Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Meditations On Gentrification

a very loose ghazal, imperfect and improper

Shoreditch pixies have died or gone away
See their wings trapped under painted sprays.

I just hope they find somewhere new to play.
Our homes got tighter than whalebone corset stays.

Shoreditch pixies in black and blue and grey
with your opal eyes and brows all rearranged.

Can you dance still, amidst the crimson fray
of flatulent, didactic dames so prearranged?

Will you mock them? Incite a gay parade?
That would just delight them. Demand another stage.

Our homes belch, moan, simper and crave
something more snappish than this posh grave.

My hidden corpuscles call you home today
our blood mixed could splash this place quite fey.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Pronouncements About Santa

and other recent musings by Winston

“Call the police officers to come and take away La Luna and bring my day back!”
- upon being forced to leave the Tate Modern and after any good day

+ + +

Our flat does not have a fireplace or a mantle.
The media insists
Santa comes down the chimney
and out of the fireplace.

I suggested he’d just hop down
from the roof and in the porch door.
This was not acceptable.

After a night of sleep,
in which all mysteries are revealed
Winston announces that
Santa will be coming
out of the oven.

This is the logic of 3 year olds.
Castle people used fireplaces to cook food.
Santa prefers to enter buildings
through places which are used to cook food and are hot.


+ + +

“Some people can taste the sky. I can not.
- upon careful study of the heavy layer of fog.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Healthy Boy Bleeds

(after a photograph by Tom Wichelow)

that this is ......... true

growth ......... ......is this

wide blue pair ....staring

out from ......... ... head

........torrential....vermillion

......... ......... ......... knowledge

here is where the changes flow

......... ......... ......... blood

rewards. ......... ...cleanses.

changes. ......... ....body

......... ......... ..........frees

necessary soul

......... .....expansion.

rumbling ......... thought

philtrum ......... .tingling

crimson ......... tintinnabulation

that groovy ..growth question. life full. filled.



NOTE: Tom Wichelow is the photographer/artist with whom I've been paired for my next session at the Tower Of London. We've been experimenting with text and image. He's been sending me photos and I've been writing poems. Now, I'm sending poems and hoping that he'll be sending photos. I'll ask if I can upload this lovely picture of a boy having a nosebleed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Boy Throws Rock To Sea

after a photo by Tom Wichelow


Take me in.
Let me go.
This is the happiest song I know.
For she is testiest when we see
How absolutely
free we be.


perhaps that rock was

crepe paper sand
worn like that shocking
touch ....... the first time young
hands help a hard wrinkled woman
toilet;

pock marked transient cringing
witness ...... puppet /
tool to crush bow back
teenaged adulteress in black;

soft like the fear
of cradling a newborn
wobbling head;

ridged barnacle valleys vibrating
intoning some mysterious ditty

or sun hot black weight tugging

his open palm
closed. the arm
thrust. the ocean’s song.
a dancing stone.

let go.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Poet Or Madwoman?

The experience of being a parent may be something like people challenged with being bipolar live with daily.

One moment you are immersed in the effervescent iridescent ebullience of observing an ant carry something 8 times its weight.

The next moment - you scream on a planet whilst wind, sleet and fire snaps your body back during the whooshing approach of a black hole.

That first moment is today’s feeling. On her myspace profile, my daughter who is “no longer a poet” writes

of herself:

I am a social chameleon.
I can dance with a cup on my head.
I think poetry is literary masturbation.

I am convinced
I was meant to be
a tragic Victorian heroine.
I am bipolar.

I want to work in arts management, but
for some reason I am a psych major.

I had a stroke when I was eighteen years old and
now have blood clots in my lungs.
I want to marry

the kind of person that I can communicate with
entirely in song lyrics and obscure movie quotes.
Sometimes,

I listen to songs that I really like several times in a row
just because I can't bear the fact that they eventually
have to come to an end.


Who does she think she’s kidding? Not a poet? Ha! Poetry is just obsessive observance of the power of life's language and an awkward submission to discipline. In her case, it’s just the submission to discipline which could use improvement.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

RedMan

after almost being attacked with a matt knife at work today...edit/update below


he is like a paper doll,

talisman or totem

my flat glowing friend -


arms, legs of frozen light

splayed open. dismissed at the push

of a button. a timed signal


still .......... that flat crimson dummy warns

stop ............. look ............ this bitch

has me in her eyes -


steady unblinking command

backed up

by a fleet of trucks on her tongue.


first my spine straightened

then my head cocked to one side

only silence and eyes in this intersection.


the stanley knife swished.

today the boy killed a wall.

God/dess bless my children.

NOTES:
UPDATE - Just so people know, these are not my lovely kids from the Tower. I’ve taken another residency at what will remain an undisclosed location. But, just so you know - these are kids that even their PRU isn’t pretending to attempt to educate anymore.

But - on to today’s story....

Once I’ve processed the whole matt knife flashed in my direction thing today, I have to step back. On some very bizarre level, I’m fiercely proud that a student tried to stab me today. Part of me is jumping for joy. This is the part of me willing to give my students everything. This is the part of me which doesn’t take things personally. This is the person (unlike other entities about whom I’ve recently blogged) who can be professional, distant, engaged and analytical. This is the part of me who says, ”interesting, very interesting” whilst I scratch my chin.

This is obviously not the part of me which prefers my skin and organs intact. This is certainly not the part of me for whom raising my son to adulthood is the most important activity I can imagine.

But, switching hats....my teacher-self has to take a step back and analyse this incredible breakthrough. I think to myself, what did that mean? Why would he do something like that? How did I help him get to that place of frustration?

Easy. My team teachers and I have made some terrific progress. We’ve gotten to a place where we can almost practice what we believe. We have positioned ourselves to become facilitators. But, how did we get there? And why is almost being stabbed a victory?

When I walked onto the project, the young people were in control of the show. And the show involved them playing football, doing almost zero art, and a lot of moaning, insulting us and their peers and acting out.

They are children with challenges who have won their battle against the world. And it is this reason that pure autonomous education can often not succeed in traditional settings. The damage to their psyches has been so extensive that, as Kate Bush says, “'it's so deep you don't think that you can speak about it
To anyone,”
(1) If we had an entire school year to let them do whatever they like - we might end up with something. But, we don’t have an entire year. So - we are forced to provide direction.

During the past two weeks, we have given them what they need - consistency, choices, consequences, and challenges. Something I might call the Magical 4C. We have gracefully accepted their choices and provided appropriate consequences. We have done this consistently. And we have been present in allowing them to challenge us whilst demanding that they meet our challenges in return. We have done it with respect. We have done it with empathy. And we have celebrated those tiny moments when they choose to excel. (In my case - okay I’m American - loudly)

So - why did I almost get stabbed today. You’d think that we were doing everything right. And we have been. We have been patiently opening them up to a crucial, powerful inner change - accepting responsibility for their own success. We have been taking the smallest of steps towards helping them make positive choices.

This is the scariest thing in the world! Their homes are “out-of-control,” their friends are “out-of-control,” their school is “out of control.” Suddenly - they have one place in the world where things are under control. And they are active participants in making that happen. They are in control. That must be the scariest, strangest, most awkward feeling in the world.

If I had been in his shoes today, I’d have wanted to be familiar and comfortable. I’d want to be safe. I’d want to be able to count on being let down.

Hope is disquieting. Self-esteem scratches, bites and maims until you get used to it. Love - unconditional - is a useless and charming theory that will cause your heart to be ripped out and danced upon if you dare to believe in it. I, too, would want to kill those symbols.

So - today - we won together. I didn’t get knifed. He redirected his discomfort. Hooray!

I can’t wait to see what we end up finding together between the paint and the words and the dance.....................between the Love And Anger

'Cause it's so deep you don't think that you can speak about it
To anyone,
Can you tell it to your heart?
Can you find it in your heart
To let go of these feelings
Like a bell to a Southerly wind?
We could be like two strings beating,
Speaking in sympathy.
What would we do without you?
Two strings speak in sympathy.
(What would we do without you?)
Take away the love and the anger,
And a little piece of hope holding us together.
Looking for a moment that'll never happen,
Living in the gap between past and future.
Take away the stone and the timber,
And a little piece of rope won't hold it together.
We're building a house of the future together. “



(1) Bush, Kate; Love And Anger lyrics

Once Again - this time with feeling!

Thanks to Madness On Ice's comments on one of my previous posts about Ms. Ford, I went scrolling through comments in Pewari's site. I came across this ultimate gem.

Who Knows Where Thoughts Come From I have to hand it to Ian! Bravo brother! I'm suddenly lamenting never purchasing one of her books. I want a book to send back. But, if you do - and are having issues with Ms Ford's attitude and behaviour regarding freedom of speech - please do as Ian did.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Irate Ennui - Gina Ford, again

Gina Ford VS Mumsnet Again

Gina Ford’s listed “Public Enemy Two” Perwari says everything I’m about to process more succinctly. Please visit Perwari’s erudite illuminations.

