inside voices

all around me, everywhere i go these days, people are exhibiting behaviors that are reminiscent of the lessons some of us learned about how to behave or perform ourselves in different contexts. though, truth be told, my immigrant upbringing didn't offer such options; i was told to "be good" no matter what the situation and was left to figure out which behaviors fell into that command, and which would earn me a stern talking-to from either of my parents, an acknowledgement of my transgression from an uncle or aunt, or, on the rare occasion, a look of disapproval from my grandmother. but i digress...

this afternoon, as i was listening to the soothing sounds of metallica's version of "whiskey in the jar" while climbing away on the elliptical machine at the gym, i was prompted to look up from my new yorker when a visual cacophony of gesturing became apparent in my peripheral vision. a young women, whose back faced me, was striding away on her arc trainer and she was approached by another woman whose face bore an earnest yet quizzical expression. i couldn't hear the exchange over james hetfield's dulcet tones crooning repetitions of "musha-rig-dum-a-do-rum-a-da" (or "musha ring dumma do damma da," depending on where you look), so i had to rely on their gestures and my interpretive abilities to make sense of the situation. it went a little something like this:
quizzical woman: motions to the arc trainer, smiles sheepishly, looks down, looks quickly back up, shrugs her shoulders, keeps smiling as she mouths something

strider: turns to face QW, keeps striding (or arc training - im still trying to figure out the new machines!), points to the machine that she is on, motions with her hand toward the doorway that leads to the upper levels, shrugs her shoulders

qw: nods, points in the direction of the doorway, shuffles her feet a bit, smiles and mouths a noticeable "thank you," walks toward the doorway

strider: returns her attention to the in style magazine opened in front of her and pauses on a layout featuring a variety of purses, continues to stride
at the end of this exchange, i found myself annoyed at the young woman who kept on striding. i read her like i read two other young women who i assumed to be freshman given their gym-wear and knowing-while-at-the-same-time-clueless attitudes. in this moment of (forced) observation, i found myself taking sides in the unfolding gym drama. but what if i had it all wrong? suppose the quizzical woman wasn't quizzical at all; instead, she was a nuisance who was trying the patience of a fellow gym patron. and perhaps the young woman in coordinated workout gear geniunely misread the time allotment sheet.

as i read elizabeth kolpert's commentary in the talk of the town section of this week's new yorker, i saw myself in her criticism of the bush administration's false optimism. she writes
"President Bush likes to portray himself as a man of unwavering optimism. ... Of all the many ingenious American things this President is optimistic about, technology is supposedly near the top of the list. ... [T]he technologies he supports are either those whihc were developed in the past - coal mining and oil drilling - or those which lie securely in the future: cars and buses that zip around on hydrogen."
she concludes the piece by noting:
"This is not the record of a technological optimist, of someone who believes in the 'ingenuity of the American people.' This is the record of a pessimist." (p.62) (see more here)
i was reading this commentary as i passively participated in the moment described above and as the moment passed and i resumed reading, i found myself wondering about the lines we draw between our theoretical frameworks and the way we write ourselves into the world. do i not have an optimistic perspective when seeking to understand how young people are making their way in the world - and interested in their innovations, and generally willing to give them the benefit of the doubt? so what was at play this afternoon? does my definition of youth or adolescent stop before college? not include students attending an elite private institution of higher education?

or maybe i just have a healthy skepticism of overly coordinated gym-goers. to whom this may apply, consider this fair warning for any and all theoretical framework transgressions i may commit heretofore...


knowing your audience

(image taken from No Child, a youth documentary noted below)

last night, while channel surfing, i saw an ad in which a young, african american man was talking to an african american woman who appeared to be his mother or caregiver. he was reassuring her by saying that he has his future under control, and she returned his confident look with a smile. at the end of the ad there appeared the url: www.boostup.org and a voiceover inviting the viewer to check out the website. then i saw it. small, but not too small, an icon, the unmistakeable star that signifies the us army.

upon visiting the site, a brief message about school appears on the screen as the flash site loads. statements that encourage the website visitor to stay in school by noting that staying school earns the respect of one's family; by providing provide statistics about high school dropouts' earning power; and suggesting the availability of choices that come from staying in school. the message of staying in school is reinforced when the site fully loads with the phrase, "Inside every one of us is a graduate" written in orange that sits to the right while images of black and brown male youth, up close tags, and high school hallways lined with lockers cycle through. below this rotating image gallery are three navigation options (several more navigation links at the top of the screen, as well), one of which invites the visitor to become a storyteller: "Tell us your story." other commercials, such as the one that just flashed on my tv screen, also feature minority youth either talking to adults to straight into the camera...

