Tuesday, July 8, 2014

To Learn is To Question

My oldest is about to be in fourth grade, the year when North Carolina school children study the state they live in.  As with most subjects, I find my knowledge lacking and no single, clear, comprehensive source of information.

What to do?

Study NC using a variety of texts, of course, and then get out there and see it, schlep around museums, and make my own journal about it all.
Just as I discovered in grad school, research using a variety of texts creates the best overall picture- no single source is cutting it for me.
And just as I learned in studying world history, I need a basic framework in place before I can add depth or remember specifics.

Forget the wordy "adult" books and bring on the K-6 texts!

More on this later in the summer...

In the meantime, I woke up thinking about the Universe (aka Space) unit that we did this past year and what that study taught me about the acquisition and application of knowledge.

Historians, scientists, and scholars get it wrong!
     I always knew this, but I never pondered why such clearly intelligent people would spend such vast amounts of time on a subject yet be unable to find the truth in it.  This is important to me because as a teacher and learner, I am incredibly concerned with how to avoid this mistake!
     Western-centric, short-sighted studies of the universe would lead us to believe that Galileo Galilei (Italian-1564-1642) first came up with the idea of a helio-centric universe.  Nonsense, he was just the first to prove it - based on the phases of Venus - in the modern era.  Non-western cultures (I'm thinking of the Maya in particular.) understood the workings of our solar system.  So why couldn't the Europeans?

ONE PROBLEM: Knowledge is Subject to the Powers of the Day
Powerful religious leaders taught that humans were the center of God's universe, so how could our planet not be the center of our solar system?  Nevermind that this makes no sense either in a religious or scientific context.  Questioning authority was - and is - an invitation for punishment.

ONE SOLUTION: Creativity, Simplicity, and an Open Mind
Ptolemy (Greek, 100-170) is remembered not for his fantastic, comprehensive catalog of the stars, but for his back-bending efforts to inaccurately prove a geo-centric universe.  Orbits within orbits, complexity within complexity.  Only when Nicolaus Copernicus (Polish, 1473-1543) demanded simplicity was he able to discover the truth.  Of course, there was plenty of creativity and open mindedness going on.  Issac Newton (English, 1642-1727) and Albert Einstein (German, 1879-1955) are terrific examples of what can be accomplished when an open, creative mind looks for the simplicity in our universe.

Sadly, many models of education tend to squelch creativity and open-mindedness in the relentless pursuit of hammering facts, or what is believed at the time to be facts. What we lack is the freedom to question.  I am certainly not saying that we shouldn't learn what has been discovered and hypothesized.  On the contrary, I stress to my children that the only way any of the scientists we studied accomplished anything was by learning everything they could and then questioning it all. 

My parents, once again, deserve credit for this one.  My mother often tells me of how her father was emphatically taught that the atom cannot be split.  (Perhaps the world would be a much better place if this were indeed the case, but along came an open-minded, creative individual to deliver more power than power-hungry humans have sense to use.)  In my own immediate world, my parents have always given me the freedom to pursue knowledge and truth rather than demand strict adherence to any one point of view.  I grew up watching them argue about politics and religion, question the policies and practices of school systems, and refuse to settle for the prescribed answers of the day.  I hope that as a teacher and parent, I can impart that same perspective and liberty to my own children and students.

Learn voraciously.
Question incessantly.
Truth is out there.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

At Last

Saturday morning comes early. Thin white mini-blinds aren’t much for holding back the mid-summer sunlight. But I manage to slide out of bed and get myself together. When I came into this guest room the night before, I’d absently dropped some of my things on a dresser. This morning, I find some mail there as well, next to my things. Addressed to Eileen Rosenfelder. Hmmm… Sure, I pretty much decided last night that I’d love to marry into the family, but this is a bit bewildering. My spine is tingling and I really want to know who this Eileen Rosenfelder is, anyway. Is she real? Is this some crazy mistake? Having the name Eileen, especially at my age, is very rare. I used to hate it for that reason. What crazy person gets named Eileen? It wasn’t until we moved to North Carolina that I heard the name used for someone else- and she was my Grandmother’s age. By then, I’d come to love having an unusual name. I never mistook someone else’s beckoning for my own. I never had to alter my name so that a teacher could distinguish between the five Eileens in the class. I was the only Eileen around. I was.

I soon discover, chatting with Mike as he fixes me breakfast, that the Eileen in question is his grandmother. She and I are not alone, though; Aunt Eileen, daughter of Nana Eileen lives just across the street. Whew. I’m a shoe-in with this family where everyone’s name spans at least two generations.

