Look Good, Play Good, Dance Good

He’s not getting quite the attention of his fellow second-generation big-league phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but 20-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. is drawing notice for his electric style.

Javy Baez, Tim Anderson, these guys are injecting life into a game widely seen by younger generations as slow, stodgy, out-dated, irrelevant. Instead, these guys have decided it’s time to Let The Kids Play.

They’re making it fun to watch baseball.

Javy Baez Youre Out GIF

I’ve been a little apprehensive about the coming school year. Alternately ignoring the calendar and the countdown, and stressing over getting ready to teach a new prep with new materials. Then I read the latest blog post from Allyson Apsey, a school principal in Michigan I first encountered when she suggested making a New Year’s Playlist instead of a New Year’s Resolution.

She relates a story of a sightseeing trip she made while on the West Coast for a conference, riding the famous tram up San Jacinto Mountain.

They had a bit of a tense ride on the way up with the tram equivalent of nervous flyers screaming and holding on for dear life. A very professional operator tried to reassure all the riders as they made the long, bumpy trip. The way down tho?

Our tensions were relieved somewhat as soon as we saw the big smile on the face of our driver. He welcomed us aboard, told us to fill in all the space because it would be a full tram, and reassured us that there was room for everyone if we work together. Before the ride even started, the 60s music was playing again. But this time he told us that it would be a sing-along. We barely noticed that we were moving down the hill and rotating as we all belted out the chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. Good times never felt so good.

Just before we came to the first tower transfer station, our driver told us to be ready for some rocking and rolling, and then led us in a fun woo hoo as we swayed back and forth. He had another park employee standing next to him and she was singing her heart out and had a smile a mile wide the entire ride. Looking at them, the rest of the fear about the tram and the rocking just melted away. Before we knew it, we were back at the base of the mountain and we were disappointed that the ride was over.

Who would you rather ride with? The second operator, right? His name is Gil Moreno, and not only is he going to make sure you successfully and safely reach your destination, he’s going to anticipate the rough spots and smooth them over for you.

Kinda sounds like the teacher I want to be. The teacher I want my kids to have. The groove I want in my classroom.

Yes. Be like Gil.

Play your music, watch for the ones who need hand-holding, call out the rough spots and bust through them together. Serve their needs.

After I read the blog post I sat back and thought about the student who was so into one activity we did this year she bought a Lake Superior Ice Crew hoodie which she wore to school like once a week the rest of the year. The student who emailed me activity ideas two days after the school year was over, hoping I might roll them out for my students this year. The girls in my Algebra Lab class who asked if I could be their teacher again this year for geometry (surprise!). The former student who is a nursing student at the university in my town and a nurses aide at the hospital where I had my surgery this summer (also, surprise!). The kids who suggested I update my Friday playlist, the students who suggested I grow a beard, the kids who wouldn’t enter my classroom without their daily high-five, the student who hand-made an invitation for me to see her work in the Honors Art Show, the student who caught my eye across the fieldhouse during graduation lineup and said “I did it Mr. Dull!“, and I sat and thought…

Javy Slide GIF

If I can’t be a young, handsome, healthy All-Star stud with Cut4 and SportsCenter posting my highlights every night, teaching is about the best job there is. The kids make it fun.

So I turned a corner a little bit on this rainy Thursday morning. I might be a little more ready to go back to school. And I committed to be more like Gil. More like Fernando Jr. More like TA7. More like Javy.

And be honest, after I pondered the moments of a year gone by, more like me.


One-Man Book Club: (It’s Great To) Suck At Something



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I must have read Jim Bouton‘s memoir Ball Four 50 times. In a sea of memorable quotes, one anecdote about an off-the-wall teammate came back to mind this week.

Steve Hovley was dancing to a tune on the radio and somebody yelled, “Hove, dancing is just not your thing.”
“Do you mind if I decide what my thing is?” Hovley said.

That seems reasonable to me. As I get older, and admittedly, worse at a lot of things (like seeing, and remembering), I find myself getting a lot less judge-y. Unless you are a bad driver. Then I will judge you mercilessly.