I have to honest. This whole waste-of--taxpayer’s-money by one prosperous author had slipped my mind. As you can tell from previous posts, I’ve been busy transforming the lives of children in positive ways. I have been so immersed in a day-to-day commitment to support and empower children while at the same time trying to support and empower my own children. Regretfully (or not) , Gina Ford’s vendetta against Mumsnet and other small, organically grown voices and support systems for women slipped my mind.

Then suddenly - my inbox reminds me that a particularly vindictive and egomaniacal soul still troubles some women I greatly admire. And at this point, I must respectfully thank Gina Ford for increasing traffic to this tiny little corner where I contemplate, evaluate and share the conundrums of modern motherhood with a few souls who are kind enough to think I have something of value to share. And I tip my hat to her for citing me as a worthy adversary. I am honoured and privileged to be cited unfavourably by you. Makes me think of Emily Dickinson.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know!


The answer to the first stanza is - yes. In this digital age, Gina Ford is a nobody who advertised. She told; she advertised and now she is open to scrutiny.

How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
(1)

Both of us are nobodies. But, like the first stanza, I want to keep it secret because as in the second stanza, it is dreary to be “somebody.” Gina Ford wants to be a “somebody.” Unfortunately, it involves responsibility, scrutiny, acceptance of feedback and most awful - continual justification of your beliefs. One must after all - cultivate “the admiring bog.” I’d personally rather seed a field and move on just as the wildflowers start to bloom. But - this is all irrelevant.... or will be ... as when as Neruda so aptly says “

“What we know comes to so little,
what we presume is so much,
what we learn, so laborious,
we can only ask questions and die.
Better save all our pride
for the city of the dead
and the day of the carrion:
there, when the wind shifts
through the hollows of your skull
it will show you all manner of
enigmatical things, whispering truths in the
void where your ear used to be.”
(2)


“What we know comes to so little, what we presume is so much, what we learn, so laborious, we can only ask questions and die.” Yes! Yes! And yes! It takes a poet to state it all so simply.

But, I digress again. I could care less about her books or her philosophy. They have no meaning to me. The only relevance they have is in relation to the context of my life’s work. I never forget those who have been left behind. (As if I have to actually take responsibility for some 300 million people.) But, still, I hold them in my heart. Every parent who tries and fails using her methods is a failure on my part....I did not do enough to spread the word about alternative methodologies. For every parent who tries her ideas and succeeds, CONGRATULATIONS!

What everything essentially boils down to is the fact that every parent has to take actions which resonate inside of their own individual heart chambers. But - most importantly - they must be able to make an informed choice. Their choices should be backed by research, scrutiny of prevailing trends, tangible scientific and academic statistics pertaining said trends and what their hearts say. Informed choice occurs in the context of having all of the relevant and pertinent information, whether scholarly, scientific or anecdotal.”

But, this war. This awful, heinous, ugly “War Against Mothers and Children’s Voices” rages on. Mea culpa, I am simply a lieutenant marching to the orders of a higher universal truth. I get sucked in to these battles. I win them...one child at a time...and then I move to the next most strategic vantage point. I am so in “the trenches” I’ve forgotten the reason I came to be in this place.

This place - this exhausting place wherein the larger picture is plastered against the eyelids like Generals post world maps on a conference room wall. This place where a terrorist whose sole aim is to muzzle the mouths of mothers wins a victory because the resources of the freedom fighters are few. And, yes, I stand by my definitions. I’m happy to recap them below.

1. Fact. On two separate occasions, Ms. Ford has attempted to silence women who wished to express negative opinions about her work.

2. Fact. She does this by attempting to hold the owners of web sites which provide a forum for mothers liable for the contents of the site.

3. Fact. Ms Ford prevents mothers from discussing her by having the web sites enact bans on all posts which mention her or her methods.

4. Fact. "A statement that amounts to an insult or is mere vulgar abuse is not defamatory. This is because the words do not convey a defamatory meaning to those who heard them (simple abuse is unlikely to cause real damage to a reputation)." In the Mumsnet case discussing the comment about WMD, this was an insult - not slander. as defined by YourRights.org

5. Fact. Ms Ford expressly chooses web sites which are unable - for financial, not legal reasons - to fight back.

6. Fact: Ms Ford's behaviour falls quite neatly into the definition of terrorist under Psychological Impact and Fear. "The attack was carried out in such a way as to maximise the severity and length of the psychological impact. Each act of terrorism is a “performance,” a product of internal logic, devised to have an impact on many large audiences. Terrorists also attack national symbols to show their power and to shake the foundation of the country or society they are opposed to. This may negatively affect a government's legitimacy, while increasingly the legitimacy of the given terrorist organisation and/or ideology behind a terrorist act. "

In the words of one of my favourite poets, Ernie Cline, my ideas - like Gina Ford’s - are summarily reduced to “Exhibit A: Monkey making noise.”

“Nietsche was just another fucking monkey.” (3) But, at least I know I am a monkey making noise. And I don't take myself so seriously that I offended or need to silence anyone with a dissenting viewpoint.

I have 20 years of parenting which have worked for me. I have 15 years of youth outreach work which has benefited those who have participated and been empowered by my philosophies. (I might add, these philosophies are not mine....they are the result of critical readings, analysis of scientific documentation and following in my heart what works for me.) I am not - nor would I ever hold myself up as a guru. My experience is inconclusive. My data shows ups and downs. It incorporates that intangible and undocumented process called “life and all its variables.”

And noise do I - this monkey - make! It is these tiny battles which make us loose sight of the war. Walking into a PRU filled with children who a afraid of being seen and making them desire some sort of recognition for their inner brilliance - is a tiny battle. Walking into a PRU with a child who bears the label ADHD like a swastika in a Post WWII world - then - teaching her how to be energetic and “seen” in a positive manner is another battle. They are worthy battles. They are child-by-child battles. They focus on the individuality of the human being this underage human is and could become. These battles bring me joy. I win some. I lose a lot. But, mostly, I have been present in the process.

Query: I’d like more information about her credentials as an “expert.” I define expert as:
1. earned degrees from a recognised university;
2. academic or scientific support for theories;
3. distinguished and documentable anecdotes regarding field work.


But, even more important than these irrelevant items would be her answers to the following questions:
1. Do people have a right to freedom of speech?
2. What place does satire have in modern discourse?
3. What exactly is the value of an individual’s experience? And at what point do we have an obligation to silence their right to express that experience? Does an individual’s credentials limit their right to speak freely?
4. Should celebrity status circumvent people's right to discuss issues freely and at length.?
5. What responsibility does a public figure have to his/her constituents?
6. What penalties and damages are parents entitled to expect when “experts” are proven wrong experientially, scientifically and academically?

Ultimately, every parent makes the best choices for their children using the information they have available to them at the time. My way is not the only way. And this is where I have issue with Ms. Ford. Women talk. We kvetch, moan and carry on. Ultimately, in spite of pettiness, judgement, and proselytising; we find some precarious balance in which we find within ourselves the power to provide quality care for our children whilst honouring our own experience as valid.

Many of us were highly valued professionals before our birth canals derailed or delayed our careers. We need each other. We need to - as poet Sara Holbrook says in “Chicks Up Front” -

resuscitate each other
in ways which only women do
mouth to mouth


or in this case...key to mouse to key.

Have you felt this urgency, Gina? Have you felt your sanity hang on the edge of an electronic connection? Has your frantic worry about a sick child been solved by a woman hundred of kilometres away? If yes, then why begrudge us resuscitating each other in that way women do...key stroke by keystroke. And if not,

then leave us. In peace.


1. Dickinson, Emily, http://www.bu.edu/favoritepoem/poems/dickinson/nobody.html

2. Pablo Neruda, Five Decades: Poems 1925 - 1970, ED: Ben Belitt, Grove Press, 1974, Pablo Neruda, “Flies Enter A Closed Mouth,” pg 201 & 202

3. Cline, Ernie, Dance Monkeys Dance, http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/

4. Chicks Up Front, Sara Holbrook, Cleveland State University Poetry Center; 1998

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Transformation

disjointed piece. sick. tired. deliriously happy

It has been a long day. Lovely. Amazing. Incredible. But long.

As a “reward,” we took the kids across to Hampton Court palace. They were all happy to be getting out of “school.” The staff was excited. It ended up being a very free form day. Why? Because the kids have learned how to become engaged with historical sites. they could be “trusted to “learn.” And learn they did!

I somehow ended up with kids who hadn’t been on the project. It was a different experience. Part of me regrets not falling inside of the enthusiasm of the youth with whom I’ve spent so many weeks. Part of me is delighted to infect new children with a love of learning.

The regulars - I’ve given them code names.

“Act Out Youth” has severe attention challenges.

“Invisi-Youth” wouldn’t even let us use their name or look at them. (Yes, I spent three weeks talking to this youth with my head turned to the side as if I were talking to an invisible friend.

“Sensi-Tall” is great with one-on-one, but freezes and worries constantly about being perfect. Sensi is fascinated with The Royals.

“Silence” has spoken a total of 100 words to me in this six week journey. “Silence,” however,r wrote me a lovely metered poem - voluntarily. And read it not once - but four times in our group meeting and another three for the videographer. (So, we’ve had maybe a total of 700 articulations in 6 weeks.)

