Plunging into LA has been a summer indulgence that I’ve learned how not to live without. I crave the perfect weather, and when I mean perfect weather, I mean perfect weather. The consistently bright sky free of dark clouds, which translates to little if any rain, which translates to no mosquitos, no racing inside and yelling “Go, go, go!” to anyone in front of or following you, no mildew smells, none of it.
This summer wasn’t any different when it came to the weather, but other things dug under my fingernails. Really, just one thing got stuck in there. It was the degree to which the people in LA can fake it. In fact, they fake it so much that you can feel their nerves splitting as they speak.
They talk a lot about energy and crystals and energy and, really, I agree, energy is there, everywhere. So, when we went to a restaurant, a party, or even just for a walk, I felt it, even saw it.
“HHHHiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy,” she would say in such a high-pitched voice that I could feel her frayed nerves followed by the shrill lies muted by her hand shake that she tried to cover with the steadiness of an extra hand on the outside. Ouch! It stung a little.
And, it went on and on, daily, hourly sometimes.
I still enjoyed it. I still chilled with my sister, my family, but it felt strangely different. Even the Elvis impersonator who I loved catching on his way to work had left us. Not surprisingly, he had moved away, maybe to Vegas, a whole other story.
I doubt it if he would head on over to New York, but it’s still a place for impersonators. I mean, New York, in particular, New York City has its share of the inconceivable and the outright bizarre, but the fake? Absolutely, emphatically NO.
Do I want to live there? Not really, but I don’t necessarily want to live in LA either, no matter how much I love to visit.
I think an actress who was interviewed on Conan O’Brien said it best.
Although, I don’t want to live in New York either, I have always preferred the rough-edged realism of New York to the giant teeth shining behind often-oversized lips in LA.
There are those days when I wondered if I should’ve encouraged them to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, anything but artists.
“You know, Ya Ya always says, ‘That’s why you need to be a doctor papito. So you can take care of me,” my son said the other day. “She says it to all of us.” He’s referring to all of his cousins, her grandchildren.
My son and I were in the car outside a doctor’s office. “Yeah, doctors have it easy,” I said.
“What do you mean? It’s really hard to be a doctor,” he argued, which has become a regular routine lately.
“Yeah, no, I mean, they have to work hard, but they make so much money. You saw your cousin’s house. You know what I mean?”
He nodded but continued to talk about how difficult it is to be a doctor.
I reluctantly agreed and accepted my fate: to add another artist to my household.
I think every parent feels conflicted about encouraging a child to take the artistic route. It’s more unpredictable in our eyes.
You’re so smart. Be a doctor, a dentist, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer, they say. Many parents I know outright announce that artists make no money. You can draw, even paint, but don’t try to make it a career.
And, what’s most disconcerting is that many teachers announce that students can’t do anything with a degree in art, let alone make a living with one in the fine arts. So, parents waver and our kids waver, sometimes they even give up on the whole idea.
I didn’t tell my kids to be a doctor or lawyer. I taught them to explore their worlds. I actually encouraged my children to be as creative as possible, not as a hobby, but as a way of life.
A once-white sink full of blue paint sits clogging one of our bathrooms. Drawings on walls are commonplace. Clothes splattered with paint seem expected.
But, when I want to hang a painting on the wall, I’m met with protests that it’s just not good enough or friends will think it’s stupid. You’re reminded of how fragile such creativity can be.
Yet, there’s a magic to living with artists that surpasses the often stressful or methodical worlds of academics or athletes.
Artists live on the brink of ecstacy or the edge of insanity more often than not, so when you live with them it can feel just like you’re in the swirling winds shot from a magic wand.
My daughter left for a pre college art program and, because I share her heart of an artist, I sit wondering what to do without her and hoping she has a good time while worrying that she’s so fragile she could break under her guise of strength.
Then I remember that guise is not a disguise at all.
It’s actually her reality.
She bears a resemblance to a Greek goddess in the midst of a tumultuous highway of mindsets bent on nearly crashing into her.
She stands, sword in hand, striking the sounds of doubt from her stance, sometimes, often, receiving their criticisms, wounded, in pain, dropping her sword, lowering her head, lying down.
She heals eventually and returns to her power.
The number of times she has stood her ground when she fought with me has increased over the years. The power with which she uses and doesn’t use words can set a room on fire. The intensity of her work puts shame to anything I’ve ever accomplished.
That’s magic mixed with a power so intrinsic to an artist.
And, we are all artists.
Accepting that makes our lives easier to manage and enjoy. Otherwise, we’re sent plugging away in drudgery at the daily confines of tasks to be finished and jobs to be done.
Those not just content but happy doctors, lawyers, and engineers are creatives in their own right.
They stand over patients and inspire them to fight for their lives and wellness.
They plunge into difficult cases emerging with solutions to difficult problems.
They sift through data and documents creating new ideas out of old structures.
Parents living with teenage artists find solace in their art.
Our artists are abstract and concrete all the while leaving us breathless with what they can conjure up for us, what they can pull from nothingness.
And you writers, well, you tell us the stories to keep us going when we find ourselves lost in worlds that have abandoned the idea of being artists.
