Thursday, February 11, 2016

Current Calendar of 2016 Baltimore Mayoral Forums (courtesy Assata's Syllabus)

I'm having a hard time finding a complete listing online, so I thought I'd put this up. This is courtesy of Assata's Syllabus; someone posted it on the Facebook Baltimore Election 2016 group but it keeps getting buried. Let me know if you see any errors.

I still don't know who I'm going to vote for. I have eliminated Dixon and Pugh. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Play Review: 'Under the Skin' at Everyman Theater

Our Drama and Theater students were lucky enough to attend Everyman Theater's production of Under the Skin this week, as part of the theater's High School Matinee Program. Playwright Michael Hollinger's comedy was a thrilling experience for our students, who gasped and giggled throughout the play's twisty plot and funny scenes, and at least one of their teachers (re: me) developed a case of 'allergies" during one particularly poignant exchange. Yes, this play had a little bit of everything; I laughed and I cried and was thoroughly satisfied.

My students were most intrigued by the plot, which was unpredictable in all the right ways; we worked on a playwriting unit before we went on the field trip, and students were able to recognize the reversal scenes for what they were, but only after they happened. And the play was a perfect segue into our Design unit, as the minimalist, yet complex (a hospital bed turns into a Starbucks wall) set, designed by Brandon McNeel, was brilliant. Half of the play takes place in a hospital room, so there is an antiseptic feel to the lighting and colors; however, it seamlessly shifts to a cozy Starbucks (photo below) and, later, to a living room and a bedroom. And about those lights: Jay A. Herzog's lighting is just as important as the set in conveying these different settings.

There's a nice piece in the program about Herzog being a recipient of a liver transplant, and that's what this play is about: organ transplant. But as the characters describe in their opening break-the-fourth-wall address to the audience, it's about more than that (of course). The play is about the ties that bind all people together, and the main internal conflict about a 30ish woman deciding whether to donate a kidney to her absentee father ends up being just the setup to an evocative exploration of forgiveness and family. Hollinger also wants to explore how we are all connected "under the skin." 

I found that aspect of the play really interesting, because the mixed-race cast -- a white daughter and father, and a black son and mother -- never actually mentions race in play. In fact, when I finished watching the play, I wondered about the issue of race in the play's production: could the play have been race-blind cast? And, in reflection, I didn't think so; it seems the playwright's intent was to make at least half the characters be black (after all, one of them is named Jarrell; one of them doubles as a doctor from Uganda) but not to make it an issue, because, as actress Alice M. Gatling explained to me during her post-show visit, he wanted to explore how we are connected "under the skin." Ms. Gatling was a treasure trove of information and motivation for my students, telling them how she competed in Speech competitions from the 6th grade on and has been a working actress her entire life. Later, I was fascinated with her discussions of what it was like to originate the role of Marlene, whose son Jarrell is considering donating a kidney. Gatling was cast in the play's world premiere in Philadelphia by playwright Hollinger, and now is playing the role for the second time. 

Gatling is terrific in three roles, as the aforementioned Marlene, a pillar of strength and good humor; as a comedically insistent and passive aggressive baurista; and as Dr. Badu, who is the no nonsense doctor who throttled me with a monologue about seeing her father dragged away by soldiers when she was 12 years old, never to see him again. She is the doctor working with Lou, the aforementioned estranged father who is at risk of dying of renal failure due to line infections. Played by Mitchell Hebert -- who reminded me of J.K. Simmons, the stern but funny Oscar-winning actor -- he successfully conveys a harsh exterior to hide some of the regrets of his life. Center Stage Company Member Megan Anderson plays Rayna, who is wondering whether to give her father, who disappointed her at every turn of her life, her kidney so he can survive. Like her father Lou, Rayna isn't a very likable character -- she's clearly in pain, full of neuroses and indecision -- but Anderson makes her feel very authentic. Keith L. Royal Smith, a graduate of Baltimore School of the Arts, plays the dual role of Hector (a nurse from Santo Domingo) and Jarrell, Marlene's son. His natural and charismatic performance in both roles was a revelation, and a performance I'm happy my students (who are likely around 10 years younger than him, also toiling away in a Drama class at a Baltimore City Public School) were able to see and meet later.  I also want to give a nod to Dialect Coach Steven J. Satta, who helped make Gatling and Smith's accents while playing characters from Uganda and the Dominican Republic sound effortless and authentic.

It's only at the end of the play where I felt like Hollinger's script had some flaws. There's an argument between Rayna and Jarrell over the hospital bed that I thought was out of character for both, particularly Jarrell (who, until then, was such an easygoing presence onstage). And it seems like Hollinger really wanted to make his theme very clear at the end, so we get a monologue that feels a little on-the-nose, and an ending that feels a little too abrupt.
These are small quibbles compared to the joy I had during this production, though. The resonant performances, the shocking twists, the moments of sorrow, the credible characters dealing with tough family situations, and the incredible set and lighting make this a top-notch theatrical experience. It had a freshness and humor to it that made it a great counterpart to what I think has been a remarkable season by Everyman Theater so far this year, with the superb An Inspector Calls and a solid Fences. This play could become one that is performed for decades as well.

