18.1.21

January 18th is a National Holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. On Poverty

In this post, I talk about how Martin Luther King, Jr. is known as a civil rights activist. Still, his legacy is more about human rights -- especially the state of poverty that he believed could be eradicated if humans only have the will to do so.
Martin Luther King, Jr. at a press conference
 "Martin Luther King press conference / [MST]." Original black and white negative by Marion S. Trikosko. Taken August 26th, 1964, Washington, D.C, United States (@libraryofcongress). Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://www.loc.gov/item/2003688129/

King was the president of the Southern 
Christian Leadership Conference and advocated
for the eradication of poverty in society.
image courtesy NYPL on Unsplash

Today I listened to a brief speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s son, Martin Luther King, III. In the video, he talks about his father's legacy but points out that one message King repeatedly gave was often not emphasized in the praise we often give the slain civil rights leader. It's about poverty. When King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he protested against the poverty wages sanitation workers were given who worked in the city. Workers worked long hours and subsisted on low wages, and many were also on welfare. King espouses the merits of having a stable job and receiving an equitable income as something elusive for Americans. Whenever I talk about living wages today or about the need to reduce poverty, I often run up against tin ears. It's easy to shush away poverty as one of those problems Miss America pageant contestants say they want to defeat (along with world peace). But King was right when he said the problem won't go away unless we have the will to fight it. When I look at the problems beset by the Covid-19 virus, I see a public health crisis, but I also see a crisis that has torn open the inequalities caused by poverty. In the United States, forty-five million (maybe more) live in poverty, which by some estimates is more than were poor during Martin Luther King's time.

So, if you are celebrating the Martin Luther King holiday today in the United States, it is appropriate to sing praise for what he did to secure civil rights, but the road to equitable human rights is still not won.

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14.1.21

Aesthetic Thursday: Poussin’s Poetic Painting "Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I recently went to the Met — and I wandered the newly renovated European Paintings galleries and I fell in love with the French artist Poussin's painterly image of a wandering giant looking for the sun.
The painting "Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun" is an oil painting on canvas by French artist Nicolas Poussin
Nicolas Poussin, French Les Andelys 1594-1665 Rom — "Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun," 1658 (oil on canvas). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. 24.45.1 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently renovated its European Paintings galleries. The skylights have been fixed and apparently more artwork has been hung on the walls. I like to wander the galleries without a goal in mind — however, I lie just a bit, here. Because I did have a goal in my wanderings — mainly to find the Met's Caravaggio's. But it's always the serendipitous finds that stick with me. And Poussin's "Blind Orion" caught my attention. I know nothing of Poussin — so my interpretation of the painting is more of a first blush. But I am a lover of myth and poetry — and this painting draws you into a mythological world. At first I thought the giant figure carrying a man on his shoulders was Saint Christopher — the legendary boatsman who carried the Christ child on his shoulder crossing a river. But that is not the subject of this painting. It's a depiction of the blind giant Orion, who carries his guide Cedalion, as they look for the rising sun. The museum placard indicates that Diana, the moon goddess, who appears a diaphanous blue, stands watching in the clouds. It's a magical story; obviously one fit for myth — but the scene resonates with me because I think of myself as somewhat of a wanderer. And Orion is also the name of one of my favorite constellations. So it is befitting. Here's to searching. For the healing sun.

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8.1.21

A Fourth Grader's Optimism: Who Needs Some Inspiration? (Especially After the Tumultuous Events in Washington, D.C. this Week!)

Feeling the need to be inspired, I found this post-it note on a bulletin board at the school where I am a high school English teacher. I teach in a K-12 school in the New York City borough of Queens. 

Changing the world isn't easy, but anyone can.
Julian in Fourth Grade doles out a massive dose of encouragement. 

Needing Positivity this Week (For Sure!)

I am usually the teacher who brings positivity to the classroom. But lately I have been feeling down-and-out. Maybe it's the global pandemic that has swept the world, or maybe it's the attack on our democratic institutions on Wednesday that threw the nation's Capitol building in lockdown when a large group of Trump-inspired far-right rioters breached security protocol and entered the federal building, breaking glass, vandalizing the Speaker of the House's office, and even infiltrating the Senate chambers — where just an hour before, legislators had convened to accept certified electoral college votes from the states — to follow through with the Constitutional process to de facto validate the election of the next President of the United States, Mr. Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Inspiring Note from a Fourth Grader

And I saw this note from a Fourth grader. Kids at this age have an optimism and clarity for both big-spectacled dreams as well as practical sense. Who doesn't want the world changed for the better. But I love how he admits it is a challenge. And kudos for his marvelous grammatical construction — "Changing the world isn't easy, but anyone can."

