"Sometimes the only power you have is to tell your story." -Evelyn Wilde

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

No School Left Behind

The child of an acquaintance is attending the same Middle School I was once did-- almost 30 years ago. I shared with them the privileged perspective I had of realizing in 7th grade that not every family had a maid.

A good education in many ways, but not exactly a school in a "good" area, I attended the Arts Magnet Program in what was then called a Junior High.  Politicians and Educators had successfully implemented Magnet Arts & Science programs in low performing schools by the late 1980's, which continue to represent a beacon of hope in the otherwise bleak graveyard of well intended education policies.

Two decades later I worked in schools located in what were considered "bad" neighborhoods.

There were excellent teachers and staff at those schools I worked in, who had little to none of the family support given to "good" schools-- because poverty doesn't lend itself to competitive bake sales and silent auctions. So outcomes and expectations always fell short, despite our efforts and those of the parents and children we served.

I have never been a police officer but I resonated recently with the speeches made after the Dallas massacre. The speakers lamented the burden of asking too much of civil servants. Teachers are often required to be much more to students than their job description, too.

It was at those schools, working as a Special Education Coordinator, which covered Gifted through Autism to Hospital/Homebound students, where I noticed the phenomena of March Madness: White parents of preschoolers, frantically calling within the legal time frame to request Gifted testing for their child (who would be zoned for our school in the Autumn). A gifted program, you see, was their golden ticket to a school in a "good" area.

The caveat that many a savvy homebuyer reckons with is that the schools in that "up and coming" area are often the most ignored and least integrated. Yet, despite the great deal on that house, the children of those families often attend schools outside of their neighborhood. All that effort put into restoration and renovation never finds its way into the classrooms or PTA's, and the schools most in need of a Homeroom Mother with a college degree and time on her hands never even have a chance to meet her.

So now I work in Boca Raton where as a Psychotherapist I see young adults who were raised in the affluent Palm Beach, Florida town.  They are great kids; smart, funny, insightful, but struggling nonetheless. Their parents, who often relocated their families from up north, seem surprised by their child's bad behavior.  They had hoped to put a gated community wall around those threats. The helplessness registers on their faces when they realize that "good" neighborhoods making children immune to drugs, defiance and despair was never a guarantee.

If I had gone to a "good" school all those years ago I would have missed out on so much. Thinking back to all the homes I visited on sleep overs, and experiences which woke me up and out of my familial experience. I tried Haitian food, went to Bar Mitzvahs, attended a Catholic Mass. I had classes with someone whose family were Persians (like the cat!) I had friends who were gay and their moms let them eat cheese doodles and drink soda (not just at birthday parties!!) I watched Columbian soap operas and learned how to make money washing cars in the summer.

Poverty is awful and scary, for those who fear it but mostly for those who live it. Changing that reality is the responsibility of both the inhabitants of "bad" neighborhoods and, in a way that can no longer be ignored or scapegoated, very much with us--- the not black lives.

Because yes, we struggle and suffer too, even the rich and pretty among us, but racism and bias are historical and systemic. We, white people, must admit to avoiding, pilfering and rejecting the black and brown communities whom we selectively ignore, zone and landscape out of sight.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hannah, Carrie, or Rachel?

Close your eyes for a moment and go back in time. Go back to a time when the NBA champions were the Chicago Bulls. When "Supermodels" were a thing. Rosanne was our favorite TV show. The Bodyguard and Aladdin were movies we paid cash money to see in a theatre. The Real World premiered on MTV and Amy Fisher shot that poor woman in the face.

1992 was the year Bill Clinton ran for President and I graduated High School.

I tell incredulous teenagers now about not having an iPhone or Snapchat and they just stare at me, blinking slowly. I can remember card catalogs at libraries, mimeographed homework, using pay phones when you were ready to get picked up at the mall. I actually do remember playing all day with my friends outside and riding my bike a few miles to school, sans protective head gear. I'm not exaggerating any of that.

