December 3, 2012 § 3 Comments
I’ve been wanting to do a series of self-portraits ever since seeing Vivian Maier’s unique collection, but I’ve also been a bit shy about it. It’s seems somehow egotistical or self-absorbed to post all photos of myself – and more vulnerable too.
I’ve definitely learned more about my body in the process – like my incredibly bad posture (I may finally listen to my mother and stand up straight!), where I need to work on my lines in yoga positions, and how in photos and in life I prefer to glance to the side rather than straight on. But I’ve also been obsessed recently with Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on how our body language shapes our mentality. Her opinion is that standing in postures of power and confidence for a few minutes will change how we think about our role in a situation. It’s been interesting over the month how my postures have oscillated between confidence and vulnerability. Both are positive and needed, I think, but they are each best in different situations. I am working towards both at the right times.
Here are a few highlights from the month.
You can view the rest here.
September 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
At 80 years old, Vera Klement, an oil painter in Chicago, still grapples with the doubts of creating, with wondering what to create next, with creating something that people will understand and connect to. This brief documentary (10 min) follows Vera on a recent project as she paints a portrait in homage to Dmitri Shostakovitch, celebrates her 80th birthday party, and reflects on how she came to paint. Her courage and wisdom are inspiring.
“Really trite things, those are the things that move people,” she says. “But if you paint them with great severity, you can get away with it.”
A nod to Vera and her perseverance.
June 20, 2012 § 5 Comments
I love this piece on East London’s fashion in the last 100 years. It’s so fun to hear the music and see the fashions of the last century fly by. It’s even more fun to see the styles that have stayed, returned, or never came back.
Lately I’ve felt a similar frenzied and nostalgic rush toward technology.
On one hand, I bought a new phone which prompted me to dive into the land of apps and Instagram. I even started a twitter account (another dangerous whim). Here’s my first tweet. (If you follow @abigaillzc, you can bet there will be offthefrontporch links.)
And my first instagram photo (follow @zimmeralc for more).
But as much as I’m diggin things like Voxer and AroundMe, I’m aware of how much past technology continues to influence our new habits. For example, our computer keyboards click because when they were first made with muted sound, the quiet office unnerved typists. So engineers made them click again. And the layout of the keys (the QWERTY pattern) was meant to slow down the typists so the machine could keep up with them – now our computers are more than capable, yet we continue to use the slower QWERTY layout.
So in the midst of playing around with my new toys, I also got a fresh ribbon for my typewriter, which I’ve been using to write Sylvia-Plath-style.
(Look what serious poets we both are. It’s all because of the typewriter.)
And I’m listening to classics like Otis Spain and Al Green on my record player.
Soon I will be using a lot more public transportation to get around, which – as these 100-year-old promotional infographics imply – is certainly not a new fad.
Readers, revel in the old and indulge in the new.
May 23, 2012 § 1 Comment
About her book, Mindy Kaling said,
This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink. If you’re reading this book every night for months, something is not right.
I finished her book in 5 days as I listened to her read driving in my car. I thought there was something wrong when I have been working my way through another novel by an Indian author, who I will not mention, and am still on chapter 3. I gave up. I decided to try a different Indian author and I am so glad I did.
Here are reasons why Mindy and I should be best friends:
1. We are emotional people. I get emotional when I see the commercials of orphans, when my students tell me they didn’t eat breakfast or had nightmares the evening before, or if I hear stories of someone’s birthday being completely forgotten. I cried when I got into graduate school, when I found out my friends were getting married, and I cried at absolutely anything remotely super exciting or super sad. I respond with tears. So does Mindy – she even says so.
..I find it incredibly impossible not to cry when I hear Stevie Nicks’s “Landslide,” especially the lyric: “I’ve been afraid of changing, because I’ve built my life around you.” I think a good test to see if a human is actually a robot/android/cylon is to have them listen to these song lyrics and study their reaction. If they don’t cry, you should stab them through the heart. You will find a fusebox.
A remarkable thing about me is that the time that elapses between a sad thought and a flood of tears is three or four seconds.
