Friday, September 14, 2012

Hop, Skip, Jump!

Hop, skip, jump on over to my new blog:

A more permanent blogosphere incarnation: it is the site where I will share my thoughts on the world, as well as photographs and updates on the jewelry business and life transition.

Thanks for reading --- and enjoy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful

(I know...the last entry was supposed to be the last entry, but this morning, I woke up and found Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful by Alice Walker, and I remembered all the times that I have read her writing, and it is grey and almost rainy outside, so I sat on the black leather couch with some coffee and found this poem.)


These mornings of rain
when the house is cozy
and the phone doesn't ring
and I am alone
though snug
in my daughter's
fire-red robe

These mornings of rain
when my lover's large socks
cushion my chilly feet
and meditation
has made me one
with the pine tree
outside my door

These mornings of rain
when all the noises coming
from the street
have a slippery sound
and the wind whistles
and I have had my cup
of green tea

These mornings
in Fall
when I have slept late
and dreamed
of people I like
in places where we're
obviously on vacation

These mornings
I do not need
my beloveds' arms about me
until much later
in the day.

I do not need food
I do not need the postperson
I do not need my best friend
to call me
with the latest
on the invasion of Grenada
and her life

I do not need anything.

To be warm, to be dry,
to be writing poems again
(after months of distraction
and emptiness!)
to love and be loved
in absentia
is joy enough for me.

On these blustery mornings
in a city
that could be wet
from my kisses
I need nothing else.

And then again,
I need it all.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

At last.....the last

Weightless - Brian Eno

1. "We just want to stay with you!!! You are leaving....we want to be with you!!!" - on asking the students how they want their schedule to be during the last week of half days. Monday - Thursday are going to be divine.
2. Giving plants away to a student who has taken care of them all year. I bought him an epiphyte at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden over the winter and he has taken such pride in its care. I gave him all the classroom plants. Yesterday, he took the first load home in a white cardboard box. Inside it, carefully placed, were a jade plant and saucer, four African violets, his epiphyte and a purple watering can. Today he took home a night-blooming cereus in a hanging basket.
3. Finishing things, no matter how hard that is for me.
4. Dressing up like a Fireman from Fahrenheit 451 to celebrate the life of Ray Bradbury, the importance of books, and the value of being a smidge anarchistic.
5. Cooking dinner for oneself on a rainy night, in a friend's kitchen, whilst drinking a glass of wine and listening to good music. Those moments are what it is all about.

Nightlite - Bonobo

Today, I drove back to my friend's house, the old Germantown house where I have been staying for about two weeks, at around 4:30. I drove up 5th street, out of the ghetto, or the Ojo de Oro as sometimes it is called, into northwest Philly, and back into beautiful Germantown. Over the last two weeks, I have often thought that had I lived in Germantown, would my experience of Philadelphia been fundamentally different? Most definitely yes, but I still think I would be moving on. 

I leave Philly in a week! A week from now, I will be grilling with friends here at this house, drinking beer and eating food with the good people in my life, and finishing packing my car. My car has become a three-dimensional Tetris game of my accoutrement: the junk I saved after the massive sell off. 

You've Got the Love - Florence and the Machine

So that's it. It is amazing how much can change in a year: how the course of your life can change, how you can have one plan and then another and then the better one just shows up in front of your eyes and you can be sitting on a roof in Mexico and realize you don't have to have an excuse for anything in life, you just have to make choices and do things and stay true to yourself and remember that you always know the right answer.

The other day, I had my exit interview with my principal, and the funniest thing happened. We were talking about all the my positives and negatives about the school, what worked and what didn't, and I told her the funniest thing, something that I hadn't even realized before I spoke it aloud. I thanked her because, out of the miasma that was my Philadelphia experience, the one place of stability was the school. The school was nuts, don't get me wrong, but its consistency in nuttiness was the one thing I could count on here. I knew, more or less, what was going to happen every day, what the walls looked like, where to park my car, how to get lunch from the Dominican restaurant down the street, where to pick up last minute supplies on Front Street if I needed them. Isn't that funny? School was my place of stability in a city of craziness.

Papa Legba - Talking Heads

So tonight I am sitting in this yellow room, looking at piles of books and two suitcases of clothes, and a mantle covered with photos of the people I love, and am realizing that I am out of here so quickly. Epiphanies are funny things: the choice comes in actually listening to what you learn from yourself, and for acting on those realizations. I think, perhaps, that most of us know what we should do about 90% of the time, but there are so many distractions that stop us from acting. 

So happy am I to realize that Philadelphia was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Thanks for reading. There will be a new, better blog soon, I think. Probably. For now, though, I am going to enjoy my next six days......

Philadelphia - Bruce Springsteen

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Julie With... - Brian Eno

Wrapping up things in Philadelphia mean wrapping up things here in the blogosphere, too. I plan to start a new blog, when the new projects begin, when I settle into the patterns of a new life...but for right now, I have chosen just to point out some great things about the city that I will be leaving in 11 days. 11 days!

I realized today that I arrived here one year ago tomorrow. It seems fitting to end the blog tomorrow, somehow. New projects on the horizon!

Can't Run But - Paul Simon

What are the great things about Philly? Those of you who have read, loyally, over the last year, may wonder whether there are good things about Philly! I apologize for my negativity this year. Honestly, at this point, now that I am staring at the end point, I believe that Philly was the best thing that ever happened to me. It shook me out of my comfort zone, challenged me, but mostly, made me face parts of myself I had always wanted to avoid. After that long and difficult process, I ended up in a much better place than I had been in, maybe, fifteen years.

So. Good things!!!

