It all Boils Down to a Cosmic Soup Kitchen

Homeless_Man_in_Cleveland_by_daveantThanksgiving is the time to be thankful and everyone in my family a sort time ago was abuzz with plans of turkey, stuffing, bread, and sweet potatoes (well, that’s the stuff I like anyway). Turkey day has always been an amazing time of memory making for me throughout my life whether through watching Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone marathon or playing guitars with the relatives and visiting, it has always been a smooth calm place to center. I remember things and people like the teachers I am thankful for, the mentors, my parents, and all the material things that I am blessed with on Thanksgiving. But “turkey day,” as we call it is not so much glitter for some. Many are homeless in my town, state, and country this season and I think about them specifically on this day. I try to volunteer what I have whether it be time or money to help offset this tragic reality. I have volunteered in the L.A. Union Rescue mission soup kitchen and though I was giving, I gained so much empathy, thankfulness, and understanding in return.

But it should never be a sad time.

The lines at the soup kitchen, their long tired faces with stories too long for anyone to fully hear, should serve as an equalizer. They should remind us that we all stand at the doorway or poverty. We are not “better” than them, only different in what we have. Their hidden world goes on 24/7 all around us in the streets, back alleys, and even in cardboard boxes. When it comes to life and we see it up close, we are reminded of our fragile security. In essence, it all boils down to a cosmic soup kitchen: we get what we’re served. If you don’t take time to be thankful, you may lose sight of what you have. You may lose sight of how little others have as well. Both are important mental states for the enlightened individual. Have you served others lately? Maybe start by serving your spouse, kids, or a friend?

Remember that some folks are whiffing in hot soup with their eyes closed and thanking God for it. Remember them at your table as well. Their faces are our faces at some cosmic soup kitchen unseen. There are many ways to make a difference. One way is by donating a meal online at the Union Rescue Mission. They are doing great work there.

Mr. Curtoon Time and My Standards Train Song

1-24-2010 CurtoonI used to love substitute teaching at a particular school in Capistrano Unified School District because the Principal was kind of famous. His name is Curt Visca and I’d catch his show sometimes on a local cable access show Curtoon Time. He taught kids to draw cartoons that were, by his definition, “simple and silly.” I thought that was a great way to reach kids. After all, isn’t that the real language of childhood? I used to walk by his office on my break and try to go in. It was like the final scenes of Willy Wonka when he gives back the everlasting gobstopper. Larger than life he was, to me anyway. I was finishing my studies in English and trying to get into college teaching. To me, Curt was living the dream. He was making music and art with kids on tv. I had to meet him. Continue reading Mr. Curtoon Time and My Standards Train Song

Kindness Shortage

tumblr_mqf5cau04C1qz4d4bo1_500.jpgin 2002 I was hired as a teacher in the High Desert town of Adelanto. There were tumbleweeds rolling down the Main Street when I went into a small building for the interview. After moving up here, I was in a meeting where the Superintendent at the time, a Mr. Steve Vaughn, told us all to be kind with kids, parents, anyone. He said that 80% of his job consisted of repairing situations where people had not been kind. That resonated with me.

Now, I must tell you I am not always kind, but I aspire to be. Kindness heals and strengthens bones. I think it’s easy to convince someone to be kind when everything’s going her/his way. The grandest charge however is to be kind in all situations. It will send out a reverberation and cause people to take notice. In theory, it will catch on and we’ll all feel it coming and going. Do you know someone who is genuinely kind? Emulate that behavior. After all, 80% or more of the world’s problems are likely caused through a kindness shortage.

Why Wonder When Your Life Will Begin?

