Wednesday, June 1, 2022

You are what you read

When I was about 6 years old, I remember hearing: "You are what you eat."

It was meant to explain the importance of nutrition, and in a way, the phrase is literal. Food goes into our bodies and becomes part of us.

With so much streaming and digital consumption nowadays, I'd like to amend that phrase to either "You are what you consume," or "You are what you scroll," or better yet, "You are what you read."

As this school year winds down, here are my favorite books from this year. I've read 23 books cover to cover this past year, and I will break down the best of the best, AKA the ones I unabashedly recommend. However, I must point out this was an odd year of reading for me because I experimented with a boatload of books I didn't finish. I read more sci-fi and YA books, but it turns out I hardly was into any of them.

And let's be real from the beginning. Some I read, but I don't recommend. I probably stuck with them because they were short or easy reads. I found the following few overrated, and I do not recommend them: Drunk Tank Pink (2013) by Adam Alter, Dopamine Nation (2021) by Anna Lembke, Matched (2010) by Allie Condie, Presence (2015) by Amy Cuddy and Just Listen (2009) by Mark Goulston. 

However, those above books should get props — props for marketing or popularity — because I actually did read them. I've heard that only 60 percent of books bought are ever opened. Books finished? That's hard to estimate. What is it? Ten percent, if that?

A couple years ago, I was reading a book about publishing by agent Jeff Herman, who on page 30 said, "If you are actually reading this, please email me and say 'hi.'" I did, and he responded later that day. Let me do the same thing and pretend this is page 30. If you are actually reading this, email me at and say "hi." 

And congratulations to you! You are what you read, not what you scroll. Or you're so good at scrolling, you saw that — an Easter egg.  

Without further adieu, here are the top 10 books I recommend from this year. I'll kind of cheat by counting two books by bell hooks as one spot.

1. Teaching Community (2003) and Teaching to Transgress (1994) by bell hooks. I must give props to a friend, Elysse Hind, for pointing me toward bell hooks. I absolutely loved these two books, and bell hooks framed teaching in a way that helps me see each day in the classroom as an act of love.

I've incorporated a lot of hooks' philosophy into my classroom. One huge takeaway is that it's silly to deny students' spirits in public classrooms. Oftentimes, our spirits, or souls, are tied to religion, and so a sad accident can be the denial of the spirit. I feel my basic job as an educator is to connect to students' spirits and uplift them.

Every year, I have students present a book they read to the class. I do the assignment, too, and presented Teaching Community in the fall. Bell hooks then passed away on Dec. 15. I feel fortunate to have read her work while she was still with us.

2. The Courage to Teach (1997) Parker Palmer

Bell hooks mentioned Parker Palmer in Teaching Community, and I looked him up and stumbled across The Courage to Teach. I absolutely loved it.

I was so naive when I started full-time teaching 14 years ago. I thought school was about education. I quickly learned that education only is a sliver of the equation of what school is. It takes courage to actually teach in cultures of assigning work, grading, indoctrination and the hullabaloo of it all.

Palmer inspired me to make an extra commitment to teaching, understand that true teaching is a revolutionary type of action and that I must develop my inner spirit to support my students. 

3. Thinking in Bets (2018) by Annie Duke

Well, I don't only read teaching books, and I love family/friend games of no limit Texas hold 'em. When the World Poker Tour and poker on TV was popular, I couldn't get enough, and people who follow poker certainly know Annie Duke.

Annie Duke is not only a poker pro, but huge in the corporate speaking world, and Thinking in Bets is both entertaining and interesting. Right off the bat, she helped me realize that life is more like poker than chess because of the unknown. In chess, all is open for us all to see, and chance is kinda out of the equation. That's not how it works in life and poker.

I also internalized how good decision making isn't about the result. It's about making the best choice with the knowledge at the time. So the next time your all-in kings lose to all-in jacks, understand that you absolutely made the right choice — even though you lost. 

4. The Biggest Bluff (2020) by Maria Konnikova

I liked this book so much I went back and read Konnikova's The Confidence Game (2016) too. Was I a mark for liking these books so much?

With poker legend Erik Seidel as her mentor, Konnikova becomes a legitimate poker player and celebrity, despite saying she knew nothing about poker and wanted to approach it from a psychologist's perspective. It was fun to read about her poker development and emotions during her wild ride to poker prominence.

5. How to Do Nothing (2019) by Jenny Odell

Bird watching is actually bird noticing. We're probably not going to see them, but listen. They're there.

With so much buzz and so many unintentional grabs of the cell phone, Odell helped me see that a lot of the "I'm on the phone too much" feelings I have are universal. Nowadays, it perhaps is an art form to simply do nothing and just be. This book helped me reclaim my life after being stuck in screen-time warp of daily nothingness.

6. Braiding Sweetgrass (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I noticed this book on the New York Times' best seller list and wasn't too excited to read it because it seemed out of the realm of what I normally like. But reading Braiding Sweetgrass is like engaging in a long, much-needed hug from Kimmerer.

She is a member of the Potawatomi Nation, and she helped me revision how I see the planet, human's relations to it and misconceptions I had about the indigenous perspective. Right from the opening pages with the creation story featuring Sky Woman, Kimmerer shows a calming, loving mood toward nature, and I hope to maintain that feeling toward nature, too.

7. Multiplication is for White People (2012) by Lisa Delpit

As we head back to an education book, Delpit illuminates a lot of obvious issues in schools that, thankfully, are somewhat being addressed more nowadays since the publication of this 10 years ago. With the systemic racism inherent in education and many of our nation's institutions and the myth perpetuating that certain African-American children "inner city" neighborhoods cannot achieve,  Delpit tackles huge issues that need attention.

Personally, I have no easy answer for helping low-achieving students and schools move forward. However, I do have two simple ideas. 1) Schools have to do their best to create cultures of support and love for children. Then, 2) they must bring back students as teachers who live in their neighborhoods.

Just as I don't believe it's the best policy to have police officers working in communities they don't live, I believe the same thing about teachers. Teach for America? Maybe that's an OK Plan B. But do we really want suburban white kids in neighborhoods they have no connection to? I say we can build up communities by empowering children to become educators and stay in the communities that matter to them.

8. Tender Bar (2005) by J.R. Moehringer

My beautiful wife Dina and I totally loved this movie on Amazon Prime, and I went back and read the memoir it was based on. I loved the remarkable differences between the book and movie because in the movie, Uncle Charlie is played by all-American hero Ben Affleck. In the book, Uncle Charlie has alopecia and at one point, gets arrested connected to gambling.

