Tag Archives: reflections

I. and I had a great visitor from Viet Nam last week and the house is feeling a little empty without him.  He’ll be back soon.  In the mean time I’m satiating my need for Vietnamese flair in my life via the art and photography of Magdalena Long from on her Saigon-based blog.  I am particularly in love with her photographs.  Here’s one from a series titled Afternoon Drive:

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If you’re as intrigued by these facades reflections and shadows as I am click here for another mini-series.  

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Sud de France

Recently, when I think about how I would rather not go to work, tomorrow, this week, for the month of February, or ever, I browse vacation rentals in the Luberon.  Tonight’s pipe dream is a little studio near/in Roussillon.  Humble, but a very livable love nest if you ask me.  

When I was in 6th grade we wrote weekly essays that we would sometimes be called upon to read aloud in front of the class.  No one believes me, but I was shy till a certain age, and feared beyond any fear having to stand and read my essay.  One week, when we had been assigned to write about a vacation or far away place, I was called upon to read.  My essay was about the vibrantly colored chalky hills of Roussillon–literally bright red, ochre, and sometimes purple–which I visited when staying with my grandmother in nearby Lourmarin.  

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My teacher accused me of lying and publicly admonished me for fabricating a fiction when the assignment was autobiography.  Had it been nine or ten years later I might have argued my teacher, armed with conceptual art theory and said something like, “and what exactly do you propose is the difference?!”  But since I hadn’t gotten to Marcel Duchamp and John Cage yet, I had to quietly nurse my humiliation through the weekend (essay reading was always on Friday) until Monday when I triumphantly returned to class with a postcard bearing an image of Roussillon’s hills and was vindicated.

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NYC Part 1

After throwing on some curls and pearls we headed over the Brooklyn Bridge down to the Financial district to the Forever Young Party.  It was the perfect New York night.  Not too cold and the Empire State was in my favorite decor: all white lights.  So classic.  The city got dressed for the Jans that night.  

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We stopped at a Citibank on Broadway for some cash and in perfect NYC style I got hit on by a bum.  Men in New York.  Honestly.  Even the bums think they can get the hot chick.  

When we arrived at China Chalet it wasn’t yet 10.  My people had already been in place, decorating and setting up for the fete.  It was a beautiful reunion.  We all had time to hang out and get drinks in the relative quiet before the storm.  I got to meet the sassy and sexy proprietess of Beach House, the fabulous Miss Vicky B.  She soothes to insane levels and WAS FUCKING WEARING SADDLE SHOES.  HELLO!  It was love at first sight.

Things got rolling quickly though.  Before I knew it guests were pouring in.  I saw my Marlborough girls, Soph, Ash, Remy, Camille, Michelle, Lauren, Christina.  Damn.  They were looking great.  I swear the most grounded people I know in NYC are those who transplanted there from LA. 

One of the Jan’s mom was there, and the other Jan’s bro was on site.  It was a total family affair.  There was the fabulous Gelardi clan in all its glory, and looking sharp.  

There was a photo booth, photographers, and props.  Here are our hosts and the honorees of the evening; on the left, Jan Philippe and P, on the right Jan Edward in the glasses and tie:

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Double

There were so many people there I saw people I haven’t seen in three, four, five years.  Wade, Justin, Ken, Noah, Kate.  Damn.  Amazing that I’ve gotten to the age where I can say that I saw people I haven’t seen in five years.  

The space was huge.  There was a huge bar/lounge area, a dining room with banquettes, a long hallway with mini booths along the side, and a big dance floor in the back with a second bar.

My best man Devotion was there with Kiss Me I’m Polish and I set up fort at one end of the main bar in the front.  We laughed and drank beers that we had to order four and five at a time since the bartenders were so damn old and slow, doublefisting at a double birthday party was the only way to go.

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Trouble

The music was the best I’ve ever heard in NYC–honestly.   Courtesy of DJs Tim Sweeney (DFA) & Scott Anderson.  I didn’t dance as much as I usually would because I was too busy screaming and yelling catching up in the front bar but I did hit it for a little and all I remember was dancing to Tony Toni Tone “Let’s Get Down” and never loving anything more.  

