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Old Memories

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A running life is a collection of memories.

13 years old, Fall, 1990, Junior high XC
2 miles XC
It is hot out. He always wins, the guy from Bradley County. I am always second. Today I have decided I will follow him out as far and as hard as it takes. I want to beat him. We go out, and it's hard as I expected, just the two of us. He must know I am there, and he is going to break me. We round the curve by the baseball field, only 600 meters or so into a 2 mile race, and I feel the lactic acid coming up into my arms. This is not good. He is still running strong. I can't do it.

17 years old, Spring, 1994, dual meet vs. Brainerd High under the lights
4 x 400
I felt the prickly feelings in the back of my neck as our #3 leg came straining down the track, a couple strides behind. My whole body lit up the way only a teenaged body can. The other guy grabs the baton, then the quick fear of the exchange, reaching out for a slim piece of metal among all the flesh and the heat. My ears whin…

From Entitlement to Empowerment: thoughts on our anxious millenials

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"Feverish love of anything as long as it is a change which is distracting, impatience, unsettlement, nervous discontentment, and desire for excitement, are not native to the human nature. They are so abnormal as to demand explanation from a deep seated cause."  --John Dewey, "The Lost Individual"
Dewey wrote these words in 1929 -- nearly 90 years ago -- in a past which we probably think of as more stable and calm than our present. Yet if we read this text [Chapter 4 of this book], Dewey's thoughts feel more pressing than ever. The soul of America is yet to be healed. If anything, despite the tremendous advances that the 20th century brought, this malady of anxiety, nervousness, and distractibility has grown deeper.

The source of this abnormal angst, Dewey speculates, is in our inability to find stable projects which rest on stable values. We skid about on a surface of life which lacks friction, always sliding forward, feeling out of control. Today we do most o…

On the Runner's High

Imagine that the mind is an ocean. Thoughts come to us like waves crashing on a beach, one after the other, a relentless pounding of the sand. At times more tranquil, at other times riled and roused by storms of intensity, each thought is influenced however slightly and indirectly by the wave-form before it; no wave is ever precisely the same, and once it has crashed its specificity is broken and lost, subsumed into the next wave, and so it goes.

When we think of the mind and its experiences through metaphors of natural phenomenon, like an ocean or spring or fountain, its personal qualities fall away, and we are more attentive to its rhythms and flows, its liquid structure, rather than its specific content. A primary way in which the body interacts with the mind is through changing the mind's structure. Running is a specific example of this; one reason that runners run is that the structure of their minds becomes altered when they do it.

 This phenomenon has been called somewhat c…

Truth, Enlightenment, and ... animality

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It's fashionable to say we are post-truth, but falsity and unreason have always lived alongside fact and inquiry -- and not just as their opposites. 
As folks like Nietzsche and Freud have shown, the capacity for truth and reason is often built out of processes of violence, rejection, and resentment. Anyone who has been to school understands this tension. So must anyone who has reckoned with the history of America, beacon both of slavery and of freedom, of both equality and of racism, that most arbitrary and ugly form of inequality.
We are, after all, not minds, but animals. Human animals operate largely outside of processes reason or even self-interest. These are late-arriving achievements, hard won and fragile. 
Yes, we can maintain ourselves in a space of reason; we are capable of operating purely economically, but anyone who has interacted with another human animal intimately knows that all of us also need spaces of irreason and even violence, where we can express our fear, o…

A Letter to a Parent After the Election

I'm publishing this with permission from the parent I sent it to, in the hope it might be helpful to parents and educators in divisive political times.

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Dear XXX,
First off, it's so good to hear from you! I had my eye out for you on Parents' Night as well, and I was sorry I didn't get a chance to at least say hello. I also just want to say that R appears to me to be thriving in all the right ways. We don't connect as often as we did last year, but she's a special one who I keep my eye out for. 
It's exactly students like R who I worry most about -- what will happen to their lovely innocence and naive goodness? An Egyptian friend of mine sent me a note after I sent him a picture of my little one in my arms last night. He said: "It starts from here, and we build outward."
To your email: I think that your instincts are right -- this is a human issue, not a political issue (though of course the two are always deeply connected.) It hits independe…

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Heat

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It's muggy here in Tennessee. You walk across the asphalt, and it shimmers, and you think you need a snorkel to breathe. It was hot in Dallas yesterday, too -- 97 degrees, and it had been that way all week.

Now there are these murders, which we've seen with our own eyes. And now there are these reactions to these murders. It makes me think of cloth, fabric, shrouds.

America right now is a dark, heavy blanket, and we are all crowded underneath, looking anxiously at each other, sweating, just trying to breathe. All this air we are breathing is filled with the breath of other people. It's like we're pulling for oxygen.

We are re-discovering a truth that is never lost completely, but is occasionally widely forgotten. The social cloth, like Penelope's burial shroud, is constantly woven and unwoven. At some moments we find ourselves wrapped too tightly together, and at other moments we grasp and clutch towards each other, coming away only with fists of threads and torn f…

Politics and Schools: on educating in a toxic atmosphere

We talk about the political climate as if it were not the very air of community. As social beings, we have no choice whether or not to participate in politics. In this deep sense, politics is not about voting; it's about the way in which our very presence trails along all sorts of political issues: our whiteness, our gender, our Americanness, our class, etc. Though we are individuals, we also always already (and sometimes unwittingly) represent groups. It is in this sense that politics is necessary. It names the fact that communities of people are forced to interact. This interaction of peoples is the air of community life, and we must breathe it, polluted or not.

The mark of politics today is that it is strangely both all-encompassing and difficult to internalize.  Let me see if I can explain. 
First, politics is everywhere. It's not just that it shows up on our twitter feeds or is constantly blaring on some screen at the peripheries of our vision. It's also that its mine…