Polar Plunge Update

It’s getting closer! In less than a month, I will jump into a 4-foot pool of ice water wearing nothing but swimming trunks. All to raise funds for the Special Olympics. So far, donations have reached $285, getting even closer to the goal of $350.

My training has been going well. Last week, when it snowed 2-3 inches, I went outside shirtless and shoeless and rolled around in the snow. I laid back in it to see how long I could stay. It was nice to look up at the sky and watch the snowflakes as they fell on my face. I lasted a little less than a minute, and even then it was mostly because I had other things to do. I could feel the tingle and slight burning on my skin, but nothing intolerable. If you’re thinking Couldn’t you get frostbite or hypothermia? I encourage you to do the research. I also took a 25 minute walk shirtless in basketball shorts. I wore shoes because the road was icy and I didn’t want to fall.

I’m still taking cold showers every morning. If you’ve never done this, it is both invigorating and refreshing. For someone not used to cold water exposure, it’s miserable for the first week or so. But eventually…it’s still kind of miserable some days but also gives me a needed jolt in the morning to wake me up.

The weather this week has not really been conducive to training for cold. Yesterday, it was almost 70 F most of the day. But I spent as much time outside as possible. If not for work, I would have worn shorts all day. I look forward to more cold weather.

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I think this may be the first truly crazy thing I have ever decided to do. I am participating in the Polar Plunge.

Let me explain.

Over the past few years, my love of the outdoors and outdoor activities had led me to some interesting things. I’ve really been drawn to fitness programs like MovNat, Exuberant Animal, and Uncaged Man. Imagine if Crossfit and Parkour had a baby, raised it for a few years, introduced it to cool people like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Bear Grylls and then left it to fend for itself in the woods for a while, then you would sort of get a sense of what those three fitness programs represent. Just watch this video and see what I mean:

I have tried some pretty wild things while participating in a lot of these programs. They all encourage practical movements in nature, including crawling, climbing, running, jumping, lifting, rolling, balancing, grappling, fighting, and even swimming. So I have ran trails barefoot, climbed trees, vines, and boulders, crawled through small spaces, slogged through marshy grass, lifted logs and stones, and swam in rivers. I can credit each of these movements for rekindling my love of nature, especially wild waters and forests. These programs have also changed how I see “fitness”, viewing it more as being physically able to perform practical movements rather than just lift weights or run on a treadmill.

Along the way, while studying and training some elements of these programs, I’ve stumbled into a lot of other great resources:

  • Born to Run by Chris McDougall, a book that completely changed how I run (barefoot)
  • Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols, a book about how water literally changes our lives
  • Deep by James Nestor, a book that taught me about the mammalian diving reflex
  • rewilding, a return to wilderness lifestyle that seeks value in the hunter-gatherer way of life
  • Mark Sisson, maybe one of the most practical primal movement gurus
  • total-immersion swimming, a technique that causes less resistance while swimming and allows you to just glide along the water
  • foraging, finding edible plants and mushrooms right in my neighborhood

But maybe the most bizarre and incredible thing I have found so far is The Iceman.

Wim Hof is a Dutchman who is nicknamed The Iceman because of his seemingly superhuman way of resisting the cold. This guy is insanely capable of withstanding temperatures that would send most of us indoors just thinking about them. He has broken several world records, one for spending 1 hour 52 minutes and 42 seconds submerged in ice water. He climbed 22,000 ft. on Mount Everest wearing only shorts and shoes, reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in just his shorts in two days, completed a full marathon in Finland above the Arctic Circle (again wearing nothing but shorts) and finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes, and has swam under ice on more than one occasion.

I was both fascinated and a little terrified when I discovered this. How is it possible to handle such extreme temperatures without getting hypothermia or severe frostbite? Through research I learned that Wim has a method: a combination of a unique breathing exercise (similar to a Tibetan method called Tummo or Inner Fire) and gradual cold exposure (cold showers, ice baths, time outside in cold temps, etc.). This led to learning that Wim is not alone in his ability to withstand cold. While almost no one has performed the daredevil feats he has accomplished, a great many have learned to adapt and adjust to cold temperatures. Cold tolerance is a thing, and you can train for it.

So, since about October I have been training: cold showers, time outside in the morning without my shirt and shoes, and immersions in cold water. While I don’t plan on hiking Mount Everest without a shirt or soaking in ice water for over an hour, I would appreciate the chance to learn to adapt to my environment no matter what the temperature. Then last month an idea hit me:

What if I could put my training to use somehow?

I knew that the Columbus Zoo did a Polar Bear Plunge every year, so I Googled the date. Not possible. Another Google search found a Polar Plunge right up the road at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. In order to participate, I needed to raise at least $50 to support the Special Olympics. This is special because my daughter is special needs and will be competing in the Special Olympics this year.

So… I’m training. I plan to blog about my progress, share the experience with my faithful readers, and hopefully not freeze to death.

Wish me luck.

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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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