Archive | May, 2013

My Family Story

30 May

The reality of seeing your Father having a stroke is less shocking than one would predict.  In fact, you don’t even know it at the time.  He goes silent, he gets angry and sits very still, as if some blinding light has hit him and he can’t stare into it or move.

It is very similar when he has a seizure.  In the past you thought that people shook with their tongues hanging out, but your Father goes silent.  He has Petit Mal seizures, deep glitches that occur in his brain.  The neurons don’t fire quite right, or misfire, or slam up against each other so his brain is reshaped and every time you speak to him you know this was not the Father that you were born to.

He asks questions and doesn’t remember the answers, he can’t say certain words and when he walks he uses a cane.  He is 62.

The man that you grew up with was lively and easy to access.  He had endless patience for your endless questions and would let you style his hair with big bows and hairspray.  Each night he would be the “bridge” to your bed, and would get down on all fours so you could climb across his back.  Sometimes the “bridge” would shake, or sway, or dip and you would gently tumble off, so that you could cross it again.

Now you rarely have conversations with your Father.  He’s easily agitated and at times you are frightened to upset him because when he goes past the point of no return there is no coming back.  This is how you get disowned for the first time.  On a frigid Thanksgiving night with him screaming, “fuck you,” repeatedly and your Mother threatening to burn your adoption papers.

The next morning she stands there small before you with grief pouring out of her every pore, and she says, “I’m sorry, please don’t leave,” but you do because that’s all you can.

You know that your Father takes 32 pills a day, you know that your Mother is ill in other ways, but this time for a long time you cannot forgive, and you ache for that small nuclear space that was once filled.

Days, weeks, years pass and you do not return.  They come to you.  You look at your Father leaning against a wall on Market Street, and you know that you can only hold onto anger so long because if there’s one thing you’re certain of its their imperfect love.

The next time you come home with a boy and you call him the buffer.  You can tell your parents are disappointed he’s there, but you’re too afraid to come back otherwise.  Each day they wake the two up you up with a sharp knock and a high-pitched, demanding voice saying, “we’re leaving in five minutes.”

They both look lesser to you and you feel bad that you’ve been away for so long.  The shower seems dirty and runs with rust.  The brown and tan striped couch is covered with dog hair, and when you go through their books you find one entitled, “Borderline Personality Disorder,” with your Mother’s name written in it.

This is how you discover that she’s trying, which is all you really wanted, so you decide to try too.  You sit across from a grey-haired man who you pay to listen to you.  After you pour your heart out he says, “be kind to yourself.”

You make him laugh.  Then make yourself cry and then spiral into a deep depression of your own making because you can’t bear to see all you’ve bared.

This is how you end up crying at work, to your boss, to your Associate Marketing Director, in the bathroom and at home.  You have this flood of tears that goes on.  It’s not the first time you cried this way, but you didn’t think you still had so much to grieve, “I’ve done this before,” you think, “I’m sorry,” you say again and again to yourself really because that’s the only person you still need to forgive.

So you visit again, and your Dad, who now uses a cane finally says sorry to you.

He says, ” your Mother and I pushed you away.  We scarred you, I’m glad you’re here,” and some deep thing shifts because you never thought a sorry would come your way.  You tell your Father he’s not alone, you teach him how to Skype.  The first time he does it’s from his hospital bed in tears because he feels like he failed you.

You hide yours, smile and say, “It’s not your fault,” which is a line you had used earlier to another person who left, and you wonder how you always end up alone in bed across men who are sorry.

But now, in this moment, your Father is across from you, on a screen with tubes up his nose, and you know each time this happens it’s worse because now it’s Lupus Anticollangant, Kidney Failure, Strokes and Congestive Heart Failure – before it was just epilepsy.

He says, “I just wanted to see your face for a moment,” so that’s when you truly forgive his failures, and life’s failure, and your own because that’s the only way you know how to go on.

A Prose Poem Inspired By An NPR Segment

11 May

How can I listen when you don’t love me, when you ask me to love myself before you can, as if I could do you something you couldn’t, as if I could taste myself the way that you have, with your tongue in my mouth I plead for less, or more, or something that I can grasp onto that would let me know I wouldn’t have to go on searching for something that you refuse to give of yourself.

We’re told that this is love, this giving, and that’s how I know we’re holding onto with; withholding from one another the pieces of ourselves that we cannot bear to let, yet when I hear your voice across a line, beneath a surface, I come to you again and again, throughout time and know you are undeserving of such a response, know that one day I will look at your face and wonder what I let go of; know that we will scream across a room, a distance, a separation of what we once had together.

Know that I will see your face with closed eyes and think of all the unwritten words, and I will know that I can’t but return again and again to that thing I gave you so long ago and wonder at the innocence that we once were.

The Journey Of Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A New Poem

8 May

Virginia Woolf said that a writer couldn’t write when they were angry, Nabokov said writers need enthusiasm and Grace Paley said truth.  I tried to write truth but it laughed at me, it said it couldn’t be written, I wrote anger and it covered rooms and hung off the backs of chairs like long strands of sticky taffy.

My mother always said, “be careful, they can pull out your teeth,” and so I tried on enthusiasm and that exhausted me; it cannot be sustained, though when I was young I could fill pages with it.

My mother was my first critic, she looked at my words and sniffed, “too much dialog,” so I put down my pen and told myself I wasn’t very good – how can there be no scene?