1. Reading Terminal Market. If you haven't been, you should. I just had dumplings from Reading Terminal last weekend for the first time, and they were delicious! There are lots of amazing things there, including organic produce, Amish ladies who make sandwiches in lightning speed, really sweet guys who sell you slices of pizza, and of course, delicious ice cream.

2. Pilates classes with Timeree at Sweat Gym....she makes the monthly fee worth it. Seriously, my body has not looked this good in, well, probably forever. She is also funny and integrates imaginary baby animals into her class routines.

3. The trees along 5th street, between Pine and Market. I drive along 5th every day, well, I used to, until I moved out last week. Over the last year, I have watched these trees that shade the old buildings of the historical parts of Philly change colors vividly as the seasons change. I have seen them green, yellow, red, orange, naked and then budding green again.

4. Bicycling through the city. If you remember, I got in a bad bike wreck when I first moved here. I was terrified of trolley tracks for months, but now I love bicycling in this nutty place. I love negotiating with cars, speeding along streets, blowing through stop signs....all of it.

5. Pizza. Seriously, y'all....Philly knows pizza and knows it well. I eat pizza ALL the time here, and will miss it like crazy when I am gone. I think I am going to have to start making pizza all the time because I will miss it so much. Whether it's Lorenzo's late at night, Gianfranco's during the day, Wolf Street Pizza when you are hanging out with your roommate watching Netflix, the pizza in Philly is great. My favorite combination? Eggplant and broccoli rabe. Try it....

I Wanna Be Adored - The Stone Roses

More to come.....

Friday, May 25, 2012

Adios, slanted house....

Not Too Late - Norah Jones 
(Norah Jones will always remind me of Anna, in the office at Sterling Quest....)

There is a story is late at night, in steamy early summer in Philadelphia. A girl sits at her computer, in a stuffy room that she has lived in and out of for many months. The walls are tan, and are crooked. The whole house slants. 

She filled it with a second hand leather couch, an old trunk of a friend's, two bookcases she bought with her first paycheck after college, a comfortable bed, an old sewing machine. She hung art on the walls, the slanted walls, put curtains in the windows. She taped ephemera to the walls, and wrote poems inside blank cards and pinned them up all over the house. She went to work. She planted plastic tubs in the front with flowers. She cooked meals in the kitchen, and wrapped the drab island in red oilcloth, and hung Mexican flags around on the windows and on the voodoo doll she got three years ago. She lived here with one of her best friends, and then she lived here more alone than before.

She wrote journal entries, and played Scrabble in earnest. She loved science and tried to communicate that to students who struggled. She baked sugar cookies, and drank cocktails, and learned to get to know new people and a new city. She took long, long walks and ended up with blisters on her heels. She discovered the beautiful parts of the city that maybe, she would have missed. She listened to music on her headphones, and learned to walk quickly but still appreciate the murals and the mosaics. She spent lots of time alone, and realized that although she didn't want to be alone for a long time, that being alone was just fine for the time being.

She lost a lot, but gained priceless things. She ate pancakes on Sunday morning with a little whiskey in her coffee. She read National Geographics, and books by Larry McMurtry, and pined for Texas even though she didn't want to go back. She went to the Melrose Diner when she had no coffee in the kitchen. She bought a ticket to Mexico when someone at work pointed out it had been too long (four years). She quit her job. She went to Mexico and had six amazing days that led to something truly wonderful. She came back to Philadelphia, sold everything she owned but the things she really loved.

 It is true, you have to be house proud. I will miss this house. Saying goodbye to the Rosewood house tonight.....

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Simple Truth

"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."
- Carl Sagan

Tonight, I packed my last box. I have whittled an entire houseful of stuff down into twelve boxes and what will fit in the backseat and trunk of my car. I feel very excited: like I am floating. It is an amazing feeling to get rid of so much junk....slash and burn indeed!

Whilst packing that last box, I found something that I hadn't looked at in many years. It is a long poem, written in red ink on yellow legal pad paper. It was left on my doorstep by a high school friend many years ago, when I lived in the house in which I spent most of my college time: 1414 East 37th Street in Austin. I love that house: still do, even though it is renovated and looks very different today than it did in 2003 when I moved out. 

Here is the poem, although sadly, it loses something not being written in red ink on yellow legal pad paper.

"The Simple Truth" by Philip Levine

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes, took them home, boiled them in their jackets and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt. Then I walked through the dried fields on the edge of town. In middle June, the light hung on in the dark furrows at my feet, and in the mountain oaks overhead, the birds were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers squawking back and forth, the finches still darting into the dusty light. The woman who sold me the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables at the road-side stand and urging me to taste even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way, she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat," she said, "Even if you don't, I'll say you did."

Some things you know all your life. They are so simple and true they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme, they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker, the glass of water, the absence of light gathering in the shadows of picture frames, they must be naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.

My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965 before I went away, before he began to kill himself, and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious, it stays in the back of your throat like a truth you never uttered because the time was always wrong, it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken, made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt, in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

{more information on Philip Levine can be found here}

19, 18, 17 Days

This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) - The Talking Heads

So...somehow I have gotten mixed up on my countdown here versus my countdown on my calendar. I think Memorial Day messed me up, or something. Anyway, after today there will be 16 days left....and out of those days, 7 are half days. My school is a strong believer in half days: it is one of our fundamental sources of contention, as I do not believe in half days, even though they are easier for me. 

Every Wednesday, we have a half day to build in professional development time for teachers, but, at least for us in middle school, this turns into a mostly wasted day of "electives" and advisory. I often wonder how much more they would learn if they were in school 5 days a week instead of 4. But, I digress....

