Sunday, April 2, 2017

Review of "Under the Kaufmann's Clock" by Angele Ellis and Rebecca Clever

It's been over a year since I've written here but I am excited to share my review of the new poetry book, Under the Kaufmann's Clock by Angele Ellis, photography by Rebecca Clever.

Upon opening Under the Kaufmann’s Clock, Angele Ellis takes you to the streets of Pittsburgh where you immediately feel at home.  The narrator seamlessly interweaves the characters and relationships in her life with the city, and insists that you sit down with her at the local cafĂ© to study the ground beneath.  To compliment the gritty and oftentimes stark moments of pain, are photographs by Rebecca Clever.  Clever captures the vulnerable and iconic elements of Pittsburgh without pretense or ego.  Community and relationship drive both the works of Ellis and Clever.

Ellis walks us through the four seasons which take on a unique tone in the city.  The first poem, “Landscape,” from the “Spring” section of the book, vibrates with a sense of longing and beauty that can only be found when entering the city from the Tubes.  The author respects the city but also has a deep love for it.  Pittsburgh not only informs the work of Ellis but also the relationships she fosters within the confines of her home base.  It is as much a celebration of the rhythmic changes of life as it is a portrait, delicate and honest, of the city itself.  Whether or not you have ever traveled to or lived in Pittsburgh, you will walk away feeling like you know the culture of the town and will end up wishing you were there.  Like the mica found on the streets and in the ground of Pittsburgh, history and renewal embrace and invite the reader to absorb the words and photographs, one more time.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The "Never Will I..." List

When I was in my twenties, I had a list of things I swore I would never do. A lot of my choices stemmed from my studies in college and had a lot to do with feminism. I wasn't militant, or even radical, but I held firm beliefs that I thought I would never change. Then, along came my thirties, and I found myself revisiting my list and realizing much of it didn't speak to me anymore. The list of "Never Will I Ever..." included:

1. Get married
2. Stop being a vegetarian
3. Move to the South
4. Have kids

By the time I turned thirty-six, I had checked off more than one "never" prediction on my list.  In fact, I was already living items 1-3. I had made a comment in one of my non-fiction classes that in my twenties, I swore I  would never get married, and there I was, engaged and getting ready to marry.  A student, in her late-fifties, replied, "Welcome to your thirties, hon.  It's the time in your life where you do everything you said you wouldn't. It's ok, that's just how life is."  I had to laugh, because I was happy about all of the choices and new chapters in my life that were unfolding, but I wondered if everyone went through this.  The one thing that made me uncomfortable, was the thought that I had somehow become soft, that I was no longer politcal or defined by my feminist beliefs.  I still considered myself a feminist, I still believed in equality and human rights, but what did I really do to convey my beliefs?  I told myself that since my friends all had similar beliefs in regards to feminism and equality, and that we had regular discussions about injustice and politics, that I was doing a small part by putting my own philosophies out into the world, that they would somehow reverberate without my having to do any work.  But, wasn't that just my tendency to take the easy road?

When we arrived in North Carolina, I interviewed to be an assistant teacher at a local Montessori school.  The school only has 50-60 students from preschool-5th grade, and it is located in a renovated home that has little room or space to spare.  I immediately fell in love with the people at the school and their philosophy towards teaching: give kids as much knowledge and love of learning as they can absorb and teach them to become peaceful and compassionate citizens of the greater community.  I was offered the assitant position in the elementary aged classroom and jumped on the opportunity.  Now, I am surrounded by kids who have a strong sense of self and an age-appropriate knowledge of how the world needs to change. On a daily basis students come up to talk with me about how we need to protect the environment, help endangered animals, and make the world a place of equality.  Students are annoyed and can't understand why there are so many books about men who have made a difference in the world but a disproportinate amount of books dedicated to women who have also made a difference.  They have real ideas, solutions to make a difference that sound simple to adults, but clearly are well-thought out. My students now inspire me to be a better person. I see them on their good days, and their bad days when they have outbursts and moments of frustration, but, at the very end, the next day is a fresh start and we all begin again with a smile on our face.

My choice is to stay put, with this school, with these students, and do all I can to become a better person and educator for them.  I choose to further my training and learn all that I can. I choose to continue learning and become more confident in speaking my own beliefs, even if the other person disagrees or thinks I'm foolish.  I choose to become vulnerable and admit what I do not know. These are small but difficult tasks, ones that I hope culminate in to a greater desire to be bold, to speak loudly, and to live authentically.  It is the only place I know where to start. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Holidays are a Bowling Alley Bar, A Juke Box, Tons of Tinsel, and Family

When I was a kid, my parents co-owned a bowling alley with another couple.  I literally spent every Saturday at the bowling alley, roaming the building, playing games, sitting at the bar drinking orange juice, and chatting with my parents' friends.  Some of the best lunches I had as a kid took place at the bar.  My dad would make my sister and I kielbasa, cut into tiny circles with a piece of cheese on each sphere.  Instead of forks, we used toothpicks to eat. Some of the sweetest moments between me and my mom took place at the bar counter as well.  I still remember cuddling up to her, my head on her chest, and her wool sweater itching my face, as she held me while drinking her grasshopper that my dad or Kathy, the bartender, had made her.  The people who worked at the bowling alley were extended members of our family.  Kathy would entertain my sister and I with a smile on her face.  I am sure we got in her way more than once but we never knew it.