Yet here I am at 41 years old: texting at stoplights, on-line shopping, oversharing on Facebook, and listening to library books that I download from an app.

My graduating class should be studied in a lab for our adaptability and endurance.

But my generation seems to be undefined. Broadly, we are part of Generation X. Specifically, those of us born in 1972-1976 went to high school together and that is still how I identify people around my age: Would you have been a Senior when I was in 9th grade? Or were you in 9th grade when I was Senior? Ether way we wouldn't have had much in common back then and probably don't now.
Friends premiered in 1994. They were all definitely in college when I was in High School but remain relatable archetypes of twentysomething transitions even today.

Sex and the City ran from 1998--2004. I was 24--30 in that time period. Those women were at least ten years older than me. They would have had their first jobs out of college when I was just starting High School. Although I didn't exactly relate to their thirtysomething lifestyles I watched the show like a manual for how to be a woman.

I had neither the bank account, shoes, nor dating pool that they inhabited but it was the first time I had seen sex and relationships spoken about in an honest way and I tried my best to emulate them.

Girls premiered in 2012 when I was 37. Another brilliant show depicting young women in their twenties, living in the same area of Brooklyn I once did, making the same tragic choices I had. Yet, I was well past that by 37.

Married, in a transitioning career, and contemplating motherhood. Much more in-line with Carrie or Charlotte, than Hannah or Marnie, but really just sort of somewhere in between them. A generation unrepresented by HBO. In the 7 years between those two shows I felt more connected to a flawed man from the 1960's, a Chemistry Teacher turned Drug Lord, and black youth from Baltimore.
I've only got a handful of friends from high school left.  We all live in different cities so our relationships exist for the most part on Facebook. Our 20th High School Reunion (four years ago) was just skipped over, no one bothered to hold one or I didn't get the Evite.

The High School President of our class was probably too busy producing multiple Broadway Plays and gifted children to arrange it. I think the Vice President of our year is now the Artistic Director at Alvin Ailey, or works for AT&T. I can't verify either, but we went to the High School of the Arts so many of us have "made it" and many of us have made something else entirely of our adulthood.

Either way, we're all apparently too busy to meet up in a hotel ballroom.

The Class of 1992 is 40-42 years old now. We're at that apex, where wine and people reach the crest of our lived experiences. We are "middle aged" by standard definition. We owe it to ourselves and all the seventies neglect, eighties excess and nineties plaid that we lived through to be heard from.

If the child prodigy who used to accompany me on Memory is only now getting his second Tony Award, I think a relevant TV show is still within reach.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Drown the Rich

"I must clean our patio doors three times a week" I complain. My sister rolls her eyes and mutters "Middle-Class problems, indeed."  

Rusted furniture and murky glass are not actual problems, but they do blur the dream of ocean front living.

Although we live in a small apartment, just down the street is the most expensive property in the Unites States. We share the same view. I realize that if you have the money to buy your own private Caesar's Palace you can certainly afford to maintain it, but I do caution people who share with me their dream of living by the water: "Don't underestimate the upkeep" I say. "It will cost you thousands in repairs and replacements every year. Salt water is a bitch."

Living by or near the water is why so many people move here, but in South Florida even the beach, the natural occurring convergence of land and water, is mostly private property; ostensibly available for everyone to enjoy but only past an invisible demarcation line in the sand.

A drive along the ocean road from Miami to Palm Beach will allow very few unobstructed views of the actual water. The drive is mostly a tour of private homes, tower blocks and landscaped gates, all lined up next to each other like birds on a wire; acquiring every possible inch of space to ensure that they block out your view for theirs.

There are public beaches along the way. A mile or so of space that each city owns, where you will probably pay to park and then get to spend a lovely day, inches away from strangers in their waterproof underwear.

Some people don't even flinch at that idea. I see them with their umbrellas and coolers, staking out a spot, uninhibited and impervious to others. Me, not in a million years. Ideally, I want just enough space between myself and everyone else so they know if I'm drowning but not enough to know my gender.