Under the Skin runs until Feb. 21

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Blizzard of 2016 (and Another Reason Why There Shouldn't Be a Mandated After-Labor Day Start Date to School in Maryland)

Sunday night after the 29 inches stopped falling.
During the evening of Friday, January 22, through Sunday, January 24, Baltimore was slammed by a historic blizzard that dropped 29.2 inches of snow on the city in less than 48 hours. This was the single largest snowfall in Baltimore history, and caused the cancellation of 6 school days, as the snow crippled the city that shuts down if there's two or three inches; with ten times that, city services took a  very long time to dig us out. The Friday, January 22nd cancellation was surprising, as the snow wasn't forecast to come until 7pm (and it didn't), and I was really hoping the roads would be ready to return by today, Friday the 29th, but too many huge piles of snow are still blocking sidewalks and drivers' lines of vision, making it unsafe for kids to walk; most people are still walking in the streets.

Six snow days, though. That's even more than we remember in 2010, when we were hit by two 20+ inch blizzards in one week. As a teacher, I admit that sometimes a snow day is good; having a day away from the grind can be healthy for all sides. However, having six snow days in a row right smack dab at the end of midterm week definitely poses some challenges for teachers and schools.

Since we don't know yet what will happen with these days lost at the end of the school year (will the
Tuesday morning - most roads still not plowed.
 end of the year be extended? Or will we, like in 2010, have some of those days excused because of the State of Emergency declared in the state?), I can only speak about what my biggest concern is: the external assessments. The IB Exams start on May 2nd around the world. The date is not going to be extended. This is the same thing with other external exams, like the AP exam, and the SAT, and the ACT. I had prepared, before the snow, a rough calendar plan for each of the 59 days left of the school year until my students' IB exam. Now, that number has shrunk to 55 days, and, let me tell you, I'm not expecting this El Nino weather pattern to leave us unscathed in February and March, either; we could lose more days. It's now 55 days of class to work through 4 units, to read Song of Solomon, Cannery Row, The Turning, and Americanah.

The car is somewhere underneath that.
We can, and will, handle it. We will lop a day off each of the units and figure out what lessons we can truncate. However, if Peter Franchot gets his wish, and we start the school year after Labor Day, teachers'  time with students would shrink even more. This year, Baltimore City Public Schools, and most in the state, started the week before Labor Day; Franchot wants to cut away those five days at the beginning of the school year and put them at the end; however, that's well after these external exams and, indeed, after the seniors graduate. In Peter Franchot's wishes, I would have (at least) 11 full days less of instruction for this year's students than I would have in a normal year. That's more than two full weeks of instruction.

Why would he want to put Maryland students behind other students in the nation, who also have to take these external exams? It doesn't make any sense.

Unplowed roads on Wednesday.
There's a reason that every school system in the state is against Peter Franchot's troubling proposal, which wreaks of white and class privilege. Our state should be looking at creative ways to extend the school year, with a shorter summer break and more breaks throughout the school year. Research shows this will help our students reduce their summer slide, something that disproportionately hurts poor kids.

The unpredictability of Maryland is just one more (minor) reason to be against Franchot's proposal, but it's a real one: by forcing school districts to start the school year late, we risk letting extreme weather affect students more than we would otherwise.

Monday morning - road mostly impassable.

Zori makes her way down the path.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movie Diary, Winter 2015-2016

Every year, I host an Oscar party. Last year, after #Oscarsowhite and the ignoring of Selma (my favorite film of 2014), I got a little down by it. This year, I feel like I'm even more down on the Oscars; the nominations are so embarrassingly white that I temporarily thought about canceling my Oscars party, which has been going on in various inceptions for a dozen years or so.

However, I just love movies too much. Sure, I would have nominated Creed for Best Picture and Best Actor, and Beasts of No Nation for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (Idris Elba and Abraham Attah), Dope for Best Screenplay and Best Song and Shameik Moore for Best Actor, and probably, still unseen by me, Straight Outta Compton for a few awards too. But this was a really good year movies, and my disappointment with the Oscars aside, I'm still not going to punish these other films for the Academy Awards' oversights.

I haven't seen The Revenant or Anomalisa or Concussion yet, so I don't think I can write my Top-10 list. But I feel good about saying many down below would be on it: Creed, Room, Carol, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Ex Machina, Star Wars. I'd probably add Trainwreck and Spy and Dope, too. That's a lot of good movies and I'll have to narrow down. Hopefully I'll see the rest of those by the end of next weekend!

