You gotta love some body.

The penny really dropped for me in a roundabout way.  I’d decided to try giving up cigarettes, and it would take me three rounds (gum, patches, and finally Champix, as well as an extraordinary nurse and very supportive partner all along the way) before I really and truly got there.  But when I did, I was immediately struck by how much less my chest hurt and how many more stairs I could take than I could whilst I was still lighting up (duh).

But there were other pains: back pain, which came and went and was debilitating; pain in my ankle and knee from a lack of physio after my 3 surgeries following my broken leg; and then just the normal aches and pains that go along with carrying 60 lbs too many around with me everywhere, every day, all the time.  This giving up smoking thing was very much connected to my well being in three ways:  vanity (I was sick of yellow teeth, being stinky, and worrying about those horrible lip wrinkles), fear of death (kept picturing myself on my deathbed with lungs that would never clear out again, having to look my loved ones in the eye), and the anger that came with constantly feeling a lack of control over my situation (nothing took precedence over making sure I’d had a cigarette when I needed one).  Giving up cigarettes is something that occupies every free moment of thinking time when one is going through the hardest bits, and consequently, I spent lots of time contemplating the function of the body I was healing.

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Get the body you want in only 2 1/2 years!

When Jamie Oliver famously (and somewhat successfully) tried to convince Britain via his preferred medium – the television documentary – that they needed to improve the quality and nutrition of school lunches, the reaction from some bordered on hostile.  People called him out for trying to tell them how to live their lives, how-very-dare-he and all that.  The media showed images of mothers passing fried chicken and chips through school fences so their little preciouses wouldn’t have to eat what someone else found good for them (though to be fair, the media probably jumped on those photo ops, and it was probably far less widespread than they’d have had us believe).

Food is a damned sensitive subject.  It is for me.  I’m betting it is for you.  It defines us culturally, socio-economically, and ethically.  It forms the foundation of almost every ritual we share amongst friends and family (particularly if we add drink into this equation).  We cannot live without it, and yet it kills far too many of us every year.  Corporations have corrupted it beyond recognition, and activists the world over have dedicated their lives to rescuing it (and consequently us) and bringing it back to the nourishing, life-giving thing it was meant to be.  Food.

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In the in-between…just a little bit longer.

I recently watched an interview with Elaine Stritch that the New York Times released (re-released?) after she passed away a couple of weeks ago.  There’s this moment where she says, quite intensely, like she really, really means it:  Live expectantly.

Ms. Stritch didn’t want to know what was coming her way.  She wanted it all to be a big surprise, one day to the next.  I guess that’s the life of an actor.  Living expectantly sounds romantic.  But life doesn’t just happen to us.  Most of us, I have found, are doing the best we can, which means we’re working really hard toward something or other.  So while we might be ready for all the wonderful or terrible things that may come to pass, and while we might live our lives anticipating the unknown with a sense of joy, if that unknown is going to go anywhere near the direction we’re hoping, we’ve got to put in some good old fashioned graft.  We’ve got to plan, follow through, figure out what works and what doesn’t and quite often start all over again.  And that’s not even the worst of it.

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5 things I learned teaching.

It is not yet time to give you an update on what is happening, because I frankly do not know.  I’m still in the process of trying to make a very significant life change (again, because that’s how I roll), and it has proven very difficult thus far.  So in thinking about what’s to come, I have lots of unknowns and empty spaces and that is profoundly anxiety-producing and not something I could even begin to write about, except on a meta-scale, and of course, that’s why I have a journal.

For purposes of What If and Why Not, however, I thought a reflection on the past couple of years, as I (hopefully) make my slightly awkward exit from the wonderful world of teaching was in order.  Without further ado, ladies and gents, a few tidbits I may have already known, but teaching made that much clearer.

1. High school kids don’t realize teachers are people.  Neither do lots of college students. I should have learned this lesson as a student, because it was seriously the case for me, and most of the people I grew up with.  Until a certain age, depending, of course, on the person and their relationship to certain aspects of society (authority, family, friendship, etc.), certain grown-ups are…let’s say not as human as one’s peers.  There is a profound Continue reading

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59 children have been brutally murdered in one go…and this isn’t breaking news.

