A Diary of Change

On the 18th anniversary of the day our world changed – forever.

zack-gwen-twin-towers

September 12, 2001. Last night I looked frantically for the picture of my SAVAR students on our yearly trip to NYC to no avail. But I can still see the their faces. BJ’s thousand watt smile, Kim, Thea, Byron, Jessica, Tiffany, Kristy, Nikki, and Katie all in adolescent poses of deep friendship. There were more but these faces found the camera at every turn. It is what I see when I close my eyes. And I could be wrong, relying, as I do, on the sovereignty of memory. I could be thinking of the picture we took on the eighty-third floor of the Empire State Building – different year but some of the same smiles and definitely the same Twin Towers in the background. I will always remember these pictures and yet over time I know these memories will fight a losing battle with the vision I beheld Tuesday, September 11th. Shocked, I watched the south tower as it belched smoke and flame. I saw the second plane bank and then plunge out of sight into the tower behind, propelling the fireball out beyond the south tower. I knew then that this plane was not coming in to drop flame retardant on the first tower – as I first thought. My heart raced. I held my head. Only later did I curse technology. Oh to return to the world of word-of-mouth transmission. The time when one hovered around the television or radio, listening to the newscast as it was filtered through the minds and hearts of stoic announcers. I thought of Cronkite’s voice coming over the speaker in my junior high library and how it cracked and caught on the words that president, John F. Kennedy was dead. That was a time when we were allowed space to form our own mental pictures of catastrophe – however tragic. It is different now.

 Yesterday I had a student write in her English essay, “Change is inevitable…” At fifteen she knows this. And here I am, half a century in age and barely able to remember when a postage stamp was two cents and the closest war was the ‘gas war’ happening over on the boulevard. I’ve missed something about change. Maybe it is the sameness of my days; the only changes are the ones I make.

 Now, my days are changed. An unseen hand has written a tragic script complete with murderous planes. How does one teach this? I don’t want to gather my son and the sons and daughters of others around me and have to explain hatred and intolerance. I fear it is completely beyond my ability. And yet I must.

 I left school on that Tuesday with nowhere to go. Everywhere there was nothing but television news so I watched my son’s soccer practice. I sat in the bleachers reading the local paper, the last one printed before the attack. I could believe, for a few minutes anyway, that the news of the day was light. Periodically, I’d look up at the boys and girls of various ethnic backgrounds on the soccer field in the bright sunshine. The day was exquisite, with the green hillsides only hinting at the golden leaves to come. On the broad expanse of lawn I witnessed young people in innocent athletics giving high fives to friends and competitors alike. I could have stayed there forever, a frozen tableau of perfection. No hatred, no intolerance, no headlines of alarm.

 A student asked about our annual New York City trip. I was resolute in my response. “We will go. That’s one thing that will not change,” I told her. But change is inevitable. A fifteen-year-old told me this. And she was right.

April 2002. The New York City trip did happen. Phantom of the Opera enthralled my forty-five students, most from the hinterlands of rural western New York. On the subway to South Street Seaport, I decide not to make the trek to the hole in the ground that changes forever they way I view human nature. Most of the young people go with another chaperone. A few students stay with me and the vendors of cheap memorabilia. I sigh with relief. I am not ready.

Our chartered bus is faithful to our departure time and, after a last minute buying flourish of knockoff glasses and watches, we depart. I count heads then relax amid the excited chatter of adolescence. Even as darkness descends I sense we are on THAT parkway. My senses are validated by the silence that befalls the group. The bus slows to a crawl – not for traffic but for the view of the remains of the Twin Towers – the hole that has swallowed my city memories. I thought if I didn’t look – maybe things would become unchanged. I looked.

I admonish myself for my foolish, pretzel logic – to think we could achieve some type of retro-sameness. Like the skyline of lower Manhattan, we are all forever changed.

