Audiobook FINISHED! Chapters 23-24 now available

It’s finished, guys! I thought this would take me until January to get finished, but once I decided to do it, I found ways to keep going. The Forest at the Edge of the World is complete! (And that last chapter is just over an hour, so take an extra long walk or deep clean your fridge as you listen. Why do I write such long chapters?!)

Yes, that means Book 2, Soldier at the Door, will be coming soon. I need to work on the thumbnail for it, then I’ll start recording chapter by chapter for that one as well.

Audiobook Chapters 20-22

Today I took my students through some Emerson, and one student said, “I feel he’s calling me out! I’m always procrastinating and I just can’t make myself do something it it’s not going to be perfect. He says we doubt ourselves and that holds us back!”

“Well?” I responded.

“Well, he’s right!” she declared, guiltily and angrily.

“And what was true nearly 200 hundred years is true now. This is just human nature, but we can dare to be better.” Then I told them about my great fear and hesitation to make these Youtube videos of me reading very imperfectly my imperfect book chapters, but that I’m doing it anyway. I can’t wait for perfection; I’ve always been a B+ student, and sometimes B+ is the best we can hope for.

And that this process has been immensely fun and going faster than I anticipated.

They claimed they were going to listen to my chapters someday, but they can’t now because none of them are allowed computers in our treatment center. And when they leave our program, they’ll have forgotten all about this and I’ll be safe from their mocking. (Whew.)

Still, this has been so much fun. I’m totally enjoying this. And it seems about half a dozen people are as well. Last couple of chapters should be up this week sometime.

Audiobook Chapters 11-13 ready (14 delayed by Relf-voice)

I was really hoping I could 14 done tonight, too, but my voice couldn’t hold out for two long chapters, and started sounding as gravelly as Relf Shin. Sadly, I didn’t have any Relf Shin lines to read, though. (Mahrree’s lines were really starting to sound bad.)

I’ll have to record chapter 14 tomorrow. Stay tuned . . .

Chapters 6-10 Audiobook ready on Youtube

Yeah, I’m cranking these out. It’s absolute joy.

I can’t tell you how much I look forward to going to my closet to read out loud. When I’m having a rough time at work (I teach at a residential treatment center for high school girls), I remind myself, “Just a few more hours and I get to read out loud about Edge. That’s your reward!”

There’s so much in these chapters that I couldn’t think of which to “meme” (plus I’m late with making dinner, so I don’t have time). But I’m finding myself startled by how much I wrote is actually happening to us right now. I kind of suspected some day these problems would be ours, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon.

The big questions: Who do you trust? And what would it take for you to completely change your mind about something?

Thank a mentor today–they probably don’t realize how they’ve inspired you!

Today I sent an email to my old AP Biology teacher, Doyle Norton, who I found again four years ago. I graduated from high school in the 1980s, but Mr. Norton has influenced me as a teacher, even now. He was creative, hilarious, yet so intent about us learning the content. I was thrilled to pass the AP Biology test! Four years ago I wrote him and told him how much he meant to me. He wrote back the greatest, most enthusiastic email–typical for Mr. Norton!

Today, as I started planning for my third year of teaching AP English in a few weeks, I thought of Doyle Norton again and sent him a follow-up email. I realized I’d never told him I was an AP teacher now, too, and I thanked him profusely for his teaching style which I try to emulate (even though biology and English aren’t exactly interchangeable). I’m awaiting his response (I sure hope he’s still kicking around–he’d be in his seventies) but it felt great to say, “I’m now getting to pretend to be you!”


Doyle Norton, circa 1986, on a biology trip to southern California

It’s an immense responsibility to share your vision of the world with the rising generation. That vision needs to be shared carefully, honestly, fairly, and beautifully. I’m still working on that, and will for the rest of my life.

Today with the Light the World initiative is the suggestion to thank a mentor for their influence. Try it. You’ll make everyone’s day–especially your own!

control world students see

Books? Thinking? Are those “lit”?

[“Lit,” by the way, is the trendy way to say “cool,” or “neato, daddio.” Just typing that last one is totally not “lit”.]

These lines are what I hope none of my students will ever say about my class:

books thinking never saw before

These lines are also why I often read out loud to them, because even though they’re 10th graders, a few kids had never finished a novel until they took my class.

I worry that books and thinking are becoming as old-fashioned as typewriters and rotary phones. We rarely hear about either much anymore, and when we do it’s, “Hey, remember when we used to think about problems and read all we could before we made judgments? Or am I just remembering a time that never really existed? And am I using the word ‘lit’ correctly?”

Get Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World right here. It’s totally lit. (Maybe?)


Defensiveness arises when we suspect we may be wrong

In my experience, those who become defensive and angry in a discussion are those who aren’t sure their position is correct.

They respond with anger when they’re afraid of being found out, when they’re afraid they might be wrong.

That’s always been a good reminder for me when I find my ire raising: something’s not right with my thinking, and it’s up to me to fix it; it’s not up to me to attack someone else.

