Set the World Ablaze

“If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze.”
-St. Catherine of Sienna

Reading through another blog post about how to emulate somebody else’s routine, in hopes it will pass along to you, destroys your own offering.

Taking advice on how to imitate others is nothing more than a denial of yourself. It strips you of any dignity and sequesters you to a lifetime of resentment. You will never be that person.

The life of another, while appealing from basic appearances, doesn’t convey the millions of nuances that has shaped it. Nor are you completely aware of the deep seated consciousness that reveals the secrets of their soul. This in itself may be enough to haunt you.

However, the news for us has always been extraordinary. We have been called to be something more and when we accept this invitation, life becomes challenging.

The world does not want you seeking something greater. It wants you to resolve yourself to a life of mediocrity and conformity. You can be good… but you can’t be great.

Taking even the smallest step towards a greater awareness of yourself, and what you should be, will result in stifling attacks. While these will be coming from well-meaning people, they do not understand the joy found within the depths of this path.

When we defend ourselves accordingly, continue moving towards what we should be and avoid the traps that give us doubt, you become invincible in your resolve.

Then you build a following.

Then the world changes.

Waiting for a Solution

How often do we passively wait for an all-encompassing solution to fall on our laps?

If we’re honest, we do this quite often. Think about how hard we research a product before making a decision on whether we buy it. We start by filtering out the low-end products that break easily or were met with overwhelming dissatisfaction.

Then we narrow down our choices to a top chosen field… and nitpick. Any of the choices would be more than acceptable, especially if we didn’t know what we were looking for to begin with, but we can’t stop there.

Each minor imperfection is counted against the one minuscule difference it has over another product. It gets to the point where we don’t make a decision, or make one and then are immediately dissatisfied.

We do the same thing in life.

We try to make the best decisions, but are stifled at the thought of making the wrong one. It’s a giant pro/con list we run in our heads (or on paper for those who take it to that end) with no clear victor.

A mindset shift is needed.

There is no all-encompassing solution to meeting our needs. Instead, we must take what is available and use it to the best of our ability while adjusting, modifying and adapting as we go.

When we work in that vein, we create a solution for ourselves.

How to Live on 24 Hours A Day Book Review

Author: Arnold Bennett
Book Link

Here’s something people may not expect – a self-help book about productivity written over a hundred years ago. We like to think we’re in an age where there’s never enough time and the golden era of leisure was yesterday.

Arnold Bennett comes out and, in a fun and entertaining British way, writes his advice for a middle/upper class society who feel miserable about their existence.

In this book (which is public domain and therefore free), he tackles the issue of people going to work, coming home and then wasting their evening away until they wake up the next day to do it again. All the while, they complain about not having enough time to pursue anything meaningful in their lives (hmmm… sounds familiar…)

While today’s self-help genre focuses toward the idea of being your true self, finding your passion or making money (usually the latter… which only profits the author, but that’s another rant), Bennett focuses on taking advantage of time.

Specifically, how one is able to maximize every minute of every day given to them. Money can be replenished, but time is something that can never be banked. Instead, one should learn how to find all the spare minutes of their day and use it to start living, not merely existing.

It’s a short book and if you’re willing to delve into it, you’ll find plenty of wisdom that is highly useful today.

How to Read 100 Books a Year

I saw a question on Quora recently where somebody asked what it takes to read a hundred books a year.

Reading a hundred books a year is at a level reserved for those who consider reading an essential part of their life. My wife often accuses me of being a “book with legs,” to which I happily accept as a compliment, so I’ll tip my hat into answering this one as 100+ books a year was my norm up until recently (children have that effect of wanting you to pay attention to them).

Looking at that number doesn’t faze me because it equates to roughly two books a week (with some weeks off). However, and here’s the key, I don’t build my reading life around the number of books I read in a year. It just happens.

While I do set challenges on Goodreads and track the books I’m reading, while leaving reviews, I purposefully set that number low because I read for enjoyment.

My students read because my passion for reading bleeds out to them. They (somewhat) trust my suggestions because of how wide and deep I’ve read in many genres. My goal for them, however, is to not hook them on a particular number. It’s simply to get them to read for the love of reading.

I do also include challenges for them along the way (read a book published the year you were born, read a book with a number in the title, read a book of poetry, etc.) to push them beyond their boundaries.

Inevitably, they will slowly discover the number of books they did read surpassed their own expectations.

If you are adamant to meet the challenge of a hundred… or any number of books… here’s some of my own tips:

1. Only read books that will be of interest to you.
Be incredibly discerning and if there’s nothing in the book to hook you (I give books a fifty page audition before I give up on it), try another one. You won’t finish the book unless you actually like it.

2. Ignore What Others Think
Just because somebody (or some list, or review) tells you it’s a “must-read,” that’s still a purely subjective opinion. On the same token, reviews and suggestions to avoid certain books are also subjective. It’s not beneath some people to purposefully leave bad reviews on books just to debase the author for personal reasons.
This is really an extension of tip number one.