Here's what I'm thinking now:

Jordan and Coogler, cinema's best team these days.
Creed: After 2013's Fruitvale Station, my pick for the Best film of the 2000s so far, I'm a lifetime Ryan Coogler fan. I was a little bit disenchanted at first when I heard he was doing such a mainstream boxing movie followup, but then I saw Michael B. Jordan was starring, and felt a little better by that. Then the reviews came, and I was assuaged. I finally got to see the movie over Christmas break, and was dazzled. This is a tremendous film. From its opening scene, where Phylicia Rashad's character finds young Adonis Creed at a youth home and takes him home to raise him, to the closing fight, I felt both on the edge of my seats and on the edge of tears. Star Michael B. Jordan gives a performance that is as natural as any you'll ever see, full of charisma, pain, and humor; Sylvester Stallone (though I was distracted by his plastic surgery at times) is both tough and tender as the ex-champ coaching his former opponent's son; Tessa Thompson is a perfect mix of vulnerability and sexiness as the love interest. Coogler's direction was full of energy and style; the fight scenes were incredibly shot; the score is note perfect. This is a great film, one of the best of the year.

Tremblay and Larson.
Room: This story -- about a disturbed man who kidnaps a 17-year old girl, locks her in his garden shed, and impregnates her -- ends up being strangely optimistic and an utterly beautiful and suspenseful film. The movie opens with Brie Larson as the aforementioned woman, now in her 20s and mother to a 5-year old son who has never seen outside of the garden shed, which he calls simply "room." That's the first half of the film. (Mild spoilers ahead, but I knew beforehand and I think the trailers also reveal it, and if you know that Joan Allen and William H. Macy are in the movie, too, then you can probably figure this out.) Then, there is an escape, which is as exciting and suspenseful as anything I've watched onscreen all year. Then, the second half of the film is about re-entry into society. This is where the tears come, and, often, the film throttled me. There are moments that are so powerful, whereas the conclusion couldn't be more perfect. Larson is tremendous (give her the Best Actress trophy, please), but 9-year old Jacob Tremblay (playing the 5-year old) is just as good and often carries the film. I also feel like I haven't seen the great Joan Allen in anything in a while, and it was great to see her doing her thing; she's a 3-time Oscar nominee, but hasn't been nominated since 2000; this role could have been one. Anyhow, a great movie, one of the best of the year.

Mara and Blacnhett
Carol: Todd Haynes' period drama is a tremendous film about two women engaged in a romance in the 1950s. Played by Cate Blanchett and an incredibly moving Rooney Mara, I found it beautiful and sad in all the right ways. It's slow at times, but also sexy, and illuminating about the lives of gay women in the 1950s. I also loved the way director Todd Haynes films the women often behind glass, almost like a cloak under which gay people had to hide behind during that time period, and structures the film circularly, so it begins where it ends, and all those choices just add the impact of its perfect, subtle ending.

Ronan and Cohen.
Brooklyn: This one reminded me quite a bit of Carol: beautiful, sad, a little slow, lovely, a perfect ending, and really romantic. Saoirse Ronan stars as a young woman who must decide what "home" means, and where love and family fits into that; the film slowly, but beautifully, crescendoes into what ends up being a heartbreaking choice by the end, between her hometown in a small Irish village, and her adopted home of the titular Brooklyn. Ronan is the star and the Oscar nominee, and she's wonderful, but I also found Emory Cohen, as the love interest in Brooklyn, to be a terrific and charismatic actor. Great film.

McAdams, Keaton, and Ruffalo.
Spotlight: Last time I saw Michael Keaton in a movie about a newspaper, it was in 1994 and called The Paper. I liked that movie, but this one is better. It's an important story, told thrillingly and swiftly, of the Boston Globe uncovering the Catholic church child abuse scandal in 2001-2002. The film isn't flashy, just about a few regular guys (and one woman, played by Rachel McAdams) who end up uncovering one of the biggest scandals in modern world history. It builds momentum as it goes, and has tremendous performances (I especially liked Mark Ruffalo), and is exciting, suspenseful and moving. Certainly one of the best movies of the year.

Macbeth: My review here.
Boyega and Isaac.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: There are moments we go to movies for - the choke in the throat, the belly laugh, the wave of emotion that resonates at the end of a great scene. I experienced many of those in Star Wars, and don't even consider myself a "Star Wars person." Yes, I had seen the movies in my childhood, and even dabbled in a couple of the forgettable prequels, but didn't expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. I saw it on December 26th, in my hometown of South Haven, and was swept up right away in the collective applause and cheers that the full theater shared. I recognized the story as familiar as I was watching, but, in a sense, I'm probably the perfect audience for this: I know enough about Star Wars to be nostalgic when Hans Solo or Princess Leia come onstage, but I'm not familiar enough to know that the story was misty a remake of the original. Anyway, I loved the new cast, including this theory about Poe and Finn.
Gleeson, Vikander, Isaac.

