Thursday, May 29, 2008

Today, Encapsulated in Quotations

"A weak man has doubts before a decision; a strong man has them afterwards." --Karl Kraus

"It is always thus, impelled by a state of mind which is destined not to last, that we make our irrevocable decisions." --Marcel Proust

"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will." --Spanish proverb

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


OpTalk opis opa lopangopuage thopat mopy bopest fropiend opintropodopuced topo mope whopen wope wopere opin mopiddople schopool. Hoper fopathoper topaught opit topo hoper. Mopy fropiend opand opI opused opit opoftopen openopough thopat wope stopill copall opeach opothoper bopy opour OpNames opon opoccopasiopon.

Nopote: Wope opalsopo hopave opa copouople opothoper nopames fopor opeach opothoper, lopike opanopy sopelf-ropespopectoping fropiends fropom fopifth gropade shopould.

Opat sopome popoint, opI tropied OpTalk opon mopy kopids. Thopey ropemopemboper opit fropom topime topo topime, opand opI opamopuse mopysopelf opand thopem wopith sopome sopentopencopes...opand mopy opamopazoping flopuopencopy.

Thopeir fopavoporopite wopords opin OpTalk opare Sopesopamope Stropeet choparopactopers.

Fopor opexopamople:

Bopig Bopird
Copookopie Moponstoper

Mopy fopave: OpErnopie opand Bopert.


Nopothoping lopike opa gopood sopillopy opinvopentoped lopanguopage topo mopake lopife opa lopittople lopightoper...opand topo cropack yopoursopelf opup opaftoper opa lopong dopay.

Gopood Nopight!

P.S. Yopou copan sopee opa lopive hopumopan opexplopainoping OpTalk hopere.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is What Free Speech Looks Like

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to stumble upon one of our 12th graders presenting to a class of beginning art students about his influences and the artists that inspire him.

Needless to say, I walked out of the classroom awed by this student whom I had taught back when I was an English teacher and he was a 9th grader. How far he had come: from gangly, awkward, and still figuring himself out to self-assured, wise, and very, very cool. His peers sat rapt as he wandered the alleys of "Street Art" with them.

Street Art, he explained, is a part of its environment as well as a commentary on it; is political; is rebellious... is inspiring, subversive, provocative, often illegal and impermanent and meant to challenge the messaging we are subject to, especially subconsciously.

He introduced us to French portraitist/stencil artist C215 (will you please graffiti my house?) and Banksy, a reigning king of Street Art in the UK. My favorite of his murals depicts children pledging allegiance to a plastic Tesco shopping bag hoisted up a flagpole. Banksy is also famous for "vandalizing" reproduced classical paintings, which are then hung in museums until they are inevitably noticed and taken down. Here's a "Banksied" Monet, altered with the addition of contemporary images...

Banksy also coined the term "brandalism," and in his book Wall and Piece, defends the public's right to subvert advertising, pointing out that corporations "rearrange (our) world to put themselves in front of (us)" without our permission. We don't have the option, for example, to decide whether or not to look at billboards and signage, which surround us in the public domain.

Banksy's form of activism reminds me of another sneaky, ingenious way to make commentary on consumerism, "shopdropping" or "droplifting." Shopdroppers, rather than "lifting" products from retailers, leave items in stores. Sometimes the act is to subvert labeling, to promote artists or musicians, or to observe people trying to buy products not endorsed by the stores on whose shelves they are found. Artist Packard Jennings, for example, made his own "anarchist" Action Figures and put them in Target and Wal-Mart stores, where people actually attempted to purchase them.

I also remembered reading in the newspaper about a local woman who proclaimed herself the "Knitting Ninja." Her modus operandi is wrapping "polewarmers" around street sign posts. An article about her work and that of other public artists (as well as how corporations are beginning to--surprise!--capitalize on this phenomenon) can be found here.

My former student's lecture to beginning art classes was part of preparing them for an open-ended project in which their work is meant to communicate with their audience somehow (not necessarily politically).

My creative writing students used to do a "community writing" project. The aim was to share their writing in some form--through signs, emails, slips of paper left somewhere, etc.--and then to document their writing, the venue in which they posted or performed it, and the reaction(s). I recall a student offering to read her poem to complete strangers at a local park, another sending her writing anonymously to random students in various classes, and others who taped their compositions to benches at bus stops, sign posts, and bulletin boards. The project was often in conjunction with the "Directions for Living" assignment, so the writings, while often provocative, were usually uplifting.

