6.11.19

You Talk Too Much: On the Pleasures of Logorrhea

Is Silence Golden?
Common wisdom says silence is golden. I respect the virtue of a silent tongue. For example - silent meditation is divine. In the morning, I like to think in the quiet nil of the morning. However, there is also a perverse virtue in talking a lot. Talking relieves pressure and it helps the mind sort out ideas. Talking is enjoyable and it’s a salient way to test out new ideas and words (and stuff). I’m often told I talk too much (if you know me well, reading that last part will make you grin). I don’t think loose lips 👄 sink ships. I think talk should be loose. Otherwise how can you get closer to the truth? 

Let Talking Dance!
Talking lets you dance between binaries. Find value in common sense. I’d wither in a world of oppressive silence. Now. Don’t get me wrong. Quiet spaces are wonderful. Today all my kiddos were each reading books they’d chosen. Silently. But. Afterward, we were laughing and crying - sharing what we read! I’d be cheeky to say everything in moderation (because I think moderation is over-rated). Go be loquacious. Don’t think about what you want to say. Free associate. But dip into the silence if you want to. But when there’s talking join the fray. It’ll boost societal health. Try it.

1.11.19

Lesson Plan: Teaching New York City with the Musical "On the Town"

I created a fun, engaging lesson for Middle and High School students
inspired by the Broadway-turned-MGM-film-classic "Our Town."
    If you like New York City (it's where I happen to reside) and if you love musicals then you may know there is a famous musical produced in the 1940s about the Big Apple. On the Town is a fun day-in-the-life story of a trio of sailors who take a tour of the city and find love and hijinks. In 1949, MGM  made the Broadway hit into a movie.
    Inspired by the film and the song "New York," New York" I invited my students to plan a one-day itinerary to explore the Big Apple. The kids were surprised by how this old-school song is still humorous today. The lyrics are also fun: "The Bronx is up, and the Battery's down" and people "get around in a hole in the ground." I asked my students some trivia questions, too. Do you know where Grant's Tomb is located or do you know the best way to get to the Bowery?

    We then learned more about the history of New York City and then as an extended learning project created itineraries to explore the city on our own terms (in which I encouraged everyone to share their creations with their family and friends who may not know the city very well). 
    I created a lesson plan based on my classroom experience that is three days long, and I used it for my English Language Learners (ESL), but it also fits for a Humanities, English Language Arts, or Social Studies lesson.

My lesson plan includes the following features:
  • Lesson Planning Guide and Calendar
  • Cloze Passage Worksheet
  • Lecture Notes for the Teacher
  • Guided Notetaking Organizer
  • Editable Google Slide Templates
  • 2 Color NYC Landmarks Contact Sheets
  • NYC Itinerary Template
  • NYC Map Template
  • NYC Map Resource List
  • List of New York City Regional Transit Maps (including the New York City Subway)
  • *Google Classroom / App Friendly Resource*
Suggested Classroom Use:
  • Unit on New York City History
  • ESL Class for English Language Learners
  • Middle School Humanities
For other resources using maps and geography check these out:
Add my TpT store to your favorites so you can follow me on my journey. I offer original resources for teaching, writing, and all things arts and letters in the Middle and High School classroom.

5.10.19

Train Report: Riding the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Cleveland

The Amtrak Station in Cleveland is spartan by design.

Why Take an Amtrak Train?     
    Why take a train when even a car is faster? For me, train travel is the most relaxing way to travel even with possible delays and motion sickness. I like surrendering myself to the massive stretch of rails, freeing myself from the burden of having to operate a vehicle myself. Who wants to drive when I can cozy up with a book in my near-better-than-airline seat (preferably a window).

Riding the Lake Shore Limited
   My last journey took me from New York Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan to the shores of Lake Erie where the city of Cleveland lies amidst the lake and the Cuyahoga River. I had to travel to Ohio for my mother — she’s having surgery at the Cleveland  Clinic. So I took family leave from school to be with her. I left New York on an early Sunday afternoon and arrived in Cleveland in the wee hours of the morning at 3:30 — before the sun had come up. It’s a long stretch — but for those going to the line’s terminus in Chicago, even longer. 

