“She anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.”

Do you like to read aloud to your friends and family? I do. And this week, a trio of articles served as a catalyst for discourse and especially for wild gut-busting laughter during some family car trips.

The Article: How We Are Ruining America by David Brooks

The premise of this piece is that upper middle class Americans deliberately move their families away from the other half (read: “the poor and less educated”) and therefore limit opportunities for inclusion. This essentially bars class mobility. Basically, it is a caste system – locking out the untouchables, with little access to the upper classes. Education is a key part of this, and the system for college admissions is rigged to prioritize children of parents who are wealthy enough to play the game.

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While Brooks’ premise is aligned with my experiences with my own education and my profession as an educator, he makes a BIG MISTAKE – a paragraph so distracting that it is ripe for parody, and, well, just pretty dumb.

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Here it is – in all its glory:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

This is a lesson in writing – reread and ensure that your discourse is aligned and on message. The paragraphs before and after are written with on message and with academic language that fits the tone of the rest of the article. Brooks attempts to use a personal anecdote to connect with the reader – but it is an incredible distraction from his message and drew enormous critical responses about this single paragraph (see the fun part below). The poignant parts are forgotten as America reacts to the mention of delicatessen.

Also interesting to note that Italian is perceived as sophisticated (a change from just a century and change from when Italians were outcasts and even lynched) whereas Mexican is clearly just a step above a Miller High Life,  a bag of pork rinds, and some stale circus peanuts.

And now for the fun part…

Exhibit A: From the poignant blog The Outline, an  op-ed piece by Alex Nichols

Stop patronizing the working class: Why are pundits obsessed with Applebee’s and farm workers?

BOOM! Here’s the question on everyone’s miss after reading the sandwich shop story:

“First of all, how does someone so stereotypically provincial manage to befriend a high-profile Times columnist?”

And the following paragraph (definitely read this one aloud to a friend!) rips the equally-obsessed-with-how-the-lower-castes-handle-food columnists anti-gay conservative Rod Dreher and Bloomberg columnist Meghan McArdle a new one:

There is indeed a pattern here, but it isn’t that working-class Americans universally break out in hives when confronted with food other than hamburgers and mac ‘n’ cheese — it’s that no one wants to go out to lunch with any of these pompous hacks.

BOOM! Ain’t that the truth!

Exhibit B: From The AV Club‘s Sean O’Neal

Explaining David Brooks’ column to a stupid coworker who’s scared of fancy meat

This article is an absolute gem. And a single sentence had my husband and I laughing so hard that my daughters all laughed along with us:

“Indeed, I said single-malted-scotch-ily. I explained how this column serves as yet another clarion call alerting us to America’s slow sinking into a morass of cultural decline, which David Brooks and others like us—we who thoughtfully chew our piquant charcuterie while brooding over the Proustian reveries of ourselves it inspires—can only look upon it sadly, gazing down at our bologna-smeared consorts and lamenting the many bloviating, condescending, overpaid butchers of language and meat that are driving us apart.”

“Single-malted-scotch-ily” – who writes like this? Amazing. Just meet a friend for lunch (antipasto, anyone? or maybe just a gas station pickle in a bag)  and read this article to them. You are giving them a gift, seriously.

 

Mommy Self-Care Tip: Psoas Release

All creative people, all people who read and write, need to take care of their bodies for maximum concentration. Since becoming a mom, and as a person who struggles with bipolar II disorder, it is essential for me to do the best to take care of my body – just to be able to think straight and focus on the essence of my being – creativity expressed through writing, movement, music, and cooking. Working with my hands and brains requires a will to maintain a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

So here’s a tip from me to you:

If you are a mom who is constantly lifting heavy toddlers, this video from Yoga with Adriene is really the best. Somehow it released all the tension from where my body is tight from all the lifting and repetitive motion of pushing my kids on the swings, helping them with monkey bars, carrying two kids at a time on the way back from a walk. I felt truly relaxed for the first time in years – it’s only twenty minutes, but it made a difference in my day, and it inspired me to write a quick blog post without worrying about too much length and perfection.

A Rule of the Park (Boston Tales)

My daughters wandered off the playground and onto a path at the park. Francine was playing with the water fountain, and Carolina was curious about two dogs running nearby. She toddled over to see the dogs.