3. Don’t find time to read – make it.
I read over my breakfast, lunch, bursts of time throughout my day (five minute increments usually) and before bed. If I’m up early enough, I’ll read in the morning as well. Reading is what I do instead of looking at my phone, watching T.V. shows and getting sucked into the black-hole of the Internet.

4. Don’t speed read.
It doesn’t work as well as you think and the value of reading many books goes out the window when you do it. Being a fast reader is simply a matter of following tip number three.

5. Try Audiobooks
I listen to these on my commute and once you train your brain to focus (avid podcast listeners won’t have an issue here), they become a joy.

6. Challenge Yourself
Try reading a book this year just outside your comfort zone or one that will challenge you a bit more than what you normally read. If the book makes your brain hurt, consider it a growing experience.

7. Don’t Get Hung Up on a Number
If you manage to read twenty books this year and you normally read two… that’s a huge accomplishment. If you fall just short of your goal and are feeling defeated, do the following:

Get the number of books you did read and make a giant stack out of them.
Take a picture.
Post it somewhere to show the world how much you’ve read.
Be proud.

Now go pick up a book, or an e-reader, open to the first page and enjoy.

Movers Book Review

Author: Meaghan McIsaac
Book Link

It’s exciting to read a sci-fi book, especially one written for a younger audience, with attention to world building. Yes, this is a sci-fi book set in the future… and yes it has time travel elements… and yes, it’s dystopian (have we hit all our YA sci-fi cliches yet?), but it moves in a different direction.

Forgive the dad joke.

This story is centered around Pat, who is in a world that is overcrowded and with little resources to spare. To compound the issue, there are people in the world known as ‘Movers.’ They are connected to others in the future, called ‘Shadows’ and the movers have the ability to move shadows into the present time.

The issue is the government doesn’t want this happening as the world’s resources are already stretched thin and adding more to the mix only makes it worse. Hence, any time they detect someone moving, or in large suspicion of moving, they put that person to sleep.

Pat is not a mover, but has latent abilities. His sister and classmate, however, are a different story. Right away, they find themselves tangled up in an issue where they are on the run. The story keeps you hooked all the way until they end as they discover secrets about the world, the government and themselves. It ends on a massive cliffhanger.

While I found the book took a bit long to get going, the students I’ve offered it to said it gets exciting right away. This may be a case of my over-saturation with the genre in comparison to their eager and young minds. The fact the few who have read it blasted through it in less than a week speaks volumes of how it plays to a younger audience.

For something different in the YA Sci-fi genre, it’s worth picking up.

No Need to Crawl Into a Hole

“This world is going to hell and we’re all screwed.”
“I’m never having kids. This world is beyond repair.”
“I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”

I’m sure if you were to drop those quotes into any era in human history, many people would be in agreement with you.

“No, no. This time it’s the real deal,” someone might argue.

The world has changed… drastically… that much we can agree upon. The data states it’s been for the better. The subjective experience of some say it’s been for the worse.

I think we live in the most exciting time in human history and look forward to seeing what the next fifty years brings. If I were to guess…

Some things we thought were good turned out to be horrible.
Some things we thought were going to cause the downfall of society, didn’t.
Literacy rates worldwide will go up.
Crime will go down.
And somebody will still boldly proclaim this world is going to hell and we’re all screwed.

Seven Myths About Education Book Review

Author: Daisy Christodoulou
Book Link

As someone committed to professional growth and constantly on the lookout for material that will get me there, I was excited to pickup this book. From the onset, I made the assumption I would largely be agreeing with Christodoulou’s arguments and it was partially true.

The backbone of the entire book is Myth 1: Facts Prevent Understanding.

Twenty years ago (further if you count the outlier teachers who were early adopters), the push for education in Canada was to move from knowledge based to skills based education.

Knowledge based education was (and still is) looked upon with serious disdain.

Of course the common argument about moving away from knowledge based education is the average student will never need to memorize some random fact they’ll never use again. This is true.

However, what Christodoulou brilliantly points towards is knowing one random fact on its own isn’t useful, but knowing many is crucial to making connections.

Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on a Wittenberg Church door in 1517. The town had approximately 2000 people in it at the time.

Based on that bit of information, it’s difficult to answer why the Reformation even happened. However, when you add the following two facts:

Gutenberg invents the printing press in 1440.
Explosion in literacy because of easy and cheap access to printed materials.

Connections can be made. The people of the town reprinted those theses and distributed them far and wide across the continent. In essence, Martin Luther created a viral post that spurred the masses.

After the first myth, I was committed to reading the rest. Unfortunately, each subsequent myth pointed towards many common education reform ideals (teacher led instruction is bad, project based learning is best, etc.) but still fell back on the first myth. There wasn’t enough in each to follow the depth of argument I was already primed to hear.