Arriving in Cleveland to See My Mom
   The train station in Cleveland sits between FirstEnergy Stadium and a line of tracks. Mostly freight. So it is not easy to walk to from downtown. It is close to the light rail Waterfront line at West Third Street. The building is utilitarian; there are bathrooms and when Amtrak trains are running there is a station attendant, and you can get automated latte from the coffee vending machine. When I arrived, several Mennonites were waiting for the eastbound train. I took a rest for a few minutes then took a Lyft to the hotel.
PDF Copy for Printing

5.9.19

Reflection on Authority, Power, Gods, Teaching, Mothers, Sons, and Acceptance

"You may call me sir, or God."
I had an older teacher friend who said he would tell his students, "You may call me sir, or God." I thought it was funny. I get the either/or. Either you respect me or you respect me. You get it? Disregarding the tautology, all this talk about divine authority makes me think about my mother. I have been prone to talking to my mother on the phone a lot lately. She likes it because it is uncharacteristic of our relationship. We have gotten closer over the years but it has been the last few years that our mother/son relationship has gone to new levels. We are both adults and even though I am still her son we parlay at the level of related adults. You hear me? It is gratifying to reach that level of intimacy with a parent. Not that I let it all hang out. Mind you. I am civil. But I am more honest and less afraid of reprisal. When you are a kid you are rather incompetent compared to your parents who lord it over you. It is the way of the familial structure. But as you grow older you either do three things. You drift away. You stay at the level of infantile / parent  — where mom and dad are always in charge — or you coalesce into something new and different. So. This is why I am more open — and — I think why I am more confident in general. It probably helped that I came out to my mom a few years ago. That helped to even the playing field. And that openness has made me more pliable to the cascading nature of power. It comes in waves — and like a wave — it plunges you into the deep with a secret; but, once the secret is revealed the power of the secret is lost and I am able to be made new again. Do you see the connection? So that is the way of mortals — neither animals or gods. Something in between. But you may call me sir, or God.
PDF Copy for Printing

1.9.19

Teaching Eleven and Twelve Year Olds How to Conduct Online Research is Fun

Working Every Day With Kids
I'm a teacher. I don't have a classroom of seventy kids. My largest class has twenty-three students. I work at a small school. There is a lot of interaction between teachers and students and I'm often in the middle of things every day. Because of my schedule, I get to teach several different subjects to different age groups. I teach two different groups of Sixth graders once a week. We've had this schedule since September. 
Working with computers
You still need paper and pen even if you're working on a computer.

Teaching Kids How to Research Online
I teach a class called Research. We do activities in the computer lab. I make them create customized Google Maps. We use Google Earth. For one lesson the kids created their own Encyclopedia Britannica online account. I teach them how to find good resources online. I make them take notes on Google Docs. I talk about Internet safety. Sometimes we play silly HTML games online. It's an easy class to teach because we’re doing stuff I like. Give me an encyclopedia or an atlas and I'm lost in it for hours. I'll forget to eat or take a shower. So I'm in my element twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. It's the closest I get to feeling like a librarian. Also, I get a kick out doing Internet-related stuff with kids. It's interesting finding out how much they know. Eleven and Twelve-year-olds are also really hilarious and curious. 
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
Creating Surveys to Teach Qualitative and Quantitative Questioning
Leveraging my students' insatiable curiosity, I made them create their own Google Forms. We did a unit on qualitative and quantitative questions. How many hours do you spend online? That's a quantitative question. How do you feel about going to the dentist? That’s a qualitative question. And I talked about the differences between open and close-ended questions. Using those two concepts we created surveys. A large percentage of the kids wrote survey questions about video gaming habits. Elliot wrote a survey collecting information about eating-out habits. And another kid named Amber wrote a survey that used Google Form’s redirect feature to make the survey different based on answers respondents gave to questions. It was the first time I had ever made kids make their own Google Form. So I was happy. Sending out the Forms to others took some work, though. Kids had fun emailing the persistent link to friends, teachers, and family - but, to be honest, the kids who had their parents post the link to other adults via social media garnered the most results. I was impressed that one savvy researcher amassed 70+ results. Most of us managed only to get twenty. But the goal of the lesson was in designing and creating the survey - not in its popularity. So I praised kids’ design efforts over popularity. 

