The Continuing Appeal of Hard Work

AeropressI’m working on a project. Without going into detail, I’ve been working hard, and exercising disparate skills – design, storytelling, fundraising – at the same time.

I have no idea how successful I’ll be. But, if nothing else, it’s really, really interesting. I recently got back from a two-week honeymoon in Japan (hi, Christy!) and the trip illuminated what’s made this whole process so engrossing.

Hard work is inherently fascinating. Whether it’s cabinetmaking or digging ditches or scribbling equations on a blackboard, when you see someone exerting themselves, you can’t help but feel engaged. Just look at the barista above putting his entire weight behind the AeroPress coffee maker! The drink tasted better than any push-button coffee from Starbucks ever could.

It’s like the difference between reading fiction and non-fiction. As Tom Wolfe once said, the power of non-fiction is that “the reader knows all this actually happened.

There’s a similar kind of freight conferred upon an act when you see that it is difficult. Right now I’m enjoying my hard work at this project. I hope that that hard work remains visible to others when this project is unveiled!

I Just Got This Package from India


Through the magic of global capitalism, I just received this book from New Delhi. (54 Rani Jhansi Road)

I know our lives depend on reliable access to international goods. But man, doesn’t the hand-tied string kill it?

Best Book Review Ever

I got this in the email last week and I’m still blushing:

“I teach GED to adults in Virginia and I am taking an online course on teaching adults and another student posted the link to your site in the discussion area. I have to tell you, I am currently finishing up a master’s level adult ed certification and I have read tons of theory and abstractness that really didn’t ‘say’ much to me. Your book is full of real stuff!

- Sherrie H.


Quick Review: “An Ethic of Excellence” by Ron Berger

An Ethic of Excellent: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, by Ron Berger, Heinemann (2003)

Living in a town so small “even other people in the state have never heard of it,” Ron Berger and his five fellow elementary school teachers created an entire school culture that cultivated excellence. From kindergarten, children promote to the next grade by presenting a portfolio of their work over the year to a panel of teachers and townspeople.

While the focus is on children, the ideas around building a culture of excellence apply just as much to adults. And it’s a wonderful, short read. Another magic find from the Strand bookstore in NYC.

I did a rad workshop with Morgan

imageLast Saturday I co-facilitated a fantastic workshop with my newest friend, Morgan. Although Facebook says we have 500 people in common, we first met at my book talk in February. Since then she probably read my book more closely than I have. (see photo; she literally ran out of green flags and had to switch to yellow ones)

Morgan is member of a collective bike kitchen in East Oakland. In that capacity she helped plan the Bici Bici gathering of radical bike mechanics at Spokeland, itself a radical bike space in Oakland. Morgan arranged for us to teach a workshop on “Effective Teaching,” to improve the quality of instruction at bike shops.

Together we planned a workshop that focused on the discomfort zone & emotional leadership; teaching in different ways; and having a strong finish. To make a long story short, folks from around the state came to the workshop. We had an engaging and enlightening talk on all three subjects.

My favorite checkout is to ask participants what they found most useful from the workshop. One of the answers that surprised me was hearing how relieved people were to learn that teachers often teach a certain way because that’s how they learn best – not because they consciously chose the technique they thought would be most effective. (Imagine a bike mechanic who learned how to fix bikes by having someone model what to do for him, and now he teaches everyone by physically showing them what to do.) I think they found it reassuring to know that when these folks used teaching techniques that didn’t work for them it was simply due to that limitation. No one had shown them how to teach someone with videos from the internet, or an illustrated how-to book, or by having people repeat the correct steps over and over again…

Morgan was pretty much the best possible co-pilot for this workshop. I got to introduce specific sections with a vague platitude (the discomfort zone is important) and then Morgan would use an actual experience she’s had in the shop to illustrate it for the participants. It was great.

I’d love to do another workshop with Morgan, but she probably doesn’t need my help. But let me know if you want to organize a training for me to come to! I make a pretty good co-pilot, too =)

Sara Bought the Book!


And she’ll let her colleagues from Lindenwood borrow it when she’s done.

Rebecca Bought a Book!


It’s going to the teacher resource room at her English language school in Panama!


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