I enjoyed the book so much because of the culture of how men were during the '70s and '80s. Toxic? Probably. But pretty cool, too. It was a breath of fresh air to read about how the bar in Manhasset, Long Island, was the centerpiece of the town and attracted people regardless of profession, social class and politics.

Similar to the movie, the book oozes of nostalgia for a time when communities mattered and people weren't glued to screens. Maybe communities still matter, but around me, everyone seems to be on their phones, looking for something bigger and better than the corner bar.

9. Kids These Days (2017) by Malcolm Harris

I must admit that this Gen Xer falls into the trap of stereotyping my millennial brethren. Do they really know hard work? Do they ever look up from their phones? Is it possible to have a phone conversation with them?

The great thing about Kids These Days is that Harris dispels millennial stereotypes and has me see how human capital has shifted in the digital age. The reality is that millennials are doing more and getting less than previous generations. They're more educated than previous generations, but they're often buried under student-loan debt. Their extra education likely doesn't reflect their income.

If I can build off of Kids These Days, I will point out that the trends mentioned in the book are increasing with Gen Z. I see the modern culture of youth to be this anxiety-ridden, phone-addicted trudge to college. Ugh. It's basically counterculture for a teenager to have a healthy work-life balance. And how is that going to miraculously change when they're older? 

10. Self-Compassion (2018) by Kristin Neff

For the final pick, I got to go with Self-Compassion. It edges out a bunch of books that I also recommend, including Digital Minimalism (2019) by Cal Newport, The Selection (2012) by Kiera Cass (a rare YA read and recommend from me), Play (2009) by Stuart Brown and Revolutionary Wealth (2006) by Heidi and Alvin Toffler.

As sad is it might sound, I never even knew self-compassion to be a concept until recently, and I see it as vital to one's health and to how one treats others. How can we truly be kind to others if we're not kind to ourselves?

Perhaps I grew up to understand that selfishness was bad and we should do our best to help others. Unfortunately, how we treat ourselves got lost in the shuffle for me. Self-care is huge nowadays in schools, and I agree that it's hugely important for educators and students. However, I see self-compassion as a precursor to self-care, and I believe we owe it to ourselves — and others around us — to treat ourselves with kindness. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

New York mesmerized by cool Dad

"Oh, good choice. That's my dad's favorite."

That's what I heard from the server in a hip East Village eatery for brunch on Easter.

"I am such a dad," I replied. "In fact, I'm the dad of this entire restaurant!"

My, how our demographics have changed as Gen Xers! I lived in New York City back in the '90s, during part of my 20s. Last week, I explored the city with my beautiful wife, Dina, and our teenage daughters.

Apparently, Dina and I end up in NYC every three years or so, but this was the first time with the girls. Overall, we had a blast, ate some fuhgettaboutit food and did some solid touring, including going to the top of the Freedom Tower and seeing Wicked.

I guess I'm slow, and I should've realized this earlier. But my big takeaway was how NYC is such a youthful city, and no matter how darn cool I know I am, I can not pass for a 20-something hipster. We stayed in the Lower East Side at Public, an Ian Schrager hotel. He is famous for founding Studio 54, and the hotel attracts hipsters, not families. Coming to grips with my demographic was in my face as soon as we checked in.

"And your daughters will be in Room 309, sir,"  the hotel guy said.

Daughters? How could he assume that? And what's up with him calling me 'Sir'? Well, I guess I've been "Sir" for a while by now.

I quickly learned not to care about the dad treatment bestowed on me by NYC. But that's easier said than done.

A lot of New York memories flooded back as I would "stand clear of the closing doors, please," or when I saw the site of the Tic Tac Toe chicken in Chinatown or when I showed the girls where I used to live in Washington Square Village. I broke new ground, touring the city in full-fledged dad mode.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm probably the best parent to ever exist. A lot of fellow Gen Xers believe being a topnotch parent means losing their own lives, being a helicopter or bulldozer or treating their kids like little emperors. "Dad, make me a sandwich!" "Oh, yes Emperor Jaden, I'll get right on that!"

No, no, taking my cues from Julie Lythcott-Haims and her 2015 masterpiece How To Raise An Adult, I feel like Dina and I do what's right for us and the kids. We're on the same page, and we will always be. That doesn't mean we don't disagree. The kids don't dominate us; we don't dominate them. Hopefully, we put them in a position to develop character traits, such as grit, empathy, kindness and connection, that will serve them well in life. I guess that's my version of parenting.

Back to NYC, where Dina and I hit the streets with these beautiful teenage daughters as I remain a gray-haired dude who likes the Cleveland Guardians.

It's the girls' time now. While they're a freshman and junior in high school, I enjoy watching them find their way educationally, socially and emotionally. They don't need me like when they were younger, but I'm hoping we stay close and they understand I truly love and support them.

Being a dad has been such a huge part of my identity for the past 17 years, and I have found it slightly difficult to transition to dad of teenagers. The main reason is because my role is much different now. Deep down, I might be mourning the loss of stuffed animals, bubbles, board games and sidewalk chalk. They're studying for AP tests now, and I've accepted that's where we are.

Somehow, New York accentuated this transition to me, and, overall, this is how life goes. I'm learning to get out of the girls' way and be there for them, when needed — mostly for my credit card. As the girls grow, I believe Dina and I will become even closer as they go to college, figure out their careers and navigate relationships.

I believe every generation has a different version of what they perceive as "cool." Obviously, I am superbly cool to Gen Xers. But to Millennials and the Gen Z crew, I'm a total dad. Don't they know how well-versed I am with indie rock and being disenchanted?

Maybe that version of cool doesn't exist in 2022. Maybe the girls have somehow out-cooled me. They probably belong in Manhattan more than I do nowadays. It's just too bad they'll never lose to a chicken in Tic Tac Toe.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Are the toxic Browns loyal to their fans?

No. Fun. League. 

Yep, that's how I see the NFL nowadays. It's just no fun. It's putting me, and us Cleveland Browns fans, in a predicament that we don't want.

Many of us are diehard, lifelong Browns fans, and we devote 17 weeks of our lives and a lot of the offseason to following our beloved Brownies. Of course, we want a Super Bowl, but we know that the Browns bring us fans together in the name of community and entertainment and connecting our generations. That's the deal. Right?

But now, what are we supposed to do? We are not fans of Deshaun Watson. He has 22 civil cases connected to sexual assault pending, and we take this seriously. Plus, he never has played for the Browns. Regardless, they signed him to the highest guaranteed contract in NFL history for five years, $230 million. They even gave up three first-round picks to do this.