1. Yesterday, I subbed for the art teacher at my school and taught 6th grade art for 45 minutes. They are learning how to weave: an activity that I really love. I turned on Allison Krauss & Union Station, and we listened to bluegrass and wove tapestries. They didn't complain about the music! They all worked on their tapestries! Outside it was rainy and cool.
2. Another day of making space stations really shows how each student is an individual, that creativity is universal and yet unpredictable, and that if you give any child the ability to create something out of a pile of seemingly random objects, it will fundamentally change they way they think about how things are made.
3. Skype - I am very thankful for Skype right now. 
4. The slow emptying of the Rosewood house: sharing my objects with others who are happy to receive them.
5. Still being able to break up fights with remarkable ease....turns out, it's like riding a bike!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

20 Days - Have Patience, Patience

That Wasn't Me - Brandi Carlisle

It's the weekend, again. The second to last weekend in the Rosewood house!!!

Taking risks is a part of life, and most of the time, risky behavior is too scary to do. Sometimes, the fear associated with risk comes with good reason: I think the issue at hand is to understand when risk may result in happiness, or when it may result in more scary or stressful situations.

“But who can say what's best? That's why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”
Haruki Murakami
1. Watching a classroom of students make space stations out of manila folders, tape and many random objects that were piled on a long table. I could see the imagination coming out of them, I could see them connecting ideas about design and engineering, I could see their creativity and their youth. 
2. Only three Fridays left!
3. Lunch with kindergartners. They are not allowed to talk for ten minutes so that they actually eat. After ten minutes, a timer goes off and the whole class erupts in a 5 year old "yayyyyyy!!!" It is hilarious, every single time.
4.  A beautiful spring-summer evening at the Phillies-Red Sox game with friends and coworkers, and a short but sweet intercontinental phone call on the sidelines.
5. Roof decks in South Philly on quiet, cool nights. Sometimes this city can be so beautiful.

Friday, May 18, 2012

21 Days

Ask - The Smiths

1. Unique, creative and weird students who fix ripped posters of other students with delicate, zig-zagged hot glue patterns.
2. That same unique, creative and weird student making nunchucks out of pencils and string, donning a mask he found somewhere, and dancing in front of the class. This would have been an instance of Lewis time.
3. Hugs from students throughout the day.
4. Great conversations with a student with a supremely huge deck stacked against him...and feeling, in that moment, that he knows I really care about him. I hope that is good enough and gives him more of a chance.
5. After school, hanging out in the hallways with kids, being silly and stupid and funny. 

I am going to miss them! (Even though they drive me crazy sometimes....a lot of times...)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

22 Days --- Space Stations, Rainy Days and a Lunch Bunch

Orleans Parish Prison - Johnny Cash

We are getting down to the close, and yet.....

Spiral Galaxy M74

This morning, the day started off rough. Lots of my students suffer from anger management problems, and I suffer from a lot of stress and a lack of ability to separate my emotions from their actions. This leads to me having my feelings hurt by a sense of failure, inadequacy or just plainly feeling attacked. Sometimes, the pain I feel very early in the morning means that I am more on edge, and therefore, the situation just gets worse. Other times, I am able to not take it personally and laugh about all the horribly mean things that are said to me, overtly or under breath.

Out of This Whirl: the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and Companion Galaxy

This morning it was rainy and grey and humid and the sounds of the train and cars and the smell of concrete was so pervasive I had a hard time stepping out of the moment. So, at one point, when I was upset and overwhelmed, I took a moment and stared out the old windows of my classroom, through the foggy panes, out into the scraggly trees that grow out of the community garden plot across the street. The garden is fenced in and locked: no one really gardens there. It is overgrown, weedy, and populated with old, plastic playground furniture. There is a vigilant stand of Swiss Chard that grows in a neat row along the front of the fence. The windows are covered with steel grates, the panes are thin and the casements are cracking and worn from age. I wonder what colour they used to be? Now they look like the surface of the Moon.

A String of

I stood there for a second, tears in my eyes, wondering if I could really do this, even for 22 more days. And I realized that I can do anything for 22 days, especially if I have already done it for about 180 days. But there are moments when it is really hard, and I want to walk out, or better yet, have them see me, and change. But in that place, in my heart, lies arrogance. They should not do anything that I want them to, the only hope is if they want to, in themselves.

Happy Sweet Sixteen, Hubble Telescope! - Starburst Galaxy M82

One of my favorite students was suspended today. She and I battled tooth and nail at the beginning of the school year: I probably wrote about her many months ago. She told me she didn't like me and didn't have to respect me or listen to me because I was new. Now, we get along really well and she helps me every day in class. She was suspended for being rude to a teacher several times. Downstairs, near the front door, at the top of the basement stairs, she stood with her back against the wall, sobbing her eyes out at being suspended. I talked to her for a bit, told her that she was a good person, and that this was all learning and that when she learns this, she won't have to repeat it, she won't be suspended again. I made her look me in the eyes so that I could tell her that it will get better. I held her hand and told her I would see her on Thursday.

Earlier today, a group of boys in one of the classes asked if they could come to my room at lunch. I told them no at least three times, but eventually, I was convinced. Only two or three asked me, I am sure, but when I looked up as they came in, I realized that all the boys from that class had come up. There were about ten of them, and they all sat down and ate lunch and we talked and they made jokes and we had a really good time. One sat and read his book, another asked me about space, another told me stories about going to parties, and the majority of them just talked to each other. At the end of lunch, they moved the tables around to create some space so that they could play a ballgame, and spent about fifteen minutes tossing a tiny basketball back and forth to each other while hopping as far as they could in the air.