When I did get a chance to check in with my regular students, I saw a most awesome spin. Throughout the day, we saw a very different dynamic, Act Out youth was shunned or avoided by Silence, Sensi-Youth and Invisi-Youth. More importantly, they would find positive ways to slip away or urge Act Out Youth forward - so they could....learn.

At one point during the day, Act Out Youth was getting loud.

Invisi - Youth turns to this person and says, “Ssssh! I can’t hear my audio tour.”

What is this? Peer pressure to engage with education? Unheard of! Unnatural! Teenagers who want to listen to history on an audio tour of a historic site?

Regardless, they were willing to embrace Act Out Youth in moments of co-operation. And when Act Out Youth was out of control, they found creative solutions to redirect the energy.

But, the fact remains - they did the work the teachers were supposed to do. And we’ve learned. If they are given responsibility for their own education, they will find a way for the entire group to learn, whilst at the same time seizing and safeguarding their own opportunities.

More importantly - the teachers gave them the space to work this out for themselves.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tower Of London - Preview

" Rapping On Walls" "

A - age 12 wrote this haiku:

Haiku

wall are not the same.
can’t see anything. people
look around. stories


Christina, age 42 wrote this one in response to the project:

Haiku

day’s rhythm witness

discuss freely raise ideas

priceless orchids bloom


Note: A dictionary definition of the word "rap" includes: "to discuss freely and at length." Yeah - we did that.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Witnessing: My Daughter's Unhealthy Choices This Weekend

compulsive lip biting
saucer eyes

now

at the table
we are peaceful after 24
hours of no sleep

for her and precious
little for me
tender solutions

choices offer complex
detailed strategies

sagging

eyes lips bend to claw teeth
curling into a ravaging desecration
of my mouth on her face

as if she nibbles me
to my genes bites
what we share away joy

duty

pathos shitted away
or flakey pie crust relished

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Conversation with a student

as we walked into the Tower yesterday.


R: I love this. I’m getting out of so many lessons. I’m out of school!

C: This is school.

R: No it’s not.

C: It isn’t? You haven’t learned anything?

R: Well, yeah. I know a lot about this place.

C: Like what?

R: Stories of the people who were here.

C: Yeah?

R: And saying stories.

C: Yeah? Like making poems?

R: Yeah.

C: But, it isn’t school?

R: Yeah it’s not boring like geography and maths. I haven’t had history in 4 years.

C: Four years?

R: Yeah - we just get geography.

C: You like history.

R: Yeah. It’s not boring.

C: So, school is about being bored?

R: Yeah.

C: Should school be about learning something?

R: Yeah:

C: Have you learned anything?

R: Yeah.

C: So this is school.

R: Maybe.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Quickest Way To Reach The Destination Is By Submitting To the Journey

It has been a whirlwind here. And still, it is that - a resounding quiet within. My project, “Rapping On Walls” at The Tower Of London progresses at an astonishing pace. It has become a tremendously successful project. I am well pleased.

I had thought I’d be working with older people - 15 and 16 year olds. Instead, I’ve been working with 12, 13 and 14 year old kids from Tower Hamlets who are in Pupil Referral Units. (You get into a PRU by being so antisocial that you have been excluded from school. Or, you are just an immigrant who doesn’t speak the Queen’s English well enough. )

I’ve been trying to get these kids to write text pieces in the voices of the walls of the Tower. (During the first session, the majority of them wouldn’t even tell me their name. That was a 1/2 hour exercise... building trust.)

One week ago, we hit our fourth session and we have had a major break through. They’ve written some fantastic poems! And gasp! They’ve written two group poems without me! Because they wanted to!

Videographer, Jason Larkin and I will work with the kids on turning these into word videos. Just in the nick of time to shoot this week!

I’ve been blessed that the teachers at the PRU who are overseeing the project have been willing to work together as a group. I’m lucky that they’ve been willing to engage in the project fully and without hesitation. The support from the Tower staff, the active participation of the teachers, the kids and I have all energised this project.

What is even more exciting - is that the teachers have been willing to use their own classroom time to heighten the enthusiasm of the kids. They've been using my exercises, creating their own, introducing movies and discussions about Tower history. It has gotten the kids so excited that....the teachers are "rewarding them" for their good behaviour by promising to take them on field trips to other historical sites!

But, more importantly, we - as a group - have single-handedly changed the perception of PRU kids! At the beginning, any interaction with the kids by Tower staff was greeted with harumphs and great sighs about “performing one's duty.” But, my kids have fallen so deeply in love with The Tower - that there is quite a buzz about the project. If all great things come to pass as I believe they shall - there will be an unbelievable update forthcoming!

We did have one typical PRU incident.... They had new Royal Guards the other day. The kids are fascinated by them. I have two very pretty and verbal girls who decided they were going to make them laugh. And they did - during the Changing Of the Guard!!!! (They never laugh. It is one of the favourite things tourists like to do. They never succeed. ) Their Sergeant was so angry that as they left, the marched straight towards my kids, shouted, "Make way for the Queen's Guard!" so loudly the kids all jumped and scrambled out of their way. I feel bad for the guards. They were disciplined for it. And it's not nice to tease the guards. But - it was pretty funny that they did it. I guess they’ve really begun to internalise the power of the spoken word. But, that one incident - making a Royal Guard commit G.O.D....Giggling On Duty - has been forgiven.

Finally, this project has served to demonstrate that the philosophy of directed autonomy is such an effective teaching style. And it gives me hope for my journey with Winston. Unschooling is so much harder than traditional education! Every week, I scrambling to find a way to support their interests, create activities which will hold their focus and in general follow their lead.

All of us are having so much fun learning together! It gives me so many ideas about fixing the educational system using theories about autonomous education combined with the power of the high student -teacher ratios. I think - if only....if only...

Then - I think back to Yellow Springs, Ohio and The Antioch School. I have seen these theories successfully in action. I know - somewhere in the world it is real and it is working. I just hope it continues to spread outward and onward.

I sense one day, I may just become a master teacher...like Jeannie , Ann, Kit and Chris. It is not very far away. It will be in this moment that I will have realised my higher self.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gigan

for professionals who practice attachment parenting

choice box overflowing hard
won wisdom of a second chance.

cream tattered newspaper clippings.
coffee stained recollections. frayed, flattened
crepe paper. oil marked memorials.

love. and tumours forcing eyeballs from sockets
joy. and adolescent bile swished like wine

over taste.....buds,.....opportunity...clots
drag me to the door. ear pressed to wood.

a silent refusal. pretending emptiness.
choice box overflowing hard

love’s humours force brains from sockets
Grandmaster Flash - Bach - Holiday - Smith - Chilli Pepper -
Carmen - wake up and then witness West Side

stories mutter. See: spot marked “x.” your hands mine.
eyes cloud read. tut-tut at lightning. sky is full. drink.

Note:
The ............. are the original white space I inserted into the poem but can not get blogger to recognise.

The form: 'gigan' was invented by Ruth Ellen Kocher. Find it here. It is a very evocative form which Ruth executes exquisitely.

A Gigan is basically:

16 lines
couplet, triplet, couplet, couplet, couplet, triplet, couplet
line 1 repeats as line 11
line 6 repeats as line 12.
last couplet turns the subject askew

This is my first attempt. I’ve got it wrong. But - I’ll keep trying.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The NHS Should Be Grateful For My Daughter

Those of you who’ve been with me for awhile will remember Imani’s stroke last year. Here we are again, a year later and I’m just thrilled that she’s nearby this time.

Imani came home (to London) for the weekend. On Saturday night she was hospitalised. Tests revealed that she has a pulmonary embolism. (Translation - she has several blood clots in her lungs.) For you medical types out there - we are fortunate that they are not on any major arteries.

Today, she’s feeling a lot better. Less pain. Less blood when she coughs. I’m grateful. But, more so - I’m finding myself so proud of her.

She's appalled by the UK hospitals. Her ward doesn't even have rooms. Imagine the curtained cubicles in an American ER with six people to a room. The doctors don't work weekends - unless someone needs to have meds authorised. Then, they page the on-call doctor. There are four weekend on-call doctors to serve the entire hospital. And the other doctors only work 9 - 5, Monday through Friday.

The nurses don't really do much. Imani calls them "glorified waitresses serving up people their lives." Imani's been quite the candy striper, since she's felt better. She’s been keeping herself occupied by:

* Helping the old ladies take their medicine - the ones who can't pour their own water or hold a cup to drink. (Yes, the nurses just set the meds down on the table and leave.)

* Soothing the frustrated children of senile patients.

* Soothing senile patients.

* Drawing portraits of patients and making them look pretty.

* Running to the nurses station for old ladies who are in pain or trapped on bed pans, but can't get anyone to help them because their call buttons don't work.

They'll either be happy or sad to see her go. Happy because they can get back to neglecting their patients. Or sad because she provides support to them and improves the quality of care for patients.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Scavenger’s Daughter Asks Raven If They Will Now Flee?