In case you don't follow it, please understand that a day before agreeing to come to Cleveland, Watson told the Browns he wasn't interested. Please understand that 24 women have accused him of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Just on March 11, a grand jury declined pursuing criminal charges against him.

In essence, the Browns announced, well, if there aren't criminal charges, then we're OK signing him to the biggest guaranteed contract in NFL history. How exactly do the Browns expect their fans to react?

We're obviously not excited because of the baggage Watson brings, the manner in which he already treated the Browns and the fact that the team has given up three first-round picks. What about the victims? What? All 24 were lying?

On the other hand, it may be unrealistic for us diehard fans to swear off the Browns, considering how loyal we are. However, the one thing I've learned about loyalty is that it's a two-way street. How exactly are the Browns being loyal to their fans with this move?

In the news conference to introduce Watson, the Browns brass did not say "yes" when asked if they thought he was innocent. And Watson said his record contract had nothing to do with him coming to Cleveland. Say what? Huh? Oh my God, what an airhead!

Not so long ago, I kept hearing from the Browns how Baker Mayfield embodied Cleveland. He had a chip on his shoulder and was the working man's quarterback. He was perfect for Cleveland, the Browns told us.
Now, all of a sudden, the Browns are asking fans to forget that narrative and go with "winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." All of a sudden, we no longer are a city that needs a QB to match our sensibility. What exactly is your story, Browns?

Story, feel and connection matter to us fans. Maybe that's why the owners, the country bumpkin Haslems, have never been a fit. They're from Tennessee and had a stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers before amassing the Browns. What do they really care — or even know — about our city? 

The Haslems are so culturally disconnected to Cleveland that they went all-in on an accused sexual assaulter that we don't want and my family refers to as "Cosby." Beware: Watson, AKA "Cosby," could end up as the biggest free-agent bust in NFL history. 

This is a public-relations disaster, and kudos for Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto for expressing his feelings, which match a lot of the fan base: "I can't recall the last time I was so angered and disappointed by a decision by a local franchise. My anger is aimed at the Browns, not Watson when it comes to this deal."

I have lived away from Cleveland my entire adult life, but I still identify with it as home and, of course, am a huge fan of its sports teams. After this lame signing of Watson, I can see no best-case scenario. Chances are, the Browns will be mediocre or fall flat on their faces. I mean if the unaligned, awkward and maudlin news conference is indicative of how it's going to be on the field, it's going to be pathetic.

On the flip side, even if the Browns miraculously win the Super Bowl with Watson, so what? Success isn't only about the outcome. It's about the process, too, and this already has been an unsuccessful process. "Unsuccessful" may be kind. Actually, it's pretty toxic.

One simple answer is this: Just don't watch it.

Maybe that's the simple progression for someone like me. The last time I saw the Browns in person was in 2015, when they played in San Diego at outdated Qualcomm Stadium. There was a lot of over-the-top rowdiness in the stands, and it took us over an hour to maneuver out of an undirected parking lot. No need to go in person any more.

Maybe there's no need to watch this junk any more. I will not get the NFL Sunday Ticket this year, and that's a step in the right direction. I hope to have my Sundays free again and live my actual life instead of watching players who don't even want to be in Cleveland. I don't cheer for villains or their enablers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

News junkie breaks up with CNN

A full-fledged war started this past week, and I'm not watching it, especially not on CNN. You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I have officially broken up with CNN and all corporate TV news. No, we can't still be friends. It's not me. It's you.

Looking back at the pandemic, CNN's coverage was alarmist, extreme, divisive and totally stressed me out. Unfortunately, it took me many, many months to figure this out and turn it off. I was stuck with CNN. During a pandemic. No wonder we're getting divorced!

Obviously, fear sells and keeps viewers glued to their screens. But I bet a lot of us have hit a breaking point, and we're no longer buying what U.S. news is selling. Like Mr. Wonderful might say on Shark Tank ... We're out.

Please don't judge me based on this break-up. First, he moves to Orange County, then he nixes CNN. Figures. He's probably watching Fox News and driving a pick-up truck by now. No, not true! Fox News is even worse than CNN — and has been for years. I just wonder how long CNN had joined Fox in the gutter before I noticed.

During this Russia-Ukraine war, I am only watching and reading international news sources and nonprofit Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. I'm better informed and a zillion times less stressed than if I turned on the U.S. news with commercial breaks.

DW (Deutsche Welle), the German public broadcaster, is my favorite international news outlet. I find it strives for objectivity and has far less emotion than its American counterparts, including the New York Times. While I find excellent journalism now and again in the Times, its business approach is way too aggressive. Its headlines often look more concerned with clicks than representing its stories, and why do I have to pay to read its content? I'm not absorbing the Times like I used to.

Back in the '90s, a lot of us watched the Gulf War on CNN and might have felt as if we were good citizens to glue ourselves to our TVs. Earlier in 1963, many U.S. viewers started their catastrophic TV watching with the JFK assassination. Back then, the populace was so shocked it turned to TV. The same thing happened with 9/11.

How many more catastrophes are we going to force ourselves to ruminate over with our money-making news? After the pandemic, am I the only one who's just gassed and can't do this any more?

Maybe we thought we were good citizens to watch constant catastrophes involving America and the world. But does a good, well-informed citizen need to watch bombings in Ukraine? What does that prove?

Life is not one crisis after another, as corporate American news tries to show us. Catastrophes do happen, and I believe it's important to be informed. But if a news outlet can't communicate the news of the day in 30 minutes, or even one hour max, is it really doing its job or just manipulating us into staying with it longer than they need to?

And don't get me started on why I feel obliged to have a zillion news apps on my phone and in my pocket. It takes discipline to only look at the news when I wake up and one more time after dinner. Honestly, CNN is just too needy.

While it's true that I spent 13 years in newspaper journalism, have a master's in journalism and taught at USC's Annenberg School of Communication, I think typical viewers are experiencing what I am and not just us news junkies. We can't go through the high-stress, emotionally driven nothingness of American TV news any more. 

I bet we'd live in a kinder, gentler America and end a lot of the silly political infighting if we all stopped watching national TV news. While it's important to be informed about what's happening globally and nationally, I wish we all paid much more attention to our local government, what we're consuming on the Internet and our communities.

Perhaps the time I put into world and national news will be converted into a better quality of life and calmness.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

How to procrastinate properly

A lot of my students come up to me and ask, "Mr. Stevens, can you teach me how to procrastinate?"

I'll indulge these whippersnappers, but I must say that procrastination is a skill that needs to be practiced and honed. It takes a lifetime to master, and, quite frankly, I still learn a lot about procrastination each day.