After Mike’s compelling display of domesticity, we head for a Baltimore-area quarry. Under whatever clothes I have on, there is a bathing suit. The best one I have ever had- blues and reds on cream with brown trim. If you think about it, which I’m sure lots of guys do, girls are pretty naked with just a bikini on. Sure, some vital parts are covered up with stretchy fabric, but there isn’t a lot left to figure out. As we get out of the car and head up to the pool for a quick swim test, I anticipate the stripping of my day clothes as never before. To be seen, to be enjoyed, and to be desired is a wonderful thing.

I am not the only one being enjoyed or desired, though. Mike is gorgeous, his pale skin dappled in sunlight, the strength of his arms… Eventually, I stop staring long enough to understand the instructions for our test and in we go.

For those of you not well acquainted with me, you should know that I possess an inordinate amount of raw confidence. It’s really very helpful since almost everything turns out better with it. I can accomplish things I would never dare to attempt without it- such as keeping pace with Mike as we swim across the pool. Unfortunately, there are also times when it blindsides me. Turns out, Mike was on his swim team. I, on the other hand, approximate something slightly more refined than a dogpaddle. By the time we hit the opposite wall, I am completely out of breath and not entirely sure about the return trip. Just as Mike is finishing up the treading water section of the test, I arrive, hands behind my back in an awkward attempt to retie the straps that apparently came lose due to my speediness. Good thing I long ago decided to see the humor in life whenever possible.

Hours of fun ensue. Diving, failed attempts at the rope swing run, submersing ourselves in clear, cold water, and, finally, lying beneath giant pines trees watching the bright blue sky. Well fed, worn out, and still excited, we start talking again. One thing leads to another and the next thing I know, we decide to get married. It seems clear and right, obvious even.

And just like that, it is begun.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Mike is picking me up from the airport, so I waste no time getting off the plane and out to the front of Reagan International. I’m wearing a black halter and my favorite skirt, one I bought years before from an Indian clothing store, wine-colored with beading in the front, flowing down to drag the dirty curb where cars come to pick up the recently arrived. I carry my small, yellow vinyl carry-on and hope that this man I have only seen once, four weeks earlier, will recognize me in a sea of happy homecomings. As it happens, I’m not even sweating on this hot July day when he swings the passenger door inches from my eager hands.

I climb in and he offers me a bouquet of flowers, freshly picked from the roadside on his way to meet me. Which, if you know anything about picking flowers and hot summer days, you know is a terrible idea. They are all shriveling and bent over, exhausted: an obvious contrast to our swelling excitement. Here we were, finally, close enough to smell one another, able to see the smiles we had so often heard.

Those four intervening weeks had been a blur of ever-extending phone calls. We found ourselves agreeing often, including an agreement that we would never date each other. I always hated dating. By the time I was allowed to start dating, I was ready to be married. Past ready. In fact, I think I was born ready. All through Elementary school, I had a huge crush. During that time, AIDS was discussed on the news and it rocked my world, my little eight-year-old world. That night, I decided that even if the guy I was in love with got AIDS, I would marry him anyway. Commitment was the easy part for me. The hard part was dating.

What I definitely did not want was a boyfriend. I’d had plenty already, which was helpful, I suppose. I knew what I couldn’t take and what I couldn’t live without. I knew my aversions to tall men and atheists as well as my undeniable attraction to creative, arrogant fellows who found life fascinating…especially the Irish ones.

So along comes this pale-faced red-head, a perfect four inches taller than me, traveling around singing the soulful songs he'd written. Interesting. Then I find out we have a lot in common: our backgrounds, our beliefs, our perspectives and life goals. A week later, we’re talking every day, for hours, finding out all the things we have in common. Of course, we both want to find that someone. Who doesn’t want that, really? So we both start thinking that maybe this is it and decided to meet up in DC, where I’m traveling for a video shoot anyway. He grew up just outside DC, so we plan to spend the night at his parent’s house.

There is just enough time for a museum visit before heading to his parents for dinner, lounging in the yard, and a quick tuck-in before bed. It’s the tuck-in that does it for me. Mike is wearing a thin sleeping shirt and I can just make out a beautiful tattoo on his left bicep. Having a special weakness for nice arms and beautiful tattoos, I ask to get a better look and he explains when and why he got it. Then the clincher- he describes the tattoo he really wants.

