reflected back. My takeaway: The world order can and will be turned on its head. The real question is, what will we do once that happens? Will we stubbornly cling to what was, or will we embrace reality to create what will be?
  • Finch – The earth now has a bunch of holes in its ozone layer, without which the sun becomes a fiery death ball. Finch (Tom Hanks) is trying to keep his dog safe, even as he dies from radiation exposure. To ensure the safety of his canine companion, Finch creates a sentient robot that is capable of learning and complex thought. In the end, it is more of a coming of age story for both Finch and the Robot (who chooses the name Jeff mid-film). Jeff is incredibly human in his mistakes, and the empathy I felt for him was unexpected in its depth. My takeaway: The (my) world is ending, whether slow or fast. What art am I going to make (or what legacy am I going to leave) before that happens?

Now, if I were a more topical writer, I would include Don’t Look Up in this list, but I am still trying to work out my feelings on that one. And, as the apocalypse really only happens in the last few minutes of the film, it really is a story about living in the time just before the world ends and not during or after. And for whatever reason, I feel more drawn to the aftermath, to “picking up the pieces.”

Because in some ways, it feels as though the world has already ended and we just haven’t recognized it yet. In some ways I see these stories not as foretelling the future, but as a reflection of the present. They are not warnings, but rather variations on the theme of our current reality. And when you look at them that way, they are the only stories worth paying attention to.

They are stories of survival, and right now, I am trying to survive.

Back to School

I have taken more pictures in the last three weeks than I typically take in 6 months. This is because my children have been home. I take more pictures of my children than I do of anything else in existence. They are the most photographed nouns in my house. And with that comes a huge amount of joy.

I take pictures of things that I want to remember or want to share with others. The 100+ pictures I took of my children unwrapping presents or helping in the kitchen or sitting down at the table or building legos or playing basketball is testament to just how much I want to remember them. And I have shared these pictures with my partner, with my extended family, and even with Twitter.

And yet, I think the real reason I take so many pictures of my family is that they are often not with me. After (almost) three weeks of being home, my children will be headed back to their respective schools (one elementary, one middle, and one high school). While I am happy that they will be able to see their friends and I will be able to get back into a routine with work, there is a sadness there too. I am sad that I will not be able to see them in the middle of the day. I am sad that I will not be able to pop three batches of popcorn and start on a movie marathon. I am sad that I will not be pulled out of my own head for long enough to consider the immediate needs of those I love.

And there will likely be no extra pictures of them today. It is just a regular Tuesday, the kind in which my children make their own choices. And I remind myself that this is a good thing. I remind myself that them going to school will (eventually) have benefits for their lives. I know that they will be taking their own pictures, and making their own moments that need remembering.

They are real people, and these hundreds of pictures I took are testament to that. They do not capture some idyllic life that is free from conflict. Rather, they tell the story of 3 beautiful creatures En Media Res. It is the middle of their beginning, with all of the complexity and struggle that comes along with. And while I mourn for the pictures that will not be taken because they are out of the house today, I rejoice for the snapshots I have of who they were heading into 2022.

I understand them just a little bit better after this “Winter Break.” I understand myself a little bit better too. I should probably take more pictures.