15 July 2011

And now, for something completely different

If you come here to read my deep and insightful commentary on public education, step away from the computer, go for a walk, and don't come back for 10ish days, when I'll be back, and talking about something maybe vaguely educational.

Today, I'm going to talk about how TBS shaped who I am.

Not in any deep philisophical way. No, I had parents, and friends, and teachers, and the Midwest for that. Nope, TBS shaped what I listen to, what I want to drive, and what I find funny. These might not seem like deep things, but it goes to show how a small decision by somebody can have lasting impacts on people they might not even know. (There's probably something about teachers in that statement, so maybe we're getting some educational thought tonight after all).

You see, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, TBS (and WGN for that matter), often showed movies on Saturday afternoons. I often watched these movies. One that was in heavy rotation was the Greatest Movie Ever Made . (Don't be lazy. Click the link. I'll wait.)

Oh that's right. The Blues Brothers. Belushi. Aykroyd. John Lee Hooker. Cab Calloway. Ray-Freaking-Charles.

The movie is about 3 things, really. And those three things (well two of them anyway) really shaped what I enjoy, and what I enjoy has thus shaped my life. Let's investigate, shall we?

Things The Blues Brothers is about:

1. Cars - Dan Aykroyd actually thought that the movie was a musical about a car guy. There's one of the all time great chase scenes (or three) in this film. Now, you can't blame all of my love of cars on The Blues Brothers. My first word was "car", for goodness' sake. However, this movie did reignite my love of the automobile. My love of the automobile led me to learn how to perform at least simple repairs on cars / trucks. Now, I work at a summer camp, and one of my duties is inspection and care for our vehicles. Thanks, Jake and Elwood!

2. The Blues - This movie is really a musical where all of the songs are R & B songs. It exposed me to Sam and Dave, John Lee Hooker and that big brass sound of Chicago Blues. I learned to play an instrument for two reasons. The first was that my Dad had a ceramic tuba player on the shelf in the living room. The second was The Blues Brothers. I met my wife because I played an instrument. Thanks again, Joliet Jake and Elwood!

3. Hating Authority (and Nazis) - Ok, I actually represent authority, but I do hate Nazis. Still, the idea that there were Nazis in America must have had some impact on my studying History, right?

So, obviously the guys at TBS and WGN who programed this movie in heavy rotation in the early 90's changed my life. Why do you care? Aha, because there are other lessons from The Blues Brothers that can be applied to everyone's life. What are they, you ask? Let's examine them:

A. Get the band back together. Really, when haven't you enjoyed getting back together with a group of friends from "back in the day"?

B. Have a mission in life. You need purpose, you need something to quest after. You need a mission. Sure, Jake and Elwood were not right with the Law. But they had a mission, and it was a larger quest. If you can find something, some mission to guide you, your life will have meaning. If your life has meaning, then you will feel fulfilled by it.

C. Shake a Tail Feather. You need to get up and get some physical activity every once in a while. America is the fattest nation on Earth. Crying about it isn't going to solve the problem. You can be part of the solution. The easiest way? Take Ray's advice, and shake a tail-feather

D. Stand By Your Man. You need to find someone who you love, and you need to stick with them. Companionship isn't always easy, but it makes life worthwhile. And remember, ladies, we're just a man.

E. Your actions when young follow you . Let's think about this. Many of you are just out of high school. You think that going to college is a fresh start. In many ways, it is. However, all the people you knew growing up aren't going to forget who you are. Even the Blues Brothers, in their altruistic mission, are judged by what they used to be. Don't think that mistakes made in youth will not follow you. They probably will. The solution? Think before you act and make less mistakes.

F. Appreciate Art What makes man better than beast? That we love and create art. Take some time to enjoy really fine art. Step away from the current crap and take a day looking and listening to the classics.

G. Have good table manners This is just like one of those "Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten" posters. The better your manners, the better opinions of you people who you meet over meals (like bosses and in-laws) will have.

