Archive for the ‘personal matters’ Category

Some nights my heart pounds so hard in anger that in the morning when I wake up it is sore, as if it has been rubbing against my ribs—as if it has worn a place in them as smooth as the stones beneath a waterfall . . . I’m trying to get there—to peace, and it’s powers—but I just don’t seem able to. The river keeps falling.

The sound of it, in my ears.

—Rick Bass, The Book of Yaak

Thursday night, at a fine dinner in a nice restaurant, I found myself drawn into talking passionately about climate change, a topic more deadly to polite conversation than politics or religion. To be fair, this was with a group of young conservatives who get together regularly for the express purpose of discussing politics, and the discussion leader, looking to ignite a new discussion thread as the meal was winding down, specifically prompted me to talk about global warming and to share some details about how I have used environmental topics in my classroom. I wasn’t about to go there on my own, but, given the opening, go there I did.

I hope I behaved well. This was a great group of people who were genuinely interested in discussing ideas, open to other viewpoints and articulate about their own, but I was there as a mere tag-a-long, my wife being the legitimate guest-of-honor at this gathering. I thought we had a spirited discussion, found it mentally stimulating, but did I take too much of the floor? Get too inconvenient? I didn’t look at Belinda once I hit full flow, but I imagine she was staring blankly into her lap, thinking “there he goes again.” We adroitly ignored the subject in the car on the way home.

I’d like to think I did some good, that I came across as carefully informed and thoughtful on the subject and ultimately persuasive (albeit on an issue I would gladly be flat-dead wrong about). God knows we need conservatives (speaking broadly here, not pointing fingers at this group) to drop their stance of tribalistic culture-war denial on the issue and join the search for solutions. It gave me hope, made me feel less alone, that Thursday night’s conversation could even happen.

But all day Friday I felt emotionally hung-over. Here’s the problem . . . the flip side to hope is worry. Allowing yourself to feel hope opens yourself to a world of worry. And despair. In terms of our environment, if hope is the belief that tomorrow can be better than today, then hope is a sure road to despair. And so I had lately thought I have abandoned hope, had thought that I have simply accepted the bleak inevitability of our outlandish trajectory (really, the science could not be clearer) and accepted that no amount of earnest caring and response on my part was ever going to do anything more than make me miserable. Letting go of hope has been strangely liberating, has allowed me to get on with my life, enjoy the blessings at hand. Psychologist Daniel Gottlieb recently wrote about the importance of this moment and the power of two words—”what now?”:

After loss or trauma, most of us wish that tomorrow would look the same as yesterday did before all of these difficulties. If we are lucky, we give up hope and say the words that open us to resilience and creativity: “This is awful, and I don’t think it will change. What now?”

Of course, “What now?” is a wide-open question. My answer for many months now has been withdrawal, a conscious decision to live in the moment and enjoy the world that most people around me manage to enjoy. Even if it means sticking my head in the sand, too. You can see it in my lack of blog output over the past year.

But I’m not sure that’s the best answer. It’s certainly the most selfish.

I’m sorry, boys.


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For the past year and a half, my oldest son has kept two African Dwarf Frogs as pets in a water-filled plastic cube about the size of a softball perched on his bedside table. I hadn’t paid them much notice at all, each being about the size of my thumbnail and only marginally more interesting, given their habit of sitting motionless for hours at a time. But this morning “Charlie” was alternating between floating listlessly on his back and making feeble attempts to get to the surface for air. While my son sobbed inconsolably, I lifted the frog to the surface with a fingertip where he gulped in a breath before sinking back down to lie around on his back some more. Clearly the end was nigh.

I hope that I was sufficiently comforting to my son in his moment of distress, but my first thought was “This better not make me late for school.” I ignored the question “Should we take it to the vet?” I’m typically too preoccupied over worldwide biodiversity loss to get worked up about the fate of an inconsequential pet smaller than a cockroach.

Or so I thought.

In fact, wrapping that tiny, beautiful frog from in toilet paper and going through the “crush and flush” routine has lingered with me all day. My son’s grief was palpable and genuine. I felt guilty. It’s a healthy reminder, I suppose. It’s just too easy to ignore your ecological footprint when it lands half a planet away.


Clark Meyer (@clarkbeast) teaches Junior High English. Good with ideas, not good at follow-through, works best in teams for that reason.

[This post was created and posted originally for edu180atl (http://edu180atl.org/), on Nov. 14, 2011. I didn’t think to cross post it to Postcards at the time, but today I noticed my principal, Bo Adams, do so, and it’s generally a good move to emulate his practices (but not retell his jokes). So here goes.]