2. I’m not athletic. I have a confession. In high school my only Bs were in gym class. I can’t throw, catch, swing a bat or tennis racket to match the ball. Fear and the fact that I’m not very competitive takes over in any sport that I do. Luckily, I never was the last kid picked because there was always that kid who picked his nose and smelled funny. However, I can be quite the star in a kickball game or tag.
A handful of experiences when I was small have made me a confirmed nonathlete. In psychology (okay, Twilight) they teach you about the notion of imprinting, and I think it applies here. I reverse-imprinted with athleticism.
3. She’s absolutely smart. We’re both very intelligent women. Not in the “I’m so smart that I want to argue with you and make you feel small or less than” kind of smart, but an “Oh, that’s a good idea or different view” or “Thanks for that insight” smart. We like to share it because we think it will better the person and world. She’s spreading her witty wisdom with the world in her new project, of course, called “The Mindy Project.”
I dream of us sitting in my backyard eating brunch, laughing and crying over stories of our childhood, giggling and dreaming over men, and planning on how to solve poverty issues within our communities. Well, maybe we’ll just walk up and down the street and give away leftover popsicles from my fridge to children and ask them to play with us. Is that creepy? If I did it with Mindy, it wouldn’t be. I love this lady. If you want some more of Mindy, read some excerpts of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me here.
A nod to Mindy Kaling.
May 9, 2012 § 5 Comments
Guest post by Becky Silva.
I like asking people who are older than me when they truly felt they had become adults. I get all kinds of answers.
Some say that it was when they left for college.
Others answer that it was when they married their spouse.
Or became parents.
I ask because I don’t feel like an adult.
I’m waiting for adulthood.
I wish that adulthood was like joining a Greek sorority or fraternity, so then I could just be hazed and know for sure.
As I sit here writing and waiting for my impending adulthood, I’m reminded of all the times that I thought my life would change when I hit a certain “magic” age.
When I was 9 years old, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 10. Not only is 10 double digits, but because my dad was in the Navy and I was his dependent, I would get my very own I.D. card. I could flash this I.D. card at the gates to get on the military base where my mum went grocery shopping. Mind you, my mum was the one who actually kept my I.D. card safe in her purse, but that didn’t matter.
When was 12, I knew that EVERYTHING would change when I turned 13. Because 13 means you’re a teenager. And teenager means you’re not a kid anymore. It means you’re mature…and you get boobs.
When I was 14, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 15. Fifteen meant I would have my driver’s permit — a small card that identified me as being able to drive…with my parents in the front seat.
When I was 15, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 16. Sixteen meant that I could drive without parents in the car, like a boss.
When I was 17, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 18. Eighteen meant I was an adult in the eyes of the U.S. Government. And with the power of adulthood I could legally purchase lotto tickets, cigarettes, porn, and call the 1-800 number to order Hooked on Phonics. I chose to use my power to buy lotto tickets for my church’s youth group Christmas white elephant gift.
When I was 19, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I was 20. Twenty meant that I was no longer a teenager. It meant I was a more legit adult.
But that didn’t last long, because when I was 20, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I was 21. Then I could legally buy alcohol, and everybody knows that alcohol is the epitome of adulthood.
In college, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I was finished with a degree under my belt. The world would then accept me as an adult who contributes to society.
But everything did not change. At least not in the ways I thought they would.
On their own merits, each of the small achievements made small changes in my life that, looking back, don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. But they’re important in the moment. They’re like small tiny steps toward adulthood.
For instance, last summer I was in California. I was twenty-three and realized I had no idea how to correctly style my hair. It’s curly and thick and looks like a dead rat’s nest if something doesn’t happen. And for someone who has “allegedly” been an adult for at least five years, I knew that wasn’t acceptable. So I called my aunt who is a hairstylist and asked her to teach me how to tame the beast. She did.
And I was one step closer to adulthood.