Tangled-Rapunzel-TowerRapunzel up in her tower had an excuse: she was held captive. So many people I know (including myself) are held captive by imaginary prison bars. Our dreams aren’t coming, they are here! Be thankful for what you have now and don’t be afraid to make a list of what you want from your short years living. It takes a highly intelligent person to make that list. Of course there must be limitations of reality such as, I will never be the King of England. But look at what has worked for you in the past. Did you enjoying doing that work? What’s stopping you from doing it more? Look at the rewarding parts of your life and make them your path. On of my favorite quotes is by the rock band The Alarm: “As the road opens up in front of my eyes, the only limitation is in my mind.” I still have a blog after starting in 2005. To me, that has been enjoyable. My dream is to keep it going and make a little money as I do! Why Wonder When Your Life Will Begin? Do what you love the money will follow. Has this post encouraged you to make goals toward your dreams?

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Documentary Review)

PussyRiot_APunkPrayer_PosterThe lives of three young women and why they became punk revolutionaries is the main idea of this “Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer” documentary. It’s a real situation and a real “group” (instead of a band) that protests the Soviet Union through punk songs and performance art. They claim to be non-violent, which is good. In some of their protest situations they have been threatened and violence has been enacted against them. Three visionaries of the group: , , occupy the film’s content and their stories are inspiring or enraging depending on your political and moral point of view. I found these three women and their art hugely inspirational. I think we forget in America what freedom is and that at some point, it needs to be sacrificed for.

Pussy-RiotThese three women feel that Russia needs to get more progressive. By that I mean, women should be allowed to have a life with or without men. They also feel there should be a clear separation between church and state. More than anything, they detest the policies of Vladimir Putin, the current leader of the Soviet Union. Many of their songs decry his regime. I liked the open and forward thinking of the women but some of their techniques, such as the naming of their group and some past indiscretions on film, in my opionion are not as universally embraceable as they could be. I’m writing a review about their documentary but I cringe a little creating the title with the word “pussy” in it. Is there another way we could name this group without fanning the flames of the conservatives? I am no revolutionary but I might recommend to Pussy Riot a slightly more marketable and palatable approach to its persona.

o-PUSSY-RIOT-570-ukraineThese women spend at least 6 months in jail (I lost track after all the updates and frankly am too lazy to look up this significant particular). When they address the court or the press, it is breathtaking. They scribble tomes while behind bars and nearly every time they read their words, they are met with unguarded applause. These is something to these revolutionaries but the movie feels at times as if much of it is staged. If not staged, the movie sometimes feels like HBO camera crews are betting on a worldwide interest in a documentary. This to me is gauche. Not everything can be captured in a documentary. pussyriot02Would Johnny Rotten want to be followed by HBO? How about Ghandi? Hmmm, maybe? Having said that, this movie reminds me of the times I fought to be outside the “system.” So many people these days, especially our youth, accept their position playing video games and being bored. We don’t have to accept the role society gives us. We can break out and be original. It could start by protesting the things we dislike in society. I wonder if many American kids would risk going to jail to try and make the government change. I hope I would as a 44 year old and let’s hope more American kids get that message from Pussy Riot.