The last year I assigned the project one particular student had placed her simple, inspiring words on stop signs in her neighborhood. Because the student left a hint that the posting was in conjunction with a school assignment, I was tracked down by an elderly woman who encountered one of the student's poems. Her husband had recently died, she shared, and she was out walking her dog that night, considering her options and feeling bereft. She happened to read the teen's thoughts on a street sign pole, and felt the words were meant for her that day. On the phone she credited my student for saving her life.

That's a far cry from my first experience with "street art" or "public writing." In the sixth grade I was curiously moved to write anonymous "thank you for being my friend" notes to several peers (I had moved to town only the year before and perhaps finally felt accepted?). I think I anticipated the message would be considered corny and was therefore too chicken to take credit, but I truly wanted these girls to know I appreciated them. I surreptitiously slid the hand-written (cursive, loosely disguised) notes into my friends' lockers.

Oh, the Drama that ensued. It wasn't that I left some 6th grade girls out; I was pretty thorough in my coverage. It was the mystery that surrounded Who Had Done It. The investigation (and accusations!) superseded any positive result meant to be gleaned from the gesture.

But I am not discouraged from continuing mild forms of street art when the spirit moves me. The mother of budding, bold public artists, may I recommend Window Markers or Sidewalk Paint as accessible, impermanent media for expression?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Amazing Friends and Art

This week I received an exciting email from my artist friend Sarah. One of her recent paintings was chosen as part of the 20x200 Project, which aims to make emerging artists' work affordable by selling series of 200 8.5"X11"archival pigment prints of artists' paintings or photographs for $20 each on the internet (you can also purchase larger, more limited editions, for more moola).

We are the lucky owners of some of our friend's originals, but wall space and access to cash have created some obstacles to our becoming major collectors of her works, alas. I quickly scooped up a $20 print of her painting "Site," (that series sold out within hours), and then had fun scrolling through the other artists' works promoted on the website (get the play on words? Sarah's work is about reproduction, incidentally, as it relates to housing and suburban tracts, so the name of her painting, its subject matter, and the medium in which it's being sold are very appropos...).

I think the project is a brilliant way to promote contemporary artists and provide more foks affordable access to sought-after art.

I'll end by paying personal homage to my friend Sarah, who is a Mom of two and former waitress and teacher who recently made the courageous leap to Full-Time Professional Artist with the support of her family.

She rocks. She's going to be famous. Get some of her art. Now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spank Me, Please?

It's nice to gain a new perspective, once in a while, on one's career choice.

After all, as I've shared, introducing oneself as Vice Principal out there does not exactly Get The Party Started. Knowing there's a Disciplinarian in the crowd can make people act sheepish or pretend to hide their beers (or, oddly, start confessing stuff).

Glad I'm not a cop.

Last night I went to meet my friend Susan, a celebrity in her own right now as one of the featured crew members on Carrier, the PBS documentary. We were going to meet downtown, and then she was running late from visiting her daughter...and so we agreed to rendezvous at her hotel, the site of the conference that brought her town.

That conference being for Navy and Marine Air Traffic Controllers. Of all ages and expertise, from all over the country. Enjoying free beer and food and casino games in a safe Holiday Inn atmosphere. And I was maybe the only civilian in the mix.

Despite being the daughter of a dad with a Navy Career, I'll confess that I know too little about the Navy lifestyle and its various careers. I learned a ton from Carrier, but I had lots of questions for Susan and her friends, including, How did you know you wanted to be an Air Traffic Controller? and What's your rank? I am pretty fascinated by the new pockets of the world in which I find myself, and I also don't mind being in the company of folks I don't know (I'm pretty chatty!).

Did I mention I also learned to play Craps?

At some point I noticed that Susan was mostly introducing me as her "friend," or as "not an Air Traffic Controller," but also on occasion as her daughter's "Vice Principal." I gently reminded her that not everyone wants to be reminded of Poor Choices Made While Adolescent, of which I am symbolic.

Her eyes got wide. "Oh," she shook her head, "Not here. These guys love women in authority. They'll ask if you have a paddle. And also if you can wear a uniform while you swat them."

We had a good laugh about that.

But then later, when she walked me out, we were stopped at the door by three guys/friends of hers who had, perhaps, spent a wee bit of time by the keg. With a glint in her eye, she introduced me as her daughter's V.P.

"I'll take detention!" one of them shouted with glee. And the rest of them launched into various sophomoric versions of Ooooooooooooh make me behave. Please, Vice Principal.

