10% Happier

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10% Happier (Photo: HarperCollins Canada)I picked up Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier on a whim a few weeks ago. A copy of it was displayed on a table of self help-style books at the bookstore where I work part-time. I picked it up and read this sentence: “Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment.” I was hooked.

You see, I actually rather like self help books. And for all that I mock Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (which was given to me as an audiobook by a casual acquaintance – my esthetician, no less – in Sydney in early 2012), I actually think it has some good stuff in it. Let go of the past. Live in the present. Don’t dwell in worry about the future. Easier said than done, of course, but isn’t that a good message? And yet we lose it in the ridiculousness that goes along with the self help genre. We have Tolle’s faintly German-tinged English and his nonsensical turns of phrase, we have Deepak Chopra’s cult of celebrity. And now, we have Dan Harris to navigate us through all of the perpetual panflute accompaniment and make a sound, logical, no-nonsense case for the benefits of meditation.

Harris, a television reporter with ABC News and the co-anchor of Nightline, makes no bones about the fact that he was a meditation skeptic prior to a very public panic attack on live television. What followed was an inadvertent spiritual quest, spanning several years. As a trained journalist with some TV experience, and who has spent lots of time in high-pressure deadline-driven media environments, I empathize wholeheartedly with Harris’s experience. Like him, I found that a combination of yoga, Eckhart Tolle (in extremely small doses), self help exploration and bubble baths (my idea, not Harris’s) helped a lot in managing the stress of my media job, and of being so far from home.

I identify a lot with Harris, and I like what he has to say. Like me, he’s a skeptic of anything that sounds too good to be true, or of the meditation principles (like Tolle’s earnest pleas to live in the now with little regard for things like setting professional goals or making plans for the future) that have zero grounding in reality. Like me, he sees value in exploring a lot of spiritual options, then picking and choosing the ones that work best for his life, attitude and present situation.

I like him. And I like his message. Greater self-awareness won’t change our lives completely, but it does bring a sense of balance, and of happiness. 10% extra happiness, to borrow Harris’s phrasing. I think everybody could benefit from being 10% happier.

 

I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had

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Tony Danza (Photo Credit:  Crown Publishing)I don’t know what kind of rock I’ve been living under for the past few years (oh yeah, a big, Australia-shaped rock), but I completely missed that in the fall of 2010, A&E aired a short reality/documentary series called Teach: Tony Danza, which followed Tony Danza as he taught grade 10 English in inner-city Philadelphia for a school year. It’s the kind of thing that’s just random enough, and just awesome enough, that I would have absolutely loved to watch it when it was on.

So when I discovered at work a few months ago that Danza had written a book on his experiences in the classroom, I added it to my mental list of things to read when I got a spare second. And then I promptly forgot about it until Sunday.

I was perusing through the audiobooks when I found a copy of I’d Like To Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had at a markdown price. With my employee discount, it rang in at under $12 – the perfect gamble to take on six hours of entertainment to see me through my road trip to and from Edmonton to visit Matt, who is doing some work there this week.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not always sold on audiobooks. Usually, I can read a lot faster than I can listen – and in the case of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which was my road trip pick back in November, I sometimes feel my attention begin to wander. But Tony Danza is different. I actually think this story works better as an audiobook than a real book because you can feel his passion and emotion come through more clearly. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is a teacher, is (like me) studying to become a teacher or who has ever wondered what teachers get up to all day. There’s a great review from the New York Daily News and you can also read an excerpt here if pages, rather than audiobooks, are your preference.

The basic premise is this: In 2009, with a cancelled talk show, a marriage on the rocks and pushing 60, Tony Danza (who has a degree in history, which I didn’t know) decides to become a qualified teacher. Through Teach For America (which I don’t entirely understand but appears to be some sort of summer camp-style program where skilled and qualified professionals do their teacher training), Danza gets the credentials you need to teach in Philadelphia, and then makes his way to Northeast High – one of the city’s largest and most diverse inner-city schools.

I have to give Danza a lot of credit. He is very clear from the outset that even though a reality show is being made about his experience, he is taking his year of teaching very seriously. He’s up at the crack of dawn, coaching football, organizing talent shows, taking his kids on field trips, planning Shakespeare lessons and grading papers. He starts a lunchtime mentorship group, the Half-Sandwich Club, and helps kids with everything from homework to planning birthday parties. And when the reality show is deemed to be ‘not interesting’ enough, Danza refuses to compromise by scripting scenes or manufacturing drama. While the show is cancelled and the camera crew is gone before Christmas, he remains with his class all year, showing staff and students that he’s committed to the experience – and to them.

I spent six hours in the car with this audiobook over the past couple of days and I think it was exactly what I needed. Sometimes, the prospect of becoming a first-year teacher (which, next year, will be reality for me) is really exciting, and other times, it’s scary – especially when, as Danza describes it, it’s a ‘second-act’ career. I’m going into a ‘second-act’ career too and even though I’m pretty young, it’s daunting to start fresh from the beginning again.

I found him really reassuring for a number of reasons, not least of which because he cries a LOT in his year of teaching. I anticipate some tears of my own as I spend more time in classrooms. It’s nice to know that’s sort of normal and that even Tony Danza cries sometimes. It’s also nice to see him use experiences from his first-act careers (as a boxer and an actor) as lessons for his students. I know I’m not pushing 60, but I’m not fresh out of university either and it’s really good to know that the years I spent working really hard, travelling the world, and figuring out which careers worked and didn’t work for me might contain lessons that benefit someone else as much as they have benefitted me. I know that this inspiring and moving book will now start slowly making the rounds – first to Matt and my mom, who are both teachers, and then to my Bachelor of Education friends.

This book also really made me want to go track down the seven episodes of Teach: Tony Danza. Check out the preview below. Doesn’t this look awesome?!

A Great Op-Ed and ‘The Hungry Games’

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I’ve been quiet this week because it’s the last stretch of final projects before the fall semester breaks up, and unfortunately, school > blog. But to tide you over for a couple of days until I can post for real, I encourage you to check out a couple of Hunger Games-related things as I come down from my Catching Fire euphoria from last weekend.

The first is a brilliant and insightful op-ed from the November 25 edition of the LA Times, which highlights the fact that the latest Hunger Games tie-in products do more to harm the agenda of the trilogy than help it. I thought it was poignant and smart and well-articulated – the Capitol Couture line really bothers me because it’s so anti-Katniss – and completely goes against the anti-classist message hammered home in all three Hunger Games novels.

On a much lighter note, please also check out this amazing Catching Fire parody they did on Sesame Street – The Hungry Games: Catching Fur. The pita gets me every time.