Interacting Galaxies Arp 147

1. Design projects that challenge children to use their imaginations. Most of these students do not trust their imaginations and it is a beautiful thing to watch that trust in themselves begin to build by designing space stations.
2. Rainy days with all the windows open.
3. Lunch with students --- seeing them in a different light is a good thing.
4. Remembering, in many instances throughout the day, why I really love working with students.
5. Teaching about the Milky Way Galaxy and having every class answer, "YES!" when I asked if they wanted to watch the BrainPOP! about "Black Holes". That, and playing around on Galaxy Zoo, and classifying galaxies with them.

Monday, May 14, 2012

23 Days

Once in a Lifetime - Talking Heads

Over the weekend, I posted most of my worldly goods on Craigslist. I am hoping to break even on my moving costs by selling off my possessions, and maybe buy a new dress! (Oh will I ever tire of buying amazing vintage dresses? Methinks not...)

Today, I received a barrage of emails over the course of a few hours. My students were working on designing space stations, and I was receiving email after email from people offering to buy my things. Tonight, the first one went: my turn of the century pine hutch is now home sweet home in Upper Darby, with a couple from Ohio. In the rain, we loaded that beloved piece of furniture into and onto their car, and off it went.

Here was the hutch, in its full glory, in my old room in Austin....I love orange walls!!!

Words can't really describe how much I loved that room!

The walls were Lifejacket Orange, if I am remembering rightly. The ceiling was bright blue and the trim was metallic silver....

Old Craft Table....I built this table with 6 legs. Only 2 of them actually touched the ground at first! 

So.....time passes, and things come and go. Right now it is raining and very humid. My neighbors just came home and are parking their rickety, clacking car across from my house. They yell, at each other and at their kids, almost constantly. The rain falls, the air is still. Tomorrow is Tuesday....more space stations are on the horizon!

1. Students telling me that they were hanging out over the weekend (a group of 5 6th grade boys) and were staring up at the stars and they found Betelgeuse and Jupiter...and were so excited that they chose to tell me about it!
2. A 7th grader with a clothespin in his bangs, swinging his head back and forth and singing "I whip my head back and forth" in time.
3. Researching The Book
4.  Realizing that I am moving out of Philly in a month!
5. Time at night to listen to the sounds of this crazy city, and rain, and music.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Quarter Century Number of Days......

Good Morning - The Dandy Warhols

or....good evening.

I am gazing around my living room and kitchen and mulling over the facts: I am moving away from this house in about two weeks AND I did this, very similarly, a year ago. Now, a year ago, I took everything with me. This year, I am taking very little with me. This year, I am happier to shed extras and focus on only the things that I really love, versus bringing everything I own across state lines un otra vez.

Having just posted several items on Craigslist, I am still sitting, a bit paralyzed, on my brown leather couch. My couch is very comfortable to sit and sleep on. I bought it several years ago after selling my house, when I moved into my tiny house in Hyde Park, in Austin. When I bought this couch, my cat, Fawkes, escaped through the front door as my friends moved the couch inside. He disappeared into an autumn evening, and later, via microchip, he came back, only to disappear, finally, one more time. Fawkes was a wonderful Russian Blue cat: he was great, but not meant to be mine in the tiny house.

Next to my couch are two pinyon pine bookcases that I designed, had built, and bought with my first paycheck from IBM. In 2005, I worked as an event planner for IBM. I hated my job with a deeply burning passion. I traveled extensively: more than three weeks per month, on average, I was out of town. As I traveled, I began to forget where I was because I had been in so many airports: sometimes three or four in a week. I began to resent the various hotel rooms and became used to having dinner alone in strange, alienating hotel restaurants. I cultivated a favorite glass of wine that I could find at most places that I landed in on random Thursday or Friday afternoons. All hotels frequented by business travelers such as I smelled the same: like bleach, and chemicalized cleaning products, and over-starched sheets, and stale cigarette smoke that seemed to be a leftover from fifteen years ago, when smoking was still allowed inside. These hotels also smelled like chlorine and fertilizer, like the hard water used to water the banal tropical plants that decorate all of the atriums.

The last piece on the Reflection on My Objects Tour (for the moment, anyway) is my twig mirror frame from Anthropologie. This mirror frame is made of organically shaped pieces of pine that are fastened together in a beautiful and soothing way. I hung my grandparents' mirror on to the mirror frame, because this mirror frame never actually received glass. It has been in my homes for years, first The Haney House, then The Casita, now the Rosewood or Leaning House, sitting, waiting for mirror glass, waiting in vain. I love its sculptural qualities, but it, also, just contains stories and is, ultimately, unimportant.

Rivers and Tides - Andy Goldsworthy

These pieces of furniture are all, soon, being sold off: changing owners. Hopefully whoever takes these pieces will love them as much as I did.

It is funny how the process of getting rid of massive quantities of the furniture and clothes and books and etcetera that has followed you for years makes you feel light, airy, and, as if these decisions are the right ones. After a year of realizations, epiphanies, discoveries, hardships, life in a crazy city, dealing with the noise of people through walls, break-ins, challenging students, collapsing ceilings, hurricanes, earthquakes, trusting new friends, moving away from old friends, and having friends move away from me, for the first time in my life, I know that no matter what happens, I will always be okay. I trust in me. I trust in people, and I trust and know that love really is everything.

There was a time in December where I realized that all I had in life was the love I had for others and from others. And that has informed how I have lived since then. I have made some selfish decisions, decisions that I felt like I had to make to keep marching on, but my focus has been to let everyone in my life know how much I care for them. If I was to say what is the most important aspect of my life at this moment it is to spend more time with people, and to be open to the possibilities despite past experiences or disappointments.

So....let it be known, to myself and others who I love....I promise from now on to focus on people, on friends and loved ones, and to hold true to my realizations, to follow my heart.

