Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I'm reading the students' papers. It's finals week. Finals! Their critical anaylsis essays require the use of Smoke Signals, a fantastic little film about Indians, fathers, guilt, secrets, journey, and transformation. Then they had to find a second source on their own.

My little doe-eyed, home-schooled senior chose The Scarlet Letter. Here's some wisdom from Nathaniel Hawthorne:

"Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst my be inferred!"

Sunday, November 07, 2004

reframing the debate

Jeff forwarded me an article from The Texas Observer (November 5, 2004) called, "Frame Wars." Here are some excerpts from that article (also linked above), and my thoughts that follow.


The basic building blocks of political communication are "frames" (as Lakoff calls them) or "context" (to use Luntz's word) . . .

The most important resource that politicians have. . . is the ways in which people understand the world. Their values. Their worldviews. (Lakoff adds to this: their brains.) If you tap into those values, inform them, tweak them, focus and reflect those values back at an electorate—that’s the way to win power . . .

As long as liberals and progressives insist that having the facts on their side is all that matters, they are doomed to impotence. The next move for the left in the frame war is to accept that it’s okay to cherry-pick reality as long as it conforms to a frame that’s morally acceptable. According to Lakoff, we already do it every day . . .

How can progressives respond? They have to figure out what they believe and then put words to it. “When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas,” Lakoff writes in Don’t Think of an Elephant. “Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily.” The frames for progressives to use to counter the “ownership society” will probably reflect how they value fairness, accountability, and opportunity. What words and images they use won’t mention those values explicitly; they’ll evoke them, and make them seem like the only values worth having . . .


People want to recognize themselves in their leaders, and through frames, leaders can reflect the public's values back at them. What's interesting is that Conservatives have been communicating in frames for decades. The article refers to "The Cold War" and "The War on Terror"--"war" being a word that evokes moral triumph, sacrifice, and honor. It's important to note that people don't want conflicting views reflected. Confusion isn't a good selling point. Apparently that's why "The War on Terror" was so much more effective in garnering support than "terrorism being a nuisance" (Kerry's stated goal for the direction of the war). What does that mean anyway--a nuisance? The article suggests it opens up the debate to all the complexities, but leaves them unexplained. The key lies in keeping frames simple so that fewer people can reject them.

That's probably why "and God bless America" is such a popular closing. Evokes those values, and who can criticize a blessing, really. You can try, but you won't win. That's the point.

I buy Lakoff and Luntz's claim one-hundred percent. I'm one of those people for whom it's perfectly okay to walk into all multiplicities of meaning. It's invigorating because that's where the mental work takes place. But like the rest of the world, I want to find the heart of what matters. If I come out empty-handed, I too feel impotent.

I've also found that when trying to talk about some personal issue, being able to say it in one line is always better than writing a treatise. Folksy can be the wisest way sometimes, but intellectuals miss that.

The most worthwhile bit of Lakoff's advice is this: "[We] have to figure out what we believe and then put words to it. 'When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas.'" Dems are certainly not as at-ease with this because we don't like to define for everyone. We don't like to generalize and stereotype. I just had a little eighteen year old in one of my classes (who claims there is nothing wrong with pornography--can you say left wing?) drop her jaw when I had the class break down the ethnicity of a magazine's readership the other day--as if there's injustice inherent within grouping individuals. We're certainly flawed. We get carried away. But that's off-track.

What are our values? And it's not "tax and spend." What is it that we believe? I heard it when Barak Obama spoke, "We are The United States of America." I hear it in M.L.K's artistry: "We shall overcome . . . Let freedom ring." J.F.K. set us straight too, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Every one of us fits within these phrases. We can get behind them. We've got to be uniters, not dividers. Conservatives are simply better at this.

Collective responsibility, people, it's my new frame. I want to use the church's goals as my own, because they are my own. The church takes care. The church is concerned about the welfare of those less fortunate. The church teaches us to be better. Those Evangelicals and Mormons don't have a brand on it. I want it too. "Democrats for Jesus." C'mon. (Yes, I like Muslims and Buddhists, and Agnostics, and Kabbalists too, but you're missing the point. That frame isn't ever going to win. It's too wordy. It's actually a perfect retort by Conservatives. See, the Democrats want to be all things to all people and don't even know who they are.)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

the election

Hello friends. You know, yesterday didn't go my way after all. It was painful to me on a personal level. I listened to some good music, CDs my brother had made for me, "The John Kerry Mix" and "The John Edwards Mix." He packed about twenty songs on each, some political, "What if We All Stopped Paying Taxes," by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, some emotional, "The Art Teacher," by Rufus Wainwright, the pure beauty of notes fat with longing. So I listened to these on my way to Willie Lee Gay Hall in the south part of town. When you step outside your car there you get a view across a pasture of Reliant Stadium and old AstroWorld rides. That view gives me peace for some reason. I'm in the country, but the city is near. I can breathe full breaths, but the pace is quick just over there.

At certain moments during the listening I teared up. The government, the people, it's all personal for me, as it is for many. It has hit me hard that the majority of folks only want Republicans--the House of Representatives, the Senate, the presidency, and from them comes forth more Rs in judicial seats. The margins aren't slim anymore. Republican agendas can pass without filibusters I heard someone say on CNN yesterday (referring to some specific bill that was blocked last time around). It makes me think of drilling in the arctic, of slowing scientific research, and of political decisions made to garner the economic well being not only of the first family, but of the president's "base," those in the money.

I care about the underdog. I don't believe in looking out for yourself pretty much most of the time, getting ahead, and protecting your own interests. I know a lot of people do. There's merit in self-sufficiency, certainly. But the interests of others shouldn't be neglected while you strive for success. Does that mean we should give to the poor? A complex ethical question, does giving to an individual in need create a dependency that ultimately causes more damage? On a societal level, though, it is a spirit of collective responsibility that we should be breeding rather than one of individual strength. When we are collectively tied and involved, we are well. When we divide with an "I've got to take care of mine" attitude, we are unwell.

To me, the distinction between being a Democrat or a Republican lies here--I am a Democrat because of my compassion for others. And yet, all of these conservative folks see Democrats as the ones who've lost their values, who want to damage the moral conscience of our society. This dichotomy in perception troubles me, especially after seeing a sea of red across a map of The United States painted on Rockefeller Center's ice yesterday.

I went to a Methodist church in Montrose a few weeks back. Those of you who know Houston may chuckle at what I found there, but I didn't have a clue before I went. The congregation was about 90% gay male. I've passed church signs lately that read, "All are welcome." And in my classes we've been talking (at my prompting) about whether or not it's okay to discriminate in certain circumstances, directing it at topical issues of gay marriage and adoptions by gay couples. Religion is a tricky thing. One of my students quoted a bible verse about man being inherently evil. And then Jesus is the ultimate example of peace and love and selflessness. So which is it? Are we evil or are we good?

It's not as simple as all that, but I do think we fall more to one side than the other. Is it wrong to be gay? Is it wrong to be Muslim? If you tell someone they are wrong for being who they are, then you eat away some of your own peace, which is what we are supposed to be striving for. I prefer the Jesus model over the vengeful God. Compassion isn't selective. It just is. My Democratic friends and I know this, but the rest of the country doesn't seem to. Goodwill, acceptance, taking care--these are my Democratic values. There's no danger here. Acceptance may be scary because you have to let go of control. Rigidity becomes fluid. Things happen, but it's okay. Change happens, but it's okay.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Being orange is no longer unexpected . . . It's the time of harvest, you know, rituals, "the transience of life" I read somewhere. The change of seasons makes me feel things continuing on. I miss being in the northeast this time of year, yellow leaves and stocking caps, wind. How come big cities always have more wind?

