Monday, February 25, 2008


no one
in particular

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Solitude Part One

The Fortress of Solitude. The title alone of the book keeping residence in my bag has been enough to get me thinking. I'm only a third of the way through, so my thoughts have less to do with the themes in relation to the resolution (and connections to superheroes), and more an analysis of creating said fortress, whosoever's fortress it may be, but namely mine.

So as I finish the book I'm going to do some thinking about solitude from a few different perspectives.

Though I have tried to pretend for much of my life that it's not true, I am an introvert. I am shy in large groups, quiet around new people and have minor social anxiety when I arrive to events on my own. So it makes sense that when life beats down on me a bit, I have a tendency to retreat. To my room. To my ipod. To a book. To my pen. And these things are good most of the time. And being introverted is ok. (I have to keep telling myself that I don't have to fight this part of me all the time. It's wearying.) It's when the solitude becomes a fortress that I can hide in that it becomes dangerous.

Community is such a buzz word these days, I hate to even mention it. But I'm at a point in my time in New York where my community is shifting: moving to Brooklyn, friends moving, life changing. My default mode wants to deal with these on my own, but my head is telling me that's the worst idea ever.

The main character in the book is a boy who is growing up in Brooklyn in the seventies, who almost constantly feels like an outsider. He builds an existence where he feels protected, that he alone is in control of. He does let one friend into this world, but there is a lot of darkness; to the point where I just had to stop reading last night (and it may have been two in the morning).

So basically for tonight I'm just saying, with limited elaboration, that solitude isn't always a good thing. But more thoughts to follow.

public transportation for thought.

A man is talking to ghosts
with intensity
and dancing without steps to music we can't hear
or maybe he's just stomping
maybe its fear
mine or ours and his
because as the stations pass through the windows
he's still talking
but we're not listening
just creeping
nonchalantly toward the end of the car
just looking
uncomfortably at the space
between us and the song
we don't understand.

I walk out
quite clear of those damn closing doors
my heavy steps hit the metal stairs
until i'm facing off with the williamsburg bank tower--
both of us
glaring through the cold,
marking a space,
back in the world
I don't understand.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A cozier kitchen.

I have been sharing a few of my design woes and triumphs in recent weeks, so I thought I would add another. One issue that I have with my current kitchen is that it is really big. I know! Crazy! I live in New York, how can having a big kitchen be anything but wonderful?! Well, we still have the typical amount of counter space (1 square foot) and lack of cabinets (about 3). Don't get me wrong, I love having an actual kitchen table for the first time in years. But, the space itself is awkward because there is so much wall space that it is hard to decide how to use it well, let alone afford to fill it.

What I wanted to do was to create a kitchen "nook" out of the corner where our table actually resides; to do something that sets it off as a separate area, rather than just one big blob of floor and wall space. So. My parents gave me a very exciting present for Christmas: some money for apartment design. Best gift ever (gracias Mom and Dad) ! I spent weeks after Christmas trying to decide what exactly I could do, and just knowing that one of my ideas could become a reality was half the fun (and rare in my life as I spend so much time on design blogs and reading magazines). After much searching, I decided to purchase 4 prints from Thumbtack Press. Their website ( has work from dozens of new artists for reasonable prices. I stumbled upon Matt Mills and immediately fell in love with his depictions of European cities. His use of color and lines is unique, thought provoking and modern. You should take a look online for greater detail than what my picture below can reveal.

I purchased four of them and had them framed to hang around my kitchen table. They definitely reveal my current love of more modern lines and opened up a new door for me in design:

I'm still trying to keep my eyes open for a reasonable rug that would finish off the "nook", but for now I am just excited about having some great art grace my walls. Please come over for dinner to see in person. I'm serious. Let me know.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Some things I saw today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Many stories have been documented in recent years of the horrific state of humanity in Africa. As a person whose day to day existence can easily be completely removed from even knowledge of such experience, hearing the stories of the lost and the displaced never fails to weigh on my heart. In his recent book "What is the What," Dave Eggers tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese man who walked across his country with the Lost Boys as a child, grew up in a refugee camp and eventually relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. What makes this book different from others of similar topic is the literary craft within it. As an author writing a true story, Eggers has done an incredible job relaying Deng's story in a way that keeps the reader thinking and reflecting the entire way through.