(on the passing of the Military Commission Act of 2006)

waterboarding

saline sunshine hard rippled burnished sand
cerulean azure aqua Tarfia winded bays
mornings bobbing alongside watchful prophetic whales
paella nights settling dreams towards Morocco days

beach boys moan soothing california girls
mottled mammoth waves venerate Venice boys
avocado salsa velveeta drenched organic chips with sprouts
black holed by supple mouths with eyes that believe
they see Hawaii like Brigadoon

terrorist

sexy mirror glassed suave g-men
quietly stealing home from citizens in a foreign land.
swaggering a cowboy’s true colours finally
flying stripes like star-bellied criminals - on and off

for microphones biting sound into sense.
work-a-day men and women electrocuted by power
wand and strip pregnant women and toddlers.
undress the peaceful, take shoes from the newly shod
attempt to fling them sky-borne with clipped souls

law

my father’s consort and concubine
dragged from her home, stoned, holding
her head hoping higher justice returns
eternal rewards a soldier

accepts the point of his sword
hidden behind holly bushes. their winter promise
waxy tourmaline complimenting crimson,
colour stabs
nation’s heart. sleep.

sleep now.

her ample iron hips and slender top
sneer and beseech simultaneously.
raven turns his back. cocks his head. reads
the weathervane spinning atop the White Tower.

He caws. Only true decisive majesty
can hold him here. Her question swirling
like Thames mist conquering the space
between inner and outer curtain wall.
invisible footsteps on cobblestone.

Her body revolted, shivers the question again.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Catching Up

Tonight, I was trying to make some blog rounds. And Winston gets up in my space right as I'm viewing Treasure's blog about her five year old and patriotism.

Winston wants to talk back, so, I transcribe Winston's comments:

"We like Dragon Son. That's his name, yeah. I don't wan't to fight evil. I just want to make the right choice. All I do is make the right choice. So, I don't have to fight. I just think about my right choices. People make wrong choices. But, I have to worry about me. My right choices show everyone how to be. Nobody wants to make naughty choices when they see right choices."

Yeah, I've been reading and practising some good ideas. Feeling really centered.

It Is Officially Official

My interactions with The Antioch School have shaped my life for over 20 years now. Yes, I’m still reading Children Of A Child Centred School. It isn’t a very long book. I should have finished it by now. But, it is like reading poetry. I have to keep stopping and pondering. Stopping and working on myself. Stopping and working on my interactions with others.

For almost a year now, I’ve known that I was chosen out of over 2,000 applicants for an artist residency at The Tower Of London. During my project I will mentor youth in Pupil Referral Units to create spoken word/poems and performance texts in the persona of the walls at The Tower Of London. We will take these texts and transform them into word-videos. (Like music videos but text based.) In essence, during the project, each youth will become a word star - as opposed to a rap star or rock star.

I’m being given an enormous gift. I am being asked to spend time with youth who have been “excluded” from school for one reason or another. During this time, I am being given the privilege of listening to them while also sharing a moment of fun and fantasy. Next week, I have my first workshop. These young people and I will spend six weeks together. So - why lead with The Antioch School?

I have been reflecting on my attitudes towards dealing with youth. More recently, as Imani has arrived and settles into Leeds, I’ve examined and re-examined every success and failure. She’s a superb person. She is so capable. She is so wise. She is everything I hoped she would be, and in spite of my parental shortcomings. (She hasn’t updated her blog lately, I’m sure she’ll get around to it. ) But, those early years at The Antioch School set the foundation for all of these tremendous outcomes.

I used to think, I have sooooo much to teach them! And this book, this exquisite time with my son, this exceptional young woman I am proud to call my daughter and this quiet void which is London has shown me that they have so much to teach me! I’m looking forward to learning next week. I’m really excited! And for once in my life, I feel centred and prepared. Because I am simply open to receive the excellence these children want to give me. I trust our process. Because I trust me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Remembering Great Kings & Queens Of Africa

Politics of marketing liquor to the Black community aside.....

I always wondered what happened to this Budweiser advertising campaign! I'm so happy to see them online! Great African Kings & Queens

Does anyone else remember postering their "gathering space" or "rec room" with these posters? I remember: blue lights, Parlimant Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players, "getting down just for the funk of it," and wondering if the Mothership had had landed in Africa and George Clinton was a modern day prophet.

All I know, is my folks had to serve a lot of Budweiser at their parties so we could have them.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

That Knot Without End

“Eu sou braço de maré- Paraná
mas eu sou o mar sem fim”

- lyric from Parana E


Winston sits on the family room floor. “Sing Paraná é,” he says, “my fairy is doing capoeira.” He has been requesting this song with greater and greater frequency lately. I have read the song’s translation, I can understand.

I sing the song’s chorus over and over. It is the only part I know.

“Nice try, Mama,” he says.

“Thanks, buddy.” I return to my book. I am still reading “Children of a Child-Centered School.” Norman read over my shoulder for a bit this morning. He is curious to see what is inside of a book which so frequently brings tears to my eyes. It has been a very moving read.

Norman pulls the song up on his laptop. Winston begins to bend and twist his fairy again. “Daddy can play capoeira.”

Norman joins him. He does a “cat walk” over Winston.

“Not like that, Daddy!” Norman stands up and thinks for a moment. He saunters across the room. I think he is going to plunk himself back down in front of his computer. This time, he gets Baby Ella.

Baby Ella joins the fairy’s jota. She and Fairy play capoeira.

My son and his father sit on the family room floor. Paraná é plays in the background. The fairy doll and baby doll play capoeira.

Do nó escondo a ponta- Paraná
ninguém sabe desatar- Paraná

- lyric from Paraná é

Ancestors fill his heart-spirit with chatter. They’ll be with us for quite awhile. I am recalling.
I saw this once upon a time, a long time ago.
I dreamt a heavy huge belly dream and my son kicked me for the first time.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Questionning The "Accepted Truth"

I think Winston and I are reading the same book. I can only imagine that he creeps out late at night, skims a few chapters and then behaves accordingly. After all, he can see how much I’ve been enjoying this book. In fact, it has set the tone of our days recently.

Just last week, my greatest joy was checking in with the source of all my theories about education. From time to time, I pop by The Antioch School’s web site. This tiny school in Yellow Springs, Ohio began my life long journey regarding best methods for helping children tap into their inner brilliance. In other words - what began as a search for the key which would magically train the beasts to become human - changed, overnight- to how do we tap the resources every blessed child innately possesses? Thank God/dess this transformation began before I had children.

When I lived in The States, I got their newsletter. It often reduced me to tears. It was always like reading a sacred text. It was like reading parables. It was so real and so out of sync with what I knew to be “real,” that I wept. Tears of grateful joy that in some small corner of the world, children were living a dream I held deep within myself. But - I digress. I cruise through The Antioch School web site to discover that a book has been published. I promptly order “Children Of A Child-Centered School” by Don Wallis.

Finally - someone has taken the time to put into print the philosophy and practical information about what I consider to be America’s leading school! (Or at least if more people knew about it, it would be America's leading school.) As a lone(ly) home educator in London, I am benefiting from the wisdom packed onto every page. What I have come to understand from the book, that there is no Antioch School philosophy. There is no formula. There is no magic method. So, what do they have?

They have adults who:
believe in the goodness of children;
have freed themselves from the concept of “guru,” “parent,” “sage,” “teacher,” “know-it-all,” and even “guide;”
are so secure in themselves that they cam embrace the role of facilitator;
refuse to accept that children don’t want to learn; and
trust a child’s process.

In this process, conflict occurs. Children make wild hypothesis. They invent, imagine and dream. This is okay. It is part of the process of discovery. Eventually, they will find their way to the “accepted truth.” We have to let them make their own way there. It is in these moments that information becomes knowledge. It is also in this moment that some small human makes unprecedented discoveries or advances. (Like computers or cell phones.) When you have the freedom to think beyond the “accepted truth,” anything can happen.

Suddenly, I realise why this book has never happened before now. It was waiting for a person who exemplified the above ideals and was willing to document the wisdom of seasoned teachers who have been so busy doing their jobs for 20 years that they don’t have time to write about it.

Tonight, Winston performed an elaborate dance alongside a song in a video. Believing myself to be supportive, I said, “I really like the way you were thinking about your body to make that dance so special.”

He looked at me funny, then said “I wasn’t thinking. I was finding it.”

I nodded and said, “Yes, you were.”

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Yin-ngna

Winston made this picture the other day while I was hoovering and mopping. I had laid out: water colour pencils, water colours, a tub of water, brushes. He insisted that a No. 2 lead pencil be amongst the materials at hand. Later, I asked him about the picture. Below, please find his story.

yinngna

The Yin-ngna
(by Winston Nunley, Age 3)

This is a Yin-ngna. It has long, long legs and long, long feet. It has sharp teeth and breathes fire out of it’s mouth. It has hair that stings. Don't touch its hair, it will sting you! He has a bear in his hand.

(I interrupt, “A bear?”)

Yes, a bear in his hand.

(“It must be very big,”) I interrupt again.

