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

My Zero-Dollar Designated Creative Space

I wanted to write everyday, but it was impossible to get to a coffee shop or library to do so. It involved a baby-sitter or husband/daddy getting in my scheduling loop. The library has great study carrells, but the hours are limited. And it is just a nerve-shattering act to try to do something uninterrupted at a coffee shop. The general public simply has lots of questions for you once you are seated. Quite frankly, these questions were wearing me to a nub.

“Can I use this chair?”

Obviously! I’m not patrolling the chairs, people – I’m trying to construct a sentence.

“I’m just going to sneak by you.”

Umm…do you even know the meaning of the word “sneak”? It has to do with STEALTH, and you clearly have NONE!

The reality was that I needed to find a way to cope with writing in the house. As the omniscient yet mythological “they” say, necessity is the mother of invention, and thus the Dines Family Designated Creative Space was born. Here are the 2 steps I took to birth the Designated Creative Space:

  1. I made a sign that included the expectation around maintenance of the DESIGNATED CREATIVE SPACE!
  2. I cleared off the table. While the pictures below show the table top in plain view, it was previously covered in high chair trays, junk mail, kids’ clothes, and a myriad of chargers for various devices.
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The Sign – Note the use of the adorable but underused little verb “shall”!

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The Space is prepared for my writing time with my journal, book, and laptops.

I was very careful, deliberate, and strategic about not having The Making of the Designated Creative Space become yet another project. My projects are my written pieces. I don’t need to have 5 kinds of highlighters and different choices of paper. Or a special kind of seat. Or a unique style of seat cushion. Or a Hemingwrite (which I have considered purchasing about 1000 times but never will actually buy).  All I need is a place to put words in print or in a computer document. Simple. Minimal. Clean. Clear.

This space is not just for me. My husband uses it for his reading and graphic design work. My daughters use it as a supply table and drying rack when they are art-making in their high chairs. And we all make sure that the space is spick and span after it is used.

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Right now, my husband is cleaning up. The baby is sleeping, and the twins are watching something on tv. And I’m sitting here, writing, right in my own kitchen. This table is my own little nook of the universe, and I feel perfectly at home.

I Am a Writer. Writing as a Mother of Three Under Three

Happy Halloween Eve, Dear Reader!

Being a writer has been a lifelong dream for me. As far back as I can remember, I always had my pens, pencils, and notebooks at hand. When I was 7,  I was paid a dollar in cash from the Howard County Times to publish my poem “Camp”. In high school and college, I had editorial positions on the student newspaper, and I also wrote a few interviews for the music pages of the Weekly Dig back in the early 2000s. I started this blog in 2012, and I have written steadily online since then.  So why have I only recently called myself a writer?

As a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, my brain and my body operate much differently than they did before I was a parent. I have to sprint through my writing because I know that I will be interrupted sooner rather than later. (My kids burst into the kitchen within seconds of me writing that sentence.) Where I once had several hours each weekend available to read and write, I now have perhaps an hour or two. I collapse into bed each night and much earlier than I did in my non-parenting days. When my children go down, I go down shortly after. On Friday night, I was asleep by 7:45 pm. And so, I need to tell the world I am a writer to hold on tightly to this now-essential piece of my identity.

This blog is now called “Literacy Changes Everything!”.  This title reflects my life as it is at present. With less free time and much less extra spending money, my physical life exists within the handful of miles between home and work. Reading and writing are my primary sources of escape to a world beyond the city limits. My twice-a-week visits to the library, my 5 a.m. morning pages, and my newly-minted designated creative space (more on this later) cost nothing, yet they mean the world to me as a much-needed outlet from my responsibilities as a teacher and as a mother. Best of all, my daughters have begun to imitate my writing habits, which makes me feel l’m not less-of-a-mother for taking the time for what I love to do.

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Like Mother, Like Daughters: My three little ones share my writing life with me.

It is my hope to write more and more often, and I will be sharing our family’s favorite picture books and literacy-oriented activities, in addition to musings about my own reading and writing life and my role as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

I look forward to sharing my tiny corner of the world.

Best, Jenn

Top Picks for Boston Book Festival 2015

2015 will be my fourth year attending the Boston Book Festival, yet this is my first blog post about this special event that has become a fall tradition for me. After the past three book festivals, I was so overwhelmed that I could not even craft a post that summarized this spectacular experience.

This year, I am older and wiser, and therefore I am posting before I go into a “reader’s coma” on Saturday evening. I just finished handwriting my Boston Book Festival schedule (below) on the back of my copy of fellow Boston teacher Jennifer De Leon‘s “Home Movie”, this year’s  One City, One Story selection, and I am sharing it with you, dear reader, so you can see my “Top Picks” for this year.

See you Saturday in Copley Square!

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Boston Teachers Union Parent 2 Parent: Literacy Materials for Families

I was asked by the Boston Teachers Union to create this list of literacy resources for Boston Public Schools families attending the BTU’s Parent 2 Parent Conference tomorrow at Madison Park High School. Please click here to download a printable PDF of this list.

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1,000 Books Before Kindergarten (Age 0-5)

http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org

This website helps you to accomplish a goal of reading 1,000 books before your child begins Kindergarten. This is only 1 book per night for a little less than three years! Your child will gain vocabulary and sit and focus ability, not to mention a love of books and a special bond with family members over book sharing.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: I have three children under age 2, and we share our books when my children are in high chairs for meals or when they are in their cribs before naptime and bedtime.

AdLit.Org:Ready for College Resources – Books for the College Bound (Grades 4-12)

http://www.adlit.org/ready_for_college/

AdLit stands for Adolescent Literacy. This website has a wealth of information about teaching and learning for students in gr. 4-12. The “Books for the College Bound” booklists are wonderful for finding challenging books that will prepare your child for college-level reading in various subject areas.

Boston Public Library

http://www.bpl.org

Visit the local branch of your public library to browse for books with your children (and yourself!). Ask the librarians for recommendations. Each branch has a bulletin board with a list of events for children and families.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: When it is especially hot weather, I go to my local branch with my children to hang out in the FREE air conditioning.

MobyMax.Com (Grades K-8)

http://www.mobymax.com

This website allows for students to practice skills in many subject areas – including reading! A free trial is available. Please contact me at jdines@bostonpublicschools.org if you need assistance with this site or would like a full membership.

Reading Is Fundamental Monthly Activity Calendars (Age 0-5, Age 6-15)

http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/activities/monthly-activity-calendars.htm

These printable calendars contain suggestions for daily seasonal activities and books. The calendars available in English and Spanish.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: When I print out the monthly calendar, I visit bpl.org to reserve the picture books for the month and pick them up at my local library branch.

TechGoesHome.org

http://www.techgoeshome.org

Visit the Early Childhood section to find an annotated list of free and inexpensive apps for ages 3-6. Visit the Courses section to find a list of free technology classes (with the option to purchase a netbook computer for $50) available for children and adults at schools and community centers throughout Boston.