Ex Machina: Oscar Isaac is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, and this smart and thoughtful film allows him to shine as a Mark Zuckerberg-type who is trying to create artificial life in his remote home/laboratory. The result is a film that's about a robot, but is more a meditation on what makes us human. It's a smart movie, with some cool twists, and it's beautifully written and directed by Alex Garland (the novelist -- I've read his The Beach, and this is his first feature), reminding me a bit in tone and theme of Gattacca: a thoughtful exploration of man's responsibility towards technology. In that way, I could see pairing it with Frankenstein if I ever teach that novel again (though there is some nudity that would be problematic).

Mad Max: Fury Road: I don't understand the hype. Though not without some beautiful shots and a lot of energy, that was all it was for me: basically a 2-hour chase scene that ended up being pretty dull, despite the flash. I never got to know the characters enough to care about them, and, while Charlize Theron was good, I just thought this was a lot of noise. I'm not buying the hype.

Minions: This one reminded me of Mad Max a little bit: episodic, not much plot, sporadically entertaining. It didn't hold my 4.5-year old nephew's attention very much, but the rest of us found it okay.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Reviewing "James Baldwin: a Biography"

Over winter break from BCPSS, I ended up listening to David Leeming's biography of James Baldwin. Initially published in 1994, it has been reprinted in 2015, and I've been seeing its new cover stare at me from a variety of websites, having no idea it wasn't a new biography until I started listening to it after purchase and heard the copyright date and realized I had the 1994 version already on my bookshelf, unread. A drawback about reading (listening to) a biography 22-years after its publication is that it seems to lack a postscript: it goes all the way up through Baldwin's funeral, but I was left wondering what happened with, for example, his brother (something I can't figure out even after much googling), or what is the status of the publication of others works that Leeming was certain would be published eventually. I wondered what Leeming would add today if he could, about the uptick in interest in Baldwin in the Blacks Lives Matter movement, about his influence on such writers as Ta'Nehisi Coates today. I wish the new publisher had asked Leeming to write an afterward.

This is, of course, a quibble, and no fault of Leeming's. Leeming, who was friends with Baldwin for 25 years and his live-in personal assistant for four years, and who had Baldwin's authorization to write a biography, has written a sincere and comprehensive look at a brilliant writer and troubled man. Baldwin is probably my favorite writer, and certainly my favorite to teach, and one of the overwhelming feelings I had after listening to the nearly 18 hour-long audiobook is regret: regret that Baldwin couldn't find more tranquility than he did, and some regret that he was stretched so thin and lived so unhealthily during his 63 years of life, a lifetime that was almost certainly shorted by the alcohol and tobacco that fueled many nights or weeks or even years. Baldwin's output in his 34-year career feels sparse: 6 novels, 2 plays, 5 collections of essays. And he was constantly partying and fending off hanger-ons, and spent much time on his obsessions of film and theater, which drew minimal results (for example, he devoted years to a a script for a Malcolm X movie which was rejected by the studio, and never filmed until Spike Lee rewrote it in 1992). He wrote and rewrote his plays for years, and completed only two, although he was working on a third, The Welcome Table, at the time of his death, but it remains unpublished, though it has survived.

Beyond the regret at Baldwin's largely unhappy life, though, I also felt gratitude, a thankfulness he was able to produce as much work as he did: Leeming's biography reports, with great detail, about the numerous times Baldwin attempted suicide; I got the feeling that he was such a damaged soul that we were so lucky to get what we did from him; he was born the same year as Truman Capote, for example, and he also had problems with his demons, but we got much more important work from Baldwin than we did Capote.

Leeming focuses on several themes that he argues Baldwin is exploring throughout his work, and the one I found most powerful was the choice between safety and love. Unlike David in Giovanni's Room, Baldwin wanted us to choose love over safety, and this idea appears in several other works throughout his career: No Name on the Street, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, Just Above My Head. Lemming's summaries of the work were too lengthy, but I enjoyed the connections Leeming makes between the works and with the larger Baldwin ideas. Others included the idea of imprisonment, both physical and emotional, whether it be imprisoned by homosexuality, race, or circumstance.

This is an extensive biography, filled with details that readers will find different items to be fascinated by. I'm a huge Baldwin fan and have read most of his non-fiction, but only about half of his fiction, and none of his poetry or plays (though I've seen The Amen Corner).  For me, I was fascinated by his process and his relationships. I had no idea, for example, that his high school French teacher was the great Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen; Lemming makes the argument that this was probably one of the first professional gay men that Baldwin had encountered (this prompted me down a rabbit hole of research about Cullen himself; I hope someday someone writes a biography of him! Seems like a fascinating man.)

I loved reading about a meeting that Robert Kennedy asked Baldwin for in 1963 (the year he was on the cover of Time magazine and the year The Fire Next Time came out) to help his brother's administration answer the question "What do Negroes want?". The meeting was composed of Baldwin, Kennedy, DOJ lawyer Burke Marshall, Baldwin's brother David, friend Thais Aubrey, Baldwin's agent Bob Mills, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Lorraine Hansberry, Kenneth Clark, Rip Torn (the actor, who Lemming reported that Baldwin was in love with after he starred in Baldwin's play Blues for Mr. Charlie), and freedom rider Jerome Smith met in New York.