I’m now 24, and my mum lets me keep my own I.D. card. For all legal and social purposes I am an adult. And every once in a while I do things that make me feel like I’m not a kid. Then I’ll do something that makes me feel absolutely anti-adult. So I’ve made two lists.
Things that make me feel like an immature kid:
- my messy room and car
- craving sweets
- Reading books from the kid’s section at the library
- making faces at the children that sit in front of me in church
- not wanting to go to church
- wanting people to like me
- wanting people to laugh at my jokes
- my entire fashion “sense,” or lack thereof
- not going on dates
- never being in love
- wanting to memorize a dirty rap song
- misspelling words on social media
- wondering when I’ll become an adult
Things that make me feel like I could possibly not be a kid anymore:
- cooking for people other than myself
- cooking dinner in a crockpot
- making meatloaf for dinner
- making substitutions to food recipes
- people telling me that something I cooked is delicious
- having friends over the age of 30
- moving 1100 miles from anybody I knew to intern in Madison
- correcting people’s grammar on Facebook
- having a college degree
- hosting a Premier jewelry party
- having a favorite tampon brand
- buying said favorite tampon brand
- writing checks
- sending said checks to my siblings for their birthdays
- using phrases like “I digress” in my blog
- guest blogging for Abi and Pakou’s blog
What about you? What makes you feel like an adult? What makes you feel like a non-adult? What should North Americans do to haze young adults into adulthood?
Becky is currently a barista at Caribou Coffee while waiting for the powers that be to grant her the sacred gift of adulthood. When not working, she blogs, practices funny faces in the mirror (to use on children in church), and writes lists that she will probably never use.
May 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
We were waiting. She was writing and this sight was striking.
I didn’t grow up with my Mom reading books to me or helping me with my homework. By the time I was in first grade I had already surpassed her in reading and writing in English. In second grade, I was the translator for my teacher conferences. In middle school, I would help her sound out words like ”cat” and “the.” In high school, she attended and sat through hours of English at choir concerts and award ceremonies. My rich literacy experiences were not reading before bedtime or afterschool homework help, but it was full of oral stories. These were the moments of her telling me stories of how life use to be. Stories of how life was in Laos or Thailand and of her early years in the States as a refugee immigrant. I especially love hearing stories of my Mom raising us and her longings for home.
My mom, Yeu, sacrificed a lot to give us (eight children) all that she could. She chose to live life in a world that did not understand her. She chose to experience a world where her children spoke and understood another language. She chose this way of life because of her love for her children. When I experience moments of her writing, reading “Main Lobby,” asking for directions or a menu in English I get so proud of her. These moments remind me of the sacrificial beauty entangled in my mother’s love for us.
A nod to my mom, Yeu.
March 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
Today I was defeated by a jar of maple syrup, which I could not open. I twisted and pulled, used bare hands and grip pads, ran under hot water, and banged against the counter to no avail. Am I really so weak (those who’ve met me, please don’t answer)? Was the inherent syrupy stickiness which I so desired on my waffles the same as what prevented me from obtaining it? Did these Vermont jar manufacturers win the prize for “Most Sealed and Likely to Stay That Way” maple syrup?
I don’t know.
In the end, the jar sat victoriously on the kitchen counter…
…while I skulked on the living room floor.
We were not on speaking terms.
I feel like the badger in the 2006 Academy-nominated short film, who is repeatedly frustrated in getting the quiet he needs to sleep (while managing to be both crochety and adorable at the same time, thanks to Sharon Colman’s animation. Tonight I managed at least the crochety part.)
But who I want to be like is writer and parkour fan Amy – not just for her strength (though that would be very helpful in my encounters with maple syrup jars) but for her passion in pursuing a way of life that does not come easily, for allowing her fears to propel her forward, for just showing up.
Hmm….I suppose I should try again.
A nod to extraordinary women, the persistence of small mammals, and yes, even jar manufacturers driven by passion for perfectly preserved maple syrup.
September 14, 2011 § 3 Comments
I feel a little sheepish when I tell people I like poetry. I expect I’ll be pegged as a sentimental, large-eyed, diary-toting girl like P.G. Wodehouse’s character Madeline Bassett, known for whispering things like, “The stars are God’s daisy chain,” on an unsuspecting evening.
