Alex Proba comes home from work as a designer each day and spends 30 minutes designing a new poster.  She already has hundreds.  She is documenting them in the Poster A Day project.


I'm so inspired by her creativity, obviously, but also her discipline to set aside time for this pursuit each night.  She says the challenge was hard to build into her daily routine, and the time restriction made it possible so that now it's like brushing her teeth before bed.

Her Instagram is a very worthwhile follow.

Cheers to the makers and the doers!

In My Brain / 04 / Vonnegut

I was 15 years old when Kurt Vonnegut hit me square between the eyes.

The literature, not the man.

I pulled Slapstick off of my next door neighbors' bookshelf during the week that a snowstorm had cancelled school.  I was bored and lonely and appropriately angsty, and I would get lost staring at the wall of vintage trade paperbacks in their house.  My parents were never big readers, so I would try to find bits of myself in other people's books.  This collection represented how cool and interesting the neighbors were, an idea that was magnified at the time in contrast to my perception of my parents, who were neither of those things*.  These books, with their faded covers and torn edges, had been loved in a way that I loved books.  The neighbors used to live in New York City, and these spines were bent on long subway rides and in parks and coffee shops, and all of it seemed more suitable than my suburban high school reality.

In retrospect, I wouldn't have started my self-taught Vonnegut course with Slapstick.  The syllabus would've been completely thrown.  It's probably not a book that has changed too many lives.  In the repertoire it's fairly unremarkable.

But so it goes.

Without getting too into it, or giving you too much room to doubt my sanity and sense of reality, I'll just say that Mr. Vonnegut and I have an understanding that borders on religious.

Anyway, he's turned up a few times in my various feeds lately, and I think the following are worth sharing with all humans:

THE SHAPES OF STORIES  //  Vonnegut's rejected thesis from the University of Chicago.  I plan to work this into a lesson for my students soon.  And if you're going to read/watch anything today, it should be this.

LETTER TO XAVIER HIGH SCHOOL //  There is advice in here we might all consider living by. Practice any art ... no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

TERM PAPER ASSIGNMENT  //  Vonnegut was a teacher, and likely a memorable one.

WRITE A GREAT STORY  //  Advice from someone who should know.

Enjoy, readers and writers.

*The neighbors are still tremendously cool.  But I know now what I didn't realize then: my parents are downright exceptional.


The Sunday Blues.  It's definitely a thing.

Francis calls it Reentry.  I really like the terminology there.  The transition from the peaceful bliss of weekend life to the uninterrupted needs of the classroom is probably just like the transition from outer space back to the Earth's atmosphere.  I've never been a spaceman, but I can bet that there's some quiet groaning on the return trip to reality.

A bit dramatic?  Not in the slightest.

I've been making an effort to beat the Sunday blues lately.  Before we head into the weekend, I want to present to you, friends, the wee lessons I've learned to minimize the woes of Reentry and to get your week off to the best start.

Cooking checks a lot of things off the list that make me feel like I'm ready to go for the week.  It means stocking the kitchen with groceries.  I like to take time on Sundays to cook a large quantity of one or two things, pack it into containers, and stack them in the fridge.  Knowing that I have lunch ready for work each day makes me rest a lot easier, especially for busy weeks when healthy decisions are harder.

I try to wake up semi-early one weekend day to get a workout in.  It boosts my mood, keeps me sand, and helps me make the most of the remainder of the day.  A Sunday workout in the morning or afternoon is a great way to start the week with a positive habit.

As much as I try to not bring my work home with me on the weekends too much, it does feel really great to knock out a couple of hours on Sunday.  If it's not work work, like grading or lesson planning, I feel tremendously accomplished knocking out some life work, too.  I've found that errands run on a Sunday are a lot less stressful than the ones that need to be fit into the middle of the week.

Maybe it's because of years of fitting each other into our busy schedules, but Francis and I always talk about what's coming up in the next week on Sunday nights.  I've come to really value this ritual, because I look at my calendar and know what to expect.  I also like planning things that I can look forward to, like time with friends after work.

These tips are reminders to myself, more than anything.  Every week is a fresh start!  I'm gonna get this one.


I was recently asked -- in one of those great road trip conversations where you're catching up and sharing life and figuring out the universe -- about the rules I live by.  I liked the question so much that I wanted to think about it for a long time, and in pieces.  Until I have a comprehensive list, which I imagine (and hope) will never happen, I will share my rules in this series.

I can explain.

One concept at the core of educational theory is Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. Since learning about this in grad school I have thought about it every day -- partially because it's central to being a teacher, but also because of how I use it as a framework for the rest of my life.

Hang on.  It's about to get pretty nerdy.

The purpose of Vygotsky's research was to explain the relationship between development and learning.  Does development happen first, and then a person is capable of and ready for learning?  Or does learning happen first, and then a person is able to develop as a result?