So instead of asking to be taught, maybe students should ask: "How do I learn to procrastinate?" 

Well, as a teacher, I'm only the crossing guard. Students need buy-in. They need to see the importance of procrastination and walk through the crosswalk. Y'know, it's more about what they learn as opposed to what I teach.

Right off the bat, if students don't look at their phone as soon as they get a notification, that's a problem. They also should have multiple social-media apps on the phone. TikTok and Insta are good for starters, but have as many as you can find. Hey, downloads are free. Twitter? Reddit? Why not? And just scroll through those apps as much as possible.

Colorful games are good, too, for dopamine rushes. You can never have enough dopamine. You won't get dulled to it, so the more games you play, like Clash Royale or Funky Blast or Mario Mustache, the better. Do not stop looking at the phone while walking down the street or if you're in the restroom or while eating or in any class because that is valuable dopamine time.

Another tip is to surround oneself with as many needy, unreliable friends as possible. It helps if they text you constantly and let out their emotions with you daily. Let's hear it again about how they were wronged. Group chats are wonderful, too! Get on as many as possible, and contribute to them. To be innovative, start group chats. People love that.

Mindlessly watching YouTube is a good tactic, too. When in doubt, keep going to the next video. If it's getting boring and you're thinking, "Hey, maybe, I should do that assignment due tomorrow that was assigned three months ago," don't be stupid! Watch more videos. Good ones will come.

If social media, dopamine blasting games, texting your overly needy friends and YouTube aren't working for you, then try binge watching a show, any show — even if you only mildly like it. As you start each new episode, a good mantra is: "OK, this is the last one."

I recommend saying that mantra as much as humanly possible. As the sun comes up, and as you realize you accidentally fell asleep during a 5-second YouTube ad, when you decided you could binge watch some lame show, watch YouTube cat videos, text back your needy "friend," still collect your bonus points in Funky Blast and do your math homework at the same time, be proud of yourself. You officially are an expert procrastinator!

And what separates the true procrastination geniuses from the pretenders is this: They're doing it all again today as they sleepwalk through the day! Yippee!!

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Blog goes to Next Level

On the first New Year's Eve during this blog's existence, I lamented the fact that rockstar Paul Westerberg turned 50. Looking at the calendar today, I realize Westerberg is 62 now.

As this blog kicks off its 13th full year today, I realize that this is a record of my life and path. I guess it's not just me and Mr. Westerberg who are different today as opposed to in 2009. We all are.

My daughters were 6 and 4 back then, and now they're 16 and 14. I've always placed major importance into being a dad, and I love how that's playing out. I am proud of both Sophie and Chloe and am happy to be a part of their teenage, K-Pop world.

Yeah, those two love K-Pop, and I've learned that one way to connect with them is to immerse myself in K-Pop and revel in its artistry, style, talent, hard work and commercial appeal. A lot of it is pretty spectacular.

So with this post, this blog recommits to writing about whatever the heck I desire. This is a general-interest blog from a Gen X husband and dad. This blog reflects where I'm at during the moment, and I am buried in K-Pop. Happy New Year!

Last year, I released my top 20 K-Pop songs of 2020, and here are my top 10 K-Pop songs of 2021. If you're into K-Pop, enjoy! If not, consider clicking on some of the links to give it a try and subscribe to Sophie and Chloe's K-Pop channel echo4ever.

1. Next Level by Aespa

Aespa did indeed go the next level after its Black Mamba debut. I like Next Level so much that I had it blasting on the first day of school as high schoolers returned to in-person skool.

2. Maverick by The Boyz

Oh, heck, yeah, son! Back in the game, son! This is just a thrilling, killer song, son. Mark Cuban better start blaring this tune at Dallas Maverick basketball games.

3. On the Ground by Rose

Blackpink is a superstar band, and Rose and Lisa have some darn good solo stuff. I also loved Sophie's version of On the Ground!

4. I'm Not Cool by HyunA

I love the lyrics and attitude to this one, and Chloe killed it in her dance cover!

5. Don't Call Me by Shinee

Shinee's back! While this is no Ring Dong Dong, which I absolutely love, Don't Call Me brought these idols back, and I found myself often singing the song to myself. Taemin is da man!

6. Scientist by Twice

It turns out that love ain't no science. Don't need no license! And Sophie did an awesome dance cover to it as well.

7. Beautiful Beautiful by ONF

Brum, brum, bum, ba, ba, bum, bum! Catchy, catchy, and a killer video too.

8. Where Are We Now by Mamamoo

Hwa Sa remains my ultimate bias, and I nearly put I'm a B here by her. But Where Are We Now packs an emotional punch and shows Mamamoo's evolution and ability to sing atop winnebagos.

9. Thunderous by Stray Kids

I used to answer "Stray Kids" automatically whenever someone asked me about my favorite boy group, but The Boyz may be replacing that answer. I hope Stray Kids' best stuff isn't behind them, and Thunderous is pretty solid.

10. PTT (Paint the Town) by Loona

Stan Loona. ... Loona is such a supergroup that I had to put Paint the Town on this list. That means Exo, Lisa, ITZY, MCND, Chung Ha, IU, Fromis_9, G(Idle), Oh My Girl, Day6, Everglow and Treasure all were edged out. ... That's cold, and happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Gen X music is somehow on Target

"I'm quirky, not like all the other girls."

Hipster 14-year-old Chloe has been slapping me with that retort, when she challenges me on the music I like. This hipster makes fun of me because I still like indie rock and am weary of music with commercial success. Sellouts!

Chloe points out that I'm kidding myself, that the music I like is more commercial than I realize and just because it's popular, doesn't mean it's bad. OK. Yeah. Whatever. I — and many of my Gen X brethren — are disenchanted, indie-rock loving music aficionados. Gen Z snowflakes like Chloe just don't get it. She ain't punk rock, man.

I'm working, but not I'm not working for you!

OK. I'm evolving. You just can't listen to the Replacements, Superchunk, Flaming Lips and Guided By Voices forever. During 2020, I went out with Spotify, and this music algorithm thing probably knows me better than I know myself. Spotify turned me onto many artists I never heard of, including Courtney Barnett and Barrie. But something painful happened with both singers.

First of all, these two could be huge stars, yet I don't personally know anyone who likes them (save for one English teacher who I somehow found out likes Courtney Barnett). Courtney Barnett, by the way, is doing two shows at the Ace Theater in L.A. later this month, and I realized that she was on the season finale of Saturday Night Live in 2016. OK, so, people must know her.