Yes, it is very big. You have to be careful not to touch him. It lives in a dark, dark forest where there are wolves. The wolves go “Owoooo. Owoooo.” They scare the Yin-ngna. So the Yin-ngna breathes fire out of his mouth. The wolves go, “Ow! Ow! Ouch!)

This is his nose. This is his mouth. This is his hair. And that’s his feet.

Time Lapse between the story....

So proud - Daddy hauls the work of art off to his place of employment for scanning purposes. (A very major melt down occured when Winston discovered his Daddy took the picture to work. Daddy brought it right home after work.)

Once Daddy produced the work from his backpack, Winston animatedly says,

“Look Daddy! It’s the Yin-ngna! and it has long hair and fire in its mouth! It can scare wolves! I don’t like Yin-ngnas!...They say “Ahhh gugg gugg ggugg guugg gugg Ahhhh.

(He puts his fingers at the corners of his mouth; pokes his tongue out; and makes the sound. Very fast. He says it. Very fast. ) "I don’t like it. I have it it my hands, now." He becomes calm and content now.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Sudden Realisation

thanks Deena

Interestingly enough most unschoolers always write about how natural, easy, seamless and flowing it all is. Just breezing through the day cooking, crafting, making trips, playing in nature. Pretty idyllic picture, huh? But, somehow, I'm always feeling like I'm scrambling to keep up.

Autonomous Ed is a lot more work than traditional home education. It is hard to stick to a lesson plan when Winston has suddenly learned as much about Buckeyes (conkers) as he cares to know and is now moving quickly towards dragons and dinosaurs. And of course, the dear one has chosen an interest in the one topic about which there are very few home resources at hand.

I believe in both directed and child-centered learning. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive. I believe a child can be directed without too much unnecessary coercion. Sometimes, I think - he hasn’t learned a damn thing other than how to say please, thank you and your welcome consistently. It is not as if I don’t try to introduce other concepts. It’s just that he has ideas. He is used to expressing his ideas and having someone do something about them.

Yesterday, he had an idea about a blue hat. He was very surprised to learn that my idea was about new shoes. I was not to be budged. It was my day for an idea. We compromised when we discovered silver sequin high top sneakers. (They look awesome with his wizard’s cape and hat. For those of you who have been following along, sometime in the summer, Winston ceased needing to be a butterfly. He is now a wizard. The kind that carries a sword. Every day. On the bus. At the musuem. In the park. I often feel like Xena The Warrior Princess. Half the time, the sword lives in my back pack. Pommel sticking out. Ready to draw at a moment's notice.)

Maybe I'm just different. Well to honest, there is no maybe about it.
Child logic is very hard to keep up with. I suspect the rosy picture painting unschoolers are just a bit more relaxed than I am. Perhaps, they are still in deep conversation with their own inner child and as a result, they trust their child to do it on their own. More likely, they are simply wiser than I am.

I say this because, I am eternally 3 months behind on all of the connections Winston has made organically. Today, I found myself bashing myself in the head - not for the first time saying, Doh! I get it now!

Buckeye, seeds,
trees, seasons, growth,
time, patterns, caterpillars,
butterflies, emergence from infancy,
transformation, power, strength
dinosaurs, dragons, fairy
tales, morality is a human quality, making
choices, consequences, preparation
to imitate adult behaviour, wizards,
knights, kindness, chivalry,
wisdom, counting, assigning values to
numbers, patterns, time.
Seasons grow patterns...oh!


We've been learning something here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

If I Went Home Tomorrow, Would It Still Be There?

As you can tell from the recent blog about my son asserting his 5th Amendment Rights at three years old - I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether my home - The United States Of America - is still the same country. From afar - it does not appear to be. I wonder - why with the quick and easy dissemination of information today people haven’t woken up?

Everyday, I come across a new story (or an old story making the internet rounds) which make me say, This happened where? And people aren’t suing? Aren’t marching in the streets? Or if they are, why aren’t there more of them.

Then I think about all of the opportunities I had to march in the streets before I left. I remember having a teenager I had to shuttle about the city, nag about homework, and long discussions about ethics and “right choices.” I had a career as an artist (running my mouth on a stage about various topics - often political) I was running a non-profit supporting emerging artists (often very political.) I remember being on bed rest for 6 of the nine months of my pregnancy. I remember having a small breast-feeding child.

I remember writing long letters to my congress people and senators. (Unlike in the U.K. - often these elected officials wrote back to inform me that they disagreed with me and most of their constituents but were going to vote however they damn well pleased.)

But - it didn’t change the fact that I was not out in the streets. I lacked that singular courage my good friend, Lawrence, acts upon. In his sermon, Unitarian Universalist Satyagraha he describes laying in the snowy streets of Pittsburgh to protest the bombing of Iraq. Lawrence is a deeply thoughtful, beautiful soul who is the stay at home father of his two lovely girls. And I believe it is his vision for a peaceful world for his girls which drives him into the streets in peaceful protest.

These days, this is dangerous. These days, children might not have parents if we all did that. Not a year after Lawrence’s sermon, an unarmed woman was tasered at a peaceful, antiwar protest in Pittsburgh. At this same demonstration, an over 60 year old woman was bitten by a police dog from behind and children were sprayed with pepper spray.

Of course, this was tame. At least the Pittsburgh police weren’t shooting an unarmed woman with rubber bullets from behind and laughing about it. And to the best of my knowledge, in Pittsburgh, I can still file a complaint against the police without being harassed, arrested or beaten. This is not so everywhere. In many places, the police will intimidate and or use force to prevent people from filing complaints.

But, how long will this last? We are handing over more an more power everyday to people who shouldn’t really even have the authority to question or detain us, as in the case of Deborah Davis. Sometimes, they damage us beyond belief, as Nicholas Monahan and his wife experienced. But, most of all, as in the case of Larry Hiibel, they rip apart the very seams of our country’s fabric.. Even people documenting the abuse of our civil liberties can be dangerous. And yet, we have no real recourse.

I must admit, John Gilmore is spending a considerable amount of his fortune to help others protect their right to privacy. I have to admit, I admire the man. But, he is losing. Losing as this current regime invokes secret laws which even judges can’t get security clearance to read. But, he is inspiring others. Jim Harper took his challenge to try to fly without ID. But, it seems that you have to be rich or famous to challenge the system, such as a media personality like Penn did.

Now, they can place you in exile without any trail. This American father and son of Pakistani heritage have been denied the right to return home unless they relinquish their Constitutional Rights by submitting to an interview with the FBI without an attorney present. (The FBI is in Islamabad? Since when have they had juristriction outside of the U.S.?)

And I wonder, if even writing this will endanger my family, somehow. After all, it feels as if everyone is being watched and subdued these days. And while it is illegal, nobody has seen fit to seriously discuss the multiple felon who is in charge. If I were to go home tomorrow, would it still be there? I have to believe so. If only from the memories of how my friends act.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Two Children's Shows | Two Very Different Experiences

Pirates At the Horniman Museum VS The Little Angel Theatre

A friend and I meandered about Hackney on Friday. We were doing that standard tour of green spaces with 2 small boys with large imaginations. Eventually, we found ourselves down at the Hackney City Farm. Over lunch, she gathers all available promotional materials and begins skimming them. Suddenly, we’re rolling through lunch, jumping in her car and dashing from East london to South London. Our destination is The Horniman Museum to see a Pirate Show.

I’m thrilled. I haven’t done something this spontaneous since I moved here. Winston is beside himself with joy. He’s getting a car ride and a show with Pirates at a museum with fish. And we’re both going somewhere with friends!

We make it with 15 minutes to spare. So, we loiter outside of the amphitheatre. Behind a fence, are ten rows of green metal folding chairs. JJ can see the pirate ship behind the barricade. He and Winston are already planning exactly what the show will have. His mother and I keep reminding them not to plan everything out so completely that they can’t accept what happens. Roosters crow. The goats have noticed that there are lots of children with food in their hands nearby. They press against the fence looking dolefully hopeful. The children guard their biscuits and ice cream.

The pirate ship is rolled out of the staging area. Anticipation grows. Everyone begins to queue. Finally - the staff opens the barricade. Children and adults politely elbow and surreptitiously nudge each other out of the way in order to get the choice bit of floor space on top of the blue tarp. Every adult is unobtrusively elbowing and pushing themself towards the front row - the one closest to the children. They diligently attempt to disguise their rudeness as accidental. After a bit of jostling and wriggling, we hear music and singing. The show is about to begin!

After having attended Little Red...You Know Who at The Little Angel Theatre, I settled in for another splendid display of brilliant children’s theatre. Winston in my lap on pavement, I snuggled in for the kind of theatre where the producer, writer, director and performers are well aware of children’s developmental abilities. I sighed, kissed his head and prepared for the kind of well-researched theatre designed to fully engage and enliven the creative soul within the child.

Wrong! The show was so bawdy, politically incorrect and filled with dubious sexual innuendo. (I think it flew over the children’s heads, but I’m not sure.) The different stories they were trying to tell got lost behind a score of cheap gags, over-the-top audience participation and loud bangs involving guns and bombs. These artists had such a blatant lack of interest in the children. Almost as if their thought was, “as long as they get to scream a lot, laugh at slapstick and jump in their seats from gun fire, they’ll have a good time.

