Apr 23, 2017

Selfie in the Subway

Roto-Scope Style Selfie at West Fourth Street Station, Manhattan
So. I was exploring the city the other day. I took off from the 45th Street Station in Brooklyn. It's my home station. The one I depart from most often. For the commute, for everything. It's my everything station. Lulz. And by the way, there are two entrances,  one on the west side of the avenue and the other on the east side.

Did you know the station is not deep? - in fact, it is like many subway stations in New York City built according to the cut-and-cover method of subway infrastructure building. It is crazy to think that construction on this segment of the subway system underneath Fourth Avenue started in 1906. It took a couple of decades to complete the final project but now - today! - you have a one-ticket ride from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to Forest Hills in Queens.

On this particular excursion, I, a straphanger with a 30-day MetroCard, took the Sixth Avenue bound express train at 36th Street and ended up at West Fourth Street station in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Hence the selfie - notice the rotoscope-style photograph. I noticed Facebook added cool animation layovers to supplement the iPhone's camera function.

Hence this selfie that makes me way younger than I actually am.

Which made me reflect on modernity.

Not really.

But I did watch a disturbing video about youth: Baby Shark. Has modernity really taken us this far where youth has been relegated to the use of violence as the only means to "be woke"?

It reminds me of a quote from Flannery O'Connor - and I am paraphrasing - where she says the reason she includes violence in her short stories is that she realizes that violence is the most potent way to get people's attention.

In other news: I ate a colossal ham sandwich entitled "The Bomb" at a deli near Ditmars Boulevard in Queens.

If you squint, you can barely make out my wrinkles.

Feb 28, 2017

Adult/Teenager Banter in Manchester by the Sea

Nephew Patrick and Uncle Eddie squabble in Manchester by the Sea © 2016 Amazon Studios
I must admit one film that slipped by me was Manchester by the Sea - produced by Amazon Studios and a contender in the 2016 awards season. 

The movie is good and it has lots of witty examples of adult/teenager banter. I can see why it won an award at the Oscars for its writing.

For example, the conversations between Patrick, a teenager who just lost his father, and his Uncle Eddie (Casey Affleck) are well-written and funny. A recurring string of dialogue is the nephew's hilarious pointed questions that undermine his Uncle's crotchety humanism - and poke fun at his complete lack of social aplomb.

The movie's tone is actually serious and moving - and all those monikers I can think of that characterize a serious, moving family drama - but it's a hilarious movie. Even though it is about a man who is wracked with guilt over the accidental death of his three children and who is now faced with the prospect of raising his teenaged nephew.

At one point a stranger overhears the two arguing. He says something critical - like, "Good parenting," and Uncle Eddie - as he does throughout this movie when he perceives a slight to his character - goes ballistic and Patrick tries to defuse the situation and then, hilariously, whips around and says "Uncle Eddie, are you fundamentally unsound?" and, later, "Are you brain damaged?"

Here is another funny exchange - but this time it is Uncle Eddie. He tells Patrick that "if you're going to freak out every time that you see a frozen chicken I think we should go to the hospital."


Feb 7, 2017

Notes on a Tuesday Evening After Instructing the Pupils

At the end of the school day most kids shuffle to their locker, collect wallets, purses, slung-over-the-shoulder book bags, and whatever else they've deigned to take home with them on a weekday afternoon. At the end of the school day teachers make last minute conversations, shuffle to the copier and churn out dittos (that's what we used to call those things), input grades, drink a cup of coffee and then head out the double door into oh-so-beautiful reality.

Or. Sometimes teachers bolt. Taking a breath, needing space between teacher and student, teacher and teacher, it is sometimes necessary to do the after bell plunge.

Today I bolted with a fellow teacher compatriot. We took solace on the local train back to our prospective boroughs (and burrows). I was dressed very dapper today. Normally I am presenting a six (or seven) o'clock shadow, my tie a bit untied, and the color scheme on my body jarring - to say the least. Did I tell you that yesterday I wore a shockingly yellow paisley tie on top of a red checkered shirt - complete with a professorial coat that seemed to have forgotten its trip to the laundromat? I am not sure if I should blame my slovenly father or my very exquisitely dressed mother, but I have chosen to not really take seriously the concept of "professionally dressed."

Anyway. I digress. I have thirty research papers to grade - ranging from topics such Yankee Doodle Dandy and Bowling (the students chose their topics - those lusty scholars of learning!) - and instead of doing just that, grading, I am finding solace on my blog. And I have my wardrobe laid out for tomorrow - at least I'll look dapper again tomorrow. 