Creating Google Forms With Students
If you want to do a similar lesson with kids keep these things in mind:
  • The first question should be required:
  • Set the Google Form to not collect respondents’ emails. And disable required Google login to take the survey.
  • Turn off quiz mode. There are no right or wrong answers.
  • Make a snazzy visual header.
  • Brainstorm lots of ideas. Look up and model good examples.
  • A survey on BBQ versus Hot Pot is a better survey than just FOOD.
  • Use lots of relevant images!!!! 
  • Divide your survey into sections.
  • Use the grid question type in Google Forms.
  • Make your kids use all the question-types.
  • There is a difference between a checklist question and a multiple choice question.
  • Make your kids create at least one linear scale question.
  • Don't make all questions open-ended.
  • Have kids explain their questions. Not everyone understands what Fortnite and dap mean.
Other Things to Consider: 
Explain to your students that they're conducting research using qualitative and quantitative data and exploring general interests and preferences. They're not collecting personal information. Don't collect first and last names, addresses, emails, or birthdates with month, day, and year. 

If your school is not set up to use Google Apps don't worry. If kids are thirteen and older they can create their own Google accounts. If kids are under thirteen, they'll need parental permission to make a Google Account for kids. 

Proofread your kids’ work before allowing them to send it out to the world. Once you decide a survey meets your standards make the student draft a Researcher’s Letter and save it to Google Docs. That way they can be like real data scientists. 

An Example of Student Work
Dear Friends, Etc.,
I’ve created a qualitative and quantitative survey to represent students in Middle School and their favorite things (this survey only applies to students in 4th, 5th and 6th grade.). I’m conducting this research for a school project. I am not collecting personal information. Thank you for taking this survey!
What Has Been Your Experience Teaching Kids Online Research Skills?
Thank you for reading my blog. I write a lot of stuff about different topics; so, I hope you enjoyed this one about using Google Apps in the classroom. Let me know in the comments if you've ever experimented with Google Forms in a classroom setting.

