The trick I can’t do

I was the stand-in mystery reader for a Kindergarten class at the school where I work.  A mystery reader is someone who reads a book aloud to a class and their identity isn’t revealed until they walk into the room.  

I read them a book about a penguin’s epic search for a cupcake.  My first thought was that children authors have run out of things to write about.  My second thought was that the kids most likely related to the protagonist; finding a cupcake is probably the most important part of a 5 year old’s day.

After the reading, the kids asked me to do magic.  I did a couple of half-assed tricks, but it didn’t matter.  Considering that almost everything is amazing to a 5 year old, you don’t need much magic to make a young mind twitch.

I said my farewells and started to walk out of the class.  As I got near the door, I felt a tug on the back of my jacket.

"Mr. Hassan?" 

It was a kid who had been in the front of the audience the whole time.  His face was red, his eyes were puffy, and his hair looked like it hadn’t been cut in a year.

"Hey there," I said, smiling.  "Looks like you had a rough day, huh?"

He nodded slowly.

"Thanks for having me in your class today," I began to say.  "It was fun to -"

"Can you do a magic trick for my family?" he asked.

"Of course," I told him, my heart swelling.  "Just come find me at dismissal when your parents are around and I’ll do something cool.  What kind of trick should I do for your family?"

"Can you do anything?" he said, looking less upset.

"For you?  Of course!" I told him.  

You see, I can make coins disappear.  I can pull them out of your ear.  I can make a chosen card appear on my iPhone wallpaper.  Ask me to fly and I could do that, or something close to that.  Time travel is easy with some sleight of hand and a deck of cards, and I can even invoke a ghostly spirit if you and I are alone in a room together.  I can make a ring float and I can pull off my thumb.  

None of these things are real, of course.  When I’m wearing my figurative magician hat, I’m a fantastic conjuror and an even better liar.  The most important part of selling a magic act is making someone believe, just for a few minutes, that you really do have magical powers.  I would’ve transformed oranges into apples if it would make this kid smile.

And then he asked for the one trick I don’t know how to do.

It’s easy to forget sometimes.  Children learn so fast that we forget where they were just a few years ago.  Performing magic for children every day is a gift, but magic is a different type of thing to a kindergartener.  My fifth grade students enjoy being tricked.  They think of creative ways to determine how I accomplished something.  But for the kindergarteners, it’s real.  All of it.

Magic is real.  School is real.  Getting left alone after school in an empty room is real.  Having a father who doesn’t care for you is real.  That ramen dinner is real.  Shitting on the bathroom floor to cry for help is real.  Structure is real and a lack of it disturbs reality.

Kids are so full of reality that it makes me sick sometimes.  They should be allowed to live outside of it, especially on warm summer nights.  They should have room for dreams in their bedroom.  They should only be scared by the dark.  Fear is a part of life, but with some kids, fear is not something to face, or to greet, or to understand on a personal level.  Facing fear is what adults claim to do when they run out distractions.  No, for kids, fear is that tiny little thing that they carry around in their lunchbox.  The pen cap that they use as a makeshift whistle.  A badge of honor and a smoke signal, all at once.

"I want you to make me, my father, my mother, and my brother live forever."

Kids today, man.  Back when we were five, we were invincible.  

It’s a trick I don’t know, but it’s the most familiar illusion.

2013, whatever. Time, in general, is awesome.

Perhaps you started thinking about it, and you realized that these artificial markers of time (months and years) don’t have much to do with your successes and failures, your joys and your challenges, or your ups and downs.  2013 was not good or bad to you; the New Year just seems to be a popular time for reflection, for many.  It’s understandable.  Most are on vacation, and a lack of things to do allows the mind to start wandering.  This whole blog post came from my wandering vacation mind.

The jarring reality is that the year didn’t have any plans for you, that the stuff that happened to you and the way you felt was all about your unique circumstances, choices, and reactions.  It’s hard to be mad at or in awe of a year when you think about it like that.  Still, it’s comforting to think of pieces of life like chapters of a book.  Despite that, here are 4 reasons why time, in general, is pretty awesome.

