Sunday, March 6, 2022

Glory to Ukraine

 Sifting through college-ruled sheets of topsy-turvy Arabic notes, I wonder if perhaps I overextended myself in signing up for such an ambitious extracurricular activity, especially when the whole world is so topsy-turvy. During my last class I managed to squeak out a sentence in Arabic. I tried to say, “I dance from the river to the road,” and accidentally said, “I dance from the fire to the road.” Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Both are absurd statements. I wonder if I should declutter my house by tossing these nonsensical Arabic scribbles, or if I should hang on to them, maybe use them to practice for the next class. To discard or to keep? That is the question. And while I’m contemplating that, here’s another question: Are human beings capable of not collectively committing mass suicide in a nuclear war? Should we have faith in humanity or should we declutter the Earth and just throw in the towel?

Of course we need to keep faith alive for humanity’s sake. At times my mind turns morbid because my friend Tania lives in Kiev. She sent her mother and her little boy to Poland, and she, like a badass, is staying to fight. I’m so worried for her. Apparently, while I was fretting about my friend, I was neglecting another friend. I just received a text message while studying Arabic in the bathtub, because why not? The text read, “I feel you’re not respecting me.” Well, sheesh. My apologies for being so distant. It’s just that I’m worried my other friend will be martyred along with thousands of her brave countrymen and women because of the cruel actions of a deranged dictator. The strength and resilience of Ukrainian people is truly inspiring. I felt their spirit when I visited my friend in 2018 and wrote the blog entry, “Ukraine’s Fight is Our Fight.” 

I wonder why I turn to foreign languages during times of distress. I meet with French tutors twice a week, and then there’s Arabic. Before that, there was a deluded Russian conversation partner who bragged about being told he spoke like Putin. (It’s funny the things men think will impress women.) Perhaps learning languages reminds me how badly I want to travel the world again. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body, and yet there are lunatics like Putin who prefer shows of military strength over verbal communication. Talking any sense into him is an exercise in futility. Now that my friend is caught in the crosshairs of this mess, I am unreservedly invested. Everyone who believes in democracy and freedom from demagoguery has skin in this game. 

Scenes from Dune and Julius Caesar have been playing in my head.  I’m hoping this year’s Ides of March do not disappoint. Putin turning his back on a supposed comrade is a fine way for him to go, but I feel poison might be a more befitting exit ticket for him. Let him suffer in the same brutal fashion as the people whose executions he’s ordered. Let him go out like Muammer Gaddaffi. There’s no drainage pipe in this world rotten enough to hide the likes of Putin. The scene from Dune in which the Duke of the House of Atreides bites down on a poisoned false tooth and emits poisonous gas replays in my head multiple times a day. That exhale has become a symbol of hope. If only someone could take this bastard out with a single breath.

I’m currently drinking a glass of bourbon barrel-aged cabernet sauvignon, listening to old-school Madonna. I’m grateful for my level of security and also ashamed of my comfort. My friend, Tania, who is serving her country, is similar to me in many ways. She is bookish and she loves languages too. In fact, she is a translator. Earlier today, I was reading poems from a press I remember she likes: Button Poetry. I’m hoping the flames of this invasion die down soon and that I can visit my friend again. I will bring her the entire collection of Button Poetry books, and we’ll drink cabernet sauvignon together, although as I recall, she is more of a beer drinker. I’m going to keep this image in mind, as well as that inspiring scene from Dune. 

Slava Ukrayini! Glory to Ukraine!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Pied Piper of Cats

Stray cats I never knew existed come darting out of nowhere whenever my neighbor walks by. His roommate does not approve of his cat entourage. Their house is pet-free, but that doesn’t stop a band of vagabond felines from showing up on their front porch, begging for food and affection. Apparently, the roommate became so fed up with these flea-ridden solicitors, she insisted he had broken the no-pet rule and therefore, she felt justified in breaking the no-smoking rule. The Pied Piper of cats occupies a small windowless room in their house and says the closeted nature of his living quarters make the fumes unbearable. Naturally, when I asked if he would stay at my house for a week and watch my cats while I visited family in Indiana, he came right over to meet his two furry, much more considerate roommates, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

In my bathroom hang two large magnetic boards covered with souvenir magnets. “You’ve visited ALL those countries?!” he exclaimed as he exited the bathroom. “Yeah,” I said, happy that my bathroom decor had its desired effect. Visitors to my bathroom should be comforted by the aroma of my reed diffuser, delighted by my bidet, but more importantly, they should be impressed by my worldly magnet collection. The magnet that impressed and amazed him most was one I never would have guessed. “You’ve been to Ashland, Oregon?!” he asked, sounding stupefied.

