Saturday, September 14, 2019

We must constantly rethink our schools

Maybe I'm lucky because both of my daughters are "into school." They talk about things they do there, get all A's and hardly complain about their meaningless homework. But what if that weren't the case? Then what?

For so many kids, school as we have it does not work. They may have special needs that aren't met. They may not want to comply with the constant rules. They may be too advanced to get any real education from school. Then what?

In Susan Wise Bauer's book Rethinking School (2018), she questions many practices in our schools, provides reasonable arguments and, ultimately, promotes homeschooling as a viable option.

I agree with so much of her arguments, and I believe homeschooling is an option in certain cases. But for my kids, I am not a proponent of homeschooling because I do not have a social circle in which they would be able to socialize and develop social skills that I see necessary in life. I also believe going to school promotes diversity, and that's hugely important.

If we believe that school is solely for book education, which I believe it isn't, then homeschooling is an option. Really? Well, someone once asked me why I'm against homeschooling, and my answer was this: "You got to meet people from different walks of life. You got to understand them. You also got to learn to deal with a**holes. You will encounter a lot of those in life."
I do not mean to diminish Bauer's book or even her reasoning for homeschooling. But I just felt as a public-school proponent, I was inclined to explain my homeschooling stance.

Public schools often have a one-size-fits-all approach, and why is this? I know that the model, curriculum and activities are outdated, and I believe students and parents need to understand this. Bauer does an excellent job at pointing this out.

Students and parents have the right to opt out of high-stakes testing, and they need to understand this. Why do we give our students so many meaningless high-stakes tests? In my world, at least the California Department of Education has released a dashboard of eight components of successful schools and made testing count 1/8th of what makes a good school.

But even with the state explaining how testing should be valued more properly, schools and educators are just so used to the testing, they still overvalue this mania of testing. So the big takeaway from Bauer's book is to question, question, question and don't accept the unacceptable. Schools and parents are a partnership; it's not one versus the other.

Yes, it's true that schools are mightily outdated in many regards, but good educators know that if they ran across a parent like Susan Wise Bauer, then it should foster an excellent relationship of someone who is brilliant at understanding education and caring about their kid's education.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Let's end readicide!

Readicide: the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

That's how Kelly Gallagher defines the term in his 2009 book Readicide. Thank you, Mr. Gallagher, I could not agree with you more!

After understanding what readicide is, I realized that I was a part of it when I was in school, and I think we all were. I would be assigned outdated, inaccessible, so-called classics. I would listen to the teacher drone on about his thoughts, and I thought, "Books are boring."

I found a few worth reading around seventh grade, but I hardly read in high school. Reading didn't truly happen until grad school and even later when I fell in love with books because I finally realized what they were.

The so-called "classics" repeated year after year in school are not what books are. Books are a portal. They're diverse. They're fiction, nonfiction, sports, style, whatever. There are libraries full of them, and guess what? I, myself, am allowed to read whatever the heck I chose.

It's like that for everyone, and you have my permission to read absolutely whatever you like. I'm talking books, not Internet stuff given to you by Big Tech, AKA Google. I'm talking books with pages that you hold in your hands.
What Gallagher's book did for me was to confirm what I have long suspected, but he even has data to prove the importance of a love of reading and extended reading. In the schools, attention spans appear to get shorter each year. Kids read less and less. So what they do in schools is that they put readings on Google Chromebooks and have kids read things that take around 5-10 minutes. Say, what?

When I get students in high school, most of them have virtually no extended reading skills. In a class of 33 high-achieving honors kids, typically only four of them have read a book on their own that was not assigned in school. What is going on here?

Gallagher shows data to prove that extended reading helps close reading. A good metaphor he uses involves Olympic champion Michael Phelps. While Phelps cleaned up in sprint races to win gold medals, that doesn't mean he can't swim for distance well. It is foolish to believe students can do well with close reading, while they can't really handle a full-length book on their own.

Offering many tactics to engage reluctant readers, I say, "Just read anything." Read what you like. If you like the band BTS, read about it. If you like sports, read about it. It's time to end readicide and love literacy because it turns out that reading is one of the most beautiful and empathetic activities a human being can do.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

We admit: Admissions are batty

In the 21st century, the college admissions process officially has gone bonkers. Kids are stressed out. Adults tie importance, and even identity, into colleges, and then the price tag on many colleges is astronomical.

In a college-admissions world gone batty, it is hard to stay sane, and Frank Bruni's book Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be (2015) makes sense of the culture.

The irony with me is that I am an educator and highly value higher education. However, I'm not so sure higher education is even education nowadays. So many of the majors are career paths or vocational training of some sort that I just don't see a lot of the hullabaloo at colleges as even educational.

In Bruni's book, he addresses fundamental questions and the admissions mania. One point that stood out to me was this: "All in all, the harder a school is to get into, the more worthy it is deemed. Why?"

So many myths bounce around about colleges that I just have to laugh. Are you really getting a better education at an Ivy League school than a state university? Or do you just envy the brand name of the Ivy?

Bruni interviews various successful people who did not go to majorly elite colleges. One interview that sticks in my mind was with famous author John Green, who went to Kenyon College, which I once visited when my friend Alex went there. In many ways, it was like the opposite of my Ohio State because it was so tiny and white. It only has 1,700 students, and today, it is 78 percent white, based on its website.

Green's story is that he tried to get into a writing class and was rejected, but the professor took the time to talk with him, explain the reasoning. Green was trying to sound smart and academic and did not sound authentic. That professor put him on the path to the writing superstar he is today.
So a point about Kenyon is that it was so small that the professor was more prone to give Green individual attention. What I see that most elite students are looking for is status, status, status.

But the thing about status is that it's just tacky. Right? If someone name drops he went to Yale, that's lame. Right? If someone drives a Mercedes and does the same thing, that's lame. Right?

I've learned that the folks obsessed with the status of college brand names and car brand names are stuck in small thinking — especially when we're talking undergraduate degrees. Bruni's book is chockfull of excellent stories and tidbits, and another memorable scene had a mom who said this:

"It's like we're mass-producing robots posing as kids. ... They have no space to be kids. They're not feeling that the work they're doing is their own. They're succeeding, but it's not coming from within. And they're having a lot of psychological problems because of it: obsessive-compulsive disorder, freaking out because they're not perfect."