I am outraged.

I am sick to my stomach.

This morning, scrolling through the news on the Guardian, waaaaay down at the bottom, nestled between a story about an NHS scandal and an IRA bombing suspect, was the story of 59 adolescent Nigerian students who were shot and burned to death by members of the extremist group Boko Haram on Tuesday.

At first they thought there were only 29 dead.  Apparently many of them ran for their lives, only to die along the way from their gunshot wounds.

Some of them were “burned to ashes,” according to the police commissioner.

This is horrible…terrible…I am no journalist, so I have no shame in admitting that it leaves me absolutely speechless.

But it is news.  It is very, very important news.

Appalled by the very unimportant placement of the article on the Guardian’s front page, I began formulating a letter of complaint to the editor.  Out of curiosity, and perhaps for some moral amunition, I headed over to Al Jazeera, hoping to say, “Hey, Guardian!  Look how this newspaper valued the lives of these children enough to place it at the top of the page!”  Alas, there isn’t even a mention of the event on their home page.

New York Times:  Nothing on their home page.

Los Angeles Times:  Nothing on their home page.

The Washington Post:  Nothing on their home page.

Le Monde: One of 16 lead stories at the bottom of their homepage

The Telegraph:  Nothing on their home page.

I’m going to ask you to do something terrible.

I’m going to ask you to imagine your own child, 16 years old, having just seen his or her classmates shot and burned alive, running through the bush, bleeding from gunshot wounds, until he or she finally cannot go any further, and collapses, to bleed to death, alone.

I don’t think I have a single reader out there who would contest that Africa is where it all began.  Where humans took their first steps; where farmers planted their first seeds; where civilisations were first built.  More recently, so-called “developed” countries have spent the past several hundred years endeavouring by any means necessary to systematically under-develop this massive, culture-, history-, and (perhaps most importantly to those “developed” nations) resource-rich continent to what often feels like the point of no return.

Humanity’s treatment of Africa and Africans is a microcosm – albeit a very large one – of  humanity’s treatment to the Earth and nature itself:  as somehow seperate.  Not part of us.

Listen:  Africa is us.  Those are our children. 

Consider Columbine.  Sandy Hook.  The Norway Massacre.

Why do the deaths of these children headline for days – weeks, even?  Why are their lives worthy of breaking news reports that start at the moment they happen and don’t end until we almost can’t stand to hear about it any more?

Why are the children of Buni Yadi College in Yobe, Nigeria, not headlining the news?

Please:  remember Biafra.

I should have been writing to thank the editors of the GuardianAt least they covered the story.

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Step three: Don’t just forgive your shortcomings – plan on them.

One of the greatest thinkers I’ve come to know in this life is a writer for the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman.  He’s got a regular gig there:  “This column will change your life,” and in it he explores all sorts of wonderful thoughts and ideas that maybe didn’t occur to the reader in quite that way before, but after pondering the concept à la Burkeman, they come out the other end thinking, “Exactly,” and also, “I’ve always thought that,” even if it’s the first time that reader ever bothered considering said idea.  Incidentally, that reader is me…I have no idea how he affects others.

Another lovely mind out there is the creater of brain pickings, Maria Popova, who has three extraordinary talents:  archiving some of the most interesting and worth-reading information out there, ergo consuming – if I will allow her – copious amounts of my life with all her interestingness; taking the ideas of multiple very talented thinkers and synthesizing them so that they are no longer overwhelming and instead fall right into place, one alongside the next; making herself seem somehow like this background informant, rather than the brilliant light she really is to the world of thought and thinking…humble people intimidate me.  Anyway, I digress.  Ms. Popova recently covered Mr. Burkeman’s new book, which has something to do with why setting goals is counterproductive, and she goes into very interesting detail in her post, and I intend to buy and devour this book, and I can also confirm that having read it, I will undoubtedly be in agreement with ol’ Ollie, because that is how he rolls…right into my brain, convincing me not only of his points, but also that I always thought them anyway, so no harm done.

But before I reach that point, a word on setting goals.

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