The truth is: poetry is powerful. William Blake’s poems about child suffering paved the way for child labor laws. Anna Akhmatova’s poems which she read to packed auditoriums rallied Russians to war during WWII. Javier Sicilia’s last poem (until Mexico finds peace) speaks to the violence of drug cartels and his son’s brutal murder. Poetry gives voice to the unspeakable. Poetry rests in a moment.
It seems harder for women to escape the Madeline Bassett stereotype. But here are three contemporary poets who have. Their words inspire on larger themes of justice and unity and in the smaller, private triumphs of life.
1. Kim Addonizio
Dang–she just tells it like it is. She’s hard-hitting and sassy. She’s been through shit and spits life right back at you. Even when a poem starts with an angry rant, by the end, she has you wrapped around some beautifully-crafted revelation of the human heart (yes, the shift is that dramatic here). She teaches poetry in San Francisco and plays a mean blues harmonica. Below is the poem that opens her collection, Lucifer at the Starlite.
Sign Your Name
on a scrap of paper,
crumple or tear it up and throw it away;
that’s how the world works, friend.
Maybe you can’t even get as far
as gripping a pen, maybe your hand
is scrabbling in a few dirty grains
of rice, or you’re licking a tin plate
or just your fly-crawled lips. Welcome
and farewell: you’re stacked or stashed
or set aflame, turning on the spit,
the axis, the long pole that runs
through everyone. If you’re here
you’re already nearly gone. Write
if you can. If you can, give us a song.
2. Naomi Shihab Nye
Not only does she write herself (lyrics, children’s books, and poetry), but she’s compiled several anthologies for a number of ages, regions, and ethnicities. She writes about her experience as an Arab American women, and her poems tackle the themes of justice, travel, and of course, those sad, small or good moments that make us human. Some pieces take longer to unpack–you need to time to savor her (though savoring is a treat with poems like, “The Traveling Onion.”) Below is one of her shorter-but-still-delightful poems.
Please Describe How You Became a Writer
Possibly I began writing as a refuge from our insulting first grade text book. Come, Jane, come. Look, Dick, look. Were there ever duller people in the world? You had to tell them to look at things? Why weren’t they looking to begin with?
3. Lisel Mueller
I first heard Lisel Mueller’s poetry through Garrison Keillor reading “Not Only the Eskimos.” My love for her could have been triggered by Keillor’s unassuming voice, but its her words that continually fell me in one swoop. I like her tight, controlled language, her slight humor and sadness. She’s a German immigrant who settled in the Midwest, and her books and translations have won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Alive Together (1996). In the poem below, she explores the relationship between one’s name and self.
Fulfilling the Promise
A man I know named Booker
runs a secondhand bookstore.
My florist’s name is Fiore.
Formica designs kitchens
in California, and Richard Hazard
sells real estate and insurance.
We can change our names
or grow into them.
Except the unlucky ones.
Even their murderers knew
the children of the Czar
were innocent. But they could not kill
the name Romanoff
without killings its bearers.
Today, in the hospital nursery,
I visit Grace, asleep
under a pink blanket,
her hands still curled into shells.
She lies between Tiffany
and Marvella, who soon must wear
the heavy crowns of their names.
Her mother named her Grace
in spite of her red skin
and her head like an egg. She likes
the old-fashioned sound. “Give her time
to fulfill the promise,” she says.
At her wedding, a woman gave up
half of her name
and exchanged it for another.
Half of her is public,
subject to trade, the other
private, treasure and loneliness,
what he thinks of as her,
what she would share, if she could.
And the man who testified
for the State,who named the mobster,
how does he manage the old self
behind the new glasses
and the removable beard?
Under the memorized name
and the false documents
the container and sinner of memory
At night with the lights out,
and the TV turned up,
a woman whispers his secret name
it frightens and excites him
like the hundredth name of God.
What contemporary poets would you recommend?
