Retro

Sometimes my tastes can be a little retro.

If you read my post about the viral Netflix show Stranger Things, then you know I’m a sucker for nostalgia, longing for some essence of my happy childhood. But this longing sometimes even extends beyond my lifespan. Let me give you some examples.

              1. Architecture: I love walking down historic streets or boulevards, soaking in the architecture of buildings from my parents’ or grandparents’ generation with blocks of shops, pubs, markets, and art deco venues with inviting facades, vaulted ceilings, carvings on the outside, and neon lights that are a welcome throwback to days past. I could wander Capitol Street in Charleston, WV and be content just admiring the buildings and pretending I’m in the past.usa-west-virginia-charleston-capitol-street
              2. Music: So frequently, my Spotify playlists bounce from retro-inspired jams like from artists like Leon Bridges to more classic jazz musicians like Charlie Parker. Or I could be smoothing out to Frank Sinatra, lifting my voice to classic Disney songs, and getting the feels to outlaw-inspired singers like Chris Stapleton. Throw in some Broadway musical numbers and some folk rock and that pretty much covers my retro music flavor.
              3. Movies: My favorite movie of all time is Stand by Me, which remains the most important movie in my life. For reasons similar to my love for Stranger Things, the movie makes me miss my friends, my youth, and gives me a glimpse into the decade of my parents’ childhoods, as well. On more than one occasion, I have chosen TCM over HBO because of some incredible classic starring Cary Grant or Paul Newman or Katherine Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman or James Cagney, and on and on. “Singin’ in the Rain” never gets old. I love movie theaters, especially those that attempt to recapture the classic experience of “going to the movies,” and even at home I pop some popcorn and sit down in front of a great TCM feature, trying my best to summon feelings of the era in which that film was released. I even enjoy old movie trailers.
              4. Television: I would stand in a crowd and announce that television would not be the same without The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling was a genius, whose stories may seem old-fashioned and campy today, but are filled with themes that still resonate. And the hip way he introduces and wraps-up each episode is pure TV magic. I beam when I see shows like The Addams Family, The Munsters, Batman, Bewitched, I Dream of Genie, and The Andy Griffith Show, mostly because they remind me of sitting on my grandma and grandpa’s TV room floor, a glass of pop and a ready smile, watching episodes of these shows and laughing with them, even if I didn’t get the jokes. I also loved every episode of Boardwalk Empire on HBO because, once again, it revisited a past (even if it was the dark side) that has always intrigued me, the Roarin’ Twenties.
              5. Books: I have mentioned in a past post my love of classic literature, from authors like Kerouac, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Jackson, and Plath. I envy Owen Wilson’s character as he steps into a weird time shift and finds himself partying in Paris with some of the biggest names in literary and art history. Many of these authors take me to an era I will never know personally, but wish to revisit every time I open the pages of their books.

So that’s my retro-taste in a nutshell. Don’t even get me started on my love of Medieval art, classical music, and epic fantasy. We’d be here all night.

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Ouch and My First Day

So yesterday I fell through our back porch. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but it hurts worse than it looks. I was climbing down from the roof and onto the railing of the porch when I lost my balance and dropped onto the porch. I landed on a board that was already a little loose and it flipped up and I fell through. I was lucky, though, as nothing is broken (except the board) and all it cost me was a trip to Urgent Care, some severe bruising and swelling around my knee, and occasional burning pain through the front of my knee.

Today was the first day with my students. So I hobbled to my office, hobbled to my classroom, and swallowed back groans of pain throughout the day so I could keep it positive with my new students. Without sharing too many details, I am already amazed at their wit, their mannerisms, and their sense of humor. At the risk of pre-judging, I can already tell that many of these students are exceptional in a variety of ways. I look forward to working with them.

The responsibilities are adding up, though, as I learn more about what is expected of me in the collaborative program. This is not a bad thing. I want to be challenged as a professional, but it is a little overwhelming. And the first day, the first week, is always chaos even in a traditional school setting. I can only imagine how exciting and exhilarating it will be next week when the college courses start. Several of my students have professors who worked at the university when I was a student, so I look forward to the chance to work with them to help my students be successful in their class.

In case you’re not aware of what the University Collaborative Program is, this comes from the website: “The mission of the University Collaborative Program is to provide challenging instruction to at-risk students in a collegiate setting. We serve as a liaison between Kanawha County Schools and West Virginia State University to prepare students for success in the 21st century.” [emphasis mine].

I look forward to being a part of every bit of that. I’ll just try not to injure myself anymore.

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Stranger Things Nostalgia

Every now and then something comes along that makes you feel like a kid again, that reminds you of the best parts of your past, and affirms some of the things you have loved for a long time and for good reason.

