"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

the precariousness of blogging: thoughts on internet anonymity and authenticity

i got an interesting reality check today, when two of my teach for america contacts called me to discuss my last blog post.

obviously, i was embarrassed. i felt like an utter ass having to talk to future co-workers and/or bosses about my flippant gut-rxn post about their organization (or is it our organization?... i guess i'm part of it too now, which makes me kind of a hypocrite and kind of a horrible colleague...)

then, i was confused: i heard the phrase "media sweep" (apparently Teach For America runs these regularly to see what's being said about them and i got caught up in the dredge [sic] report). later, i checked my sitemeter stats and realized i'd been receiving record traffic to the site today for my latest post, and felt a little overwhelmed at the sudden inadvertent attention my blog was attracting, and a little upset to realize my writing was becoming an issue of concern. (panic would hit later, when it occurred to me if they're reading this, what else are they finding about me? would they disapprove of what i was saying, would they try to censor me, or worse, ask me to censor myself?)

i was suspicious, too. i figured TFA had PR managers (if you're reading this, "hello!") and that they'd eventually catch wind of my blog and would be reading it for clues into my character or political leanings (in fact, it surprises me that i wasn't contacted earlier about it...) but there's something utterly jarring about talking to your future on the phone, and having to discuss your blog. i mean, having a conversation about my blog is always a strange thing for me. even when my friends and relatives allude to my writing here, it startles me. it seems private, even though i know it's not. there's a cathartic purpose to my writing, i leave it here, let it live and let it die, and it's always strange to me to have it brought up in my real life. i know that probably makes little sense, but i think that in many ways the identity i am forging here is different from the one i live day-to-day. maybe more honest, maybe more flippant, maybe freer, less tied down to institutional loyalties and less sensitive to organizational commitments. i guess the internet provides the freedom to publish without having to own up to anything... this is a persona i've created, this isn't me.

i say things here without thinking about how it may affect my life, but maybe even occasionally with the hope that it will. it's a delicate and vulnerable intimacy that i've chosen to share with the world in this public and exposed space. i've always been well aware of the precariousness of such a set-up, but never have i felt so unnerved having to integrate the two parallel worlds i've created for myself. and it seems that lately these are growing ever farther apart from each other.

i mean, i want to teach, and i want to change the world. the only reason i even bothered applying to TFA in the first place was that it seemed like a good way to do both right out of college. i am extremely happy and glad to be invited into the corps. when it occurred to me that i could have been dismissed because of my recent writing, i was devastated and extremely regretful. but, i meant everything i said. only now i realize that i spoke too soon, too dramatically and with too little information. (TFA and Americorps refuse to pay you for hours of political activity done in your free time, but that certainly doesn't condemn political activity in its entirety.)

this is all merely to serve as a public disclaimer* to my previous post. though i meant everything i said about political activity and its importance to one's education, i don't think Teach for America is entirely encouraging political withdrawal (tho, realistically, they should also consider the message they're sending to recent college graduates, who are extremely sensitive to material threats and already possess predilections for political apathy - any threat of disciplinary action against political activity could be the death blow to political progress). and even though their "media sweeping" has me a little unnerved and uncomfortable (uh, "Big Brother" anyone?), i don't want visitors and devoted readers to think poorly on Teach For America and their policies. and of course, i applaud TFA for endeavoring to change the lives of our youth. they're right to recognize that hope for change and progress must occur in the schools.

after all, i'm a company (wo)man now, gotta toe the line...

*disclaimer #2: even with the knowledge that TFA ppl will probably be monitoring my blog on a regular basis from here on, i am going to continue trying to make this a safe space for my expression and reflection.
**disclaimer #3: even after all this, i am most grateful to TFA for having the patience and understanding to excuse my last post, and to have the integrity not to dismiss me after the brash things i said. it truly reflects well on the character and dedication of the program that they were concerned for my feelings and sought to clarify miscommunication, rather than writing me off immediately. i was extremely impressed with them for being so forgiving and understanding, because i know that they didn't have to be. and for that reason, i think we're going to get along, and i am happy and proud to consider myself a part of the corps.