Ah, the mysteries of life. I do have another human interest story to share. This ones main character is Cliff. He's an eighteen year old kid, skinny with glasses and a grown-out crew cut with an ever-so-slight mullet in the back. Cliff was a varsity basketball manager in high school. He loves the game, but is only five-five. He's prone to negativity--a dozen "I can't do this(es)," a dozen in-class writing sessions where he sits looking around the room as if no one ever said go.

At first I thought I needed to break him. But I don't. He only needs gentle bending. We met the other morning so that I could tutor him on his opinion paper. Cliff's sentences can stretch anywhere from a typical five lines all the way down the page. We worked on this, and also on defining his ideas. He listened to me. I get very little negativty anymore. Quite often I'll ask him and the other students how their other classes are going. When our session was done he and I chatted about this. Cliff is failing remedial math and biology (badly). He told me all he wants is a 2.0, explaining that if he doesn't make it, his academic freedom will be taken away. Advisors will select and limit his classes. In explaining some of his positions on why foreigners should learn English and adapt once they get here, Cliff told me he can't even get hired at a video store. He feels that maybe the reason is that he's not bilingual. Maybe other applicants are, and have one up on him. Cliff feels limited; he feels his freedoms are tenuous.

I wonder. We're working on his sentence mechanics. We're going to get them better for certain by Christmas. It'll give him something to go on. Community College. A good day that one was.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

It is the responsibility of writers to listen to gossip and pass it on. It is the way all storytellers learn about life. (Grace Paley)


If there's anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people's stories, listening to them and cherishing them. (Mary Pellauer)


I have no stories today. Come again another day. But I do have six invites to gmail. Does anyone want one?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Girls cry; boys bounce their legs up and down in a nervous twitch

When there's something you don't yet understand, but must face a scantron test on it or well-written paper for a grade, it can indeed cause you to cry.

When I think back on my freshman year, the first in the dorm with my pink and blue floral comforter, raffia door bow and dry erase monogrammed message board, I think of the sage advice my mother once gave me. It was midnight. I had a paper due the next morning, early. It was a mess. I had no idea how to fix it, I remember this. She told me to go down the hall (to the community bathroom) and take a hot shower. She said, "I know you think you don't have time, but it'll relax you. You'll feel refreshed, and your head will clear."

I was distraught. I'm sure it was a final or something. I thought, "No time." And then I thought, "Okay. Shower." I just did what my momma told me, and you know what? She was right.

So today I held conferences with the freshmen. Their papers are these "I did this, and then I did this, and then this happened" kind of things. They are worth little in their current state, but worth plenty in the schema of stages of development. However, the freshmen don't know this. The freshmen think, "She doesn't like my paper. I have to rewrite the whole paper. "

So I called them up one-by-one to conference--a friendly chat. C'mon, don't suck your teeth at me. You know Ms. H is friendly if nothing else. Who's afraid of the big bad Ms. H? Jeremy. He twitched the whole time. He considers himself a reporter, a writer, folks. Therefore, he's nervous to confront the fact that he may not be good at his chosen profession. Becky, she's my girl, bubbly, friendly, thoughtful, but not intellectual, just a regular jo, but there, really getting involved. Her paper was a mess. We talked. She seemed like she understood. But she went back to her seat and stewed, and then had to leave to have a meltdown. Next was my little home-schooled high school senior, looking at me doe-eyed. As I explained in depth new approaches and perspectives, her eyes reddened right up.

I asked her what it was, not missing a beat, and told her to just let it out and not worry a bit about me. "You'll feel better, believe me." She held onto it, wiping her eyes. All she would say was, "It's personal," mixed in with, "But I don't understand how to rewrite the paper."

Monday, September 27, 2004

Have any of you noticed a theme that's been popping up in blogging lately? Starts with an "f," ends with a "g" (if you're in Great Britain). It's that devil that never dies. Got a light?

There's something about academia and coffee shops that serve Pinot Noir and Chimay that make you want to toss out your lungs and take a nice, long drag. I've been trying to stave off the pangs with Oprah autoposies. Bet you didn't know she does those now. Organs dark and polka-dotted with tumors do help. But when your senses time travel, it becomes a teary battle.

I was sitting at my favorite spot tonight, at a table in a garden off Westheimer reading the freshmen's papers about drill team, trailers at the lake house, dances with daddy and the like. I pulled up the hair to stretch for a moment and looked across the street to find a convenience store. I stared at it. Bet they have Parlaiment Lights inside. Boxes of blue and white, their little scooped out filters like Louis Slugger bats in your mouth. The clean and crisp styrofoam filter, and smoke that lets you linger on the still night air.

I'm a gonner. Help a sistra out. I'm dreamy and steamy, a plain ol' low-down tar baby over here. Take me to a basement blues club, a trip-hop lounge, or a scottish pub on trivia night. (NO DON'T) Damn my people.
In 2003, the number of first-class letters declined by 3.3 billion. Sadness. But this week I received two letters and three homemade cd's in my mailbox. Can you believe it!

I have the best friends & family in the world. I must. Three cd's!

1. "The Art Teacher" by Rufus
2. "Truth #2" by Patty (acoustic version from KGSR recordings)
3. "Poor Man's House" by Patty (acoustic version from KGSR recordings)
4. Number 13 on the Garden State soundtrack (and number 12).

What can I say, I love the Patty. I'll have to change this list around after I do some more listening.

Make a cd for someone you love today. (it's like a chain-letter; don't break the chain)

Thank you thank you for small things.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"Because double binds are repressed, there is always an element of terror in them: the terror of bringing to the conscious mind the buried duplicity, self-deception, and pretense involved in serving two masters. This terror is the stuff of vulnerability, and since vulnerability is one of the least tolerable of all human feelings, we usually transform it into an emotion that seems to restore the control of which it has robbed us; most often, that emotion is anger."

Shelby Steele, English Prof, writer, race relations wrangler.
from On Being Black and Middle Class

Shelby is in conflict about his identity as a citizen, abiding by and believing in the virtues of the middle class (work ethic, education, property ownership, "getting ahead," accepting resposibility) and being black, whose racial identification, he says, urges blacks in the opposite direction--taking an adversarial stand toward the mainstream with an emphasis on ethnic consciousness over individualism--an implied separtism.

This is Steele's double bind. Isn't the purity of addressing such enormous inner identity conflicts as such relief in itself? I have a double bind. One negates the other. I am in limbo. I'm double bound. People also call this a Catch 22, but I much prefer Steele's nomenclature. Statements bring us closer to who we are.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

background: This was written for a newsletter published by the Writing Center at Columbia College when I was working there. Sarah Willis was an undergrad student and tutor at the time. Joanne Siwiec--was a student I tutored.


Writer’s Diary

Art is about breaking free from some old idea or way of doing things, isn’t it? Isn’t it about pushing your thoughts through some invisible boundary line that says “logical” and moving out toward a place we question? Joanne Siwiec does this when she thumbs through felts and mohairs and synthetics for the right touch; Sarah Willis does the same when she uses a hack saw to shape delicate cubes of alabaster, recreating the sweet illusions of sugar. These expressions release an urgency existing within us, prodding us to create or learn more about the complex layering of sound engineering, television production, or computer animation.

