Saturday, December 30, 2017

2018: Looking Forward More than Back

I have had two separate incidents in the past week that got me looking backwards. The way I often do it is look year by year. 2006 was the year that I seemed to achieve everything I was hoping for. 2007 was the year I lost it all. It's not a good thing to do, but I find myself doing it. Year by year I summarize my life, lamenting what is lost and feeling that some of my best days are back there.

One reason my best days are ahead.
But are they? I am poised to have my most lucrative year in 2018, making more than I've ever made financially. I have a brilliant young daughter who is developing spectacularly, and a wonderfully supportive wife. I am finding my place in my community, making connections socially, professionally, and politically. I'm even an elected official.

So, I decided to take my usually backward facing process and point it forward. With the predictability
that working with BVM brings me, I can actually map out year by year what things might look like going forward.

If 2017 was the year of taxiing to the right runway and applying the throttle, 2018 will be the year of climbing into the air. I will be in a position to serve my community as I never have before, both through my role on the RTM and through Groton Mystic Neighbors. When the magazine gets to print, it will provide a resource for Mystic like nothing else that exists. It will still be a lot of work to get it up and going, but it will be the more engaging next stage.

2019 will be the year of taking things to the next level. With Groton Mystic Neighbors being a significant part of the community, I'll be able to focus more on service, taking a larger role in Rotary, possibly doing more for the town officially, and maybe being involved in other organizations. I will also be able to rededicate more energy into ConCardia.

2020 will be the year that Rowan turns 6. Much will depend on what she needs as she enters school, but I will be in a position to have the resources to provide her whatever she might need, whether it's more of my time or money for a private school or anything else. She will also be old enough to start to understand some of the exciting things her parents are involved in and start to learn about them.

Of course, there is an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, make plans, and long term plans even more so. However, I am in a position to plan like I have never been before. While it lacks the excitement of the unknown that I enjoyed in my youth, it replaces the unpredictable hope with a steady confidence which serves me much better at this point in my life.

Happy New Year, and may 2018 be our best yet.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Story of a Cat Person

Note: this story is an alternate point of view of Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian in the December 11th, 2017 issue of the New Yorker. Cat Person is a brilliantly written piece that was created with considerable effort and does an excellent job of presenting a very realistic and relatable story. I highly recommend you read Cat Person first. This story was written in one day as a response and commentary. The purpose of this story is to expand the discussion and perspective that has been created by this very popular and excellent story, as well as to explore the mental states that a passionate relationship can create. Ms. Roupenian deserves all credit for any quality you find below. All quotes are from the original story, and this is simply a fair use derivative to expand the narrative.

Robert did not consider himself a lonely man, but he would generally be considered a loner, largely because the whole “people thing” did not often work out well for him. He didn’t understand them well. He had some friends: people he hung out with, gamed with, maybe had a beer with, but no one he was really close with.

He’d dated a few women, but it always ended the same way, with his heart broken and her going off on her merry way, likely happy to be rid of him.

Robert could be described as awkward. The word “aspy” had been suggested, as in describing someone with Aspergers Syndrome, the mildest form of Autism. He didn’t disagree.

This is why he would do things like go out to the movies by himself. He didn’t have anyone to go with, and that was fine. It was him and his cats. It was nice enough. Who needs a girlfriend? Cat’s never break your heart.

He liked the artsy theater downtown because it had the movies that most people were too stupid to understand, and he liked to go midweek because there were less of the morons there who came the movie but came anyway to impress their equally moronic girlfriends, ruining the experience by fiddling with their phones all night.

He approached the concession stand and ordered his customary large popcorn and box of Red Vines, largely oblivious to who was behind the counter.

“That’s an… unusual choice,” the concession-stand girl opined. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

He suddenly noticed the young, bubbly girl behind the counter. Probably because you’re too busy on Instasnapping and Facetweeting to notice what you’re selling, he thought to himself. He was used to people making fun of him for this or that, but didn’t expect it here.