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Well, it’s been months since I last posted.  Writing, like exercise, becomes harder and harder to do the longer you are away.  In my case, my annual preoccupation with high school soccer has predictably crowded out large swaths of my life, leaving precious little time for my family, much less writing and thinking.  And boating . . . over this past spring when the rains finally came and the drought finally eased, I haven’t been back in my boat once since returning from the Futaleufu.

I do wonder from time to time about the time and energy that I sink into soccer, about the opportunity costs of participation and the implicit message in elevating sport to such a postition of importance in our culture.  Evolutionary biologists can no doubt explain how our brains are hard-wired for sport, how finding pleasure in competition has conferred an evolutionarily advantage over the eons.  Being a part of a team and working hard toward a worthy goal together—with other teams and coaches working equally hard at every turn to thwart your ambitions—that must trigger evolutionary responses that are nigh impossible to resist.  In my case, I get swept away every year by the fact that these Neanderthal urges so neatly align with my more high-minded ideals as an educator.  I won’t say much more, as talk of how athletics breeds character and how coaching is teaching can quickly start to sound clichéd, but I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t believe in these essential truths. 

At any rate, our season came to a heartbreaking, premature end this year, but from there I quickly transitioned into the typical end-of-year maelstrom of exams and grading and the like.  Only now am I (and we) starting to get some breathing space after feeling as overloaded as I can ever remember.  Case in point . . . immediately after submitting my grades and signing off for the summer, Belinda and I were rushing off to join a Grand Canyon rafting trip organized by her boss.  On our way to the airport, I asked her “So how do we get from Las Vegas to the South Rim?” and she responded “I don’t know, I haven’t had time to look into it.”  And we had only been home from the Canyon a day before I flew to where I am now, to Victoria, British Columbia, for the ASLE Biennial Conference.

Well, I’ve got plenty to report on and talk about as I find the time in the next several days.  I’ve got some pictures from and thoughts about our Grand Canyon trip to share at some point, and I’d like to tell you a little about my homeroom’s campaign to get a sizeable solar photovoltaic power array installed on our student center.  I certainly have plenty to think through from the different sessions I’ve attended here at ALSE.

Special thanks are owed to Rich Eustis for guest-blogging in my comments section during what he termed the “facist takeover” back in February.  I just couldn’t muster the time or energy to respond to Señor Allende, but the more Eustis prompted him to spew his vitriol, the less response was necessary.

Rich, I’m sorry not to see you here in Victoria.  Among other things, I need a translator for all this academic blather (like what the hell is the difference between a “social paradigm” and a “cultural construct”?).  But I’m also deeply sorry for your loss . . . if a man can be judged by the character of his progeny, he must have been a great one.

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I’m in mourning.  Friday morning, just as we were waking up, a huge tree fell behind our house without any warning whatsoever (not a breath of wind to speak of) and smashed my Outback.  All things considered, we were fortunate—had the tree fallen an hour later, Will and I might have been getting in it (and I would be a quick six inches shorter).  Nonetheless, I was sad this morning to start my Subaru up for the last time and move her down to the curb to be towed away as a total loss.  I may have had to hunch over the wheel like an octogenarian to fit inside, but she still ran perfectly—that car had a lot of good miles (and more long summer trips) left in her.  This was the first car I purchased new, and I owned it longer than I did either of my previous two.  We’ve shared a lot of good times, last summer’s odyssey being the high point.  She will be missed.

There’s a Subaru somewhere under there.

The picture doesn’t really do justice to the carnage.

So I’ve got to get a new car now, and I’m torn about what to do.  I’d run right out this afternoon and buy my third Subaru—in so many ways my Outback was the perfect car for me—but the siren call of 50 mpg from the new diesel VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI is pretty hard to resist, both for economic and ethical reasons.  With that kind of mileage, Atlanta’s sprawl would feel like less of a prison.  Then again, the TDI has at least a three month waiting period becase demand is so high, and I need something fast.  And muddying the water even more is the promise that Subaru will bring a 50 mpg diesel Outback to the U.S. in 2010.   I don’t want to spring for a new car if it’s not exactly what I want.  Do I settle for a stop-gap used car for a couple of years until perfection comes along again?   Can I pretend for a while to be a short-term-relationship kind of guy?