Stories are being told everyday, all around us. We tell them in the way we shape our conversations, a beginning, the punch line (or punch in the face), and the end. And we can hear stories as we let our eyes float on a painting, coming to our own understanding through the reactions we experience.

All of this to say, we are here because we care about ideas and we have something to say to each other. The Writing Center, I have found, is a place to start those conversations. I have tutored here for two semesters now, along with teaching three different courses along the way. But I don’t really like the term, “tutor,” or “consultant” for that matter. For me The Writing Center is an extension of the classroom, cranked up a few degrees because it’s your time to talk about your work and your ideas for an hour. I see it as a debate, or an equal exchange, in the way that two people generate more creative thought than one person on his or her own. Exchange is the important word, and it takes us right back to the beginning of this page, because through exchanges, the sharing of ideas, we enable ourselves to push through those invisible boundaries that keep us right where we are, when we know all along that where we really want to go is to a place of new understanding, again and again and again.


"The explanation is to be found in a further fact: to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind, however small their capacity for it . . . "

Aristotle from Poetics


"He knows how to make the invisible visible."

Wynton Marsalais on Louis Armstrong

Sunday, August 29, 2004

This week's pick:

Who doesn't like black cowboys? Who doesn't like a horse named Fancy? Who doesn't like Superman or the Bloods 'n the Crips? It's all here for your enjoyment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Hello dear fellows,

I'm just downloading some "Big Poppa" from the iTunes Music Store and enjoying my newly tudor-stained ikea computer desk. You see, I've had this piece of lumber for years, I suppose since Chicago, and have left it bare so that it could soak up just the right combination of dust and smudgey fingerprints. And now it's dark like my favorite chocolate and glistening in its poly-glow.

(I'm clapping my hands together.)

Tonight I'm having my first dinner guests. I've rallied the new Houston folk and even scotch-taped a cuban postcard on my neighbors' door, beckoning them to come 'round for the folly. As a cook, I felt sorrow at Julia Child's passing the past weekend. And I thought of The Julie/Julia Project. A woman my sister-in-law knows fairly well started her own blog awhile back with the intention of cooking her way through Julia Child's "The Art of French Cooking" one recipe a night for the duration of one year. It's quite a fantastic story, for those of you who don't know it. She's just a regular gal like you or me. She started. She cooked, and she wrote in her blog-diary about it each and every day. Turns out the LA Times, The New York Times, and the CBS Evening News liked her style. There's that sort of six-degrees-of-separation kind of talk about book deals and movies. I don't have any of that straight. But the story is real.

So I was wondering what Julie would have to say about Julia's passing. Here it is. Bon appetit.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Why Democrats are Better Than Republicans

for my friend who remains "undecided"

Manifest Destiny is the idea that "it [is] the nation's . . . destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us" (John O'Sullivan, journalist and ambassador to Portugal, 1845).

There are many facets to the political motivations and outcomes of manifest destiny, but for the purpose of this assessment, the philosophy of the idea is what we need. In the 1840's it was our American destiny to flourish across the landscape and to spread democracy. But the important distinction is that we were not building a weave of urban centers with apartment buildings and rooms for rent. We were individual families, staking out land, working it, and living independent from government reliance for infrastructure and jobs. (side note--if I were a lady in the 1840's, you bet your bootstraps I'd take my pantaloons and head out West.)

The day after the Democrats' convention ended, Bush was giving an early-morning speech in the middle state of Missouri. Wearing a bomber jacket and cocked grin, he spoke casually, as if it were a church picnic, appealing to Americans' sense of individualism. America empowers: Anyone can come. Rags to riches. If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. Those ideas appeal to our personal character--what can I do with what I've got? And they also appeal to this internal measuring stick we've got so that we'll know which level we've reached as compared to the rest of the competitive field. Oh goody, I love a good scrappy match.

Bush told the people: All of these reforms are based on this conviction: The role of government is not to control or dominate the lives of our citizens. The role of government is to help our citizens gain the time and the tools to make their own choices and improve their own lives. That's why I will continue to work to usher in a new era of ownership and opportunity in America. We want more people owning their own home. We want more people owning their own business. We want more people owning and managing their own health care system. We want more people owning and managing a part of their retirement systems. When a person owns something, he or she has a vital stake in the future of the United States of America.

Manifest destiny.

How many times did he say the word, "own"? And what about the threat? Did you catch that? Run for your lives! The GOVERNMENT is coming to get you.

So I'll get down to it. Republicans feel a fine inkling toward rugged individualism, the personal ideals of working with your hands and brushing them off after a hard day's work. I think we can all tip our hats to that. But where the Republicans go wrong is that underlying the want to make it on your own is suspicion.

Suspicion of government is the fuel for the desire to do it on your own. Or maybe the guy next to you got help, so that's not fair. After all, you did it on your own. Or, if you're doing it on your own, someone may take it away from you. There is always a threat, so I need my rifle to protect my property. Stay off my property!

Is it American to be suspicious? Is it ethical to be suspicious? Isn't suspicion actually a vice?

Republicans use suspicion as a tool to measure what sets them apart from the rest. They use it to help them define for themselves which policies are better. Take health care, or welfare, or any old "government program" you wish. If you subscribe to the notion that if you get help, your efforts aren't worth a lick, then you're not going to respect someone on Medicaid now are you? Heck, you're not even going to respect some old sissy who has to go to the doctor in the first place. Sounds fun, right? I think I want to be a Republican. It's like being back on the playground again.

So what about those Democrats? Well, Democrats are traditionally in favor of government subsidies to help those who cannot help themselves. They want to fund institutions that can carry out the functions of housing the mentally retarded, of paying for emergency care in hospitals for indigents. Despite the fact that people and systems are inherently flawed, it is the desire for goodwill--to care for the other--that underlies these notions.

For me it is a simple distinction. Am I going to stand up for me first, or am I going to stand up for the people? Which is more ethical? Which requires the greater responsibility? You can argue the mechanisms of delivery, but that is simply a ruse put forth by Republicans who want a disconnect between the arm and the hand. If you go that route how can you ensure that the well being of the people is being taken care of? And isn't the well being of our fellow man and woman and child much too precious not to ensure its success? It is the greater good of a nation that I am interested in, more aptly, the greater good of my community, of the community to which I belong. I take part. I pitch in by upholding the collective responsibility espoused by the party. Without collective responsibility we make ourselves vulnerable. Are we one nation under God, or are we one individual under a nation? And do we owe the greatest responsibility to ourselves or to each other? My faith teaches me about that, and it is all connected. We are all connected.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

One Barack Obama

From the Christian Science Monitor today--
"When a speaker speaks at a podium at the Democratic convention, and there are no cameras around to capture him, has he made any sound?"

(referring to both the networks' non-coverage on Tuesday night, and aired-over pundit commentary during speeches, more specifically, the speech of one Barack Obama.)

Okay my people, I'm going to stump. Not for the Dems or for Kerry, or even for a particular candidate to win. I'm stumping to let something move us, and for that to be the kingdom and the power and the glory come through us in our daily lives.

I crave good oratory like a baby craves milk. I need someone to name it for me. It's not "tak[ing] the same sentiments [in traditional political speeches], and . . . mak[ing] it new . . . [so that] you feel like you're hearing it and watching it for the first time, " as Jeremy Dauber reports in The Monitor. Good oratory does not make it new; it makes it true.