Here's a shout out to all those educators out there: you do you. And do clothes make the man?


Feb 6, 2017

Stones of Erasmus's Alternative Academy Awards

Hey, since everyone is talking about alternative this-and-thats - I put together my own alternative Academy Awards:

Film of the Year
- Moonlight (2016)

Source: A24

The film hits all of the right film language notes. It was a toss up between Lion and Moonlight -- but Moonlight won because I have to say the film speaks in a new film language -- one that honors both poetry and story, form and content.

Film Auteur of the Year- Barry Jenkins

Source: AV Club

Jenkins takes a story that - as far as I can tell - was never published and probably never performed on stage - and creates a beautiful cinematic triptych - of child, teenager, and adult.

Best Male Actor in a Film- Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight)

It's hard to play repressed emotion without seeming wooden. I am not sure what will come of Chiron and Kevin's love for each other - but Rhodes helped me to think that maybe there is a chance for a new beginning.

Best Female Actor in a Film- Sasha Lane (American Honey)

Source: American Honey

Lane plays vulnerability, recklessness and moments of sheer empathy with such depth and emotion. I did not want her to leave her hometown and join a ragged band of door-to-door magazine sellers -- but she is transformed. And so was I.

Best Young Actor in a Film- Michael Barbieri (Little Men)

Source: Ira Sachs

This kid is amazing (Barbieri, on the left with co-star Theo Taplitz). The improvisation scene alone is enough to make me crown him as best young actor; furthermore, Barbieri plays the best loyal friend I have seen on film or literature since Huckleberry Finn.

Best Male Supporting Actor in a Film- Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Source: Moonlight

I liked how he took the trope of a mentoring drug dealer and created something believable. Also, I love how he was actually teaching actor Alex R. Hibbert how to swim in that ocean scene. 

Best Female Supporting Actor in a Film- Sônia Brag (Aquarius)

While she is not technically a supporting actor in Aquarius, I chose to ignore technicalities. Brag plays Dona Clara - a woman holding onto her lease in a Brazilian apartment complex.

Best Written Screenplay- Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias (Little Men)

Source: videomovie.in

I sort of fell in love with Ira Sachs this year after seeing his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. He writes beautiful stories!

Best Short Film- Killer (2016)

Source: Matt Kazman
I saw this short once and thought nothing of it - except that the young lead - Hale Lytle - is an actor to watch out for. However, I realized on a second viewing (and I do not want to give too much away) -that the director Matt Kazman takes a weird conceit - and takes it to its logical conclusion. I won't give it away. Trust me. 

Best Non-English Film- A Tale of Love and Darkness (2016)

Source: Tale of Love and Darkness

The film traces an old man's memory of his mother -- and in the process tries to make sense of her suicide.

Best Documentary Film- Life, Animated (2016)

Source: Life, Animated

At first, I did not really like this film's premise. I thought the idea of Disney movies helping a child on the spectrum find his emotional voice a little cloying - however, the film feels real - and Jonathan Freeman is a brave young man. 


I did not watch enough memorable animated films. Sorry.

And, here are my honorable mentions:

Closet Monster (2016)
The Wailing (2016)
A Monster Calls (2016)

Feb 1, 2017

Acts of Contrition

It's funny what a person knows by heart. Like. I know my social security number by heart. I had to learn it by accident. What I mean is that I learned it accidently. I wrote the number so many times on forms, spoken to bank representatives and inscribed on tax forms. I learned the "Queen Mab" monologue in high school - a passionate speech about the fantasy of dreams from Romeo and Juliet. 

I know the act of contrition. Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee ...

I know a handful of prayers. Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory be.

I know facts about my childhood. The rules to the fortune game. The steps that led to the parish church: seven.

I know the date of my birth: the twenty-ninth of fucking December.

I know a few poems by Jack Perlutsky by heart: Homework, Oh! Homework I hate you / You stink.

I know the first line of a Wordsworth poem: The world is too much with us ...

I don't know what I wore yesterday. I do know I wore black slacks. However, I don't know the color of the tie even though I hung it up in the closet an hour ago.

I do not remember what I look like. I have to look in the mirror to remind me.

Why is that? 