There were so many beautiful people there.  It was as if the world was glittery and shining that night and someone had sprinkled fairy dust over the whole evening. There was even a second girl wearing saddle shoes–Red ones!!!  The only thing that brought anyone back (or further from) Earth was the ghostly image of Michael Stipe(!) waiting outside the double glass doors for a late entrance when the club was at capacity.  

I was running around telling everyone how good they looked.  Handing out compliments like it was my job.  Sorry Bay, NYC makes you look ugly!  You need to sharpen up and learn how to dress!  People in NYC are tight!  Even the uglies are looking good over there. 

We closed the place down around 4 or so and a big group of us headed down Wall Street to a deli to grab a bite.  We got egg and cheese sandwiches and slices and nothing ever tasted so good.  A good, generic NYC deli.  Dime a dozen in the city, impossible to get anywhere else.  The big cases of prepared food, neon lights, guys in blue and white aprons, and unbelievably flawless slices and bagels.  [You don’t understand the issue I had Tuesday morning in Rockridge when I was craving a bagel.  OY VE!  Problem.  The craving was so intense.  My husband went and got me Noah’s.  I protested, but ultimately gave in.  He didn’t want to drive all the way to Manhattan Bagels on 4th Street, which I haven’t tried but is supposed to be great.  When he brought it to me and asked me how it was I didn’t even have the heart to tell him how incredibly bland that thing was.]

We moved the after hours party to Brooklyn where I ended my night–just tearing myself away knowing I really didn’t want to see sunrise all that much–dancing to Biggie rap “Juicy.”  Very symbolic as I had left the West Coast years before, abandoned the riotous streets of L.A. and its segregation and its fearless leader Pac for the in-your-face East Coast where I converted wholeheartedly to Biggie:

I live out there, so don’t go there, but that don’t mean a — can’t rest in the West, see some nice breasts in the West, smoke some nice cess in the West, y’all — is a mess thinking I’m gon stop givin LA props, all I got is beef with those who violate me, I shall annihilate thee…

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Election Reflection in 24 hours

November 4, 2008 7:20 AM

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 Lining up to vote: Rockridge United Methodist Church, corner of Hudson and Manila near College Avenue

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Early morning sun and the news truck antenna

8 PM

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270 Electoral Votes achieved, fire in the street on Avon, marshmallow roasting

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The handsome President, giving it to us from Grant Park 12′ high on the side of a Rockridge home

November 5, 2008 7:25AM

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The dawn of a new day in Rockridge, Oakland, California, United States, America.

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Hare or Hair -Brained?

When I was writing “Smells Kind of Fish-y,”  and characterizing Stanley Fish as “hare-brained,” I had to look up the word harebrained, because I don’t really know it.  If “knowing” is to have the capacity to use a term to create meaning, then I, in this sense did not know “harebrained.”  It was not because I had never used the term “harebrained,” and not that I had never looked up the term.  In fact, I had.  But it was so recently, and so few times, that the meaning hadn’t really sunken in.

I reflected on the fact that I have never fully understood or employed the term “harebrained.”  The fact is that to this day I have been confused: is it “hair” brained (as in a brain full of hair, and therefore little brain matter?) or “hare” brained?  The latter would make no sense to me…but why?

***

Why? Because this is the image of a Hare that I grew up with:

Now, it would be nice if I had a larger image, but this will work.  That is a hare, specifically Brer Rabbit.  Brer Rabbit is cunning, Brer Rabbit is smart, Brer Rabbit outfoxes his predators, and Brer Rabbit protects his family.  In this publication and related ones in the same series he is given to smoking, sitting at a dinner table in a chair, and wearing overalls and suspenders.  He is a hare.  “Hare” or “hair” -brained people are supposed to be lacking in cognitive abilities right?  Sort of irrational right?  Well, here is a hare who cares for his family, models correct dinner table manners for the youth, and wears snappy outfits.  Now, given these realities I find it perfectly reasonable that a woman with a year of post-graduate study under her belt and more in process would be confused over the odd and colloquial term, “harebrained.”  Based on my observations of Brer Rabbit, and my observations of “hare” or “hair” -brained individuals, I deduced that the term “harebrained” for dense individuals couldn’t possibly be correct!  You must mean HAIRbrained!  As in a brain the size and thickness of a shaft of HAIR!