Last night I watched Barack Obama address the Democratic National Convention. My dearie, Katie, had told me to look out for him and said that he was really good. Other than that, though, I had no familiarity with the man. Turns out he's a state senator in Illinois right now, a law professor at The University of Chicago, and a former editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is a young man, 42, is married, has two daughters, and is of mixed ethnicity (Kenyan-born pop and whitebread American mom). Oh ya, he was raised in Hawaii. So that's a little about the man.

As I listened to his speech, something was happening to me. I was moved to hold the positive perceptions of the flaws in our country, the flaws that have touched my life, like my Harlem kids struggling to get some learning. I am aware of the growing gulf in their chances. I am aware of this very real problem. I feel despair because the problem is so mulit-faceted with layers of sources. And here Obama says to me in one swift line: "Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." He speaks with force. He is empassioned with a sense of reckoning, reckoning without anger and filled with hope--pouring over with hope.

People are referring to his address as the "One America" speech. He spoke to me about what I knew. But he also told me some things I did not know. He spoke about the forces embedded in our daily lives (he called them the pundits, others call it the media) "who slice and dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats." He drew enough comparisons to prove to us that we are all the same in our basic concerns.

You know, I quite enjoy defining myself. Tells me more about who I am. But I think Obama even surpassed my cognizance in some particular areas of who I may be as a citizen. I'm not usually big on patriot-speak, as most of us liberals are not. But I think part of the reason I'm a teacher is because I hold dear what it is to be a citizen. I like what Obama told me about the slicing and dicing I do. I draw lines. We all do. To defend. To define. Perhaps to reckon. But some more "E pluribus unum--out of many, one" can do us all some good, at heart, in mind.

Dauber finished his article with this--

There were some good speeches tonight. But only his transcended 'good' to 'great.' Only one that broke out of both the silence created by the absence of television coverage and the bonds of the stories created by television pundits.

Barack Obama, I think, may not just be the latest example of "A Star is Born", the next Evan Bayh or Jennifer Granholm or Chris Heinz or whoever the parties are going to anoint as fresh faces and new stars. Barack Obama isn't anything but Barack Obama, sui generis, and that is far, far more than enough.

The broadcast networks chose to take tonight off. Which is too bad. They missed the national debut of what could be one of the most exciting and important voices in American politics in the next half century.

--and that I agree with.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Six years as a northerner makes me ready to see new things (And I'll tell you that I may be just as happy in Birmingham, Alabama or Merridian, Mississippi right now because it is The South I crave.)

I don't believe The South is about progress. I believe it is about keeping things whole.

Warm air makes you want to take your clothes off. Palm trees make you want to kick up your feet. And apartment complexes, some of them, especially the ones designed in courtyard fashion, make people want to congregate in the middle of it all. The other evening I had the good fortune of being led down a path, past a couple of iron gates, to the back building of "The BV."

We dropped our Lone Star longnecks in the fridge (Lone Star is big here. They have pretty, new, red, white & blue labels just the way Texans like it), and walked over to the two-story deck in the middle of the courtyard. We were elevated, sitting in wood-slatted beach chairs, being cooled by breeze and a spinning fan at the top of a high blue canvass cover.

The green of trees should be taken in at eye-level. It's as if someone has brought them to you. You sit amongst them, like Jane or Tarzan. Even though Houston's topography is flat and a little swampy, they are proud of their trees. My complex is plump with them. Magnolias, people, tall, graceful, with leaves so stately that they've been carved.

But there's something about a palm tree. I can't believe my luck everytime I'm able to lounge with one in sight. It's not the same with the ones towed in and planted for atmosphere. Those look like landscaping in Las Vegas. But living in a city where they actually belong because the balmy, sweaty sea air tells you so, you can't help but feel a little like you're on vacation in the evenings that belong to your regular work week.

One glorious glimpse so far. I could have kissed the tree trunk. I could have kissed the wooden beach chair. But instead, I just laid my head as far back as it could go, looked up into the blue, and appreciated that little moment in time.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Kate & Dave

It's the last week in NYC for me. I'm feeling extra good this morning. I've slumber partied it over at Kate&Dave's Inhood apartment because we've been doused by the moisture Gods. Humidity and upper-80-degree weather for days now, the taxing nature of which was best exemplified I think by the little girl I passed on the way home from school yesterday. Her big brother was threatening her with fists to get her to take steps forward toward home. All her 1st-grade mental capabilities could do to process the burden of the heat was to face the fence and cry. I stopped to help (offering pink heart and rainbow stickers, which did bring a smile), but it was her brother's decision to pick her up and carry her that made the most sense in the end.

Cool breezes from the fan, mixed in with slight air conditioning and a cup of coconut coffee have made waking up this morning most welcoming. It's one week before school ends. The anticipation of summer break is also one of the most welcoming feelings you can have. For me, it usually goes hand-in-hand with leaving town. Last year we left the day after for trips to Texas; the Midwest by way of St. Louis, the Arch, and the Museum of the West; and then me going further to Chicago, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Two months of continuous travel is freedom from the everyday burdens that make you want to face the fence and cry.

Time to pack up. But before I do I'm going to hang out with my friends. Nothing fancy. We'll just sit around and talk, mess with the computer, take a walk, or go to the store--completely relaxing times, the kind you can't recapture through distance.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Hay Mamita! Scores are in for the school children of the U.S.A. Do any of you recall the results for my sixth graders last year? After teacher year one, half of my children scored level 1 on both the reading and math tests. (Not like, "We're #1!") The rest scored 2's (about a quarter . . . right? hee).

This year, after teacher year two, not one single child of mine scored 1's on both the reading and math (that's 0%). Hot damn! As a team of fourth grade teachers, only one of our kids will not be promoted--in the entire fourth grade!! At "the worst" school in the city of New York, mind you.

Yee haw, teaching rocks! (not really) But it sure feels good when all your efforts help the little ones out. They did it; we did it. Now we can all go off with heads held high. Next adventure, please. Keep 'em coming.

sistra teach

Monday, May 31, 2004

I have sat down at the desk. It's filled with files, folders, file pockets, and these little spiral notebooks with pockets in them I like to keep. I've decided to throw away the used spirals. But before I do, I read them to see what it is I'm throwing away.

Here is something I found:

I suppose my mind goes to moments and to people, former students, discussions about MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" or John Cheever's "The Swimmer." Students curious or baffled, but more times than not, excited. Learning is beautiful to me. We stretch ourselves. It is hope. It is understanding. And it always involves exchange. It can't be done alone. There is goodwill inherent in that.

These are notes I made while an applicant for the NYC Fellows Program. I knew the job would lead me someplace different. How far away from this place it's taken me. I don't love learning anymore. I remember feeling that way. I remember how clear I was as a teacher and a student back then. These two years have convoluted my thinking, my writing, my teaching, and my purpose. My zest is warn down as well. Reading what I used to write scares me a little. I'm sloppy now. I lack control. It's like seeing your handwriting deteriorate.

But I also know I'm not that far away. I can get it back.

Teaching these children has taken the student out of me, but it's given me other things of equal value. I do not write these things to bash my experiences. I'm noticing the differences and the trade-offs.