That quote came from a mom in New York City whose son was denied admittance into a prestigious preschool.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Education is an exercise in freedom

Fareed Zakaria. Holy moley. What a guy!

Not only is he a famous host on CNN, but he wrote an accessible and important book in 2015 called In Defense of a Liberal Education. Zakaria argues that our world needs students to follow a liberal-arts path now more than ever. I say, "Fareed, you are correct, sir. I couldn't agree with you more!"

Remember that, from yesterday's post about Excellent Sheep, liberal arts is often misinterpreted. It's not "liberal," and it's not just "arts." Some people mischaracterize liberal arts as painting or sculpture or something that has no market value in the "real world."

No, no, liberal arts encompasses a degree that is non-vocational. So while the humanities, literature and philosophy are a part of it, so are the sciences and social sciences. Yes, biology, chemistry and economics are all a part of it.

Zakaria has seen the same statistics as William Deresiewicz from Excellent Sheep. Liberal arts majors are majorly declining. Because the cost of college has gotten so high and student loans have gone bonkers, students feel as if they need a path out of debt ASAP and must major in business, nursing or something that is an obvious career path. I understand students' motivation. But is this the society we want?
A better way to see the situation could be the following. In a technologically driven world, in which production and the work place are constantly changing, a liberal arts education is more important because it will develop the individual more and give him/her a stronger perspective than somebody else who majored in, say, business.

It is more important now than ever to pursue knowledge, to understand how to learn and re-learn, and a liberal arts degree likely will be more valuable in the 21st century workplace in the longterm.

We need diversity in the workplace. And diversity does not just include gender and race. We need diversity in education. We need diversity of knowledge, creativity, clarity in writing, depth of thinking and more. Because of technology, we need these human skills more than ever, and I predict the 21st century workforce will demand it. Yet the importance of the liberal arts does not have to be part of an either-or debate.

In recent years, majors in English and history have vastly declined. Even President Obama once said that a technical training degree would be more valuable than one in art history. Obviously, our society has put a dollar amount on college degrees. Is that the right thing to do?

I say that education is so important that we should not put a dollar amount on it, but understand that to truly be educated is priceless. I'm not advocating overpaying for a college by any means.

No, no, it's the opposite. I fear that our society has lost its values. By charging so much for college educations, ironically, true education has been undervalued.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ivy Leaguers are excellent ... sheep

Over the past 30 years, it's been shocking to see the shift of college majors. It has been a "major shift" to business and finance, especially in the Ivy League.

In fact, the most popular major nationwide now is business and management, which is more than double as popular as second-place nursing. This also does not count finance and accounting, which is ranked eighth.

William Deresiewicz was alarmed by the bombardment of business majors and what he witnessed teaching at Yale. So he put together a manifesto on the mindless pursuit of vocational training in the Ivy League in Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014).

Deresiewicz discovered that so many students are all doing the same thing. They're sheep. Excellent sheep. The business and finance majors have overtaken the Ivy League, and this calls into question the point of education and how this affects American culture.

Less than 3 percent of college students are English majors today. Liberal arts majors are waning, and, quite frankly, some see college as mere vocational training. I certainly don't.

Liberal arts is often misinterpreted as actually "liberal." That's wrong. The best definition is "non-vocational." So nursing, business, communications and obvious career-path jobs are not under the liberal-arts umbrella. The biggest misnomer of liberal arts is that it is only the humanities. That also is false.

Liberal arts encompasses the sciences, including physics, chemistry and biology, and the social sciences, including psychology, sociology and economics. To me, these fields can be more than applicable to the business world and tech world. I wholeheartedly agree with Deresiewiz, that our country would be better served with more diversity in education.
Unfortunately, what Deresiewicz saw at Yale is that so many college students don't truly get educated with a depth of knowledge or even the tools to understand and create knowledge. They bust their butts creating a transcript to get into an Ivy. They take accelerated courses, do impressive things in the name of admittance and feel as if they are owed for all they did to get into an Ivy. The education falls to the wayside; their appearance on campus is just a steppingstone to a job in the financial world.

I come from a perspective that believes diversity is a strength, but I worry for corporations and businesses that are only full of business majors. While I understand that certain occupations and corporations must look for business degrees, does it actually help these students to devote their undergraduate degrees to business, when there are so many important pursuits out there?

Especially at the Ivy League, where we have elite students, is that the best way for them to develop and explore their education?

College used to be a place of discovery, new ideas and, most important, education. Sadly, a lot of it has become about vocational training, and "silly" pursuits, like what it means to be human, economics and chemistry, is being left behind. Ugh, I for one, do not like the state of affairs reported in Excellent Sheep, but I appreciate Deresiewicz for reporting it.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Punishment creates multiple victims

One subtle thing about schools that I like is that the staffs typically span all ages. We have Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and age disparity that is actually refreshing.

However, one problem with older populations is that they have a harder time understanding change and often times, fall into habits or ideas from yesteryear.

I bring this up because many educators call for old-school discipline of suspensions and punishment when a problem arises. We have the data, and we know that this type of discipline does not work. Yet here we go again with a discipline song and dance that continues to punish mostly boys of color.

In Victor Rios' 2011 book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, we see the astounding statistics of how these boys are systemically treated as well as personal narratives that show this in action.

Rios' personal story is captivating as he grew up in Oakland, dropped out of school in eighth grade and ended up in juvenile hall at age 15. He soon got his stuff together and eventually got a PhD from Berkeley and now is a professor at UC Santa Barbara.

Right off the bat, Rios will tell you that the entire framing of "at-risk" youth and "at-risk" neighborhoods is way off. In fact, he vehemently opposes that terminology because it sets up youth for risk. To me, it also puts some sort of blame on the youth, and that it is not all what is happening. Looking at the big picture, these so-called at-risk youth are the victims of what Rios calls "The Youth Control Complex."
The Youth Control Complex is the combination of the schools and prisons that work hand-in-hand to send black and Latino boys to prison and hardly have any hope. I would add that since many of the educators in school don't understand this and/or are culturally irrelevant, they become unknowing foot soldiers of perpetuating this horrific system.

Since 70 percent of the teachers in the United States are white women, there is an excellent chance that people of color are "taught" by white women who are blind to the Youth Control Complex. In addition, just like the prisons, there is a charter school movement that is perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline — for corporate profit.

