Jul 20, 2015

Lying Prone on the Floor at Manhattan Mini Storage

Looking like a bible salesman who lost the key to his storage locker
Lisa told me to the ferret the key out with a flat ruler. It didn't work! And we needed to get in! Can you tell I'm opening this post like the beginning of a badly written situation comedy?

Feeling like a cartoon character, I got prone on the floor vainly fishing out the key to our storage locker. Am I a bible salesman trying to get my Gideon bibles? Or maybe I'm a bootlegger and this maximum-security storage locker holds my gin. Or maybe it's a year's worth of three-hundred-paged-glossy-covered coupon books —those artless tomes filled with fifty percent discounts for edible arrangements and vacation cruises. Mostly sold by high schoolers raising money for track and field. Or some other kind of extra-curricular activity.

Americans like to fill in their own stories. So I won't explain in detail why I'm prone on the floor fishing vainly for a key (that was never to be found).

Lesson learned: The tummy likes a cold dry concrete floor to lay its head.

Image Source: Lisa Helfrich

Jul 17, 2015

Writing About Teaching (Again!) — and When Superheroes Have a Villain Named Lester

Jerome Avenue has its heroes.
Writing about teaching is a go-to blog post idea. When I am teaching, I notice human behavior in a way that I do not notice outside of the classroom. That's why the classroom is great fodder for something to write about on a blog.

Teaching is about being aware. I know this to be true. As someone who is characteristically blissfully unaware, when I train myself to become aware I notice phenomena that had previously railroaded me.

One thing I noticed is that in a classroom signs are everywhere. You just have to open your eyes. I think the reason kids hate teachers who only sit at their desks and distribute homework from their high chair is that these teachers are unaware.

A teacher has to be engaged. And this does not just mean knowing the lesson. Frankly, anyone can teach a lesson. I know this from experience. But if I am not aware when I am teaching a lesson — I am just mimicking a rubric. It's no fun.

I work part-time at the public library. They have this awesome program that gives kids a place to learn fun things after school. Basically, I am a tutor — and people may say, a glorified babysitter. I am woefully underpaid in this job — which has prompted me to garner insights from my daily interactions to cover up the resentment I have with my abysmal pay. 

There is a strategy in being over-zealous in an underpaid job. Because in an underpaid job there is no risk in just sitting on your butt. But when you put you all into it — the results are surprising.

Like I said. I am often unaware. Don't ask me what I wore yesterday and I may tell you it's Tuesday when it is in fact Friday.

But breaking out of the miasma of my own unawareness, engaging the students who come to the library to learn is a beneficial shock to my system.

This week I learned that boys are very protective of their mothers. One kid said, "Don't flirt," when he overheard me bantering with his mother. And oh. Kids have fashion sense. I love it. Also, when you ask a question to elementary school kids, they will unhesitatingly give you a glorious answer. We were talking about heroes. We had the kids seated on the carpet. We had just discussed superhero powers. What makes a superhero. One kid said, "flying." One kid suggested he would take his truncheon and knock a "bad guy" over the head with it. I said, "If you were a superhero who would be your arch-nemesis?" One brazen little girl said, "Lester!" And then one girl said, "The devil!" And then we decided that a good villain duo would be Lester and the Devil. When they went to create their own superheroes I could not help but notice that every single kid had chosen Lester as his or her villain of choice. And we had like thirty-five kids. However, I think one first grader had decided that he was the Flash and his sidekick was Flash, Jr. he was going to protect Burnside (the neighborhood in the Bronx where I work) with a billy stick.

One second grade girl said she wanted a superhero who could save all the injured and abused pets she noticed walking underneath the elevated tracks where the 4 train rushes over Jerome Avenue. She decided (with the help of another second grader) that she would be "Pet Girl" and her sidekick would be Catwoman. And they both would battle against pet abusers (a collective villain!). It was trenchant, powerful, and I really felt rallied by her presentation. She got up in front of all the kids in the library and told them about her plan to solve this very serious issue plaguing our neighborhood.

To be honest: I am glad we were all aware (me included). Because I do not think we could have had a more engaged lesson. 

Image Source: munimeter

Jul 1, 2015

Book Art from the Lamb Shakespeare for the Young: A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Lamb Shakespeare for the Young
Illustrated by Helen Stratton
1908

Egeus comes before Theseus, the Duke of Athens to "complain that his daughter Hermia, whom he had commanded to marry Demetrius, a young man of a noble Athenian family, refused to obey him, because she loved another young Athenian, named Lysander."

It's funny how in this Lamb Shakespeare for the Young retelling, published in 1908, the author comforts his readers (presumably the young) that while daughters who refused to marry the suitors their fathers chose were to be put to death under Athenian law, "this law was seldom or never put in execution." The author also adds — and I am not sure Shakespeare makes such a big deal about this part of the plot — that fathers "do not often desire the death of their own daughters, even though they do happen to prove a little refractory . . ."

In the drawing, Hermia is rather resigned. She sits. Her hands are calm by her side. Her father, while old, is a spry old man, and he seems animated in bringing his case before the Duke. Egeus is thoughtful like a student, with his chin resting in his hand.

I wonder if Hermia is seething with anger? Or is she just blithe and becoming, secretly humming a lighthearted tune? Maybe she is already scheming her escape with Lysander into the woods.

What do you think?



Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Lamb Shakespeare for the Young. A Midsummer Night's Dream. New York: Duffield and Company, 1908.


Image Source: Google Books

Jun 13, 2015

On Being Right in the World

I do not think it is hokey to think about what kind of energy we project into the world.