1.  Your only choice is to move on.  Sure, your mind can stay planted in the past, dwelling on the things she said or the time you failed Calculus.  But there’s no joy in that, and time knows this.  You’ll get wrinkles whether you like them or not.  You will naturally forget about things, good and bad.  Decisions will be made, people will be born and they will die. 

Think about how awful it would be if we could go back and re-live past events.  You might spend an eternity in that lake house you rented.  You’d have the choice to never learn anything new.  You’d have the option of eternal comfort.

Thankfully, time is adventurous.  Your only choice is to move on.  Your only option is to see what’s next. 

2.  Your brain is built to stretch time.  In a boring lecture, 3 hours is a slow crawl.  When a lot of things happen to you at once, a year can go by in an instant. 

"Instant" and "moment" are beautiful concepts.  You get to create a measure of time in retrospect.  An "instant" is only an "instant" after its over.  I couldn’t tell you to meet me at Starbucks in 5 moments, but I could tell you that I drank all my coffee in an instant.

Also, it’s no coincidence when time seems to stretch.  Research suggests that changes in routine can cause a person’s perception of time to slow down.  It happens to whole groups.  That’s why a family on vacation seems to agree with each other that their holiday went by really quickly.

We were given brains that have this incredible ability to stretch time.  It seems like that’s all this “present moment” stuff is about.  The more you observe, the more stimuli you can take in, the longer a moment will be for you.  It’s liberating. 

3.  We can annotate.  Make a painting.  A blog post.  A concerto.  The coolest thing about giving birth to a piece of art is that time will carry it downstream longer than it will carry you.  It’s perhaps the coolest feature of time, and it’s the source of many New Years Resolutions.  Annotations and purpose are close cousins.

I hope, in 2014, that your life moves on.  I hope you choose to do things that stretch your moments. 

And most of all, I hope you annotate.

Best Concerts & Albums of 2013

Best concert of 2013: Lucius - you must see this band live.

close second place, Laura Mvula.

Favorite records of 2013:
Laura Mvula - Sing to the Moon
Lucius - Wildewoman
Miracles of Modern Science - Meems
Haim - Days are Gone
The 1975 - The 1975
Bibio - Silver Wilkinson
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park
Dawes - Stories Don’t End
Plini - Sweet Nothings
Snarky Puppy - Family Dinner, Vol 1
J. Cole - Born Sinner
Marius Neset - Birds
Teitur - Story Music 
Betty Who - The Movement 
Toad the Wet Sprocket - New Constellation 
Brett Dennen - Smoke and Mirrors
Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio 2
Lake Street Dive - Fun Machine 
Fat Freddy’s Drop - Blackbird

So.

Have you ever tried having a substantial conversation without using that word?

The job of “so” is to notify the participants of a conversation that the conversation is moving along normally.  It embodies all the things we love as human: templates, rituals, or routines.  ”So” tricks us into thinking that life isn’t all that awkward or strange.

I’ve tried to have conversations without Sos.  Conversations where I tried to let the silences in between words create enough space to allow for thorough thinking.  The first time I did this, I thought about what amount of energy thorough thinking actually takes.  In other words, I was thoroughly thinking about thorough thinking.  

I really miss writing.  The funny thing is, I still write quite a lot.  In fact, I write more than ever.  In fact, I’ve written 70 pages in the last two weeks.  

So.

I’ve been a teacher for a few months now.  Here are some noticings (a new favorite word):

  1. This job is super meta.  Being taught about how to learn about how to reflect about teaching about how to learn?  Really? Come on.  
  2. "It’s like taking cups of water out of the ocean."  Some of the most beautiful metaphors come from day-to-day conversation with your colleagues.  
  3. Kids want to learn as badly as they want to eat.  That’s right.  All of them.  They’re starving for knowledge, and you’re the chef.  It’s like serving a 5 course meal to a group of the pickiest eaters in the universe.  And just like in the kitchen, your job isn’t over after you’re done cooking.  Your job is over when your customers are nourished.  And speaking of your customers, they’re all here from the paper.
  4. Kids are better artists than adults. They’re more productive artists, their insights are more inspiring, and most of them ship all the damn time.  I’m not saying that to be cute.  Anyone who works in an elementary school can tell you.  How many pieces of art did you make when you were 6?  How many did you make in 2013?  