28.8.19

Cinema as Portraiture in Dovzhenko's Zvenigora and the Ukraine Trilogy


Anthology Film Archives in New York City is a fabulous place to watch movies. I try to go to their ongoing "Essential Film" screenings — of movies that have been curated from their vault and deemed important to the history of cinema. Just the other day I went to see Alexander Dovzhenko's Ukraine Trilogy — well, at least two films from that set: Zvenigora and Arsenal.
The movies are haunting, disturbing, and beautiful. They're also hard to follow if Russian is not your native language — so I recommend you snag a copy of the synopsis before watching it. The opening scene of the trilogy, Zvenigora, is a hallucinatory, slow-motion shot of men on horseback moving across the screen. Perhaps today it is not a significant effect that a filmmaker would use slow-motion — it is easy enough to do on an iPhone! But seeing it on the silver screen — and in such a glorious presentation — I fell in love with cinema's basic ability to simulate motion. Movies simulate motion by projecting a series of individual images on the screen at a rapid rate. If you take a look at a movie reel you can see each individual frame. Each frame is essentially a photographic image. Now, of course, movies made today, for the most part, are filmed on digital cameras so looking at a movie reel is not possible — but the idea is similar. Thousands of images strung together in a line. Each one is slightly different from the next. Have you ever played with a flipbook — that is what it is like. Most movies are intended to make you forget that what you are seeing on the screen is a series of spliced together individual photographs. But Alexander Dovzhenko's movies, particularly his Ukraine Trilogy, made me aware of the cinema as a series of individual photos. Dovzhenko was a Soviet filmmaker. He made Zvenigora in 1928 — and on the surface, it tells a story about the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and between technology and nature, superstition and belief, protest and allegiance, father and son. It's a propaganda film. But Dovzhenko was able to use those limitations to make something really incredible. I am not going to dwell too much on the narrative aspects of the film; rather, I want to focus on one aspect of the movie that struck me. The movie has a series of long shots that feature figures of people. Not exactly close-ups but more like photographs — but in a movie.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
Creating the On-Screen Cinematic Portrait
Not all of the movies' shots are slow and extended — actually, the movie combines lots of different cinematic effects, close editing, shots looking up at a person from below, to give the effect of being dominated — images layered on another to create dream sequences and quite a few action shots.
Also, the movie plays with parallel images — a mother beating her son contrasted with scenes from war. And there are quite a few close-ups — in one sequence a man is gassed, reminiscent of the trench warfare that plagued the first World War (which is the movie's thematic launching point). For several takes, we see his garish expression, his horror, and his elongated response to the visceral horror of biological warfare. Dovzhenko’s faces reminded me of Carl Dreyer's faces of Joan in the movie The Passion of Joan of Arc — but not as intense a close-up. What I call portraits shots in the Ukraine Trilogy last about five to six seconds — so they are long enough to notice the figure in the frame. And in these shots the figures do not move much, but rather, they stand as if posing for a portrait. I don't think I have ever seen a movie capture portraiture in a moving image quite as Dovzhenko does in Zvenigora.
Nor has a movie made me stop and reflect on the photographic nature of cinema — especially in its early days. By definition, a portrait is a still image. Portraits were done by painters, often of important people, or commissioned by patrons — such as the portraits one can see in a place like The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Or if you were to look through a family's photo album. The characters in Dovshenko's movie are portraits of peasants. They are portraits of soldiers. Of villagers. Of the proletariat. Of a mother and child. Of father and son. I am not sure how Dvoshenko arranged for his casting; but, I would not be surprised if he just took people off the street and filmed them — the movie, despite its flights of fantastic fantasy - has an air of the documentary to it. As if I were perusing the photographs of an anthropologist's field study. The figures in the film are costumed in folk dress; often mustached or bearded, for the men, and dressed in traditional thick woven garments for the women. Some of the facial expressions are exaggerated — for effect. The horror of war. The anger and jeer of a crowd. A startled glance. A loving look. A man without a nose.  It's all there. But the more striking portraits are the ones of just looking on, of reflection. I imagine in the age of the GIF I could take any one of Dvoshenko's portraits, pluck it out of the film and make a five-second animated photograph. Or, I could pluck out some of the portraits (in the few I selected for this post one can hopefully see what I mean).

16.8.19

Short Film Review: Broke (2017)


The Short Film "Broke" - 2017 (35 minutes, in Norwegian with English subtitles)
Norwegian Filmmakers Make Another Short Film About Something Not Quite Right in Norway’s Affluent Suburbs
Filmmaker Bjørn Erik Pihlmann Sørensen and screenwriter Einar Sverdrup have teamed up and made a new short that serves as another installment in what looks to be a series of movies about the hidden underbelly of Norwegian suburban society. I reviewed the duo’s short film Reckless in June. It’s a troubling film about responsibility, desire, and sexual exploration gone awry. You can read my review here. I don’t want to play a game of compare and contrast. I will write about Broke using a more or less reader-response approach to interpreting a work of art. What I will do is look at the film as it stands, first, and what I think it is trying to say. Then — if I am so inclined I can make stray observations that lend itself more to how it opens a dialogue with its predecessor Reckless.