***

Brer Rabbit comes down to us through West Africa, the Gullah, Black slaves, the white man Joel Chandler Harris who published his stories into a book, and the Disney studio, who in 1946 made the stories into a motion picture called Song of the South.  The different tellings and different tellers have all added layers to this melting pot of a story, and I do mean melting.  Because these days, our image of Brer Rabbit is not dictated by one or the other, but is rather a creolization, a cycle of imitation, reflection, and reiteration.  Now, I was about to say, as dictionary.com says, that “harebrained” is to be giddy or reckless, and that Brer Rabbit is neither of those things.  But, perhaps in the imaginations of the youth more exposed to cartoons than Joel Chandler Harris, Brer Rabbit is a fool, though he was never one to me.  But I digress.  To clear things up I felt the need to go beyond the internet crutch that is dictionary.com and Google the term.  [I know, you’re thinking, well what did that take, an entire click of the tab key?].  But I did, and I was enlightened.  For “Bartleby,” [like the Scrivner?  I love Melville] the online version of the American Heritage Dictionary, lays it all out for us.  

Their definition is “foolish; flighty,” which is consistent with dictionary.com BUT interestingly enough, ADH provides some historical context:  

USAGE NOTE: The first use of harebrained dates to 1548. The spelling hairbrained also has a long history, going back to the 1500s when hair was a variant spelling of hare. The hair variant was preserved in Scotland into the 18th century, and as a result it is impossible to tell exactly when people began writing hairbrained in the belief that the word means “having a hair-sized brain” rather than “with no more sense than a hare.” While hairbrainedcontinues to be used and confused, it should be avoided in favor ofharebrained which has been established as the correct spelling.

 

It appears that the term hair/hare -brained PRE-dates our furry friend of the middle passage.  According to AHD, my Scottish ancestors, who immigrated to the New World in the 17th century, were still using the spelling “hairbrained” well into the 18th century! AND they may have believed that the word means “having a hair-sized brain!!!”

I am vindicated of my ignorance.  Saddleshoos triumphs again! [Draft version…Saddleshoos to explore European/white/Scottish ancestry, intersection with African cultures, creolization, narrative, etc. to follow on a non-school night]

***

Please investigate the Gullah, Joel Chandler Harris, the book called Jump! The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, Jump! the album by Van Dyke Parks, and the illustrations of Barry Moser.

 

 

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More on Identity

Re: Meta-Blahghe

Another definition:

By identity I mean an evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute my life converge in the mystery of self: my genetic makeup, the nature of the man and woman who gave me life, the culture in which I was raise, people who have sustained me and people who have done me harm, the good and ill I have done to others and to myself, the experience of love and suffering–and much, much more.  In the midst of that complex field, identity is a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am, converging in the irreducible mystery of being human.

From “The Courage to Teach” by Parker J. Palmer

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Education ### Assignment 1

In this course equity is viewed as setting high expectations, providing accessible opportunities to learn and ushering each student through meaningful outcomes. The purpose of this laboratory is to explore personal, interpersonal, and institutional issues involved in becoming a teacher leader for educational equity.  This course will have you examine the personal and institutional impact of the intersection of oppressions surrounding race, ethnicity, language, gender, and class.  

Alliances and Trust

 

How did school experiences affect your ability to trust others?  What was helpful and what was harmful?