When in the history of the world has attacking someone with an opposite point of view brought them around to agreement?

disrespectful to tell the truth

Admit it–you want unpredictability and challenges!

Ever have one of those years when everything changes on you?

And does it seem that it happens every year?

Yeah, me too. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as “regular” life, that the “good old days” when life was predictable and easy never in fact existed, that when we long for the stability of the past, we’re really longing for a fantasy that never happened.

And why would we want a quiet, dull existence? Isn’t the unpredictability of our lives what makes it worth living? The daily challenges that push us, the nightly flopping into bed with a quiet but triumphant, “Survived another day!” that invigorates us to exhaustion and new determination? Don’t we want that, crave that?

I had two dull days this past year.

I couldn’t wait for them to be over. (And I’ll probably regret writing this . . .)

People aren't as clever as they hope they are

“The sky is blue.” We’ve been giving our kids fake news since kindergarten, and why that’s a growing problem

“You’re sophomores now,” I told my new batch of high school students last week, “which means you’re realizing that there’s more going on than you used to think. For example, you’ve been lied to since kindergarten. Answer me this: what color is the sky?”

I’ve written about this debate in my first books, and carry the thread throughout the series, but I had never before asked it of my students. I watched to see what they did with this simple yet odd question. I was not disappointed.

A few shouted, “It’s blue!” because on the second day of school you’re still trying to impress the teacher.

A few squinted, dubious as to what the right answer was, seeing as how I’d spent the last five minutes explaining how we’d be learning to analyze and see “the bottom part of the iceberg.”

(I drew terrible pictures of icebergs on my board. The students asked, “Is that a potato floating in the ocean?” Yeah—see the “whole potato,” my friends.)


(Imagine if icebergs were potatoes. “Titanic” would have been a very different movie.)

But in each class, a couple students glanced out the window before answering, “White and pale blue.” (It was a humid, muggy day because Maine has been thinking it’s Maryland all summer.)

I replied nothing for a few seconds, watching them process, think, and squirm in worry that I was just standing there, smiling slyly, until I finally I said, “That’s exactly what I was hoping you’d say!”

“What?” they exclaimed. “That it’s blue? Or white? Or . . .” And then more started looking out the window, as if I’d seen something they hadn’t noticed and maybe they should notice it, too.

I could barely contain my excitement—they were re-examining what they assumed was true. I love these moments when their neurons start firing!

Some kids had initially sniggered at those glancing out the window, likely thinking, So dumb—have to look out the window when everyone knows the sky is blue.

Some others had that twinkle in their eye that they were going to show me up by not giving me the standard, “Blue!” answer, which I pounced upon happily.

“So is the sky actually blue?” I pressed.

They glanced at their peers, now unsure.

“It’s only looks blue,” one 15-year-old remembered, albeit backwards, “because it’s reflecting the blue of the ocean.”

“Except,” I said, “I grew up in the deserts in the west, and the sky was very blue there.”

Rapid eye-blinking is a sign that new neurons are being created in students’ minds. That’s a fact I just made up, like the sky is blue.

Eventually I explained how the blue is merely an optical illusion and asked them what other colors the sky can be.

When they realized it can be every color, especially at night (black) and during sunsets (even green and purple) they looked simultaneously intrigued and disturbed by this “new old news”.

And when I told them the sky is different colors on other planets (and that the sun isn’t actually yellow but white, if they could steal a glance at it without hurting their eyes), a few students’ eyes bugged out (a sure sign that neurons are firing—it’s a scientific fact I also just made up).

mars skyMars, 1997, with no blue sky in sight.

Blue sky is fake news. Oh, we didn’t mean to set out feeding our kids lies when they’re little–we’re just trying to simplify their complex world, cover the essentials, and worry about the deeper details later. That’s not a problem.

Except if we neglect to later dig deeper, think harder; then we become lazy thinkers. We don’t want to analyze, to see if everything we’ve assumed is actually true, because it’s not fun or entertaining. (Ask high schoolers what makes a “good class” and they’ll answer with, “It’s fun,” “We don’t have to work hard,” “We play games and watch movies,” or “We can get away with anything.”)

We want entertainment, not enlightenment. 

That’s going to be a problem in the future, as it’s becoming a problem right now. It seems most adults won’t analyze the news, its sources, or its veracity. They’ll take whatever matches their present assumptions, rant on social media for a minute, feel they’ve done something good, then see what’s new on Netflix.

In the meantime, nothing improves, no one notices, and the sky continues to darken without anyone glancing at it to say, “I don’t think that’s a good sign . . .”

color of the sky

Rector Yung studied him. “Dormin, what color is the sky?”

“Blue,” he answered automatically. He didn’t even glance out the window at the blazing orange that leaked into the room, tingeing everything around them in a carroty hue. “Everyone knows that.”

~Book 1, The Forest at the Edge of the World