Back in the day, finding music was so different. I had a stable of music-junkie friends who always knew the new albums coming out, and I picked and chose what I liked. I could bounce back my feelings about albums and artists with my buddies, and pretty much everybody in college did that on some level. Honestly, I yearn to talk about some of the artists I love on Spotify, but that's not how it works. I'm listening to my stuff in my own little AirPod world, and who knows if anybody else likes it too?

But then, a problem ensued this past week. I heard a Courtney Barnett song called Charity in Target. What?!? How could this be? You mean to tell me this musically elite former Fugazi-listening, Matador elitist likes music from Target? This can't be true! What's next? Are the White Stripes playing Wal-Mart?

And then I remembered something that affected me last Christmastime. I was in the aforementioned Target when I heard a song I really liked. I was like, "Wow, this is at Target? This is a great song. I'm Shazaam-ing it." It was Clovers by Barrie. Spotify had already turned me on to Barrie with a couple other songs, and now I officially liked music in big-box stores. God, help me.

What the heck is going on here? When I was a youngster in the '80s, music from the '50s sounded utterly outdated and boring. Is that what kids think about my music from the '80s and '90s and my lame attempts to find new music in freakin' Target? How can Sonic Youth not be cool? How in God's name is Kim Gordon 68 years old? She's betting on the bull in the heather!

So I've done my best to find new music and evolve past Mercury Rev, the Minutemen and Cibo Matto. I've discovered these "newer" artists that I like: George Clanton, Soccer Mommy, NewDad, Pond, Virginia Wing, Katy J. Pearson, Wild Nothing, Kurt Vile, the Weather Station, Junip, Samantha Crain, Yelle (French), and I guess I'll stop the list there.

I imagine I'll be hearing some of them at Target this holiday season. Maybe Kurt Vile will do an in-store.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Easy teacher tips to improve classrooms


Our kids are exhausted. What should we do?

I've been bemoaning the modern culture of high school for a while, and now both of my daughters are victims — yes, victims — of it.

My girls often are tired, overworked, stressed and bombarded by paperwork. My students tell me they're feeling the same way. And I get it. The schoolwork system can be toxic, but we educators can make a difference — a slight difference.

Look, the ridiculous stress bucket that high school is nowadays existed well before the Covid shutdown. But now, it's even more so. Something has to give.

High school kids have a cornucopia of resources at their fingertips with their phones, laptops and Chromebooks, yet their schedules have remained the same, stuck in time. Does that make any sense?

Kids face all the expectations of being digitally savvy in a tech-driven world, yet they reap none of the benefits from tech with their schedules. They do more work, more efficiently than any generation, yet they're still clocking into every class on-time like mill workers, sitting in old-school desks and asking permission to go to the bathroom.

In contrast, I know many adults who now have abbreviated in-person work schedules post-Covid because, like high-school students, they do their work digitally. I also know adults who no longer go into their offices and never will. But what the heck are we doing with our teenagers?

Technology has enabled kids to learn much, much more than yesteryear, yet high schools remain locked in their Industrial Revolution model, preparing students for factory work that no longer exists. So our kids face a double whammy. School is like having both a factory job and tech job, and then they're even forced to do schoolwork at home. What a disaster!

So now what?

I believe in optimism, and I believe we teachers can make some key decisions that can help ourselves and not add to our students' burdens. I don't have all the answers and am open to doing anything in my power to help my classroom feel as if it's in 2021 and not 1921, 1950, 1980, 2010 or even 2019.

Here are easy things teachers can do to help themselves and their students and ,better yet, move out of the compliance model of education and toward actually education:

1) Stop assigning homework — once and for all. I have railed against homework here and highly recommend The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, yet apparently teachers still assign paperwork. Why? Again, I know of zero studies that show homework improves learning. Please, just stop it.

2) Stop having so many graded assignments. I know students need to be assessed, but why can't teachers do it more informally, without grades? Why must we grade them weekly or even daily? How about monthly? Why don't we turn down the dial on these constant graded assignments?

3) 20 percent total for all tests and quizzes. Haven't we had enough of high-stakes testing? Why do teachers have high-stakes testing in their classes? I see my students so stressed out some days, and when I ask what's happening they often say, "I have a test next period." 

When I started teaching, it was suggested to not count any type of category of grading more than 20 percent. I've kept that plan all these years, and my five categories of grading are tests, in-class writing, reading responses, polished writing assignments and projects.

4) Actually get to know your students. Why are we in the classroom in the first place? Isn't it to support our students? At my school, teachers have 165 students. It turns out those 165 are human beings. While I teach the content standards, human beings are much more valuable than those standards.

5) Model emotional maturity. Sadly, some teachers never left high school, emotionally. I've seen some throw tantrums, assume the worst from their colleagues and students and act like children. I understand that good teaching involves emotion, and it's crucial that we stay emotionally mature, especially when faced with adversity.

The good news is that I am seeing more dialogue on social emotional learning, post shutdown, and how this is more important than our old-timey curriculums. Thank god for that. But I often wonder how teachers can promote SEL when they themselves struggle with self-awareness, social skills, relationship building and their emotional lives.

6) Be vulnerable but pick your spots. It is important to be vulnerable with our students, but don't overshare. The class ultimately is about them, not us. While some sharing of one's life can be healthy, don't overdo it.

7) More student choice. I never have liked being told what to do, and, ooh lordy, high school kids constantly are being told what to do. The more choice we give give students, the better.

8) Stop dominating. High school still perpetuates a dominator-control culture. We need to do everything in our power to stop it to stop dominating and actually work with our students. We're their teachers, not their bosses.

9) Exercise. I found a huge secret to enjoying my school days more: I do light exercise for a mere 15 minutes when I wake up. It gets the blood flowing and makes me feel better throughout the day. No matter what happens, I at least had that minor success in the day.

10) Meditate. With so many face-to-face and digital interactions a day and covering a lot of material, meditation helps. In the era of Big Tech's dominance, I find meditation to be an important part of our well-being. Turn. It. Off.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Millikan shooting demands change

"Welcome to high school, Chloe. Some poorly dressed men at your school carry guns now. Have a good four years!"

Y'know, this blog post originally was going to be about both of my daughters' educational experiences at Millikan High School this year with Sophie, a junior, and Chloe, a freshman, but instead that's been trumped by Monday's news of a shooting outside of their high school.

I feel so embarrassed for the Long Beach Unified School District right now. To learn that Monday's incident could even have the chance of happening — and actually did — scares me and forces me to demand change with LBUSD's campus security plan.