At the top of his back there is another tattoo, of an abstracted sun. Below this, as if basking in its light, he pictures a scientific-style drawing of a rose bush, with the largest two roses labeled as his wife and himself, and the smaller ones labeled as his children. SOLD! It is clear to me that whatever we may have thought we were doing, we have actually spent a month putting one another on trial, allowing ourselves to be questioned as thoroughly as possible in an attempt to discover if we could love one another. We have been witness and judge, we have examined and cross –examined. All that is left for me is to know that my love will not be given in vain, to know that I am with someone whose commitment is as sure as mine. A gigantic tattoo seems like an excellent indication of that. How much did he already love his family to come up with such a beautiful way of expressing that love for them? How could I not want with all my heart to be the one named as his wife? To be the one who gets to make those little rosebuds with him?

I am his for the having and the holding.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Bartender and the Boy on Tour

I will now regale you with anecdotes from our first three months…the only ones we had together before we were married.

Lots of people go to bars looking for love. I went looking for enough of a paycheck to sustain me while I poured all my energy into art exhibit which left me with no funds whatsoever. Fortunately for me, I found the love that no one ever seems to. This sort of love is obviously much more valuable than wealth, though it can be enjoyed more fully with an adequate amount of it.

I would say it was like any other night, but it was my last tending bar at Bickett Gallery. I arrived after a long photoshoot of my work, which necessitated shooting as it was screenprinted on skin. No going home for a shower or a bite to eat. Just straight to work. As I was setting up, the bands arrived... I will now leave out some vaguely important and rather interesting tidbits for the very reasons which make them interesting in the first place and just leave you to wonder. Please use this opportunity to make up your own wild and fantastic version of events. ...thanks to him, I screenprinted myself onto my future husband's forearm.

There were other interesting characters as well. The drunken door guy, ordered to stick around and make sure nothing happened to me as I closed up alone on a deserted street in the dead of night. Perhaps that would have been helpful if he weren’t drunk. Or if he had questioned the two men who stuck around when he finally left. Which brings me to the next interesting character: Moustache Man. As I recall that night now, I honestly can’t remember him in it. I just know that he was there. We joked about it. We told our friends about it. We would see him around town and jab each other and nod in his direction and exchange knowing smirks. Obviously, we don’t know his name, but this small, aging photographer often showed up at bars. I’m not sure I ever saw him actually take any pictures, but the camera was always swinging from his neck. On this particular night, he accompanied us to the dumpster.

Mike, like many an appreciative musician, gave me a copy of his CD after the show. I, as always, listened to it later before placing it on the shelf next to the others. In fact, I have never picked it up again. Recently, I was at home listening to the ipod on shuffle when I heard someone who sounded like Mike singing a song I did not recognize. It was indeed my husband. A song from this album that he gave me the night we met, this album that would come to cause so much grief between us; his first gift to me. He explained that the white-out tree drawings were a poor copy of his previously screen-printed album covers. I, with the purest intentions, offered to have a screen burned and sent to him…only because I knew the difficulties of getting a screen made once you leave the resources of a university. Since there were screens in the dumpster that Bickett shared with Aardvark Screenprinting, I suggested we try to find a decent one that he could use for his album cover. There we were: a penniless artist, a penniless musician, and a mysterious moustached man perusing a dumpster by streetlight. But there were no screens to be had.

We found instead many many similarities. That’s all we found really, for a good month. Similarities. We kept talking and they kept coming up. We had similar pasts. We had similar tastes in food. We had similar philosophies of life- why we are here, what is worth working for, why we should never date… Not all of that came up the first night. The moon did, though. We saw it rise, big and bright over the trees. And as the sun, too, began to rise, the two of us, exhausted from a happily sleepless night, said goodbye. I exchanged my phone number for a kiss on my hand and a babbled hope that this night would change the course of our lives.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chapter One

As you may have heard Mike say on the Kickstarter for the Mike & Eileen album, I am planning to write my own version of our story. I have started that quest several times over the years with little success, save some cathartic moments. So, I want to use this blog to put some thoughts in writing, get feedback, and figure out exactly what this rememory looks likes. Here’s to me writing and you telling me what you think…what you really think.

First, I want to make it clear while what we did may seem noble to some, its roots were the best kind of "selfish." But my understanding of selfishness is probably not your idea of selfishness. None of us lives in a vacuum. What is good for me must, by the very nature of goodness, be good for others as well. In my darkest moments during our first year, I must admit that my motivation was not to do what was best for my husband or our families or our friends. My motivation was to do what was best for me. What was best for me?

1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

I believe that confusion comes when we are unable to discern what is truly in our own interest. If we confuse our laziness with our self-interest, there will no doubt be problems, not just for others, but for ourselves as well. If we imagine that escaping a bad marriage will benefit us more than getting down to the hard work of becoming a better person and enabling our spouse to become a better person, I believe we are sadly mistaken. It was difficult to learn how to take care of each other, just as it is difficult to learn how to take care of ourselves.
Overcoming difficulty enriches us. Laziness depraves us.

