Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why Does Romance Happen in the Dark?

Why Does Romance Happen in the Dark?

[I am trying to live in reality in romance and in my life! This passage reminds me to be self-aware.]

Why is it that romance happens in a darkly lit nightclub, or at an intimate dinner by candlelight, or at night under the moonlight? It is because, in those situations, you can’t see all her pimples, or his false teeth. But under candlelight, our imagination is free to fantasize that the girl sitting opposite could be a supermodel, or the man has the looks of a movie star. We love to fantasize, and we fantasize to love. At least we should know what we’re doing.

–Ajahn Brahm, from Opening the Door of Your Heart (Lothian Books)
March 19, 2009
Tricycle's Daily Dharma

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Landscape with Flatiron" from After the Quake

That Bewitched and Enchanted Space Between Imagination and Intellect

Presenting ideas through language is something individual writers conjure first in that bewitched and enchanted space between imagination and intellect. The result is a sentence, paragraph or story that becomes a roadmap for leading readers to revelations regarding partially developed thoughts or fully blooming memories churning within.

Haruki Murakami’s short story “Landscape with Flatiron” opened a memory inside of me, an orange and glowing memory of fire builders and bonfires crackling on humid nights in the Field of Dreams on the big island of Hawai’i.

If you search for the Field of Dreams on Google maps, you won’t find it in the middle of the Pacific. It’s a place within a place on an island in a chain of islands.

The Field of Dreams is an open field at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat where volunteers go to talk, relax and gaze into crackling bonfires that have been slowly and precisely built and tended by the men of the landscaping and maintenance departments, burly men with strapping chests and sun-kissed skin. In the sky, the stars perform their nightly dance on twinkling toes as the human beings below spin and twirl to the night’s tropical beat.

In “Landscape with Flatiron,” Murakami explores the social significance of community bonfires, places where people have gathered for centuries to feel the comfort of knowing they were part of something bigger than just themselves. Junko, a young woman in the story, describes standing in front of the fire like this:

“The spread of the flames was soft and gentle, like an expert caress, with nothing rough or hurried about it- their only purpose was to warm people’s hearts. Junko never said much in the presence of the fire. She hardly moved. The flames accepted all things in silence, drank them in, understood, and forgave. A family, a real family, was probably like this, she thought.”

At the same time, Murakami interprets the meaning of fire for human survival when the character, Junko, recalls reading the short story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.

“As usual, Junko thought about Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.” It was the story of a man traveling alone through the snowy Alaskan interior and his attempts to light a fire. He would freeze to death unless he could make it catch. The sun was going down. Junko hadn’t read much fiction, but that one short story she had read again and again, ever since her teacher had assigned it as an essay topic during the summer vacation of her first year of high school. The scene of the story would always come vividly to mind as she read. She could feel the man’s fear and hope and despair as if they were her own; she could sense the very pounding of his heart as he hovered on the brink of death. Most important of all, though, was the fact that the man was fundamentally longing for death. She knew that for sure. She couldn’t explain how she knew, but she knew it from the start. Death was really what he wanted. He knew that it was the right ending for him. And yet he had to go on fighting with all his might. He had to fight against an overwhelming adversary in order to survive. What most shocked Junko was this deep-rooted contradiction.”

As we all know, human beings are large, walking, talking bundles of contradictory energy, but when we come together around a well-tended fire on a warm island night, the beauty of community nourishes the spirit. The thought of death stands apart momentarily alone and tongue-tied when we humans celebrate our powerful connections to family.

end note: [I am sure a woman could have accepted the job of fire starter smoothly and without a hitch, but during my time at Kalani from December through early March 2009, the celebration of masculinity bubbled forth in front of the inferno.]

Charlatan Comics and the Word of God

No Discipline Neuters Love???

I had no idea I was listening to a Christian radio station because an unknown voice was discussing things his dog shouldn’t eat that the dog seemed to enjoy eating, which I assumed meant poop. I have known other dogs who do that in their spare time. That's why I came to that conclusion. He never said it directly.