I didn’t know how to describe the things that I saw, to convey feeling, I could only be a vehicle for what others said and that seemed to be my story.

The I wasn’t anything but observation for that’s all it saw, but the eye knew more than I did and it knew to look inward, to keep searching beneath the glaze.

It skimmed its sight over my cracks and said, “this must be told,” but how does one paint pictures with words, how does one create bridges so that others can walk across your ruptures?

I didn’t want trodden paths or feet upon me, I didn’t want other’s eyes telling my stories, so I hide in metaphor because I didn’t want to see my own telling.

So frightened was I that I never said anything really.   I used each stroke of each letter to build an abstract that one could hang on a wall, or in a coffee shop, or in a place where it was ok to not know the meaning of things because that was the point.

To not mean anything to anyone so that you can be anything to everyone

“That’s beautiful,” you said, “that makes so much sense,” but what’s left of you when there is no I?  So you swam backward in the sea of self and tried to grasp onto the familiar, to recreate what you had seen, but nothing was the same and neither were you.

You had twisted limbs, an uncertain scent and larger divides.

This is where the You began, the you that told the stories for you; that’s sitting here now grasping for the words of telling so that others can understand how it began.

How you reclaimed the unfamiliar and found the bound book that held only dialog and crayon drawings of stick figures trying to convey what you saw then.

How the pages were crooked and the spine weak; how to see such a thing was ugly; how you thought you were more but there you were.

But that’s all really, we are just our own enthusiastic telling, made in anger, made in truth, made with others eyes upon waiting to say, “there is just too much dialog.”

EWA 2013

3 May

It’s easy to see why those admitted to Stanford feel that they are chosen.  The school drips with privilege, it hangs off the palm trees and blankets the manicured lawn.  Gorgeous undergraduates whiz by on bikes.  In fact, the campus is so large that when my boss and I asked one of them for directions, they looked at a map and then at us and said, “I’m a freshman,” even though finals aren’t far away.

To attend a conference on such a campus makes me feel like I’ve done something right with my life, even though this school wouldn’t admit me if I begged them.  However, to move from beautiful building to building, to walk down the pathways and to sit in halls and listen to some of the most admired minds in our country is moving; it’s like I’m being sprinkled with some of the shimmering privilege that infuses Stanford’s students.

At first I was annoyed that the Education Writer’s Association conference was being held here.  Last year I got to go to Philadelphia, and I felt cheated out of the opportunity to travel and explore a new city.  All I had to do was hop on-board the Caltrain for 40 minutes; it was all very anticlimactic.

In my mind I grumbled about the long days and the fact my boss was attending, “I’ll have to be ON the whole time,” I said to no one in particular.

Though, after the first day I can already tell that attending this year is more worthwhile than last.   Our system of education (like every industry & institution) is being disrupted at never-seen-before rates because, as Thomas Friedman said, “we live in a hyper-connected world.”

Everyone, teachers, entrepreneurs, journalists, professors are all grasping at straws of prediction, hoping to align themselves with the transformers and future correct.  Hoping that they’ll be able to look back with certainty that they made the right choices; that they helped to transform our most important, antiquated system – the way in which we educate our youth.

Yes, technology is causing this disruption and massive open online courses (MOOCS) mean that people can be in the U.S. and their professor can be in Ireland, but also, people are being expected to compete at a global and not national level.  With this new technology it is clear that teachers and professors need to prepare students for more than just the “average” job, or life because that’s just not enough.

Students need to be prepared to compete in a global marketplace that calls for reinvention and flexibility, and sitting before a blackboard while the teacher drones on and scribbles in chalk clearly isn’t the way to go.

In bathroom stalls of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education are posters with the words, “Want to build your career in education?” and instead of having graduate students talk to teachers they’re invited to hear from entrepreneurs, founders of places like Tioki and Udemy.  New forms of learning are being invented like the Rosetta Stone and Khan Academy, flipping the classroom upside down from kindergarten to college.

Universities are even considering new forms of accreditation that recognize credits from MOOCS, which is an ongoing topic at this year’s conference.  Last year it was regulated to one session.

That’s how quickly everything is changing, and it feels both exhilarating and frightening because throughout most of the twentieth century the U.S. believed it had one of the best systems of education; that everyone wanted to come here to attend our higher intuitions.  If one did so, then there was some guarantee of success, or at least one could believe there was.

Now that doesn’t hold true, and at the K-12 level, U.S. student scores are just globally embarrassing.  The curtain has been pulled back to reveal a broken myth: we are not number one in everything.

Today ended with a documentary of how New Orleans used the devastation of Katrina to transform their school system, meaning their schools were so bad that they needed complete destruction to make space for any kind of positive change, and change did occur.  Most of the schools in New Orleans are charter, children’s test scores are improving and more students are graduating; however, those students who are unable to attend charter schools are doing worse.

And I can’t help but see this documentary as a metaphor for what’s being discussed: how complete destruction can be a good thing, how we can utilize the nontraditional to increase student achievement and how brokenness is an opportunity for transformation.  Also, I can’t help but also see what will never change.

Not every student will get the opportunities that they deserve and some don’t deserve the opportunities they get.  There will always be the dropouts and failures whatever the form and the lucky ones who get to sit on a lawn and kiss at Stanford secure in their glistening privilege, secure as they tell those with less, “I will try to fix you.”