If you missed what happened, here is a recap of the story in the Long Beach Post. Basically, a school safety officer (SSO) fired into the backseat of a car, through a window and struck 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez in the head. Two days later, Mona was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support today. We've also learned that she had a 5-month-old. Video shows the incident, and I have no clue why any safety officer ever would fire through a window into the backseat of a car. This is a tragedy, close to home.

Now, I don't have all of the facts, and that is true. I am just a Millikan parent who is outraged by what occurred. But information is emerging. On Tuesday, Mike Guardabascio of the Post gave LBUSD a chance to explain its point of view in this story. While I see that longtime LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou appeared to strive for transparency about these school safety officers, myriad questions emerge as to why LBUSD has nine full-time SSOs, two part-time SSOs and four supervisors that can be armed and on school campuses.

If Eftychiou explained that the sole intent of these officers is to ensure no gun violence on campuses, their presence could be justified — maybe. However, that's not what he said. Rather, he said their main job is to "monitor students on campus and to assist the administrators in keep ordering."

Say what? We need guns at our schools for that? My daughters are being monitored and kept in order by non-educators, non-policemen with guns. This is 100 percent unacceptable.

And, sadly, we had to lose 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez, the mom of 5-month-old Isael, for this horrific plan to come to light.

I have two main questions as the Millikan community mourns this tragedy. No. 1: Where are all the white people and leaders at? No. 2: Now what?

While Long Beach might consider itself one of the most progressive big cities in the nation, I wonder if this incident shows its true NIMBY colors. I see Black Lives Matter signs in front of the $1 million homes in the Ranchos by Millikan, and my L.B. brethren talk a good progressive game. But then this happens, and I hear, "Well, you don't know the facts." And "he was trying to stop a fight." Uh, I wonder what the response would be if Mona Rodriguez's name were Mona Petito?

Come on, LBUSD ineffectively explained why the dude had a gun in the first place, and there simply is no justification for shooting a woman in the head in the backseat of the car. Where's the outrage? Am I witnessing that Long Beach is full of progressives in theory only, and when something actually happens, they go watch Grey's Anatomy and call that progress?

This shooting reminds me a bit of the Trayvon Martin case, in which he was killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012. Nine years later, we have someone killed at Spring and Palo Verde in East Long Beach by someone who, like Zimmerman, wasn't even a police officer.

So now what? First of all, I'd like to have all the individuals connected to this, especially our so-called leaders, have a moral reckoning. If you're not outraged, why not? If you disregard the life of Mona Rodriguez, why do you do this? Aren't we better than this as one human race?

And y'know what's next? Here come the lawyers! We will have internal investigations, trials, media posturing, and as early as yesterday, LBUSD did not defend the SSO who killed Mona. But hello, isn't LBUSD complicit in this crime for having the shooter on campus in the first place?

Y'know what I'd really like to see, tangibly, and it is possible — and easy. First of all, we need to get rid of these packing SSOs, obviously. They should have never been there in the first place. They need to be gone. Now.

Second, if you look closely at end of the article in which LBUSD explains the SSOs, you'll see something that I've been saying for years. Why aren't the Campus Security Assistants actually trained?

As a teacher, I see the crucial importance of kind, gentle and effective CSAs. In Long Beach, these people, who do not carry guns, are trained for a whopping three hours. Basically, anybody ends up being a CSA.

These CSAs often dress like they're fresh off the People of Walmart website and can be completely unprofessional and instigate problems as opposed to deescalate them. A lot of them absolutely should not be around kids. Let's revision campus security ASAP, or more tragedies are bound to happen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Are you ready for some football?

Let's not get too excited. Let's keep an even keel. Breathe. Breathe. Let's not get too excited. OK.

But let me tell you this: I am dang excited about this NFL season!

Jeez, my Cleveland Browns won a playoff game last year for the first time in 26 years and finally displayed competence. We Browns fans and even NFL pundits are more optimistic about Cleveland than ever. What could possibly go wrong?!?

Here's the deal: The NFL may embody what is best in America and what is worst in 'Merica all in one glorious/ridiculous sport that I watch each week.

Let's be positive and focus on what I find good about the NFL. I love the message of "hard work." I love that football is a blue-collar sport. I love that desire often trumps talent. And let's be honest: It's entertaining. Circus-like catches. Bone-crushing hits. Fourth and inches. Heck, yeah!

I'm actually cool with Browns QB Baker Mayfield and his style. I believe he isn't that good, but he busts his butt and doesn't seem to get injured. He ain't fancy and has average stats, but guess what? He's a winner.

Do you know what it's like for a Browns fan to actually like the quarterback? That's nearly impossible from what we've weathered. Decades and decades of incompetent QBs. I literally feel sick in my stomach whenever I hear the term "Johnny Manziel."

While I'm super excited about my Browns, I must say that the NFL may show what's wrong with our American culture, too. It's crazy violent, way too corporate and cruel to its workers. Sure, some players get paid mega-bucks, but at what price?

Football is brutal to bodies and heads, and quite frankly, football culture is patriarchal, militaristic and in some ways, racist and sexist. Toxic masculinity can be on display. And did we even mention concussions yet?

I would not encourage my son to play football, and at the end of the day, OK, if kids really want to play, I guess I support that. But it's such a violent sport, and we are such a violent country. I wonder why we glorify football so much.

Plus, 'Merica eats horribly, and I'm mentally preparing to see a zillion Domino's Pizza ads and chicken-shack crap as I watch games. Why do wings need to be wild? Free-range wings — that would make more sense. We'll eat nachos, drink soda and destroy our bodies as we watch players doing the same on the screen. Good times.

I often have considered elite sports a celebration of life, but with so much violence in the NFL and these so-called wild wings, is it really that?

But I am addicted. I can't not watch the Browns ... and play fantasy football ... and run a football pool. When the NFL is at its best, it brings people together. "You're a football fan? Great. That's all I need. We're cool."

It used to be "You're American? That's all I need. We're cool." Nowadays, as we all know, we got a whole bunch of low-level tribal division happening. I say the NFL is in a higher place than that junk. It sure beats cable news.

If it takes the NFL to bring us all together, I'll take it. Just, please, don't ever bring up Johnny Manziel.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Hey Cleveland, let's guard this franchise!

Guardians. The Cleveland Guardians.

I'm not sure I'll ever get used to that name in my lifetime, but I accept it. I have mixed feelings about the Indians' name change. While I believe it was time to change the name, the Guardians is pretty darn dull, but any new name would have gotten backlash.

I mean, come on, the franchise goes back to 1894, and the Cleveland Indians name has been around since 1914. For many long-time Clevelanders, they bristle with the idea of losing the name Indians, and some still wear Chief Wahoo.