Through it all, perhaps the best point that Rios makes is that we've had a far off Cultural Misframing of what is happening in poor neighborhoods that are black and Latino. Perhaps I'm crazy to think that schools exist to help young people. However, when I have studied and even seen first hand the treatment of "at-promise" youth, I see that the words and approach often criminalizes the kid at the first opportunity.

I had a deep idea the other day. The United States has long been a champion of the individual, the superhero, the myth that "anyone can do anything." But wonder if that whole individualistic view is wrong.

Wonder if we are all one organism, rich or poor, black or white, female or male, etc. When we punish part of the organism, we are punishing all of us. That's why I know that the school-to-prison pipeline needs resources to reform and more attention ASAP. The for-profit prison system needs to stop as well as our mistreatment of Latino and black boys.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Race fosters fear, anger and denial

Being a white male, I had the privilege, and ignorance, to not think much about race for a lot of my life. My neighborhood growing up was 100 percent white, and my high school was about 95 percent white. Race? Eh, who needs to talk about it?

Well, as I became more educated, I understood how race is — hello — a major component of the United States' power structure and history. I used to think racism was about bad apples who had hate in their hearts. I eventually realized that racism is embedded in many of our country's institutions.

When it comes to schools, it is obvious to me that racism is on overt and covert display. First off, a lot of students of color do not have access to as many of the stronger schools. Then, at schools, race can be denied or pretended to not be important by white people.

In Beverly Daniel Tatum's masterpiece Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations on Race, she examines racial identity and the systems in place in schools that hurt minorities. Tatum also looks at candid discussion and research on race in the 2017 20th anniversary of the book.
This work helped me adjust my attitude, words and behavior toward race in a positive way, and I believe it will can have that effect on any white person not familiar with the book.

The main takeaway for me is that it's healthy, and necessary, to embrace conversations on race. It reaffirms the idea of being racially blind is stupid. I believe we should strive for empathy, celebrate ethnic differences and as a white guy, stop proving to others I'm not racist. I also am more aware of racial dynamics in groups and at school.

I teach at a school that is about 5 percent white and is full of many ethnicities with Asian leading the way, following by Latino. Just because I'm at a diverse school doesn't mean there are no race issues to consider.

I can't stand "post-racial" thinking. Ooh, Abraham Lincoln "freed the slaves," so racism is gone. Or, the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, so racism was over. Or better yet, Obama was elected president, so there must not be racism any more.

One of the incredible things about Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? is that race-talk-stoppers that white people often use has ended with me. I've learned to steer the conversation, embrace, and sometimes promote, race talk.

So many people experience fear, anger and denial about racism, especially in our schools, and the least we can do is to keep the dialogue going and hope that collective social progress occurs.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Homework teaches ... nothing, really

Just last week, I read a Q & A in the Long Beach Post with longtime Long Beach Unified School District superintendent Chris Steinhauser. The headline was "Chris Steinhauser is sorry he gave your kid so much homework."

Much more is in the Q & A than that tidbit, but Steinhauser does point out that there is no evidence that homework works. "It's one of those old urban myths," he said.

Thank you!

I've been barking my first-hand experience about how homework doesn't work for years to anyone who will listen, and it was nice to see the Sup tell the truth. As for well-researched books that build on a similar thesis, I recommend The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) by Alfie Kohn.

It's disheartening to me that our children are still bombarded by homework yet often escape our schools with little skills or education that sticks. The kids are forced to do a compliance dance that doesn't work for anyone who truly wants to be educated. Instead, they do this homework stuff and play short-term memory games.

Now, I know that there are popular arguments out there in favor of homework. In Kohn's book, he seriously considers them and proves why they don't work. I find the best argument in favor of homework to be that repeated practice is necessary in certain subjects, such as math, and there just isn't time for that in class.

First of all, where is the time going? Is it all direct instruction? Then, the next point is that for a typical class, students' skills will be all over the map with homework. Typically, the homework will be too easy or too difficult. To have "sweet zone" homework that is at the exact level for the student mathematically will not happen.
Alfie Kohn is a progressive thinker and educator. Like Jonathan Kozol, he is a hero to me. He's done extensive work on the trouble with standardized testing, grades and rewards, discipline woes and traditional schooling. I love his stuff.

Among traditional teachers, I have long learned to "slow my roll" with them. Some have the capacity to reflect. Some do not. Good school leaders have the skills to build that capacity.

At the end of the day, I still believe in our public schools, and, of course, there are some elite private schools out there that are progressive and excellent. The one thing all good schools tend to do is not assign homework. They understand that the real work is done in classrooms. It's easier to learn in a room of 30 than a room of one.

So I urge any teacher who still thinks homework is a worthwhile part of learning to read The Homework Myth. I also give a shoutout to any teacher who eschews homework and busts his/her butt in the classroom. We need more like you.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Kozol reminds us of love in the classroom

Hero. That's the best way to say it.

Jonathan Kozol is a hero of social progress, truth and education, and if you happen to be unacquainted with him, please go check out his stuff.

I can think of no better person to kick off the education category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend than Kozol because of his lifetime commitment to social progress, honesty and education. Plus, today happens to be his 83rd birthday.

Happy birthday, Mr. Kozol! You are an inspiration, and I love the work you have given us.

In my mind, Kozol's name is the biggest in education. I know that many people mention John Dewey, who passed away in 1952, and Jean Piaget, who died in 1980, as key progressive educators. But, heck, Kozol is still alive, and his stuff hits home with me.

Kozol is most known for Death at an Early Age (1967), Savage Inequalities (1991) and The Shame of a Nation (2005), which look at embedded racism in the educational system and major disparities in funding among schools in different neighborhoods. Those are worth a read, but of all of his books, I first recommend Letters to a Young Teacher (2007), especially to anyone in the education profession.
When done correctly, teaching is a beautiful and artistic profession. In his book, Kozol reminds a fictional teacher "Francesca" of this and what I, too, believe is the main reason why a teacher should teach — love. To be effective, you got to love yourself, love the kids and love building trusting relationships.

The tone of Letters to a Young Teacher is so soft and warm that it's hard not to connect to it and find proper perspective as an educator. While it's true that many systems in the educational world could be improved, a teacher needs to keep the right perspective in order to be effective and fulfilled.

Kozol does not shy away from the over-importance placed on testing, the politics of education and a lot of things that need improvement. But through it all, the book is a humanistic pro-teaching, pro-education, pro-public school treatise.