I am only one episode away from finishing the Netflix series Stranger Things. If you’re not familiar with it, let me give you a brief summary. No spoilers here, I promise. If you’ve seen it and you don’t need my opinion to sway you either way, you can skip to the final paragraph for a surprise if you’d like.

Imagine every really good 1980s science fiction movie in which a small town is terrorized by a dark force, a secret government agency may be to blame, and a group of nerdy kids band together to find their missing friend and save the day. It’s like a welcome blend of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter with plenty of references to classic horror, Dungeons and Dragons, science-trivia, and The Hobbit. It’s also pretty scary, and really, really good. I can not stress this enough.

Stranger Things is one of the best things to ever happen to television.

If you were a kid in the 80s, imagine many of the things you loved back then: walkie-talkies, your bike, role-playing with your friends, scary movies, music that didn’t suck, comic books, fantasy novels, and even girls. On more than one occasion, Stranger Things reminded me of snippets of my life I sometimes long for in dreams and memories. It also arouses memories of things you may have disliked about your 80s childhood: bullies, bad movies, music that did suck, overworked parents, divorce, peer pressure, and girls. Part of the draw of the show is not just the mystery of the frightening circumstances, but watching the characters struggle through what a lot of young people struggled through in that time.

Each episode is a nail-biter (to borrow a cliche) that pulls you to the next, but the show is also quite funny, especially if you understand the 80s culture references. They aren’t in-your-face-on-purpose references (such as in the first Muppets Movie), but they are there and they add to the story rather than hinder it.

Like every great Spielberg movie in which kids are the protagonists, the kids in Stranger Things are so endearing and full of life that you want them to succeed. You don’t just want them to save the day; you want their lives to be better. They’re nerdy kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, quote Star Wars, nickname the scary woods near their home “Mirkwood,” and often get picked on at school. I don’t remember rooting for a group of kids in a movie like that since Goonies.

The soundtrack is also filled with music that will take your mind back to the early 80s. From the eerie synth score to the decent playlist of late 70s/early 80s tunes many of us still listen to today, every sound in the show contributes to this time-travel sort of trip back to a time and place that I missed more than I knew. Stranger Things represents so many facets of my childhood that I can’t help but be overwhelmed by this feeling of sad longing and joyful nostalgia.

Of course the show has much to offer people who did not grow up in the 80s. Characters that are more compelling than most of what you see on TV anymore, a creepy edge-of-your-seat mystery (it is, of course, a horror show), and plenty of humor to offset the often dark undertones of the movie. Sometimes the show is cheer-worthy, and I mean out loud in your living-room cheer-worthy, and sometimes, like all good horror, you’re shaking your head, mumbling “Don’t do it.”

So, if you have a Netflix subscription, watch Stranger Things. If you don’t have a subscription, just keep in mind that Netflix is consistently putting out original content that has dominated the competition: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, and now Stranger Things (the best, in my opinion). It is a show that is already makes waves on the web and will probably be talked about and re-watched for years to come.

Now for something special for those of you who have watched the show. The following link is to an article from The Verge that recommends 12 books that would be an excellent follow-up to the show. I have read a few of these and I can honestly say that I see the how fans of the show would also love these books; titles like Stephen King’s It and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. So if you loved the show, check out the link below.

Finished binging Netflix’s Stranger Things? Pick up these 12 books next

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Tomorrow

I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight. After all, tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow marks my official first day at my new teaching position. If you’ve known me for a few years, you know I’ve been all over the place since I started teaching. Two high schools, two middle schools, a career center, and now a university…sort of.

I will be teaching at a collaborative school, which is a partnership between West Virginia State University and Kanawha County Schools (my employer). High school students from across the county can apply and interview for the collaborative program. The expectations are high and they cannot accept more than 50 students. These students are allowed to take college courses on campus, while also completing their core classes: English/Language Arts (that’s me), Science, Math, and Social Studies.

While kids will be kids and I’m sure there will be obstacles, from what I have heard the collaborative students are hardworking, studious, and eager to learn. The collaborative school is an elite program, so it is likely the students will be among the best in the county. This is my optimistic view of what to expect this year.

I learned yesterday that we follow the university’s schedule rather than the county’s. So I will be working some holidays (Election Day, Veterans Day, etc.), my spring break is not the same, and my holiday breaks (Thanksgiving and Christmas) are longer. The spring break issue has already caused a bump in my plans.