The meeting was largely unsuccessful. For example, Kennedy tried to argue that his family's experience as Irish immigrants was akin to the Black experience (this was the time he made the point that a Black man could be President in 40 years, a fact that he almost got right). Baldwin and the other Black participants came to the conclusion that the conflict between "Negro urgency" and a "need to protect the image of liberal concern within the context of political realism" was not gulfed.

The meeting didn't change policy, but Lemming's details about it made me feel like I was part of history. I have always been fascinated by Lorraine Hansberry, the great Black lesbian playwright who wrote Raisin in the Sun in 1959, wrote some other great plays, but was dead, of cancer at age 34, in January 1965. Lemming writes about her in this meeting: "Baldwin was fascinated by Lorraine's face as it changed, reflecting her longing that the attorney general might understand and her gradual realization that he would not. In his mind Baldwin compared that face to Sojourner Truth's; it was 'still,' 'beautiful,' and 'terrifying'... the Kennedy meeting ended with Hansberry's comment that she was deeply concerned about the state of a civilization which could produce the now famous photograph of a white policeman standing on the neck of a black woman in Birmingham. She had smiled then in a way that had made Baldwin glad she was not smiling at him, and she had shaken Kennedy's hand and said, 'Good-bye, Mr. Attorney General,' and left the room. Everyone else had followed her, feeling 'devastated.'" Later, Baldwin saw her walking down the street after the meeting from his car; she did not see him: "Baldwin took note of what appeared to be her emotional pain -- her 'twisted' face, her eyes 'darker' than any he had 'ever seen'" (224-225). Just a fascinating look into a great writer at a moment in a conflict between white supremacy and structural racism vs. dismantling of the system that feels just as relevant now.

Lest you think that the biography was only fascinating to me because of what I learned about other people besides Baldwin (and, to be sure, we learn a great many details about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Kennedy, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Medgar Evers, and more in this book, as all had many dealings with Baldwin), learning about Baldwin himself also helped me gain insight into his works. Lemming meets Baldwin at almost the exact moment that he finishes Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (one of the Baldwin novels I haven't read yet), and he remains close to him until the end of Baldwin's life; details about Baldwin on his death bed, listening to Lemming read him Pride and Prejudice while Bessie Smith music has been playing that evening help support the dichotomy of Baldwin. It made me happy to learn that the same sort of points he makes in "Autobiographical Notes" about different cultural icons meaning different things to him but that it all created him manifested itself even at the end of his life.

From reading Baldwin's essays, which sort of serve as a long autobiography, I know a lot about Baldwin's life, but Lemming's biography offers a different perspective of it. Lemming, clearly, knows Baldwin's works well, and he does some retelling and delving into some details about, for example, Baldwin's father that we didn't hear about previously. We also learn about Baldwin's loves and his views on his homosexuality, which we rarely hear about in his essays; I now know, for example, that the beautiful passage about love in "Take Me to the Water" was likely about Lucien Happersberger, with whom Baldwin has an on-again, off-again relationship for years; Lucien is also married with child at some points. I liked hearing insight like this into how Baldwin's life worked itself into his fiction, such as this tidbit about Giovanni's Room: "In terms of physical reality, Lucien was Giovanni. Dark-haired and somehow alien, he talked like Giovanni and liked win and food and love the way Giovanni did. But the soul of Giovanni was Baldwin himself--the man who longed for a lasting relationship... ironically, it was lucien who married and who, several times over the years, rejected the room to which Jimmy called him and who, in Jimmy's eyes, became David to his Giovanni" (227).

Baldwin's closest sibling is to his brother David, and brother relationships are something Baldwin explores a lot in his fiction: most notably probably in "Sonny's Blues" (probably my favorite short story of all time). I also enjoyed hearing about Baldwin's sister Paula, who is mentioned as being born at the beginning of "Notes of a Native Son," and who lives in Baltimore, and who I have tried for years to get to come meet my students who study her brother's work so fervently.

I was glad to listen to this biography and learn much more about James Baldwin. It made me feel a bit guilty that I haven't read all of Baldwin's books, and finishing out his works seems a good goal for 2016 after making my way through Lemming's text.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Trying out Plated, Week 1

On the recommendation of a friend who gave us a free week membership, we started Plated last week. It's a meal preparation services, with the tagline "Cook More. Live Better," and, every week, they send you the ingredients for the meals that you then prepare yourself. Our plan is three meals a week, for two people, and it costs $12/meal (delivery is free with this option).

We decided to do it for a number of reasons. First of all, we are both working professionals who live busy and active lives. We fall into ruts where we are ordering takeout far too often, or eating just whatever is easiest, such as scrambled eggs. I love Chipotle and scrambled eggs, and both are pretty healthy, but we'd been doing it far too much.