Eggers begins the narration with a break in and mugging in Deng's home. The story of twenty four Atlanta hours are paralled and alternated with the 15 plus years that he spent from the time he was forced to flee his village in southwest Sudan until the day that he is relocated from a refugee camp in Kenya. The story progresses because Valentino tells parts of his story, silently in his head, to each of the people that he encounters in the twenty four hour period. This is the brilliancy of the craft. We, as readers, become the people he is talking to: whether we be his captor who has broken into his apartment, the receptionist at the hospital or the people at the gym where he works, we are the ones who desperately need to hear and digest this story.

In the eleventh chapter of the book, Valentino is tied up in his own apartment, kicking and flailing in hopes that one of his neighbors would hear and help. In his head, he is shouting: "Hear me, Christian neighbors! Hear your brother just above! Nothing again. No one is listening. No one is waiting to ear the kicking of a man above. It is unexpected. You have no ears for someone like me (page 142)." In lives of comfort, it is unexpected to find such suffering and such stories. It is difficult to hear them.

Eggers causes the reader to question how many people we pass or interact with without knowing their stories. Are people merely faces? And if we hear the story, do we forget it, take it as a commodity or let its sorrows and small joys resonate within us to the point of realizing our common humanity?

Deng and thousands of other boys walked to Ethiopia in hope of safety and food, in danger of death each day, be it bombings, guns, or starvation. Along the way, all of the boys imagine what kind of place Ethiopia will be and place upon it all of their misplaced dreams that have been lost. In a poignant moment upon arrival, Valentino realizes that the dreams they had for Ethiopia were misplaced as well: the landscape was just as bleak as where they had come from. All he can repeat is "This is not the place (page 256)" over and over again. This is what runs through my head as I look out into the suffering that exists in my neighborhood, my city, my country and my world. This is not the place it was designed to be.

Too often I resign my heart and my hopes for the world the way that Valentino did as he continued walking : "This time I had no dreams of bowls of oranges. I knew that the world was the same everywhere, that there were only inconsequential variations between the suffering in one place and another (page 349)." The brokenness in the world can seem so all encompassing, so big, so damning. But. This is where I turn back to Eggers' narration of the novel. We must listen to the stories of those around us. We must help one another bear the burdens of this life together. To ignore the stories of those around us is to become like the people to whom Deng talks to, in his head at teh gym where he works, near the end of the book: "The rooms become crowded...people become tense. The members are determined to work out and it is frustrating to them when they cannot do it on the timetable they had planned (page 503)." I am challenged by this book to take in stories. To have ears. To let the stories of my brothers and sisters invade my heart. To try to lose my grip on the meaningless concerns that occupy my mind.

This story is challenging and sorrowful, yet beautiful and hopeful. It is true that "this is not the place." Earth and its inhabitants alone cannot restore what is broken. But we can listen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life: and Brooklyn teenagers listen.

In the most valuable class that I took in grad school, we read a book called "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods" by Umberto Eco. One of his biggest premises is that "the text is a lazy machine," meaning that the true value of a piece of fiction comes when the reader takes it upon him or herself to really think through they find in front of them; a story can still be entertaining of course, but the meat of it is beyond just the plot.

I'm having one of those moments with Romeo and Juliet right now. I've mentioned before that my relationship with Shakespeare has gone through many phases: complete misunderstanding (Romeo and Juliet, 1995) and hatred (Julius Caesar, 1996) in high school, to appreciation (The History Plays, 2001) and admiration (The Tragedies and Comedies, 2002) in college to actual enjoyment (MacBeth and Twelfth Night, 2003) in graduate school. Actually teaching a play or book requires that you really dig deep into the text; not only understanding all of it, but looking for its intricacies and ways that your students can find and enjoy them. Teaching a text is the best way to become intimately familiar with it: literally, aesthetically, philosophically. There is accountability for my thinking, as well as new insights everyday from 13 year olds (true).

