I haven’t seen you in a few years, Paul! Where have you been?
After teaching with Math for Love from 2012-2015 and then with the Robinson Center at UW from 2015-2018, I took a one year sabbatical to dive deeply into learning Spanish and learning music.
- Fall 2018: I lived in Oaxaca for 6 weeks, including a full month leading up to Dia de Muertos, and then started making my way toward Puerto Vallarta. On the way, I spent two weeks in Mexico City, two weeks in Tepoztlán, one week in Guanajuato, one week in Morelia, one week in Guadalajara, and two weeks in San Pancho.
- Winter 2019: I “visited” Seattle for a month and then took a Mom-and-Son trip to Guadalajara for a week. When Mom went home, I flew to Guatemala to return to Lago Atitlán, a favorite destination from the first time I visited Guatemala. I spent two months living in a town called San Pedro before my craving for Mexican food took hold.
- Spring 2019: I lived in San Cristóbal de las Casa in Chiapas for a month and then made one last stop in a fascinating town called Paracho to buy a couple guitars.
I landed back in Seattle in the summer of 2019, and taught math to the 4th and 5th graders at Seattle Country Day School for the 2019-2020 school year.
Wow! That was a long sabbatical! What did you do with all that time?
I treated that time as an opportunity to dive head first into some ambitious learning with respect to Spanish and music. After never really feeling much draw toward learning to play music for the first 28 years of my life, I picked up a sudden itch to step onto a musical path in early 2018. I started my journey on my roommate’s keyboard, but when I got to Oaxaca, I bought my first guitar and hit the ground running. I followed the lessons and practice advice from www.justinguitar.com, and I practiced until my fingers hurt. I found a guitar teacher in just about every town, and I carried my guitar just about everywhere I went. And when I wasn’t playing guitar, I was either practicing Spanish or reading books about the intersection between play, practice, habits, and pedagogy with respect to endeavors like music, language, and mathematics.
What did you take away from all of that?
Aside from the concrete growth as a Spanish speaker and a guitarist, I was really grateful to be able to lean in to the role of the Novice so intensely in my practice and through my reading. Feeling incompetent at a skill and struggling to improve is an emotionally taxing marathon, and stepping into that marathon so immersively was incredibly valuable for me in terms of my personal and professional development. Walking away from that sabbatical, I feel much more attuned to the subtle art of making my practice feel like play and making my play function like practice.
What have you been up to during the pandemic?
I’ve been working privately with a few families over the course of the pandemic, but these day camps are my first foray into group instruction in almost two years. I’m so excited to see a room full of students having fun with math together!
I’ve been continuing to nurture my passion for playing music, and I’ve picked up a passion for gardening. In terms of music, I’ve picked up a violin, a drum kit, and a few other toys, but I’m still mostly playing guitar and keyboard. I put out a very amateur album on Soundcloud, and as my social world has opened back up, I’ve been enjoying collaborating on music with a number of friends.
My journey into gardening is just beginning, but the spark has been ignited, and I’m diving in hard. I spent a few months of 2020 in Reno with my mom in my childhood home, and I converted about 600 square feet of lawn into a drip-irrigated perennial garden of flowers, leeks, garlic, berries, potatoes, and more. I’m living with close friends on a half-acre lot in Kent, and we’re trying to grow as much food on the property as we can. In my garden in Reno and in Kent, we’re practicing No-Till, Deep Mulch gardening, prioritizing top-soil production and perennial polycultures.