I wonder about a bookstore…

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Would you support this small business in Lake Orion? Or would you browse, leave, and order books on Amazon for 20% less with FREE 2-day shipping? Please answer *honestly* below. I’m curious. And serious. 🙂

That new building at 120 South Broadway? I walked by it yesterday. Would an indy bookstore REALLY survive in our community? Your dollars would determine its success.

Amazon will always be cheaper — and open 24/7. You are probably a Prime member. Just click and the books arrive at your door. So easy, right?

Lake Orion: Where living is a vacation. 🌞

What if LO was also a place of culture, curiosity, and enlightenment?

Would you pay for that?

Guest Spotlight — AB’s Q&A-a-day Journal

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This compact but powerfully-designed journal belongs to Alex Bergquist, who is a person of pleasing contrasts. Although she is a passionate skier and outdoor enthusiast, Alex is also a committed reader and a student of culture and history. Thus it is not surprising that an individual who harbors so many diverse interests would also be attracted to personal writing and the reflection that it fosters.

The Q&A-a-day guided journal, which is a product of the Crown Publishing Group’s Clarkson Potter lifestyle division, encourages the user to pen a brief response to a single daily question. What makes the notebook unique is that its goal is to motivate the writer to re-visit its 365 questions over five successive years. Consequently, a fully-completed volume will contain 1,825 short responses — each limited to four lines of text.

Alex remarks, “[E]ach day probably won’t seem profound, but the purpose of the journal is to see how much can change over five years, even in small areas of life without consciously being aware.” She continues by noting that, “I’m very eager to see the progression in this time of life right after graduating from college!” Alex graciously shared not only images of the inside of her journal, but photographs of several of her initial entries:

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The question for January 3 is What are you reading right now?

What books are currently part of Alex’s life?

Having finished the first two novels in Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series, she is now working through the third installment — Island of Fire (2013). It holds an 85% 5-star rating from 210 reviewers on Amazon.com. Lisa McMann — a Holland, MI native who moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2004 — is the author of several other series including The Vision Trilogy, The Wake Trilogy, and The Unwanteds: Quests. Island of Fire and its predecessors hold a special place in Alex’s heart because they were gifted to her from her grandfather.

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Liza Mundy’s 2018 national bestselling Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II is also part of Alex’s current reading routine. Mundy’s non-fiction account of the 10,000+ women hired by the U.S. military to break German and Japanese codes carries a 72% 5-star rating from 422 reviewers on Amazon.com. More about Liza Mundy and her books — including a young-adult version of Code Girls — can be found at LizaMundy.com.

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The third book in Alex’s rotation is Jodi Picoult’s novel small great things (2016). With 79% of more than 8,000 Amazon reviewers providing it with 5 stars, the #1 New York Times Bestseller’s track record is certainly impressive. The book’s press release notes the following: “With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, injustice, and compassion — and doesn’t offer easy answers.”

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If you are curious about Alex’s Q&A-a-day journal and desire to know more about the kinds of daily questions that it poses, here is a selection from the first two weeks of the year:

  • January 1 — What is your mission?
  • January 2 — Can people change?
  • January 3 — What are you reading right now?
  • January 4 — The best part of today?
  • January 5 — What was the last restaurant you went to?
  • January 6 — Today was tough because _____.
  • January 9 — Was today typical? Why or why not?
  • January 10 — Write down something that inspired you today.
  • January 11 — Today you lost _____.
  • January 12 — What is your favorite accessory?
  • January 13 — Where do you want to travel next?

Although 2019 is already underway, can you pick up the journal now and still find great value in it? Absolutely! Simply begin responding to the guided questions on the date that you acquire it. Then take comfort in knowing that the notebook will carry you into January of 2020. In effect, you can already prepare for one of next year’s New Year’s Resolutions — continue your habit of daily writing!

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Note — The image of Island of Fire was borrowed from Simon & Schuster’s TheUnwantedsSeries.com. The image of Code Girls was obtained from Liza Mundy’s website. The cover of small great things was found at barnesandnoble.com. The author of this blog post took the photograph of the back cover of the Q&A-a-day journal.

Dragons waiting for our love

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“And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” [emphasis is my own]

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Austrian poet and novelist

Source text: Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties: Translations and Considerations of Rainer Maria Rilke by John J. L. Mood.

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To read more of my thoughts about Rilke’s writing, please see the blog post Timeless Advice: Letters to a Young Poet. It features several passages that I recommend from Rilke’s correspondence with a student struggling to find his voice — and his place in the world.

The following image of Rilke is from a painting by Russian artist Leonid Pasternak (1890-1960) who, in 1928, created this likeness of the poet as a young man. The work is entitled Rilke in Moscow, and the portion shown below was obtained from the website of The Paris Review.

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Note – The photographs featured above were taken by photographers Thomas Despeyroux (upper) and Sharon McCutcheon (lower). They were obtained from Unsplash.com.