I'm busy tomorrow night, or I'd go back.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Mom

It seems true to me that I love my mother even more now that I, too, am a parent. Perhaps it's empathy, that I better understand what it is to be a mother. More likely it's that my mother's mothering of me has new dimensions and feels so crucial and tender since I've had children.

Since becoming a mommy, I found I need my mommy even more. And I'm lucky she's here, close, so very available to me and my family and my children. It's impossible to articulate how that feels: perhaps like deep limitless gratitude, all the time. And a little like worship.

I wrote this poem for my mother after the birth of my first daughter (incidentally, I submitted it to a magazine for possible publication, and received a very kind REJECTION letter in return).

I love you, Mom.


In winter when the ground lay cold and fallow,
we parted earth and nestled a bulb within.
You found the empty seed packets
and a trowel, loamy with hope.

You watched as in spring the ground swelled with promise, and green shoots—petals pledging to unfold, a bud concealing bloom’s hues—
burst gently from the soil,
slowly arching sunward.
You spoke to me of climate zones and the wisdom of the land, of letting roots and rain commingle, free from fumbling human hands—
gardening, to you, as familiar as green grass and blue sky.

Ripe summer produced our blossom, sweet and small and
named for you,
a flower in a garden you still water with counsel.
A stem extends and leaves proliferate
as we prune cautiously,
striving to remember our own cultivation.

You, Master Gardener, nurture me anew in the nurturing of another,
the perennial love
of flower to blossom to bud.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The First Day of the Rest of Her Life

My friend Susan flew in from across the country last night for work, and in hopes of finding her missing daughter, who ran away four months ago. She hasn't heard from her since.

Today, her daughter was found and delivered to a safe haven. Today, she begins the long journey of recovery.

Happy Mother's Day, Susan.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mixed Messages

The principal and I were having lunch on the quad today with a student who was restricted to campus after too many late arrivals after lunch (and sometimes not returning to school at all...).

I asked where her boyfriend was, since he, too, had lost the privilege of off-campus lunch.

"He should be here in a minute," she replied.

And then she added that her boyfriend had just sent a text message to her father, accidentally, landing on her name in his cell phone contacts list and not noticing the "dad" part at the end.

"I love you, Baby," he wrote.

"Thanks," responded the girl's dad, "But I don't know how my wife would feel about that..."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Adventures in the 'hood

Snapshot: the end of a fatherless weekend, and the girls and I are feeling it on a Sunday evening. I have the idea of taking them to a shoe store, so that my eldest daughter can choose the shoes she wants to wear and therefore Be Happy about them every day when I ask her to put them on.

But she is not in a cooperative mood. I add the suggestion of dinner in a restaurant, and she appears interested for a moment...and then resumes Driving Me Nuts, alternately diving off the couch and composing chorales of giddy shrieks with her little sister. Even the dog looks plaintive and in need of a break.

An hour later I announce We Are Getting Out Of The House. We Are Taking The Dog For A Walk. My daughters rally, despite themselves. But at some point while slipping on her second shoe, it occurs to my four-year-old to want to execute Plan A: Shoe Store and Restaurant.

She begins whining. She begins crying. She begins repetitive chanting:

"PLLLEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAASE, Mommy!!! I want to goooooooooooooooooo..."

I am in a zen parenting place so I calmly lock the door behind us, leash in one hand, little sister's in the other, and begin the march around the block while firmly shaking my head and reiterating that That Option Is No Longer On The Table.

The four-year-old trails behind us, alternately sobbing indignantly and screaming at me. I nod at neighbors we pass, explaining that "Seventy-five percent of us are feeling GREAT!"

We circle to our house. Little Sister looks disappointed and heads to the curb, prepared to cross the street again.

"Want adventure, Mommy!" she declares.

Warding off another round of rebellion, I lead her to the door, promising, "We can have an adventure in our own house, sweetie."

Big Sister, done crying for now but brimming over with Resentment and Cold Malice and a firm desire to encamp me on the opposing side in the Mommy-Daughter Wars, turns to her and hisses, "NO, Sister. NO! There are NO adventures in THIS HOUSE!"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Big MacChristian Soldiers

I have enjoyed hearing the observations (and watching the antics) of Christian Garzone, a crew member of the USS Nimitz featured on Carrier. He's funny, articulate, and wise. Though I suspect our politics wouldn't converge often, a comment he made on the military, religion, and our influences abroad resonated with me:

"Do I think of ourselves as Christian soldiers? Yeah, we are, in a way. But do I think we're imposing Christianity into the Middle East...? No, I don't.

I think we're imposing our culture...which incorporates Christianity, but incorporates McDonald's a little more."