Which to be truthful, many of the children did. One kid sitting near us had seen the show earlier in the day. He spent the first ten minutes of the show yelling, “Hi! It’s me again! I’m back.” For every stunt there was the obligatory drum roll. Except, they kept misplacing (not accidentally) the drum sticks and other props necessary to seamlessly execute their gags. When it came to chaining up “Captain Mark,” the older kids had a delightful time getting the female adult audience volunteer to put as many padlocks as possible on his genital and posterior regions. They didn’t care that it was sloppy or took 20 long minutes to complete. They were having a good time telling a woman to put padlocks around a man’s dick and yelling for the chains to be tighter so he’d get a metal wedgie.

JJ’s mother and I had a good laugh. Both of us are artists and performers. We could stand back from the show and enjoy it for what it was. It was refreshing - in a way. It was a show for adults. The children were entertained. A lot of bored housewives were titillated by a great deal of discussion about and demonstration of bondage and discipline techniques. I’m sure it made their year. The vibrators of South London were abuzzing Friday night. (Personally, I like to communicate my fantasies to my partner. Examine them, dissect them, discuss their relevance to my evolving humanity and determine the root cause of them. I don’t need to attend children’s theatre for that. But, hey - that’s me. Power and respect to everyone and their choices.)

Not wanting to leave this brand new theatrical note hanging on the air of Winston’s internal landscape, we went to The Three Billy Goats Gruff at The Little Angel Theatre today. It was most of what I had expected. Again, it felt more like a one woman show with props.

The set had a very “Steiner” feel to it. The audience walked into a very simple suggestion of the world which was yet to come. At the opening of the play, the story teller created the set by diligently placing small items which suggested the landscape. There was a white dome which was covered in green felt. Simple sticks were placed into a plain white triangle which represented the goat’s thorny, mountain. Flowing blue silks became the river. A roughly stitched piece of felt was placed on the back drop to suggest the nearby village. Each piece was placed carefully while the storyteller created the full and exquisite details with her words. (Sorry for not providing names. Again, there was no comprehensive program handed out which I could check.)

The thing I have come to appreciate about the recent shows at the Little Angel Theatre is that quiet, precise Steiner-esque story telling intensity. In many ways it reminds me of how the many of the First Nation People tell stories. The teller’s focus and belief in the power of the story is what embraces the child’s imagination. That precise and mindful way of telling a story is what holds, nurtures and feeds a child. It is a simple statement that the adult on stage makes. It says, I respect you child. I trust you to create this story with me. I understand that you have the power to build worlds. And this is what holds them entranced in a darkened theatre for 40 minutes. It is the fact that someone has invited and encouraged to open their hearts, souls and imagination. It triumphs over our over-media-stimulated children because the children are co-creators in the process. It as if the storyteller is nurturing, stroking, soothing and caressing their inner most soul.

However, The Three Billy Goats Gruff was far from perfect. The puppets were nicely rendered. As I stated before the set was delightful in its simplicity. However, this show relied a bit too much on “what is familiar” to children rather than inviting them safely into an adventure into the unknown. For example, the words for “See The Little Bunnies Sleeping” was changed to goats. It is a song every child who has ever attended a nursery or play group knows. It made them feel safe and familiar. Unlike Little Red...You Know Who which relied on originality and the talent of the storyteller.

As an artist, I think this story teller had a hard time trusting in her own own abilities and the power of the story to create that all powerful willing suspension of disbelief that children are so ready to hand over. There was also a conscious effort to set up audience participation. This was overused. Little Red seemed to have an organic understanding of the places when children would naturally shout out. And trusted them to do so. She also relied on goofiness to evoke laughter from the children, such as when the troll ate fish and then it was thrown willy-nilly to one side. Whereas, in the previous show, no movement was wasted. The storyteller carefully put each prop and puppet away in its place. And even though it took time, it helped the small children remember that this was not “real.”

This is not to say it was a bad show. I’m actually nit-picking here. Winston was spellbound the entire time. His imagination was going full tilt. The second time the troll appeared, he kept asking, Is it real? Is the troll real? Eventually, he needed to move out of his seat to my lap because he was scared. But, the show brought him back and he left my lap. It also had a sweet and not too heavily laid on environmental message. So, once again, I’m glad I forked out the cash. (In fact - I’m so appreciative of the thoughtfulness which with this theatre provides opportunities to safely experience theatre - I’ve bought tickets to the next 2 shows in the series. )

While Three Billy Goats Gruff ends tomorrow, if you read this and can go, I urge you to support this work! But, the notice is too late - so they are offering Chicken Licken 2 & 3 September and Cinderella Ashputtel 9 & 10 September. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Let me end with the fact that The Horniman Museum is a fantastic time. The exhibits actively and conscientiously engage children in in nature, history and culture. There are tons of free xerox worksheets and hands on activities. The grounds are lovely. The new aquarium is fantastic. And it is free! If they’d only book their children’s performances with the same diligence used to construct the exhibits - I’d be there for every event. But, at present, I think we’ll just go for the groovy canoe, the fish, crabs and music room.

As to theatre, trust in a Little Angel.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My Son, The Civil Rights Activist

Tonight Winston came racing out of the bedroom, shouting, "Daddy pushed me!"

"Daddy would never push you," I said.

"He did. He did push me!" Winston yelled.

"Hmmmm, that's a new idea about Daddy I haven't seen or heard before." I said while stirring a bubbling pot of chilli. "You're supposed to be getting pyjamas on and brushing teeth. What were you doing when Daddy pushed you?"

Norman calls out from the bedroom, "I was blocking him from hitting me."

"Winston, were you hitting Daddy?" I ask him.

He puts his hands on his hips and states, "I'm not talking."

Norman and I burst into laughter. Winston seriously and firmly states, "It's not funny." Which gave us a wonderful opening in discussing "being American." And how proud we were that he knew his rights. He listened intently for a few moments. Decided he had enough information about laws, lawyers and rights. Then promptly headed to the bedroom to get ready for bed.

Amazing how even a 3 year old can intuitively understand his Constitutional rights and use them effortlessly. Now, if only we could help the majority of Americans to act like 3 year olds - our country would be in better shape.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sometimes You Just Have To Have Imani.....Faith

dedicated to my newest ancestor, Dr. Edward Hale. Thank you, Uncle Ed!

I just watched a documentary about Black female identity and choosing dolls. It was sad - to say the least. It was enraging. It made me want to take some of my brethren and sistren around the waist, shake them and shout, “Wake up! Wake up, you stupid fuck!”

It’s only a 7 minute video made by a teen. You can find it here:
UTH TV
or here:
REEL WORKS

But, it jogged me back to a somewhat embarrassing six months of our lives.

As most of you know, my firstborn, Imani is very fair with steel blue eyes and lovely chestnut ringlets. In other words, she can “pass.” During those early years, I had instilled in her a very strong sense of identity. (In spite of my mother always sniping things like, “Why are you teaching that Black pride stuff to a child who will grow up to pass?”

In addition, we were surrounded by a diverse Black community. Many of the elders were as fair as she was. In addition - back in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s - they made a clear choice not to “pass.” They had enough fortitude, pride of family, culture and identity to take what would have been the “hardest road” and they didn’t. And they triumphed over racism and segregation to become community leaders, civil rights activists and professionals. I remember making this a big issue with her.

I was eternally pointing out that “Aunt So-and-So” or “Uncle That Guy” was “Black” like she was. I was tedious.

And I was probably very trying. We had a lot of Black dolls. We also had a lot of “Latina” dolls. My opinion on “Dolls of European Descent” was clear. Okay - I was a bit of a benign segregationist. She could have and play with as many Blonde babies and Barbies as she wanted ....by herself or with her friends. But, I couldn’t be bothered. Friends go home. Mom is around all of the time and Mom will always play with you....sort of....when it suits her opinion of how you ‘ought to be developing.”

Call me wrong. I certainly questioned myself at the time. In fact - I wrote elaborate essays about my daughter’s dolls. (Too bad they are all pre-internet age, they were pretty funny. At that point, I was hand-sewing Barbie clothes. The different ethic dolls had very stereotypical measurements. Yes! The Barbies had different measurements. And I raged and wrote about it. )

Any way, one day, I remember her looking up at me when she was around 6 or 7. She looked into my eyes and said, "I know I'm African-American. Why doesn't anyone else?"

And I said something stupid like, “You know who you are.” or “Don’t worry about anyone other than yourself. You be you.”

It was shortly after this point, we went through the “embarrassing phase.” We would be somewhere - the grocery store, an elevator in the library, on the street. Inevitably, there would be an African-American person. The “nod of the head” would happen. Everyone would go back to sharing public space, such as: studying carrots, examining elevator buttons, or diligently observing traffic. Imani always noticed this “nod of the head” which often happens when Black folks share space.

She’d pipe up, “Say hello to me too. I’m African-American.”

This would invariably halt people in their tracks. Often they’d just look at her. Then, they’d look at me - surely I was the nanny.