Here is my review of Broke:
Broke is a story of how a rather well-to-do upper-middle-class family deals with the prospect of going bankrupt. That is how the movie has been packaged — and it is the expectation I had going into watching it. Full disclosure: I was able to view the film by way of the filmmakers (since the movie has not yet been made available for full release). Mr. Philman sent me a screener (for which I am very grateful). Broke is still making its presence known at festivals and in special screenings around the world; It will debut in New York at Cinema Village and run from August 16-22. As many independently funded projects go — the movie is hoping to get picked up for a wider release.

The Anticipation that Something Bad is Going to Happen
Sometimes a movie wants desperately for you to think something awful is about to happen. And Broke is a movie just like that. Someone puts a weapon in a backpack. But it is not revealed who. A married couple fight in their bedroom thinly keeping their row secret from the kids who are supposedly sleeping down the hall. I expected violence to ensue in just the first few minutes of watching this movie. It begins taut and on edge. And I must say the movie freaked me out because for the majority of its storytelling it hugs close to a school shooting narrative (a horrifying series of hells Americans have been facing since Columbine).I had this sense of foreboding since a large chunk of the story follows young adolescent Pia (Sofie Albertine Foss) as she goes about her school day — a little uneasily. In fact, everyone in this movie seems very much ill at ease. No one is enjoying their current dispensation. Pia is enormously bright but chooses to hide her gifts and gives off the appearance of a wallflower. She is an observer, watching Daniel (Marcus Rix), a hunky boy, a bully who taunts a smaller boy, Jonas (Arthur Hakalahti). Daniel belittles Jonas with impunity, and in one unsettling moment physically harasses him in the school swimming pool. The film presents us with long shots of Pia, Daniel, and Jonas — and other kids and adults who inhabit this school. I did not pick up much joy; the blasé nature of adolescent Je ne sais quoi seemed grossly disproportionate here. The kids in this film are candidates for something very bad about to happen. But we don’t know what. Or how. The film teases us a bit; the Checkhov gun is literally a gun but we don’t know how it will turn up and what character will possess it or use it or whether someone will cause harm with it.
    We do eventually get the answers to these question (sort of) — what work the film does before it reveals its hands is to get us to know these three disparate teenagers a little better. Pia shows a need to withdraw (as, for example, when she tells her teacher she does not have her swimming suit with her). She sits in the bleachers instead and watches events transpire. Jonah is the picked-on kid. The pariah. Pia shows concern for Jonas; Daniel is all masculine bravado and “I don’t give a f***.” However, Pia is drawn to Daniel like a moth to a flame. And here is where the film pivots.

An Aggressive Sexual Encounter Holds the Middle of the Film
Pia joins Daniel after school; first, berating him for being a bully, and actively standing up for Jonas. But Pia takes the bait and follows Daniel to his house, and we and the camera are made witness to an awkward sexual detente between the two characters. But is it really? When Pia tries to put a stop to Daniel’s advances, he turns on her. And Pia leaves, angry and frustrated. Daniel cannot stand to be rebuffed; his retaliation is to call Pia “a slut.” Watching this interaction between the two characters I was taken aback. Where is the story taking me (us)? Daniel is aggressive and he outrightly makes a move on Pia; he is physical and rough and he exposes his body to Pia and to the camera, wanting her to perform oral sex on him. The camera does not turn away. I was relieved when Pia, deciding not to have sex, leaves Daniel’s bedroom. She makes a choice — and then the movie changes directions again. Hints are dropped throughout the movie that it is Pia’s family who has been hit with a financial blow. Her father has lost a significant amount of money (presumably through bad investments) and is forced to have to shed his assets and move his family to a different city to survive. Pia is shattered by this revelation and she is processing what this means for her. I do not want to reveal the ending because I think this is a film that deserves to be watched from beginning to end. I will tell you that I found the climax to be teeth-grinding; I had to turn my head away from the camera. Something awful does happen in this movie, but something is also restored. But it takes a lot of pain and pent-up frustration to get there. Checkhov’s gun is revealed in the end — but the gun does not end up being quite what one thought it would be. The movie ends with deep sadness.