GDF – 2019

 

I’M STILL

Slide1

We teachers are a docile lot

Teaching this world’s polyglot

Glued to plans and kids alike

Don’t ask us what we don’t like

Keep the kids’ assembly line

Moving forward marking time

And when the hammer rears its head

Do ‘be still’ until you’re dead

Flunking Retire -ment

cropped-kw-seminar-books.jpg

 

 

 

I have flunked that good, after life

Leaving desk, chalk, and youth sublime

Eight years and a clarion light

Continues to call me to dine

~

With character filled texts and chairs

I return to a chalkless life

Anxious, faded elegance dares

To drag my dreams to “that good night”

~

Dreams die hard desire remains

I answer the call to return

Restoring dream’s dust to grain

Desires continue to burn

~

Teaching is now a brand new flight

Where time and love is now outsourced

Knowledge now comes in bits and bytes

Pass, fail with a little remorse

~

Virtual reality reigns

As 21st Century fun

As if being “real” needs explain

Over needs for real wisdom

~

So I am back to spread my grains

Of wisdom and where I found

Meanings to life ‘long side the brain

Which the “Road less traveled” is bound

 

 

 

THE POLITICS OF EBOLA: GOD’S PLAN, AND I TOLD YOU SO

ebola

Last week I was stunned by the unkind comment of the stranger next to me as we filled a container with donated cans of soup at the local food bank. The comment came after a polite discussion that almost lulled me into dangerous camaraderie with this woman whose conversation segued from motherly pride in her daughter’s nursing career to her idea that Ebola is God’s punishment. “Whoa!” I put up my hand and responded with the usual; where was God when….(insert any historical scourge here). I pointed out Nazi Germany’s contribution to earthly scourges but, after a few days of contemplation, I know there is not much I could say to this woman and others like her who make their stabs at somatic immunity by volunteering in local food banks and presuming to know what God has in mind for believers and non-believers. And maybe my discomfort comes from my own questioning about a belief system that asks me to suspend belief in reality; a reality in which I live. The reality here is that Ebola is not new and as long as it stayed in some faraway land punishing others for being… well, the “other,” Ebola remained that terrible disease plaguing those sad people in that faraway land. Ebola is here, in our face, live and in living color (cue the hysteria).

We first-world (as opposed to third-world) inhabitants are quite predictable in our approach to life; we live our comfortable lives (some more comfortable than others) consumed with the daily familial and material concerns of the species. Oh, we read the headlines as we pass from one engagement to the next but no headline gets our attention like the local headline giving us the exact location and identity of the killer who has been knocking at our door for decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1994 Richard Preston introduced a generation of readers to The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, a non-fiction thriller that frightened even Steven King who, according to Wikipedia said the first chapter of The Hot Zone was “one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life. ” Preston’s book paints indelible images of people in the throes of hemorrhagic fevers and bursting vomit-bags of black bile on transatlantic flights. (After reading the Preston’s book in ’95 I have seriously changed my original position on monkeys as sweet and adorable pets). But Preston’s bestseller did not act as wake up call for the “free world”; shaking our collective shoulders and encouraging us to answer the door. No, it was not until the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, according to Slate.com, that serious research spending occurred at the behest of Dick Cheney whose fear of America’s vulnerability to attack by enemies using bioweapons (as if airplanes were not enough) prompted the Project Bioshield Act. And here is just another story from the file of tragic irony; were it not for the vicarious warriors – those men who fight wars with other people’s children – and their projection of retribution, we would be living with an even worse prognosis for survival.

It is Monday morning, our favorite team has lost the game leaving fans with nothing but hindsight to tell us that America has, once again, been caught deaf to the knocking of humanity. Had we listened to those doctors on the front lines fighting diseases (diseases that know no politics or religion) we wouldn’t be in this heightened state of terror. Had we studied the past, listened to our hearts, and reached out with all the atomic weight our country can muster (especially in times of war) to assist a world far less fortunate, we would not be at this intersection of moral chaos and panic. We allow the scourge of Ebola to continue by proclaiming it a part of “God’s” plan – a passive aggressive approach that did not work with the aids virus. As a country we need to read, reason, and understand. After reading the story of the Ebola virus in The Hot Zone we should have understood Preston’s terrifying conclusion: EBOV will be back. And so it has.