And I’d shrug, smile and say, “That’s my daughter. Demanding unity where ever she goes.” Or some such nonsense cobbled together on the spot. And I’d chuckle.

They’d back step a second. Smile at her and nod their head or say hello or do whatever to validate her sense of belonging.

I often felt like shushing her. But, in hindsight, I realise that I was correct not to “shush” her or ask her “to behave.” In fact, sometimes - especially in African-American environments - I encourage her.

She still isn’t “passing.” She still has a strong sense of identity. She has chosen different battles than my great grandmother, grandmother, mother and I have chosen to fight. But, her battles reflect the times in which she is living and a profound fire at the her core being. In fact, she’s the coolest, most politically aware, culturally sensitive 20 year old I know, which is not my humble opinion, it is a fact.

P.S. Can you tell I’m chuffed she’ll be “home” with us for a whole year in just 4 weeks?

Sometimes You Just Have To Have Imani.....Faith

dedicated to my newest ancestor, Dr. Edward Hale. Thank you, Uncle Ed!

I just watched a documentary about Black female identity and choosing dolls. It was sad - to say the least. It was enraging. It made me want to take some of my brethren and sistren around the waist, shake them and shout, “Wake up! Wake up, you stupid fuck!”

It’s only a 7 minute video made by a teen. You can find it here:
UTH TV
or here:
REEL WORKS

But, it jogged me back to a somewhat embarrassing six months of our lives.

As most of you know, my firstborn, Imani is very fair with steel blue eyes and lovely chestnut ringlets. In other words, she can “pass.” During those early years, I had instilled in her a very strong sense of identity. (In spite of my mother always sniping things like, “Why are you teaching that Black pride stuff to a child who will grow up to pass?”

In addition, we were surrounded by a diverse Black community. Many of the elders were as fair as she was. In addition - back in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s - they made a clear choice not to “pass.” They had enough fortitude, pride of family, culture and identity to take what would have been the “hardest road” and they didn’t. And they triumphed over racism and segregation to become community leaders, civil rights activists and professionals. I remember making this a big issue with her.

I was eternally pointing out that “Aunt So-and-So” or “Uncle That Guy” was “Black” like she was. I was tedious.

And I was probably very trying. We had a lot of Black dolls. We also had a lot of “Latina” dolls. My opinion on “Dolls of European Descent” was clear. Okay - I was a bit of a benign segregationist. She could have and play with as many Blonde babies and Barbies as she wanted ....by herself or with her friends. But, I couldn’t be bothered. Friends go home. Mom is around all of the time and Mom will always play with you....sort of....when it suits her opinion of how you ‘ought to be developing.”

Call me wrong. I certainly questioned myself at the time. In fact - I wrote elaborate essays about my daughter’s dolls. (Too bad they are all pre-internet age, they were pretty funny. At that point, I was hand-sewing Barbie clothes. The different ethic dolls had very stereotypical measurements. Yes! The Barbies had different measurements. And I raged and wrote about it. )

Any way, one day, I remember her looking up at me when she was around 6 or 7. She looked into my eyes and said, "I know I'm African-American. Why doesn't anyone else?"

And I said something stupid like, “You know who you are.” or “Don’t worry about anyone other than yourself. You be you.”

It was shortly after this point, we went through the “embarrassing phase.” We would be somewhere - the grocery store, an elevator in the library, on the street. Inevitably, there would be an African-American person. The “nod of the head” would happen. Everyone would go back to sharing public space, such as: studying carrots, examining elevator buttons, or diligently observing traffic. Imani always noticed this “nod of the head” which often happens when Black folks share space.

She’d pipe up, “Say hello to me too. I’m African-American.”

This would invariably halt people in their tracks. Often they’d just look at her. Then, they’d look at me - surely I was the nanny.

And I’d shrug, smile and say, “That’s my daughter. Demanding unity where ever she goes.” Or some such nonsense cobbled together on the spot. And I’d chuckle.

They’d back step a second. Smile at her and nod their head or say hello or do whatever to validate her sense of belonging.

I often felt like shushing her. But, in hindsight, I realise that I was correct not to “shush” her or ask her “to behave.” In fact, sometimes - especially in African-American environments - I encourage her.

She still isn’t “passing.” She still has a strong sense of identity. She has chosen different battles than my great grandmother, grandmother, mother and I have chosen to fight. But, her battles reflect the times in which she is living and a profound fire at the her core being. In fact, she’s the coolest, most politically aware, culturally sensitive 20 year old I know, which is not my humble opinion, it is a fact.

P.S. Can you tell I’m chuffed she’ll be “home” with us for a whole year in just 4 weeks?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Still - Gina Ford ... Mumsnet ... and Justice

Who Is That Parenting Guru Okay - I've been learning more and more about Gina Ford than I personally have need. But, I do have a huge need for justice. (One of the problems with being raised by an incredible father, lawyer, civic leader, and civil right activist is a love of the law and why it is there.) But, I came across the above blog. I love it! It is relentless and anonymous like many Mumsnet supporters out there doing their best to save freedom of speech on the internet. It is clearly written, well thought out, concise. (Unlike my fantastic ramblings and verbal tumblings.)

There is also a petition circulating here.

Buy a t-shirt and support the Mumsnet Fighting Fund and/or NSPCC here.

Take a visit - show some support.

Gina Ford & Mumsnet, Freedom Of Speech | Again?!?

My previous post about Gina Ford generated a few comments. Rather than leave my responses where you might not be able to see them. I am bringing them forward.

Anony said: “Moderators exist in order to police a site.”

A support forum for mothers is not a police state. It should not have to be “policed.” It is not “at war” with anyone - including Gina Ford. No one there is advocating violence or threatening physical harm to Ms. Ford.

Moderation is a form of censorship. “Freedom of speech involves toleration of a great deal of nonsense, and even of matters which are in bad taste.” Dr. Mark Cooray.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire

Deciding who gets to speak is arrogant in the least and Fascist at worst. For example, as an African-American, I support the rights of the Ku Klux Klan to communicate what I believe to be heinous and wrongful statements regarding a great number of people. I find much of what they say harmful. Sometimes, it even outrages me. But, they have the right to their opinions.

And I will defend their right to express them. It is only when they cross the line by advocating violence or incite others to take illegal actions which threaten the physical well-being of others that they have abused their rights.

If I allow them to be silenced, I am, in suggesting that freedom of speech and freedom of expression should only be granted to people who agree with me. Noam Chomsky, of course says it better. If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.

Anony says: “ if the women on the web site had proven they could act like grown ups they might deserve the right to discuss her there.”

Dr. Cooray sums it much more elegantly than I can:
“Those who attempt to resort to such tactics to stifle presentation of an opposing view give the impression that reason and logic are not on their side. Freedom of speech has as its necessary corollary the expression of a wide range of views, some of which of course will be unpalatable, or clearly wrong. But the alternative of placing the agenda for public discussion in the hands of paternalistic bureaucrats (who as human beings will be fallible and have subjective views and personal prejudices) whose rulings often cannot or can only with difficulty and cost be reviewed in the courts, is increasingly becoming the norm. It is an undesirable and unfortunate trend.”


However, “grown-ups” are able to think logically. Presumably, grown-ups are also able to analyse and understand the subtle nature of complex humour, sarcasm and satire. According to a Guardian interview done with Ms. Ford in 2003, "Someone called me the Howard Hughes of childcare because I'm so reclusive, I don't like talking to people. I don't have time to analyse things unless they're affecting my life seriously, but I expect that goes back to my childhood." Ms Ford is unable to analyse things. She also admits to being a control freak in that same article. "A lot of the jokes are that the book [The Contented Little Baby Book] is for control freaks and I think that there's an element of truth in that.”

She seeks to control. She publicly admits it. So, the effort to silence Mumsnet and The Bad Mother’s Club are symptoms of a person who does not believe in democracy.

In addition to all of my other points about her “expertise,” this calls into question the method by which she formed her ideology. She also admits to being an insomniac. (It’s her mother’s fault.) Her books serve more as a personal therapeutic catharsis for all of the “wrongs” she suffered as a child. She says, “If my mother had had my book, I probably wouldn't be the way I am. I would be a solicitor or something, with three kids, and that would be no bad thing...” She is not - in my opinion - a very healthy woman.

Healthy grown-ups are able to shrug off a few unpleasentries and keep going. Furthermore, grown ups who put themselves in the public spotlight should expect to get their feelings hurt every now and then. It comes with the territory. How do you feel George Bush feels every time The Daily Show comes on. Does he run out and try to silence Jon Stewart? No, he sucks it up and takes it. He may not like it. But, he realizes that he put himself in the spotlight. And on some bizarre and deep level he kind of believes in freedom of speech. However, Ms. Ford is unable to even comprehend this fact. On those web sites, for every negative thing posted about Ms Ford, there was usually a positive one. Grown ups engage in conversations. Conversations are not one sided. But, Ms. Ford does not believe in conversation. She likes to be the one in control of what she perceives to be a world out of control. She clearly enjoys being “the guru” or the “Queen Of Routine.” Which makes every unsupportive statement “seditious” in her view because it challenges her authority. But, she is neither a queen or guru. She is a woman with an opinion.