In my 12th year as a public-school secondary teacher, I am revived and love my profession now more than ever. I do have an administrator credential and might go that route one day, but it would be hard for me to leave the classroom, where I like to think we engage in magic each day. Magic is not supernatural; it is tapping into our best selves. I like to think we do that daily.

I believe kids need proper teachers more than ever as parents find themselves overworked, on their screens too much and maybe even overweight. It can be a punishing economic world out there, and I see that kids need genuine support. Teachers need support, too, and Kozol's words do help.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Good comedy helps society

I should have known this a long time ago, but as I was writing about 10 humor books in 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I realized that, "Uh, yeah, I was raised on TV."

No doubt. Gen Xers remember Saturday morning cartoons, Late Night with David Letterman, Beavis & Butthead and could itemize details and trivia of countless shows. I guess it should be no surprise how screen time has bombarded the planet and how the masses read less and less books.

I guess it's strange to have these thoughts in the "humor" section of this project, but it's just utterly apparent that books are just not the main media for so many of the writers in the section. So be it.

It is utterly obvious, but humor must be funny. But nowadays, I just don't find overly innocuous comedy interesting. It's got to have edge. It's got to be timely. It's got to be authentic and help our world. I don't know if I want to spend time on stuff that is just mindlessly funny. Not good enough for me.

The choices on this list are like that. Here are 10 comedy, or humor, books that I recommend:

1. Born Standing Up (2007) by Steve Martin
2. Poking a Dead Frog (2014) by Mike Sacks
3. Modern Romance (2015) by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
4. Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) by David Sedaris
5. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole (Yes, it's technically fiction, but it's freaking funny!)
6. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) by Dave Eggers
7. Fresh Off the Boat (2013) by Eddie Huang
8. How to Make White People Laugh (2016) by Negin Farsad
9. The Comedy Writer (1998) by Peter Farrelly
10. Brain Droppings (1997) by George Carlin

Yes, books still exist as does TV. I am hoping that "quick-hit" comedy, like in Tweets or vines or whatever the tech platform is, does not replace nuanced, thoughtful humor that is funny, truthful and quick. Everyday life has been evolving, and I do believe excellent humor can cross generational boundaries. I hope.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The King of Meaningful Comedy

I guess this majorly important point could come out at any point of this project, but somehow, it is coming today as I recommend Brain Drippings by George Carlin.

Geez, man, when you look at the list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, so many of the books are not the main media focus of the author. That is obviously the case with George Carlin as it is with Peter Farrelly, Brian Grazer and many more.

But the real issue is this: "What about the authors who I thought the book was the main thing?"

It turns out that hardly is the case. So many of were already known before their books or had incredible social-media presences or were renowned in their field, then the book. The idea that books come out of nowhere and become accepted as unabashed masterpieces, like A Confederacy of Dunces, is false. And, heck, John Kennedy Toole killed himself before his book was even published.

So as I conclude the humor portion of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I give a shoutout to Brain Drippings by George Carlin. But let's get real? George Carlin's standup is far superior to Brain Drippings. Yes, indeed, I do like the book, and many laugh-out-loud scenarios ensue in the book. But his standup is far superior. Right?
Brain Droppings is full of wordplay, social commentary, edge and has some of Carlin's best material, including his famous "A Place for My Stuff" and "Baseball and Football." To think about what Carlin did in his career is astounding. He was such a witty commentator, so ahead of his time and authentic.

One nickname he had was "the dean of counterculture comedians." I don't find that good enough. It'd call him "the King of Meaningful Comedy." He's the opposite of Jerry Seinfeld. Comedy can help the world or help people look at important things they may have missed. The King of Meaningful Comedy was a genius at that.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Smart and Smarter

Uh oh. Here is another case of fiction/nonfiction trouble that arose a few days ago when A Confederacy of Dunces cracked this project called 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend.

A Confederacy of Dunces is clearly fiction. However, because this is the humor section of this project, I said, "Eh, why not? Let's get it in there."

Now, The Comedy Writer by Peter Farrelly is officially filed under fiction. But I find it a much different case than Dunces because there are so many striking similarities to Farrelly's actual life, that it's not as big of a stretch.

Heck, the Wikipedia entry on the book says, "Because many of the exploits of the protagonist are similar or identical to the author Peter Farrelly's own life, it is believed that the novel is partly (or mostly) autobiographical."

OK. That's good enough for me. We're calling it nonfiction.

But who cares, really? The Comedy Writer (1998) is funny and truthful, and it was all down hill for Farrelly's career after it. Uh, well, that statement might be slightly off as he just won Oscars for Green Book last year. He was established when the book came out as his first two films Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Kingpin (1996) already were hits. Then, Something About Mary came out the same year as this book.

OK, so practically everyone in Hollywood is envious of his success. But I'm not so sure the literary world does. But heck, I'm sure he could write a twisted memoir that would be entertaining and a ginormous best seller.
The main reasons The Comedy Writer makes the list is that it's damn entertaining and I could relate to it. The protagonist quits his job in New England, and it follows his constant rejections and difficulties in L.A.

It came out the same year I moved to L.A., and believe me, I experienced major culture shock going from New York to L.A. Moving from Cleveland to New York actually wasn't that big of a shock, but New York to L.A. — big-time shock.

Of all the things from The Comedy Writer, the one thing I remember most is the description of Los Angeles after rain — rare rain. The city needs more rain, as we all know, and when the rain finally comes, it wipes away the smog. Everything feels clearer and cleaner. The morning after rain can have a vague mystical feeling, where anything feels possible.

Yeah, I remember a passage similar to that. Comedy, many say, is the hardest thing to write because the expectation is to get an actual physical, laugh-out-loud reaction. Farrelly has been a master at that for decades. Franks and beans! Franks and beans!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Muslims are coming!

The Muslims Are Coming!

That was the name of a comedy tour, and film, that Negin Farsad embarked on in the South as she delivered her social-justice comedy. In a popular TED talk, she explained what social-justice comedy is and made an important clarification. "Justice" is not political. All human beings should agree that society should strive for justice.

Agreed. Unfortunately, Farsad has become a pin cushion for hate, and that disturbs me. I believe that America, by and large, is unknowledgeable of what it means to be Muslim in the United States. Unfounded assumptions abound, and many white Americans have no understanding of a non-whiteness or even whiteness for that matter.