i'm reminded of a film that was featured in this year's Media That Matters film festival titled, "No Child" - a documentary that looks at the military's recruitment tactics. (choose film #16)


writing that does work in the world

"Girls, Social Class, and Literacy is a compelling and provocative look at the debilitating effects of classism on young girls, as well as a pragmatic and powerful examination of the transformative effects of sensitive, smart teaching on children whose lives and education are too often a reflection of their economic status. Stephanie Jones shares the insights of a five-year study that followed eight working-poor girls, offering you unusually sharp insight into what it’s like to be underprivileged in America. With critical literacy as her tool, Jones then helps you peel back your ideas of the poor—and of your own students—to see them, and your role in their lives, more clearly. Just as important, using reading and writing workshop as an instructional framework, she describes how to validate and honor all students’ realities while cultivating crucial critical literacy skills. You’ll find out why giving children the option to find and talk openly about disconnections with children’s literature (as well as connections) and to write on topics of their choosing (even difficult ones) can have a large, positive impact on students as they speak and write about their reality without shame or fear of judgment."

"Working in many genres and touching on many themes and issues, June Jordan was a powerful force in American literature. This biography reveals the woman, the writer, the speaker, the poet, the activist, the leader, and the educator in all her complexity. ... [Valerie] Kinloch offers a life and letters of this prolific writer, delving into both her biography and her contributions as a writer and activist. This approach unveils the power of language in Jordan's poems, essays, speeches, books--and ultimately in her own life--as she challenged political systems of injustice, racism, and sexism. Kinloch examines questions surrounding the pain of writing, the anger of oppression, and the struggle of African American women to assert their voices."

yet another interesting blog

just found this blog called Digital Video Guru, which appears to be about all things digital video-related. i was intrigued by one of their recents posts in which they ask: just who are you, and what do you want from us?

the entry begins:
Just who are you, anyway? Digital video is a burgeoning field involving many different professions, skills, outlets, etc. And it would help if we here at DVGuru got to know just who we are writing for, to help give us a stronger sense of direction. Are you an independent filmmaker? A camcorder hobbyist? A YouTube fanatic? An industry analyst? An editor? Cinematographer? Tech-head?



apples and trees

the saying goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” – an idiom evoking an understanding between the user and interpreter of the phrase. visuals always help me, so i imagined the visual that emerges when one mentally illustrates this idiom. there is a tree, an apple tree presumably; the tree flowers, and then grows fruit – some hanging lower to the ground than others; apple trees bear fruit in the fall, some of which are picked by eager visitors to apple orchards with their intentions explicit and children in tow. i was such a visitor on several occasions, when my parents took me to an orchard near my childhood home. it was on one of these trips when, at the age of 6 or 7, i first learned the word “bushel” as we picked and purchased several bushels of apples… even if we assume that somewhere, where trees are not picked clean, the occasional apple falls…is buried by the earth…grows roots and sprouts a new tree, the apple and the subsequent tree, though not far in distance, may be quite far in similarity from the tree of origin given climate changes, precipitation oddities, disruptions in soil conditions, and a whole host of other external factors. in addition, these and other factors may impact the internal chemistry of the apple, the new tree and subsequent apple. physically, the tree may stand in the shadows of it’s seed bearer, but metaphorically it may be worlds apart.

at the end of a recent episode of “30 days,” in which morgan spurlock spent nearly a month in a minimum security jail, updates are given for some of the inmates who figure prominently in the episode. both men are remanded within weeks of their release. these updates could be seen to underscore the musings spurlock shares via his video diary about the need for rehabilitative programs and the indelible effects of punishment-oriented practices; or the data given could lead the viewer to a deepened conviction about arrests and incarceration. when the lives of court-involved youth are on the line – and, when corrections education programs stand as an intervening space of second chances and new educational and life possibilities– the idiom must be questioned, for so much of juvenile justice research and related policy is grounded in statistical probability regarding arrest and incarceration. patterns can be made to exist when questions remain stagnant and methodology staid. thus, a new challenge arises: how do we recognize the relationships between apples and trees, without constraining or overextending their reach; and how do we make room for crabapples and pluots?

