The Landscape Has Changed

The landscape has changed and we are still adjusting to its surroundings.

We live in an inter-connected world that has allowed us to conquer many of the challenges we once faced alone. It has also opened us up to new challenges we didn’t know existed.

It’s possible to obtain mastery over skills completely by virtual mentors.

To be ignorant of what is happening in the world is now a choice.

We know more than enough in how to keep ourselves healthy.

Every voice has the potential to reach the entire world.

The price of entry into most fields is almost non-existent.

You can publish stories, essays, articles, podcasts, music, videos and art using tools that are free and almost indistinguishable from traditional professional ones.

We have the ability to get more done in significantly less time.

Yes, the new landscape has its challenges… including old ones that never seem to go away.

However, the greatest stumbling block we have today – is laziness.

It Just Seems Strange

I’ve been writing daily for the past few years.

It was a habit I forced myself to pickup because I was tired of the sporadic bursts happening beforehand. I needed the consistency, even if no one was ever going to read those words.

It also turned me from a person who constantly started projects, into one that finished them.

No matter how tired, or if I was traveling, I would find some time and some way to write.

This past weekend, I had the honour of celebrating my little sister’s wedding. In the midst of the busyness and the celebrating, I didn’t make the time to write.

The world didn’t fall apart, nor did it become an existential crisis, but it just felt strange.

That’s when I knew that writing is something I need to do.

In other words, expect a lot more out of me going forward.

Solitude Book Review

Author: Michael Harris
Book Link

It’s not  often I can pick up a non-fiction book and be completely immersed in the author’s head.

It’s also rare that I pay attention to every single word.

Harris completely hooked me into his world and I  felt myself slowing down to absorb everything he was saying in this book.

Reading through it felt like a journey through my own thoughts, but articulated through the author. It didn’t feel like an over-bloated blog post with a lot of filler text, but rather like someone who had a lot to say while trying to find their answer.

It helps that as a person steeped in mysticism and contemplation, the subject matter is near to my heart.

Solitude, in this book, is presented as something that is not only healthy… but necessary.

As we move towards a completely interconnected world, finding time for solitude is becoming increasingly rare. It is also becoming fearful as people try to drown out their own thoughts rather than allow themselves to walk down their inner road.

Harris looks at how our strength and creativity comes from these moments when we completely detached. Yet, they are being replaced with constant connection and outsourcing to others.

What are the consequences and what are we giving up in the process?

We don’t get a solid answer in the end, which is a good thing. This is a deep question requiring serious thought.

To give it a black and white answer denies the reader any opportunity to wrestle with it.

This is the first work of Harris’ I read and if he continues writing this way, I’m on board for the rest.

Ban This Book Book Review

Author: Alan Gratz
Book Link

I was fortunate enough to pick this up in the Express shelves of my local library and sat down for an afternoon to read it.

The heart of this book is about a fourth grader, Amy, who spends a lot of time in her head, but doesn’t actually speak up. Although the divide in age between myself and this protagonist is quite the span, I found I could relate to her right away.

It chronicles the events of her school when her favourite book gets banned from the library. Soon thereafter, a list of books are removed at the bequest of an influential parent council member who deems them inappropriate for a young audience.

As a response, Amy and her friends create a forbidden book library that is run out of her locker.

Thus, we get to the over-arching theme of this book, which is censorship.

We’re asked questions about who gets to decide what is right for children to read and how much autonomy we should give in decision making. I was very satisfied with the author’s answer at the end (thank you Mr. Gratz for giving one!), but it opens the discussion wide open for all readers.

What I found most dumbfounding was the author’s note at the end where he tells the reader every book on Amy’s list was banned, or under review for removal, from school libraries.

It made me appreciate this book all the more.

The writing is wonderful and the characters feel alive. This is a book that belongs in the hands of every young reader and every library.

Alone With Your Thoughts

It was said that people have a bigger fear of public speaking than death.

I think that fear has shifted.

We no longer have an issue with speaking to a large audience, as the ease of our digital tools has broken many barriers in that regard. It’s no surprise to see someone taking a video of themselves and posting it online for the world to see.

Instead, the fear today has shifted to being alone with our thoughts.

Asking someone to spend time alone, in solitude, without the companionship of phones, paper or even the white noise of others (aka a coffee shop), strikes terror.

However, this practice is the most important breakthrough for human creativity.

When we learn to be alone with our thoughts, allowing them to simmer and letting our mind wander along with them, we unleash powerful thinking.

Part of the problem is we never learned how to be alone. We’ve never practiced constructive ways to let our minds wander. Hence, when we’re finally alone, our thoughts immediately spiral towards the negative.

This can change if we’re willing to learn.

Sure, there are some where, from a medical standpoint, being alone with their thoughts is actually a detriment.

