Top Ten Summer Movie Reviews

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Movie Reviews are tough to write when you’re enjoying a Summer off from teaching. They take a bit of effort and extra thought so I don’t review every movie I’ve seen. Still, if I think it makes a nice entry I might refer to in the future or if I want to send my thoughts about a movie to several people, a blog post works nicely and I will take the time to do it. In the spirit of #TopTenTuesday here are the last ten movies I reviewed over this Summer Season.

Fly Fisherman in the Distance

A River Runs Through it is an autobiography of Norman Maclean who quotes William Wordsworth and other poets throughout the film as he is growing up to find his destiny, like me, as a teacher.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fourth Wall.”

Damien Riley A River Runs Through itSince watching my favorite movie, A River Runs Through it, in the 90’s I’ve been drawn to waters. The Montana cinema scapes are powerful to behold. Robert Redford did an amazing job directing and producing this film about the life of a pastoral family set in nature’s paradise. If I was in this film, you’d find me fly fishing. Right behind Norman, his dad, and brother, I’d probably be smoking a pipe and using fly hooks to catch the biggest trout and bass. In times of peace like that, I have found my reasons for living and the truth of my own existence. A river is an amazing metaphor. The final lines of the movie say:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”

This movie has been my motivation to finish graduate school, to be a reader, and student of nature. It would have been ultra cool to play in this film as an an “extra” upriver fly fishing away, thoughts of existence in my ever seeking mind. This movie has probably affected me more than any in my lifetime.


Writers revise. It’s part of the writing process. It takes your breath away when you go back and scan your own work to find errors. I’ve been told to revise my work, I don’t take that advice as much as I should. Revision is also a mindset.

In response to: Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “vis.” Use a word, or tie your post’s theme around a word, that contains the letters VIS, in that order.

imageYou would have been so embarrassed if they had been published and you are so glad you caught them and changed them. Revision is the opposite of dogma or stream of consciousness. While all have their part in writing, revision is what gives writing its smart look and cohesive form. The animal in us blurts out whatever it wants without few filters, revision reins it in and makes it more palatable for the reader.

Young men finding their way in the world would do well to revise their goals along the way. They way have lofty ideals to be in the movies or become a real estate mogul when a happier goal is to pay one mortgage and work a job he loves all of his life. These types of goals are like pruning trees. They are called goal revision. Whenever I get a big creative idea I want to try, I have learned to keep it open to revision. The truck is to not become lazy and lose the spur of the moment dream but keeping it alive and ope to revision. It gets easier with practice. I wish I had a better habit of doing it myself.

Also in response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Shoulda Woulda Coulda.”

5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year

16543582619_9514979bea_kSharing positives pays great dividends

I think time has shown me that I get tired of doing this each day in my class. At the same time there is an effect of family and brotherly sisterly feelings when I do it long term. This is something to start and not stop doing in 2015-2016.

Morning Routines

Going into the year, morning routines need to be established and followed. This is definitely part of classroom behavior.

Model the correct behavior

I think it’s really important to not escalate kids’ anger. Challenging a student is not a productive strategy. When they have done something wrong, simply remind them of the rule and if they show anger, remind them you are on their side and you will revisit it. Sometimes modeling the right behavior is best. Give them an activity safe to do while they calm down. Later on, in private clarify how they made a wrong choice and discuss better ways of handling it.

Bell to Bell teaching and working

My teaching contract says 9-3:30p To avoid being ridiculed or otherwise criticized by admin or rude and nosy colleagues, the most important part of 2015-2016 is not so much the goals but planning them within the contractual boundaries. These oddball people who are always complaining about the hours and hours they put in off contract time may gain the admin favor but they do not have a sustainable model and are likely to be way more stressed on the inside. I feel the same way about those who spend thousands on their class every year. That’s just unwise, uncalled for, and borderline neurotic. Be great when the contract allots you to do it. The other time is yours.

Do Not Let Supervisors or Colleagues Sap Your Energy or Vision … I Repeat:

Students can make it tough to be a teacher. They can also make it totally worthwhile. Colleagues are the same way. In my experience however, many cannot be trusted. Do not … I repeat DO NOT ever allow colleagues to sap your energy or vision. Make sure your focus is never on them. Your class, your kids is the range or vision you must stick to. Do not deviate into paying attention to colleagues or bosses or you’ll be doomed in this line of work. Your classroom and your students, away from the hue and cry of colleagues and admin, are your only chance to real success as a teacher.