I still stand by my assertion that every time she attacks a web site - she performs an act of terror. Terrorists use fear tactics. Threatening every web site which has people who dislike her methods is a calculated campaign of terror. She prevents people from expressing themselves. Participants in that community now fear retaliation for simply saying what is on their mind. By advocating moderators, she injures freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Finally - she is a hypocrite. Further exploration of Ms. Ford reveals that she is not willing to be held liable for damages resulting from inaccurate content posted on her ownThe Contented Baby’s website:

From her own site’s legal notices.

3. Disclaimers and Limitation of Liability

3.2 Under no circumstances will CONTENTED BABY be liable for any of the following losses or damage (whether such losses where foreseen, foreseeable, known or otherwise): (a) loss of data; (b) loss of revenue or anticipated profits; (c) loss of business; (d) loss of opportunity; (e) loss of goodwill or injury to reputation; (f) losses suffered by third parties; or (g) any indirect, consequential, special or exemplary damages arising from the use of the Site regardless of the form of action.

3.4 You may find in the text and content and other materials included on this Site inaccuracies and typographical errors. We do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information and materials or the reliability of any statement or other information displayed or distributed through the Site (including, without limitation, the information provided through the use of any software). We make no representations or warranties as to the suitability, functionality, accuracy or reliability of any material made available to you.”


So she is unable to grant to other’s the very same rights she herself expects. That is unfair and immoral.

In regards to MorningPaper’s apology, it was written in her style. The very same style she used to make the original comment. She wrote:

"I apologise profusely to any childcare guru that I may have offended by suggesting that they are involved in military action in Lebanon and to her followers for suggesting that she/they strap their babies to weapons of mass destruction. I have read her book many times and I can confirm that this IS NOT suggested as part of any childcare guru's recommended routine. I apologise to any new mums who may have been confused by my post, and would advise that if you are considering utilising your baby in any sort of warfare or military conflict, please speak to your health visitor first."

She should change the way she thinks and communicates? I don’t think so. She has a right to express herself in any manner she wishes. She apologized. She didn’t have to do that. It just goes to show she has a large spirit.

Speaking of large spirits - I agree that the fat joke was in poor taste. However, as a large woman myself, I attempt to be larger in spirit than my body. (That makes for a pretty big spirit.) I can not say the same for Ms Ford.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Little Red...You Know Who

Little Angel Theatre
show runs until Sun., 20, August 2006

Yesterday, Winston and I attended a production of “Little Red...You Know Who” at the Little Angel Theatre Company in Islington. London parents, do not miss this show! Okay, tix for adults are £7.50 and kiddie tix are a fiver, but I have not experienced “children’s theatre in this manner before. Maybe it is a reflection of my limited American cultural experiences - but - most kiddie shows scream, shout, jump up and down, race back and forth and generally annoy me. As if in order to have a good time, children must be beaten on the head with as many loud tricks as the company can imagine.

Not this show. Usually - when I want to describe a particularly moving theatrical experience I use words like:

elegant,
mesmerising,
exquisite,
compelling,
moving,
technically precise,
attention given to the thiniest details,
impeccable showmanship,
demonstrates mastery of the genre.

Never - in my entire life - have I ever wanted to use these words in conjunction with a kiddie show. But, here I am.

Imagine me sitting in a darkened theatre with my 3 year old son. He is absolutely still. (Not in that “nasty children at the playground way.”) He is simultaneously at ease and on guard. His eyes are wide. His body is melting into my own. Every now and again, he looks up into my eyes with adoration, wonder, excitement and joy. Yet, he can not hold my gaze for long. (And we still gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes for over a 1/2 hour everyday when he has his afternoon nurse.) It is that look he gives me when we share the most soul stirring moments of our lives together. But, in this theatre - he is giving that look to another person. he is giving it to a man telling a tory with props and puppets.

The show does not attempt to trick him into thinking the “puppets are real. It is obvious that the “story man” is manipulating toys and props. This feels safe to him. Kind of like the way I tell stories to him at home - only so much better because this man has more energy and props than Mommy could ever cobble together. Not to mention - this man can create MOOD. He has a technical team who dims the lights, raise the lights, pulls up a spotlight on a specific area and delivers music and sound cues at the exact precise moment.

I don’t have much more time for this review. This show has created a demand in this household for even more organic storytelling. So, just a few highlights. 1. When Little Red set off for the forest, he quietly and with great focus added small wooden trees to the set. One by one, the forest “grew before our eyes.” So that when it was done, I found myself bursting into applause. (Like the rest of the audience.) 2. The Big Bad Wolf was so exquisitely rendered in a manner such that my timid 3 year old was entranced and yet not terrified. Basically, this actor (no, no programs for me to reference) donned a suit jacket, bow tie, fancy top hat and gold topped cane. He did a song and dance. He shook hands with (willing) kids in the first 2 rows. (Unwilling kids were positively reinforced by telling them that they were clever not to shake hands with a wolf. Willing kids were “daring.” A win-win for every participant. That is skilful. That is not mambi-pambi capitulation to overfeeding kids self-esteem. It was thoughtful and elegant and individualised 3. Every single prop, object and tiny “gag bit” was used meaningfully and consciously. This created narrative continuity and promoted ongoing focus amongst the children.

Okay - my young theatre goer is finished with a mother who wants to rant on and on about the value of this production and why she thinks everyone in the whole world should see this rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. So - adieu. And maybe we'll see you Saturday when we attend the 11:00 AM show. We could always discuss it afterwards - if you go.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gina Ford: Charlaton Child Rearing "Expert", Free Speech Terrorist, Mother Muzzler

What kind of expert demands that critical analysis, discussions or personal opinions of her published theories about child rearing be silenced? A loser who knows she’s about to exposed as a big, stupid fraud. That’s what kind of expert.

According to Gina Ford’s official web site She studied Hotels and Catering in Edinboro. But, then, poof! She became a maternity nurse. For 12 years, she was a maternity nurse. That’s 8 years shy of raising a a child to maturity. Then some rich and famous people thought she did some decent work with their own children. Poof! She is an expert.

Does she have children of her own? No.

Does she have any background in child development or psychology? No.

What does she have? A lot of really bad opinions some publisher thought could make her a lot of money.

Compare her qualifications with those of say...The Sears Family and suddenly you begin to notice some striking lack of qualifications. How many parents do you know who have valid and impressive credentials; have raised children to adulthood; whose children enter the family business -- which is all about advocating the same child-rearing tactics their parents used? That’s a pretty strong testimony as far as I’m concerned.

What has Gina Ford got? Nothing. No names of universities, no personal experience in the field, no published credentials that I could find. And she is an expert that thousands of families are following? (Oh, England. Where is your own inner Lionheart?)

I’m sorry, I do not care one iota for Gina ford. I place her child-rearing tactics about two rungs below those advocated by The Pearls, a couple whose “parenting advice” recently resulted in the death of a child in North Carolina, Sean Paddock. Yes, that’s how I see her. In the most extreme, out-of-control, egomaniacal parent psyche...Step 1 is Gina Ford. When that fails, Step 2, The Pearls. Step 3 are the results you just read about in the article about Sean Paddock. (And isn’t that a nice tidy solution. Because parenthood is stressful, especially when your children just ‘won’t get on with it.’ At least you’ll get lots of pity and pints out of it all. It was all the “experts” fault.)

Okay - so why am I on my high horse about Gina Ford? Because I want all of you to know about her recent antics. And I want all of you to know what kind of a “shamed to be exposed as a fraud and a sham” woman she is. There is a web site I frequent. Mumsnet has been a critical part of my adjustment here to England. And unless the users “refrain from discussing Gina Ford,” She will attempt to shut down the site.

I just happen to have been brought up with the idea that:

1. If your theories are sound, well-researched, and
2. beyond academic scrutiny, and
3. beyond scientific scrutiny, then

what should you be afraid of? A bunch of inexperienced new mommies chatting with other lonly mothers on an internet support forum? That's a bit of an over reaction in my humble opinion. Or is it that a scientist has actually done some serious scholarship refuting her "theories" and she's facing a financial issue because she's been proven wrong? Margot Sunderland, director of education at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London's findings that children should sleep with their parent until age 5... What Sutherland is saying sounds like that Sears Family, doesn't it? You know, the ones with all of the research, experience and medical degrees.

More info from Mumsnet:
Mumsnet And Gina Ford

ITV
ITV article

Ms Ford is setting a dangerous precedent. She is asking that a web forum take responsibility for the content posted by its users. In essence, she is demanding that entities who provide “any asshole on the internet “with an opinion be held liable for that individual’s libel. Myspace, Friendster users...are you paying attention?

And that's not even mentioning that she is a sham, a fraud and a charlatan who now thinks she should have the right to silence the very women she is supposedly dedicated to serving.

While I'm at it: Let's all write her publisher demanding that if this terrorist, snake oil peddlar does not cease and desist in harassing Mumsnet, then we'll all have larger issues about the authors they choose to print.
Random House
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 2SA
020 7840 8400 (phone)
020 7233 6117 (fax)