As long as our perspective is broad and clear, we cannot do harm to others when we do what is best for us. To do what is truly best for one is to do what is truly best for all.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


January one: time for reflection, assessment, hope

In the past few days, I have heard repeated wishes for a happy new year, always including some form of "hope it's your best yet." We always wish this for one another and for ourselves. Who wants to have an mediocre year? On the other hand, how realistic is it that each year will be better than the last? First, we must define "better," which generally implies more of something. More what? Happiness; prosperity; peace; generosity; enlightenment? Is it that we accomplish what we set out to do or enjoy what life brings? Should we try to make more money or be happier with less? Concentrate on the pounds, the energy, or the miles run? I suppose that there are so many ways of defining better that we could apply the term to our detriment; imagining that things are better even as we sacrifice our personal best to the pursuit of someone else's.

My ability to present the tangible is more of an inability. I've started more projects in the last few years than anyone could finish in a lifetime. Yet I want so badly to finish. I need to have something to show for myself. One year, my single resolution was to finish what I start. But I can't tell you which year that was...must have finished just as much as in any other year. I should be producing, though, right? How else can my talents be judged? And without judgment, how can I know if I am getting "better?"

A few days ago, I was explaining the intricacies of my town...you know, the one I've been designing for years; the one nobody but me believes will actually happen (and I have no choice but to believe in that which compels me). During this explanation, it occurred to me that though my portfolio is weak, my catalog of design is strong. (Sure, I didn't actually start a town, but I do have some genuinely innovative designs, maybe even important ones.)

Paradigm Shift

I have always been a designer. Some people think of me as an artist or dancer or teacher, because I have done those things. But who I am, at the heart of all those pursuits, is a designer. I have been busy working at the skill of designing all my life. It is my impetus for acquiring skills, the means to experience the manifestation of my designs. Unless I bring those designs to fruition, I have nothing (much) to show. But it is not because my hands are empty that I feel inadequate. It is because this measuring stick was made for someone else. Perhaps I should design my own stick. I live in a world of ideas; the root rather than the fruit. In that light, what I am is actually important...so long as I am the root of something.

Therefore, this year I resolve to be who I am. I will love my gifts and nurture them. I will not measure myself in the light of another man's mystery, but seek to solve my own. This is my only hope for a year better than the last.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Response to a friend's post about the 2nd Amendment...and thoughts on parenting

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."


Suzanna Gratia-Hupp's last statement is that the unelected need guns to protect themselves against the elected. Bizarre. We have ballot boxes to protect ourselves from them.

The point of the second amendment is to keep a free state...one where officials are elected in free and fair elections; to protect ourselves from those who would take our country from us (think Great Britain not the very politicians we put in office).

As for Gratia-Hupp's statement referring to what I gather is using semi-automatic rifles as an appropriate means of defending one's property against looters, I cannot imagine how this would be defended by the Second Amendment. First, it states that a "well-regulated militia" will secure of our free state. There is nothing well-regulated about a man on his roof with a lethal weapon. Nor could he be seen as a militia.

As for duck-hunting, this is not addressed either, unless you imagine the militia out in the woods on duty with nothing to eat but wild ducks and nothing to kill them with except their rifles.

All this gets me thinking...
The larger problem is not one of guns. (She is correct, as the adage goes, "guns don't kill people; people kill people.") The larger problem stems from the motivation of anyone to take the life of another human being and more deeply from our understanding of death and life and the meaning of it all. We are, like it or not, deeply dependent on one another in this world- dependent on those we love and those we hate and those we fail to recognize as our fellow humans.

As a mom, I am constantly convicted by the words and actions of my children- they have capacity for the entire gamut of blessings and cursing. We all do. Good and evil are equally available and more than occasionally disguised as one another. In my role as mother, I must take responsibility for teaching my children the lifelong skill of training their own mind rather than lamely attempt to control their actions while they reside in "my" house. Sure, I could make them behave in any way I wanted (Skinner), but there is no use in that.

We ALL must learn to "take every thought captive" so that we are at peace and instruments of peace in the world.

I cannot take my children's thoughts captive, but I can teach them to. As adults, if we did not receive the guidance we need, there are ways of obtaining it now. Not only is there a plethora of self-help practitioners, each of us has the capacity to know, love, and correct ourselves.

At the heart of it all, I believe that pleasure is the point of life.
To enjoy and bestow the pleasures afforded us on this earth must surely please the creator also.