 

I became very distrustful of adults and teachers through high school.  There were the concrete reasons, and the vague, emotional reasons.  I can’t think of any “helpful” experiences, only harmful ones.  One incident had a huge impact on me and my ability to trust others when I was in 10th grade.  In my school, Lower School was 7-9 and Upper School was 10-12.  One of my friends was taking her finals early due to a family vacation.  She was given a test to take in the classroom of one of the English faculty, who at the time also served as the Dean of Students.  This friend of mine, “Leslie,” was one of the smartest girls in the school, and also one of the most troubled.  Leslie was quite the kleptomaniac actually.  That day Leslie finished her exam early.  Due to the honor code in place at the school and the fact that she was the only individual taking the test, she was left to work on her own without a proctor.  When she finished the exam she did what any other super-smart, super-troubled kleptomaniac would do and started looking through the Dean’s files.

 

What she found of interest was a hand-written list.  It was written in the exaggerated curlicue cursive of our 9th grade science teacher. 

 

I remember it so clearly.  It was written on yellow lined legal paper, the kind that you tear off a pad at the top.  The writing was in red rolling ball liquid pen—NOT ballpoint.  Down the left side of each of the four or so pages was the name of each of the 86 young women in our class (it was an all-women preparatory school). 

 

Next to each of the names were notes.  A small number of the names were left blank.  Most contained words, phrases, and occasionally small paragraphs.   (Even though I laugh when I think about this usually, to write it all down actually still makes my blood boil).  I can photographically recall them almost in alphabetical order:

 

Nn. parents are friends of [Johnny] Cochran…

Nn. father molested her as a child…current stepfather…

Nn. sexuality: ?

Nn. sleeps where ever…

Nn. Dad came out of the closet, mom flipped out…

Nn. works hard for her B’s, trustee kid

Nn. Mt. St. Helen’s kid, dad’s a charmer…not

Nn. nice girl, nutty parents

 

And the list went on.  Leslie naturally showed the list to me and two of our best friends.  At the time several of us were on the editorial board of the school newspaper.  We thought, “This is IT! We’ll ruin them!  We’ll show them!”

 

Leslie took a copy (we made hundreds at Kinko’s) to the Headmistress, along with threats of not just the school newspaper, but the Los Angeles Times.  We had readied the attack.

 

What she got in the headmistress’ office was a flat, nonplussed response.  The list, she said, was simply confidential notes from a meeting that takes place every year between the 9th and 10th grade faculty to discuss any special concerns or needs regarding individual students.  She saw no problem with its contents and wasn’t compelled to explain any of it in any other way.  No further explanation or apology was given.

 

The headmistress told Leslie that she could be expelled for stealing according to the honor code.  But since Leslie was a National Merit Finalist and a third generation legacy at the school, she was given a slap on the wrist.  She wrote a research paper on the history of the honor code at our school, or something else equally lenient and ridiculous.

 

What I learned as a teenager/assumptions I made: 

 

1. Adults are evil, judgmental, classist, racist, and sexist.  (So if you’re Black and you’re friends with Johnny Cochran you…are smart? Are not? Are someone to be feared?…or wait…remind me of how that is supposed to impact a child’s learning?  So your teachers are judging you for sexual experimentation?  So your teachers got together to decide whether or not your dad is cool?  Or maybe you’re not allowed to get B’s if your dad’s a trustee member, or you’re only getting B’s because you’re doing C work but you’re dad is powerful???)

2. Our teachers cared more about gossiping about students and their families than our education (priced, in 1995 at 15K/year).

3.  There is no justice for teenagers.

4. If you’re smart enough/rich enough/upper class enough you can get away with anything.

 

How do these experiences affect you now?

 

Most of the time they don’t affect me at all.  I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder.  When I see faculty and staff from my alma mater I smile and make small talk without engaging in fantasies of public hangings and the like.  I actively dislike my alma mater, and take issue with many facets of it, but this experience isn’t totally paramount.  I take the experience as a whole, rather than a laundry list of transgressions and offenses.

 

Since I’ve been a teacher I’ve found myself in SOMEWHAT similar situations and conversations to the one the headmistress claimed those faculty were having.  Teaching is personal business, and to do it you get pretty caught up and involved in your students’ personal lives. 

 

Keeping all this in mind, I’ve tried hard to make sure that any time I’m talking about something as sensitive as molestation, grades, sexuality, and parents, that I keep the conversation constructively focused on how this information impacts learning and how we can help the student.