So the best things about Farsad are that she is funny and she is her authentic self. When it comes to comedy, laughs are what matters most. Yes, social justice is her slant, but it would never, ever work if it was too preachy and not hilarious.

Farsad delivers in How To Make White People Laugh (2016), and I find the strength of the book as her personal stories, growing up Muslim and Iranian in Palm Springs. For us Gen Xers, we didn't nearly have the entertainment options that the kids today have. No wonder a bunch of them are addicted to their pocket TVs. But for us Gen Xers, finding non-white TV shows and movies was not easy at all.

So, imagine being non-white, or non-Christian, in this white-dominated culture. Well, for 40 percent of the United States, that is not a stretch because they are not white. But for a lot of that other 60 percent, well, they can have a hard time with looking beyond their white world.
The book certainly isn't perfect. Some of the jokes hit, and others don't. Even though I am a white guy, I can see her perspective and relate to it. She talks about the binary approach to race that many Americans unwittingly follow. There's white, and there's "other." Farsad writes, "Just as I considered myself Mexican in high school, in college I began shifting my sights to being black."

I learned a long time ago that ignorance is a choice. Sadly, I find that many white people remain conveniently ignorant when it comes to other races, ethnicities and cultures. We still have a faction of haters who see "other" as a threat or enemy.

That faction remains ignorant and likely would not be reading any blog entry with "Muslims" in the title. Or more scary, if they do, it could be to engage in some sort of cyber fight.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Hip hop meets gua-bao through Eddie

I've always known that diversity is a strength of the United States, and I feel sorry for folks who are stuck in one culture only. I've had the ability to live in New York and Los Angeles and travel to practically every state. As most know, there are a zillion offshoots of "American" culture, and I'm not so sure we recognize and respect that enough.

That brings me to Eddie Huang and Fresh Off the Boat (2013). First off, I love the figure and role model that Eddie Huang is.

A lot of images of Asian males in American pop culture consist of these quiet, meek guys. There are only a few Asian-American celebrities, and I love how Huang is unapologetically himself.

In Fresh Off the Boat, he goes in depth into his love of sneakers, the NBA and hiphop, and he is such an amalgamation of his family, experiences and pop culture that it's entertaining and fun to read. In a way, aren't we all amalgamations like that on some level?

I read Fresh Off the Boat right before it was adapted to be a TV show on ABC. For the first season, I watched it with my daughters, and we enjoyed it. Then, we all got phones, and we unofficially said goodbye to ever watching any sitcom. Now that I think about it, I think Fresh Off the Boat was the last network sitcom I watched since Seinfeld.
I can relate to a lot of Huang's ethnic experiences because my daughters are half-Taiwanese, and the school I teach at is predominantly Asian. Of course, as a white guy, I may not be the best source to talk race. But I do see a lot of explicit and implicit racism toward Asians and the perpetuating of the "model minority" myth.

What I appreciate about Huang's book is how it's not only an honest and realistic portrayal of assimilation, but it's freaking funny, too. I find it refreshing when we're simultaneously talking race and being entertained. Perhaps Huang has done much more for social progress than he gets credit.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

From Scout to genius to guy

Lake Forest High School 1988. What a place ... (at least on paper).

That was the senior year for movie star Vince Vaughn, writer Dave Eggers and NBA agent/current Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. I know this because my cousin Melissa also was in that graduating class. Cousin Rob graduated a year earlier.

Lake Forest is arguably one of the "nicest" and "richest" suburbs of Chicago. When my extended family lived there in the '80s, Mr. T lived there. My cousins and I once saw him driving a white Mercedes, and we followed him for a few blocks. Looking back, oopsy, that was probably some sort of harassment. Sorry, T.

I never thought much about Lake Forest High School until 1998, when I moved to L.A. My aunt actually had, and gave me, the address and digits of Vince Vaughn, who was taking off then. I never had the courage to call. "Uh, my aunt gave me your phone number. Want to meet up at the Dresden?"

Then, in 2000, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius came out, and it was mega-popular, especially for Gen Xers like me. It was so big that I was thinking that Dave Eggers could be in the rare category of literary icon.
The actual story of Eggers' life is indeed heartbreaking. In 1991-92, his parents died within a year of each other from different forms of cancer. He was 21 at the time, and his younger brother Toph was 8. He moved out to the Bay Area and cared for his brother.

The book is rife with humor and what he went through, and since I haven't read it for close to 20 years, I'd be curious to see how it holds up all these years later. At the time, I loved the book because my age is similar to his, and I dug Eggers' style and aesthetic. He had an indie-rock type of style in a time when some of us Gen Xers were clinging to that.

Actually, maybe it's time revisit this type of stuff. I'm revisiting Smashing Pumpkins, of all bands, tonight. I haven't seen them since 1994 at a Lollapalooza, and at the time, I realized I had enough of the Lollapaloozas, and it was time for at least a 25-year break. Man, that band fell off the side of the earth.

Eggers didn't exactly do that. He went on to found the popular literary magazine McSweeney's and has been a part of various initiatives to promote literacy and teaching. I've read most of his other books. But if we're talking Dave Eggers, I definitely give his "genius" book the most kudos. OK, fine, I'll check it out again soon.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

An honest lie

OK. After yesterday's entry on David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day with me, uh, not really remembering much about the book but insisting on its excellence, this project of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend can only get better.

So today's selection is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Unfortunately, the book is clearly fiction. In fact, on the book cover it says "fiction." However, the category we're in is "humor." Somehow, having the book on this list makes sense to me. Oh, my pyloric valve.

Is this project officially off the rails or not?

I say not! To me, Confederacy of Dunces defies all categories. I say it should be on all book lists. Yes, all lists. Sports, religious, medieval, whatever. All lists! But always beware of absolutes.

A Confederacy of Dunces was published in 1980, 11 years after the death of its author John Kennedy Toole. It takes place in New Orleans and follows the oddball daily excursions of Ignatius J. Reilly, who lives at home with his mother. He's slovenly and misanthropic, and one of the most entertaining and ridiculous characters I've ever encountered.
A Confederacy of Dunces is the oldest book on my list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. It is hilarious; it's a rare book that I've read more than once. I think in some ways it saved me, to be a reader.