 

 

Regardless, I am looking forward to this new experience. My office is on the university campus, and my classrooms will be, as well. I will be living like a professor, but with guaranteed tenure and public school teacher salary and benefits. I even get a college faculty ID, access to the university library, and a parking pass. For the past month or so, I have done my own sort of personal professional development by reading and annotating the heck out of Cheryl Miller Thurston’s Common Sense, perusing some stories in a book called Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach, and reviewing some of my highlights and annotations in my worn-out copy of Kelly Gallagher‘s Teaching Adolescent Writers, which may be the best book I have ever read about how to teach kids to write, and Gallagher is definitely one of the pioneers of the push for more authentic reading and writing in the classroom. Just read this:

“…Shouldn’t schools be the place where students interact with interesting books? [Tweet it!] Shouldn’t the faculty have an ongoing laser-like commitment to put good books in our students’ hands? Shouldn’t this be a front-burner issue at all times?” from Readicide.

I have long bemoaned the “etched-in-stone” curriculum in which every student reads the same book because it’s mandated by such-and-such or because county spent (wasted) thousands of dollars on classroom sets or the books are part of a partnership with the textbook company, which charged (wasted) thousands of dollars for their materials. But I digress.

I truly feel like my new job will enable me to unleash my inner scholar in a way I haven’t been able to before.

So, I probably won’t sleep well tonight, as visions of what to expect this school year dance around in my brain. It doesn’t matter that tomorrow is just a meeting and prep day. It doesn’t matter that I have the next day off. It doesn’t matter that I won’t see students until next week.

I won’t sleep well tonight, and I won’t sleep well then, either.

 

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For All the Classic Lit. Nerds

 

Before I begin, watch this video below. If it won’t play, don’t worry. I’ll do my best to describe it in my post:

The above video is an ad for the Infiniti Q60, a car I know nothing about other than that it looks nice in the video (don’t they all?). So obviously this is not an endorsement of Infiniti. What this ad is to me is a reminder that I am indeed a Classic Lit. Nerd.

For those who don’t know, I work part time at a movie theater. There are two wide-screen monitors mounted in our lobby that loop a series of ads, about fifteen minutes worth of commercials, music videos, movie trailers and trivia. Amid the mostly easily tuned out ads, there is this little gem. Now, if you are able to watch the video you might be prematurely anticipating my reaction the first time I saw it.

“Hey, that’s Jon Snow from Game of Thrones!”

Wrong.

Of course I knew it was Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but that’s not what sparked my enthusiasm, although his performance in the commercial is commendable. No, what captured my heart was the immediate recognition of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” (minus the final stanza). You can read the entire poem here.

So, out loud, I said, “Hey, William Blake!”

My wife, who is not a Game of Thrones fan, does not read classic literature, and has never been interested in owning an Infiniti, just said, “What?”

“That poem,” I said, “it’s by William Blake.” She mouthed an Oh, obviously not sharing my enthusiasm for classic poetry (or, like most people, understanding that it’s just a car commercial). Which prompts me to question:

How many other Classic Lit. Nerds out there would have felt the same as I? I was excited not only to hear a classic poem featured in a mainstream car commercial, but to recognize it as one of my favorites.

Has anyone else ever seen a bookshelf in a TV show or movie and wondered what was on the shelf?

I do this all the time.

A few weeks ago I read a book, and it’s greatest influence was Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Until now, I had only read individual poems from Whitman. But this new book sparked my interest in Whitman’s classic collection of poems. It…is…phenomenal.

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).”

Within the pages of Leaves of Grass, I have found lines and words and phrases that have almost made me shout out loud. Even though most of it was written over a century ago, it’s full of meditations and musings on human conditions that seem timeless and universal: Whitman’s need for and struggles with human connection, his passion for nature, and his talent for finding the divine in the everyday.

Reading it, though, makes me wonder how many other people would share my enthusiasm, or even how many people would give the book a chance? Who else takes the time to read classic works of literature that are over a hundred years old? Who else reads them and identifies with them in the same way I do?

Last year I hung a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s “If-” on my classroom wall. I shared it with my students, all boys, expecting at least a few of them to nod, smile, show some spark of “getting it.” No luck. I even showed them this excellent short film: “What If.” They understood the poem, sure. That wasn’t the problem. But they just didn’t “get” it. Some of them didn’t even like it.

So where are the like-minded Classic Lit. Nerds? Where are my friends who get excited about Shakespeare and Thoreau and Dickinson and London and Hemingway and Woolf and Vonnegut and Bradbury and Chaucer and Plath? Where are my friends who recognize references to classic literature? Where are my friends who love the smell of old books and new books?

Literature connects all of us by navigating and revealing universal truths about what it means to be human. [Tweet this!]

That is where my enthusiasm comes from, reading something like “Song of the Open Road” or “If” or “The Tyger” or watching Hamlet or Oedipus or Antigone and realizing that these authors seemed to understand something many of us forget:

“that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman, “O Me! O Life!”
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Far Too Long

What am I doing here?

I was embarrassed to realize my last post was over a year ago. A lot has happened, enough that I don’t know where to begin. I’ve changed schools twice, from a Career Center to a collaborative program between Kanawha County Schools and the University. I’m going to be living like a professor, but on a public school teacher salary. My office is on campus and my classrooms will be on campus. Just a few steps away from becoming Dr. Lilly.