No matter how smart you are, what clever ideas you bring to the table, or what accomplishments you've mastered — it's all about how you are in the world that counts.

I'm not talking about broadcasting a veneer of positivity. Even when you don't feel so great, you can still be mindful enough to not let your own feelings seep out and be destructive. I know from experience that never works.

That's why we have art. And stuff. And tragic movies. Or hitting a baseball. Or running until your chest hurts (I know. I don't do that too much.)

Frankly, for me, I'm just beginning to come up to the surface of the water to breathe. And the air does feel good. On my face. The taste of pepper on my scrambled eggs.

Can you tell I am trying to make a breakthrough? 

Being right in the world is something that I have probably been looking for ever since I was thrown into this world (without my permission).

I know (and I think all of us know) what it means to feel not so right in this world. When my pencil breaks the world becomes bleak. But when I make a connection to another person, whether across the desk (as a teacher), or with my best friend (as a friend), or in words (as a writer) — there is a satisfactory feeling.

I'm uncertain about what constitutes happiness. And I'll be the first to admit I am not sure if I am doing anything right. But that's the thing. The big secret is that no one knows if they are doing anything right.

And that's fine.

In fact, writing these words there is the potential that I may be saying it all wrong. But in saying it I throw it out there. Into the world. And it becomes kinetic.

Jun 5, 2015

Toyo Miyatake, Self-Portrait (1932)


Miyatake's self-portrait is currently on display at the Whitney Museum's new Soho building on Gansevoort Street.

The museum's first exhibition in its new building serves up a grand survey of American art.


May 31, 2015

On Not Being Right in the World

While we value people who have come through significant challenges, the prevailing opinion among many is that those who are struggling just have not tried hard enough.

However, there is value to not being right in the world.

It does not mean you are not trying to succeed.

Often we are measured by criteria that even those who are setting the criteria don't fully understand.

May 15, 2015

Social Determinism Study Explains South Louisiana Children's Future Income

My Hometown is Not the Best Place to Grow up for Upward Mobility

Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren are interested in whether or not where you grow up determines how much money you will make as an adult. According to their data, released by the Equality of Opportunity Project, Saint Tammany Parish, Louisiana (where I spent at least ten years of my childhood) is one of the worst counties* in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder.

I found this out after reading an article the New York Times published: The Best and Worst Places To Grow Up: How Your Area Compares.


The Best and Worst Places to Live for Income Mobility in the New Orleans Area

The Times crunched the numbers and compared every county in the United States. It turns out, Saint Tammany Parish ranks "425th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 17 percent of counties. It is relatively worse for poor boys than it is for poor girls."

Saint Tammany Parish is very bad for children in average-income families. It is better than only about 8 percent of counties."

And for the top one percent living in Saint Tammany? Saint Tammany Parish is also "very bad for children in families in the top 1%. It is better than only about 7 percent of counties. It is better for rich kids to live in Saint James or Assumption Parish."

Assumptions Squashed: Where You Really Should grow up in South Louisiana

I found these findings to be surprising given the number of people who have left New Orleans and Jefferson Parish to move to more suburban parishes like Saint Tammany.

According to data gleaned from the study, "If you’re poor and live in the New Orleans area, it’s better to be in Plaquemines Parish than in Jefferson Parish or Orleans Parish. Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Plaquemines, the better you will do on average. Children who move at earlier ages are less likely to become single parents, more likely to go to college and more likely to earn more."


According to the data analysed by the Times: "Every year a poor child spends in Plaquemines Parish adds about $60 to his or her annual household income at age 26, compared with a childhood spent in the average American county. Over the course of a full childhood, which is up to age 20 for the purposes of this analysis, the difference adds up to about $1,300, or 5 percent, more in average income as a young adult."



So in Sum:

  • Poor families should move to Plaquemines Parish
  • Average income earners should move to La Salle Parish.
  • And children of the one percent should move to Catahoula Parish. 
Or, pack your bags (whether you're poor or average), Louisiana, and move to Mississippi.

*In Louisiana, counties are referred as parishes.


May 7, 2015

Somewhere in San Francisco in 2008

San Francisco 2008 (Somewhere Along the Cable Car Line)

It's queer how in San Francisco you can stand up straight and still appear to be tilting sideways.


Feb 12, 2015

Dolan's Mommy Opens Screens




There is a moment in Xavier Dolan's film, Mommy (2014), where Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a troubled teenager who has been dispatched to several group homes, and is now living with his mother after he caught fire to the cafeteria and seriously injured another boy, breaks open the screen. It's an interesting moment.

But to zoom out a bit. Mother and son seem to have this affective bond that is both generative and at times destructive — but anyway, the point I want to make is similar to what A.O. Scott wrote in his review of the film: at the midpoint of the film, after Steve has been tutored by his shy neighbor Kyla who seems to have the ability to soften his violent outbursts. In the scene, Steve is feeling free and he actually stretches out his arms and makes the screen wider — which is really kind of neat considering the movie is mostly restrained by a tight 1:1 ratio (like a square — which some people say reminds them of a cell phone camera). The film literally opens up and we feel the surge of trust coupled with hope that the film has promised us — as well as the feeling of a downward spiral to come when the screen closes back up again to its restrictive 1:1 aspect.

The movie is bombastic and melodramatic and I admired its intensity and the several Home Alone references that weirdly fit.

Mommy just opened in the United States a few weeks ago and it won the 2014 Jury Prize at Cannes (shared with Jean-Luc Godard's story of a dog-cum-traveller — Adieu au Langage (2014).


Image Source: Debordements

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