The Problem With Linear Reality (You Can't Go Back)

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'… into the future.
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'… into the future.

Time Keeps on Slipping

One of the sobering things about edu-bloggery – or social media in general – is how hard it can be to keep up when your tangible, so-called “real” world gets crazy. Far more humbling, though, is that when you DO fall away for a time (slowly, and then all at once), the entire apparatus and most of those involved keep right on going just fine.

Which is rude.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to expect any less. And despite my substantial ego, that’s not actually the difficult part. You see, I miss it. The writing and the editing, the labor and the self-loathing. I miss the reworking, the doubting, the publishing, and the connecting.

There were times I’d knock out several posts a week and discover that thousands of you were reading and sharing them. Other times I’d labor for days over such pith and profundity that I doubted there were words or emotions left in the universe for others to use… and manage a good three or four dozen views. Sometimes the most amazing conversations would start in the comments; other times it was that same bit of misspelled spam from some college essay writing service in Russia.

The numbers weren’t really the point, though. It was the process. The struggle. The recurring leap.

It helped me reflect, and to clarify thoughts and emotions. It brought me into contact with some of the most AMAZING people. It forced growth, and – if I’m being honest – it far too often left me snickering endlessly over some clever phrase or another which I’d somehow managed to wring out.

And then real life asserted itself. 

I took a new position this school year, in a state far, far away, teaching something I’ve not actually taught before. I love our new home, and the area, and my co-workers, and my kids. I’m glad we made the move – especially given the new lows to which the Oklahoma Legislature is attempting to sink.

That being said, this year has completely kicked my ass. It’s mocked me and broken me and shamed me and frustrated me, leaving me without cab fare and not calling for weeks at a time. I scribbled about this previously, but in retrospect, I think I dialed back the intensity a bit in an effort to maintain my own little ‘growth mindset.’ And while I don’t mind ranting, I prefer to provide you, my Eleven Faithful Followers, with the sort of witty, contrary-but-inspirational Blue magic you and I have both come to adore.

Now that the annual reboot looms, however, I confess that the learning curve of a new subject was much more intense than I anticipated. My pedagogy and strategies and years of experience seemed suddenly seemed rather… shallow – perhaps even fraudulent – like I’d been skating by on audacity and circumstance and confusing it for talent.  Above all, my inability to more quickly figure out my kids and adjust to what they REALLY needed and where they were was simply…

Well, it was unforgiveable.

“Don’t beat yourself up, Blue – you did the best you could. You probably made more of a positive difference than you realized some days.”

Yeah, I probably did. But that doesn’t make it OK. They needed more. They needed better. I absolutely must go back and redo this year – to fix some of it, and try better things.

But that’s the problem with linear reality – we can only learn forward. We can only change in one direction, and even those efforts are based on limited, often flawed perceptions and information.

There are those who insist that if they COULD go back and change anything about their lives, they wouldn’t do it – because those experiences are what made them who they are today.



Hockey of the horse.

I’d go back in a heartbeat, several times if necessary, and I’d change so very many things, over and over until I figured out what might work – how much more I could accomplish; how much less damage I could do.

But no.

Time is marching on. And time… is still marching on.
You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older. And now you’re even older. And now you’re even older. And now you're older still.

Older - They Might Be Giants (Best Version)

It’s the time of year that kids start coming to me for “make-up work,” wanting to know what they can still turn in. Whatever my past failings, I do sometimes learn, and two decades have taught me that it’s generally pointless to give students a pile of old assignments to complete NOW – out of context, and in bulk. That’s not really how learning works.

“Here’s that Quarter Pounder with no pickle you asked for three weeks ago” isn’t exactly a life skill, but then again neither is “sorry you fail there’s no hope for you now guess you shoulda done it when you had the chance cackle cackle.”  One alternative I’ve come to like, depending on the student and the surrounding circumstances, is to suggest that rather than get bogged down in what they should have been doing two weeks ago, they focus this sudden burst of concern into THIS week’s work, THIS week’s discussions, THIS week’s activities. Give me one good week (sometimes two), at least 80% of your energy each day, mostly keeping up with whatever we’re doing now, and if that happens, well…

Maybe one or two of those old zeroes can go away. Maybe the next quiz can count double – as itself, and in place of that last quiz you bombed. That sort of thing.

It shouldn’t be easy, of course. Straying from the course comes at a cost, especially when it’s a result of willfully poor choices. But it should be possible – at least in most situations. I mean, I don’t know how your gig works, but I don’t get paid any extra for assuring kids in March that they’re mathematically doomed and they should appreciate what a valuable long-term life lesson this is as they come to class for no possible reason the rest of the year.

In case you’re worried, I don’t think we do them any favors when we go to the other extreme and shield them completely from their own irresponsibility, either. It’s an imperfect balance, and there’s no “rule” to it that fits all situations or all types of kids.

Nothing we do is that simple. Ever. Which is exhausting.

You failed – you sunk like Jonah to the whale. Big mouths follow behind you; still small voice swallowed up by you
You failed - you picked the right time to fail – got your past behind you; got your future in front of you
You can't go back. You can’t go back. You can’t go back.
You can go on…

77's Unplugged - God Sends Quail

I have several students who are starting to nail down college plans – where to go, whether or not to swim for this school or keep doing drama at that university. Even those with several good options struggle, partly because they’re starting to realize a rather painful lesson of semi-adulthood:

For ever choice you make, every path to which you commit, there are multiple other options you aren’t taking. You can sometimes change, but for the most part, you’ll never really know for sure what those other paths would look like – you can’t save the game and replay this level later using a different strategy. It’s forward… always.

Nor are there always “right” and “wrong” choices. Sometimes all of your options are bad, but you must nevertheless commit one way or the other. Sometimes a half-dozen different roads look fine, but you can only take one at a time and at best see through the grass darkly what lies along each.

We just have to learn to be OK with this, and to make the best call we can, then WALK BOLDLY AND WITHOUT LOOKING BACK (unless it’s to learn a bit from what’s back there without getting mired down, of course).

Sometimes you screw up. Sometimes you just don’t know better. And sometimes you do the wrong thing even when you knew it was a bad idea. Whatever the reason, the options are all forward. In that sense, they’re all in one basic direction.

So it’s almost summer. Some things will change dramatically soon, others will just keep plodding along. Maybe it was a good year for you; maybe you can’t wait for this one to end. Maybe you did amazing things, or maybe you just can’t believe how few things actually worked out the way you’d hoped. Could be it’s time for a change – but is it a change of paths, or of attitudes and mindsets along your path? Do you need to take a deeper look at your own stuff, or cut yourself a little more slack and realize you’re working miracles with what you’ve been given?

Hell, maybe it’s all of the above, and more, all tangled up at once. It happens.

But forward we go, my beloveds. Forward.

Mike Doughty - Rising Up

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