Hey Subaru USA, if you read this post, shame on you for taking so long to bring the diesel to America!  Your legions of tree-hugging, outdoor-junkie fans would love it!  And while I’m at it, why don’t you offer the Limited with a manual transmission?  I shouldn’t have to settle for cloth seats just because I want something fun to drive.

So why did the tree just up and fall over?  Evidently it’s a casualty of our protracted drought.  Growing just a few feet away from the little bungalow behind us, it wasn’t getting enough soil moisture to sustain the roots that had grown underneath the foundation.  When these roots lost vitality and rotted, the tree was free to fall in the direction of most of its canopy weight—right towards the back of our house.  Now I know that it’s not possible to directly blame any given drought in the Southeastern U.S. on climate change, in the same way you can’t blame any single unusually strong hurricane on global warming.  But the connection is there.  So I have to ask (while donning my flame-proof suit): did global warming kill my car?

BTW: I’m fully aware that I ripped off the title for this post from the recent book by Doug Fine.  I have been wanting to read Farewell, My Subaru anyway, so now I’ll get to it to commemorate the occasion.  Maybe I’ll post a review here.

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drive, interrupted

The day after my last post, I made my way post-haste to Kansas City, checked the car in to economy parking, and flew straight home.  Andrew did, indeed, need surgery, a pretty involved one requiring the insertion of a tiny pin to hold the bones in his second toe together and lots of stitches in all the rest.  All in all, things could have been a LOT worse, I suppose, but we’ve still got a long road to recovery . . . among other things, we have to keep a four-year old from putting any weight on that foot for three weeks or the pin will break.  He was happy with laying around and watching cartoons for only two and a half days; I have no idea how we’ll make it through two and a half more weeks.

Andrew in his little wheelchair, spirits high.

Remember, Crocs are very dangerous animals.

I tell you, it’s hard to look back through some of my pictures from the trip to see him so vibrant and active only a few days ago.  The doctors have said they expect him to make a full recovery . . . right now we can only wait nervously and hope.  I wasn’t there to see the accident happen, but Belinda is still seriously haunted by the sight of it.  A big thanks to all the family and friends who have pitched in to help and to offer their love and support; you’ve been a blessing.

Sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll go and fetch the car and finally close the loop.  Maybe I’ll take Will with me and restore a little luster to what should be remembered as a glorious adventure.  I’ll post again when the dust settles and offer some last thoughts and lessons about the whole experience.

For now though . . . Andrew, as soon as you’re back on your feet, we’ll go camping again.  The one lesson from looking back on the trip that I can offer right now is that my kids (even my kids) don’t spend near enough meaningful time outdoors in natural settings.

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Flying solo now, having dropped Belinda and the boys at DIA.  From Denver, I could theoretically make it home in two days of hard driving (I once drove from Lander, WY, to Atlanta in two days), but I headed northeast into Nebraska, planning to wander through Nebraska’s Sand Hills on my way to Iowa and the Mississippi . . . a little out of the way to the north, perhaps, but not that much in the big scheme of things.

The Sand Hills are every bit as lonely as I had hoped; imagine a huge dune sea like the Sahara (that’s what it was in the last ice age), only covered in grass.  But I found myself missing the boys . . . they really enjoyed Nebraska on the way out, and this part of the state is something special, again.  Plus, I had huge thunderstorms going off to the left and right for hours (nothing scary, though . . . how nice that my Subaru radio includes NOAA weather along with standard AM and FM so I’m able to keep up).  And my road follows the BNSF main line bringing Wyoming coal to the rest of the nation, so I see train after train after train.  The boys would love this, I think.

But then I get a call from Belinda in one of the few places where I’m able to get a cell signal . . . she and the boys are on the ground in Atlanta but are on the way to the hospital, as Andrew’s foot has been grabbed by an airport escalator (evidently, Crocs are known for this) and his toes are messed up.  I get intermittent updates for the next couple of hours as I put the pedal to the metal (like it makes any difference) and drive on into a stormy night.  Last I heard, he was going to have surgery tonight but that things were hopefully going to be okay.

I get no cell signal here, and my room in this otherwise cute little hotel (has to be the only one for fifty miles around . . . I was starting to get worried) has no phone.  Talk about feeling alone and helpless.  Andrew, hang in there, little guy!  I’ll get through to you tomorrow.

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While getting to know the WordPress platform, I set up this blog this week with an eye toward summer vacation, when I plan to load the kids in the car and drive west for a length of time that remains undefined (and under negotiation).  This space may be quiet now, but these last few weeks of school will pass!  I hope I remain intact.

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