    It bums you out, doesn’t it?  But there’s no time to think about that now, because you’re walking over to this kid in art class.  He’s thrown a temper tantrum every art class, so he’s been sent into the corner to paint toy cars, away from everyone else.  And you ask him what he’s going to do with all these cars, and he tells you he’s going to sell them.  So you tell him to save you the blue one, and eventually, you buy it from him for $5.  

    And then he asks you where you keep it and you realize it’s on your bedside table.  You realize you’ve told all your friends about it.  You remember that seconds after he sold it to you, you were showing it off to the other adults in the room.  

    And you try and remember the last time a piece of art moved you like that.
  5. It’s really really really not a science.  Stop writing about it like it is.  There are people out there that think they know how to fix education, as if it’s a broken down car.  No one goes to a ballet looking for ways to fix it.  They go with a sense of wonder, and perhaps bewilderment.  It’s subtle, isn’t it?  Art isn’t fixed; it’s refined.  Education is not whack-a-mole.  
  6. I must be a hero.  In the back of their minds, kids are imagining all sorts of bad things happening to them at school.  That painting they’re making?  They’ll get made fun of.  That hairstyle they’re rocking that’s a little too last year?  They’ll get teased, by a group.  That spot at the lunch table?  It’s not for them; it never was.  Ninjas break in.  There’s a tornado and it’ll knock over houses.  Rogue leopard eats everyone’s lunchables.  All these fears distract kids from learning.  It stops when they realize the support they are standing on… is you.  
  7. You see the things in your students that you can’t stand about yourself.  There have been times when you’ve wanted to give up.  Teaching has got to be one of the hardest jobs in the world.  Maybe you’re not strong enough.  Maybe it’s not in you, ya know?  Maybe teaching long division is too hard, everyone says it is.  

    And then you walk over to this kid’s desk in literacy to see what he’s writing, and he’s got one word on his page.  He’s looking at you desperately, he’s asking you to write it for him.  He’s asking to go to the bathroom.  It’s an emergency, but you know that the real emergency is that he is facing the scary, cold tundra of a blank page and doesn’t want to do it alone. 

    So you give him your coat.  You hold his hand.  You tell him that no one, no one, has ever gotten anywhere, or done anything amazing, without falling flat on their face.  Steve Jobs failed, you say to him.  Michael Jordan.  Lady Gaga.  There are guitarists with no hands, you tell him, they play with their feet.  You think they were born with that?  Everything, you tell him, everything worth achieving requires a modicum of pain and an untethered heart.  Get used to it.  And all of a sudden you get choked up, at your own words.  And that’s it.  He writes 9 sentences.  You teach a kid long division an hour later.  

Everyday, I train.  I don’t really have a choice.  I go to the gym, and I get the snot kicked out of me for 6 hours a day.  I go home and write 8 pages.  Sleep for 5 and a half hours.  Then I wake up and do it again.  

Everything - EVERYTHING - worth achieving requires a modicum of pain and an untethered heart.  

So.

there’s a new amos lee record… and it’s awesome.

(Source: Spotify)

Tags: music spotify

(Source: Spotify)

Tags: music spotify

a new I am Robot and Proud record. This guy makes magic.

(Source: Spotify)

Tags: music spotify

I walked along the outside wall of the maze,The chorus stuck in my head like gum,We understand ourselvesrelative to ourselves.

I walked along the outside wall of the maze,
The chorus stuck in my head like gum,
We understand ourselves
relative to ourselves.

There’s more sky in the skythan there is ground in the ground.building make a city,but stories make a town.

There’s more sky in the sky
than there is ground in the ground.
building make a city,
but stories make a town.

There’s more sky in the skythan there is ground in the ground.buildings fill a city,stories fill a town.

There’s more sky in the sky
than there is ground in the ground.
buildings fill a city,
stories fill a town.

Tags: painting poem