Tonight is Friday night....instead of going out, I am staying in, looking around, making lists, and becoming lighter.

Busby Berkeley - Dance Until The Dawn 1931

1. Having lunch with students and talking about their thoughts.
2. Watching students' eyes light up when they see wonderful websites like that World Sunlight Map.
3. Having a calm end to the day with the crazy boys in my last period class.
4. A student who had a very rough morning and was very angry coming up to me at the end of the day, apologizing, and giving me a hug.
5. Teacher Appreciation Day notes that told me how the students like that I laugh instead of get mad, that I am trustworthy and honest, that I am "corny", that I make jokes, and that I keep trying no matter what happens...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

26 Days...or, a Pile of Books

MIA - Galang

Sometimes, days with the students are extra special and crazy. This morning, one of my favorite students magically became in possession of a meter stick. Said meter stick began to be beaten on the tables, until it was taken away. Then, he magically became in possession of two metal poles (still don't know where he found these), which proceeded to be banged on the surface of the tables and on the tables' legs. Those were eventually forfeit, as well. Soon after, whilst rolling over the surface of one table, he said,  "But Miss Blythe! I can't sit still!!!!!"

I replied, while looking desperately around the room for something to soothe the ADD-raddled savage beast, "You! Bookcase! Organize it!" He said....."ok" and proceeded to sit on the floor and pull every book out of a triple-decker bookcase. He made a huge pile of books on the floor and began to sing hip-hop and R&B songs while making beautiful and precisely organized shelves of books.

So there you go. 

Ani DiFranco - Anticipate

1. Being open and flexible to understanding the weird alternatives that middle school kids sometimes need to do to stop from bugging out.
2. Seeing the connections that students make about space and science and watching the trust in themselves and their intelligence develop in the form of questions and answers during discussions.
3. Dinner parties in beautifully decorated, tiny, old houses in South Philly.
4. Ant----ic----i----pation
5. Asking questions

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

27 Days

***Please forgive my using Dave Matthews Band - Two Step....but it is a really great song!!!

Let's just say the transition back into Philadelphia is a bit rough when you have been in a tropical paradise with someone you don't want to leave. The grey stone, the grey cement, the blockish nature of the city and then the general filth and drudgery is just hard to take after so many days of palm trees, sunshine, fresh fruit, friendliness, and new friends offering to fake themselves as doctors so that you can stay.

That being said, hugs from seventh and sixth graders early this morning were a very nice reminder that not all is bad, and in fact, much is good. Mostly what is good is the hilarious nature of middle they do things that make no sense and render me with an expression akin to total bewilderment. Imagine one boy hiding in a closet, another one throwing a chair because I called his mother after he ran around like a lunatic in the halls and on the stairs, another girl blatantly yelling at a guest teacher of a special group just because she doesn't know her, and yet another one telling me to "Shut Up!". 

My main strategy, especially at this point, is to just not worry and to relax and laugh as much as possible.

1. Hugs from many students this morning and thinly-veiled warnings of violence if I ever leave them again before the summer.
2. Sitting at a conference table with a small group of seventh graders and realizing that I have no control over them and just sitting there, laughing to myself and wondering whether they have any clue as to what they are doing.
3. Waking up to rain tapping and wind rattling the windows in my bedroom.
4. Surprise photos.
5. Daydreams.....planning, and getting ready....

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Twists and Turns

"Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road."

- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

Dog Days are Over - Florence and the Machine

Last Thursday, I flew to Cancun, and spent six days with dear friends near the beach in Tulum. Tulum is a tiny coastal town that reminds me a lot of my tiny home-coastal town, despite its obvious differences. The water in Tulum is so many shades of turquoise and royal...when you look out at the water, it's like someone has taken a watercolor brush and dipped it in every shade of blue that you could imagine and just wiped it in horizontal stripes across the horizon. The sand is white and tan, there are tiny rocks and coral and sea urchins, and palm trees. The wind whips around every surface through each moment of each day: all things are coated in sand and salt water. Everything is hot and the sun is bright and beats down in the most lovely of ways.

You You You You You - The 6ths

Better than the beach, or at least equal to the beach in beauty and sheer amazingness, are the cenotes. Cenotes are natural limestone pools that are partially or entirely underground. They were made by underground rivers and dot the Yucatan peninsula from the ocean westward. We went to many cenotes, each unique and each cenote trip had its own story.
Muscle - MIA

The first was Grand Cenote, a cenote just minutes outside of Tulum. Grand Cenote is half-open and is wonderfully accessible to people. At Grand Cenote, there is a huge cliff wall that faces you as you stand on the small deck preparing yourself for jumping in. Once you jump, the water is cobalt blue and clear. There are small fish that swim around and nibble on your feet; there are water plants that have green-brown top sides to their leaves and purple bottoms. There are mot mot birds that warble their strange song from trees above; they are especially vociferous at sunset. There are swallows that make their nests in the cracks and crannies of the cave walls, and swoop and fly about your head as you swim back into the cave. There are bats that perch, upside down, waiting for the dimming of the light to start flying with their swallow neighbors. There are two hidden caves that you have to trust are there: aiming for a friend's feet you can find the air pockets as you duck under stalagtites that plunge deep down into the water. Once in the first air pocket, you can hold on to the craggy rocks and push yourself through the crevices to another, larger, private pool inside the cave wall. In the pool you can sit along the walls and look down at perfectly white slabs of limestone that have settled on the pool's floor, or you can just sit and wait for the water to settle and become perfectly quiet.