I actually see the beach I live by as a metaphor for why the 2016 election matters. It is a physical example of the American Dream we all get sold: claiming your own piece of sand, even if it is inches away from someone else's.

The irony is, that rust and muck I scrape off every week is nothing compared to the threat of sea level rise. A climate report found that "2.4 million Floridians are at risk of flooding from even a moderate hurricane-driven storm surge. The odds of a catastrophic 100-year flood by 2030 are now 2.6 times higher than they would have been without global warming."

In America, money can buy you palaces, privacy, and power, but it is sobering for us to remember that the ocean we all stare at, whether from a towel, terrace, or turret, couldn't care less about property values, and neither should our Politicians.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Extreme Purging

What if, a la The Leftovers, we all woke up tomorrow and Extremists of every faith, fad diet, and political persuasion had just vanished?

Poof. No mas.

Trump, ISIS, Vegans, Kim Davis, the NRA, Marine Le Pen. Gone. What would it be like to live in a world where no one watched Fox News, or preached hate, or had 19 children, demanded Gluten be eradicated from the menu, or gunned down Abortion Clinics (schools, malls, concerts, churches, cafes, holiday parties, etc.)?

Would it be better, safer, kinder? Or would we still sabotage ourselves and continue to rank and file? "I'm a Socialist Liberal with a uterus and you're a Democratic Socialist with man boobs. See? So different, so, not cool."

The fact is we all share more than we parse. Men and Women, Muslim and Jew, Carnivore and Herbivore. Yet we hone in on the differences, fixate on them; pathologize and study them in a lab. Except here we all are: walking around on the same planet, just breathing and fucking and texting, from Alaska to Zambia.

I see hope in the Transgender community, calling for a neutral pronoun. And the new government of Canada, equalizing the genders in their Cabinet positions. Even Silicon Valley, admitting that they need to focus on diversity and altruism more than hover boards. Even Florida!! The mayor of St. Petersburg just banned Donald Trump from visiting, thanks to his latest call for a ban on all Muslim immigration. Meanwhile, many Muslims are standing up for peace and progress within their militant communities.

An end of times purge would be effective but that's the easy way, it wouldn't last. We'd find something to bitch about. No, the path of progress must start within ourselves. Only then could it affect our politics.

So, continue to exclaim your outrage on-line, by all means, but let's also respond to ISIS and Trump, (et al.), by welcoming family and friends into our hearts and homes this holiday season, despite our differences. Let us attempt to release the judgment; accept that everyone we know is struggling and trying to do their best.

Workshop that with your in laws and see how it goes. Then and only then can we expect it from the "others."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

I sometimes watch people swim from my balcony. I swim, too. I swim when my work week ends. I swim to process all the stories I listen to. I file them away with each lap so that when I emerge I can live my own story.

A terrorist attack in Paris has made me aware of other people's stories. People whom I would never have met. People who in their death we know better than in life.

Whether we are grieving those gunned down by a white, American young man or a Muslim from Syria, love is what always shines brightest in the aftermath.  But love is not enough. The Facebook temporary profile change. The hashtags of prayers and thoughts. Nice gestures, yes, but just not good enough.

We have to do more than tweet our pain and disapproval.

We must say "No." Loudly, and with our ballots.

No to Politicians [and their supporters] who flaunt their rhetoric of isolationism, sexism, and bigotry as patriotism.

No to the lack of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. 

No to the Anti-Semitism we passively permit, in our lives and our politics.

No to political correctness policing out of fear rather than empathy.

No to police brutality and lack of accountability.

No to the legislating of sexuality and fertility.

Just. No.

We can fight, we have to, but we must respond in French. A response of more freedom, equality, and humanity, granted to each other and ourselves, not less. This is the story I want to be a part of.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fighting for Love

Every so often all couples will spin the big wheel. We'll either have that fight about spending money... or the ongoing trial of toilet paper replacement responsibility...how one of us really wants to relocate, or still struggles to see the importance of text notifications when they are late.