I never truly read on my own until the summer before eighth grade. That was when I had back surgery, and we're talking 1986. I remember reading a few S.E. Hinton books and maybe some random stuff on sports and the planets.

Like many people, I equated reading with the stuff done in school. I don't believe we read full-length books from first to eighth grade. But then in high school, we got some novels. Mostly, I was assigned books to be appreciated and not to be loved. Dunces wasn't assigned in high school, but I believe a friend recommended it. It was actually a laugh-out-loud book that was enjoyable. Who knew this existed?!?

For a long time, when people would ask me my favorite book, I would say, "I dunno. A Confederacy of Dunces?" It turns out that question is so limiting and myopic. I have no single favorite book. I guess I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this masterpiece. It turns out that significant literature can be hugely entertaining as well. Who knew?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Nobody knows Sedaris better than me

I must admit that the main difficulty of having David Sedaris on my list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend was this: Which of his books gets the nod?

That was the lone difficulty, and Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) edged out Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004). However, I find practically anything by Sedaris worthwhile and funny as well.

I read most of the books in this project in the last five years, but, yowsers, I've been reading David Sedaris' stuff for 20 years. So I had to refresh myself with his stuff and Me Talk Pretty One Day with the consultation of the Interwebs dot com.

Ah, yes, Me Talk Pretty is the one that has two parts. The first part takes place in the U.S., while part "Deux" occurs after he moved to France. As with nearly all of his work, the book is a collection of humorous essays, presumably nonfiction. The title track "Me Talk Pretty One Day" is about a French class he took in Paris.

OK, er, I know I read this book, but we're talking nearly 20 years ago. I don't totally remember it. But, believe me, I recommend it. Egads, I feel like one of my students doing a "hello, my baby, hello by darling" song and dance when I didn't do the reading — even though we did it aloud in class.

So who's the new Michiko Kakutani now? You guessed it? This writer, Joe Stevens.
OK, but what I can recall without any Googling is "Let It Snow" because we dissected that short story a few times in my AP English Language class. Uh, but that story is in the Corduroy and Denim book. Let's not play the blame game, but this all my wife's fault.

Just yesterday, we were discussing this project, and she asked, "How can you be doing this project? Is this all off the top of your head?"

I responded, "More or less. These are books that really affected me, and I just write the lasting impression I had."

"Wow. That's amazing," she said. "Your memory is incredible."

Cursed! She cursed me. I've transformed into the guy from the movie Memento.

Isn't it true, though, that David Sedaris is one of the best, if not the No. 1, humorists of our time? I bet my wife couldn't even name a humorist. ... OK, actually, she can. She just said, "Mark Twain."

But then when I said, "He's old school. How about a modern-day humorist?"

She said, "Uh. No. Not really."

Ha. Ha. I win. It's David Sedaris.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Is Aziz polarizing or just funny?

Earlier in this project of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I endorsed a divorce book by Alec Baldwin. Some of the reaction to that pick was: How could you?!?

I am wondering if that is how readers might feel with today's selection of Modern Romance (2015) by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. As most know, Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct at the beginning of 2018, and he basically went into hiding for a while.

When he came back with a Netflix special this year, I felt he looked guilty. He was so contrite that it wreaked of wrongdoing. Of course, I'm just a mere viewer, so what do I know? But my gut was telling me, "Oh, wow, there was indeed something wrong here."

So there is a strange irony or tainted pick here, but I do recommend Modern Romance, especially for any Gen Xer who happens to be on the dating scene. The reason why I do is that the book makes many points about modern dating that I could totally relate to, when I got back into that world as a divorcee.

Since 2015, so much of what Ansari and Klinenberg reported is now either a "no duh" or slightly outdated. However, four years ago, a lot of this stuff was new and possibly shocking to anyone not on the dating scene.
I quickly learned that people dating only use text to communicate, and if not, it would come across as weird and would be a dealbreaker. If you're not using an online app of some sort, well, uh, good luck to you.

That's how it's done, and once the shock of modern dating wore off, I actually loved the system. It was crazy efficient. I had fun with it. And I met my wife through it, even though I never envisioned me getting married again.

In Modern Romance, Ansari and Klinenberg blend humor and research to tackle the ramifications of dating today. The curse of choice is what ails the system now. Because there are so many potential matches out there, anyone can nix a date or potential relationship for the silliest of reasons. A "Door No. 2" always exists.

I wonder if humanity has shifted a bit because of how different dating is now compared to 10 years ago and especially 20 years ago. Ghosting, emojis, making sure to have a legit social media presence — so much takes place outside of what I consider the "real world and time," that it truly is a different world now.

Different does not necessarily mean bad. I like to think that like-minded people find each other through it all, and, heck, that happened with me and Dina.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Dead frogs, cat AIDS and Mike Sacks

For anyone pondering a career in comedy, go directly to Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks. The 2014 book has countless interviews with a who's who of the comedy world, and it is telling of how this world works and dispels many myths.

Hell, it's funny as the line "I'd rather have cat AIDS, fank you." Sacks himself interviews with an excellent blend of asking tell-all questions and humorous ones. He knows when to probe for more telling info and when to engage in some funny-ass stuff.

Sacks is an all-around cool dude. When I read a book I like, I often add the author on Twitter. I did that with him. He thanked me for the follow, and we had a brief exchange. He didn't "big time" me, like Russell Brand. (I actually don't follow Russell Brand on Twitter, but I'm sure he "big timed" me anyway.).

I knew off the bat that I probably was going to enjoy interviews with certain writers, including George Saunders, Jim Downey, Adam McKay and Megan Amram. No doubt, I did. But I approached the book from more of a "How does this world work?" angle as opposed to a "Entertain me, funny people!" point of view.
The reoccurring theme I found was how being a top comedy writer is not about being inherently funny, although that is certainly a prerequisite. But so many people are funny, yet they don't understand what being a comedy writer entails. It's more about developing the craft and, most important, sticking with the profession in the face of constant difficulties, trouble and bloggers insisting there is humor in cat AIDS. (OK, for anyone offended by cat AIDS, here's a link to FIV, and I get it. If my cat died because of this disease, it wouldn't a punchline. Then, it would have to be dog AIDS.)

This was a sequel to Sack's 2009 And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Humor Writers About Their Craft. Both are worth a read, but Dead Frog is more updated. And the comedy world is evolving more than ever with the advent of YouTube, Twitter and cat websites. I'm slightly concerned that the comedy writing world is evolving so quickly that Gen Xer's like myself are becoming outdated.