(at this rate the packing will take all month)

Sunday, May 30, 2004

I've been opting out of the blog lately myself (opting out--one of the things I hate). But it's transition time, and life is in upheaval. The changes have already begun. I'll be teaching two writing courses in about a month, one that surveys a range of writing styles, and one that is predominantly a response to literature class. I've never taught any lit before, so the fun is just beginning.

But for now, I'm sitting in limbo. My job awaits me, an apartment, G-30, is there for me, and a new friend I will be meeting for the first time the week I arrive will be a new part of my life. It's a vista over yonder that I'm viewing from here, a half-empty apartment beginning to fill up with boxes.

My left eye finally stopped twitching after returning from Houston this past weekend. I'm not sure why because the challenges of the move weren't exactly quelled based upon knowledge gained there. I suppose gaining more knowledge, whether good or bad, helps one to know better how they are standing.

The idea of Houston at this moment is of bayous coiling through city streets, abundant green shading glass and steal, and pockets of neighborhoods--their discovery as exciting as the culture within. I'm perfectly happy with inhabiting this new city, which shouldn't be such a shock to those who know me well. Give me something unfamiliar to come to know, and you got yourself a happy girl. But, it's Houston afterall. It's mainstream. It's sorority girls grown up to be decorator moms. It's malls, malls, malls, and subdivisions busting out the seams like a row of pristine soldiers all shined up, mimicking one another down the line.

A few years ago there isn't any way that I would be able to appreciate anything about Houston. I would have noticed only its trappings. I would have complained about the lack of. I wouldn't have found my place. It's all based in that idea of being ready for something. We all know when our time comes, when our needs change. Mine usually take a year or two to move from inspiration to fruition. But for some, an instant can take them past a hundred byways. I'll let you know how it turns out on the other side. I wonder if I'll still be orange.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Time to write again. But if I do I'll likely be up all night. I haven't been sleeping lately, not soundly. My mother is wondering why I have anxiety about the move. Told the brother about the sleep troubles, and he perks up, asking, "Changed your mind?" I miss my children when I say goodmorning, or, "quiet on the line," when I pat their backs. I've taken to the hard pat lately, the one my mommy always gave me. I just pat them hard to press it in. (Of course you can also find me screaming,"What's going on here!" or "Close your mouths!"--my favorite. It throws them off.)

I'm leaving the children part, and the adventure part of my little life, with all of these people here, for the digging in, as Lulu wrote not long ago. I want to dig with my hands. I miss you already. All of you. All of it.
Loved reading Bekkah's "Cinco de why-o" history link today. Check-ih, check-it out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ashlee's Poems


I wish I could escape
my bad feelings. I wish I could
escape myself when feeling mad,
sad, and lonely. I wish I could
escape problems and make solutions.
I wish I could escape being
scared, uncomfortable, and
small. I wish I could escape
falling without my wings

can I escape?

signed anonymous

One Thought

I wish one thought could
change how people think
I wish one thought could
change how people feel
I wish one thought could
change how people process.


Roses, daisies, tulips. Flowers
everywhere so lovely I cannot
despair you smell so good so sweet
flowers everywhere.

The earth

The birds are chirping
The sun is shining
The sky is blue
The grass is green
The flowers are blooming
It's spring!!


It's hot hot hot very very
hot so hot I'm sweating
it's hot hot hot, I wish I
could go ice skating it's so
frustrating it's very very

The Way

The way the animals roam
The way the plants grow to trees
The way the flowers bloom
The way the grass grows
The way the sun shines
The way the birds fly
The way the fish swim
The way.

We Move With the Earth

We move with the earth
We go wherever it goes
We roam where it roams
We soar where it soars
We all move with the earth


The misery of sweat running from my
face. The misery of the sun being
in place. The misery of the heavy clothes
in this case. Misery Misery Misery.


Stars every where
How they glow
How they shine
How they shout out in the galaxy
Start stars stars

The Plant

Little flower plants falling
from the trees so windy I
can feel the breeze so
pretty but strange

Monday Morning

As the sun rises and
the day has begun
you're waking up getting
ready you go so slow
and steady. You're so stiff
like tin and that is how Monday Morning


As soft as a pillow
As fluffy as fur
As fragile as glass
As gentle and tender as a
Clouds clouds

Friday, April 23, 2004

My fourth graders have been writing poetry. You will like it.


like snow
a lot. It is
really cold. It is frozen
water, but when
you put it in
mouth it
melts. You can
make a lot of things with
the snow like
angels, snowmen
and a lot more.

Ice Cream

Ice cream
is cold and
good. There are
different kinds
of ice cream.

(by Luz)

My Poem

I love my friend
She went away from me
My poem ends soft as it began
I love my friend.

My Poem

Snow made whiteness where
it falls. The bushes look like
popcorn-balls. The place
where I always play looks like
somewhere else today.

(by Katherine)


I am a little kid. My name is
Louis. I like to play games. I am
like my big brother who loves to play
ball. We act like we are basketball players
and I play best. I don't act like a basketball
player. Sometimes I act like a regular kid. I don't like football like
my brother's friend Shakim.

Part 1 For Ms. Gordon

Violets are pink, Violets are red, Ms.
Gordon looks so beautiful today
and everyday too.

Part 2 For Ms. Haley

Violets are red, Violets are
pink. Ms. Haley your eyes
are so beautiful.

(by Louis)


Butterflies are nice and so fast
as the night so bright
as the light made as the sky
and high to fly.



(no title)

I saw a little boy sitting
in a tree. He was eating a nut
and was looking at me.

(by Richard aka Baby Thug)

(no title)

When I am writing it feels like I can
Do anything, like I can
play like Jordan in the NBA, or
I can fly like a bird, or race like a
Nascar Racer.


Home is a place where you feel good,
Happy not sad maybe sometimes sad.
Home is a place where you have good and old memories
Home is a place where you have family to
support you. Family tells you what
is good and what is bad. Family
supports you wherever you go. That is
what Home and family means.

(by Jonathan)

What I Hear When I Wake Up

This day I woke up feeling fine
in my mind, hearing the bird twe, twak
and listening to my mother's shoe click clak. I
went to the bathroom, did what I had
to do. My little sister woke up and said Winnie the Poo
I had wondered what that means. Was it her shoe
or her toe?


Love can be so sweet
just like some meats I love
my mother and love my grandmother
and all the time I hug her
Love is in the air and it
smells like my mother's hair

(by Robert)

Ice Cream

Ice cream is so good.
Ice cream is also very cold
Ice cream is very good.


My Shepard

My Mother is my Shepard,
My owner, my Guardian,
She feeds me, takes care
of me, I love her and she
loves me. She buys me
toys, she does everything
she can do for me.
She is my shepard.
My shepard.


Today the sky is blue and white,
the grass is green,
The sun is shining yellow
like a diamond.
The wind breezes through
my face.
I see kids playing. I sit down
and relax.


Trees are my friends. I love the
fruits that come from
sweet trees.
Trees help me
live, Trees give
me food, Trees
are my friends.


Outside I play, Outside my
friends are outside. Kids are
yelling, playing, running. The sun shines

Nature is Mine

The sun is bright.
The light touches the
earth. The birds are
chirping, the squirrels
are working. Everything is fine.
The nature is mine.

The Forest

The forest is a living place.
The trees are a living place.

The Moon

The moon is bright
You can see the
best of the moon
at night, the moon
is bright.