The dogs were with a woman – she was wearing a sweatshirt with a large red H – Harvard. I saw another woman walking nearby – she was wearing a Yale sweatshirScreen Shot 2017-06-04 at 7.08.46 AMt. I never know any fashion trends. I had on a plain black top, plain black pants, and flip-flops.

One of the Harvard woman’s dogs went really close to Carolina – the dog’s mouth looked disgusting. Large pointed teeth, drool, and matted fur (from the drool). The dog was grey – it wasn’t that big. I picked up Carolina, and Francine continued playing in the water fountain.


The woman turned to me.

She said,”My dogs are really friendly. My 2 year old niece plays with them all the time.”

I said,”It’s not that – it’s just that it’s a rule of the park to have dogs on a leash.”

Signs are posted all around the park that say: Leash, curb, and clean up after your dog. Each sign has a visual of the silhouette of a man with a do
g on a leash and a bag in his hand.

The woman turned to her dogs,”Come on. Come on.” She leashed her dogs and brought them to her car in the nearby parking lot. My daughters and I stayed at the water fountain. The woman then walked back towards us and approached me. “You know – it’s not a rule of the park, but it’s a complete waste of water to let your daughter play with that fountain.”

I just looked right at her, but I didn’t say anything. I was wearing sunglasses, but I still did my best penetrating stare.She walked back towards her car. As she was opening the door, another car pulled up. The driver was a woman, and she had a dog in the backseat.

The Harvard woman began to talk to the second dog lady who was getting out of her car. She was talking loudly – she was broadcasting from the parking lot, and she wanted me to hear her

“You better leash your dog. This little mom over there is hyper about her kids being by a dog that’s off leash. She’s going around saying it’s a rule of the park. I’m actually leaving. Maybe you want to go to.”

Harvard woman then got in her car and drove off. The second dog lady walked her dog to a field a ways away from the water fountain. She played with her dog, off leash. She was not near us. We went back to playing with the water fountain.

A Bookworm’s Boston: May 2017

Now is the winter of our discontent

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
– Richard III
May has been a wonderful month for this bookworm to come out of hibernation. One habit I begun over the wintertime was solo dates with my daughters while maintaining my husband and I’s catch-as-catch-can solo dates. And the dates have improved along with the weather.
All of the dates involve city walking and public transportation – a writer’s dream and a form of relaxation.  I interact passively or directly with potentional characters in the setting of my Boston community. I capture snippets of dialogue while delighting in the rhythm of the city around me. My professional work as a Boston Public Schools teacher involves thousands of decisions and inserts me centrally in the lives of others, so bopping around town is a relief and a contrast. The decisions I make while out and about- to take Gloucester Street or Hereford, to write in a notebook or just hold hands with my husband or daughter – are inconsequential.
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The other commonality that these dates share is that they are relatively inexpensive. A recent favorite date with my husband was a Pay-What-You-Want afternoon matinee of “peerless” by Jihae Park at the Boston Public Library’s beautifully renovated Rabb Hall. (Note: The Kiersten Business Library is  now located right alongside this hall. It has transformed from a dusty little room with cassettes of foreign language materials into an open study hall with alcoves, white boards, and comfortable couches and chairs). I absolutely loved this rendition of the Scottish play in which a pair of murderous twins plots to kill their classmates who have taken their coveted spots at the college. The sparse sets and the ruthless lack of empathy by the protagonists, paired with rhythmic dialogue, evoked the question: Why is so much value placed on the American Ivy League university? Admission comes at great cost – not only in a fiscal sense, but also in the cost of losing one’s identity in search of admittance to an elitist and exclusive, rather than democratic and inclusive, institution that values lineage and wealth over intellect and creativity? I had the chance to ask Ms. Park in post-show conversation about how to promote a new American ideal away from these preservation institutions, an ideal that values democratic principals and reflects the cultural diversity of young adults across our country. Her work increased my awareness of just how incredibly difficult it is for racial “minority” groups to obtain access to these presupposed American Institutions.  I found Ms. Park’s work to be radical and supportive of true democracy, and the Company One‘s pricing model enables Bostonians across class differences access to a professional (and provocative) theater production. Shows are still available tomorrow and next weekend. 
A second wonderful date was today – I took my middle daughter (almost 3 and younger than her older twin by 14 minutes) to IAM Books, one of my most beloved Boston bookstores and the very first Italian-American bookstore in the country. There was a special I Piccoli Lettori (Little Readers’ Group) from 10:30 – 11:30 am. I am not Italian, but my daughters are the great-granddaughters of an Italian immigrant from Genoa who fled Mussolini at age 5 and came to San Francisco, attended an almost exclusively Chinese school, worked as a garbage collector, and eventually became a wealthy restauranteur. A pre-school teacher from Florence, Ms. Adele, conducted a small group of Italian and Italian-American families with young children in a song and then a reading of Il piccolissimo Bruco Maisazio who eats, among other comestibles, prugnefragoleun lecca-leccagelato, and salsiccia.  And consequently, this piccolissimo becomes very fat. The children passed a piccolisimo to one another during the reading and then used glue and construction paper to create their own piccolisimo. I was touched when another family with a beautiful daughter invited us to Umberto, where we dined cheaply on arancini and pizza. Afterwards, I sat in the grass while Sofia ran back and forth on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.
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The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl

Hello, Reader!

Isn’t it unbelievable how relationships change over time? I was a difficult teenager and a distant twenty-something for my mom, but now she is one of my best friends. One thing I love about my mom is that she is up for anything – meaning that she will accompany me on whatever quirky little adventure.

So when I called my mom at 6:30 in the morning and asked if I should buy tickets for  The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl for our NYC weekend, she (of course) said,”Sure!”

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Mom and I Heart NY!

Although I don’t want to give any spoilers for those who may attend this tour in the future, I hope to give a glimpse into the three hours I spent in the Village on a sunny autumn afternoon.

Our tour began at the White Horse Tavern (est. 1880), where we convened with our tour guides (both very cool looking – a goth woman and a bearded guy with a newsboy hat) as well as a literary crew of tourists, mostly from New York State, all nerdy – just like us!

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Mom outside the White Horse Tavern.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was the featured author at the White Horse, where he wrote his lilting yet highly emotional poetry…and literally drank himself to death. The White Horse is also the site of graffiti antagonizing belligerently drunk beat writer Jack Kerouac as well as a place frequented by one of my all-time favorites – James Baldwin.

Our crew then walked through the winding streets of the Village. Thank goodness for our guides – one can easily become lost here.  I find O’Henry’s description precise:

In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. 

Our next stop was the Kettle of Fish, a dive bar sectioned into two parts – the bar itself on one side and then a separate room with tables and chairs. Mom enjoyed a local beer (recommended by our guide), while I sipped a Guinness. I have never been a day drinker, and I worried about drowsiness, but our tour guides were so intriguing that it was not an issue at all.

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Portrait of Kerouac outside the Kettle of Fish

One of the highlights of the tour (for me, at least) was seeing the guides act out a wussy fight between Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan over the Factory’s it-girl Edie Sedgwick. The truly violent storytelling emerges, however, as the guides tell of the severe beating of Jack Kerouac outside the bar after a long night of drinking. (Inference: Jack Kerouac was not a popular guy in these parts.) However, the Kettle does preserve Jack’s memory by housing the famous bar sign used in a well-recognized portrait, and later featured in a 1993 Gap Ad.

As we left the Kettle of Fish and made our way through the winding streets once more, we stopped outside the home of famed poet and openly bisexual woman Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose education and talent brought her from rural Maine to the Village in the early 20th century. Our goth tour guide impressively recited St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Thursday”  from memory.

After a brief stop outside of famed speakeasy Chumley’s, with it’s sliding window door, we arrived at Grove Court, the setting of O’Henry’s immensely touching short story The Last Leaf. Sample of this well-crafted narrative:

The most lonely thing in the world is a soul when it is preparing to go on its far journey.

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Grove Court: The apartments in the back housed the bohemian characters in The Last Leaf.

Across the street was the home of the poet Hart Crane, a tragic figure estranged by his homosexuality and alcoholism. Despite these struggles, Crane, inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland as well as his obsession with the Brooklyn Bridge, attempted an epic poem of the history of America, which was well-known but highly criticized. Crane’s life is truly sad and fascinating – I continue to research him when I can.

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Our crew outside the home of Hart Crane.