Ten Principles of Compassionate Education

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This book is dedicated to the young men and women with whom I shared my classroom. I am forever grateful for their willingness to lend me — and, more importantly, one another — their ears, hearts, and minds. Thank you.

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Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

- Walt Whitman (1819-1892), from "Song of the Open Road"

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One — The most important value in my classroom is humanity – honoring every individual’s inherent worth, unique selection of talents, and yet-to-be-realized potential. By upholding this value, my students and I remain dignity-driven.

Two — In my classroom, we are all people first. We are students and a teacher, second. If we lose sight of this essential dynamic, we must pause, reflect, and re-assess. Our respective roles drive our collaboration — but they do not dictate it.

Three — Despite the discomfort that it causes, I sometimes allow myself to be vulnerable because I want my students to feel safe to be themselves. I carefully lower my teacher’s mask at times, so that they may trust me enough to share what is real.

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Four — My students and I practice listening before speaking, because reasoned voices are more effective than reactionary ones. By doing so we learn that compassionate leaders are servants before they are guides, and that they exhibit humility — not hubris.

Five — My students’ creativity and my own are exercised regularly, so we feel justified in taking calculated risks. Occasionally, failure results. More often, though, we succeed because fostering creativity leads us to be flexible, adaptable, and always curious.

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Six — I invite others’ diverse ideas and opinions because the opposite signifies ignorance, and that is anathema to teaching and learning. At times of impasse, we can agree to disagree – a mature sign of respect. Intimidation, however, is forbidden; it breaches our shared humanity and violates the principle that we are all people first.

Seven — My students are not common, and neither are their futures. They are unique and evolving. Consequently, my instruction, classroom activities, and assessments are not common. Instead, they are innovative, rigorous, and customized to my students’ changing needs. As a professional educator, I am well-trained for fulfilling this responsibility.

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Eight — My classroom is expansive enough to hold a broad range of ideas, but one concept that has no place inside its walls is shame. Feeling disconnected, flawed, or lesser are not acceptable where we teach and learn. Each one of us is a part of our community, and my students and I watch vigilantly to ensure that no one feels apart.

Nine — As a teacher who earned an advanced degree in his content area and accumulated many years of experience, I make no apologies for my deeply-held beliefs about education. My convictions are strong. But they are also supple: they evolve in response to my students’ needs, my colleagues’ insights, and my ongoing education.

Ten — Service is my calling, and teaching is my art and science. But if I can no longer uphold humanity as the core value in my classroom – if data is privileged above dignity, and policies supplant people — then it is time to straighten the desks, push in the chairs, and turn off the lights. The open road extends beyond, and I will find my students there.

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“In our rush to reform education, we have forgotten a simple truth: reform will never be achieved by renewing appropriations, restructuring schools, rewriting curricula, and revising texts if we continue to demean and dishearten the human resource called the teacher on whom so much depends.” [Emphasis is my own.]

— Parker J. Palmer, PhD, The Courage to Teach (2007), p. 4


About the Author

A former high-school English teacher of 15 years, Brian is now designing the next phase of his career — or what he thinks of as Plan B. In the meantime, he works as a tutor and writing consultant at Bishop Writing Services, LLC, and he shares his photography and writing on the blog ink + sky. Brian’s former students, who are now out forging their own paths in the world, are never far from his mind. And he hopes that they are making every day count.


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Succeed by defying conventions

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On November 28, Freakonomics Radio released its 359th episode, “Should America Be Run by…Trader Joe’s?” Hosted by astute journalist and author Stephen Dubner, the 47-minute radio show (and podcast) explores the unanticipated success of perhaps the most non-traditional grocer in the current marketplace: the quirky, island-themed Trader Joe’s.

Even if you do not have a location near you — or if you do, but are not a frequent customer — great insight can be gleaned from this podcast. Why? The episode dives into the reasons why defying conventions can yield unexpected success, especially at a time when it seems that the default narratives for advancement have been so carefully refined that challenging their veracity seems not only foolish, but heretical.

However, by veering from the status quo, Trader Joe’s has become America’s most successful grocery chain as measured by sales-per-square-foot. Its revenue in this regard is far greater than industry titans like Kroger, Albertsons, and Publix. Trader Joe’s generates even more revenue — again, based on sales-per-square-foot — than Whole Foods, whose stores tend to be found in the nation’s most wealthy communities.

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If you have never been to a Trader Joe’s, you may be wondering exactly how it defies the traditional narrative of business success. Well, here is a glimpse at its peculiarities, which Stephen Dubner — and guests like the remarkable Columbia Business School economist Sheena Iyengar* — explore in this episode:

  • TJ’s does not use social media.
  • TJ’s does not employ traditional advertising like billboards or weekly circulars.
  • TJ’s does not accept coupons.
  • TJ’s does not distribute loyalty cards that track customers’ purchases.
  • TJ’s does not have sales.
  • TJ’s does not feature self-check aisles.
  • TJ’s does not offer home delivery.
  • TJ’s does not contain 20,000+ products like most grocery stores.
  • TJ’s does not rely on name brands. In fact, it carries very few.