The Peanut

The peanut is big
The peanut is long,
The peanut is lumpy,
The peanut is very good
once I eat you.

(by H.C.)

(Miss Ashlee's will be posted Monday, her Writer's Notebook she keeps so safely by her side. The poems delight, and I will share; do not despair, says Ashlee.)

Monday, April 19, 2004

Trucker Dreams

When you drive the freeways that border
Houston at odd hours of the night,
the dark tucks you in,
except for the wind beside your window.

Long stretches
connect places like Pearland
and Humble.

The in between blotted out
by dark green bushels of trees.

In the daytime, haze
leads your eye out to the refineries,
skinny little pipes
emitting white air.

The land is flat and soggy,
the coastal plain leaving rain little room to seep.

Monday, April 05, 2004

What does a little New York Thorn Bush/Texas Flower do on her first day home after driving cross country? Gaze; sip coffee; read Texas Highways; soak up all the Indian Paintbrushes, Buttercups, Bluebonnets, rolling plains, cow congregations, and everything green; and sit down to record it--my version of a thick lead pencil scratching a spiral notepad.

For those of you who have never visited, my mother's house is on a lot in what's referred to as "The Greenbelt." These greenbelts are scattered around the Austin landscape. They are belts of green--a dozen variety of oak, ever-present cedar, sumac, yucca, and agarita--elongating through limestone canyons, dotted with steep drop-offs and gentle slopes. Mom planned this house to sit like a treehouse, overlooking the canyon from six floor-length windows, side-by-side along the northwestern side. This is the livingroom, the treehouse, and then it connects to a covered outdoor deck in the rear so that it easily becomes indoor/outdoor.

From the couch this morning, the sunrise was at eye-level, a muted white hazy sunglow through the scattered boughs. Stepping outside, the rain has left everything showery clean, alert. In the air there is a mixture of sweet honey, bitter greens, and robust grounds. The sun is coming up. Yummy, I'm home.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Long time no blog. Sorry to several of you who hate my comment box. It takes your thoughts to never-never land before any of us can read them. Therefore, we all hate my comment box--boo.

I don't know if there's a solution in sight. Maybe we can post about it.

Friday, March 12, 2004

They keep posting this SXSW, Club Deville thing on the login page. It's trickery, fuzzy visions in sight through the NYC haze . . .

More things I hate: sweet 10-year olds who scream you effing b with two middle fingers up, chicken skin, spilling coffee down my middle while missing my mouth, mail, energy-sucking stress, one-man shows, having nothing much to be jazzed about, bad coffee, jiggle in my wiggle, extreme makeovers, people who opt out, base on your face.

Some things I love: easy passes in my windshield, the open road, country music (I don't care if it's crap), turning arguments inside out, driving, checking off lists, "Hands on a Hard Body," singing anywhere anytime, grocery shopping, sago palms, The Pacific Northwest, Napa Valley, Mexico, lime in your drink, being under water, shockingly hot showers, fresh flowers, hills, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, German Expressionist paintings, essays, kisses, forgiveness, being your best.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Music is coming out of my purse. It's loud for purse music. The treble is high--pure and piercing like your chest voice on the high notes. I've been thinking about church. Jeff and I were born to parents with differing views on the Lord. It occurred to me while watching "Rock Star Daughters," a new VH1 docu-wonder (I didn't really watch it; background only, assuredly), that my dad is a rock star dad. He totally is. It all makes sense to me--what I've been trying to make sense of. He's rock-n-roll like the Stones, graying with a cigarette slanting down from his mouth as often as he can manage it.

So my dad grew up rigid Presbyterian, and my mom grew up higher-order Methodist, the sophisticated Christians who deemed themselves thinkers, progressive for their tolerance on biblical and moral matters, and ever the appreciaters of classical music, traditional hymns accompanied by Bach organ, of course, but often by a striking mezzo soprano or a string quartet. I don't know much about the way my dad grew up in the church except for his defiance of it. I've heard some story about him forbidding my mother to baptize us, to raise us like he'd been raised. Dad's a contrary to polite society, to the norms of society. So, indeed, he did not scurry us off to Sunday school. I'm not sure what my mom's story was in those days. I know we went to a Presbyterian church in Denton when we were toddlers, not for very long though. We always skipped stones, from church to church, through the growing up years. After Denton it was onto University United Methodist on the University of Texas campus. That's where the beautiful mezzo soprano came into our lives. She had thick chocolate hair full of texture like her voice. It fell back away from her forehead, highlighting her burgundy lips and sculpted cheek bones. The mezzo soprano held herself in the most serene way, allowing the tones to come from her center.

We stayed at that church for a few years, mostly because of her. I sang in the youth choir and looked forward to the juice and cookies in the courtyard after the service each Sunday. Jeff, well, he looked forward to music coming out of his earphones while sitting in the balcony by himself. Defiant.

Mom grew tired of fighting her children. Whines and even stronger protests coming from her adolescent son, we never went as a family again. I think it was my sophomore year in high school when I knew something was missing for me. I didn't fit in. I didn't know myself, but knew that I could, if only I were exposed to the right elements, friends maybe. Maybe it was in music or places, food, texts, circles of discussion. It was there, but I was far away from it. I didn't know myself like I wanted to. I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to go to church again. Just me and mom. We tried out five or six, an Episcopal that my mother was high on. The sanctuary was nice, the exterior architecture too. I wanted a pretty place, aesthetic beauty to cradle me. I could easily dismiss an option before ever reading a program or hearing a sermon just by doing a drive-by. Mom and I agreed. We both wanted what was familiar, and we wanted a preacher man or woman who would make us consider life, the world around us, and the people we encounter. I was looking for ritual to keep me whole. What we inherit feeds that element within ourselves, whether it's defiance or music, or sophistication, or simple tradition.

My grandparents were members of the First United Methodist Church of Richardson, Texas for years. I remember the little offering envelopes that hung before you as you sat in the pews, and the round sanctuary, like a hexagon. My grandmother was an alto with a large vibrato who sang out in church. She liked to hum the hymns at home or in the car. I love my church inheritance more than my defiant inheritance, but I take both, sometimes with a bitter pill when the defiance alienates us from one another.

By the way . . . in those years, my mom very much resembled the mezzo soprano.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

I am not a follower of the Martha Stewart case. Upon learning that she was being prosecuted, I'm sure I thought something or other about it being an easily dismissible, forgivable offense. Her guilt or innocence wasn't a question. But as word of the trial began coming in the sound bites more often, I began probing a few minds here and there to help me piece together what I think. And what I've gotten are two ends of the spectrum--vehement argument for severe punishment with assured guilt before a verdict came through; and then vehement disdain for our American culture who chooses to hold up Kobe Bryant and Martha Stewart as its worst sinners.

The verdict came to me on my lap as I lay on the blue cushions that pillow me after school each day. Searching for either a cooking show of interest or maybe Ellen, I was interrupted by reports of Martha's guilt on all counts. Since then I've bought the paper each day, reading the stories, looking at the photographs of her almost always brushing a manicured clump of golden-gray hair behind her ear.

I am an admirer of Martha's ability first. Anyone who is a doer is a good thing in my book. She's like my grandmother or Eleanor Roosevelt, like all the ladies who are determined at their core and composed in their air. They rise above the times and go on with their business, full with purpose. But beyond what she does and what she's created, Martha has positively contributed to the culture, taking things back home, to the ways of our grandparents who took pride in the mundane tasks of sewing a straight hem or weed-eating and then bagging the mowed grass on a hot July day. If you don't do it with your own hands you lose the gratification from the effort--pride in yourself and what you are able to create and keep. Several generations now have been without. It's a Fast Food Nation, yes?