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Marie’s Crisis 

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A Haunting Plaque Commemorating Thomas Paine 

Our penultimate stop was Marie’s Crisis, site of the pauper’s death of Crisis papers writer Thomas Paine. A colorful moment at this location was when a woman with bright red lipstick (not a member of the crew) crept up behind Mom and I and proclaimed to the group:

Welcome to the Village! Where the streets aren’t straight, and neither are the people!

And, as quickly as the tour had began, it ended at The Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement. In 1969, in an era when police routinely raided gay bars, the inn was the home of violent riots between the LGBT patrons and the police following the death of gay icon Judy Garland.

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The Birthplace of the Modern LGBT Rights Movement 

This tour made quite the impression on me. I have provided a mere snapshot here, as so much more information was presented by our knowledgable and enthusiastic guides. I was left with the following question:

How do writers persevere despite challenges related to trauma, alcoholism, and persecution for homosexuality and gender?

I have only recently began to identify myself as a writer (despite writing since childhood), and I face my own struggles with not only life’s challenges but also with making the mental and physical time and space to write. I haven’t yet found my community of writers, but on this tour, I felt at home. It was heartwarming and encouraging to spend an afternoon with a group of people as interested in writing and literature as I am (and to know that my mom is one of them!). This warm feeling had lingered within me ever since.

This post was written out of personal interest.  I paid my $20 (seriously a bargain) just like any other customer for this incredibly worthwhile tour! I highly recommend visiting The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl’s Website for more information. The tour meets every Saturday at 1 pm at the White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson Street on 11th).

Teacher as Warrior in Racialized Post-Election America

 

Dear Reader: Below you will find what I consider to be a battle hymn, written by my brilliant friend and teaching colleague Katy Ramón. It may surprise you to know that Katy does not consider herself a poet, and, while she doesn’t publish her poems often, I am always love  when she does. This poem gave me hope and strength in the days after the election, yet it is also a cry for deep personal examination. Last week was a difficult one in our schools, and Katy’s poem shows the warrior strength that so many educators possess and display in a time of turmoil for our students of color.

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Every Ounce of My Strength

by Katy Ramón

That some of you can scroll on, that some of you won’t understand, that some of you will be angered and confused, that some of you won’t care, is heartbreaking.

I don’t need you to comment with acceptance. I don’t need you to comment with dissent. Let it marinate and digest it as you will. This is my story.

To hug and comfort crying and fearful children at school and at home was heartbreaking and took EVERY OUNCE OF MY STRENGTH. To hug and comfort grown adults, was heartbreaking. 

I refuse to pay a dime for cable, and I always have been that way. But I read. I read transcripts, quotations, and opinions from various sources. From there I form my opinions. I believe that a person is directly responsible for the words that come out of their mouths. A person is directly responsible for their actions, as actions and words are the expression of their ideas.

If you support a person that has proved through quotes and documented action that he is a bigot, then you also, sadly, are part of the bigotry.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect women, including myself, my daughter, my sisters, and my mother, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect Mexican ancestry, including myself, my father, my family, my children, my students, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect black people, including my son, my friends, and my students, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect people with different sexual identities, including my family members, my friends, and my students, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country, including family members and long time friends, hold a bigoted world view, is heartbreaking.

If you find yourself aligning with intolerance, go get to know people that are not like you. Expand your world view. It is courageous to identify your own personal ignorance and work toward understanding. I will look into my own as well.

In the meantime, I will dedicate every day to education, understanding, and tolerance.

 

Katy Ramón teaches middle school mathematics and Algebra 1 at the Gardner Pilot Academy K-8 in the Boston Public Schools.  She holds a graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership from Boston University, Boston.  Katy holds a Masters in Education and is a graduate of the Boston Teacher Residency program, University of Massachusetts, Boston.  Katy also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Washington, Seattle.

Ferrante Night Fever at I Am Books

Dear Reader:

Last Thursday, November 3, 2016  was one of the best evenings of my life. I attended the Ferrante Night Fever party at I AM Books, a charming little bookstore in the North End (Boston’s Little Italy) that carries titles written by Italian and Italian American authors. It was a wonderful coincidence that last Thursday was also my 35th birthday, and the occasion was thoroughly enhanced by this particular celebration of my very favorite author – Elena Ferrante.