Christian radio is something I almost always avoid, but on the 4-minute drive to the library, I heard a man who made me laugh, a better than average comedian.

The charlatan stand-up comic described how he would sit down with his dog, who couldn’t look him in the eye after such an incident had occurred, and offer words of stern discipline on why the particular substance consumed by the dog was not beneficial for his well being.

Comic; pastor; man of God: whoever he was said,

“You destroy and neuter love if there is no discipline.”

Now, I am left thinking about it.

Wild rides in the mind occur at unforeseen moments, like it or not.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The American Media: Where to start...

Addressing subjectivity reveals truth
June 30, 2008

Journalists must disclose potential biases behind their positions

Opinions themselves are not treacherous, but hidden opinions presented as the news offer readers a slanted view of the world. Full disclosure of a journalist’s personal agenda reveals the powerful punch of individual biases that contribute to shaping the news.

Hard news published in credible newspapers is based on the lofty assumption that a reporter’s neutral voice is revealing the truth in each story. But fair and balanced coverage in newspapers and on television has taken a bloody beating from modern-day media barons such as Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch brazenly uses the media outlets he purchases including the Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal as mouthpieces for his own political and social agenda.

The slanted worldview that media moguls like Murdoch present to their audiences pushes gullible news consumers off-balance in their every day decision-making prowess by presenting them with misinformed and biased interpretations of national and global affairs.

In the case of an opinion writer like me, full disclosure is my way of revealing the voice behind the words. Full disclosure gives you- the reader- the knowledge that you require to recognize the origin of many of my positions on the issues.

Full disclosure is necessary because no opinion emerges from the darkness of a void into the light of day in a heartbeat. The code of beliefs we each live by and the boundaries of cultural constructs we map out in our minds were formed over years and years of living in the world.

The social, cultural, geographical, religious and economic circumstances that I have been exposed to throughout my lifetime affect my writing.

As Canadian philosopher Lorraine Code said, “Objectivity requires taking subjectivity into account.”

In his April 18, 2006 blog post “Goose Meet Gander: Answering The Times’ Questions,” Jeff Jarvis discusses the disclosure questionnaire that The New York Times requires freelance journalists to complete before they begin work at the newspaper.

Jarvis writes in that blog entry that if a reader needs information about a journalist to judge the credibility of his or her story, “We don’t need to litter stories in sparse print and airtime with every such disclosure; it could reach an absurd though amusing extreme… But we should not shy away from such disclosure when it is relevant.”

And Jarvis doesn’t shy away from exposing information that might affect his slant on a story including his religious, business, media, financial and political ties. He also answers some of the Times’ questions on the personal disclosure page of his BuzzMachine blog. The questions inquire about current and previous employers, volunteer work, lobbying and any financial ties or connections.

At the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, journalist Bill Moyers condemned media consolidation as the root cause of what he described as “journalism in extreme crises.”

He referred to the mainstream media as accountable to corporate boards and profits but not the public.

“As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and broadcast outlets, news organizations are folded into entertainment divisions. The news hole in the print media shrinks to make room for ads, celebrities, nonsense and propaganda, and the news we need to know slips from sight,” he told the audience at the conference.

In a world where corporations and media barons control both the content and ideological perspective of the news, Moyers warned the American public against becoming an unconscious and indoctrinated people fed by the mighty armada of power and influence in the dominant and dumbed down media.

For me, being an opinion writer is not about irresponsibly using this space to ignorantly and egotistically broadcast my own agenda to unconscious and indoctrinated readers.

For me, being an opinion writer is a process of using writing to publicly explore my preconceived notions about day-to-day life and engage in some mind-bending discussions with you: the readers.

I openly disclose that I wouldn’t mind possessing the riches that Rupert Murdoch enjoys, but that I wholeheartedly disagree with his personal news agenda.

I want readers to build a bridge of communication with writers that will assist us all in engaging in a robust and informed discussion about national and world affairs.

Full disclosure is the first step to reaching that goal.