Dec 4, 2016

Wisdom from the Animated Feature Film "The Sword in the Stone"

The animated GIF is my favorite type of digital file. It's been around forever, right? It's been around longer than Vine has been a platform for short video clips - that's for sure.* And, what is a Vine but a glorified GIF?

So, here is a favorite of mine - some words of epistemological wisdom on the difference between knowledge and understanding  -- from the young King Arthur in Disney's animated adaptation of T. H. White's children's literary classic The Sword in the Stone:

source: Disney
*The GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) was created by a Compuserve engineer in 1987.

Aug 26, 2016

Theater of the Absurd Charlie Rose Style

Charlie Rose supercut
In 2013 I saw this video at an exhibition on super cuts at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens -- adjacent to the old style Astoria film studios where Law and Order and Sesame Street have been brought to life.

Anyway. A supercut is a kind of new media -- someone gets an idea like "What if I cut out everything in news media clippings of Donald Trump speaking except for when he utters "China"? You get the idea. Or a supercut of just blah blah blahs from across cinematic history. I posted that one on this blog. I must be obsessed with supercuts. I have wanted to create my own but never had the tenacity nor have I yet lighted upon a good idea.

This supercut from the Charlie Rose show was imagined as "if written by Samuel Beckett." By just paring down an episode on technology to a few buzzwords and phrases the creator has managed to create an nonsensical interview between Charlie Rose and himself. Here it is.

True story: I now utter "Google" nonsensically in public places. Thank you very much.

"Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett from Andrew Filippone Jr. on Vimeo.

Media Credit: Andrew Filippone, Jr.

Aug 25, 2016

Ira Sach's "Little Men" Improvisation Scene

Ira Sach's Little Men (2016) is about how children are more mature in their emotional expression than the adults -- as well as better listeners.

The film tells a story about two friends who must suffer the consequences of a business dispute between their parents. While the adults bicker and put up their defenses, the two boys roam the streets of Brooklyn, an image of the borough that is a stitched together pastiche of different neighborhoods. While it seems the kids live in the Greenpoint or Williamsburg neighborhood, the setting shifts between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. We see the Verrazano Bridge in one sequence, and in another, a view of Lower Manhattan from Sunset Park. I am not sure whether Sachs was attempting to make a statement about the ever shifting landscape of New York City, or simply painting a colorful, albeit nostalgic, portrait of several neighborhoods mashed into one.

But, I want to talk about my favorite scene in the movie. A quarter of the way through, it features a creative, energy-infused scene with one of the young protagonists Tony, played by Michael Barbieri

The scene is great on many levels -- and it's hilarious to watch, especially as it pops out at you when watching the movie in the cinema. On the website Vulture, Kyle Buchanan made a thoughtful interpretation of the scene, as it relates to the larger story arc of the film. He mentions how Ira Sach's "explosive, funny sequence" nicely ties together the theme of silence and listening. While the adults fail in resolving conflicts, the two boys respond by making their friendship stronger. The two stage a protest by not talking to their parents. 

Having done improvisations with young people, and having done improvisations myself as a young person, the scene reminded me of how truly transformative acting can be. Or, how acting out in an improvised way -- structured play -- brings out raw, creative energy. And that's what we see in Tony as he naturally mimics and expands on his Theater teacher's (Mauricio Bustamante) verbal phrasing and intonation of voice.

Here's the clip!

Media Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Aug 24, 2016

Inequality in America: W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk and HBO's The Night Of

A black stranger … for instance, is liable to be stopped anywhere on the public highway and made to state his business to the satisfaction of any white interrogator. If he fails to give a suitable answer, or seems too independent or “sassy,” he may be arrested or summarily driven away. 
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 113

Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. I like to use his book as a point of reference because every time injustice is carried out, deniers will often remonstrate thusly: "But, that was then, this is now."

No. History tends to repeat itself. And not only that, old wounds heal slowly when subsumed under the relentless wheel house of time.

The tyranny of the interrogator persists. It hides behind "gun rights" lobbyists and political candidates using fear of the other to keep constituents voting for them on election day.

Americans live in a country where last year 1,134 people were killed by armed police officers. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an African-American History scholar at Harvard, was arrested in front of his own home. American children do not have equal access to education. The United States, one of the world's most developed nations, fares poorly in its citizens' share of the wealth. Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Ethiopia have better equality in the distribution of income across families than the United States. I am not just throwing out facts. I am suggesting that inequality spikes through multiple layers of society.