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All Saints Way in Boston’s Catholic North End

If you are not familiar with Elena Ferrante and her work, here is a quick Ferrante 101:

  • Elena Ferrante is a pen name, a pseudonym. No one knows the true identity of Ms. Ferrante. Through interviews, Ms. Ferrante claims that she does not want celebrity because she wants more time for her writing, rather than traveling and doing readings.
  • Ms. Ferrante is incredibly popular in Italy, but it has only been in the last few years that she has become well-known in the American market.
  • Elena Ferrante’s most popular works are a series of 4 books known as the Neapolitan Novels. These books focus on the lives of two women, Lenú and Lila,  who have grown up together and whose lives are entangled, even during periods when they do not talk or see one another. These novels are narrated by Lenú, and, despite Lenú’s achievements as a scholar, she always feels inferior to the uneducated yet brilliant and aggressive Lila.
  • All of Ferrante’s novels focus on the lives of women, and they are considered by many readers to be extremely dark.
  • Fans of Ms. Ferrante are livid that an Italian journalist has recently tried to expose Ms. Ferrante’s identity. They feel it is an invasion of her privacy, and they want to protect her from unwanted attention.

I have to say that, at the Ferrante Night Fever party (which, by the way, was completely free of charge), everyone was made to feel like a guest of honor. We were treated to a feast of Italian food – arancini,  meatballs, and amushroom stuffing – as well as  cream-filled pastry horns for dessert.

The crowd of mostly women gathered to celebrate the  release of Ferrante’s Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey in its English translation. Unlike her other books, which are novels or novellas, Frantumaglia is a treasury of letters, essays, and interviews that reveal Ms. Ferrante’s writing process. As a writer myself, this book particularly interests me, as I feel it will provide insights to inspire my own process.

I am saving my copy for a Thanksgiving Break read-through, and I look forward to finishing it all in one go. I was on maternity leave when I read Ferrante’s other works (and I have read all of them), and it was wonderful to move through them all in one go. Our family has no firm plans for Thanksgiving, which gives me the gift of time to dedicate to this book.

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My copy of Frantumaglia

At the event, a wonderful Italian journalist (whose name I unfortunately did not catch) not only brought us wine, but he also facilitated an engaging discussion of Ferrante’s work. A key wondering that arose was why Ms. Ferrante’s work was so popular with Americans. One women from Naples suggested that Americans have a love affair with Italy, and many at the gathering agreed. I think this is true about Americans, but for myself, I wouldn’t say I have an infatuation with Italy. For me, the novels stand alone because they are revealing of how women interact and how a female writer and scholar perceives herself, her relationships, and the world. I am particularly interested in the way Ms. Ferrante’s characters separate themselves from their families and feel criticized because of it in order to accomplish scholarly work or inventions.

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With my dear friend and fellow educator Ms. Gro

As an educator, I connect very strongly with the theme of education and applied  intelligence as a means of gaining freedom from violence and poverty in Ferrante’s work. The Neapolitan novels begin in the extremely raw Naples of the 1950’s. Men beat their wives in public. Women stay indoors nearly all the time. Babies are thrown out of windows. And yet silence is preserved, especially amongst women. Yet Lenú finds success in school, reads vigorously, and she convinces her family to permit her to continue through high school. In contrast, Lila is forced to leave school after the 5th grade to work in her family’s shoe store. Still, Lenú feels she is the inferior “white swan”, technically perfect but she will never rise to the styling of Lila’s “black swan”. Lila is able to invent a famous style of shoe, create a brilliant work of photography, learn computer engineering, and eventually run a successful business with seemingly little effort. Lenú feels clumsy as she joins in intellectual circles with those who have had a far more privileged upbringing than herself. She devotes herself to her writing, and she becomes a successful scholar and writer. Yet Lenú has to make incredible efforts with all she does, and Lila’s achievements are always in the front of her mind.

The Ferrante Night Fever gathering was the first time I had ever attended an book club-style discussion. My reading and writing life is something very personal. While I feel comfortable writing about it, I am far less confident in discussing my ideas with others. This event made me realize how a thorough discussion can aide my understanding of and deepen my connection to literature. I was shy at first, but then loosened up, especially because my dear friend Ms. Gro was with me, and she is the life of any party. I left feeling that it had been the perfect evening…and a perfect birthday celebration.

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End of the Evening Smiling Selfie with my Ferrante Fever button

I AM Books is the country’s first Italian American Bookstore. It is located at 189 North Street in Boston’s North End. It is open seven days per week. Website: iambooksboston.com