I Saw The Decade End

Twenty years ago last month, I sat around my dining room table, celebrating Thanksgiving with family in the house where I grew up. Among the guests were a couple of software engineers from my wife’s side of the family, so naturally the table talk turned to Y2K and the possibilities of a worldwide, simultaneous computer crash, and its effects on civilization as we know it. They were, and are, level-headed people, not given to leaping at every pop-culture panic. But the conversation took a dark turn when one of the computer experts at the table said, “I don’t anticipate a major problem. But I wouldn’t want to be in an airplane at 35,000 feet when the date rolls over.”

That was… sobering. When serious people say serious things, you listen.

Of course, nothing happened (thankfully) and the New Year’s Eve party we attended on 12/31/1999 to welcome in the new millennium with friends went off without a hitch. When the lights stayed on in Asia & Europe we figured we were good, so like most NYEs we looked back at the year gone by and talked plans for the year to come. Ate, drank, went home, went to bed. Woke up to a new day.

DU Launch Day.PNG

2010. I was in my 8th year of teaching and had just started to implement ideas lifted from a group of math teachers that called themselves the MTBoS (“math twitter-blog-o-sphere”), ideas that changed my teaching forever and literally saved my career. It was a another year before I ventured into the twitterverse.

December 29, to be exact

I had hair (for part of the year anyway). Mrs. Dull was part of a team that launched an ambitious STEM mentoring program for middle-school girls in our community.

We had a high school freshman and a 1st grader. I considered myself a semi-serious runner. The Cubs and Bulls were bad. Had a chance to broadcast a tremendous season of Homewood-Flossmoor football that ended in the Illinois 8A semifinals at Gately Stadium. Our puppy developed a taste for baseboards, windowsills, and coffee table legs. Probably a bunch of other stuff happened that I’ve forgotten because that was 10 years ago.

In-between. I switched schools. Urban –> exurban. Presented at some conferences. Made great acquaintences online and IRL. Ran some marathons. Got older. Maybe wiser. Stopped running. Got heavier. Watched my oldest son learn some harsh lessons, then mature into a semi-responsible adult as he completed Army basic training and became a 95 Bravo. One of my students asked me what I wish I knew before I had kids. I said, “I wish I knew that what hurt them would hurt me too.” Found out nobody owes you nothing.

Update: The Cubs stopped being bad and won the World Series.

Also: Discoveries Unlimited no longer exists. It was a great idea, the world around wasn’t quite ready for it I guess.

2020. I predict you’ll get tired of the word “vision” sometime about February or so.  Mrs. Dull signed me up for a half-marathon training group, so I guess I’m going to be a semi-serious runner again. I’ll be teaching a 16-year-old to drive (ora pro me). There is a major round-number milestone birthday in my family. Other that that, I have no idea what to expect. Don’t look for any puffy-chested pronouncements from me as far as resolutions. A few years ago I stumbled across a blog post from Allyson Apsey suggesting a New Year’s Playlist rather than a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Made sense then. Still does now. It’s more fun and it lasts longer. Give it a listen if you want.

I made a GDoc back in late summer and started dumping ideas for songs on there. I typically would have put the actual playlist together over Christmas Break, but this year I needed a boost during a marathon Thanksgiving week grading session, so it actually debuted in November.

“I love my city they let me cut the line on the Dan Ryan
They walk on eggshells and landmines
They communicate with hand signs

Do you remember how when you were younger
The summers all lasted forever?
Days disappear into months, into years
Hold that feeling forever”


Some samples if you are a video-type person. Hope you love Brittany Howard’s late summer release as much as I do. It kind of sets the chill mood for the entire playlist:

Which is not to say there aren’t any bangers on the list (“Van Weezer” LOL):

Spent a week or so over the summer sitting in the sun with a cold drink reading José Vilson‘s “This Is Not A Test“. To the point where one day I said “Hey Alexa, play Eric B. & Rakim” for a soundtrack while I read.

But Beck’s latest kind of hits the right note for the last 12 months or so of #teacherlife:

And a quick reminder, for those days when I’ve had it and I want to bail:

The tunes are in place. My mind is right. The last sunrise of 2019 is in the books. The only computer concerns we have these days are when an ad for something we were just now talking about shows up in our TL on our phones seconds later. Alright, 2020, let’s go. Show me something.

Light > Darkness

Light Definition
Merriam-Webster’s entry for light. Part of it, anyway.

“Something that makes vision possible”.

“Light” seems like one of those words that is difficult to define without using the word itself. But Webster’s first definition is beautiful in its simplicity. And compelling to me, especially at this time of year.

#confessanunpopularopinion: We’ve discussed in this space my love for melancholy Christmas. To the point of making a whole playlist for the season.

Honestly, I love the mid-December days with the 4:15 sunset and afternoons that are pretty much indistinguishable from evening. Every year has a rhythm. To everything there is a season, right?

But that’s me. Despite outward appearances, I’m basically a very dark person.

That doesn’t mean we don’t all long for light at this time of year. Across civilizations, through the centuries, regardless of faith or lack thereof, late December brings a rage against the darkness and quest for light.

So we seek out light.

We look for it in the darkness, alone, or surrounded by people we love.

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To the point where we’ll drive around in cars to go see other people’s lights.

And maybe, compare ourselves to other folks, a little bit. Because we can.

I’ve always said that Christmas Break comes at precisely the right time for a teacher. Everything around us, the whole world, says “Bundle up. Gather your people close. Take stock. Tell stories. Look back. And: Look ahead”.

So, if you are planning for second semester today, awesome. If that’s on the agenda for the weekend, cool. I’ve got my list sitting on my desk at school that I’m going to tackle in parts over the next few days.

And when I go in, I’ll probably have to take down the string of lights that has outlined my whiteboard for the last month.

Although, a warning. When you wake up on January 6, it’s going to be darker than you remember.

January 6 Sunrise

The sunrise lags the solstice by a couple of weeks, plus, let’s be honest, sleeping in is maybe the greatest perk of Christmas Break for a teacher. We’re gonna pay for that in a week or so. It’s gonna be pitch black when you wake up, and still dark-ish when you leave for school. On the first day back, when there is the slightest glimmer that we’ve turned a corner, when the buzz of seeing friends for the first time in a couple of weeks has burned off, we might have to make our own light.

My geometry students feel a little like they are stumbling through the darkness of a new kind of math. They might feel like they are crashing. They’re gonna need something to “make vision possible“. Or at least someone to thank them for flying Air Penguin.

“Who says a penguin can’t fly?”