H. Glue is strong stuff Ok, this is a gratuitous link to a line that I think is funny. No life lesson there.

I. Have a good horn section If you don't know the movie, this tune is performed in jail by the band. There's a lesson. They all seem to be having a good time. If you can make it happen, have a good horn section, because a good horn section makes life better

And now, to make you giggle a little, and to show how much I loved love The Blues Brothers, a picture of me in high school:

09 July 2011

The Glory of the Internet being down

Let's be honest, we all have an addiction.

I don't know what addictions you have, but I know that everyone reading this post shares an addiction.

We're addicted to technology.

I understand that technology is a part of the modern society. In fact, I know that it has changed society. I know that you're reading my thoughts right now using the very technology that I'm claiming we're all addicted to. Obviously, I'm using technology to write those thoughts out. In the past, I've even written about how technology is hurting students.

Today, I want to use some technology to talk about the glory of being without that technology, and since blogger is free, and I have some off time on my hands, I'm going to do what I want. If you don't want to read it, go ahead and close the tab, and send your brain back to your virtual world prison.

Oh, that's right, I just called the Interwebs your virtual prison. Think about it. What is the longest you've gone (not counting sleep) without checking your phone or something on the Internet in the last week? An hour? Yeah, if you're lucky. In the modern world, we've chained ourselves to our mobile devices.

However, as most of you know, I spend my summers working at a summer camp. We have a very strict no-technology rule for campers, and pretty strict restrictions for staff. We feel that there are massive benefits to this. To whit:

1. People actually have conversations, and learn to interact. Meals at camp are full of the sounds of conversation and laughter. There's no TV for us to stare at, no phone to check. It's amazing to watch children (and adults), learning to have a meal-time conversation.

2. People build real, strong relationships. Sure, you have 643 friends on facebook, but they're really just acquaintances. (to be fair, Zuckerberg never called it "friendbook". facebook is actually pretty accurate. You know the faces of the people on there, after all). When you take away the distractions, people learn about each other. They share experiences. They bond. That bonding is powerful. Unfortunately, more and more children are insulated from those kinds of experiences because of their addiction to technology.

This isn't to say that we have NO Internet at camp, in fact,  we use the Internet for running camp. Counselors on their time off have access to the Internet. I can get on during lunch and see what's happening in the world. Well, at least until last week.

Last week the Internet wasn't forbidden, it was down. Over the 4th of July holiday. For five entire days.

For me, at least, it was glorious.

Wait. What?

Yeah, I said glorious, and now I'm going to back it up with the why. I think one of the things that technology, and the Internet in specific, does is that it gives us access to so much information that we live in a condition of constantly knowing. We know the scores to obscure baseball games. We know what humorists on the Internet think about grammar. We know what dummies on the Internet think about spelling. All of this knowing has changed the way we think in general. We (or maybe it's just me, but I doubt it) live constantly trying to know what's coming.

This is especially true for me as I try to find gainful school-year employment. The Internet tells me when jobs open and if I got them or not (some openings, obviously no job yet.....). When the Internet went away, I no longer worried about those things. Instead, I could focus on the right now. By the second day of the Internet being down, I wasn't even thinking about the lack of Internet (though I know the people who use it more for their jobs certainly were)

By the third day, we were going down the hill to upload pictures for parents, but I was feeling freer than I've felt in a long time. I had a list on paper, I worked on those tasks. I solved problems using my brain. I didn't just look up the answer. I even took time to organize a shed.

I don't know that it made my life easier, but I certainly appreciated when the Internet went away. I didn't worry as much. I reached a kind of zen. What happened happened. It was, indeed, glorious.

Now, I'm no Luddite. Right now I'm listening to my iPod while typing on my laptop while connected to the Internet. However, I think that it's healthy for all of us to totally unplug once in a while. I'm tired of seeing status updates about how nice the weather is. If the weather is nice, leave your phone at home, and go out into nature and enjoy it. You're at work: I don't need to see that status. Be with your family. Spend time with your friends, without the Internet, texts, or calls interrupting.

I know it's going to be hard. Fighting addiction always is. And if you manage to free yourself, you'll still be living in a world full of temptations. You'll be a recovering alcoholic who lives in a bar. But nothing worth doing was ever easy. So, for a day, walk away.

Don't update your status. Don't answer (or even check) your texts or emails. Don't cruise twitter or facebook. Just live.

I bet you'll feel freer.