EVERY TEACHER PRAYS

cropped-kw-seminar-books.jpg

Every teacher prays

The Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian, Atheist …

Everyday, walking the classroom’s threshold  

We pray to be delivered from

The menace of caprice

In a land governed by misery

The only evidence of our existence

With nothing but a chalk

backbone for the onslaught

The gunfight

The fire

The explosion

The educational cataclysm

That will leave the classroom

Scattered in doom

Books, bodies and minds with

Words and dreams

Obliterated beyond recognition

 

   …pray for us teachers now

   and at the hour of our test,

 Ah women

GONE MAIL: DECIDING WHAT’S WORTH A READ

Keys are clean - not so for the tray that holds them - alas

Another morning and I am in deep conversation with my computer – my e-mail to be specific.  Before I finish my coffee I have invented new swear words to fling at those who’ve invaded my e-space with demands traveling under guise of information. And maybe I am just a crank leftover from the ‘70s – I am told crankiness is a condition to be expected after so many years of watching the world retreat from its ’70’s promise of peace, love and happiness. Below I present a small sample of the items that litter my e-mail inbox along with my running commentary on the barrage of cultural spam. (I’ll try to limit expletives for the sensitive but please know there are times when no other word will suffice).  gdf

 

FROM: LinkedIn Updates : 

 I retired almost 7 years ago and now I get tons of info regarding up and coming linked-in professionals (friends and former students) — my message to them:   save your money and retire early. If you can’t – then never, ever work at a job that saps your soul of all compassion. Better yet, never work at a job that you absolutely can not flip-off when they ask you to do the unthinkable. Fight devolution and ignorance — everyday!

FROM: info@twitter.com subject: “Venezuela, Malaysia, Angola,New Zealand win U.N. Council seats; Apple Pay Will Launch October 20″

 Good for Angola, New Zealand and Malaysia; Apple pay? — riiiight  – apple pays for nothing not even taxes. If you don’t believe me follow the link -> How to make $30 billion and pay no corporate income tax, the …  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/ 2013/05/20/how…

FROM: campaigns@dailykos.com subject: ” DEMOCRATIC DOOM 

Democrats are doomed because democrats don’t vote (Not enough anyway).

FROM: Republican catastrophe : Campaigns@dailykos.com

We can only hope

FROM:  messages-noreply@linkedin.com subject: “Congratulate Deborah S.  

           Another Compton alumnus done good… congrats Deborah

FROM:  info@dscc.org subject: “NOT asking for money: (sign this!)”

Don’t believe it! There’s a request in there somewhere – this is politics after all. And how about the dscc paying ME for my signature!?

FROM: battleground-update@dscc.org

A battleground? Tell me something I don’t know

FROMNOT asking for money: (sign this!)

You again!

FROMe-activist@aft.org subject: “Fighting Ebola” 

I find this frightening – (I read The Hot Zone twice) as our “congressional leaders” will turn this catastrophe into the old “blame game” blaming the president for everything – obfuscating the truth of lock-step disapproval of anything the African-American president suggests e.g. surgeon general candidates. Our president is not perfect but I cannot lay this at his doorstep. Texas – yeah! let’s blame Texas.

FROM: Candice Owley, AFT e-activist@aft.org

American Federation of Teachers? I’m a retired activist but I won’t open this because I know what you’ll tell me – vote. I will.

FROM: Fighting Ebola

Shopping in Ithaca, NY and the hand sanitizer dispenser is empty – I fight the urge to clean the shopping cart handle with my spit. Thought the lady in front of me was going to faint when I spoke my intentions out loud. Hey, if you can’t trust your own spit – what can you trust? (I did find sanitizer though – get a grip).

FROM:  mail@faithfulamerica.org subject: “Right-wing bishops attack Pope Francis “betrayal”

Ah – the faithful — as a very fallen-away Catholic I should not be surprised (but I am) that God has been politicized like everything else.