Monday, January 28, 2008

mending the work/play dichotomy

moments after i make the earth-shaking decision to commit the next two years of my life to teaching special ed in Los Angeles for Teach for America, i read their list of rules, regulations and procedures and am appalled to see the following:

"The following activities are prohibited while charging time to an
AmeriCorps program, accumulating service hours towards an educa-
tion award, or otherwise engaging in activities supported by the
AmeriCorps program:
• Attempting to influence legislation (uh, how else are we going to make any real change in the educational system?)
• Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes (how else am i going to stay politically active and excited?)
• Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing (how else are we going to make any real change for the working people in our communities?)
• Engaging in partisan political activities or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office (i begin to wonder now if TFA just wants mindless apolitical robots who will be easily programmed to do their blanched apolitical biddings, as it would seem to me this definition could be construed to mean ANY form of political activity... even voting...?!)
• Participating in or endorsing events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials (seriously? Fall 2008 is going to be one hell of an election, and only the second presidential election i will have been eligible to vote in, and they're asking me to sit on my hands?! they might as well ask me to crawl into a hole and die.)
• Voter registration drives held by AmeriCorps members are unacceptable service activities. (okay... so they're serious. APOLITICAL ROBOTS, DO YOUR BIDDING!)

now i can see why my friend Dylan was so upset to hear i was considering Teach for America. when i told him i got accepted, he replied that he "was glad [i] got in, but sad to see teach for america take another radical peer." i can see why he was worried: in all my work as a community organizer and living wage advocate, even in my undergraduate thesis research, my overwhelming credo has consistently been: you've got to practice what you preach. that is, you have to find a way to blend theory and practice, you have to be a political practitioner. as Paulo Freire said, "this is a radical posture - you can't be neutral on a moving train.

so it saddens me, too, to see that another radical is being subsumed into an apolitical, gutless machine, a fate i had fought so tenaciously and conscientiously to avoid. i've always wanted to find a job that would allow me to practice the political convictions that before were only theories, that would allow me to mend the fissure between work and play, that would be challenging, crucial work that would change the world and that i would enjoy for that very reason.

but, sadly, it seems teach for america is not that dream job, not even close. i wish they'd understand that genuine change and conscientization (which, let's face it, are the ultimate goals of education) don't come from following existing academic standards and policies, but from enacting new ones. nor does self-sustaining systemic social change occur by merely injecting a few well-qualified college graduates into low-income communities to do some "community service"-style work. ending socio-economic injustice requires the dedication of whole communities to changing oppressive systems and their structures, of using education to liberate and empower people (rather than recreate and reaffirm injustices and inequities perpetuated by the very system of privilege and power of which we are products and survivors).

furthermore, i am offended by their suggestion that it takes a deliberate political inertness to be an effective corps member/teacher. this is glaringly wrong! i cannot think of anything low-income communities need more than active political leadership, and who better to provide it than their children and youth? they don't need to be taught to pass tests, they need to be taught to use their voices for change! how can an apathetic, groveling and subservient teacher be any sort of positive role model to youth in a time when what we need most is political change and awareness?!

maybe i should drop out. i could work for a presidential campaign instead, or continue union-organizing. i'm going to burn-out either way, might as well accomplish something...

i've made a huge mistake...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Colin Powell at Miami University and the culture of materialism

from a pro-peace/ending the occupation in Iraq listserv:

"Colin Powell's second visit to Miami University, bookending the Bush administration, brought to us a message that recalls Indiana Jones: Fortune and Glory.

Though Powell's speech laid out a sports metaphor that on its surface seemed positive, underlying the entire talk was a pervasive message that money rules. By means of setting up an introduction of 9.11, Powell spoke of a materialism, vanity and power. He told the story of how upon retiring, for the second time, he didn't know what to do with himself so he bought a car. This was met with much laughter from the audience. He then told us about how he was considered by Time magazine to be aging gracefully--more laughter. Lastly, he said that when asked what he misses most about being Secretary of State he answers--"My own plane."

This story was filled with kings, dignitaries, red carpets, bands playing for him, "adoring crowds," and so on. These three stories seemed to me to be the most powerful of the night. They were distractions from real issues that he could have addressed while at the same time established the importance of money--buying cars, having planes--and looking good. Fortune and Glory. I imagine some might object to my criticism that Powell was being funny, entertaining, but I think such criticism only makes the point stronger. He distracted people from real stories about what it's like to be a General or Secretary of State, the difficulties, the rewards, the work, the decisions, and narrowed all of his experience down to possessions--the things he got out of it.