In general, as well, speaking for myself, I am often disorganized when it comes to cooking. I can never figure out what to make, and when I try to make something new, I am always missing an ingredient or three. It's also frustrating to, say, buy $6 container of spice when you only need a pinch and you're unsure if you'll ever need it again, or a whole bushel of green onions when you don't like them all that much and you need just two of them. And, in general, I find it difficult to be adventurous, to take the risks necessary to try new things. Chipotle always just seems so much easier.

Plated could solve a lot of those problems. Everything is measured for you already, and the ingredients are step-by-step. Also, importantly, this makes two servings, to help control my portions. It's also real food, with nothing processed and no chemicals. Plus, I just think it will - necessarily -- inspire me to cook more, and hopefully teach me some things; I'm considering it sort of a cooking class as well. So, hopefully a better, more organized eating life, with healthier, more diverse food to eat.

The box that arrives weekly.
So, starting last week, on every Tuesday, we will receive a box full of fresh ingredients, and step-by-step instructions about how to prepare the food. Every now and then, I think I'm going to blog about how it's going. I'm excited about it and want to document the experience a bit.

Each week, there are nine options to choose from. I don't eat pork or beef or anything with bones, which eliminates some options. My partner doesn't eat seafood because of allergy, which eliminates some other options. So, for the first week, we ended up with Chicken Pad Thai with Bok Choy, Carrots, and Bean Sprouds; Turkey Burger Lettuce Wraps with Sriracha Aioli and Crispy Green Beans; and Whole Wheat Pizza with Grueyere, Mushrooms, and Ricotta.

Preparing Pad Thai
I was most excited about the Chicken Pad Thai, as pad thai is about my favorite food, and I've only made the pre-packaged kind at home before. So I chose to make that one first. The ingredients were well-labeled and easy to use, as were the steps of the recipe. I turned out tremendously, and made me do things like use Bok Choy for the first time in my life.

The Turkey Burger Lettuce Wraps were the meal I was probably least excited about, but it ended up being a favorite. I screwed up and put too much of the sesame oil into the meat before making the patties, but the burgers ended up being the tastiest I've ever had (turkey burger wise), and the sriracha was also really good. The crispy green beans were interesting to make, and tasty, although they didn't really come out crispy.

The pizza was tough, partially because I don't have a rolling pin, and it felt pretty difficult to roll the dough. But the pizza was so tasty that it barely mattered that the pieces were flimsy. I also ended up putting more cheese on it and turkey kielbasa, which made it stretch out to four meals.

The question now is whether it's worth $12/meal ($72/week) to have someone make all these decisions and provide and prepare all these fresh ingredients for us. Obviously, we're saving on the grocery bill and the takeout food bill. Is this -- and the accompanying increased health that comes with eating real food -- enough to offset the cost? Right now, I'm excited to come home from work to make these dinners, so it definitely felt like it was worth for this first week. Will this attitude keep up during, say, baseball season, with its 12-hour days? We shall see. Right now, I'm digging it.

Lots of photos from the week of cooking are below.

The second box arrived today.

The photo of what the Chicken Pad Thai is supposed to look like.

Ingredients were well-labeled.

It was very good, and made at least 3 portions (enough for lunch the next day).

The next day was the Turkey Burger Lettuce Wraps:
Their photo.

These were also very good, and I'm now a believer in Lettuce Wraps. The turkey burger was the best I'd ever had.
How the ingredients look -- all labeled and measured.
Meal 3 was the whole wheat mushroom pizza:

After slicing the mushrooms, had to roast them in the oven.
The photo it came with.
My version.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Student Essay: Black Masculinity: The Failures of Love and Communication

As I did last month, I wanted to share with you another example of the great work that Baltimore City Public Schools student produce. In this essay, one of my seniors, 17-year old David Haynes, explores the concept of Black Masculinity in the style of James Baldwin. I loved how David, who hopes to major in Music at UMBC, was so honest and personal in this piece, as he is truly using the assignment as a place for intense self-reflection, much like James Baldwin himself did. David's attempts to construct sentences like Baldwin often lead to very poignant passages, and I loved how he was able to merge the political and the personal and communicate some of the same struggles that Baldwin endured into his own modern Baltimore context. A very insightful and brave essay from a great kid.

Black Masculinity:
The Failures of Love and Communication

The warmth of his arms around his flesh and blood
had the being made whole, given that the beings
identity was hand crafted by his fathers affections
which was designed to contribute to the beings
soul. But, when the ingredients of a beings
makings is frowned upon and confiscated,
then its identity is hard yet soft, and develops
flawed chemistry and a language that fails
to be communicated.