One Fine Day - David Byrne and Brian Eno

The next day's cenote was called Tancash Ka (and I am sure I am mis-spelling its name), an egg-shaped, totally underground cenote with diving boards and a roof of camel-colored stalagtites that bend down and look as if they might fall on you as you glide underneath them, floating on your back in the blue water. There are formations that look like distinct shapes: there are fans of limestone, chandeliers, ribbons and some that look like gills sticking out from the walls. Diving down, you can see formations that are shaped like a million pearls all laying on top of each other. These walls surround the pool. You can look up and see your friends jump off the diving tower and splashing loudly and perfectly in the clear water. You can float and stare upwards, you can dive down and look at the rocks on the pool's floor. You can crawl up what seems like hundreds of stairs when the lack of fresh air becomes a bit much and sit outside in the fierce sunshine and drink beer and look at the trees and the bushes and the sky and the clouds and realize how gorgeous it all really is.

Take This Waltz - Leonard Cohen

If you are really lucky, and I most certainly am, you will have friends who will take you to the town of Cuzama, to Los Tres Cenotes. The names of the cenotes - ChelentĂșn, Chansinic'che, and Bolonchoojol - are interesting enough in themselves, but this is the cenote visit when you get to travel back in time by climbing into a horse-drawn carriage that takes you over 9 kilometers into the campo in search of three cenotes. 

Silver - Bonobo

Imagine traveling back in time and place. Pass through several towns, some small and some large, and when you come to Cuzama, imagine passing a pink Colonial cathedral, a grey Colonial cathedral, and then an orange and white Colonial cathedral. Imagine a central jardin that is painted in Easter egg colours: yellow and purple. Drive through town, through neighborhoods and past people sitting in the front gardens. Park on the right where you see a series of palapas and a pasture of scrawny, tiny horses. When you park, you are informed that $250 pesos gets you a horse, a buggy, two guides and an hour and a half in the cenotes. You hop on the buggy that is set to coast on an ancient, tiny train track, fasten your cooler and bags to the platform at the back, and take off at a fine clip through the campo. Staring at the henneken plants, the cacti, the scrubby trees, I was reminded of all of my years in Austin out in the country looking for swimming holes. Being on the buggy feels a bit like a rollercoaster, a bit like a carnival ride, and really gives meaning to the understanding that things in Mexico sometimes are just so magical and different you just have to go with them. The guides release the horses at each stop and off they run in circles to the right or left of the track. Down you go, down steps or ladders into cenotes that are much more popular with local people than the tourists you find at the cenotes nearer Tulum. The first one is covered with graffiti from the thirties through the present day....the second is entered by a perfectly straight and perfectly terrifying ladder and has pockets of light that peak through from the surface and cascade pure sunlight down into the water. In the center hang huge tree roots and a pile of limestone rocks. To one side is a large tree that grows into the rocks and the water. If one of your group is a cliff jumper, he can climb back to the top and find a spot all the way up, about 20-30 feet, find a landing spot with the help of another friend, and leap fast through the air, and plunge into the water. The third and final cenote, accessed by a slippery and short stairway, is expansive with little cliffs, hanging tree roots that you can do pull-ups on, clear blue water that you can dive down and see for such a distance it is incredible. If you hang on the tree roots and look up, you can see a hole in the ground above. Framed in that natural opening, you see tree branches, tree roots, leaves, and light. It is a beautiful sight: a perfect picture of how this place is magic, and that magic is everywhere.

Take Care - Beach House

There were other days, and other adventures on this trip. There were great discoveries, and Mayan ruins. There were walks, and beautiful dinners under dim lights. There were wonderful conversations and tamales off street carts. There was sleep in hot, dark rooms and time in vivid sunshine. There were realizations of how no matter what you may think, life happens and gifts are given and it is up to you to recognize them for what they are. 

Tonight, it is getting late. In Philadelphia, it is relatively quiet: possibly because it is rainy and grey outside. I know that 3,271 miles away, there is a place that I intend to get back to. That place whose skyline I looked upon the other day from the roof as I was hanging up laundry is small and dusty, with beautiful people and beautiful water, everywhere.

There is more to write, but not yet. Suffice it to say, I wish I was at a movie theatre in Playa del Carmen, or a small house in Tulum...but until then, I am here, wrapping up the loose ends and packing the boxes. Oooooo life!!!!

"Harold and Maude" - Hal Ashby, 1971

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reflections on a True Misadventure - 34 Days

The Rolling Stones - Moonlight Mile

"Oh I'm sleepin' under strange, strange skies
Just another mad, mad day on the road
My dreams is fading down the railway line
I'm just about a moonlight mile down the road"...

I took Thursday off to clean the house. Every hour or so, I would go upstairs and look at the mess that, underneath, was my bedroom, and would get so upset I would go and sit on the stairs and then lay down on the couch till I fell asleep. Next hour: repeat. 

On Thursday evening I went to Pilates class, and came home around 8:30, re-energized. I put on some loud, dance-y music, and went to town. I cleaned my room. I put everything away. I threw away all the junk. I made piles to donate to the Philly AIDS Thrift. I put a light blanket on the bed to chase away the chill. I made a firm decision.

This experience will not beat me. As long as I am still standing, I am okay. I am reminded, again, of the poem "Invictus", by William Ernest Henley. The last time I referenced this poem, someone told me that Timothy McVeigh quoted it before his execution. I find this strange because I think that being a terrorist is the opposite of stoicism, which I think is the major guiding principle of the poem. I think that Henley had a bit of a rough time but chose to channel that into a powerful lyrical work. His poem is cited in Homer Hickam's memoir "Rocket Boys", when the burgeoning space race inspired the United States to re-evaluate its public education system to compete with the USSR. For me, I love to read its dark words during dark days:

"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

On Friday morning, I woke up in my clean bedroom to a house that had not been burgled again. I took a long shower, got dressed, drank coffee, ate breakfast, and went to work. I walked into class, set up for the day, and waited for the students to come in.