Enough of my pedagogical views on the teaching of reading, though. What I want to write about is the beauty that I have been witnessing reading Romeo and Juliet. Drama, specifically Shakespeare, really is the essential "text as lazy machine." It is almost all dialogue with few stage directions. It is up to the reader/director/actor to cast a vision of what is happening on the page. These questions force us to do the most magnificent critical thinking. But, it is hard to ask a thirteen year old to think critically--especially about Shakespeare. A moment I will never forget is when my CTT class (students with broad learning needs, a class diverse in every sense in the world) was exasperated after we read the prologue, which tells the entire story in sonnet form. It wasn't enough to know the bones of the story. He wanted to know why Romeo and Juliet kill themselves. What kind of love was this, Ms. Robbins? Why would they do it? What did their parents say? I just smiled and told them that this is why it's not just about the plot, and watched the wheels begin to turn. I love it.

We've been doing a bit of film study alongside of our reading. We've been watching the Zepherelli version (1968) of the play, as well as the one Baz Luhrmann directed (1996), better known as the "Leonardo DiCaprio" version. The Luhrman version is brilliant to me. It doesn't get old watching each scene three times a day with my different classes because the interpretation and the incorporation of music and visuals is absolutely mind blowing.

The best part of the week was reading Act 1 Scene 5 with each of my classes, which is when Romeo and Juliet first meet. We debated whether love at first sight was possible, talked about whether Juliet is shy or intentionally playing with Romeo's mind and what it must have felt like to learn that they were from enemy houses. Once the kids (and me) knew and understood the dialogue, the visual aspect of the film becomes quite deep. The bell rang for the kids to pack up and go home--for a week long vacation--and only 5 of them got up to go to their lockers. Boys and girls alike stayed in their seats to watch the last few minutes of this scene that I confess I was equally wrapped up in--even on the 6th viewing in recent weeks.

If I were to direct you anywhere to just get a taste of the brilliance and room for interpretation and thought, I think right now it would be Act 1 Scene 1 lines 170-182. Romeo has a string of oxymorons about love that encapsulate so so much. Shakespeare's language is amazing. That's basically all I wanted to say. So rich and open. Such a beautiful, tragic, complex story. I highly recommend.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

a pseudo remedy for winter. part two: corners

Please read the post below for the full explanation. It didn't work out visually as one post, so here is part two.

Just a few more corners that make me happy:

a pseudo remedy for winter. part one: books

I love this city. Everytime I take the train over the Manhattan Bridge and I can't help but stare at the river and dowtown. The interesting thing is that most people do this on the N train between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Looking at the city from a distance, when the busy streets and sidewalks seem orderly and beautiful never gets old, tourists and locals alike. But the busyness and constant change and motion can be wearing when you are in the midst of it; especially when it's winter and it's rare to enjoy a moment outside.

Despite the two windows I have in my bedroom now, this winter has been like all the others: I am angst ridden most of the time because I cannot change the weather. I just have to endure it, and doing so inside a little apartment (although it is my biggest so far) can make me go crazy. So this winter I've tried to deal with my lack of weather control by controlling what I can: the design of my apartment.