 

What still confuses me about my experience as a student is 1) why the conversation my teachers had focused so much on the parents’ social and class standing/affiliation and 2) why in the world anyone would write it all down, and in such and obviously insensitive and sarcastic tone.  Or rather, I’m not confused.  I know.  And I’m disappointed.  

 

One of my cardinal rules of teaching is NO SARCASM.  I’ve worked largely with 6th-8th graders, and the fact is, you can’t rely on all students of that age to understand sarcasm.  Now, even if I end up only working with 9th-12th graders, or college or graduate students for that matter I still argue: NO SARCASM. 

 

Sarcasm can be funny between friends, in the Coen brothers’ films, and on a Friday night at a bar.  Maybe it has something to do with the traditional Eastern/Southern American (as in Pennsylvania and Tennessee) families I come from, but in spite of the comic possibilities, sarcasm is very frowned upon.  When there is a standard like that set in my family, it can sound arbitrary and puritanical, but usually there are good reasons behind it. 

 

Besides what many elders in my family would say (sarcasm is un-Christian), sarcasm is harsh, bitter, and usually involves derision.  Sarcasm is often cutting and often comes in the form of a taunt. 

 

If you employ sarcasm (bitterness, taunting, derision) towards or around your students, how can they trust you?  How do they know that they will not be the next targets?  It follows to ask then, how will they learn, if they fear, hate, or distrust you?  Why would they want to?

 

What in your current situation affects your ability to trust other and others abilities to trust you?

 

I still have difficulty trusting others until they have shown me DIRECTLY that they have respect for me.  I try to engender trust by showing others DIRECTLY that I respect them.

 

What has helped or been a hindrance to forming alliances across racial lines?

 

As a white person, it has helped me to study and inform myself of the history and ongoing conditions that lead people of non-white backgrounds to distrust whites.  Along the way, I have had the opportunity to learn from, work with, and have a good time with people who come from different racial backgrounds than me.  Being aware of my own issues of trust and concurrent fear that I feel in different situations has led me to be more aware of how others, particularly people of other races, might experience different kinds of fear and distrust AND how the bases for their fears and distrust DIFFER from mine in that they are HISTORICALLY-, CULTURALLY-, AND INSTITUTIONALLY-BASED.

 

To be explicit and honest: I treat people of other races differently than I treat other white people.  For example, when a Black parent comes for a parent-teacher conference with me about their ADHD diagnosed, 12-year-old son who drives every teacher nuts, I make SURE that that parent knows that I am not going to give up on their son.  I make SURE they know that I am not going to put him away in the difficult-young-black-boy category and close the door.  I make SURE that they know that I value their son’s mind, and don’t discount it because of how he looks, how he acts, and the stereotypes that are perpetuated in our society on our TV’s, in newspapers, and in Hollywood movies. 

 

Similarly, if I go into a graduate class that looks to be all white, save one dark-skinned woman, I might try to engage her.  I would want to let her know that I value her presence and that I’m glad she’s there.  Because I imagine it can be scary to be in a room of people where no one looks like you.  At least I know it would be scary for me.  Then again, it might also be angering, frustrating, annoying, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.  I don’t profess to understand what it feels like to be the only not white person in the room.  And I don’t treat non-white people differently than I would treat any white person on whom I would like to make a good impression, but I might make a little more effort to let that person know that their opinion of me matters to me just as much as any white person’s. 

 

Then, in both cases, as a closer and more intimate relationship with the Black parent or the dark-skinned classmate has formed, I let have them know in subtle or explicit ways that I acknowledge the existence of institutionalized racism: that I believe that the U.S. built its power by oppressing people of color, that I know whites are guaranteed privileges that people of other races might never have access to, and that I too see this as a problem and that I too would like to work to change it.

 

Is this correct?  Am I perfect?  Please. 

 

I know that it’s helped me form alliances across racial lines.  I know it’s a starting point.  I know that I have a lot to learn.  I know that all I’m doing really is treating every other person the way I would like and expect to be treated. 

 

It’s the Christian way.

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