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5.1.21

Storytime: Anthony’s First Day at Kindergarten

In this post, I retell a story of when I was in kindergarten and told my teacher I was named Anthony. 
On the first day of school in kindergarten. 
My teacher, Mrs. Rousell, does the roll call. “Susie, Anthony.” And, of course, my first name is Anthony, but I've always gone by Greig. So in a split second, I say, “Yeah, my name is Anthony. Don't call me Greig.” So the rest of that week, the teacher says, “One plus one, Anthony, what's one plus one?” I'm like looking around the room. Is she talking to me? I don't answer her.

And then later on in the day, “Where's your mat? Anthony, go get your mat for nap time.” I'm like, “What Is she talking to me? I mean, this goes on for the entire week, and finally, on Friday, my mother comes barging into my room. 

“Anthony!”

I got in so much trouble, honey. Yes! My mama was like, “Why do you call that teacher and tell her that your name is Anthony? She says you have a hearing problem. Don’t you know that your ‘Greig’”? I mean, come on.


2.1.21

Hollywood Movies from the Nineties: Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead (1991)

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead, a fantastic Hollywood movie from the 1990s,  just might be one of the best movies ever made about faking it until you make it.

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter is Dead GIF "I'm right on top of that, Rose!"
Christina Applegate in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead © 1991

Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead is a movie about transformations. 

Her boss tells her to say, "I'm right on top of that, Rose!" whenever she is doing a task for her. She says cheerily, "Don't feel overwhelmed, just do one thing at a time." The movie captures the era of big shoulders and women in the workplace trying to make their mark. Sue Ellen works her way up the corporate ladder, getting that Q.E.D. Report done by some cool delegation — to the ire of one of her co-workers, played by Jayne Brook, who is catching on to Sue Ellen's ruse. But Rose thinks Sue Ellen is just the best. "You're a paragon!" she beams! But Sue Ellen, the newest hire at General Apparel West, is really just a kid. The big conceit of the movie is that Christina Applegate is not really a fashion mogul.

"I'm Right On Top Of That, Rose!"

If you don't know the plot, it's ostensibly a story about every teenager's dream — to have the house entirely to yourself, no rules, no boundaries. See. Mom (played by Concetta Tomei) has gone to Australia and left the kids, played by Christina Applegate, Keith Coogan, Robert Hy Gorman, Danielle Harris, and Christopher Pettiet, with an evil-eyed, petty authoritarian (played by Eda Reiss Merin) named Mrs. Sturak. Even the name connotes fear. But the thing is — the movie is not about navigating the conflicts brought on by a mean babysitter. Mrs. Sturak dies twenty minutes into the movie. And Christina Applegate's character suddenly finds herself having to take on the head of the household. In a wild stretch of the imagination, she manages to land a job for a fashion company by stitching together a fake résumé —which hilariously causes her to take on the daily grind, getting up before dawn, to get dressed, prepare breakfast, and beat the downtown Los Angeles traffic to get to work on time. The oldest brother is a deadbeat (Coogan's character) — and the three other kids are treacly sweet, just the way most pre-teen kids are in Hollywood movies from the late 1980s and 1990s. But Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead is no John Hughes flick. Directed by Stephen Herek, the same guy who brought us Critters and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the movie takes on a plucky pull-yourself-up-from-the-bootstrap narrative.

Surprisingly Inspiring Movie That Could Otherwise Be Dreck!

The joy of the movie is watching the kids take on adult responsibilities. And the reality is that in the 1990s, many kids were latchkey kids — without parental supervision after school. Like the kids in the movie, learning to take care of yourself, prepping for a meal, setting the alarm on your clock, getting the laundry done, and all of that mundane task that can make life a drudgery were self-taught — this was before "Helicopter Parents." But like I said — the movie is about transformations. The sulky teen girl finds purpose (who isn't rooting for Sue Ellen!). The deadbeat older brother finds purpose in catering! The young kids figure out how to clean the house, take on responsibility, and just be cute in a Hollywood movie. It's been about thirty years since this movie came out — and a lot has changed about everything. The film has aged well, though. The movie is pumped with an optimistic premise — that left to their own devices, kids will take on identities and responsibility and win us over with their aplomb and finesse. Don't underestimate 'em.

What other movies have you seen that show dramatic transformations in teen characters? Let us know in the comments.

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