The only snafu has been that New York rent combined with a teacher's salary doesn't leave much of a budget. My remedy has been to create little corners around my apartment that make me happy. I organized the shelves of my bookcase all differently, but all following a vague color scheme. This is new for me, as previously I loved the look of books following no order, overflowing. But the lack of order stressed me out. I found new places for the overflow. Here are some of them (i apologize for the sideways ones. Haven't figured out how to not do that on blogger) :


the day after
the wind
showers the sidewalk
with my winter curses
it snows.
and somehow
as the snow glitters down
in front of brooklyn
streetlights and storefronts and stoops
i am reminded
there's more in me
than anger.
and maybe
some poetry remained
after all.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Flying Through The Golden Compass

Outside of my obsession with Harry Potter and love affair with Middle Earth, I've never been much of a fantasy reader. But there is something in those stories that pulls me in a way other genres cannot. So, I signed up for a course at Teacher's College this semester where we are exploring how fantasy can help students grow as readers and writers. One of the challenges was to start a fantasy book club with students. I have some really high level readers in my classes this year, so I decided on "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman.

Admittedly, I was drawn by the controversy surrounding the book. We just finished a unit on "banned books" in my classroom, so it seemed fitting. My reading experience can be described by two things: underlining and page turning. One of the aspects of fantasy that we have been discussing is its ability to create worlds in which our rules don't apply and in turn asking what that says about our world. I was incredibly anxious to talk with my students about the themes and issues that were raised in this story...but the mere mention of "themes and issues" sounds like nerdy, boring English teacher talk. But the reader doesn't have to search for these things: they are innately a part of the story and the reader just automatically asks questions while flying through.

"It's no surprise that themes like love, death, and the fate of the soul should be the province of young-adult literature. Passionate readers are most captivated by reading in their early teens. It's at that age that literature can take, can seem the most important thing in life. In some ways, it might seem that writers of young-adult fiction have an advantage: Their audience is primed for intense literary experience." This, this is why I am an English teacher. My students are so bright and are at the sweet (yes, really) age of 13 when a few of them will be able to make the jump that reading can be so much more than just the story while simultaneously realizing just how wonderful it is to find truth in story.

"This is what Pullman's work is about: a longing that nothing can satisfy but whose intensity is its own difficult and ambivalent pleasure. Like the Yale literary critic Harold Bloom, Pullman equates this longing with the ancient heresy of Gnosticism: the idea that our souls are defined by a spark of transcendence by which we aspire beyond the pious moralisms of human order and society, and seek something the authorities that govern the world cannot or will not give." But this doesn't just fit into Gnosticism. I think it is a fact of life that the soul is complex and is constantly yearning for meaning and fulfillment. I agree that such transcendene cannot come from authorities that goven the world. I do believe this longing will be fulfilled...but not on earth and not by men.

Recently I have been taken by the fact that life itself is incredibly complex: take the intricacies of my own mind and heart and multiply that by the mind and heart of everyone who has ever lived. And although I don't believe that everything is relativeI have been frustrated by attempts to claim that there is one right way to live, work, vote, think. This is where I read Pullman's work a bit differently than the Christians who criticize it: his characters aren't black and white and the story can't be oversimplified. Questions and complexity lurk on every page, and to my current state of thinking, it comes as a bit of a relief. Though many may disagree with me, I do think that questioning the motives that the church has historically held is important. Sometimes the structures that people put up take away from the richness that is life and the beauity that is the complex reality of our individual hearts. Our souls have a depth that the law and moralism and black/white line drawing cannot satiate: it is more and it is deeper. So my overall thought is that though I don't share the same theology as Philip Pullman at the end of the day, he makes me think. His books are so imaginative and exciting and fantastical that they draw kids into these questions. That is why I love literature.

***Many thanks to Julie and Eric Mecca for talking through this book with me! And to this article that I quoted and that added to my thinking of reading and teaching this book:

Sunday, February 3, 2008


over the geometric city at night
made me imagine
we were actually in a tiny, tiny plane
skimming the surface
of a gold encrusted jewel.
The wind
or the Christmas lights
made it appear to be
And the dark spaces became
less river and road
and more the recesses
between the gems.
we were just gliding
the pendent worn by
a great queen,
unaware of our

photo: Bridget Lang:)

This movie is beautiful.

and many thanks to my favorite bridget lang who made me watch last year. bridget lang whom brooklyn misses. and bridget lang whose photography skills are in my next post. gracias lady.