Looking for My Path in 2009

[I wrote this editorial when I was in the Teach for America Program during the summer of 2008. I decided not to sign the contract with the Las Vegas Valley school system after completing my training in Watts. My path involves teaching talented and gifted and college bound students. I know that now.]

July 28, 2008

Children in low-income neighborhoods deserve more adequate public school systems

A police helicopter was buzzing above the school grounds, drowning out the instructors’ voices inside of their classrooms at Markham Middle School in Watts, California on July 9.

Markham Middle School is a series of nondescript buildings near the Jordan Downs Housing Project. It’s a public housing project where residents experience the fallout from gang violence and a high crime rate on a level that profoundly affects the future opportunities available to the students who were sitting restlessly at their desks in front of me.

Los Angeles Times writer Sandy Banks described Jordan Downs in a 2006 article entitled “Injunction Has Community Feeling Handcuffed,” describing it as “a notorious public housing project in Watts considered by the Los Angeles Police Department to be so dangerous that officers are allowed to conduct ‘foot beat’ patrols from the safety of their cars and the department is installing outdoor surveillance cameras to monitor crime.”

I faced my students and wondered how their lives were different from mine.

I was a new 2008 Teach for America Corps member sent to Markham to teach summer school for the month of July. I was placed at Markham as part of the organization’s mission to close the educational achievement gap in the U.S.

When I sat down to join my small group of summer school students in our math and literacy class on the third day of school, I asked a student named Noe to tell me about his neighborhood.

Noe looked at me earnestly and said, “Miss, you don’t want to be in Watts at night or you’ll get raped and killed.”

I then asked Noe to advise me on things I should see or do while I was in Watts for the month of July.

“You should see the Watts Towers, Miss. It’s made out of garbage,” he said.

When I saw the Watts Towers for the first time, I wanted to appreciate this series of towers as optimistic expressions of art. In fact I visualized the towers as exuberant monumental pieces of urban art constructed from steel, concrete and found objects such as bed frames and bottles. Noe had told me, however, that the towers were made of garbage. Was I being overly optimistic?

Markham’s high school graduation rate is less than 50 percent, and the discipline problems I faced in my classroom were severe. I taught a group of extremely intelligent students who had created a classroom culture of misbehavior and bad choices that slowed down their learning process.

One of my students spent most of the hour using his hands to ball up his notebook paper and throw the balls across the room. Another student fidgeted restlessly and checked the cell phone in his pocket every few minutes, while another student completely turned around in his chair to chat with his neighbor.

This was not Iowa, the state where I had studied during my middle and high school years. Things were definitely different at Markham.

It was my job to create a space for learning. In the Teach for America literature that I read in order to prepare for my teaching experience, I re-learned what I already knew. An educational achievement gap exists in the U.S. To put it simply, where children grow up determines their life prospects.

According to the government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress 2005, a national assessment of students’ knowledge and skills, 9 year-olds living in low-income communities are three grade levels behind their high-income peers.

Of the 13 million children growing up in poverty, about half won’t graduate from high school. Those who do will perform on average at an eighth grade level according to the same report. Markham students were no exception.

After working with my students for only one week, I knew that the one thing I wanted most for Gilbert, Keynay and Jessica was for them to have an opportunity to learn and a chance to go to college, so that when they were 30 years old, they would be closer to realizing their dreams. And my kids had big dreams.

After reading their journal entries, I discovered that Gilbert wanted to own his own company and work with cars when he was 30. Keynay wanted to be married to a beautiful woman and have a good job, while Jessica wanted to get good grades in all of her classes and graduate from junior high and high school.

If, as the data suggests, only one in 10 students from low-income communities graduates from college, I still believe that a relentless pursuit of academic excellence in the classroom will result in my students at Markham beating the odds.

About Me

My photo

What do I do? That’s a question with more depth than the deceiving three-word construction would lead us to believe.

I live on planet earth with other folks, and I’m involved in the field of education and learning. I’m a life-long learner with a passion for knowledge and the process of bending bits of ideas into new constructions of beauty.