Thursday, February 21, 2008

Health is Wealth

Friday I caught a cold and it has traveled to my lungs, triggering my normally dormant asthma. The medicines are helping a little but so far not enough to stop this train! Argh. I hope I'm not heading towards pneumonia. At least I am in good spirits and we had our musical performance last week and I have this school vacation week to recover. My dog is by my side fending off the ghosts of loneliness. I am reading Ernest Hemingway's letters. I love reading the letters of great writers. I have a feeling I won't be traveling to NYC tomorrow after all but maybe I can go during April vacation.

Self Portrait Self Image

We look in the mirror and what do we see? Scars, pimples, hairs, double chins? The girls in my class put on eye liner and lipstick and pierce their noses and eyebrows and lips, dye their hair a new color each night and have multiple tattoos.

One girl started a rumor that another girl was gay and because this was not true it was particularly painful for the accused girl to come to class so I sat with her on the other side of the room and talked with her about it for the whole class time. This was an important trauma to address. I told her she could ignore it and be angry at the same time. But lashing out would harm everyone. I remember how traumatic it was when my mother accused me of being gay at that age too because I was not being girly and flirting with boys like my sister was. Instead I had boys who were my close friends.

One of my students told me she doesn't like to be fat but sometimes she eats three bowls of ice cream before bed for comfort. She is 14 and her mother lives in NY with her own parents, and her father has a new woman and baby in NJ. I asked her how does that feel? This girl is being raised by her 27-year-old half-sister who I met on parents night. Is she good to you? I asked.

I told her to write down a list of everything she eats, not to show me but for herself. I told her about some foods, like apples and popcorn, that are comforting snacks but are healthy and won't make you fat. I told her that building muscles walking up the stairs and walking to school is good for her body and it can help her body become a more efficient fuel-burning machine. This girl is Italian and Puerto Rican and smart and a very good artist. She has such a classic look, like she stepped out of one of Diego Rivera's murals. She's going to NY over vacation to get her flute so she can play in the jazz band.

The Power of Simplicity

I was in Bill's shop and I passed a box of clothespins, and I thought, "I have to bring this to class for my students to draw." At school the kids said "Ma'am it's just a box of clothespins!" And I said "Yes, isn't it beautiful?" Maybe teaching is the most subversive activity I have ever encountered. Each day I have the opportunity to be present and honest and to respond with dignity, sincerity, and humor to my students. Every day teenagers are thrown out and abandoned by their parents and by society. Mostly it is because of fear. I was abandoned too and this is why it is so empowering to hear them and support them. It's mending my old wounds while celebrating new lives.


I got my clogs re-soled for 20 bucks and they are better than new! The shoemaker polished them up too!! Now he's working on my other pair. I have a feeling he's getting more work these days - he apologized for taking a whole week to finish my shoes. I said don't worry about it, it took me three months to finally bring them in.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Every year I'm reminded of the time my friend's mother kneaded her diamond wedding ring into her bread dough and baked it. Unknowingly the father ate it . . . But they never did find it.

for the true lover
everyday is
valentine's day

     - Steve Sanfield

Face Parts

I just photographed Bill's after-school music theory class at Beacon School. Yup, now he's working there too. They'll never get rid of us now! Bill's class took place after my art class, which is the last class of the day (on Mondays and Fridays).

In art class the kids were all drawing self-portraits in pencil. Unfortunately, 14-year-old girls & guys hate to look at themselves!! So I had to cajole them into seeing how beautiful they were by having them look at one feature at a time, and by looking at everyone else's features. I got them to focus on the details of the top lip, lower lip, ear lobes, eyebrows, nostrils, nose, eyes. Luckily it worked!!

Spring Has Sprung

I am in transmit mode and I can hardly keep up with myself. I have ordered 25 books from the library and I wake each night at 2 or 4 AM and I get up and write and read and bake. I am asleep at 8 PM with naps during the day when I need them. It's fun and nutty.

I want olives! We finally went through our big jug of Kalamata olives. I am thinking of buying a gallon of green olives for ten bucks from Fernandez Market.

I suddenly don't want tea. I want coffee, with one-percent milk to bring out the flavor.

I made sourdough rye meal + whole wheat bread and it is good with peanut butter and jelly. I also made bran muffins flavored with mincemeat glop and pumpkin mush. They are very good! I baked them in my cast iron muffin pans!

The Hazards of Writing

Leo Tolstoy said in his opening line from Anna Karenina:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

What kills me is every day in every school we ask children to read and write but they often are terrorized at home for reading and writing. This was the case for me! I had to hide my art and notebooks and journals and books that I was reading (like The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce). I'd wrap it all in newspaper and twine and stuff it under my bed so my mother wouldn't go through it. So in school I could barely squeeze out one sentence when asked to write.

At the school I hear about kids' parents reading their journals while they are in the shower or away at school. And I overhear the kids discussing ideas for hiding places, just like I did! The parents find their notebooks and read them and then slam the kids for what they've written or drawn. I think this is a violation of privacy, and the slamming tantamount to emotional or even physical abuse. It should be against the law. Each family is its own micro-government, and these governments are sometimes, sadly, dictatorships. Yes, parents must be in charge, but freedom of speech and respect for privacy should apply to the children.

Quotes of the Day

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.

     - Cherokee Saying

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

     - Mahatma Gandhi

Somehow I awake this morning as if hurled onto a strange and wonderful beach, I stand and look around, finding myself on this strange island called my life.

     - Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Healing Earthquakes

A Simple Gift

There are a few girls in my freshman art class who have no mothers due to abandonment, neglect, mental illness, or disease. I am having to face my mother's abandonment, abuse, neglect, and disease reflected back in their eyes. It is amazing how they are nourished by me and I am nourished by them. I told the Principal about my passion for literacy as healer. I've always wanted to be granted a position in community work based on my life experience rather than to have to go get a degree. Now as artist-in-residence at this school I have been given this gift.

Change Purse

This morning I was thrilled that I could mail a package of three books for three dollars, and it would take three days! What a bargain! In addition, on the way home I got ten pounds of Maine potatoes, a bag of spinach, a hunk of bananas, a half-gallon of milk and a local newspaper all for the cost of the change in my little purse. Magic. Lucky.

It reminds me of when I was five and I had saved my quarters for months in my little flowered rubbery-fabric change purse with the metal hardware that pinched closed. I got up one Saturday morning and with my best friend Celeste, who lived across the street, rode my turquoise one-speed bike to the gas station, put air in my tires, and continued to the center of town. I went to a corner store and the five-and-dime next to it, and bought silly putty and colorforms and a metal thing that held change, like what the guys at amusement parks used to wear on their hips.

When I got home I was severely punished by my mother. I still do not understand the crime of saving my allowance and spending it. My bicycle was taken away from me for months and I was no longer given an allowance. I was shamed. Perhaps the crime was spending all my money in one day, or spending it frivolously, but wouldn't teaching have worked better than shaming? Now, as an adult, I think the real crime was that I had a mind of my own, something I will pay for my whole life.

Postings from January

January was a busy month - preparing for our February performance in Chester CT, and more work at the Beacon School! I still wrote blog entries, but never got around to posting them. So this will be one big posting of all my January blogging!

Still Life

We are drawing from life in my art class this week. Today I brought my favorite objects for the kids to draw, and the session was a hit. One of the hip-hop boys joined in and drew a great portrait of my heavy old black 1950's desk phone! I also brought my small gargoyle and the antique cast-iron apple peeler (with a fresh apple). Sky Hawk peeled the apple and drew the peeler and then all the kids at his table shared the freshly-peeled Empire apple, each taking a bite!

And for tomorrow, I'm thinking about an edible still life on a small table draped with a colorful tablecloth. I try to make every day unique so it is alive both for me and for them.

We're All Students

Because today was relatively warm (mid forties) I had Spring in my thoughts as Bill and I walked to Beacon School together. Bill used the school's internet cable connection to upload my documentary photos while I was in class. I brought watercolors and the children's books of Lisbeth Zwerger to my classroom; she's a fantastic illustrator and watercolor artist. I got so inspired looking at these books that I painted with watercolors last night and before and after school today. I love teaching. I love to see the kids bust through their fear and turn on the lights. I am a student absorbing them and they are students absorbing me! I have never wanted to have children of my own, but having 27 teenage students is fine.

On the way home from school, Bill and I stopped at the Asian market to get fresh garlic (five heads for a dollar!) and fresh bean sprouts. Later in the afternoon I took Honey for a run through the city. She has been waiting for so many days for a BIG RUN!! On the jog home with Honey I stopped by GiGi's. GiGi has been rearranging her store this week. She introduced me to a local potter who for 28 years has taught pottery in a long-term care program at the State hospital in Burrillville; a fascinating link of art and care-giving.

It seems to be getting lighter earlier, and my "transmit" energy is returning. I am having a bit more fun with the music for our Feb 9th show. Rehearsing the music makes US students!

Tangy Twangy

I'm letting my dough rise in the basement next to the boiler since our house is so cold! When I lose track of time the dough ferments and becomes a TRULY sour dough. After baking, the bread is so sour it tastes like sourdough rye bread, and the sourness intensifies over the week. I actually put jam on it to balance the tangy flavor!

Mouse House

When we are asleep there is a mouse running loose in our house. He chews up the bar of handsoap and eats the candlestick wax drips on the tablecloth and eats the flour dustings near my dough mixer. That's not a healthy diet! This makes me want to leave out a nice home-cooked meal for him on a little mouse plate with a little mouse fork and little mouse knife and a napkin for his lap! I loved mice when I was little like them. I had a mouse house which was essentially a one-room house for toy mice.

A Desire to Give

I just photographed the kids at Beacon School in their dress rehearsal for the Woody Allen farce they are performing Friday and Saturday night at the Stadium Theatre. The kids are so great. I'm amazed that I have landed a job in education and it seems inevitable even though I never saw it coming. I love the kids, and all my desires to be a social worker, a therapist, or to work in a prison have all come together being here doing THIS. I am a student and a teacher in this process and I feel blessed to be part of it. Adults are still most often painful to deal with. Why is that?

A Snow Day!

We had a storm that left heavy snow on every tree branch. It was one of the most beautiful snowstorms I've ever seen. We took Honey for a run through the cemetery and she ran and ran with sheer dog joy! Her brown fur showed up against the white powder. Everywhere we looked were spectacular views of snow-covered trees, with silver glittery hills in the distance. The hydrangea bushes in the cemetery looked like hilarious hairdoos. Some of the bushes looked like icy white fireworks frozen in time.


I am now in day three as the new documentarian photographer at Beacon School (in addition to being an artist-in-residence). Students need pictures of themselves for their digital portfolios, which are necessary for graduation. So I've been hired to poke my head in all of the classes. I'm getting a taste of all the teaching styles, and seeing more students while I snap photos. Yesterday I was in the senior art class and they were working with clay. It was fun to see them slamming dense slabs of clay on the table and then rolling and cutting it into shapes. In math class kids were taking a test (not a great photo op!) but a few had calculators so that made an interesting graphic at least. The culinary students were in their white chef's jackets ladling, pouring, removing big pans of bread pudding from the oven. I also peeked in on the science and film classes.