How can a company like Trader Joe’s succeed when it does not utilize the cutting-edge, data-driven strategies that most business experts would say are necessary? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out! Just click: “Should America Be Run…by Trader Joe’s?”

But here is the short answer: Trader Joe’s proudly does things its own way, without apology. It privileges people over profits, simplicity over complexity, and language and narrative over data and demographics. Consequently, its loyal shoppers love the experience that they have in its stores, and savor the unique products — from healthy to indulgent — that they find there. Thus they keep coming back.

Full disclosure: I visit Trader Joe’s semi-regularly, but I am not a purist. The narrow aisles of my local store are often crowded, and the checkout lanes seem oddly-designed and not (in my opinion) customer-friendly. Yet I still love this podcast episode because I admire companies like Trader Joe’s that defy conventions, follow their own guiding principles, and — as a result — achieve unexpected success. We need more risk-takers who are willing to challenge norms, whether those established practices dominate behavior in the business world, in our schools, or in our neighborhoods.

Shameless endorsement of all things Freakonomics: I am a committed follower of Freakonomics, both the podcast and the series of books penned by Dubner and his collaborator, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt. For several years I have listened to their weekly audio productions, which help me — a former high-school English teacher — better understand topics ranging from entrepreneurs and marketing, to decision-making and leadership, to sports and public policy. But perhaps most importantly, Freakonomics’ media has taught me why asking questions is an essential yet often underrated practice, both in business and in a broader whole-life context.

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* – Widely recognized as one of the nation’s foremost experts on decision making, Sheena Iyengar is amazing. She is a professor at the Columbia Business School, and her research has yielded incredible insights into how humans make choices. Moreover, her voice is captivating and articulate; and her outlooks on business and life are shrewd, witty, and wise. Oh — and Ms. Iyengar has spent her life defying conventions. How? She is blind. See for yourself, in her popular 2010 TED talk, “The Art of Choosing.”

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Note – The images featured above were obtained from WNYC Studios (which produces a host of award-winning programs including Freakonomics Radio), TED.com, and the Freakonomics website.

Fred Rogers: Leading by Listening

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“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”

Fred Rogers (1928-2003), The World According to Mr. Rogers (2003)

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“But part of Fred Rogers’ genius was knowing that kids have an insatiable desire to make sense of the world. Unlike too many adults who prefer to deal with problems by pretending they don’t exist, children want answers. If answers aren’t available, they at least want their questions taken seriously.” 

–  Dr. Bruce Weinstein, CEO of the Institute for High-Character Leadership

Source text: “How Mister Rogers Can Make You a More Effective Leader” in Forbes.com

For more about Fred Rogers, please see Fred Rogers Productions.

Timeless Advice: Letters to a Young Poet

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Even if you believe that poetry is irrelevant, value can be found in reflecting on the thoughts that legendary German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) shared with a struggling young officer cadet named Franz Xaver Kappus over one hundred years ago.

By relying on letters exchanged periodically, the two maintained a relationship as mentor and pupil that stretched from 1903 to 1908. Nine of Rilke’s earliest letters to the younger man — who was studying at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt (in north-east Austria) — are collected here in a slender volume by translator M.D. Herter Norton. The book is a beautiful one, whose elegant yet straightforward typeface and high-quality paper reflect the elder poet’s sensibilities.

The contemplative lyric poet, Rainer Maria Rilke:

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Franz Kappus initiated the dialogue, having studied Rilke’s poetry as a teenager. Looking back on their exchange of letters, Kappus wrote in 1929: “Not yet twenty, and close on the threshold of a profession which I felt to be entirely contrary to my inclination, I hoped to find understanding” (p. 12). The first letter that Kappus received in response to his solicitations was penned by a 28-year old Rilke, who was himself struggling with forces that tested his faith and resolve. And it is in this fact — that the mentor, too, was facing his own difficult road — that perhaps the most valuable insights into Rilke’s letters can be found.

For Rilke was aware that he was extending advice to a man less than ten years his junior, and he [Rilke] was not immune to the very fears, uncertainties, and obstacles that young Franz Kappus was grappling with. What follows are some of my favorite passages, excerpted in chronological order from several of the book’s nine letters. May you, too, find a gentle reassurance in Rilke’s selfless offerings.

From April 23, 1903

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From July 16, 1903 (perhaps the most-quoted letter) —

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Also from the July 16th letter

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From December 23, 1903

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From August 12, 1904

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A second excerpt from August 12, and another of Rilke’s most quoted prose passages —

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