No doubt, generations have a different concept of "funny," on some level. The references are difficult on both sides. I made a quip with a reference to Chaka Khan the other day, and my daughters looked confused. They often laugh at something or other; I have no idea what is wrong with them.

Go read the Mike Sacks books. He's a writer's writer, like I believe Norm MacDonald is a comedian's comedian. I like to think of myself as a Polack's Polack.

Friday, August 23, 2019

A wild and actually pretty sane guy

I might argue that Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up is misnamed. So much of his message was about hard work, his love for comedy and the importance of evolving throughout his career that to think that someone was simply born to do all that he has done is misleading.

But, eh, whatever. Steve Martin is entertaining, sophisticated, a kind gent. As a Gen Xer, I've watched his career from the late '70s and on, and many have watched it for even longer.

We could battle it out to figure out the highlight, or highlights, of Martin's esteemed career. I freaking love The Jerk (1979). But he also was selling on stadiums for comedy in the '70s and has written quality books as well.

Born Standing Up (2007) is indeed a highlight, even among all of Martin's successes, because he reveals a lot of details about his career that is telling for anyone who's ever aspired to be some sort of star. I learned real fast that show business is not for the faint at heart.

My lord, you got to be committed times 1,000 to have even a shot at making a real living in the industry, and so many sacrifices made me realize that it wouldn't be my jam. Also, I need a philosophy, or a cause, to be driven. The entertainment industry wasn't a match with me, but I have mad respect for anyone who makes a living in it.
Steve Martin absolutely worked hard for his successes and has been evolving throughout his life. As a fan, it's been refreshing to watch him do so many different things.

One point that resonated with me was when he mentioned other "talented" people and how there are many, many more talented and funnier people out there. He was enamored, and absolutely loved, performing so much that he committed himself to it. He enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, the process of entertainment.

I have long said that, overall, British actors are much stronger than American actors, and I know this is a stereotype. Part of the reason why British actors are often so good is because of the overboard celebrity culture in the United States. Many actors here look at outcomes or dream of Oscars or unhealthy things like that.

In England, acting is approached more as a craft. Somehow, Steve Martin avoided many traps of show business, despite being in the industry for more than 50 years. I'm not sure there will ever be anyone ever else like him because of the scope of his career and how the world has changed during his path.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

We elevate others when we elevate ourselves

"Personal growth" used to be called "self-help," and in my world, a stigma surrounded the reading of self-help books. "He needs a self-help book?!? What is his problem?"

Over the past five years, I've discovered that, eh gads, I wish I tapped into personal-growth books when I was, like, a kid because they would have saved me a lot of heartache. My favorite Mark Twain quote remains: "It ain't what you know that gets you in trouble. It's what you think you know for sure that just ain't so."

A lot of self-help, or personal-growth, basics can be like a light switch. Stay out of your own way. Stop thinking so much. Stop talking so much. It's basic stuff. At least that's what I've found for myself.

Personal growth also is the best thing we can do for those around us. Perhaps we owe it to them. We need to use our positions of status, education, wealth or whatever we got to elevate ourselves, and by doing that, we elevate those around me.

So the 10 personal-growth books I recommend are:

1. Mindset by Carol Dweck (2006)
2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)
3. Money (2014) by Tony Robbins
4. The Art of Asking (2015) by Amanda Palmer
5. You Are a Badass (2013) by Jen Sincero
6. Girl, Wash Your Face (2018) by Rachel Hollis
7. The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) by Chris Guilleabeau
8. The Omnivore's Dilemma (2007) by Michael Pollan
9. The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins
10. The Power of Now (1997) by Eckhart Tolle

These are all 21st century books with the exception of The Power of No, and that makes sense because our culture, our resources, our world has changed so much that it's good to know that our books are improving and evolving — and so are we.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Embracing 'now' means embracing spirituality

Our thought patterns can hold us back. We fill in the blanks. We make wrong conclusions. We overanalyze. I bet each of us has some thoughts that hinder us, as opposed to help us.

Earlier this year, I became mesmerized by the acronym SPIES. In fact, I wrote about it here. SPIES stands for social, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.


I contend that the whole point of education and personal growth is to develop in these five areas. For me, and for most in schools, the intellectual side is bombarded, so for followers and pleasers, that side typically becomes an area of strength. For me, the other four areas could use tweaking or improvement, so I am doing deliberate things with them — even at my age.

Of the five parts of SPIES, I was confounded most by the spiritual side. I realized that I denied the spiritual side of myself for years, and the reason why was anger toward the Catholic Church — its numerous rules, lack or progress, confirmed repeated hiding of rape, crimes and more.

Once I got in touch with my feelings, I then made a step forward to reconnect spiritually to myself and the world. Damn it, where was my soul?

With 12 years of Catholic schooling under my belt and years of being an altar boy, I remember a class at St. Ignatius High School called "ecumenism." That is the effort of Christians to develop deeper understanding and relationships with other Christians, and St. Ignatius used the course as an introduction to Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam and other world religions.

It's kind of funny, how I revisited all the world's religions in many, many books, and after all of it, I am recommending Eckhart Tolle's famous The Power of Now (1997). That doesn't mean I didn't get a lot out of other spiritual books, but this one helped me the most.
I don't want to fall into overanalyzing, which often hinders spirituality. One thing I have discovered is that different cultures talk about spirituality in different ways. In the West, a lot of people simply call it "Jesus."

What I feel, and what I believe, is that the human mind has different tracks and different realms. We are at our best when we feel alive, in the moment, accepting the possibility of a spiritual world and connecting with others, nature and the world. We all are living and dying at the same time; all living things die.

I do not have the answers, and once I think I do, the questions change. I have no plans on becoming supernatural and living some sort of after-life. Rather, I embrace the human life as is and understand that we are limited in our rational minds and we are best when our souls and spirits connect.

We have 7.5 billion people on the planet today. In 130 years, none of these 7.5 billion people will be alive. Yet I believe we are part of an incredible journey, and maybe we owe it to ourselves to understand the wonder of our lives and cherish as many moments as we can. We should do this now and always.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reason and faith can coexist ... Right?

I'm no Bill Maher. I don't describe myself as atheist, and I don't demean people who are religious.