So then, it seems as if there are things it’s OK to suck at? As long as you enjoy yourself, and aren’t putting someone else at risk? Karen Rinaldi strikes that note in (It’s Great To) Suck At Something. The subtitle (“The Unexpected Joy Of Wiping Out And What It Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, And The Stuff That Really Matters”) is pretty epic and hints that this is more than a travelogue of a middle-aged woman humblebragging about surfing from her second home in Costa Rica.

In fact, as Rinaldi points out, the chance to suck at something is a universal rite of passage and we’re robbing our kids of opportunities for accomplishment down the line when we hover and don’t allow them to stumble and fall from time to time in school:

Number 18
In a snippet from John Feinstein’s 2014 book Where Nobody Knows Your Name, Triple-A umpire Mark Lollo learns he’s about to have to find a new career.

It’s probably important to point out that you don’t want to suck at your actual job. As Rinaldi writes:

“when you make a mistake at work, it matters. Oh, you may have a humane boss and a positive HR department, but every time you f*ck up, you have one less opportunity to f*ck up again. The laws of scarcity apply here.”

The book has its origins in staying with an avocation (playing guitar, writing poetry, surfing), that you are bad at (but enjoy) and are never going to be good at. But that doesn’t mean that the concepts Rinaldi leans on can’t be applied at work. Here are three:

  • “It’s Not About Being Cool, It’s About Not Caring What’s Cool”

I am, without a doubt, the least cool person I know. Rinaldi traces the origins of our cultural fascination with “cool” (citing Joel Dinerstein) and notes that the pursuit of “cool” actually keeps us from ourselves. Rinaldi published six books written by the late chef Anthony Bourdain, and gives him the last word on “cool”:

Bourdain on “cool” (1)


Like every other teacher ever, somewhere along the line I was advised to not let my kids see me smile until December. No thanks. Teaching is way too much fun, and my kids have so much to offer if only I open up enough to care about them, to hide behind a mask. Let it roll. They’ve seen me at my best moments, and at my worst. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Vulnerability, Gratitude, and Resilience Are Related

Rinaldi relates her battle with breast cancer, and eventually introduces the Latin root of the word “vulnerable”: vulnerare, “to wound”. She says the treatments forced her to consider the concept of vulnerability in a way most folks don’t:

“A wound in our body isn’t just a site of destruction. A wound is a site of healing, building, rebounding. At a cellular level, every little laceration or bump is being tended to by bucket brigades of material repairers. The violent action that left the wound is in the past. Every moment that passes is a moment closer to wholeness.”

Then, after months of working through her chemo treatments, Rinaldi laid on her couch and thought “this is what it feels like to die.” Her body was pummeled. And she says she found herself counting blessings.

“I became hyper-aware of the infinite circumstances worse than my own and self-pity vanished. In its place came an appreciation for my good fortune to have the care I needed, and the comfort, love, and support from friends and family – no matter the end result. Gratitude became the unexpected benefit of the extreme vulnerability I felt. Once my heart opened up to how vulnerable I was, a path cleared and gratitude was quick to enter. An open heart takes inventory. It’s also what you do when you’re on an adventure.”

Vulnerability led to gratitude, which led to resilience. She had a baseline understanding of the concept from her years of sucking at surfing – that there is always another wave on the horizon. She leaned on Andrew Zolli’s book Resilience, and internalized the concept when she noted how her New Jersey oceanfront community came together to help each other in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Which leads back to cool.


  • The Blessed Church Of The Open Sky

Rinaldi is a lapsed Catholic. Her oldest son is an atheist. Worship in her Costa Rican jungle village happens on the beach, the preacher decked out in “board shorts, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, and flip-flops”. Not my kind of liturgy, obviously. But as she puts it:

“After my terrible-no-good-very-bad-year, I found myself more humbly worshipful when I went down to Costa Rica, or any time I could get near the water. Gratitude played a part, of course, but I was also starting to touch on something beyond psychology. Something metaphysical.”

Give God an inch, He’ll take a mile. Every time. Which is good.

I know what she means about water. Any Lake Michigan beach is my happy place, and it’s not hard to feel small compared to this vast Great Lake. Humble, even.

La Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Our Lady of Sorrows, ora pro nobis. Photo cred: me.

I took that photo while chaperoning my youngest son on a junior choir trip to Rome at Christmas break of 2016. Moments later I stood before the tomb of St. John Paul II, and then made my way to the Eucharistic Adoration chapel next door where assembled worshippers prayed the Divine Praises in Latin. It was a profoundly moving experience. That’s something else I now have in common with the author. Rinaldi tells how she and her oldest son visited Rome, where she stood before Michelangelo’s Pietá, and had… an experience.

“I was imbued with the overwhelming intensity of the mother-child bond. I felt at one with Mary – in her pain and suffering, but also in her love for her son – in a way that all the liturgical practice and dogma of my youth could never have aroused. I surrendered to it and was overcome with a feeling of serenity and what felt like pure love piercing my heart.”

Rinaldi ponders this moment, the humility, the art, the “oceanic feeling”, and wonders if perhaps her encounter with cancer and the “uncertainty that comes with age” made her more open to belief. I’m not her, so I can’t say. But she tried to dial it in during a conversation with Serene Jones of Union Seminary. Jones told her:

“Belief is ultimately about love. Love makes you open to the world. It’s about radical openness and belief. Without belief, there is no love.”

“Radical openness” sounds like a good thing to practice. Especially as a teacher.

Leveraging her connections as an author/editor/publisher, Rinaldi writes a meticulously cited book chronicling her journey of sucking at surfing, and parenting. She knows some really smart people, and spends a lot of time picking their brains, trying to figure out what it all means.

What she found out is: it’s beautiful.

Ritual And Meaning, Beauty And Pain.

Being unexceptional at something I love doing. I can dig that. Shaka, brah.

Shaka Wave GIF


(NB: Not really school-related. Take it for what it’s worth.)

Current Mood

Kids steal things at school. Stuff that has no value to them, that they have no possible use for.

Why? Because they can. Because it inconveniences other people. Because it’s a way to strike back at people and institutions they don’t feel valued by.

I get it.

This past school year anyone with any kind of authority (in school or out) exercised it over me, often in the most petty way possible. By the time I left the building on May 31 I was sick and damn tired of being everybody’s punching bag.

I felt a little like Ken in A Fish Called Wanda:

Nobody likes feeling bullied. The imbalance of power generates a lot of feelings, most of them socially unacceptable. But I’m mature, and a professional, and a Catholic. Revenge is not an idea we promote on my planet.

So mostly this summer, I’ve been walking a lot, and reading in the sun, and praying, and doing a lot of not-school-related stuff as a cure.

  1. Daily Mass is Awesome.
  2. Rosary ladies are an avenue of grace into the world.
  3. There should be more of that, for real. As K-Lo says, they carry the world’s load as they wield their rosaries.

A person who has worked at my youngest son’s grade school pretty much the entire time he went to school there is in the cancer fight right now. It’s not my story to tell, so no details. My parish has rallied around the family, as church groups do, providing meals and keeping company. But then, one of the family’s friends organized a Rosary for her tonight. And, wow.

There were like 100 people in the chapel at our church. The outgoing school principal, who retired at the end of the just-completed year, and just about every teacher at the school, past and present, and dozens of families who have been connected in one way or another all came out.

The power of group prayer, baby. It was intense, and beautiful. The spouse addressed us tonight before we started. Tough guy, blue-collar guy. He could barely keep from choking up. Meals are awesome. But when you see a community that has your back, all in one place, that is strong stuff.

So, it turns out I have power after all. Just not the “revenge” kind. And I get to decide: do I want to use it for good, or for evil.

All I know is, on the drive home, as Mrs. Dull & I waited for a freight train to pass, we looked at each other and could not get over how awesome an evening this was. And that we should do it again, soon. Like, “who else can we pray for now? Let’s Go!”.

Use that power, people. Go lift somebody up. It’s literally good for the soul.

Cord Rosary
A handmade cord rosary I packed in Number One Son’s bag before he shipped out to basic training last summer. Photo cred: me.