For the rest of us, we need that time.

We need to learn to be bored and we need to learn how to be alone with our thoughts.

Shift This! Book Review

Author: Joy Kirr
Book Link

This was another recommendation from a colleague about a way to completely transform the classroom. As someone who’s still getting his feet back in the waters, any advice passed along my way is always appreciated.

If I were to summarize this book in one sentence: put the students’ best interest first.

Kirr spends time talking about the major shifts she has made in her classroom, all starting from very small changes. Each change shifted her classroom culture, which caused her to implement another… and another.

I appreciate she’s actually speaking from experience and not merely from something theoretical.

There’s no doubt education is going through a transformation. Between the disruption of technology, unlimited access to information and the automation of our cognitive jobs (“white collar” work), our bell-style “sage on a stage” education has to change.

Kirr understands this and the shifts she makes in her classroom are a reflection of it.

There are a few chapters I highlighted and noted to death (especially the chapter on grading – my goodness that chapter is solid gold) and there were a few sections I personally wouldn’t use. Twitter, for instance, is something she strongly advocates educators use to chat with others.

I closed my Twitter account months ago for many reasons (even after having a solid following), but the biggest one is its ability to take away my focus. I would rather be creating content and reading deeply, rather than curating small bytes of information that would require me to do the deep work anyway. This is just a personal stance.

What I loved, and don’t see very often in books about educational practices, is Kirr does not back away from the struggles to make this type of classroom work. She does not present her class as some kind of utopia for implementing her changes.

She speaks about the struggles with getting the students on board, her colleagues and the parents.

I have already begun shifting my classroom before reading this book, but now I’m ready to make some bigger leaps.

Giving Up Control

At best, we can only find firm grounding in the chaos that is life.

Attempts to control it is fruitless because it cannot be tamed.

We can make all the plans, schedules, connections and great efforts to get what we want… and all it takes is one deterrent to have it all collapse.

The harder we try, the more we end up burning the candles at both ends.

We become perpetually exhausted, burnt out and defeated.

To find peace, we must give up trying to tame our lives because the only thing we can control is our reaction.

Giving up control is hard at first, but eventually it becomes the obvious choice.

Who Does it Serve?

The most passionate person is the convert.

This is the person who has discovered something that works exceedingly well in their lives and commit to it completely.

You see them in Religions, diets, exercise routines, technological tools and anywhere else that somebody could be convinced to shift elsewhere.

They dive into the waters, exploring all its benefits… possibly ignoring all its shortcomings… and begin to share it with others.

It becomes a must for all those around them. It’s helpful and it’s proven – after all, look at what it did for them!

However, when the energy put into the work begins to become self-serving under the guise of helping others, it’s time to step back.

There’s a difference between serving others and serving yourself through others.

Always question who it’s serving.

Life’s Instruction Manual

If only it existed, right?

How many times would we appreciate being able to reference the appropriate page when we’re completely unsure… or completely mess up?

It would be wonderful to have a well-thumbed section on, “When everything breaks all at once in your house.”

There would be numerous sticky tabs and post-it notes all over the section, “What the person really means when they tell you something.”

How many of us would appreciate the section, “When everything seems to fall apart?”

Or the mythical section, “The instruction manual for your child: from newborn to adulthood.”

Some would sigh as they flip back to, “Everything you’re doing right and wrong in your relationship.”

A few would even crack open the section on, “Authentic spirituality: life is more than material goods.”

Life’s instructional manual is impossible to write, but possible to live each day.

The Collapsing Empire Book Review

Author: John Scalzi
Book Link

Here we go with another Scalzi book review. I don’t know what to say except I can’t get enough of this author.

The best way to describe this book is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine mixed with the characters of Kevin Smith movies… in a really good way.

Disclaimer: If you hate politics, science fiction and a few characters that swear obsessively, I would strongly discourage you from picking this up. Then again, if you’ve read anything by this author before, you know full well what you’re getting into.

Unlike the last book I read from Scalzi where I jumped in the middle of a series, this one is the beginning of a completely new story arc and universe. For that reason, it does take a bit to get into because you have to put together the pieces as you go along. For me, that took about fifty pages.

Once it gets going though, it ramps up in a magnificent display of awesomeness.

Quick summary: Humans have discovered something called The Flow, which allows them to colonize distant stars and galaxies… the catch being no one really knows how it works. They create a new empire called The Interdependency as a hedge against interstellar war whereupon all the systems are dependent on each other — then The Flow starts shifting.

The story moves quickly and the disparate characters it follows slowly begin to merge together into one interconnected plot. For this reason, it never got confusing and it built towards an ending that was satisfying enough to pick up the next one in the series.

So thank you Mr. Scalzi for chewing up another weekend of mine with your raw edge of literary prowess in a genre I can’t get enough of.