“I’m from Oregon,” I reminded him. “Ashland isn’t too far away from where I grew up.” We got to chatting and it soon became clear that he did not want to return to the cannabis den, where his roommate was currently having a party and filling the house with more pot smoke than usual. We ended up ordering a pizza and watching Macbeth (the Roman Polanski version). He wanted to watch a zombie movie, but I vetoed it. As an English teacher, but also someone who hates talking during movies, I gave brief explanations about what was happening. He made an astute observation during the scene in which the inept assassins succeed in killing Banquo but let Banquo’s son Fleance get away, saying in between bites of pizza, “It’s like Macbeth hired the two robbers from Home Alone.”

When telling him about my cats, I informed him that they were both rescues from Kuwait. “Is that in Oregon?” he asked. “No, it’s a country in the Middle East,” I laughed. Since coming to Philadelphia, I’ve noticed it’s rare to meet people who’ve traveled outside of the country, let alone Pennsylvania. I’ve learned to accept this, as there are so many other attributes people can acquire apart from being well-traveled.

On my way home, my courteous catsitter warned me about Lyft and Uber drivers and told me to stay safe. Some women have unwittingly entered the wrong car and have been assaulted and murdered. I thanked him for his concern and told him I’d be careful.

When my Lyft dropped me off in front of my house, my delightful, neighborly cat sitter was just leaving. Apparently, he wanted to stay as long as possible before returning to his inhospitable roommate. We hung out some more. He showed me his sketchbook and the various things around my house that inspired him to draw. He drew the view from outside my bedroom window, saying all the lines and angles were especially satisfying for him to render. He showed me a drawing of the fold-out couch. He only unfolded it halfway and put down some decorative cushions. Apparently, that’s the more comfortable way to sleep than unfolding it all the way. I told him he could hang out and draw or come sleep on my couch again if his roommate’s smoking became bothersome. I may insist on watching movies like The Seventh Seal, Macbeth, and Bicycle Thieves, but at least I don’t smoke.

I’ve noticed since he left, a couple stray cats have shown up on my porch, looking for their friend. “Sorry, guys. The Pied Piper left,” I told them. But I’m sure he’ll be back later for more pizza and highbrow movies.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Jingle Bell Fun Run

Jogging along at my my glacial pace, I watched festive athletes in pink bunny costumes pass me, their long floppy ears and fluffy tails incentivizing me to pick up the pace. No matter how out-of-shape you are, there’s something demoralizing about being upended by characters from a Beatrix Potter book. Actually, the Brits may have their own Peter Rabbit fun run over in jolly old England (if such tomfoolery isn’t beneath their dignity), but this is Chesterton, Indiana, a hop and a skip away from Hammond, Indiana, where the acclaimed film, “A Christmas Story,” is set. Paying homage to the film by wearing adult bunny onesies and displaying leg lamps in living room windows is part of the culture here. Next year, when visiting my recently relocated family for Christmas, I will be sure to come prepared. As I’m partial to comfort, I can predict that I will want to lounge around in my pink bunny costume all the time. I’ll spend every waking minute reading by leg lamp, and in response to my family’s pleas to just be normal, I will respond, “When in Rome . . .” before taking another swig of mulled wine. 

My mom and I participated in the fun run and were gratified to see such community spirit and glee. The run was about as competitive as a napping contest. The event being more of a fashion show than an athletic event, we did not hesitate to stop for cookies and to check out the contents of two little free libraries along the route. There were no race bibs, no one kept track of the time, and the pink bunnies standing around drinking mimosas when my mom and I crossed the finish line didn’t even acknowledge our achievement. I mean, I didn’t expect the good people of Chesterton to lift me up on their shoulders and parade me triumphantly through the town, but I kind of expected a “Good job” or a golf clap or something. That’s okay. The jingle bell fun run was anti-climactic, but it lived up to its name. Plenty of runners wore jingle bell necklaces. One lady even dressed up as the Grinch and pushed her friend, dressed as Max the little dog, around in a sleigh. The running itself was not fun, but the costumes and the lack of competitiveness made it a jolly experience.

I’m returning to blogging after a year-long hiatus. I don’t know how active I will be on here, but I want to make more of an effort to have adventures and to document them. The pandemic has made this blog seem totally insignificant and inconsequential, but it’s something I enjoy. It’s the written equivalent to a fun run. Just like the pink rabbits drinking mimosas, no one seems to notice when I post something new. But that’s okay. I’m an inconspicuous person wearing normal running clothes, blogging about my adventures. 

Adventures such as eating deep dish Chicago-style pizza for the first time and holding my new nephew, Quintus Lorenzo, for the first time. I’m feeling tremendously lucky. Mele Kalikimaka! Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas! 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Shame on Netflix

Netflix Debuts Trailer For New Movie Sexualizing Children: '11 ...

I dole out carefully-measured rations of outrage for scandals and crimes that are truly appalling. A music video in which women are dancing lasciviously and rapping about their depravity shouldn’t shock anyone. We’ve been duped like this before. We’ve been told subjugation is somehow empowering. But I’m not buying it. 