Martha is a foremother of American culture; and yet, she is in her guilt of corruption for monetary gain, again, a foremother of American culture.
Some anonymous person has been itching for it, so here it is--another list, a particular kind of list, not about what's top-notch in a certain genre, say, life or in the music television world. No, just the opposite.

"Things I Hate"

--mouseys named Fredrick who twitch as they die upon your bathroom threshhold
--three-hour movies about the murder of christ
--viewing your own bitten-down fingernails in shame
--clam juice
--people called "Uncle Cracker"
--crackers--all kinds
--the whole metal teeth fad (reminds me of Jaws in that James Bond movie)
--SNL skits
--Dick Gephardt
--innards, like barbacoa y lengua
--particle board, faux finishes, wallpaper borders
--sometimes Oprah
--crying on birthdays, which I used to do
--false pretenses
--techno music
--The Real World
--Sex and the City (I waffle on this one)
--musicals. I said it, okay.
--the phone ringing
--displeasing loved ones, falling short you could say.

Once you start, it's hard to stop. Post away all you haters out there.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

52 Degrees and Rising

In four months almost to the day I will be driving yet another Ryder truck packed full with my belongings. This one I've been preparing for for about two years. It's the big one, the return home.

Perceptions of home retain their quality of the things you left for, what it couldn't give you, for no finite period of time. It lingers, in the front of your mind, on the tips of words you are surprised to find spilling out of your mouth to strangers when they ask polite questions about your place of birth. But all the while home remains your identity. I met James last night in the City. He checked my driver's license and asked what part of Texas I grew up in. "Austin" (me). "Born and raised" (him). And do you know what I did? I put my backpack down and gave him a hug. "I can tell you're from Texas" (him). James told me his whole building is full of people from the Lone Star State. I nodded because I understood. We leave, but we find each other out there.

I wasn't able to let go of those lingering perceptions of the things I left for until recently. When people move, there seems to be this great debate about whether one is running from something, or forever searching for something within a locale rather than within oneself. Moving from state to state doesn't seem to be an epidemic, so I wonder why people fear this as a harm to which their loved ones are susceptible. There is purpose in it--moving. Forward motion to give a dream a chance, to go to school, to see how a different environment suits your temperament, or sometimes to leave something behind that needs leaving.

When I left the Promised Land, it wasn't feeding me. I needed pushes in all sorts of ways, the sorts of ways an unfamiliar place can give you. I needed to stand alone, away from my identity for awhile, so as not to rely upon it. I needed to find out what did feed me, because I was good at things, I had friends and family near, but what mattered? I am someone who needs to know what matters, to get clear on that, as a foundation. Some people's foundations are built up nice and sturdy by their families, or maybe they're born with it, an innate sense of direction and self-knowledge. I've been building mine through the experience of the unknown.

The drive to test life isn't at the front of my mind anymore. It faded away, little by little, while other aspects made themselves known, like being close to loved ones. I ventured at first with the intention of relying upon myself. Then, I ventured to find folks I could rely upon. Stage 3: I'm not so much fighting anymore. I've got a lot of inner fight, a quality that serves to help things sit right within. It's like jostling all the flakes in a snow globe and following them as they gently lay down. The forward motion of moving has helped things settle inside; it's helped me be able to acknowledge the irreplaceable spaces where family, friends, and love hold me together. These revelations are with me to take wherever I go.

I'm going home because it's where I come from. The scenes outside the car window, I want to see again.

Last night an old friend of my brother's played guitar and sang at a venue on the Lower East Side. The performance was low-key, sometimes just Amy (the singer) on stage, at other times my sister-in-law joining her on back-up vocals, her husband blending in on piano, and my brother adding in rhythm on bass. Pieces of home. Where you come from. Your history and memory and makeup. Walking through Central Park yesterday winter was breaking into spring, fifty-two degrees outside.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The first time I heard about Dean was after an appearance he'd made on Meet the Press in the beginning of 2003. My brother, ever keeping the pulse of the American political system and its inhabitants, had begun to hear his name, had read some articles from pundits who'd been looking through their binoculars and spotted the little guy on top of the Green Mountains, rolling up his sleeves to show Popeye-like forearm muscles. Jeff told me Dean was good, just a few simple words and a knowing, affirmative head-shake. He smiled when he told me. All I had to do was listen to him speak and I would understand. Jeff was thrilled.

How many of us feel thrill when we see a political candidate, quick, like a surge on a heart monitor, but not fleeting--a sense that burrows itself within your ideology? Jeff and I are die-hard Democrats (him more than me, granted), like most of our friends and family. We grew up that way. We latch on and champion each candidate for the different aspects of their makeup, Clinton's rock-star brilliance, Gore's family tree of steadfastness in the principles of what is good for the society. And we allow for the flaws, acknowledging them, but cheering for the better sides to come forth, to resonate and take hold so that we will be doing our best each day without injustice. Now I'm speaking more for myself. What is politics for anyway? So many choose not to listen because of the dissonance.

Chris Matthews calls Dean a maverick, one who resists adherence to a group. Perfect. From Jefe to Sistra, to our friends, to six degrees of separation branching out across the Internet, to Meet-ups, to caravans from Austin to Iowa, campfire chats where Janeane Garofalo and Joan Jett drop by . . . to Caucus Day. Many of us recognized that thrill given off by Dean. The way people talk, not what they say, is more telling.

When you belong to a group for a long time, like your company for instance, your school where you teach, your acupuncture lounge, your theatre troupe, you learn how to communicate in that arena to become a better communicator--to know your audience. Politicians do the same to convey that they are not out of touch with the American people (a touchstone of the pundits). If you choose this road in politics, connecting-with-the-people speak, you end up coasting on the crest of good message delivery and talking without saying anything. To us folks out there, oh, I don't know who we are, folks like me, this is all so flat. The campaign season is rote. I only ever look forward to the debates because inherent within them is having to think on your feet. There's no way around it. (That's why I was so dumbfounded last time around when Bush actually did well.)

It is interesting when a person stands before you and can respond in time. What comes forth may not be tempered. It may just end up being a "Neeeyah" yip. But those yips tell you that who is before you is not someone hidden under layers of spinning webs or smooth frosting. That person is honest with himself or herself, and therefore conveys to us that he or she is honest with us. Not only this, but to respond in time means that you have to examine, think, and consider, fantastic qualities in a leader.

What does happen behind closed doors? It really isn't our right to know about foreign policy roundtables with Condi Rice et al. All debates and decision-making should not be open for public scrutiny every step of the way, especially when they are threatening to the public. In such cases, we examine, we elect, and we must trust that Mr. President is acting in good faith. I want to know that he is thinking and honestly looking at a situation from as many perspectives as he can before making decisions.

What Matthews looks for and admires is what he calls speaking out when everyone says you're wrong. He noted Teddy Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, John Brown, and finished with Howard Dean. For me you do not need opposition in order for it to come forth. It's in the way people speak. Are they talking on top of the subject, or are they speaking from within it?

Funny enough, this morning while studying Arnold Scwarzenegger during a 20-minute segment with Tim Russert, I felt a good vibe and couldn't understand why. Now I understand.