However, I also believe that logic should be thrown out the window with spiritual beliefs. I believe that reason and spirituality can reconcile themselves, and I can accept some spiritual beliefs.

In the West, a lot of spirituality is called "Jesus," and in the East, there are various terms, including "Buddha."

Enter Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (2006). The basis for the title is quote from Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), who said, "When one person suffers from a delusion, it's called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion."

As an 8-year-old in Catholic school, I remember being a curious whippersnapper and asking constant questions about religious rules and dogma. Even at that age, I concluded that a lot of this stuff made no logical sense. Some people told me, "You have to have faith," but my gut told me that answer wasn't good enough. It isn't.

The God Delusion does an in-depth and thoughtful exploration of many things illogical in conventional beliefs of God. I know that atheists love the book because it supports their no-God conclusion. However, I think it's a good book for everybody because it can open eyes to illogical premises in beliefs and it shows that people who don't believe in God can have perfectly fulfilling and moral lives.
I do not identify myself as an atheist. I'm not a fan of that for myself because it would define myself with nothing, and to me, that is not good enough. If forced to say exactly what I am, I guess I would say "a humanist embracing spirituality."

If the word "spirituality" need to be replaced by "Jesus" or something else, I don't really have a problem with that. However, I do have a problem with using religion or God or spirituality as a way to divide people as opposed to bringing them together.

That's why I'm not a fan of atheists who believe they are right and that's all there is to it. The history of religion and spirituality is convoluted and complicated. Yes, indeed, there have been numerous massacres in the name of God. I do understand the argument that worse things have happened to humanity because of organized religion than positive things.

Richard Dawkins is unapologetic and unsympathetic about his non-beliefs of God, but I'm not that way because I see how many people are in different places with their faith and education. I like to think I understand them, and it's not my job to change them.

On a personal level, I'm happy to have soaked in The God Delusion and got a lot out of it. But that was more than 10 years ago. I am wondering for self-proclaimed atheists who say religion is outdated, is it possible that defining one's self as an atheist too is outdated?

The irony of recommending The God Delusion is that I imagine many religious or spiritual people would dismiss is, or be too threatened by the book. I hope that I'm wrong and everyone can read this important book.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Eat real food

As simple and fundamental as it sounds, the best advice I could give anyone on how to have a better life is this: Eat real food.

I am fascinated by our country, economics, the food industry and marketing. I remember, back in the day, where the alleged normal reaction from children would be: "Ew, vegetables, yuk. I don't want my vegetables!"

Ha! What wild marketing! ... Well, a lot of the veggies we'd get would be canned grossness, so I can kind of see that reaction. The food industry has been similar to the cigarette industry for decades, and when I realized this, my life and health became exponentially better.

Michael Pollan's enormously popular and significant book Omnivore's Dilemma (2006) could be the No. 1 book I recommend of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. I deliberately put it in the personal-growth category because to me, the first step in self-improvement is to be physically healthy. Sadly, many Americans just can't get there because they have diets that include Dr. Pepper, Taco Bell, Lean Cuisine meals and bull crap.

I must say that my upgrading of food has been a work in progress, but it is so much better than 10 years ago. Cutting down on processed food was the first step, and when I shop, staying as much as possible on the outer ring of the grocery store where the food is real is crucial. Fresh vegetables and fruit, less meat, less empty carbs — that's been the key to my improved diet.
Beware of marketing! That's why The Omnivore's Dilemma is such a seminal work. It cuts through the b.s., does not obfuscate and speaks to me. So-called "healthy" processed foods have become a ginormous industry, and quite frankly, they are not healthy. They have major amounts of sodium and sugars, and while they might be perceived as convenient, it is far healthier to eat unprocessed food.

Pollan makes an appearance 2014 documentary Fed Up, and I recommend that movie, too. For many Americans, they rely on fast food, processed food, packaged food and pre-made stuff. That food has contributed to a skyrocketing of obesity and unhealthy bodies.

When we look at the dysfunctional health care issues and many of societal ills, it is more than feasible that a lot of the problems stem from diet. I will never be able to justify the abundance of Cheetos, pizza, French fries and sugary drinks on school campuses. The best word to describe the Frankenfood I see at schools is mortifying.

One shred of hope is that each generation appears to improve its diet. But here's the catch. It's for those who are educated in the subject. I'm hopeful that more and more people become educated about diet, understand that the four basic food groups was a marketing scheme and at least read The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Non-conformists unite with their art

As much as I've tried to conform to, uh, anything, I realize that I'm a non-conformist by nature. In the fabric of myself, I understand that being different, not conforming, is a positive thing. I am me, and that's how it is.

Heck, back in the '90s, glorious Arby's had the slogan "Different is good." If that phrase works for a fast-food restaurant of roast beef and horsey sauce, then it works for me. Nowadays, I am unsure what to make of Arby's new motto: "We have the meats!"

Whatever the case, I responded to Chris Guillebeau's The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) because the book gave me license to embrace my non-conformist ways and open my eyes more to unspoken assumptions that are made all of the time.

One major point to Guillebeau's book is that we should embrace life as a constant adventure. I couldn't agree more, and the book helped me see that we have a lot of power to live the adventure of our choosing.

As a Gen Xer growing up, I had it in my mind that I was supposed to go to college, then make a living ASAP. I did that. Was that really my best life in my 20s?

The good news is that I was a newspaper journalist, and adventure is a part of that gig. However, I had it in my mind that I needed to have a steady job, health insurance and do something that others would see as "respectable." All of those notions might have limited me.
Guillebeau has traveled to all 193 countries in the world. He appears to be living the life of his choosing, and I'm inspired by that. I wonder how many people actually live the life they want. Instead, I bet they often live the life they think they should, or they live the life they think their parents want.

Guillebeau promotes radical goal setting, and I like that — within reason. Too often people shoot too low with their goals, and while modesty can be a good trait, it sometimes kills risk-taking and hinders success. If a risk weren't taken with a goal, is it really a success?

Over the past few years, Guillebeau has focused on creative self-employment. He has another book coming out soon called 100 Side Hustles, and it focuses on creative ways to make money while keeping your day job.

I wonder how many of us are conformists vs. non-conformists. What do we strive for? I've dabbled in conformity, now and again, and it just feels forced. I must say it was freeing for me to accept the fact that in many ways, I am hindered by my non-conformist ways. Or am I freed?