            Throughout society, an imitation of blackness and masculinity has been formulated into the minds and hearts of humanity. It was and still is an illogical imitation developed from an animalistic approach. It has resonated throughout the community of black men, making it the cornerstone of their strength and mentality. Inspired by ancestral roots, dehumanization, and the characteristics of a low-income place of living and being, the imitations of black masculinity continue to harm the development of generations, robbing them blind of their humanity.
            Being in the era of a world that flourishes off the excitement of perceptions and imitations, it has made being black and masculine quite tumultuous. Having a darkened pigmentation, a soft tone of voice, and a personality that defies the concept of black masculinity has often made conflict for myself. Somehow, the worlds injustices have robbed black men of their humanity, causing them to become inhuman and inflicting it on others within their race. When I allude to inhumanity, I mean anything that once was human but has now been categorized as something inferior due to social constructs. I mean the will to love. I mean the will to care. I mean the will to trust, to hold on to one another, and the will to push each other up and not tear each other down. This was once a part of being black and masculine. Instead, black men have reverted to not being able to feel as if they were slaves out in the field. They have reverted to ferocious and animalistic personas that would depict the characteristics of a beast. They have sworn themselves into the passages of dehumanization and social injustice by subjugating each other under the standards of animalization and disassociating anyone who does not comply with the standards.  The animalistic standards of money, nourishment, and sex have stripped black men of humanity, and has strained the generations of the black race.
            So, what is black? I understand the white man inflicting his standards of blackness and stripping it away from being human. I understand the concept of his "superiority" and him being afraid of being overruled. But, what happened within the community of black men? Since when did they psychologically develop a status that continues to equate the standards of animalism to blackness? All of sudden, it seems as if black men have taken their free will for granted, and have sabotaged themselves. What happened to the portrayal of positive emotion, the acts of social justice (not having to act or look a certain shade to be considered black), and the communication of love? Since when did dehumanization become so human and black? I understand the powers of sin, the necessity for Christ, the boundaries of humanity, and the compliance of whats right. However, why is it that these things are so prevalent and ingrained into the black culture? From where Im looking, egregious characteristics have manifested themselves primarily in the black culture. Being black is a part of being human. Being human is a part of love and all the other fruits of the spirit. So why have we not lived up to it?
            I sometimes consider myself to be a double minority due to me not conforming to the characteristics of black masculinity within my own racial community -- which gives others the opportunity to consider me to be emasculated -- and the simple fact that I am a black male living in a world full of imperfections.  Its one thing for another race and culture not to accept me, but to have my own flesh and blood regurgitate my existence because Im not black enough, to have a father not protect or save me from the lashes of cold shoulders, opinions, or abandonment or to have a brother not pick me up or hold me when Im down, not allow his existence to be an encouragement to my being, or defend me when I feel defenseless.  Remaining invisible to the ones who refuse to see me and being the pariah in the midst of these stages in my life has caused me to be discouraged and has almost caused me to give up. I often find myself being subjugated under the stress that stems from the naturalness of masculinity -- such as attractions and physicality -- and the complexity of depending on Someone I cannot see. I have failed to find that place of love, warmth, and acceptance that inhabits the needs that I have had inside for as long as I can remember.  After enduring the anguish and the depth of pain from a godfather who once was my pastor — having him reject me both privately and publicly after he refused to believe the words that left his mouth stating that he would remain a patriarch in my life, and that he would love me for who I was and who I was to become —and of a godfather who married the woman who used to be my closest godmother — he had me cling to every word only to leave in seclusion, confusion, and distress — and the desolation of a cousin who was once considered a brother — who, after I stretched for him, continued to watch me deteriorate in pain and suffer in silence, after I had longed for love from him and the men in my immediate family— disown me, and of an absentee father who had me wander in all of the world's places for a love and presence that he refused to be accountable to give, I have yet to find that place.  Having male peers from school tease me because of my intelligence, vocal capability, or way of thinking, I have yet to find that place.
            So, what is love? What is love without another person because from where I'm standing, we have taught ourselves that it is just a communication of compressed emotion that is self-mutilating, sexually derogatory, and a ticking bomb that disperses pieces of ourselves behind the triggers of guns, under the needles of drugs, and at bottoms of endless alcohol bottles. What is love without us being there for each other emotionally? Obviously, there is a malfunction, but no one attempts to help. It seems as if the wounds of abandonment and bewilderment are not enough. It seems as if it is not acceptable.  This conjures the wonder of wandering to the dilemmas of gun violence and death to receive a valid communication of love. This isn't just any love that opens then closes or one that keeps another at arms' distance, but a love that remains open, embraces, is profound, and that resonates.
            In a race and species of black men, I have yet to find a place where a patriarchs affections will continue to craft the identity that lies within me. The little boy inside -- the malnourished part of my being -- longs to grow up, to be loved, and to ascend beyond what this world has to offer. I probably will never find that place, and that boy will probably never be nourished. But, if that day comes, it will be a place that is severely cold that will ironically provide warmth while being in the arms of a man. Being in his arms -- a place of surrounding bondage -- will very much be a liberating place that will provide a space of love and freedom that will go beyond the crevices of the heart and into the secret place that provides the rhythms of its beats. Now, this place is not one that condones the Fire Next Time or the relatives of homosexuality, but the open arms of acceptance and agape love. I may not experience it here. Maybe Ill experience it up there. That way, that place wont be so cold.

