In an earlier post, I shared my metaphor of the “people mover,” the moving walkways often found in airports. They require no effort from the pedestrian and, once on, must be ridden to their intermittent ends. My point was that, as we entered adulthood, most of us either chose to ride the people mover of a conventional lifestyle, or we allowed ourselves to be steered onto it by adult influencers, who, coupled with societal expectations, formed a powerful force for conformity.
In my teaching career, however, I have been blessed to encounter a few students who flat out refused to ride that conveyor belt of conventionality. Instead, to paraphrase Thoreau, they consciously chose – often against the advice and wishes of those closest to them – to live a life of their own imagining, to take Frost’s “road less traveled,” or to completely blaze a trail of their own devising in the pursuit of their passion for the arts, adventure, or altruism and, in some cases, all of the above.
In this and the post to follow, I’d like to introduce you to four of these renegades: Ben Fox, Alex Moore, Ian Chandler, and Kassie Finneran. They are all former students of mine at Port Clinton High School, whom I sometimes envy and admire always. Even as teenagers, each of them had a sparkle in their eyes that communicated, “I’m too big for this town,” and a belief that “there’s gotta be something more.” Each of them were above average students with magnetic personalities who could have quite easily crushed the traditional academic path and/or graduated into careers that provided high status and income. Each of them possessed kind and gentle souls. None of them gave a damn about “fitting in.”
As adults, each of them have pursued Kerouacian, peripatetic lives – traveling from place to place, working or based in various places for relatively short periods. Each of them have accrued a tycoon’s wealth in lived experiences, and each possesses a proclivity for the arts. I loved them all as students, but obviously, I couldn’t share with them my admiration within the parameters of the teacher/student dynamic. Today, however, I can. I think you’ll love them too.
Music has taken Ben Fox (Class of 2000) all over the world and has exposed him to what he describes as “incredible situations,” including “standing next to David Bowie while watching Busta Rhymes perform . . . spending a week at Sound City Studios in LA and living in Julia Roberts’ mansion . . . celebrating my 21st birthday backstage with a ‘little band’ called Coldplay . . . and playing a sold out show in London to 1,000 people.”
Ben admits that there have been many “bends” in his personal road less traveled, including dropping out of college, living with parental disappointment and worry, having to hold a string of menial jobs that still left him with “shit finances,” and occasional bouts with loneliness.
The pursuit of his dreams allowed Ben to see much of the U.S. and to travel the world. He has lived in various Ohio cities, Detroit, New York City, Atlanta, and Nashville. Not long ago, Ben moved to the West of Ireland to be near to his wife’s family. Although he now has a day job in social care, working with autistic adults, he still makes music with his longtime friend and PCHS classmate Gordon Cooper as the duo Irish Lights (one of my personal favorites for ambient music). I’d encourage you to give them a listen on Spotify or wherever you stream your music and to check out their web page below.
In Ben’s own words regarding his renegade choice, “All I can truly say is that when it’s all said and done and my wife turns the light out at night, I don’t wonder about anything that could have been. I’m still doing it every day, and I believe the best things are yet to come. Someone once told me that ‘it’s the wondering that kills.’ I never have that problem.” In addition, Ben adds that, a few years ago, his parents shared that they were really proud of him. He calls it “a high point in my life to say the least.”
As the Gaelic proverb says, An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach or “He who travels has stories to tell.” Truly, Ben already has a lifetime’s worth of stories to tell with more yet to come. Travel safe, my brother, along the backstreets of free thinking, self-direction, and resistance to the status quo and in pursuit of the elusive life well-lived.
Alex Moore (Class of 2007) graduated from Hofstra University in NYC with a major in Global Studies and minors in Dance and Photography. Her LinkedIn page identifies her as an Educational Facilitator and as an expert (my word) in Holistic Body Care. Alex’s litany of work experiences include but are not limited to (hold on to your hat) tango instructor; Thai massage practitioner; yoga facilitator; co-op organizer for the Boston Creative Collective, an organization which works to further the careers of local artists; elementary school teacher; and a teaching artist and programming manager for Ballroom Basix, a nonprofit organization specializing in “non-competitive, arts-in-education and bringing the etiquette & education of partner dancing experience to school children across all 5 boroughs of NYC.”
Alex’s current primary occupation is serving as a trip leader for various organizations sponsoring worldwide student travel, which also serves the purpose of feeding her desire to experience new places. In addition to her diverse work experiences, she has also volunteered her time extensively. In fact, she is currently in Hawaii, volunteering for a couple of weeks in an ecovillage, which is a community that attempts to live with as minimal of an environmental impact as possible. That is the most “Alex” thing I can imagine.
Ian Chandler (Class of 2013) is Port Clinton’s version of Christopher McCandless from the John Krakauer book Into the Wild but without the tragic ending. Upon graduation from high school, Ian needed “to see more than a small town lifestyle;” therefore, after a less-than-gratifying attempt at college in Cleveland, he heeded the ever-resonant American call to go West and landed in Colorado for a year. After a brief sojourn back in Cleveland, where he worked as a bartender in popular downtown restaurants, the call of the wild beckoned, and like Huck Finn, Ian “lit out”: first for the mountains of Northern Maine, then to the canyons of Southern Utah in search of “a life of more freedom.”
Soon after, Ian purchased a motorhome, modernized the interior, and took a seasonal job near Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. While there, he trained in mountaineering, navigation, and weather reading before preparing for five months to scale a highly- technical rock climbing route to the summit of the Grand Teton, which he summited in August of 2019. After another move to Northern California and a less “workaholic environment,” Ian summited Mt. Shasta and landed a permit to climb Mt. Whitney, the tallest U.S. mountain outside of Alaska.
This past year, Ian returned to Southern Utah, where he works on a ranch taking care of livestock in exchange for free hookup for his motorhome. Throughout his travels and adventures, he has continued to work remotely on a degree in finance, which he will finish this May. Currently, he and his partner Devon are in the process of opening Kanab, Utah’s, first tattoo shop, where they “will be creating art for the locals and tourists.”
I like to think of Ian as my doppelganger/spiritual warrior: “someone who goes through life aggressively and purposefully, whether climbing mountains or wallowing through swamps. He takes the natural ups and downs in stride, and sees painful circumstances as challenges to work through, not as bad luck to lament” (Nine Ways to be a Spiritual Warrior).
As the Haitian proverb reminds us, “Beyond mountains, there are mountains.” In other words and as Ian’s life illustrates, there are always new challenges to seek and conquer. Stasis is akin to death, if not of the body then of the spirit. His living example reminds me that life, like mountaineering, isn’t about the end destination (the hoped-for afterlife or the mountain’s summit), it’s about the climb.
If you’re wondering about Kassie, I plan to devote an entire post to her in my next blog entry. Please, look for it in the very near future. You won’t be disappointed.
I often sign my books with the expression, “Always With Gratitude and Love.” It strikes me that this saying captures the essence of Ben’s, Alex’s, Ian’s, and Kassie’s general approach to living. In so doing, they inspire me to be better. If the greatest compliment a teacher can receive is to be surpassed by his/her students, I’m going to consider myself successful in my vocation, blessed, and lucky to have crossed paths with these beautiful souls. It is with gratitude and love that I want to thank them for proving to me that there are other options outside the confines of the people mover.
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