Writing

Signing Off

I decided this morning to shut down this website when the domain expires later this month.

Four years ago, I developed a personal website as an outlet. Unhappy personally and professionally, overweight, I was always angry or, at the very least, irritated. I wanted to shake things up. So I wrote about personal development and politics and economics and whatever else I was reading or thinking about.

It has been a rough stretch. Failed relationships and bitter political defeats and financial hardship. I’ve had to come to terms with a lot: mostly that, despite everything I believed, the fundamental laws of humanity do- in fact- apply to me.

I’ve had to forgive myself and others for our respective roles in breached personal and professional relationships. I’ve had to come to terms with the crippling student loan debt that, it turns out, gave me the freedom to do what I want to do professionally. I’ve had to learn to live alone, which I avoided like the plague for more than a decade.

Five months ago, I declared on this very website that I wasn’t interested in pursuing political office. It was true when I wrote it, just as it was true when I went through the motions of preparing a run for political office. My gut had always told me that I wasn’t prepared- personally, financially, spiritually- for such an undertaking. I was doing it for the wrong reasons, and was fortunate enough to find my exit ramp. My position papers are available for anyone who is interested because I have a unique insight into the local political system, with the caveat that I have been wrong as often as I have been right.

Blogging is a great format for quick hits designed to maximize the number of eyeballs on your website. It is no longer fulfilling, and one of my vows is to concentrate on only those things which fulfill me:

  • Spending quality time with people I care aboutunnamed-3
  • Dedicating an appropriate level of focus to a job that I love for a boss for whom I have a deep respectunnamed-1
  • Teaching bright and energetic UTSA College of Public Policy students20160929_kathrynboydbatstone_sasxeco-2
  • Serving on boards of nonprofits dedicated to public education and community engagement12524102_682124118597294_4396878881265881789_n
  • Writing has always been my greatest outlet, as those who receive my manic correspondence frequently can attest. I plan to continue writing. This weekend, I should wrap up my first draft of my first piece of long form fiction. I also plan to begin the dreadful process of developing an anthology of academic work. My great uncle served in various high profile foreign service posts under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. There is little to no scholarship about his service and papers, and I plan to change that.unnamed-2
  • Reading all the books I have been telling myself that I don’t have the time to read. I am making my way though the works of my favorite authors: Caro and Bukowski and Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Please pass along recommendations.unnamed
  • Hiking the City’s natural areas and the beautiful state parks throughout the Hill Country13076692_726565940819778_6750551584334756110_n
  • Running on the Howard Peak Greenway Trails and the Mission ReachFullSizeRender 3 copy
  • Exploring whatever back roads I feel like at any given moment in my Jeep (another unfortunate financial decision that had the effect of liberating my soul)12994389_723065647836474_1156063096038269300_n
  • Collecting art (impressionism and Fauvism) and records (blues and classic rock)unnamed

If anybody wants to visit, please let me know. Whatever your poison- hiking or coffee or bourbon and cigars- I am always looking for a good conversation.

As a final note, when I started this site I thought I was seeking power or prestige or physical attractiveness or money. But I was really just searching for gratitude, and I finally believe I am one of the luckiest people alive. Practicing gratitude has changed my life.

What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 25

The past six weeks have been a whirlwind, the kind of roller coaster one experiences only a handful of times in his or her life. I left my job, turned 30, finalized a divorce from my high school sweetheart, bought a new vehicle, and decided to live life on my own terms. The first four were circumstances or events. The last was a deliberate shift in perspective.

When you turn sixteen, you can’t wait to drive a car. When you turn twenty-one, you can’t12994389_723065647836474_1156063096038269300_n wait to drink all of the bottles- yes all of them- at the dive bar around the corner from your college apartment.

Right after I turned thirty, I thought a lot. Most of the thinking occurred on a stretch of desolate road in East Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, or Arkansas. Some of it occurred on county roads in the South Texas brush country. Some of it in the shower or at the gym.