What is Broke Trying to Say?
A key to the movie’s inner logic, I will say this as a closing, comes earlier in the film — when the kids are in class and the teacher is proceeding to dole out an ostensibly boring lesson on the fall of the Roman Empire. The teacher asks his class, “What would you do if you had no money?”. His question falls on deaf ears because the kids in his class do not know what it means to be truly broke. They are blithe in their privilege and I get the sense, watching the film, there is a lost ability to deeply care. I am a teacher so I get bored high school students. And suffice it to say — the teacher doe not try hard to entertain his classroom. But that is the point. He plays the part of the Cassandra of the film; he lays bare what happens when a society has a fiscal collapse. It turns in on itself. And it is then, watching the movie a second time, I realized what the final scene is meant to explore. What happens when society itself “runs out”?

Stray Observations
  • Pia’s relationship with her little sister is similar to Mads’s relationship with his sister in Reckless.
  • I leave out considerable plot points in my review because I feel like it is best to let the reader make the narrative connections. The movie has a twist and I do not want to reveal it. 
  • Both Broke and Reckless are beautifully shot works of art. I liked the aesthetics of Reckless better - because I noticed the use of bright color was effective against the backdrop of the dram. The color scheme in Broke is much more muted and somber. 
  • Both short films serve as a kind of “Public Service Announcement”; and that is not necessarily a bad thing. 
  • The classroom scene was notable for me. As I mentioned in the review the students are incredibly bored. However, I don’t think the lack of affect in the teenagers is a direct criticism of Norway’s educational system; I think it is a conceit drawn up by the filmmakers to heighten the sense of dread the film is meant to evoke. 
  • One of Pia’s classmates, Mikkel, reads like the most emotionally distant character in the film; his performance in Pia’s history class is very characteristic of teenager crying out for help.
  • Guns are a controversial topic; unchecked violence in society has attempted to unmoor the stability of our cities and people are on edge. This movie plays on that uncertainty and looks at it from a unique perspective.
“Broke” is screening at Cinema Village from Friday, August 16 to Thursday, August 22.

4.8.19

Coming Out Stories: Inspired By a Quotation From the Documentary Paris is Burning, I Write about Growing Up Gay in Louisiana

Paris is Burning © 1990 - a documentary about the gay ballroom scene in New York City.
N.B. This post is about growing up gay; and as such, it deals with content that some may find offensive. I know there is a lot of heat about the Tayler Swift Song "You Need to Calm Down" - but I will say to my possible haters: "You are somebody that I don't know / But you're taking shots at me like its Patron." And I don't even drink Patron!