I want women to be liberated from control and degradation, but that’s a far cry from our current hostile climate. This music video is just a small part of a big shady business deal, one that reduces women to their body parts and reinforces their inferior status in society. Powerful men benefit; women lose. 

The Players Behind Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion's 'WAP': See the ...

But now it seems our depravity, our delusional empowerment, and our willingness to be reduced to our looks is doing real harm to children, namely girls. 

Netflix has announced an upcoming debacle called Cuties. This French film sexualizes young girls, but the description, which has since been edited, would have you believe it’s about an 11-year old girl who “becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew.” She “starts to explore her femininity, defying her family’s traditions.” Once again, we’re being told that something sick and degrading is really empowering, but this is a new level of perversion. Now the lie is harming children. 

Anybody who wants to exploit the innocent has a new visual to aid their perverse fantasies. Netflix has apologized for the “inappropriate artwork,” which depicts the little girls in a sexual manner. Understandably, people are calling to have this film removed and Netflix is in hot water. In an attempt to create distance, or perhaps to give the illusion of some sophistication that simple Americans just don’t understand, Netflix mentioned the film is French and that it won an award. 

Well, la-dee-frickin-da! France should not be any kind of role model when it comes to protecting children. France protected the author Gabriel Matzneff, who boasted about his abuse of children for decades. And guess what, he won awards too! France welcomed child rapist Roman Polanski with open arms and published Mary Kay Letourneau’s book about her affair with her twelve-year-old student. The U.S. doesn’t have the best record either, but we certainly shouldn’t be taking lessons from France or accepting everything they produce as high art. 

Netflix recently released an expose titled “Filthy Rich," about predators Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. They showed us “Surviving R. Kelly,” which unveiled R Kelly’s abuse of underage girls. Now they’re erasing their progressive strides by releasing a film that promotes the sexualization of little girls. Shame on Netflix. And shame on us for buying the lie that sexual exploitation equals empowerment. Would you wish that same “empowerment” on little girls? 

I didn’t think so.

Netflix's 'Cuties' slammed for 'explicitly sexualizing' little girls

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Risks of Reopening

Reopening schools is a dangerous move | Coronavirus outbreak | The ...
My school’s virtual town hall meeting conjured the mental picture of a panicked herd of buffalo being driven off a cliff. As I sat there, being led through a powerpoint of safety precautions, rage bubbled up inside me. It wasn’t just my own survival instinct kicking in; it was a sense of moral obligation being called to action.

Compared to some schools and businesses poised to fling open their doors as if it’s midnight on Black Friday, my school is taking this virus fairly seriously. Everyone will be tested for coronavirus, students will return in phases, class sizes will be smaller due to some students remaining at home, and dorm rooms will accommodate two students rather than the usual four.

But our implementations, although well-intentioned, are just not enough.

The school where I teach serves students from economically disadvantaged households. Upholding the vision and promise of the school’s founder, the school admits students who have lost either one or both parents to death or incarceration. Sharing a living space with a single roommate for five nights a week may be an improvement over some students’ home lives.

The catch is that students will still be going back to their families or guardians on weekends, back to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus. With students and teachers commuting from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and the greater Philadelphia area, how long will it be before we infect one another? How long before someone becomes seriously ill and possibly dies?

My suggestion of becoming a seven-day-a-week boarding school was rejected, and it’s too bad, because that was a deal breaker for me. I came to this school because I admire the school’s mission of providing a stellar education for students struggling with grief and other setbacks. My father died when I was three years old, and my family struggled financially and emotionally. My brother and I were raised by a single mother and over the years I have lost friends to suicide and substance abuse.

I know the anguish of grief. I have read books by writers who experienced similar pain and offered hope to me during my darkest hours. I have written personal essays about grief and rendered my memories of departed friends in comic book form. I have something constructive to offer my students: the testament that art and literature can be our salve and salvation, and that our own stories, reflected back to us on the page, can offer perspective, clarity, meaning, and hope to lives that are often fraught with pain.

Years from now, when I look back on this challenging time, I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to prevent people from getting sick and dying. If I were to return to work and inadvertently contribute to the spread of this virus, I would be indirectly responsible for more death, more grieving, thereby doing the exact opposite of what I set out to do when I joined the faculty of this school.

As our virtual town hall meeting drew to a close, I offered my conclusion: “I’m sorry, but I think this plan is doomed to fail.” The only comfort I gleaned from the meeting was that the plan to reopen was deemed subject to change. I hope, for the sake of our students, my colleagues, and everyone’s family, that we continue with virtual learning. I know that in-person instruction would be ideal, but these are not ideal circumstances. The benefit of sending students and teachers back to school is simply not worth the risk of people getting sick and possibly dying.

If we don’t reexamine our plans to reopen school, I am afraid we are headed straight for a cliff. And my students, already having been exposed to unfathomable loss, may be asked to bear additional and unnecessary grief.