People, the enemy (one who will do harm) cannot simply be identified through one's political affiliation or even their opinions on the issues, such as opposing same-sex marriage.

I read a very good quote recently from William Falk, editor of The Week. He says:
Consistency is a highly overrated virtue. I'm not ashamed to admit that I no longer believe half of what I was sure of 10 years ago, or that I've come to see wisdom in hoary ideas my younger self would have dismissed. You make mistakes, you get new information, you change your mind along the way.

The enemy is much more likely to be found in an individual who does not examine, who is not willing to make mistakes, who is suspect of those inclinations within himself or herself and keeps them hidden.

Monday, January 26, 2004

the yard

It's time for some more beauty, isn't it?
(this is more for my non-urban-living friends . . . to partake.)

I live in a fifth floor apartment on a hundred and eighth street in Manhattan. The building is owned by a magnanimous slum lord (heard that word the other day--the m word--and found it funny). And we have just become acquainted with our new roomie, Fredrick, the little grey mouse. (So, where's the beauty, sistra?)

Okay, so I'm sitting here, quietly, after watching "The War" with Elijah Wood, Kevin Costner, Mare Winnigham, and the little boy from "Sling Blade" tonight on Channel 55, and I hear singing in the yard.

Our building is steps from a main avenue, so it is surrounded by neighboring buildings not only on either side, but also adjacent and of course those behind it on a hundred and ninth street. The space behind all of our buildings, where our windows and fire escapes are the view, is the yard. I mentioned the other day that I have no screens on my window. It's a long way down, folks. A glass votive holder slipped out for a peek and took a time to pop. (slum lord) There's a chain-link fence about 5 feet high adorned with razor wire that divides the space on the ground, and it's all concrete. Ugly. I got a close-up look one evening when I accompanied the cable guy out back as he re-juiced the box, but that's another story. It's very clearly a yard, yes?

The yard is always, always dead quiet. People in cities like to portion their space; suburban folks do too; we all do. But tonight a happy man with a clear tenor tone confidently sang out. He sang one song, and then stopped. A lady called out, "Please close your window," pleading loudly, not impolitely. It was quiet for a minute, and then the happy tenor sang again, with the same confidence and tone.

The yard is quiet again. It's time for bed. Goodnight.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Year 2, final semester, NYC Teaching Fellows

I don't identify myself as a Fellow any longer; there are few ties left, although I've taken to carrying the black cotton tote with the Fellows insignia branded on it lately. Who knows why, but I turn the insignia against my body. Maybe it's my way of physically rejecting the program a little each day.

I no longer attend education classes at the CUNY schools, but I suppose I've kept up with all other obligations (teaching kids). One real sadness for me this year has been the loss of my comrades, Katie and Salim, from last year. Both are no longer teaching. There are fellows from my cohort (they call it) there with me still, those with whom I was initiated, summer-schooled, trained, tested, who faced the gulf in humanity that was P.S. make believe # last year with me. These ladies still draw together at our faculty meetings. We greet and offer goodbyes mostly. But they continue to go off to their Fellows classes while I stay behind.

The school is quiet this year. The environment is a place to arrive at each day, approximately 10 minutes before time to collect the children from the auditorium, and to leave by 3:15, upon escorting them out. I plan my lessons throughout the day, during the prep period or at lunch. I leave it all there. I come home.

This experience has affected my insides like you wouldn't believe. It has affected who I am. I was crossing the street the other day and looked into the faces of the people standing there. I thought: there is goodness here.

It's still tough for me to reflect upon, to find the insight I'm looking for. I don't see my students' homes; I am their teacher. I greet them with a smile each day. Some of the parents come to school with their children each day. I am able to see into their homes then, and what I see is good, for the most part. Sometimes I see drug-addicted moms come along with grandmothers to the conferences. I see 99% single-parent or guardian homes. Children change living situations as part of everyday life in this neighborhood. We require updated contact information 4 to 5 times a year because phones are disconnected so frequently. And the nutrition of these children is frightening, save for the school breakfast and lunch. On a recent field trip probably 38 out of 40 children brought corner-deli-purchased lunches. About 5 had sandwiches, and the rest dined on chips, candy, and soda.

Things like this are what disturb me this year, inside, because I know it to be a sign of neglect. I've got a gaggle of bright-eyed babies, that's how I see them. They make me happy. They are young and sweet and full of everything you could imagine. But they don't get what the rest of us get. I compared notes briefly with my cousin, Jana, at Christmas. She teaches Kindergarten in Dallas at a suburban school. Our conversation brought to mind class parties I'd had as a kid--the parent involvement that was always a part of things.

I don't want to take away from the good parents I do have, but there is no parent involvement in my class.

Earl, one that I am close to this year, (who lives with Fran, his guardian) was telling me the most matter-of-fact tale at our class Christmas party, like kids do, you know. "Ms. Haley, I used to have a cat," the tale begins. "He died under the bed . . . And then I had another cat. He fell out the window." I asked: "How did he fall out of the window, Earl?" Earl replied: "My cousin doesn't like it when the cat scratches him and one day the cat got mad and my cousin swiped at him. The cat fell out the window." I asked another question: "Don't you have screens on your windows?" (I knew the answer to this because I don't even have screens on my windows.) Earl replied: "He fell on the fence. I could see his insides." "Okay, Earl. That's enough."

There's little remorse from dear Earl, little fear. He's as gay as ever. Part of this is due to being a little boy, but part of it must be due to becoming desensitized. I wonder what Earl has seen in his life, in his building, outside it, in the different buildings he has lived in. I wonder how Earl feels knowing that his father is alive but does not care for him.

I am becoming adamant about marriage and family. Some of it is just me, the traditional parts coming through, but a lot of it is stemming from my Harlem experience. I see life through children's eyes. They need stability, and continuity, and love, and adults who will help them learn how to read and write and do math. No joke. No joke.

There is about a 60% gap between the children's English and math abilities at my brother's school across the Triboro and mine. That's just one example. I could compare my kids to those at Jana's school, or my little godson, Jacob's, in Austin. The gap would be closer to 80% in those instances. Jacob has everything he needs for a good start, my favorite lady as a mom, a loving dad, grandparents, a room full of books, a computer, team sports, and plenty of people who love him and buy him architecture books or gardening sets if it's a new interest of his. Do you think Earl knows he's different than Jacob at age 9? Earl is happy. He's loving. But I think he knows.

I wouldn't want to grow up in Harlem. I suppose Plano wasn't the bomb in the early '90s either. You think you have a lot of power as an individual. You can close your classroom door and create a situation equal to that in my brother's school or Jacob's. But you can't. It doesn't happen. The way these kids live comes with them and affects their behavior, their anger, their motivation, their belief in relationships, in what the world is about, in what is worth trying for, in what is worth becoming.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I Like the Men Who Say Hi

The men who say hi pass on the street. This is where you will find them. Their language is portioned in phrases and greetings, tiny Tiffany blue boxes with bows floating out their throats like a garden bath that spurts rather than trickles. To open one you must catch the gentleman's eyes. The unwrapping comes in the the nod of acknowledgment, simple.

"Good morning pretty lady," "You are beautiful," Barry White's baritone wafting. Masters of appreciation, lovers, givers. I like the men who say hi.

(dedicated to that guy on CPW last night at about 6:30 and Edwin, custodian extraordinaire)