Charles Shultz: The Process of Persistence

Charlie_BrownReaching your goal is a process. Along the way you learn what you are made of. One example of a person who reached a phenomenal goal is Charles Schultz.
His life is a model for any person to follow. In presenting his life here, I break down his process of persistence your goal into 6 steps.
First: Decide on your goal. Schultz decided in elementary school that he wanted to draw for a  living. We think of Charlie Brown as something that always “was” but it wasn’t until an elementary school kid decided to make it so that it came to pass. We have power to influence what the fads and fashions of the day become. Schultz shows us in his success, which I will illustrate more in a bit, that the decision of what goal to set is the beginning of monster success.
Second: Decide if your goal is something you really can do. In High School, Schultz submitted his cartoons to the yearbook and when it was printed he was shocked to find his work was not there. The editor told him there were too many submissions and there was no room for his. Schultz could have become discouraged at this point and gave up his Charles Schultz on Image Wikipediadream as impossible, but he didn’t. I am so glad he persisted! Eventually his cartoons would become the #1 most sought after comics in the world. He decided to press on even more after that rejection. He decided his goal of making a living cartooning was something he really could do.
Third: Decide on the first thing you must do. After the rejection from the yearbook, Schultz decided to pitch his art to some commercial names. He was hired by a St. Paul newspaper that published his comic Lil Folks once a week. He decided he must ask them to publish it every day and as a result they fired him. Every one of my heroes bios contains rejections like this. Schultz’ story shows us to pay no attention to success or failure at first. Instead, decide what you are going to do and follow through.
Fourth: Decide on the second thing you must do. Schultz was not one to give up. He put his best cartoons together and mailed them to United Feature Syndicate in New York City. They decided to put his cartoons in eight newspapers across the country. That was in 1950. Here’s what was happening with Peanuts stats when he died a few years ago:
Peanuts reached readers in 75 countries, 2,600 papers and 21 languages every day, made Mr. Schulz very rich. The “Peanuts” strips, merchandise and product endorsements brought in $1.1 billion a year. And Mr. Schulz was said to have earned about $30 million to $40 million annually. (New York Times)
Fifth: Start right away. Schultz started early on in his 77 years of life to make his cartoons. When opportunity came, he was ready because he started right away.
Sixth: Keep telling yourself “I can do it.” I remember every Halloween watching the Great Pumpkin with Charlie Brown. It seems almost mythic, as if it always existed. The fact of the matter is that if Schultz did not believe in himself, I would have never experienced the joy of that show and countless comics I have read by him through the years. None of these six steps mean anything without this last one. Remember the value of believing in yourself.
I see connections here to my job as a dad a teacher, and anything else that  requires persistence.

Schultz image Photo credit: Wikipedia

Charlie Brown: Wikipedia

We All Could Use More Recognition

IMG_0045-400x300If you are a boss out there, you should know how much recognition means. If you’re not a boss or just a part time boss, you should have the chance to be recognized at some point. It gives life to the bones.

This past month I received some excellent recognition. It reminded me why I should recognize my students. I think there should be an ongoing recognition system that gets every student some sort of attention at least twice a week. Then of course there are the larger, more substantial recognition pieces like a 10 year pin or a comment from the top. My wife recently received a huge recognition piece: a raise. When I worked in pizza management, they would coach us that employees craved a pat on the back more than money. My wife’s raise showed us all that wasn’t true. Sometimes monetary recognition has its place. Having said that, sometimes a note or just a pat on the back can infuse inspiration. This is what we want to see across the board.

As long as it’s genuine, any recognition is powerful. It increases ones motivation. In this world today where there is so much negativity and fear, we all could use more recognition.

Unsure Times and the Inner World

innerworldEvery time I post a status on Facebook I rewrite over and over. I really try to be into logic and getting my point across. I don’t want to be misunderstood. Despite all this cautiousness, it seems I am always misinterpreted by someone which leads me to believe that we can never be fully understood in that medium. It doesn’t mean I will stop trying. I have been fascinated for years about communication and the way people send and receive information. My point is that, try as we might, we are not going to get the understanding and encouragement we crave as humans from externals. Whether externals “get” us or not, we really can have nothing of value to offer the world until our inner world is tended. I would venture to say that most people in the world are looking for external inspiration when their inner world is neglected.

With everything that’s going on in the world, it can be easy to lose your motivation. I think tending ones inner world is the best strategy for unsure times. Only when you have done so can find peace and go on to possibly make a contribution to your unsure world.

Doing the things that make me tick is what builds my inner strength in an unsure culture. For example, at my work as a teacher, there has been a lot of change going on since the 70’s. Now the change is happening at a rapid pace. It can be hard to cope. On one side you have some putting teachers down while others praise what we do. Should we accept some of the scathing criticism. I think the solution to get through this sort of unsurety in any job is to focus on what fascinates and captivates you and do it! This builds inner strength. At the end of the day, you used your own bag of tricks to teach, or counsel if you are a therapist, or ring up groceries as a clerk. If you wait for external approval (or even seek it in a meme on Facebook) you will be let down and more empty that before. I know I am revealing more of my Buddhist leanings every post but it may be time. Only when we look within can we gain the inspiration to make a contribution to the world without. It will never come from outside of us, it must come from within to emanate out. I kind of published this quickly, what are your thoughts on the topic?

