On Solid Ground

This is going to sound weird, but bear with me a moment. See this sunrise? I took this photo from my campsite in my hometown of Mesick, Michigan. It’s a tiny town up by Traverse City and Cadillac, near the stomping grounds of a young Ernest Hemingway. Every so often, I go up to Mesick for a few days to get my bearings and recharge my brain. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. My visits there remind me of where I come from, and provide important contrast to where I am and where I’m headed. There’s a sweatshirt hanging in the campground’s gift shop that reads, “I don’t need therapy. I’m just need to go camping.” That’s true for me.

This is my camping chair. It’s an oversized director’s chair, made to hold up to 350 pounds (I’m not there yet), and it’s the best chair I have ever owned.  I sit in this chair in the hallway on duty, and I sit it when I’m talking to my classes. It’s almost like we’re just sitting around the campfire, telling stories. You see, I’m a big guy, now just a shade under 6′ 4″, and the unfortunate truth is that I have an intimidating persona and a pretty consistent scowl on my face. Darn wrinkles! But when I sit in my camping chair, my students are less intimidated, and they relate better to me. I only recently discovered this intimidation factor three years ago. It has made a world of difference. But the secret of the camping chair is not just the eye-level adjustment that helps with rapport. It’s that I am literally sitting at my campsite when I’m in it. I took the caps off the bottom of the chair while I was camping and picked up some of my old hometown inside.  So now, when I sit in my camping chair, no matter where I am, I have a physical connection to the land where I was raised.

Weird? Maybe. But when you’ve been teaching 30 years, you’ll take sustenance wherever you can find it, even if it’s from a cheap psychological trick like this. You just have figure out what works for you.