Talk To Strangers

NPR reports on recent research by The Harvard Business School which found that people with a mix of weak and strong social ties report higher levels of happiness and wellbeing. Their main take-away? Talk to strangers.

When asked if they talk to strangers, two New Yorkers, Ashley Bice and Mike Jones, unwittingly provided a tutorial for people like me who are slow to chat up strangers.

“ASHLEY BICE: One thing I love about our neighborhood. . . is you can go to a grocery store and have a conversation with someone. I think, especially after the few years that we’ve all been through, it’s nice just to have interaction.

MIKE JONES: Oh, I go to the corner store or whatever, and I talk to somebody. And we’ll be talking about basketball, talking about Bud, tequila, drinks. It doesn’t even matter. We just spark a conversation. And you’re like, all right, yo, I’m going to holler at you. I’m out. And then, that next time I see him at the corner store, it just goes from one – point A to point B, and you just end up chilling on whatever – you know? – just vibing.”

Rest in Peace V

In the summer of 1999, I met Ken Valanais, or “V”, in a San Fransisco airport conference room. He was a social studies middle school teacher from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Thanks to a Japanese business/civic foundation, we were traveling to Japan to learn about the country so that we could integrate aspects of it into our teaching. At a SFO hotel, we took turns presenting our planned curriculum writing projects. Most of the twenty plus participants were K-12 teachers from the U.S. and Canada, a few, like me, were egghead professors.

After V’s presentation I walked right up to him and said something to the effect of, “That was the single best presentation of all. Your topic is highly relevant, your presentation was unusually clear, and best of all, you were wonderfully succinct. Great job.”

From that point forward, we were brothers. V hadn’t traveled outside of North America. He was more comfortable calling balls and strikes, watching Red Green, and fishing on the ice. It didn’t show, but he was nervous and a bit insecure when the egghead offered his effusive praise.

Throughout the trip, we took turns acting out all in the interest of laughs. Truth be told, he was a big middle schooler and I revert to my Lexington Lion self with ease.

By the trip’s end, we were bonded so much that we stayed in touch, even visiting in Victoria, B.C. eight years ago. A couple of times a month he’d email me and it would take me awhile to get back, but I always did. His messages were longer and more creative. He never cared about delays or brevity because I was his boy. Whenever a month would pass without our usual back-and-forth, he’d initiate. Every. single. time.

A month ago, it dawned on me that his ribald, pun-filled, sports missives had reached peak form. I told him he deserved a much bigger audience than me. He could’ve won Twitter or the blogosphere if he had tried.

Five years ago cancer struck. V was transparent about the battle, which he eventually won. So I was devastated to get this message from his wife a few days ago, “I have some very sad news to pass on to you.  Ken passed away unexpectedly last night at 9:30 p.m., one day shy of his 70th birthday.  He had been experiencing some breathing problems and had passed out on me twice.  Was being treated in the hospital for blood clots to the lungs.  . . They tried everything they could with using blood thinners and clot busters but nothing worked.”

Dammit V, way too early. How am I supposed to keep up with women’s curling now? My post-V world is a lot less fun and funny.

Except for the start, he played his last sports update to me fairly straight. V, from Canada’s heartland:

My Fans, especially the female ones, enjoy the “Cunning Linguist” style of my diatribes.

Tonight, I’m going Basic.

MLB

ALCS…. I don’t like the Yankees. I don’t like the Astros. Apparently, they don’t like each other. I’d like to see a Brawl in da Bronx this weekend.

NLCS…. I don’t like the Padre uniforms. I like the Phillies, their uniforms, and the Sports Scene in their city. The Eagles and Flyers are doing well. The Fans are Loud and Proud!

NASCAR

Joey Logano won the last race, and will be 1 of only 4, who can win the Championship this season. I’m fine with that, however he passed Ross Chastain for the win. If Ross joins the Final Four, that would be Cool.

Bubba Wallace attacked Kyle Larson, and has been suspended. That’s Good NASCAR, right there!

NHL

Hopefully, the Seattle fans are excited. The Winnipeg fans are getting more positive. I’m gonna wait a month or so. The ‘Peg is gonna be Hoppin’ on Saturday Night. The Jets host the Toronto Maple Leafs. It should be a Dandy. Son #1 will attend the game, wearing a Leafs jersey under his Jets jersey. He takes this stuff pretty seriously.

Oh yeah, Curling Season has started. The Kaitlin Lawes team from Wpg is very talented, and very pregnant. The skip is in her 8th month, and her 3rd is in her 4th. They’re in for quite a season.

V(as deferens)

Man, I miss you V. Rest in peace, rest in peace.