Those are our big ones. The topics that bring us to anger. The peace accord never obeyed because a resolution is neither final nor fair.

Money was the latest spin, after the covert smuggling of shopping bags into the home (I) ,and the subsequent silent treatment that read "chocolate is not "essential?!!" (He)

"Says who?"
"It wasn't on the list"
"Don't micromanage me."
"I'm not, I'm managing our budget!!"
"I know what the budget is!"
"You do?"
"Oh, give me a break. Are you seriously...." and so it goes.

We figure it out. We kiss and make up quickly. We rehash it a week later and expect our Therapist to Referee. It's all very benign and functional, yet ever so predictable.

When I think about what basic BS can bring on a fight it does sometimes make me think of the alternative. Of not knowing. Of having to figure all this stuff out with another person.

The temptation of new and easy appeals to all of us, be it in phone, job, or lover. The illusion is in the expectation.

On-Line dating has made us very specific, however, about what we require and reject in others. The insistence on a laundry list of qualifications now expected in a partner. The reality being that we would never meet much less rub our bodies against anyone if their transgressions were read before us.

Before you swipe right, I am required to inform you of the following: I have an Asian Massage Fetish, I struggle with sharing my food, I never remember to buy milk, I smoke too much weed, I don't like kids, and I still resent my sister, which makes the Holidays an absolute nightmare for everyone involved.

Clearly not the way to keep our species alive.

What we are losing is the stuff you find between the darkness: The way porn awakens a passion in you. The cute way he guards his food like a 3rd grader. The practical jokes you get to play on her when she opens the fridge in the morning. The graceful struggle of trying to become a healthier person. The heart opening pain of acceptance. The inside jokes about each other's families that sustain you over dry turkey, year after year.

To love and be loved is what we do. What choice do we have? Too many cold nights out in the wilderness demand the comfort of heat.


Marriage is not
a house or even a tent
it is before that, and colder:
the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
the edge of the receding glacier
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far
we are learning to make fire
                                         by Margaret Atwood

Friday, June 26, 2015

Love Wins

What a week for Progressives. The Supreme Court made their decision on the side of justice, equality and kindness. The world seems like a better place.

Also in the news: Islamic Jihadists conducted attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait and nine peaceful souls were lain to rest near a church in South Carolina.

We couldn't even have a minute to celebrate, unburdened by the reality of  hate.

Why is the good and bad always a trade off?

The yin and yang of life makes me wonder just how much is the law of the universe- the rough with the smooth- the balance of nature. And how much is us, struggling with change, clinging to what we know with a vice-like grip?

Change makes people scared. People can be scary. People live in piles of garbage, or hurt their own children, just to avoid change and stunt their own growth.

I've written before about the need to be right, and that arrogance certainly smacks of religious zealots of every denomination. But the sad and pathological acts of individuals, the hate rhetoric spewed by Republicans and Gun Rights advocates, that's not arrogance as much as delusional fear.

The killer in South Carolina, Dylann Root, was quoted as saying to his victims "You (Black People) are taking over this country." Clearly that opinion was not formulated with data. That was a point of view shaped by his community and family, by the common interest groups he aligned himself with, who portray the world through the lens of blame and paranoia.

Is it getting better? In so many ways it is.

Check this out, care of the Astrologer Rob Brezsny:

Big dairy company refuses milk from farmers who mistreat animals.

New Green Overpass Will Let Wildlife Cross 6 Lanes of Highway

Houston Nearly Halves Homeless Population In 4 Years

Or do you feel the same? Just turn on the TV or drive through Harrison, Arkansas with a rainbow flag and Hillary 2016 bumper stickers on your car. 

It's a blessing and a curse, this life of ours. As so many voices said today: "Love Wins"-- I just wish it didn't have to come at such a high cost to our humanity.