I have avoided going through old photos for months for reasons that should be apparent.25th birthday But I finally did it. And I found a picture taken on my 25th birthday. The weekend of April 7, 2011 was pretty heavy. I remember sitting in my XXL-sized Hawaiian shirt, drinking beer and smoking cigars with friends, and thinking about all that I had to accomplish in the coming four months: pass 18 hours worth of law school finals, move to San Antonio, study for and pass the bar, and try to get a career off the ground. It was the toughest of times, or at least so I thought. But life has a way of throwing curve-balls, many of them self-inflicted. I couldn’t help but wonder- as I looked at that picture- what I would tell myself if I could go back in time for just a few moments.

This is what I came up with:

  1. Time is the most precious commodity.
  2. Be kind.
  3. Make friends who are not like you and embrace your differences.
  4. Trust your instincts.
  5. Set measurable and achievable goals, but don’t be afraid to shoot too high. The accomplishments aren’t rewarding, the journeys are.
  6. Recognition is worthless. Feeling and being worthy of recognition is priceless.13076692_726565940819778_6750551584334756110_n
  7. Heartbreak- in some form or fashion- is inevitable.
  8. If someone is kind to you, but rude to the bank teller or file clerk, he or she is not a kind person.
  9. You cannot control what the world throws at you, but you can control how you respond.
  10. You will not find happiness in escapism. Have seen too many promising lives ruined by trying to escape their problems in the bottom of a bottle of booze or prescription bills. It is better to confront problems head-on.
  11. Do not live to work. Work to live.
  12. Forgiveness feels better than revenge.
  13. It is never too late to get in shape.
  14. Nothing tastes as good as feeling thin feels.
  15. You can make money, find success, buy a big house, drive a nice car, and be a miserable person.
  16. Find habits, hobbies, and rituals that energize you.
  17. A carefully crafted public image cannot hide a rotting soul.
  18. People are doing the best they can, and we are all a work in progress.

Aristotle once said that “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.” I am a big believer that if we want to change outcomes, we need to change routines. It stands to reason then that if we want dramatically different outcomes, we need dramatically different routines.

 

Professionally, I have taken a job at a small boutique law firm working with small communities throughout South Texas. We are building public libraries and water infrastructure projects and the newspapers I read focus on science fairs and softball scores. My boss said it best: “we are helping real people with real issues.”

FullSizeRenderLately I have made a conscious effort to enjoy life more and experience new things. I am dating someone, and we are shaking things up together. We go for long hikes early on Sunday mornings, which I have found far preferable to a pounding head and puffy eyes. We take the new Jeep on adventures throughout the Texas Hill Country. We are even doing hot yoga.

She is a communications strategist at the City and a former political activist, so we still talk current events. But, for now, I would prefer a quiet hike along the South Llano River or binge-watching Breaking Bad with her over just about anything else.

It’s not a life I ever foresaw for myself, but sometimes you don’t know what you want until you have it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Declaration Project

For the past year, I have had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors for Democracy Cafe, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating “grassroots democracy” through conversations about current events, the U.S. Constitution, and philosophy.

The Declaration Project is in a Democracy Cafe initiative inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which states as a matter of moral principle:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

MyDeclaration gives everyone the opportunity to compose and post his or her own declaration, and for others to respond to it.

My declaration is entitled A Declaration of Liberty & Order. Here it is in its entirety:

The primary responsibility of a government is to provide for the common defense, maintain social order, promote liberty, provide for the equal treatment and protection under the law, and to ensure economic and social opportunity for its citizens. These rights extend to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or medical condition. Transparency and democratic accountability are the pillars that protect those fundamental rights, and every measure should be taken to strengthen those pillars.

The consolidation of decision-making power in the political and economic spheres will inevitably lead to tyranny by a ruling class that will become increasingly unaccountable. Institutions should be structured in such a way to disperse decision-making power to the extent feasible to maintain social order. The ultimate destiny of a culture will be dictated not by measures adopted by the government; but by evolving social norms that will ultimately influence the measures adopted by the government.