On The Tone Of One’s Voice

Late last week, armed only with a headlamp while on an early morning run, I approached the col de Merc (antile Store) in pitch blackness. I vaguely saw something coming right at me in the middle of the lux bike lane, but couldn’t make it out until it got closer. It was a speeding bro dressed in very dark clothes on a very dark bike. He had just descended the col de Merc and was flying when I yelled “GET A LIGHT!” at him. He didn’t u-turn to (try to) kick my ass because he had headphones in.

Maybe he took the Mariners-Astros series too hard and wanted to end it.

Fast forward to yesterday’s early morning pitch black run. I could feel a car behind me as I turned into our hood so I made sure to hug the left shoulder so they had ample room for their left-hand turn. A middle aged man driving a beater Nissan Sentra pulled up right next to me and rolled down his window. “Okay,” I said to myself, “it’s on like Donkey Kong.” Ask Dan, Dan, the Transpo Man, when my heart rate is elevated, I sometimes morph from chillaxed pacifist to too easily triggered numbskull.

He had a kind look on his face and his soft voice was that of a Zen Buddhist. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know, you’re really hard to see from behind.” It wasn’t so much what he said, but HOW he said it. His tone conveyed genuine concern for my well-being.

When I yelled at my dark, speeding, headphoned “friend”, my tone was way, way more self-regarding. “Don’t be an arse,” my shout conveyed, “you easily coulda ran me over.”

Think about how you say things, and be the Zen Buddhist driver, not me.

My Students Evaluate Their Parent(s’) Parenting

In response to a chapter on the downsides of “hyper-intensive parenting” in Ruth Whippman’s America the Anxious.

I’ve just started chipping away at the behemoth pile of essays, so this may be coincidental, but a theme of tough-minded, strict disciplinarian parents is emerging. The 18 and 19 year old students are mostly appreciative of their hard ass parent(s).

Except for one little thing, as a student who moved to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico at age 8 explained. She wrote eloquently about being afraid of her mom and emotionally stunted because she never had anyone to discuss her feelings with. A lot of the time she’s not sure what she feels, and when she has some modicum sense of them, she doesn’t know what to do with them. And she concedes, she’s wholly incapable of asking for help.

I used “little” above facetiously because emotional intelligence is THE BIG THING. They think their future success hinges on picking the exact right academic major or getting good grades. But their relationship success, professionally, but especially personally, will hinge in large part on their ability to calmly and constructively discuss their’s and other people’s feelings.

What say you, should I tell them or just let them discover that on their own through inevitable trials and tribulations?

Week One’s Highlight

Fall semester is off to an excellent, largely mask-free start. Of course it takes more than one or two class sessions to get a true feel for your students’ personalities, but all signs point towards a great semester. The most notable demographic shift of the last few years seems to be accelerating—a significant increase in Latina students. I have half of the football team in one writing seminar (slight exaggeration) and half of my students in my other one want to become writers which is exciting.

Some context. For those newish around here, earning a chili pepper, signifying hotness, on the website “Rate My Professor” is my primary career objective at this point. The one unchecked box. And with each passing year, the Las Vegas oddsmakers say my receiving one is less and less likely.

The highlight of the week happened Tuesday morning when I descended the stairs of our house. Since I’ve been slumming it for months unshaved in t-shirts that could double as bike rags, the Good Wife was impressed with how much I had cleaned up. As she moved in for a steamy back-to-school smooch, she said the nicest thing ever. “I would give you ten chili peppers.”

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Monday Required Reading

School starts tomorrow, so time to buckle down. Plus, Scottie loves assigned reading.

  1. I want one.
  2. Turns out, it’s really hard to scare a seal. Bonus trivia, the Byrnes clan is celebrating the fact that eldest daught lives 5 miles from the Ballard Locks as of today.
  3. Effective altruism has gone mainstream.
  4. The six forces that fuel friendship.
  5. How does it feel to be a teacher right now?
  6. Guilty as charged.

‘You’re Dead To Me’

Kaitlyn Tiffany’s thoughtful reflection on the increasing tendency of people to cut one another out of their lives.

“The internet is wallpapered with advice, much of it delivered in a cut-and-dried, cut-’em-loose tone. Frankly worded listicles abound. For instance: ‘7 Tips for Eliminating Toxic People From Your Life,’ or ‘7 Ways to Cut a Toxic Friend Out of Your Life.’ On Instagram and Pinterest, the mantras are ruthless: ‘There is no better self-care than cutting off people who are toxic for you’; ‘If I cut you off, chances are, you handed me the scissors.’ The signature smugness and sass of Twitter are particularly well suited to dispensing these tidbits of advice. I don’t know who needs to hear this, a tweet will begin, suggesting that almost anyone might need to hear it, but if someone hurts your feelings, you are allowed to get rid of them. There is even a WebMD page about how to identify a ‘toxic person,’ defined aggressively unhelpfully as ‘anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life.’ Well, by that measure … !”