To me, the central question of the decision to change the Indians' name was this: Is the name Indians offensive or dehumanizing?

It doesn't appear offensive or dehumanizing to a bunch of white people in Northeast Ohio. But many of them, hopefully, realize the name Indians is dehumanizing to Native Americans. I believe they understand that it is wrong to refer to Native Americans as "Indians," in a similar way that Asian Americans shouldn't be referred to as "Orientals" (sorry for the bluntness of that example).

Back in 1995, I adamantly opposed any notion that the name Indians or Chief Wahoo was wrong. I was 22 and had just moved out of Ohio. I later evolved to a fuller understanding, and that's not easy because I have loved the Cleveland Indians throughout my lifetime. Five years ago, I admitted I was against Chief Wahoo, and some Cleveland friends practically crucified me for that. But, come on guys, are we still referring to Native Americans as Indians?

So if we accept the name Indians needs to go, is Guardians the best we could do? Guardians is a short-term connection to Indians with the same colors and font style. It might work for this moment and the transition. But what about the future? I thought Cleveland Spiders was cooler and had way more marketing possibilities. Maybe we can at least have the Rally Spider, like the Angels have their Rally Monkey.

I also felt the Spiders connected with the Indians better. See, the Indians never were meant to represent the Native Americans or anything connected to reality. Even Chief Wahoo was a caricature based in non-reality. Now, all of a sudden, the decision-makers are going with something, Guardians, that is said to embody Cleveland. Nope. Don't buy it. Wrong. B.S. Never heard that, and each day, I crossed the Hope Memorial Bridge — that apparently has statues called "The Guardians of Traffic" — to get to my high school, St. Ignatius.

Most Clevelanders work their butts off, and when they watch a baseball game, they don't want to be reminded of reality or think about a serious nickname. For God's sakes, "Buckeyes," our poisonous nuts, is one of the strangest, non-deep names, east of the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. We Ohioans like a little nonsensical. Spiders was a better option.

Regardless of the names, I maintain that Cleveland is the best sports town in the nation. Yes, I am biased. But you got to understand that it's a tiny market, and so to have the Indians, Browns and Cavs is huge. These teams are a fabric of our culture that big-market folk just don't understand. Cleveland literally is the smallest market that has an MLB, NFL and NBA team. Even though pro sports is big business, I say we support these so-called Guardians so they don't leave for a bigger market. 

No matter what I do, I can't not be a ginormous Cleveland sports fan. I watch or listen to my Tribe daily, see them every year when they visit Anaheim, and when I flew on a red eye into Cleveland this past month, I went to Progressive Field that evening and enjoyed a game with my mom, brother, Uncle Ed, Amy and Brady. We all love our Tribe!

Maybe the move from Indians to Guardians is soooo Cleveland. Maybe the lame name is fitting for this perpetually overachieving franchise. This year, they have the absolute lowest payroll in baseball, yet are still above .500. Amazing!

It's kind of fun rooting for a perpetual competent underdog. "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. steel," is a famous quote from comedian Joe E. Lewis. Rooting for the Indians is like rooting for the Anthony Michael Hall character in The Breakfast Club.

Back in 1920, Cleveland was the fifth biggest city in the United States, and then after World War II, the population peaked at 914,000. Nowadays, the population is just 381,000, although that doesn't take into account the suburbs.

When I'm in Cleveland, I feel a huge sense of civic pride that I haven't experienced elsewhere; people there absolutely love the place. While I'll concede that, yes, there are other cities with civic pride, Cleveland is unique because it has reinvented itself while facing a declining population and by no longer being the nation's fifth biggest city, but the 54th biggest, edged out by No. 53 Bakersfield.

There are reasons why LeBron James invests heavily into poor sections of Northeast Ohio and didn't just leave Ohio behind or why when I meet anyone from Cleveland I immediately feel connected. We grew up, knowing the value of community and working together. It's not all "me, me, me" there. We learned that economics isn't the only factor in quality of life and even can distract from it. Architecture, art, music and, yes, our sports teams truly matter and bring us together. 

Clevelanders have grit and are leaders in many ways. We didn't do the easy thing, changing the Indians name. We did the right thing.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Streaming killed the comedy star

Is it OK to laugh again?

Now, I understand 2020 was THE WORST YEAR EVER. And then Coronavirus peaked again this January, and my state of California didn't "open up" until 15 days ago.

So, yeah, we've gone through the wringer, and I know many people personally who've been served a big piece of life. But the question I wonder is this: Will America ever be funny again?

I fear that just like rock 'n' roll peaked in the late '60s or early '70s, comedy has peaked, never to return to its heights of the '80s. Back then, we had Comic Relief, NBC's Thursday lineup (Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court), Saturday Night Live still mattering, recording Late Night with David Letterman on the VCR, Robin Williams killing it and much more. Uh, what do have now?

Just like video killed the radio star, streaming has killed the comedy star.

In 2020, The Office was by far the most streamed TV show, as reported by Variety. The Office is a tour de force and worthy of its accolades. Just as I say Nirvana was the last great American rock band, I fear that The Office, which ran from 2005 to 2013, will go down as the last great American comedy show.

Of course, one irony is that The Office was created in jolly England. Entertainment is so diffused now. There are so many entertainment options that I just don't see an Office happening again. Ever. The show spans generations. I know Boomers who like it, and my daughter tells me some middle schoolers like it, too. Funny shows and comedians will surface, but they won't have the vast audience or impact as The Office.

Maybe this is a good thing. We'll have more diverse voices, more indie shows, better quality, just not one big show we can all agree on.

An ongoing mini-drama in my household accentuates the generational differences between me and my two Gen Z daughters. Anyone who knows me must realize that I'm freakin' hilarious, a self-anointed funny man for the ages. That's what I said.

However, my daughters, especially Chloe, repeatedly say, "That's not funny, dad."

We Gen Xers like comedy with edge, borderline offensive, straddling the line, but not over the line. Nowadays, it often appears that anything coming close to "the line" already is out of bounds.

However, Chloe informs me that my Gen X humor is a product of my generation and demographic and that I repeatedly shame others and am "blatantly offensive." She mentioned a lengthy list of inappropriate jokes I have told, and while I say she's too sensitive, maybe this cisgender heterosexual white male needs to look in the mirror and ponder. ... Or reload another zinger.

I remember learning in the early '90s that corporate rock still sucks. That applies to movies and comedy as well. Globalization is such a focus in the entertainment industry now that, by comparison, minuscule  resources get put into comedy exclusively for American audiences; I guess I'll have to stream funny stuff on BBC.