Statement of Intent

            In writing this essay, I specifically imitated Baldwins long sentence structure, his use of visual and tactile imagery, and his elaboration on his personal experiences by using anecdotes.  These signature literary techniques are what makes a Baldwinian essay, and what brings words from off of the page.
            I began my essay with an epigraph which imitates Baldwins Take Me to the Water.  He begins the essay by writing the lyrics to a slave song that say, “If I had-a-my way Id tear this building down. Great God, then, if I had-a-my way. If I had-a-my way, little children, Id tear this building down” (353).  Though I do not begin the essay with a song, I begin the essay with an original poem that depicts the makings and effects of a childs identity through the use of physical gestures of love and affection.  I begin the essay by saying, “The warmth of his arms around his flesh and blood had the being made whole, given that the beings identity was hand crafted by his fathers affections which was designed to contribute to the beings
soul. But, when the ingredients of a beings makings is frowned upon and confiscated,
then its identity is hard yet soft, and develops flawed chemistry and a language that fails
to be communicated.” 
            Sequentially, I observe Baldwins sentence structure and how through the sentenceselongation, it contains excessive amounts of detail.  In Take Me to the Water, Baldwin describes the emotion of being in a lovers arms by saying, “Free, paradoxically, because, now, you have a home--your lovers arms. And bound: to that mystery, precisely, a bondage which liberates you into something of the glory and suffering of the world” (366).  With his use of elongated sentences, he gives a dynamic portrayal of what takes place on the inside while being in a lovers arms.  In the midst of these depictions, he uses other literary devices such as: oxymorons, tactile and visual imagery, as well as syntax.  To make use of Baldwins style, I used one of my concluding sentences by saying, “But, if that day comes, it will be a place that is severely cold that will ironically provide warmth while being in the arms of a man. Being in his arms--a place of surrounding bondage--will very much be a liberating place that will provide a space of love and freedom that will go beyond the crevices of the heart and into the secret place that provides the rhythms of its beats,” in order to convey the characteristics of a place where love will be communicated profoundly throughout the black community. 
            Baldwin also uses personal anecdotes in order to give an honest and in-depth depiction of his topic.  In Take Me to the Water, he alludes to his best friend by saying, “I had not seen this friend--who could scarcely, any longer, be called a friend--in many years. I was brighter, or more driven than he--not my fault!--and, though neither of us knew it then, our friendship really ended during my ministry and was deader than my hope of heaven by the time I left the pulpit, the church, and home” (359).  Throughout my essay, I give personal anecdotes that allude to my interaction with other black men by saying,” Its one thing for another race and culture not to accept me, but to have my own flesh and blood regurgitate my existence  because Im not black enough...; to have a father not protect or save me from the lashes of cold shoulders, opinions, or abandonment or to have a brother not pick me up or hold me when Im down, not allow his existence to be an encouragement to my being, or defend me when I feel defenseless.  Remaining invisible to the ones who refuse to see me and being the pariah in the midst of these stages in my life has caused me to be discouraged and has almost caused me to give up.”  With the use of these current experiences, it allowed me to reflect and to incorporate them into my essay through Baldwins style of writing.
            With the use of Baldwins literary techniques and unique perspectives, I was successful in completing my essay Baldwinian style.

Baldwins Original Text

Your Analysis

Your Imitation of Baldwins Text
“...whereas I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know, who yet do not even know of my existence” (Baldwin 120).

Throughout the quote, Baldwin uses the literary device, anaphora by using the word, “me” after each sentence. He does this in order to give a deeper portrayal of the themes that are included throughout his essay.

When being in an institution that solely focuses on the averages of my academic performance, I often realize that it controls me, it haunts me, it runs me, it stops me, and it grooms me for the times in the future that life has to offer.

“Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child. Let him curse and I remember him falling down the cellar steps, and howling, and I remember, with pain, his tears, which my hand or grandmother’s so easily wiped away” (Baldwin 291).

Throughout this quote, Baldwin uses the literary device, synecdoche by alluding to his father’s laughter as a child’s laughter, and his action of cursing as an indication of pain.

With my times of laughter is my time of sorrow. With my times of rest is my prayer for tomorrow. With my times of joy are my times of pain. With my times of loss, is my time of gain.

“Free, paradoxically, because now, you have a home--your lover’s arms. And bound: to that mystery, precisely, a bondage which liberates you into something of the glory and suffering of the world” (Baldwin 366).

Throughout this quote, Baldwin does a play on words by using the literary device, oxymoron. In this quote, he equates a lover’s surrounding arms to a place of bondage that is simultaneously liberating. This is a theme that is contradictory in itself.

In a place that is severely cold, being in your arms provides profound warmth. Being in your arms--a place of a surrounding bondage-- is very much a liberating place that provides a space of love and freedom that go beyond the crevices of the heart into the secret place that provides the rhythms of its beats.