All day, I spoke to the students about just a few things. 1) How could we live in a space station? 2) Saturn and 3) How to resist peer pressure and why not to break into people's houses. I was surprised to find that all the students empathized with me and felt sorry that this had happened. I sadly realized that most of them shared in my experience. (I had learned a few days earlier that someone had thrown a rock through one of the new school building's windows.) I sadly realized that I am making the right decision. I sadly realized that what Officer Montoya and other cops told me was right: Philadelphia is a violent and dangerous city.

Colouring my thoughts and conversations all day were the thoughts and fears that, when I came home, I would find the house in the same state as I had the day before. It was all I could think about, and I kept apologizing to the students that I was being a terrible teacher all that day. It was incredibly important to me to communicate with them, share with them, and impart upon them to not do anything like this to anyone, especially to strangers.  Funnily enough, they were quiet and compassionate and listened. Several times, other teachers walked in to my room to find us all sitting and talking quietly, sharing stories.

When I came home, of course, the house was fine. Nothing was amiss. The safety pole waited steadfast at the back door. The new front door locks were strong and tight. Nothing had moved from its box, or its drawer, or its shelf: so unlike two days before. But something was, of course, different. The feeling that someone, out of anger or desperation, threw everything that I owned, in the living room, office, and especially, bedroom, onto the floor, will never go away. That feeling, that knowledge, pervades everything here. Nothing was wrong yesterday, but my home here will never be the same.

What is The Nothing - from "The Neverending Story"

That being said, I am lucky. My lease is up shortly and I will be able to move. I have so many great opportunities, and I have to take advantage of them.

Philadelphia has given me the opportunity for an existential crisis. This crisis, this phase of realization, acceptance and transformation, is a gift. Let me only be lucky enough to perceive its lessons and choose to learn from them.

A few years ago, my friend Martha J and I were talking about homes. She, at the time, was living at the Castilian Dormitory and working for the University of Texas National Institute of Forensics, and I was talking to her about how hard I thought it would be to live in many different places throughout the course of a year, as she was at the time. I told her that I felt like I needed my home as a physical space that was mine, that I could decorate and make my own. And she told me that she didn't agree: that home was wherever she was. Back then, I didn't understand what she meant. But now, after all of this, and perhaps especially after the break-in, I really do. Home is within us, a part of us. It doesn't matter where you are, just who you are with.

That being said, I still love having a great home that I can decorate. I don't think that will change: home is very important to me. But, I think that I have re-evaluated and have a different understanding of the home within and the physical space we live within. 

Even though, very shortly, I have to say goodbye to my new Philly friends, or at least "until we see each other again", I know that as long as I learn from this and all lessons that I have learned in this crazy town, that I will stay in touch with those friends and remain close with them and with all the other wonderful people in my life.

And I will remember a quote from "Mad Men", the show I have been re-watching over the last few weeks: "People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Yma Sumac - Taki Rari

From now on, though....I will listen to great music like that of  Yma Sumac, pack up the few things that I am taking with me, and go!

1. Compassion from my students
2. Listening to the sounds of wonder when they viewed the new video of Saturn and Jupiter from the Cassini mission
3. Coming home to a calm household
4. Going to a Phillies game with a good friend!
5. Weekends and time....

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Violation Misadventure - 36 Days

Today, I came home to find my house had been broken into. Not much had been stolen, but my stuff (and my roommate's stuff) was EVERYWHERE.

Couch cushions, books, curios, coffee table, bedsheets, clothes, fabric, etc. are now strewn as if someone was looking for something like drugs or money. I guess that is what they were looking for....

Public Enemy - Shut 'Em Down

After a visit from five Philly cops and four friends, locks were changed and a safety pole was installed. I am still, however, firmly ensconced on my couch. I am going to stay here tonight.

1. Friends, no matter how new, who will be there for you when you need them and who will laugh with the Philly cops who, ultimately, are people, too
2. Learning from a coworker that your students are talking obsessively about space during after school detention
3. Wednesday afternoons when you are given time to get work done and you leave at 4 feeling like it is all finished for the next day
4. Friends who, no matter how old, will call you and talk to you and say how nice it is to hear your voice
5. Giant fabric stashes that yield emergency curtains when the need when you need to cover windows so people can't see in.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Educational Misadventure: Woe is Me, the SDP

In today's case, the SDP is, of course, the School District of Philadelphia. Woe is me, indeed.

"What we know through a lot of history and evidence and practice is that the current system doesn't work," Ramos said.  (Pedro Ramos - School Reform Commission Chairman)

Dominating's homepage earlier today were three stories about the school district. These stories are covering what has become the humdrum rallying cry of school districts across the nation: we are short on money, citizens of ______, please help us.

The School District of Philadelphia is projecting a $218 million deficit for school year 2012 - 2013, and those figures are assuming passage of a controversial Actual Value Initiative (think: More Taxes!). Without the passage of AVI, the budget gap will be wider, and will simply grow with time. It is hard to say why the citizens of Philadelphia should pay more taxes, except that it is the "right" thing to do in times like these. Citizens of Philadelphia pay a city tax, a state tax, and a federal tax for the privilege of living and working in Philly. (This should explain to you why many people neither live nor work in Philly....therefore reducing the tax base and removing young, upwardly mobile people from Our Fair City). Philly has a thriving welfare state, where many, many people are on subsidized housing and government assistance. It seems wrong to demand that the people who actually pay property taxes should pay more when there are many vacant properties with absentee landlords and  thousands of work-age people who could also contribute in some way.