 FROM: Michael Sherrard, Faithful America

Not a week goes by that I don’t feel some sense of gratitude that my beloved, devout Catholic grandmother is not alive to witness the deterioration of her faith – in the unseen, nature, karma, cosmos, and above all the decency in the human spirit. Sorry Gram.

FROM: Rite Aid Online Store riteaid@email.riteaid.com

I’m sure I need meds but crankiness pills are labeled a schedule 2 – drug not to be purchased on-line – Damn!

FROMinfo@barackobama.com subject: “A tipping point” 

My dear Mr. President I danced at your election – both of them – and I think you want to do the right thing but I do believe the office of the president is controlled by the plutocrats and the military industrial complex – and they are bigger and stronger than you. I am so sad to have to say this. You are not a man to receive his machismo at the end of a weapon and yet you continue in the business of war. You are far too smart not to know the outcome. I wonder if there are times you regret the office. Is this job sapping you (by way of ugly concessions) of all compassion for the victims of war, poverty, and big business? I have reached my tipping point. I’ve been tipped so far into anger at the politics that force the hand of decency to pound the weak. Sign me: Disappointed Democrat

 FROM: WordPress.com News comment-reply@wordpress.com

I have a blog at wordpress and lately I’ve been getting a lot of spam – people telling me they can help me with my writing and enlarge my media influence – Riiiight. If one wants to feel like a fly on the cultural windshield just try blogging. And I pay for this too!

FROM: nomorerack.com

nomorerack.com – who are you and what makes you think I want to buy anything from you? I am retired – I can stay in P.J.s all day if I wish.

FROM:a new message from dccc@dccc.org subject: “Gwen we’re BEGGING” 

Right – you want me to chip in $25 dollars. I like the term “chip in” as if I can just open my wallet and pull out a couple of unwanted tens and a five. But, I won’t. Consider my actions just a by-product of being an educated & reasonable member of the electorate who compares facts before allowing the knee to jerk upwards causing brain damage due to constant concussion.   

FROM: members@dccc.oGwen we’re BEGGING

Still? Beg all you want but when you can provide more jobs for people with no money – maybe I’ll consider donating again. Not now.

FROM:  @coursera.org subject: ” – The Fiction of Relationship” 

I’ve signed up for this lit course just for the title “The Fiction of Relationship” — says so much on so many levels

 FROM: Revolt! 5 Biographies of American Upstarts, R…

R-e-v-o-l-t – six letters guaranteed to warm the necrotic edges of a 70’s cranky old heart

FROM: info@dscc.org subject: “Michelle Obama video: (add your name)” 

I add my name because I adore you Michelle – a real first-lady – Obama. I truly hope you are not too bitter once your family leaves the white house. But then again, you wouldn’t be bitter – real women don’t indulge in bitterness.

 FROM: Guy Cecil, DSCC info@dscc.org

Go away

FROM: dccc@dccc.org subject: “FW: All Hope is Lost”

Yes it is – more than you’ll ever know

 FROM: Daily Kos “Unreal: Rick Scott refuses to debate Charlie Crist 

It used to be just the cream rose to the top but lately every manner of excrement can rise to the level of “newsworthy” – shame.

 FROM: info@wendydavistexas.com subject: “Why you should give $5” 

Wendy, I love your spirit and your last name but the DSCC needs to put up, shut-up and fully fund you. My $5 is nothing compared to the BIG BUCKS your future colleagues in congress have – hit them up for money.

 FROM: Jo-Ann Fabrics “20% off Your Total Purchase In-Store & Online!”

You have the wrong woman here – it was my mother who was the family seamstress. I’ll forward this e-mail to her. “But Gwen, your mother is dead.”   Oh.  I’ll forward it anyway – Google can find her 

 FROM:policymic.com subject: “The Student Protests Barely Anyone Is Talking About”

Protests!?  About damn time!

 FROM: Walmart newsletters@walmart.com subject: Friendly prices.”

Oh don’t get me started! I have not stepped across the threshold of this store in 20 + years. I consider them ground-zero in our capitalism run amok. “friendly prices” indeed! You are the largest employer in the country TRY PAYING YOUR EMPLOYEES A LIVING WAGE – like you do with WM workers in Germany.