In matters of military and foreign affairs, decision-making power should be consolidated in such a manner to prevent cursory factionalism from usurping international order. This consolidated decision-making authority, however, must remain ultimately accountable to the citizens.

The Importance of Green Space

The following is a transcript of the remarks I prepared for this morning’s Constitution Cafe event about green space in American life at East Central High School:

I know that many of you- in your Social Studies classes- have learned about “Manifest 12524102_682124118597294_4396878881265881789_nDestiny.” At the founding of the American republic, our ancestors believed that it was America’s destiny to settle the entire continent- from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. At the time, our natural resources seemed inexhaustible.

But over 100 years later- after explorers settled the west and our economy underwent an Industrial Revolution- it was becoming more and more clear that a commitment to conservation would be necessary to protect not only our natural resources, but some of our national treasures.

By the time he took office at the beginning of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt was a committed conservationist. He wanted to leave pristine American land for posterity. So during his presidency, he protected more than 200 million acres of public land and dedicated or expanded six national parks.

In 1916- one hundred years ago this August- President Wilson created the National Park Service when he signed the National Park Service Organic Act.

I understand that a group of students was able to see the wonder of Big Bend National Park for the first time just last month. And there are many many other natural treasures I would encourage you to visit: from Shenandoah to Yellowstone to Yosemite to Redwood.

The National Park Service oversees 59 national parks, which will be preserved in their natural beauty forever. And I hope that each of you has the opportunity to enjoy one or more of them in the coming years.

I know that- at times- it seems like politicians can’t get much done. But protecting our green spaces is a priority for officeholders at all levels. And we are actually making a lot of progress.

The Let’s Move Outside campaign over at the U.S. Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring that all of our youth has an opportunity to play, learn, serve, and work outside. I know that there are some representatives from Let’s Move Outside here and hope each of you can get engaged with this worthy effort.

At the state level- just this past year- the Texas Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Bexar County State Rep. Lyle Larson that will increase funding at state parks.

And here locally there is a whole lot going on. Over the past decade, Bexar County, the San Antonio River Authority, and others came together and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Riverwalk’s reach for miles to the north and to the south. This year, the City of San Antonio is spending $100 million on its Parks and Recreation Department. And last May, San Antonio residents approved $80 million to expand our citywide trail system by dozens of miles.

Why are we doing this? What makes citizens and representatives at each level of government so eager to invest heavily in stewardship and our park infrastructure?

One reason could be to improve our quality of life. Who among us doesn’t feel more at peace emotionally, intellectually and spiritually when we are with nature? I am sure that the students who visited Big Bend know what I am talking about.

Another reason could be to improve our health. In the past four years, I have been fortunate to lose a significant amount of weight. I attribute this weight loss to the investment our community has made in the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails and Riverwalk expansion projects.

Mayor Taylor is committed to the SA2020 goal of San Antonio being one of the healthiest communities in the nation and it now leading “Walk with the Mayor” events as part of her Fit City SA initiative. My boss, Councilman Nirenberg, shares her commitment.

But aside from improving quality of life and public health, there seems to be something deeply ingrained in us as humans. Do we feel a connection to the land around us? Do we feel that we have a responsibility to leave the natural wonders around us pristine for the generations that follow?

And this leads to even more questions. What is the role of stewardship? What can young people do to get involved?

There are no right answers to these questions. And before we get started on our conversations, I want to close with President Roosevelt’s observation that our “great central task” is leaving this land even better for our descendants than it is for us.”

 

UTSA Civic Engagement Summit

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the  UTSA Civic Engagement Summit, hosted by the UTSA Center for Civic Engagement. My speech was entitled “Building a Culture of Engagement in Public Schools.” Below are my prepared remarks:

Thomas Jefferson said that every citizen has a responsibility to be a “participator in the government of affairs.” This Civic_engagement_summit_flyer_2015participation necessarily requires what he called a “more general diffusion of knowledge.”

The debate about public education has become one about workforce development. While this must be a vital component of our public education system, we need to remember that the public education system in America was originally seen as necessary for the survival of the republic- a recognition that the republic can only be governed by well-informed citizens who engage in debates about public affairs.