Not knowing what to say, he said, “Well, O.K. then,” and pocketed his change, heading to his seat and trying to put it out of his mind to enjoy the movie.

The next week he came back to the theater. The same pretty young girl was there behind the concession stand. He asked for another box of Red Vines. She handed it over without commentary this time.

“You’re getting better at your job. You managed not to insult me this time.” It never hurt to show some appreciation when someone did something you liked. He’d heard that somewhere.

In the split second between when he finished speaking and when she replied, he had that feeling that he had maybe said something he shouldn’t have. Wasn’t sure exactly what. He had said the truth. But some people got offended by that.

“I’m up for a promotion, so…” she shrugged.

She did seem offended. Was that a joke? Was she engaging in banter with him? Sometimes he bantered online, especially in the role playing rooms where he could adopt a persona. It was easier online. He had time to think. Time to be witty and clever. Never done it in person.

These thoughts wandered through his head throughout the movie. The movie was in French anyway, so he didn’t really follow it. He’d heard that some people got along so well that awkwardness fell away. He’d seen these kinds of people on TV, of course, but when Aaron Sorkin writes your lines it’s easy to be clever. He’d actually known some couples who were like that. Alex and Joanna, for example, two of his gaming friends that bounced off each other like a comic duo. Could this Concession-stand girl be his Joanna?

He was still half lost in thought when he left the movie, so he quite surprised himself when he heard “Concession-stand girl, give me your phone number,” come out of his mouth. He was more surprised when she did.

Friday, December 8, 2017

How We Fail Most Children

I have always been passionate about education, more specifically, the fact that most Americans reach adulthood lacking most of the soft skills that are required for great success in our culture and economy.

I attended a well funded, highly rated high school from which I went to an excellent university, and I came out with a cum laude degree and almost none of the skills or knowledge that I would need to be successful beyond academia.

It is no mystery what I needed to know, nor are they difficult skills to teach: business planning, goal setting, salesmanship, networking, and the like. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have learned that our economy is such that opportunity still exists and that you need to know to look for it. Too many young adults do not know this, which is why some of the best minds of my generation are flipping burgers or working at the mall.

With the birth of my daughter, I have given a great deal of thought to this over the past few years. Knowing that the education system will fail to provide her this array of skills and knowledge, how will I supplement that education to prepare her for success?

The juxtaposition of a number of interactions with particular people and groups this week has reminded me that this is a much broader problem affecting almost every young person approaching adulthood, but that there are resources which could be mobilized to help.

The fundamental problem is that education has been structured by experts who are focused on the acquisition of knowledge who lack expertise in how that knowledge is executed to create results in adulthood. The focus has become testable knowledge: accountable, concrete, useless. We can talk about test scores doing this or that without recognizing that many high achieving students become low achieving, unhappy adults.

The solution is simple but not easy.
We must teach our children that opportunities exist if they are bold enough to seek them.
We must teach them the basic skills for success in adult life: networking, salesmanship, grit and resilience, goal setting and achieving, and business concepts such as marketing, bookkeeping, and the like.
We must teach them the value of entrepreneurship, whether in terms of running their own business or simply thinking of themselves as the masters of their own commercial destiny rather than drones in a vast capitalist machine.

These things are not difficult to teach, and the first step would be to teach them to the most motivated to learn: the top and bottom students. The top students are eager to learn and succeed and they desire to know how to succeed at the next level. At the other end of the spectrum, many very intelligent students drop out, burn out, or tune out because they have not learned these things, and they would benefit the most from them because the lack of this knowledge is why they have disengaged from the educational system.

They could be taught in afterschool programs. They could be taught as courses in school. They could be directed independent study projects. There is a variety of options, but it must be done. An entire generation of millennials have fallen into adulthood, saddled with student loan debt, unprepared for a dynamic and changing economy, and we are all suffering for it.

This can be better. Together we can find a way.