What I’m Doing This Year: The Resolutions

At the end of May, I’ll be doing something different with my life than I was doing in October and different still from what I was doing 365 days before that. This promises to be a year of change to rival the changes of years past.
As I was working on my resolutions for the year, I kept this in mind. I want to document the year with the same spirit as last year, and I know another daily writing project will run the risk of draining me and distracting me from experiencing what’s going on as the changes take place.
As such, I’ve arrived at the following resolutions:
1. Run every day for at least 10 minutes. This one was clearing inspired by last year’s project. I understood the why better through explaining it to someone else. I came to know myself as a writer last year by putting myself in writing each day. In the same way, when I get to know people, I think of myself as a writer and a runner. So, I’ll be running. It’s a new approach. I’ll be running for 10 minutes some days, though my mind will want to go farther. I like that. I like actively working to shift my paradigm and experience as a runner. I’m also knowledgeable enough as a runner, at this point, to know to listen to my body and be mindful of the injuries possible in such an undertaking. If this year is to include the geographic changes I anticipate it to, experiencing where I am and who I am in those places through running will be interesting.
2. Make one photo each week that represents that week of the year. I thought briefly about a photo-a-day project, but my sister, Kirstie, helped me make up my mind. Kirstie is, as I have said, a brilliant photographer with a keen eye. She completed a 365 project last year to tremendous results. When I asked her if she would be continuing it this year, she said no. The goal of a photo each day meant she wasn’t creating shots of the quality she wanted. I can appreciate that. This year, she’s surveyed 52 friends and family members for inspirations quotations and ideas. Each week, she’ll be creating a photo each week around one of those guiding ideas. My project will be less global and much more self-centered, but I hope it to be a catalog of life this year that pushes me to think more visually. The photo above was my first week’s attempt.
3. Go vegan. I’m still a little sketchy of the details on this one. I wrote last year of my month-long go at eating vegan and the cultural and personal quandaries it inspired. Since then, I’ve continued to consider my role as a citizen, the effects of what I eat on who and what I am, and the footprint of all of this. I’m starting to think of this as a biological retirement plan. More on this later.
4. Journal each day (even if it’s only a line). My mom journals every day. Leading up to the new year, she spent her mornings on the couch reading through her life in years past and remembering the connective tissue of who she is now. For a long time, I journaled alongside my students in class. It’s different than blogging, and I want to remember why.
5. Read 52 books. That’s it. Similar to running, I count myself as a reader. As much as I could easily remain among the choir who chant solemnly they “don’t have time” to read, I know I can make time for this. To be sure, grad school will continue to help push me toward this goal. The other piece is one of genuine living. In the classroom, I told students over and over of the connection between reading, writing, and thinking. I insisted they would be better writers for reading and vice versa. If I am to stand by that and improve as a writer, I must read. Fifty-two is an arbitrary goal furnished by the calendar. Still, it’s as good a number as any.
I didn’t intend 5 resolutions this year. It just shook out that way. As much as I’m excited to work at each of them, I’m excited to find how my internal understanding and logic of the rules surrounding each resolutions shifts during the year.
I’m most curious to see how they shape me.

Things I Know 40 of 365: I have an idea for a school

Coffeehouses have provided places to plan revolutions, write poetry, do business, and meet friends.

– Mark Pendergast, Uncommon Grounds

A blended online and face-to-face school.

The school is a coffee shop. It’s not like a coffee shop or based on a coffee shop. The school is a coffee shop.

Initially a 6-8 school, as the first class matriculates, it becomes 6-12.

In addition to their online learning, students are required to attend regular class meetings at the coffee shop.

Depending on need and what’s being investigated, these meetings are either hetero- or homogenous along the lines of age and subjects. As student needs shift, some courses are hosted by completely virtual schools and augmented by enrichment inquiry-based programming within the school.

Younger students are required to accumulate a set number of community service hours working within the elementary schools most convenient to their transportation abilities.

As they grow older, students must clock a certain number of hours helping to run the shop and can work outright in the shop after those hours have accumulated. Even once the shop is fully staffed, students have marketable, transferrable skills as well as well-developed resumes and favorable employer recommendations.

Taking a page from 826 Valencia, local writers, artists and thinkers are invited to join the school as tutors and guest teachers with the added bonus of shop discounts. Student artwork and music is showcased alongside local community artists on the shop’s walls and during various open mic events.

Once the upper school component is implemented, the school designs an internship program similar to SLA’s Individualized Learning Plan program connecting the shop with local organizations, farms, and businesses. Utilizing the space’s inherent plasticity, internship interviews are hosted at the shop.

As these connections are fostered, the shop serves a point of contact for the various community service organizations at which the students complete their internships and those people the organizations work to serve.

As an example, the shop serves as a drop-off/pick-up point for community supported agriculture programs to which students’ families can opt in at a reduced price.

The open, blended schedule allows older students to participate in a wide range of dual-enrollment courses with few time restrictions.

For physical fitness, students join local club teams and other community sporting groups.

Any profits from the shop are distributed among student activity funds as well as scholarships for the school’s graduates.

Graduates who attend universities near the shop frequently return as customers seeking a place to study, thereby providing a tangible model of success for younger students.

Teacher hours are malleable and shaped around programming needs.

As part of its professional development, the school hosts informal themed teach-ups for any interested local teachers.

Once enrollment hits the set maximum, the school is prepared for replication.

Who’s in?

Classy: When food drives the English curriculum

This semester, I’ve taken on teaching a new elective course called FOOD.

We met for the first time today.

Over the course of the semester, we’ll be meeting twice per week to look a the literary, social and scientific intersections of the foods we eat and our relationships to them.

Class today started with my description of one of my top comfort foods – mashed potatoes, with excessive butter, mixed with corn.

Then, I asked students to share their comfort foods.

It’s the opening to the first class assignment. A mentor professor of mine at Illinois State, Dr. Justice, is teaching a similar class for undergrad, grad and doctoral students this spring as well.

She designed the assignment.

From the comfort food discussion, we read Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River Part I.”

“River” is one of Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories wherein Nick returns to Michigan’s upper peninsula on a camping trip after a tour in Italy during World War I.

After making camp, Nick fixes a supper of pork and beans with spaghetti and tomato ketchup.

All along, we’re told his pack has been too heavy, that he’s carry too much around.

Dr. Justice (a leading Hemingway scholar) explained to me Nick is making a camp version of minestra di pasta e fagiole in an effort to hold on to his time in Italy.

Food as memory.

For next class, the students (and I) will be writing personal essays about our comfort foods and how they burrowed into our food identities. Part of the assignment asks them to explain how they would alter the assignment in the same way Nick does to fit the restrictions of hiking and camping.

For many more than I expected, the adaptation won’t be difficult. Several of them proffered comfort foods bought in boxes or bags. I’ll be curious to tally the final real-to-processed ratio of responses. Even more, I’m looking forward to the discussion of what cultural significance that ratio might imply.

I’m thinking of asking the students to research the inspirations for the processed comfort foods and compare the healthiness of the two versions.

Either way, I’m pretty jazzed about where this course is heading.