I don’t know about you, but my recollection of discussing current events in high school includes one of two scenarios: 1) a sleepy-eyed recitation of the Preamble of the Constitution; or, 2) a teacher telling one student that she is anti-gun control and another that he is pro gun-control and making them contrive a debate on the subject. A version of this scene is playing out at every public school I have walked into: rural and urban, privileged and underserved.

Our understanding of the nation’s history and the philosophical underpinnings of our great debates must be informed by something better than distilling controversial issues into lists of pros and cons or mind-numbing memorization.

To say the least, we are falling short of Thomas Jefferson’s vision.

Students are leaving school soured on exploration and civil discourse. And then they see institutional failure everywhere:

They see Enron and 9/11 and the financial crisis and government shutdowns.

They see crippling student loan debt with bleak job opportunities.

They see their parents and neighbors who are police officers and firefighters mired in a prolonged stalemate with the City in the collective bargaining process.

They see a hyper-partisan media culture that rewards horrific remarks about menstrual cycles over serious public debates about nuclear treaties with Iran.

There is a gentleman I know who thinks there is a better way. Dr. Christopher Phillips is a fellow at Harvard University and the National Constitution Center. And he had a great idea.

He said that debate can lead to discovery if a diverse group of people come together to explore current events, constitutional controversies, and philosophical questions only if the discussion unfolds in a civilized and respectful way.

He formed a nonprofit called Democracy Café to fulfill this mission, which I have had the pleasure of serving on the Board of Directors for some time now.

Today, you can go to public libraries or coffee shops in Oakland or Milwaukee or Newark, and you can find groups of people participating in what he calls “Constitution Cafes.”

The concept behind Constitution Café is relatively simple: there is a facilitator who prompts discussion about a constitutional issue- say, the War Powers Act. Small groups discuss those issues for 30 minutes. And after the small groups have their conversations, they report out to the larger group in a discussion moderated by the facilitator.

I know when I first heard about it, I thought, “what group of nerds does this on a Friday night?”

It turns out that Dr. Phillips understands Jefferson’s vision quite well. And so does a brilliant and innovative educator named Patti Reyes.

Patti Reyes is a coordinator for curriculum and instruction at East Central Independent School District. Now, East Central is a mostly rural district here in Bexar County.

She saw that Constitution Café could be a way to get students jazzed about the issues they were learning about in school.

So she started hosting Constitution Cafes in the mornings at East Central High School. And dozens of students would arrive. They would talk about the implications of privacy on social media. They would talk about free speech. These are issues that are esoteric in a textbook but come alive when they are described.

It started out in the mornings before school. But the demand grew and more students wanted to participate. East Central ISD Superintendent Roland Toscano and East Central High School Principal Shane McKay saw that they could integrate this programming with the school day.

The Constitution Cafes became part of the school day, so that reduced-price lunch students and those that rode the bus could participate.

The students are hungry to be engaged, and there are long waiting lists.

The last Constitution Café, which I had the pleasure of attending had more than 320 students attend. We discussed the Affordable Care Act. And the students visibly came alive at the knowledge that we cared what they had to say.

There have been some preliminary findings at East Central: students who participate in Constitution Café are more likely to go to college and they are more likely to be ready for college.

But the most important finding from a civic engagement standpoint it qualitative- and that is that the students who participate in these Constitution Cafes don’t regurgitate what they have heard on Fox News or MSNBC when they discuss current events. They think about public policy and they think about it critically.

This paradigm shift has long-term consequences.

My boss is Councilman Ron Nirenberg and civic engagement is his passion. In fact, at this very summit, he called for moving municipal elections from May until November to increase participation. He spent almost a decade working at the Annenberg Public Policy Center engaging students on a wide range of issues and they would study the long-term effect.

The findings were clear: two semesters of engagement in schools yielded higher participation four years out and eight years out.

Our public school systems should be positioning students to compete in an increasingly globalized and digital economy. But we should never forget that we cannot have a truly democratic society without a focus on civic literacy.