Of all my favorite memories at the bowling alley, the ones that mean the most to me took place during the holidays.  The holiday parties blend together for me and I am not even sure how many I attended as a kid.  But the parties I remember left an imprint on me and influenced my interpretation of what a Christmas season should look like.  I remember the foods that people brought to share, especially the deli ham slices wrapped around cream cheese that were cut into pinwheel circles.  I remember the cookies and Scrabble snacks, the tinsel that hung around the windows that overlooked the bowling lanes, and I remember the Christmas lights.  I remember the laughter from adults and the matching sweaters and plaid skirts my sister and I wore.  I don't remember the drinks that the adults consumed, although I am sure the collective intake was voluminous.  When I think about these parties, they are saturated in blues, reds, greens and golds. It felt like one giant lit up Christmas tree and the colors are what stick with me.

To the right of the bar sat a jukebox and while I don't remember what songs were played, I remember a lot of Brenda Lee, Elvis, and...I am guessing some Neil Diamond and Kenny Rogers thrown in there. "Marshmallow World" continues to be a favorite of mine, although I can't verbalize exactly why.

When I think of the holidays, two prominent images come to mind.  I always think of the bowling alley holiday parties and Christmas Eve at my grandparents' home.  My grandparents lived in a stone and brick home that sat on a corner lot.  When you walked through the door, you entered into the living room that was decorated with a Christmas tree, retro stockings, and tinsel that hung from the plastic tree branches.  The focal point, a red velvet couch that was trimmed in wood,  sat next to the front window.  I remember my grandpa's red, green, and black vest that he wore.

What I really want is to live in a 1940s or 1950s holiday movie, because it reminds me so much of my grandparents.  Deep reds, sparse and uncomfortable furniture, and lots of tinsel.  This is what I think the 40s and 50s must have been like.  Don't you?

When you're an adult, it's hard to understand sometimes why you are drawn to certain aspects or moments in life, except for that they remind you of a time when you were a kid, when you knew how to just be happy.

I always feel like my version of holiday happiness is elusive, not quite clear.  So, I decided to write a list of ways that help me celebrate the holidays and the joy of once being a kid. You may have similar rituals, or, you may think I am 100% weird.  Either way, I am putting it out there because I am the kind of kid who spent the holidays in a bowling alley bar and her evenings lounging on a red velvet couch.

My Holiday Rituals

1.  I fast forward through most of "When Harry Met Sally" and only watch the Christmas and New Years scenes.

2.  I sit in the dark, with only the light of a 2 foot tall Christmas tree, until I get a headache.

3.  I google things like "Christmas sketches on SNL," "holiday scenes in "When Harry Met Sally," "winter scenes in 'Funny Farm,'" "Christmas episodes of the 'Office.'"

4.  These 43 seconds from "When Harry Met Sally" are my favorite.  They have nothing to do with the plot but they are the visual image of what I imagine all holidays should look like.

5.  I did ALL of the above just 30 minutes.  And, I have done this every night since last weekend.

6.  My husband is in NYC right now visiting family.  It is 50 degrees there but, in my mind, he is walking around Rockefeller Center, sipping cocoa, laughing gregariously, and bundled up in a warm scarf as he thinks about how much he misses me.  Longing and romance play a big part in the holidays for me.

7. I watch "The Apartment" every year and wish I worked as an elevator operator in the 1960s, who, upon being dumped by the married boss, falls in love with Jack Lemmon's character.

8. This!

9.  This is only Part 1 of my list.  Look out for more soon!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thirty-Five Michigan Thanksgivings and One North Carolina Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving morning and I am grateful.  The mountains outside the kitchen window are a shade of dark blue and a train whistles in the background.  My husband is baking bread and the cats are waiting for him to "accidentally" drop some goodies on the floor.  I am alive and I am happy.

But, this Thanksgiving feels awkward and a little sad to me.  This is the first Thanksgiving I will spend apart from my family.  I know that I am writing from a place of privilege and luck.  My husband has had to spend many Thanksgivings away from his family and in the last four years he has happily traveled with me to Michigan to spend the holidays with my family, even though he misses his family in New Jersey and New York.  I know that he has sacrificed time with his family to be with me and for that I am grateful.  I am lucky. 

When I was a kid we used to spend Thanksgiving at my great-aunt's home.  We ate Thanksgiving dinner in her orange and pine trimmed basement as Bing Crosby and Gene Autry sang in the background.  My sister and I would run around the basement and hide under the table as the adults played cards and talked about the turkey and upcoming Christmas holiday.  One year, when I was around five, my great-aunt accidentally poured me some wine instead of the kid friendly cranberry juice "champagne".  When I started to act more goofy than normal, my parents became suspicious of what was in my green cup.  Perhaps that was the year that kicked my holiday spirit and love of Christmas into full gear.  It may have been my most jolly of Thanksgivings as a kid.

As my great-aunt got older and my Dad learned how to smoke a Thanksgiving turkey on the grill, my parents began hosting the holiday.  Holidays with my family are loud with laughter, arguing, chatting, and the undeniable sound of the camera clicking as my dad takes photographs.  This is what I'll miss: the noise, the hugs, the bad jokes, the faces of my loved ones gathered around one table as my nephews run around the room and giggle.  And, of course, I will miss the ceremonial lifting of the turkey off the grill to bring it indoors.  The small things are what I miss most.  The fact that I have all of this to miss only shows how lucky I am.  I am extra grateful this year.

This afternoon we are celebrating Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's home.  We are packing the fresh baked bread, the bottle of wine, and our grateful hearts into the car to celebrate with other friends who were unable to make it home for Thanksgiving.  This, our new form of created family, is another reason I am grateful.  Grateful for the many shapes and shades of warmth, laughter, and abundance in my world.

Happy Thanksgiving!