This post was published first as 5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Flues Blues

Gotta fly, gotta fly. Doesn’t it seem like everyone is always saying that in one way or another? Thoughts like these just fly through my mind.

This week’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “fly/flies/flew/flu/flue.”  Choose one, use ’em all, it’s up to you. Have fun!

How will we ever decrease our stress numbers when we’re never able to stop for a while and smell the roses? What are we rushing for anyway? To achieve our dreams? What good is achieving our dreams if we have never learned how to stop and enjoy the moment. Being should be the primary goal for any dreamer.

Around my house lately, there has been another nuisance preventing us from peace: flies. I’m not sure where they are coming from but I think the neighbors hand their garbage out too much so the flies have sort of settled into their circle of life. I enjoy using the swatter but it seems there is always that one who eludes me. I can think of all sorts of metaphors about fles but I’ll spare you for now. This is a challenge and I intend to fly through it! Today I’m going to see Wilie Nelson at the Greek theater. I loved his tunes as a kid. My how time flies that I am going to see him with my wife of nearly 13 years. She liked him growing up as well.

Damien Riley Pink FloydYesterday the clouds of smoke flew by my house in the Pines Fire, also called the Baldy Mesa fire. When it started I figured they’d get it under control fast but a day later, it is still not contained. People on the news were coughing from the fire, it was the same as having the flu: completely undesirable. Some days your the windshield, some fays you’re the bug. Let’s hope that fire gets put out quickly and those displaced people can get back to their homes or to rebuilding. Up here in the High Desert, there aren’t any flues like in LA putting out noxious fumes. For us, the wildfires are the biggest enemy.

Good Heat Bad Heat

If I know a lot about a topic and am comfortable with it, I feel no pressure doing it but sometimes work is work.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Heat is On.” “Do you thrive under pressure or crumble at the thought of it? Does your best stuff surface as the deadline approaches or do you need to iterate, day after day to achieve something you’re proud of? Tell us how you work best.”

IMG_2823When it comes to projects at work or in my personal life, I follow the phrase “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Another one that applies is “When you have a why, you’ll make it happen with any how.” I’m a believer in good stress. When I am under the gun on a project, it often forces me to do some of my most creative and innovative work. We like in a stressful world and much of it can be toxic but we shouldn’t forget that stress compels us to find solutions sometimes we were never able to see in a relaxed state.

I watched a documentary the other day about movie making and the set manager was bragging about how the studio forced him to create a set in record time. He might just as well be thankful for that time constraint because the movie went on to be a huge success. I am also a firm opponent to toxic stress. For example, I discovered last year I have been grinding my teeth. My research into this malady called “bruxism” has told me it is most often due to stress. I’ve actually had to start wearing a mouth guard at night to save my teeth. All that stress and I’m only 46! This has been another wake-up call to not take everything so seriously and to practice relaxation techniques. I share that to show that stress can also be toxic as well and productive. Are you really living your dream if you have tons of toxic stress because of it? We need to seek a balance.

I heard a song recently that really summarizes what I’m saying here in this post. The words went something like, it was a new song to me so I can’t recall the name, “If you have to think about it, it isn’t for you.” What a refreshing thought. If you have to consider something, it isn’t worth doing. It isn’t for you. Wouldn’t life be awesome if we could live it this way? In conclusion, I’ seeing two concerts this weekend. Tonight it’s Willie Nelson and Saturday Imagine Dragons. The Dragons are in their twenties and making decisions on projects based on a long term goal. They have to think, it’s clear from reading their interviews. I think they got too famous too soon for their own good but I sure love their music. On the other hand, Willie is just doing his thing. Now in his 80’s, I assume, he just plays to play. There’s no need for a fancy show or sets etc. Less stress I think too. We should all hope to achieve a place one day where we can “just be” the good old Willie. Until then it’s about doing the stuff we know and going easy on ourselves as we prepare to create and innovate projects about stuff we’re still learning about. In between it all, pay attention to the stove of stress before it’s hot. In the end it’s a;; about balance and knowing ones own limits.