So, as a parent of two artists, I watch in awe of their resolve, saddened by their wounds, hoping for their healing, and waiting for the next burst of magic, bound to love them through it all.
There she is, a child laughing, sugar her best friend. There she is, dreaming, wanting more than this. Her transformation moved quickly then slowed then sped up again.
She found her voice in comedy as she explored the world of acting, becoming herself on MADtv, Reno 911, and too many other projects to name. Most recently, she wrote, produced, and starred in This is Meg, based on her wild ride called life. Soon she’ll be releasing her one-woman show.
In between, the laughter came tears and growth. She left the sugar behind, finding the thrill of exercise instead, finding herself on a spiritual journey as well.
As her older sister, I see her as a child at the same time that I see the transformation. When she came to us, she brought so much joy and happiness and now she shares it with the world.
Oftentimes when reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the classroom, students giggle when stumbling upon the first “inappropriate” word.
By ages 10 and 11 nowadays, students have heard and said all of those words at some point. In fact, a lot of those kids have heard their parents shouting those words while driving through morning and afternoon traffic.
Because I teach in Miami, many of the students volunteer during class discussions that their parents say very colorful words in a couple different languages.
Just a side note: If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving in Miami, you would probably say them too.
So, when students giggle about those words, it’s because for one, they’re in school. And, for another they know it’s wrong to say them. Their parents (guardians) and teachers have told them this.
For the most part, when students’ eyes run across the “N-word,” they stop, stutter, and say “N-word” or skip to the next word. Some students say the word and just keep going.
It’s not too far into the book that we have a Socratic Circle on the topic of censorship.
It gives them a sense of enlightenment to be given the opportunity to take control of their education and decide what they think is right or wrong.
The students boldly talk about the importance of using those words in this book and to remember how terrible the word really is. These young students, who hear all types of inappropriate words on YouTube and when they’re playing video games, speak about censorship intelligently and almost sound like little parents.
I, as their teacher, never interfere with their viewpoints. I only offer questions about it.
Why do you think people would want to censor “inappropriate” language from books?
Who decides what’s “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for whom?
Why do we feel the need to censor anything, in any type of media?
These questions are difficult to answer. We adults know that we go to great lengths to protect our children from any number of situations let alone what may or may not be “inappropriate” language in a book. What about the content of the book itself?
Banned Books Week ended already, but there are other issues involving the internet that leave us all stumped in one way or another, especially those with children or those who are teaching children.
How do we solve these issues? Do we look to our history of banning books and censoring art to guide us into the future?
Writing was only used to text or post for help. We had to preserve electricity.
Funny how we call it power.
Well, we lost power. By that I mean, the kind we depend on for everything lately, even our brains. We are so accustomed to Googling everything that we use, essentially using electricity inadvertently instead of our brains.
Needless to say, everything slowed down after Irma ripped electricity from us.
And, all I have to say about it is a lot.
After the storm: Irma ripped away our electricity.
If you’ve never been to Miami during a humid hot summer day–and I don’t mean at the beach–then don’t roll your eyes when I repeat what everyone is complaining about. One day without electricity left us baking inside our houses, even with the windows open. By day three, my daughter slept on the tile floor while my husband fanned her with my son’s science board.
I kept getting up and putting the pillow under her head, but she still had bumps from hitting it against the floor.
I thought I could deal with it, but the hurricanes before Irma left us with somewhat of a breeze during the long days of no electricity. Irma left Miami and the Keys and other parts of Florida with not even a small breeze to tease us enough for a hint of hope.
Dead heat sucked away all of our energy. So that brain power, which needed to be harnessed and used for the lack of power we have become so reliant on, that was useless except for reading books and minimal movement.
I picked up Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and read it finally. I’d been pushing it to the side in the name of parenthood, work, cleaning, sleep, and even writing. The hellish descriptions of enslavement intertwined with the lyrical tone of love and resilience kept me more than thankful for what we had despite the extreme discomfort during the days without electricity. I also relearned history and was continually reminded of how lucky and spoiled we are.
Incredible people emerge when circumstances leave us vulnerable.
Let’s be realistic. There were the crazy creeps who crawled out of the woodwork and thought it was the Walking Dead come to life, so they hoarded all the gas to power their pickup trucks and generators. But, for every single creep, there were multiple kind-hearted humanitarians who came to the rescue for the elderly and all of us who were so anxious and tired.
We picked up tree branches and cut trees from our fences, mailboxes, and cars.
Especially those with electricity, neighbors and friends asked each other if anyone needed help: a charger, a warm shower, a place to breathe fresh air.
Then there were those we couldn’t even contact.
Phone service was terrible.
Landlines didn’t even work, let alone wireless phone service. Most of the first three days after Irma hit, texts wouldn’t go through and phone calls lasted maybe 10 seconds if you were lucky to get a signal at all.
We had to walk or drive to hospitals or grocery stores that were able to open just to try to contact relatives. It wasn’t just the heat that kept me from sleeping for five days. I would wake up drinking in hot air after passing out from lack of sleep. Panic attacks plagued me after 12 and sometimes 24 hours without a word from my parents.