FROM: dccc@dccc.org subject: “STUNNING Comeback” 

Yeah! And all without my $25

 FROM:campaigns@dailykos.com  “Woo-hoo!! Supreme Court in state with key Senate race kills voter ID law”

Does this mean I can go down to the courthouse and find justice rather than “Just Us”?

FROM: RealAge by Sharecare health@realage-mail.com

Know my real age? I fell down a flight of stairs a month ago – quite frightening to know just how old I am. I’ve walked 50 miles since.

FROMHow much sleep is too much?

No such thing as too much sleep…

FROM:members@dccc.org  PLEADING

Stop – you’re embarrassing yourself

FROM:  dccc@dccc.org subject: “we. fell. short. (14820)”

In more ways than you’ll ever know. I am one of the three democrats living in this zip code —  P.S. the other two are related to me

FROM:message from moveon.org “VOTE: Corruption in 30 Seconds”

I’m not surprised. This is the wealthiest congress in the history of the republic. Candidates who don’t get rich UNTIL after they are elected – makes one wonder (not really) just how much a congressperson’s soul is worth.

FROM: Republican catastrophe  campaigns@dailykos.com

Like I said – we can only hope

FROM:e-activist@aft.org subject: “Fighting Ebola”, AFT

As if teachers don’t have enough to fight! Hmm…let’s see – administrators, ebola, administrators, ebola… – so many viruses so little time

From Watts to Ferguson

New York Times photo - 8/14/14
New York Times photo – 8/14/14

And this is what becomes of youth

Arm and arm with desire

Standing staunch facing abuse

Before a funeral pyre

 

Youth inbred with courage and past

Arm and arm with desire

Stand before weapons en masse

Falcons in loosening gyre

 

To see faces so young and unlined

Witness new history unfold

Is to know the past as so unkind

Lessons unlearned, agony untold

 

This is what becomes of a youth

Where bondage is original sin

Buried with denial at its root

As if the crime had never been

 

Not as if one turns a page

To find a new, happy ending

Black skin will always pre-sent rage

Some unfailing and unbending

 

And so our youths confront it all;

Our transgressions of the past

Those shot will scream and fall

As we parse a truce that failed to last

 

 

                                                 ~ Gwen Davis-Feldman

                                                    August 14, 2014

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN…

cropped-hurricane-sandy-meets-lady-liberty.jpg

Go home,” the mighty Christians say

from their soapbox of indignities

our taxes too high we need to slay

those who’d deny our vanities

~

Embarrassing ignorance

happily displayed

hatred in torrents

intelligence delayed

~

Maybe it’s the distance

from Emma’s creed

begetting an entranced

and ugly breed

~

“Your tired, your hungry” sentenced to crawl

back to Central America; “Mexico”

while goodness & ignorance resort to brawl

to kindergarten a few will go

~

They will go to your schools

learn your lessons well

they’ll know all  enemy’s rules

that armies were  sent to quell

~

And lo many, many years hence

you’ll stare from old window blind

having forgotten hate’s energy spent

begging beautiful leaders, “please be kind”

~

 Meanwhile:

 The New York Times’

headlines scream

Armies of children

Armed only with dreams

 

gdf 7/17/14

 

 

 

TO THE BLACK MAN CONFRONTED BY THE CRAZY (RACIST) WHITE WOMAN

Link to video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtS-8LUdmXE

She can tell by the color of

Your skin that

You are armed and dangerous:
Armed with your camera and
Dangerous in your ability to

Reveal her to the world

And you scare her
As she tries to scare you

She can’t – that catalyst is dead
The epithet weaponized with
Her vehemence and jealousy

Yes, better to be caught racist than
Wanting what you have
And what she has (so obviously) lost

Control

No longer can she lynch you
Verbally or otherwise

All the power in Jim Crow
Could not kill you
Someone should tell her
In her pitiable
Ignorance

Parading
White privilege indeed

link: