Category Archives: INSPIRATION


Set-Up: Like many new parents, my wife/I went through endless lists of possible names for our first child. Our goals at the time were pretty simple:

  • Retro/classic but with a ‘modern’ twist (“Beckett” seemed to fit that mark)
  • Not typical, or at least not expected by most people who’ve heard a lot of baby names
  • Had good/solid nickname possibilities over time (aka “Bex” or “Becks” thus far)
  • No obviously ‘bad’ playground nicknames
  • Fit well with “Long” as a last name

Ultimately we stumbled upon ‘authors’ names one afternoon while driving around Fort Worth, hence the choice to take Samuel Beckett‘s (author of Waiting for Godot) last name as our son’s first (although Mr. Long will often claim that his lifelong love of the Boston Red Sox was the real reason; just don’t tell his wife).

Challenge: With a new kid soon to arrive in our home this coming March, we’re beginning to toss around various possibilities for her/his name. We won’t know the gender for 2 more weeks, so we’re still pretty wide open to suggestions.

  • Offer a literary name — author, character, location, concept, title — that you think would be an interesting boy’s or girl’s name for my wife/me to name our next child.
  • Make sure that it fits the criteria mentioned above (nicknames, retro/modern, etc).
  • Explain why you think it would work, including anything cool trivia-wise about that literary connection.

Length: 5+ sentence



Set-Up: There is an expression — “6 degrees of separation” — that suggests how connected we individuals are as collective humanity, no matter how big a world it may be. In short, it means that:

if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is an average of six “steps” away from each person on Earth.

Playing off of this concept, we’re going to play a weekly game called “6 Degrees of Separation” where we are given 2 topics (that seem to have nothing in common) which we must figure out a creative way to connect. The trick is that we have to use a logical set of connections to show how the 2 items are related in “6 steps”. Additionally, we will also offer a bit of trivia about each new step to showcase our knowledge and imagination.

Example: Let’s take 2 random topics — Ancient Egypt and “Lord of the Flies” — and figure out how to connect them in “6 steps” with some added trivia to show our knowledge:

Step 1: When someone in America thinks of ancient Egypt (1), he/she can’t help but think of legendary pharaohs given that everything one can easily think of from that period of Egypt’s history — from golden statues to the Great Pyramids — are remnants of these god-like leaders. It’s particularly interesting that pharaohs were often buried with everything they owned, gifts for them for the afterlife, and even their living servants.

Step 2: The most famous pharaoh (2) that I can think of is King Tut (1) which was one of my favorite stories growing up. Even though the amazing amount of gold discovered and the identity of the “boy king” were supposed to be the important parts of the story, this wasn’t what captured my attention at first. As a young kid, I actually daydreamed a lot about the idea of a curse placed on all of the people involved in finding the original tomb, especially given that the spirit of the pharaoh may have been angry that they disturbed his eternal slumber. This led me to study a range of curses and superstitions when I was in elementary school.

Step 3: King Tut’s (2) exhibit just arrived in Dallas (3) — as a major art exhibit called “King Tut and the Golden Age of Pharoahs” being held at the Dallas Museum of Art — for several months. Hundreds of thousands of people (paying up to $32/ticket) are expected to attend the show, including some of our own art and archeology students who will go there on an upcoming fieldtrip.

Step 4: On Elm Street in Dallas (3), specifically near the Texas School Book Depository (4), was the location of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

Step 5: The Texas School Book Depository (4) was “a multi-floor warehouse for the storage of school textbooks and related materials” (according to Wikipedia) that shut down in 1970 when the business moved out. It was also in the year 1970 that the American Library Association awarded the first Coretta Scott King Award was given to African-American writers/illustrators who focused on the creation of books specifically for children and young people (5).

Step 6: One of the most famous school books ever taught in the United States, Lord of the Flies (6), appears to be about children and young people (5). Clearly, however, it is not “just a book about kids on an island”. Golding’s book was ranked by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English language books published since 1923 (and was also ranked by the American Library Association as one of the most “challenged” books between 1990-2000.)

Challenge: Using these 2 random items, connect them in “6 steps”:

  • the epic poem, Beowulf
  • the star, Hannah Montana

Length: Varies


Set-Up: Author Dorothy Parker once quipped:

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Challenge: React to this quotation.

Think of your life, both in the classroom and in the real world.

  • Where do you become profoundly curious?
  • Where do you find that you can’t shut your brain ‘off’ when your imagination takes over?
  • Is this something that teenagers still do, or is curiosity just child’s play?

Length: 7+ sentences


Set-Up: During our “Last Friday” advisory meetings this week, we finally had a chance to consider the summer reading:  Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Challenge: I’m curious about what you see as valuable/useful about Carnegie’s ideas and examples.

  • Pick at least 1 idea from the text.
  • Explain how it may be relevant to your current and future life.

Length: 5+ sentences.

Note: For anyone in Mr. Long’s advisory, feel free to comment on the Skype video chat we had Friday morning with Megan Hustad, the author of How to Be Useful:  A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work.  I’d love to hear what you thought before the weekend is over.

BTW: I’m hoping to ‘bring’ her to class in the coming weeks to talk about the writing/editing process, so your responses might give the rest of my 10th graders a hint of what she’s about and why it was worth talking with her today.  Oh, and here’s the link to her blog, in case you’re curious (wink, wink; nudge, nudge).


Set-Up: If I’m doing the math correctly, most of you were about about ready to enter Kindergarten or 1st grade in 1998.

This was the year — summer, actually — when the then-Cubs player Sammy Sosa and the then-Cardinals player Mark McGwire dueled it out all season to break the seemingly-unbreakable Major League Baseball single-season home run record.

To baseball fans, this was a big, big, big, big deal. To non-baseball fans, this became a big, big, big, big deal. It was about home runs. Bigger than that, it was about one of the oldest ‘records’ in our culture on the verge of being broken…and everybody was drawn in. Even bigger than that, it was a classic tale of 2 ‘heroes’ facing off.

Game after game after game as the entire country watched. Held their breath. Leaned forward. Wondered. Wondered. Wondered. Cheered…

…until something unthinkable happened after the record was broken.


  • Read the following article — “Mark McGwire’s Summer of Love” — about that season, about that record, about those ‘heroes’, about what came next.
  • Share with us what you noticed about the discussion of ‘heroes’ in this article.
  • Suggest what this says about our need — as a culture — for heroes and what happens when our heroes let us down.
  • Optional: suggest what you think this might have to do with our discussions the rest of the year in terms of heroes and audiences — good, bad, and mysterious.

Length: 5+ sentences


Set-Up: Ever heard of Ben Dunlap?

Well, Mr. Dunlap — the President of Woffard College — tells the story of Sandor Teszler, a Hungarian man he met at Wofford College years ago, a man who has much to teach all of us about justice…and what it truly means to be a lifelong learner.

If you have 20 minutes, watch this video. What is it about?

Well, I’m going to let you discover that out on your own.


  • Watch the video. You’ll need about 20 minutes.
  • Share your reaction to the story of Sandor Teszler.

Length: 5+ sentences

Additional: Want to learn more about other speakers — like Mr. Dunlap — who speak every year at the world famous TED Conference held in California each early spring? Try this link. I think you’ll find some amazing voices, stories, and ideas, many that you may never be able to forget once you see/hear them.

My only request?

If you find another TED video that you love, share it with me. Thanks!