Irma took my parents’ home.
My parents lost their dream home in Plantation Key. They are the hardest working people I know. My father’s a 74-year-old war veteran, who was awarded a bronze medal for his service, never shed a tear over it; but he was heartbroken. He quietly stood tall and accepted his loss as my mother cried then grew strong with her own acceptance.
Slowly their hearts were mended when the police officers and fire rescue in Miami-Dade and the Keys checked on them. Most of their neighbors also came to their rescue, even locals who didn’t have any idea who they were responded to my pleas for help on social media and checked on them.
They have another home in the Keys where they took shelter and remained without electricity, cleaning up debris and flooded areas while enduring this damned heat. Those beautiful police officers and fire rescue workers got the word out and managed to restore their electricity yesterday.
When our electricity finally blipped on, everyone in our entire neighborhood, windows open, cheered. My mind flashed to us with spears in hand dancing in honor of the electricity gods. My children panted, “I will never take it for granted again.”
I joked that we now worshipped the electricity gods. Before this one, our children just took it for granted. Now they understood adults spouting words such as “spoiled” and “lazy” as they relentlessly played with their electronics and inhaled fresh, cool air.
The only good think Irma gave us was a deep appreciation for everything she took away from us.
This is what my daughter played on the piano after we were blessed with electricity.
Any teacher worth their salt will tell you straight up that she’s learned as much from her students as they have from her.
But, every teacher will concede that learning has become more than just a challenge.
I have two children and I’ve taught thousands.
So, when I began teaching, I wanted to be the teacher that I’d want for my own children. I wanted to be someone who cares about students and who will ensure students learn as much as possible about the subject matter.
I so naively thought, How hard could it be?
I found out.
It’s never as simple as it could be.
Looking at the world we live in today, education feels more like a battleground for a teacher than the simple act of opening a book.
For students, it’s no longer an avenue to learning as much as a road block.
Students can’t sit still and, when they do, they lose focus so quickly that a vigilant teacher hammers out questions within a minute of reading a paragraph let alone a passage.
And, if the problem was only with the students, it might be easier to turn around, but the difficulties are compounded by overworked parents who are just as addicted to electronics as their children are and oftentimes clueless about the damage electronic devices do to students who have to go to school and read mountains of information in order to graduate.
It would be nice.
It would be nice to be able to take a usb and insert it into students’ hard drives (if they had one in their brain) in order to transfer the information so that they could then take that and create or perform new tasks from that point on.
We aren’t there yet. And, really, do we want that? I don’t know.
I do know that I tell students that I can’t do that. They have to open the book, open the document, visit the website, and read.
I’m their least favorite teacher.
I know this.
I’m fine with it.
But, it is a challenge. So, I take them to the movies.
Take them to the movies.
Of course, these movies are inside their heads. I use the information already uploaded to their limitless hard drives and give them something to connect to.
No, it doesn’t work right away. I reconnect at the beginning of each week, especially after long weekends like this one and forget about how hard it is to connect after winter break and then spring break.
I do it anyway.
We talk about where movies come from. We talk about how they begin.
From books, from a written word, from an idea, from an education.
But, it’s still not that simple.
Students get excited. They fantasize. They proclaim. They set goals. Then, they go home.
At home they are met with iPhones, iPads, desktops, laptops, televisions, movies, YouTube, apps, apps, and more apps.
Parents are tired and stare at the same thing.
So, who educates whom?
To meet teachers just introduces parents to someone who will attempt to use technology in order to bypass the distractions that every student must face this year.
Teachers from all backgrounds and ethnicities will plunge full-force into the curriculum deemed correct by the state and departments.
Will students teach teachers or will teachers teach students?
It really is a conundrum if there’s no exchange of power. At the core of learning is the ability to ingest information but not to just regurgitate it. If the teacher can truly spark the desire to learn in any student, then the student needs to be able to return the spark with a fire that can’t be put out the minute he or she enters a home.
The learning needs to continue, whether that’s answering questions about science, mathematics, or about a novel or an article read online. The student then needs to be able to then create something new, write an essay, a story, or create a robotic arm.
All of this requires focus and inevitably demands freedom from distractions.
So what can teachers learn from students?
They are smarter than anyone gives them credit for.
They actually have access to way too much information.
So, knowing just these two things, makes teachers the perfect avenue to guide them. And, if parents and teacher actually worked together, they could influence children more than they ever imagined.
Who holds the power?
Students will teach parents and teachers by default. The interaction makes it so. However, instead of raging on about the damn electronics, how about giving them power over their devices.
Teach them that the devices are just tools to get what they want. But, then, they would need to know what they want.
That’s where teachers find their power. Our job really is that simple and, yet, more difficult than ever.
Our power lies in showing students their own power.
You see, they think it’s in their devices. Many students don’t really think about the fact that humans made these devices. They don’t think about why they made them.
So, when it comes right down to it, teachers need to understand that empowering students through conversations full of questions and debate in every subject in every grade level is the key to conquering what feels like a black hole of endless distractions.