Our family has grown. We adopted our foster daughter, Gracelynn Brooke-Ariel Lilly. After 743 days in foster care, she legally became our daughter. She is a very special little girl with a sweet smile, and it is inspiring to watch her grow in so many ways. We also adopted a kitten, a spry little fella, so full of energy and life. We named him Ashes because of his sooty colored fur.

So why have I returned? Certainly it isn’t just so I can give you a play-by-play of my life since my last post. It isn’t just to give you an update on my life and all its changes in the past 18 months. No.

I’m here because I need to be.

I’ve read a few blog posts from the experts about what blogging really is and what blogging should be. Many of the blogs hail the medium as a way to “market” something to a broad audience. Some blogs bemoan the use of blogging as a way to just babble on in order to get attention, gain followers, and “be heard.” And still others demonstrate the opportunities for blogs to offer some real value to readers, something that could actually change perspective, make readers think, and maybe even have some sort of impact on the world.

And then there are the blogs like mine that are more for the writer than the reader. It’s not that I don’t appreciate readers. Of course I do. But as I look back on past posts, especially the personal ones, I realize I need to be writing this blog again, to remember why writing has captivated me since I was a child.

A few of those blogs I read mentioned how bloggers should offer something to readers they can’t get anywhere else. I’m afraid I only have one thing to offer:

Myself.

I have to be honest. This blog is full of me. It’s the story of me. It contains other characters, of course, most that are a lot more interesting than me: heroes and villains, saints and sinners, who come and go and come back again. But ultimately it’s my story. This blog contains some of my best and worst writing, but I’ve left it just as it is because it’s still me.

And so, dear reader, if you’re still with me I invite you to continue this adventure with me. As the description says, I’m an optimistic, ADHD, outdoorsy Jesus follower, husband, father, and high school teacher. I get very passionate about issues that matter to me, and I share other posts and articles about issues that matter to me. I need this blog because it is the perfect place for me to be me…in writing.

If you’re new to my blog and you don’t have time to sink back into every past post, I encourage you to read my Jesus Wept posts. Just search “Jesus Wept” in the search bar on the right of this page.

It’s great to be back.

 

 

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Coincidences and Blessings

This originally appeared as my first feature as a guest post on Christian blogger Jennifer J. Kelly‘s excellent blog. Be sure to follow her. I guarantee you will be changed by her optimism and her honesty.

You can find the original post here: Coincidences and Blessings.

“If our circumstances find us in God, we shall find God in all our circumstances”
-D.L. Moody

God is so good.

I know that sounds like a Christian cliche, but hear me out.

Have you ever asked someone for something, only to find out they were already working on making that happen before you even requested it?

Coincidence or blessing?

The church I attend honors the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It is set at the center of our service and considered to be the most important part. Each week, church members who volunteer have the opportunity to present a short communion meditation. These devotions range from powerful orations to profound prayers, all intended to focus attention on Jesus, to honor his command to “do this in remembrance of me.”

For a few years now I have volunteered. About once every two months my name pops up in the rotation. This week, I am up again. My meditation is about deep faith, about how some people choose the pool over the ocean. My plan was to ask our worship team to sing “Oceans” by Hillsong United.

You know where this is going don’t you?

Our worship team had already scheduled that song.
Right before communion.

And this is not the first time this has happened.
Without exaggeration, every time I have thought of a good pre-meditation song, the worship team already had it planned as part of the schedule.

Every time.
That’s not coincidence. That’s God.

I feel so blessed that when life seems so unpredictable and chaotic, if I truly pay attention, I see that if I have plans that glorify God, it’s really not that chaotic at all. I see that God knows when I have plans that glorify Him and suddenly Romans 8:28 is manifested in ways that make me want to shout in praise.

The more I read the Bible, the more I see the plans of man failing – until those plans align with God’s and everything changes. Lives change.

Even better, those who align their plans with God often find His plans were what they had in mind to begin with…

Only better.

This has been on my mind:

“We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. Do your best to improve your faith by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, patience, devotion to God, concern for others, and love. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful…
My friends, you must do all you can to show God has really chosen and selected you. If you keep on doing this, you won’t stumble and fall.” (‭2 Peter‬ ‭1‬:‭3-8, 10‬ CEV)

Did you see that?
We have EVERYTHING we need to live a life that pleases God. [Tweet that!]

And God has invited us to share in His goodness.

So that situation that worked out for you, that favor that came before you even asked for it, that thing you didn’t expect to work out but it did?
Coincidence or blessing from God?
Coincidence or has God provided what you need to please Him?

Just some things to think about as we start a new year.

May God open your eyes to His blessings as you seek to please Him in all you do.

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