July 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
This week I’m a quarter of a century old. I’m celebrating my day of birth in Uganda as it marks it’s 25th year of war (see part 1 of this post here). I have heard many stories of how the war has impacted the lives of the students I work with, but I have also met beautiful people full of joy. Although life is hard here, it has also been really simple. It makes me appreciate small things, like having long mornings. This weekend, celebrate the small things with me and spend 25 birthday morning minutes doing the following:
1. Lie an extra 5 minutes in bed after the alarm snoozes. It’s a nice feeling to know you can turn your head over to the cooler side of the pillow and close the lids for a bit longer.
2. Take 28 seconds to pour water in the tea kettle and select the tea of the day. I like my tea with a bit of honey.
3. As the water heats up, dance around in your pajamas for 7 minutes, 32 seconds.
4. After the sing along, sip your cup of tea and read a chapter from Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Goodness I love this woman. She’s so funny! She’s Greek, a mother, a doer, and a bossy lady who likes to get things done. I’m reading her book right now and I literally laugh aloud each chapter multiple times. Below is an excerpt from “The Mother’s Prayer to Its Daughter,” or listen to her read excerpts here. Take 9 minutes with Tina.
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half. And stick with Beer.
Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
5. Lastly, spend 3 minutes loving on those around you. Call, email, hug, or just say I love you. It’s never unnecessary to say so.
June 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
Guest post by Grete Bauder.
When I was little, one of my biggest heroes—though I mightn’t have said it—was Jane Goodall, the anthropologist. My 6th grade science teacher remarked it was the first time he heard my voice in class: I answered a question about her.
I remember thinking she was absolutely regal. She was intelligent, not fussy, looked so nice in pictures, and got to be famous for being quiet. I was very shy, and all I wanted was to be recognized for simply doing what I did best. Jane sat quietly in the forest, hidden and peaceful, doing the same thing over and over again, observing monkeys. She wrote down what she saw, thought about it. It was smart and interesting, so people noticed.
She didn’t have to jump up and down and say, “I’m the best, the best scientist in the whole world!” She didn’t have to do something gross, like dissect things, and she didn’t have to do something hard, like invent something. I suppose for all the kids who liked to jump up and down or fiddle with things, inventing and shouting would be far preferable. But to me, Jane’s work sounded easy. Plus, I could draw, and just by being patient and understanding, I could be part of a whole ‘nother species’ culture. I could have secrets the whole world would be astonished to hear.
Now, as a (more) grown up, I find myself with a different demeanor and a different type of hero. Now I speak up, speak honestly, and speak my mind–I don’t mind causing a stir. Maybe I’ve lost patience with the world, this world I’ve come to know and love and hate since the summers I spent climbing trees. Maybe it’s because difficult is more impressive and easy doesn’t exist. Maybe because I think now our world needs more repair than discovery.
This summer is the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Rides down through Alabama and Mississippi. I was struck by Jim Zwerg’s clip on the PBS special’s website:
Jim made a conscious to decision to go where he didn’t have to, where it wasn’t pleasant, and do what didn’t come easily. He went into conflict. He went to make a statement to the whole world: his fate was bound up with other people’s oppression, even though he had nothing to gain from it.
Jim didn’t observe, he let himself be observed. He got hurt, he got hospitalized. It was hard. Jane’s accomplishments were slow and steady. Jim’s was a punch in the face. He wasn’t in the quiet forest; he was in the raging urban jungle. He was peaceful, but not hidden.
Little me idealized the quiet life and accomplishment through intelligence. Now I’ve learned to value outspokenness and accomplishment through courage.
But wait—maybe my heroes aren’t too far apart after all.
Jim sat on a bus for long hours. Just waiting there. Then got off in Birmingham. He didn’t say a word. A person with no fuss, who has since faded into the woodwork of life. Jane has since taken up the cause, and spoken out on behalf of the natural world.
To me these two embody opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re actually whole people. I forget about that. You don’t have to have one or the other. They aren’t. So I guess, I’m allowed to like both, maybe even be both, too.