But I digress: the issues of a city-wide dependence on welfare are for another day.

Per pupil spending in Philadelphia was $6,345.26 per child per year last year,with a 49% college bound rate.  This  number is so absurdly low considering that 33% of students in Philly live at or below the poverty line, and is especially absurd when you contrast per pupil spending in the city with spending in the higher-income suburbs like Jenkintown ($14,473.49 with an 87% college bound rate) and Lower Merion ($15,484.33 with a 93% college bound rate).

Understanding the inherent inequity in access based on funding that Philadelphia is dealing with, and coupling that lack of funding with the serious social issues that students in Philadelphia are facing, it is a slap in the face that Governor Corbett has chosen to cut education across the state, but focus his attention on ten school districts with extreme cuts. Of those ten, nine are in the greater Philadelphia area and four of them have above average poverty concentrations. In contrast, Pittsburgh is actually receiving more funds this coming school year than last. It would seem that Governor Corbett is out to attack and destroy those districts who need the most help; therefore saying that the results of urban blight, white flight, and the dismantling of social services are the fault of every child in Philly who attends a public school. Clearly, these children are making the decisions that are leading to the high dropout rates, lack of opportunity, and high rates of violence within their city.

The current plan is to close underused and failing schools and redistribute students to charters and to other public schools. 

If you paid attention to last year's news on Philly public schools, you may remember the protests at the creation of the Renaissance schools. This latest attempt by the SDP to deal with their problem by cutting one end of the blanket and sewing it to the other side is indicative of a larger problem: a system-wide unwillingness to look at urban districts that are showing results and changing for the better. Philly public schools are a screaming mess, and their funding is being reduced, again. 

The answer does not only come from increasing funding, however. The District must do something to address the abhorrent violence in schools, and the de facto acceptance of that violence. In addition, the District must do something about a teacher's union that is so strong that it controls any and all "reform" to such a point where there is no reform at all. This teacher's union is crippling itself and cutting its own legs off, but most importantly, it is cutting the heads of the future of America: the students. When teachers are paid a very high salary for doing nothing, when tenure is a part of K-12 education and teachers who are unionized are given no sort of requirements for keeping their jobs, and when energetic, young teachers are the first to be fired because they have not "paid their dues", you have a system designed to soothe and coddle the careers of adults. Nowhere in this mess of a system are the students' future lives being discussed. The lip service of the SDP, and of the state of Pennsylvania in general, toward equity, diversity and closing the achievement gap is laughable.

37 Days

Peter Gabriel - Big Time

1. Good conversations at work when you realize it all is water under the bridge....

2. Inspiring students to add Neil Degrasse Tyson as a friend on Facebook....after watching this video!

3. Hearing feedback from students about why the International Space Station is important; that they realize that diversity creates better science and stronger thinking is so refreshing!

4. Listening to Dave Brubeck with my homeroom as they worked on their Disease of Your Choice nice when they are happy and engaged and working!

5. Finding peace with this..

Monday, April 23, 2012

38 Days Thank You!

I am blessed by the people in my life.

This may sound trite, but I am being honest. Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a good friend about how we have all of these amazing people in our lives who reach out and help us, no matter what emotional drama is going on within our heads.

I am truly thankful for all of my friends and my family, and the friends that have become family. How did I get this lucky? Smiling, I think, is the key to my success. Smiling, honesty, being emotional, sharing creativity, trying to listen, laughing whenever and however possible, and of course, the key to all things, being in the right place at the right time, has brought all of these people to me.

The Rolling Stones - 100 Years Ago

Today I had a wonderful conversation with my principal. I have, so far, worked for six principals. Some have been good, two have been great, and some have been just bad. My current principal is a great person: she listens and she hasn't lost her humanity despite the stress of her job. I respect that. I sat in her office today, explained how I was feeling, and she really listened. Not only did she listen, but she gave me suggestions about what I could do to further my goals. She reiterated what was going on in my head and told me it was okay. Of all the difficult conversations that I have had with principals, and trust me when I say I have had many, this was one of the top three. I left her office feeling like no matter how conflicted I feel, that I am doing the right thing.

Morphine - Shame

So...the secret is out!

I quit my job today.

Effective the last day of this year, I will no longer be a teacher in Philly. I will be taking a break: I am calling this a Sabbatical. Why should sabbaticals be reserved for highfalutin college professors? My sabbatical entails  (so far): working with kids on a boat, making lots of silver, gold, bronze and copper jewelry, going to Mexico for a few months and reconnecting, and writing a lot. 

I don't know where this will take me....all I know is that it feels right. I feel like it is time to take time off and focus on other parts of my life. So, from here on out, until I leave Philadelphia, I will continue to post here. After that, a new project that is to be unveiled later.

Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait

I feel like I have reached a point in my life where I am not okay with waiting for "it" to happen anymore. It is now time to reach out and grab life as best as I can. I know what I want, so I am aiming to go out and make beautiful things, spend time with people I love, and explore the beauty that is all around me and you and everyone else.

Today was a good day!

1. The weather cooled off and it rained all day yesterday. Today, I opened all the windows in my room and we bathed in the cool rainy day....if there had been fog, we would have fog-bathed. Instead, we listened to the sounds of firetrucks, policecars and trains and felt the cold breeze blow in and over the mineral samples, under the curtains, and between the potted plants.
2. A great conversation with my principal.
3. Hugs from kindergartners and first-graders.
4. Reading the answers to "What Do You Think It Would Be Like to Live in Space?", written by 6th and 7th graders.
5.  That peaceful time, at the end of a long day, when you get to grade papers, hang up student work, and listen to music in a building that, for a moment, is quiet....

Grizzly Bear - On a Neck, On a Spit