     I am a slow learner. Growing up gay in South Louisiana in the early 1990s I had no idea there was a subculture just for me. I could have had a family. I could have been like the fem boys and the drag sisters and mothers of the street. I could have jumped on the Greyhound bus in Mandeville, Louisiana and landed as a street kid in New York City. However, as a twelve-year-old kid who had a semblance of his own gayness, I did not come out to my friends as gay until I was seventeen years old (which is an entirely different story) - and I was not out to any of my family members until way later in life (when I was in my 20s and 30s). I remember my mom asked me when I was about sixteen if I were gay and I flat-out said: "No, Mom." I did not have to think about it. I was not ready to go down that road. I think I had a deep sense of secrecy because I had internalized that my gayness was not something to share. It was a part of me but it was not something I wanted other people to know. And as the kids in Jennie Livingston's documentary Paris is Burning attest to - coming out as gay was not a safe option - even for the ballroom kids. In fact, it was the rejection of their gayness that led the ballroom kids to ascend on New York City's underground club scene in the first place where they ineluctably formed their own version of families (called "houses").
     I recently watched the documentary (which I am ashamed to say was my first viewing). I had only seen clips on Youtube and had listened to Ru Paul Charles preach about the film on her cable TV reality show Ru Paul's Drag Race  - which has gathered a lot of its aesthetic and jolt from the ballroom culture. Ru Paul rightfully references the show on her show - and I think she sees it as "a peering into" the world of drag culture that perhaps not many people are privy to. I could have used the truth of Paris is Burning growing up. I am sure my story is not unique. Growing up in the suburbs - which the filmmaker Xavier Dolan once said was "the place where dreams and ambitions go to die" - I wanted something more than "this provincial life." Thank you, Belle. Little did you know that as a gay kid Disney's animated bibliophilic French country girl was my hero. When you are gay - and you do not have a lot of representation in movies and on television - you go and find it; you make it; you see it in the subtext - which is probably why gay folk are really good at reading between the lines (and why some of us have made a name for ourselves in literary theory). Looking back on it I was crafty as a kid. I consumed gay identity - but I did it covertly and I was careful about learning how to be gay. I think I failed because when I went to my twenty-year high school reunion no one was surprised; I realize now that the superlative I received in the yearbook for "most friendly" was actually a substitute for "most gay." In the 90s there were emerging examples of gay representation but you had to look for it. I did buy a copy of XY magazine at the newsstand (I had to go in the back and look behind the Playgirls; but I found it - and I was internally satisfied by the magazine's outright celebration of gay male beauty. As a way of marking my gay desire, I did cut out my favorite pin-ups and pasted them in my notebook (that is a true story). I also hunted the shelves of the local public library for gay-themed books. I stumbled upon a copy of Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar and read its frank discussion of surreptitious male desire and came to understand that homosexual desire was not only universal (not just tacked on to my identity) but something that existed and has existed for a long time and in different civilizations and dispensations.
    I say I am a slow learner because I have accumulated gay culture in drips and drabs. In 1996 I discovered the musical Rent - and I listened to it with my friend Jonathan like a billion times - along with tracks from Tori Amos's album Under the Pink and Crash Test Dummies. As a teenager, I was a theater kid. Being involved in community and school theater helped me to form my first sense of belonging. It was the closest I got to the ballroom scene as a kid. Not to say I was out in the small theater world I participated in (nor were any of my friends). We were the kids who did not do sports, were not especially interested in academic accolades, and we just wanted a space to hang out, to be on stage, to work together and to put on plays. My closest friends were straight boys and girls; and very rarely did sexuality ever come up in conversation; I never had a gay friend or lover in high school, and, as an adult, I was surprised when someone I knew in high school had come out as gay as an adult. Austin, for example, was a shy kid in my Seventh Grade American history class; his father was the vice principal of the school; he made excellent grades and he was intelligent and well-spoken; however, I don't think we ever socialized. Ever. Why didn't we connect as kids? Being gay is not an immediate reason to become besties, apparently. I had heard on Facebook that he had come out in college and he was, according to a mutual friend, very gay.

11.7.19

Video Installation: Striking a Pose at the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey

Adam Driver plays a bus driver-cum-poet in the movie Paterson 
In this post, I document a recent visit to Paterson, New Jersey to see the Great Falls. 
On the way to our mutual friend's wedding, my friend and I stopped at the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey. It is an exciting site because in Paterson (back in the day) engineers (with the support of Alexander Hamilton) discovered a way to harness the sheer power and velocity of the falls by converting moving water into energy using a series of waterways and hydropower. The falls are the second-largest waterfall east of the Mississippi - by volume ( but for me: it is just really relaxing and beautiful). The town of Patterson has a lot of history and impressive architecture - and there is a third reason - Adam Driver - he plays a New Jersey Transit bus driver-turned-poet in the movie Paterson - where in one scene he makes a pit stop at the Falls to conjure up some inspiration. I don't claim to be an Adam Driver; however, I am certainly one to espouse the practice of making art from the everyday details of life.

Where do you go to sit and relax (and perhaps get inspired)? Do you have such a place? Or, do you have to find it?