Here Comes the Boom (Movie Review)

3.5/5 stars
There is now another “root for the underdog” fighting film to add to the movie archives. It’s also another try at a “feel good education” film. The Kevin James movie I’m referring to Here Comes the Boom was directed by Frank Coraci, known for other Happy Madison movies like Click and Zookeeper. It’s received a slough of low ratings due to its failed jokes and recycled conventions. Those are valid criticisms but it’s redeemed by its Rocky spirit and good message for teachers to inspire their students. It is decidedly not a Stand and Deliver or Lean on Me … but it does promote inspiration which makes it worth seeing.

IMDB summarizes the film as follows: A high school biology teacher looks to become a successful mixed-martial arts fighter in an effort to raise money to prevent extra-curricular activities from being axed at his cash-strapped school.

As a public school teacher I found many flaws in the way the teacher interacts with the Principal as well as his colleagues. In fact, I criticized most of the way he is portrayed early on. Nonetheless, when he started his UFC fighting, I forgot about all that and enjoyed the ride. I only wish it could have began sooner.

Listen, Kevin James is a smart actor. His King of Queens show is up there with Seinfeld in reruns and syndication. I love it. At this point his career, he wouldn’t willingly release a dud. Even though most the reviewers treat it as such, Here Comes the Boom is quality entertainment with a top notch tip for all teachers.

In the final scenes of the movie, the true purpose of education is revealed: to inspire. There are no standardized test scores reported but we feel inspiration that spreads throughout the student body. It may not portray what’s real about schools today but it reminds us of what teachers should do for their students. For the fight scenes and the inspiring message, it scored stars with me. Unfortunately, the lack of good jokes, a slow beginning, and unrealistic portrayal of a teacher caused it to lose points.
3.5/5 stars

Chariots of Fire (Movie Review)

Chariots of Fire was directed in 1981 by Hugh Hudson, known also for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. It stars Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell, a devout Christian runner, and Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams, a dedicated Jewish runner. Watching the movie now, over 30 years later, one can identify an A-list class from both major and minor characters. This movie is based on a true story. It is called a drama, history, and sport movie by It’s one of those movies I liked so much I bought. It’s a story of running, endurance, and conviction. The signature music of Vangelis inspired many in my generation to run and to appreciate running. I’m a proud runner probably because I saw this film at age 11.

Chariots of Fire is about two rising Olympic champions: Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams who are driven by very different impulses. Liddell is an ardent missionary who cares more about “feeling God’s pleasure” when he runs that he does about winning trophies or medals. Abrahams on the other hand is overly ambitious about winning. He is in fact primal in his drive to win at any cost. There is a lot of development toward the climax but the most important point is when the Olympics are to be held on a Sunday. Liddell refuses to run due to his beliefs. This is where we see the conviction of a truly inspiring man displayed in real time. Because this is a true story, we feel the temptation we might have to run but Liddell refuses. It is an excellent conversation piece. What drives us? How do we define success? and What will we not do in out quest for that success?

This movie is a gem and a pride among movies. While I don’t share Liddell’s polarized worldview, I still admire his conviction and resolve. This movie tells me I should define success and answer the questions above for myself. I am always defining and redefining myself. Chariots of Fire reminds me that true success has to be self-defined. You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this film, it’s for everyone. When I first saw it I was 11 years old. When the credits rolled, I got up to walk out of the row. My mother stopped me and motioned me back into my seat. I saw the eyes of my parents and siblings watching the credits in awe as they listened to the angelic music. I would later learn the theme song and play it in the house hundreds of time. This is truly a remarkable film in my collection.