*image taken from freakonomics cover


the internet is... a space of/for parodies

case in point: my cubicle.

enjoy (the video as well as the comments that follow)


while following a link to a news story about the effects of gun violence on youth (see below), i was introduced to New America Media.
from their website: "New America Media is the country’s first and largest national collaboration of ethnic news organizations. ... NAM’s goal is to promote the editorial visibility and economic viability of this critical sector of American journalism as a way to build inclusive public discourse in our increasingly diverse, global society. NAM produces and aggregates editorial content from and for the ethnic media sector and develops pioneering marketing services on behalf of corporations, foundations, and non-profits who are targeting ethnic media and ethnic communities." for more, click here
the article mentioned above is titled "Got Shot: The Series" - a four part multimedia feature that looks at the effects of gun violence on bay area (san fran, ca) youth through commentary, analysis, and description in the form of words and documentary footage. in addition to featuring youth as central sources, the feature was produced by youth media producers. the feature - and i keep using that word b/c article doesn't quite capture it, and document feels reductive - is inspiring in both form and content; frustrating for what is being shared and how few may hear and see it.

check it out and pass it on.


happy new year!

in addition to the uncanny ability of youtubers to make available most of what i seek audiovisually these days, another one of my favorite things is the start of a new academic year. perhaps being a virgo with an early september birthday triggered some kind of defense mechanism or survival tactic in me wherein i turned an inherent grossity - my birthday signaled the start of a new school year - into something positive: i was the kid who brought in popsicles and ice cream cakes to school in recognition of birthday and thereby extending summer ever so slightly, while others usually stuck with more traditional baked birthday treats. whatever the reason, i absolutely love the sights, sounds, and smells of a new school year.

more recently, this time of year - of not quite autumn and no longer summer vacation - has taken on new meanings, particularly with the start of new jobs and with them new identities and responsibilities... for the past fourteen septembers, i have been on a university campus and this year, like many before, a sidewalk poster sale outside of the campus book store from where i am writing this post that continues it's yearly tradition of making available a range of multimodal artifacts that incoming freshman - and some late-blooming upper classmen - can use to decorate, make statements, establish friendships and make like home their new surroundings.

six young men huddle around one display to determine exactly which humorous beer poster to hang in their living room; three young women, each clutching a poster bearing a different feminist saying, roll their eyes as they pass their male counterparts deep in beer thought; three other young women contemplate finances to decide who will purchase the wall tapestry and who will buy the movie posters they have settled on; and at least two-thirds of the hundred or so undergraduate students gathered along the 50 feet of posters and various other trinketry make themselves known via tee shirts with words emblazoned across their chests such as "cute and unattached" "cuz i like it that way" "yugo" "tommy hilfiger" "class of 2010" and on and on.

and there are packs everywhere - the traditional freshman pack of no less than 7, and often 10, new students clustered together as they move from book store to coffee shop and back to book store to attend the new student orientation ice cream social. a band has been hired, food and drink is provided, and the university is doing what it can to make these new students and their families feel welcome. the year is full of promise - academic, social, and otherwise.

i'm not one to make new year's resolutions - unless made to do so for a writing assignment in 4th and 5th grade - but i do make new school year resolutions. the promise and energy is contagious, and as much as i enjoy the restorative potential of summers, the new school years offers a chance for reinvention and new ventures. i'm still working on this year's resolutions, but i know any list i concoct will most definitely include finally sending out that article i've been tinkering away at for twenty-two months and finding a decent indian restaurant in new york city (to be fair, i've only eaten at one in the past two years - l'il help??)...

happy new year!


writing by hand

i received a thank you note in the mail today. it was handwritten. from the slant of the script on the envelope i instantly knew the identity of the sender, and the contents did not disappoint. inside were details, descriptions, and anecdotes that covered nearly all available blank space with the familiar script. the smile on my face remained for the duration of my reading and then rereading to be sure that i hadn't missed anything.

earlier today, while continuing a month-long conversation with a group students about the school-to-prison pipeline, i watched more writing happen. it's been some time since i took the time to watch people write - i indulged in the luxury of having someone else present who was taking fieldnotes - and in this indulgent space of close observation i became taken, once again, with the posture, breath, and sensuous of hand writing.

hands gracing sheets of paper, fingers caressing pencils and pens, eyes looking upward, then close to the table, and at once looking nowhere in particular. deep inhales and measured exhales. outward performance of an intimate conversation with oneself - the nods, rubbing the foreheads, hands on the side/back/top of the head. doing and undoing ponytails.

and laughter. as one person reads the note another has passed him. furtive glances full of guilt, immediately replaced with grins upon realizing that laughter is not out of place in this space, today, of scripting texts by hand.

i'm not usually one to feel nostalgic about the practice of putting pen/cil to paper - not as i try to live as paperless an existence as i can, edited books notwithstanding... - however, as i collected the latest revisions which built upon, extended, and reworked the previous hand-writing the students had done, i found myself handling the sheets of lined paper full of their words with the greatest care, letting my fingers linger over certain clusters of letters, most of which were written in pencil. almost at once i worried about the short lifespan of words penned in pencil and made a mental to scan the sheets when i got back to my office.