This may have been a case of Christodoulou trying to get her thoughts packaged together, but it may have been more beneficial to focus on her primary point and use those other myths as extensions.

In her mission to get me thinking, however, she succeeded.

A Thousand Ripples

“Hey, you know how you always said anytime? That time is now.”

I remember getting the call from a friend to head to his place immediately. It was the call where you know everything had just gone wrong in his life and he’s cashing in your promise to always be there.

The news wasn’t good and we spent a long time hashing it out. Since that night, we’ve only spoken once. I’ve known him for enough years to anticipate we’ll be in contact again at some point whether the news is good or bad.

What hits me hard about that situation (aside from the fallout) was his desire to call me. He’s been friends with many other people for much longer.

I attribute it to the amount of time we made contact with each other through visiting, watching sports games together or enjoying a beverage somewhere. There were a thousand points of contact (what I’m calling ripples) from day one.

“I’ve never seen a student body attach themselves to someone so fast.”

I was taking over as chaplain of a high school. The role demands many things from you and different areas, however, I chose just one: build rapport with students.

This was done by stepping out of my office and making contact with students in the halls. I didn’t stop moving and didn’t stop conversing. In that month, I must’ve hit the thousand ripple mark because students began flooding my office to hang out.

The next year I was dropped into another school with the warning, “it’ll take a while before students open up to you. They have great barriers in front of them.”

Two months later, I heard the comment again:

“I’ve never seen these students warm up to someone so fast.”

Another thousand ripples.

Strong relationships are built on constant, authentic contact. You can’t make a ripple in the water by looking at it and talking about it. You have to be willing to reach out and disturb the surface.

It might backfire.

A thousand touches later, however, you’ll find a rhythm.

Then you will have made an impact.

The Gazebo in the Backyard

The first time I saw Neil Gaiman’s writing space, I wanted it.

Prior to this moment, I languished in the thought of having a traditional study, built on the handiwork of master woodworkers and modeled after the academics of the 1920s. Considering the style of house needed for that study to even exist, and the severe unlikelihood of ever owning such house, the gazebo became the new desire.

However, given my current arrangement of living in suburbia with a postage stamp backyard… half of which is taken up by a stamped concrete patio… this desire is not coming into fruition anytime soon. Also meld this with young children, one salary and the fact my skills at anything handy are on par with my two year old (although I think he’s probably better).

As a long term goal, it’s in the realm of possibility. For right now, some creative thinking must come into play. So what can be done?

First is to look at what the gazebo represents.

For me, it’s a place of solitude where I can allow my thoughts to simmer. It’s a place of freedom from interruption where some serious writing can be done.

Given those two points, it’s time to look at the second step:

Is there some way to replicate those representations without the physical space?

The answer is yes.

Getting up an hour before the rest of the household allows time for me to enjoy a cup of coffee while my thoughts go to play. Staying up an hour later gives the freedom from interruption to get some serious writing done after those thoughts from the morning have spent the day working through my subconscious.

The physical space may be the counter-top in my kitchen, but mentally I’ve created the gazebo. When it comes time to building the physical space, I’ll be prepared to use it for its purpose.

If you’re looking to create a gazebo in your backyard (metaphorically speaking here), you must mentally prepare the space first.

Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than a novelty that never gets used.

That’s Not How You Use It

Dungeons & Dragons is a peculiar game.

It involves a story teller guiding players along on an adventure, placing roadblocks along the way to heighten the excitement. It’s a give and take relationship where the players and story teller are always reacting to each other.

That’s not the peculiar part.

The storyteller is in charge of creating the world and the adventure. They do their best to account for the multiple branches the players could venture towards in the game. However, the story teller is always stifled by one rule:

If you’ve thought of twenty solutions to a problem, the players will think of twenty one.

Items or situations they never even conceived at the time are suddenly thrust into the game and a decision must be forced out of the story teller. They must answer the fundamental question the players are asking:

Are you going to let this happen?

To which the storyteller will respond, “That’s not what it was meant for.”

However, they must be flexible in their thinking to allow such seemingly random procedures to be given a fair opportunity. It might even lead the players and story teller towards a path even more exciting than was once conceived.

Or it could end in disaster.

It has to be permitted before the reveal can occur.

How often are we told that a certain tool must be used a specific way?

While there are safety measures to some tools (i.e. keep me away from all power tools unless you want to be driving my clumsy self to the hospital), that is different than how they are used.

Divergent thinking is the reason “the new norm” occurs. Consider IKEA hacks, Instagram poetry, craft beers, spreadsheets activities and molecular gastronomy.

All those were a result of finding new ways to use the same tools as others, without anybody getting in the way.

To me, it’s going back to that Dungeons & Dragons game. Some of those attempts may have ended up in disaster (as I’m sure happens often), but different avenues have opened up thanks to the willingness of the storyteller.

We are the enablers of creative ways of thinking.

“That’s not how you use it,” is one way to stop it from happening.