In The Night Of, Nasir Khan is accused of murdering a white woman.
I can't help but think about popular culture. In the HBO miniseries The Night Of, Nasir Kahn, a Pakistani American from Queens, is brought in as number one suspect in the murder of a young white girl on the Upper West Side. The season finale has not aired yet, so viewers don't know the identity of the killer. As a crime drama procedural puffed up as a cable television series, we're not sure if Naz is a killer or not -- but one thing the show makes clear is that once interrogated Naz is drawn into the bone-crushing bureaucracy of the criminal justice system, the perception of a mindless crowd, and the truth that even if Naz is innocent, once spooled through the system Naz is transformed -- and it is not exactly a pretty transformation.

I digress a little bit. My main point is that the United States, with all of its proclamations of freedom, democracy, and justice for all, has difficulty in being honest about who exactly enjoys this so-called freedom, democracy and justice.

Image Source: HBO

Jul 15, 2016

Greig's Educational Philosophy

Every once and awhile an employer or person will ask me about my educational philosophy. As they say -- there's many ways to skin a cat -- but here is one version of what teaching means to me:

The word “education” derives from the Latin meaning “to lead out.” Teaching is just that. To teach is to lead out. But where is out? And to where are we leading those entrusted to our care? I believe we lead our students out so eventually they will no longer need us. Of course, all young people graduate. But if they graduate and are still dependent on us -- then what have we accomplished? We don’t call graduation “commencement” for nothing. To commence means to begin the journey. Once those in our care depart they will have to guide themselves. We guide our students not so that they will be perpetually guided, but so that they too will become like us -- those who lead others out. That is the purpose of education.
I disagree with the educational philosophy that says children have an innate understanding of knowledge and it is our job as teachers to show them what they already know. However, I do agree with Aristotle when he said, “all people desire to know.” What I teach in the classroom is what to do with knowledge. What do we do with our knowledge of history, the arts, of writing and reading? Mere curiosity is not enough. The role of the teacher is to help students dive into the vast ocean with a canteen of fresh water by their side. The merely curious will end up like the curious cat -- and we know what happened to the curious cat! In sum, teaching is providing our cohorts with the tools to understand what they desire to know.
I love teaching because I was not as a child someone who was primed to learn. I liked to read but I had no guidance in choosing what I read. It was not until a teacher told me, “Greig, I notice you read books in the library. But you seem to have no rhyme or reason to what or why you read the books you do.” She gave me some books she thought were thought provoking and better than the drivel that I had chosen for myself. She gave me books to read that lead me out to other worlds, concepts, and different ways of thinking. I must say that even today I love the pleasure of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and Goosegumps, but I am forever grateful that I was lead out by Alice in Wonderland and the Odyssey.
Master teachers ask the right questions. Students in a classroom do not respect the know-it-all teacher. I agree with Paulo Freire who said that you cannot pour information into the brain of a child and just expect them to conform. Education is not a mechanical activity of depositing raw information into empty heads. We have to put fire under the belly! For example -- I do not expect to give a one-hour lecture on Shakespeare. I do not want Shakespeare’s plays to be empty information poured into an unloving mind. I have to set up the conditions to enable the spark to ignite. I know that young people are fascinated by love and death -- and I will be sure to lead them into a discussion of Romeo and Juilet with this in mind. Whatever I teach must matter.
My teaching creed stems from my own education. I am excited about the history of philosophy. I love telling stories of the great myths and recounting historical events. I am usually enthralled by the intricacies of a good novel, an excellent coming-of-age story, or funny poem. I thrive in schools where students are in love with a certain passion they see in their instructors. Master teachers must be lovers of their field of knowledge.
To teach means learning new ways to teach. I love working with technology because what better way to think about literature than to comb through the archive of Google Books to look for evidence, or to examine an ancient artifact from Ancient Mesopotamia on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website? Getting kids to form good habits of discussion is awesome. When young people begin to lead others out I know that I have done my job.
I do not teach in a vacuum. I do not believe in going rogue. I think teachers thrive best in a school where the values espoused by the teacher is equal to the school’s own values. For me: it is love of learning equals desire for the divine. By love of learning I mean the thirst for knowledge that whets the appetite of novice learners. We love learning because we seek more that what we are.
To put it squarely: I believe in becoming. In this way, I think teaching is an intimate occupation. We must not only be lovers of knowledge, but we must be lovers of others. We must help the kids in the room become better versions of themselves. And in this way we too are changed.

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