4.7.19

Dinner at Amherst College's Valentine Dining Hall Yields Dogtime - Plus Some Thoughts on the Fourth of July

    For July, I will be a student at Amherst College, studying punishment with Professor Austin Sarat. I am here with fifteen or so educators. We live on campus during our time here as National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholars. I am living in a dorm on campus  called the Charles Drew House. The house was once the home of a guy named Seelye who was an Amherst Alum. Now it is a themed-house named in honor of the African American surgeon Charles Drew. Today is a National Holiday  the Fourth of July  so there are no classes, and the college is closed; however, the dining hall is open during the holiday, so those of us who have nowhere else to go can eat here! One of the teachers has a service dog  a Great Dane named Daisy. Tonight for dinner, before watching the Fourth of July fireworks at the University of Massachusetts campus, I chomp on edamame and chicken breast. Daisy joins us. So does Mike - a Catholic High School Theology teacher and Aklima - an English teacher in Flushing  and Matt  a Middle School teacher from Philadelphia. Anne - a social studies teacher from Florida  joins us too.
    I am excited to be in a new place. A new environment  even if it is just for a month. After dinner on campus  we pile into a public bus headed for the fireworks display. It is a slab gray bus and the bus driver, sporting a blue tee, flashes a smile, and welcomes us aboard. American fireworks are a display of patriotism - that is for sure  but it is also a day when people do not mind staking out a patch of green, laying out a blanket, and lounging in the dark with a bottle of beer and snacks. I lay on the grass, feeling tired from all of the excitement and take in the show. For such a small town - it feels like everyone is out tonight. The fireworks are colorful and loud  emanating sound and light from the center of the UMASS football field. It transpires in a flash. Lights. Shouts. Ohhhhhs. Ahhhhhs. And darn. The buses are not running to take us home to the Charles Drew dorm. We walk back, up to the hill, past picturesque houses and driveways, to the dorm. I say goodnight to Emily Dickinson. "I dwell in possibility," I say to my pillow. Goodnight.

29.6.19

Travels in Summer: A Cadillac Parked in the River Terrace Terrace Neighborhood of Washington Reminded Me of My Childhood

I collected Matchbox cars when I was a youngster, and this classic car parked on a leafy side street in Northeast Washington reminded me of one of my old diecast cars. I went to Washington to see a few pals (and made some new friends). I stayed at an Airbnb hosted by this actor-cum-airport-employee named Shaun (who was super nice). Walking from the AirBnB, I spotted this car. Now mind you - it has been super-hot these past few days - and D.C. was no different. However, I really enjoyed being outside, and I spent a lot of my time in the Capitol, exploring nature and the outdoors. Shaun's house is located in the River Terrace neighborhood of the District adjacent to the Anacostia River. One can access a bunch of trails from this spot - I walked from R.F.K. Stadium across Benning Road Bridge a few times. It is a gorgeous walk! And if you are a train, subway, or general rail enthusiast, it opens you to a magnificent view of the city's Metro trains that course along on an open, elevated trestle across the river. I was struck by how much I had been missing being outdoors ever since I moved to New York City. New York has great parks - don't get me wrong - but it never feels like the outdoors. D.C. has some spectacular trails and nature views for the adventurous. Give it a try.  #washington #oldcars #neighborhoodstreets
Flowers on Kingman Island (District of Columbia)

26.6.19

Photo : A Snail Climbs Up A Wall (And a Joke about Snails)


After taking this photo of a snail climbing up the wall of a friend's house, I was reminded of the following joke that circulated among us high school French students back in the day:

Car Salesman: What can I do for you today?
Snail: I want to buy a car.
Car Salesman: OK. Let me show you some of our newest models.
Snail: I know what I want. I want that car over there (points to a rad sports car). But when I buy it I want you to print the letter "S" all over the car.
Car Salesman: Excellent choice, Mr. Snail; but, may I ask why do you want the letter "S" printed all over your new car?
Snail: Because when people see me they'll say, 'Look at the Escargot!".