Vygotsky determined that learning and development are interrelated from the first day of a person's life and reminded the scientific community that the human brain is absurdly more complicated than any previous theory has expounded.  (To reach stratospheric nerd levels, you can read his academic smackdown here.)

Central to Vygotsky's theory is the Zone of Proximal Development, which is basically the sweet spot for learning and development.  The ZPD is somewhere in between what a person already knows/can do alone and what he/she cannot do at all.  It is where teaching should be targeted because it is where learning and development happen.

For a teacher, this recipe for an academically successful and engaged classroom makes sense:  Take what the students know/can do already and push them to what they don't know/can't do.  You build your classroom around the ZPD, and from September to June your curriculum does everything it can to maximize growth.

It's what happens in the ZPD that determines the outcome of learning and development.  The Zone of Proximal Development is about exposure and materials and the help and external motivations a person receives.  In a sense, it's what school does with lessons and activities and projects and rooms full of people.

But I'm not talking about being a teacher or being a student.

I'm talking about me, personally, and a rule by which I try to live my life.  It's a principle that guides my choices and goals.

It's about prioritizing learning and building a life that values personal growth.

It's about being aware and reflective about what I already know, and attempting to discern what I do not.  It's about figuring out where I am in the journey and assessing my own progress and failures.

It's about collaboration.  Those who are present in my ZPD guide me toward the goals.

Awareness of the ZPD pushes the boundaries of imitation and encourages me to try new things, to think creatively, to take chances.

My favorite thing about considering my life in this framework is that it is constantly shifting and evolving, when goals are reached and new sights are set.  I want to always reevaluate, to see how far I've come and how much farther, always farther, I want to go.

(I know how nerdy this is, but this is my head.)  It's curriculum design for my life.  It's asking myself: What is the classroom I want to create?  How will I challenge what I already am, and wherehowwhy do I want to end up?

I fail at this.  I fail often, and sometimes pretty hard.  The anxiety zone comes in many forms.  For all of us.

But that's part of the learning.  It's part of the development.  It's me, trying.

Making massive decisions makes everything feel a little bit different, in the best way possible.

We really hit the ground running in 2014.

That's because in December, right before the holidays, we got engaged!


It felt like this.  It still feels like this.  I hope it doesn't go away, feeling like this.

We got really excited.  And our families got really excited.  And our friends.

And our to-do lists basically exploded with excitement.

I was living in a whirlwind throughout January, trying to organize the priorities and manage the anxieties in February, and now I'm back to being straight-up thrilled about all of the things.

We're.  Doing.  This.

The Unintentional Personal Literacy Hiatus

There was some radio silence: on the blog, with my dozens of unreturned emails and phone calls, and with the visits with friends I've been delaying until things settle down.

The silence was unintentional, though not altogether surprising.  Through other hectic periods of my life I've noticed two things take a hit from my life activities:

Reading. Writing.

I'm still an English teacher five days a week, so I inevitably read and write for multiple hours a day.  But it's not the same.  My students' written aren't full of the intellectual challenges I revel in with pleasure reading, and the most interesting thing I've written lately is a pretty sweet test.  A Scantron one.  I haven't fully been making stuff.

You can't really beat making stuff.

And so, I find myself living in a literacy hiatus that I accidentally created for myself.

Do other teachers experience this?  Where you devour books all summer and then read only student work for the other ten months?  And you lose some of your creative intellect when you're knee-deep in the routines and requirements of work?  Do non-teachers go through these waves, too, sans the weirdness of the school calendar?

The main reason I keep this blog is because I like writing.  It's a true craft and it takes work and practice.  I want to challenge myself to keep thinking and reflecting and collaborating.

I'm going to find my way back to sentences.

And making stuff with words.  Of which, arguably, some of the best things have ever been made.

Tiny's & The Bar Upstairs

It's been stupidly cold.  We've had the teasers of warmth - those two days in the fifties (a heatwave!) where I remembered about running - but mostly it's been kind of unfortunate out there.

It would be all too easy to come home from work on a winter Friday and not leave again until Monday morning, when there would be actual consequences.  Fuzzy Slippers > What's Out There.  In the comfort of my apartment I can imagine happiness and warmth and light.

The reality, however, is worth exploring.  Even in the most miserable misfortunes of winter's dark times I can find a way to love this city.


Partially because it's full of colors and hidden treasures.  That definitely helps.

I'm glad I put on real shoes and made my favorite people meet me down in TriBeCa recently.  It's a neighborhood I can only occupy in my richkidfantasy, and on Sundays for brunch and walks.


I would like to recommend to you one of my favorite little spots in the city:  Tiny's & The Bar Upstairs in TriBeCa.

It's really adorable, inside and out.  Their graphic designer did a great job.  It's even pink.  I mean, come on.



If you're grown-up enough to make a reservation, indicate that you would like to be fireside.  The folks there are accommodating when I ask for that, which is always.

Living in this city teaches you that good fireplace is not to be passed up.  So do ask for it.


And even with your hat underneath your hood, don't stop looking up.  This place has layers.