When it comes to comedy, America is as lost as the Oscars. While I understand that movies can be a conduit for social progress, I bet we open up more minds through laughter than preaching and car chases.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Digital brain book kicks off summer recs

Not too long ago, the family and I watched the 1984 movie Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. Y'know what? It holds up. It's still funny, entertaining. Not bad.

The odd thing, though, was that I noticed every little detail of the movie, not like when I saw it years ago. It became obvious that what we watch today is much more fast-paced, and we consume much more video. It's not possible for me to notice every detail of every frame with modern movies and TV because they just move too fast.

Our collective brains have transformed because of the digital age we live. Our capacity for what we take in has expanded, and there are downsides, such as a lack of our depth of understanding and our reliance on images. I recently read Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018) by Maryanne Wolf, and it helped me understand the ramifications of reading in the digital age and make a persuasive argument for the importance of reading full-length books.

One shocking statistic in Reader, Come Home is that the average person encounters 100,000 words per day. That's a full-length novel. It's not as if the average person actively reads those words. Oh, no. The vast majority is just scrolled past and hardly pondered, if at all. We have digital brains now.

The ramifications of the changes in our brains and the lack of extended reading are enormous. Empathy suffers, and we end up craving snippets and scrolling. Actual life and human interaction may feel boring. Although the book delves into the science of what happens to the brain when we read, I found the strength to be how Wolf just makes an argument for reading by calling upon Aristotle, Derrida, Heidegger and countless other big thinkers in an accessible way.

Heidegger argued that man's special nature is to be a reflective being, but as the masses face so much fast-paced, non-contemplative images, could we be losing what it means to be human? So I highly recommend Reader, Come Home. It kicks off a list of 10 books I've read this past school year that I also recommend.

Perhaps this will be the format for my book recommendations. I'll do them toward the end of the school year, similar to last year. This will build off the Top 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend project from 2019. My other recommendations this year are:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

This is the remix version of the 2016 book Stamped from the Beginning, and it was much more entertaining than I anticipated. That was a surprising feat, considering the heavy content.

Stamped, the remix, captivated me, and I devoured it in a couple days. I couldn't put it down. I often wonder if we will keep teaching myths to our youth about America's past and call it "history." Do we properly address the consequences of slavery? Do we address shielding the facts that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson each had more than 600 slaves? Stamped is just so accessible and truthful that it deserves the accolades it receives. 

Positivity (2009) by Barbara Fredrickson

As a Gen Xer, living on this planet for nearly five decades, it's hard for a book to improve my outlook on life, but this one did. So often, I hear "be positive" or "look on the bright side." Uh, how? What does that entail?

Fredrickson promotes the idea that we should strive for three positive thoughts or actions to each negative one. Negative thoughts and negativity creep into all of us. Hey, man, we're human beings, and we're honest! However, striving for positivity, or as I call it "realistic, authentic positivity," can happen.

Fredrickson also identifies 10 positive emotions to strive for. Those are: joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, inspiration, love, amusement, awe, interest and pride.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (2018) by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff

This book reads well, but what stays with me most is how Haidt and Lukianoff list common thought disorders, such as catastrophizing, overgeneralizing and dichotomous (black and white) thinking, and how these used to be individual disorders. Now, those disorders have affected masses of people, and the divisive and unhealthy Interwebs reinforce them.

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (2020) by Jeffrey Selingo

A lot of parents, and students, get stressed and have an all-around horrific time when it comes to picking a college. Does it really have to be that way?

Selingo's book pointed out a bunch of college admission myths and explained some things I didn't consider. While the masses flock to brand-name colleges, many unsung and lesser known universities offer world-class educations, too. Another good point was that, statistically, student-loan debt is so astronomical because of post-graduate degrees, not undergraduate ones. I've also read There is Life after College by Selingo, and I recommend that too.

Radical Compassion (2019) by Tara Brach

I've also read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, and I have mediated alongside her podcast. These books help me feel better by having me look inward and get out of my head. Global sensation BTS might sing "Love Yourself," but, uh, what does that mean? How? Well, Tara Brach helps!

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook (2017) by Scott Galloway

Galloway has been a huge media personality for a while now (see video below), and I love his bluntness and humor. We live in such a tech-heavy world that I felt The Four set me straight on just how crazily powerful Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are. Insane.

Tons of tidbits about business are in The Four that I loved, such as Galloway's three keys to business success: 1) emotional maturity, 2) curiosity and 3) ownership of your task, project and business.

Tools of Titans (2016) by Tim Ferriss

In the same vein as Tribe of Mentors by Ferriss, the book interviews "successful" people in all walks of life, especially business, and looks at their routines and the obstacles in their paths. The reoccurring themes that come up are how many exercise to start their days, practice mindfulness or mediation and adapted and learned from crucial failures.

I'm so old-school that I didn't realize that Ferriss had a huge podcast before reading Tribe of Mentors. I'm also so old-school that I prefer these books to the podcast.

Smart People Should Build Things (2014) by Andrew Yang

Why in God's name would you go to law school in the 21st century? This is one of many thoughts that come up in Yang's book. I mean, only 20 percent of law-school grads actually practice law. That number alone makes law school look like a grand waste of time and tuition. And, yes, this author is the former presidential candidate who is running for mayor of New York.

Elite students get sucked into Wall Street jobs or go to law school and don't really help our country grow or create jobs. Yang's premise is to move elite students to entrepreneurial jobs. He even created pathways to get such elite graduates to midsized cities, including my beloved Cleveland. I must admit that he has a point, and it would nice to see the driven of our world actually help others, whether it be through business, social services or something other than Wall Street and law.

The Meritocracy Trap: How American's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class and Devours the Elite (2019) by Daniel Markovits

This barely makes my list because it took long to read, and the books repeats its premise so much that it becomes funny. Look, I get it. To think that the United States is a meritocracy is a joke. It isn't. We have a zillion ways to show how it isn't a meritocracy. Got it.

I found the parts on how the myth of meritocracy devours the elite to be most interesting. The elite live in an odd culture of overworking, stress and proving themselves. Wha' happened?

What about working your tail off, but then enjoying life with leisure and possibly contemplating life? The unreported, sad truth about our billionaire-based 21st century economy is that we have developed an unsustainable, work-heavy culture.

Billionaires and millionaires might want to believe they got to where they are through merit. But we all know this is false. Perhaps it is important to admit that it's nice that 'Merica strives for a meritocracy, but in reality, we are just falling in line with the structure that landowners and slave owners Thomas Jefferson and George Washington laid out about 250 years ago.