Later, when Powell outlined the four major issues he sees the US facing, I could not help remembering the earlier stories. So, when he said that government left us--his "young friends"--with some positives, that countries are on playing fields rather than battlefields, he was less than inspiring. The four games being played, according to Powell are 1) economics--we need to strengthen the economy to bring people out of poverty; 2) energy--we need energy to build up economics; 3) environment--careful use of the energy needed to build the economy; 3) education--better k-12 education in order to build the economy. Why aren't those things exciting? Because they're burdened with greed. Those stories about corvettes, Time and airplanes defined Powell's issues. Everything was about what you can get. He ended his speech by telling a story about how he gets free hot dogs from foreigners. It could have made you cry to hear him tell of the sheer pleasure these foreign hot dog vendors get from simply being in America. And Powell, who was paid how much to speak to his young friends, doesn't give up six bucks to help this person? His speech, however, let's us leave feeling that we too can achieve like he did, we can get things, but mostly we should be happy to be Americans."

- Aaren Yandrich

oh YUCK. now i am extremely glad i didn't go to see this Tuesday night. i had made up my mind to go and help my friends protest against the war, was gonna walk across the bitter desolate expanse that is the frozen landscape of the Miami campus to go sit in a stadium full of self-entitled yuppie brats and listen to this jingoist garbage??! thank god insane sinus pressure and debilitating nausea intervened!

i think my pure unadulterated hatred for American jingoism and its close cousin rabid consumerism would have exploded my head and splattered my mucus membranes all over Colin Powell's face. so much for glory, eh?

seriously tho, to hear that he came to Miami to give a speech about the beauty of American capitalism, to urge the (already) materialistic Miami student populace to join him in drooling over and jacking off to the ideas of fast cars, oil, money, youth, power, and fame without shame or conscience, makes me wish i hadn't been too sick that night to go over there and punch him in the neck and groin. what kind of message is he sending to our college students if the only thing he urges them to aspire to is the accumulation of ever more material wealth and wasted potential?

oh, it just makes me so angry. this is exactly the kind of perverted political philosophy i am putting to shame in my senior thesis, but what good is it if the leaders of our nation - and the future leaders, too - are too busy gawking at themselves in mirrors to see that everything is completely fucked?
an image capture from American Psycho - a satire deriding the American corporatism and materialism of the 80s, a fitting analogy that was just too easy to pass up.

Colin Powell and his ethos of Fortune and Glory are a disease and a cancer, and he's only bound to flip that Corvette and pin himself under it.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the world is spinning too fast for me these days...


sorry it's been so long since i posted anything, but the last week has been insanely busy with meetings (seriously, all the damn time!) and i've been battling a head cold that inflicted me with incapacitating nausea. i stood up out of bed yesterday morning only to fall back on the bed and watch as everything started spinning... now i'm shooting steroids up my nasal cavity so i can maintain my vestibular equilibrium. (in other news, Miami University is now facing a pending epidemic of flu! so the rumor mill says, if ~30 more students are diagnosed with it at the local seedy health center, school's out! dare i say this is one thing i don't mind seeing passed around?)

the problem with violent nausea is that it prevents you from both sleeping and eating. as a result, the light-headedness continues, the wobbly knees are a-knocking, and the days become extremely hard to pass. last night i had fitful dreams, of murderers and death by gunfire (lately all my dreams end with death, sometimes my own. hm...)

my first week of teaching classes was fantastic. the moment i realized my self as a "teacher" and my self as a student/peer/friend were not different, that they'd melded together without any effort on my part, was a breakthrough of the most joyful kind. reading student papers and feeling like my work could fulfill some need ... oh it made my heart sing, i tell you!

anyway, i've got to do some more prep for class tonight, and i need to find something warm to wear! if there's one thing i won't miss about Ohio, it's the awful January weather.

hoping for stable ground,

Saturday, January 12, 2008

the past is glittering

readers, fans, friends, enemies -

i was packing up my things today in preparation for going back to school, and became somewhat nostalgic, as i am prone to do when preparing to go back to school.

i woke up realizing this was possibly my last break at home with my family as "a child." as i may be spending my spring break in oxford writing my senior project and gallivanting with friends, i felt guilty for waking up as i have on any other day before. this was a significant moment in my life, i wanted it to be recognized with fireworks and somber meditation, you know? next year, at this time, i'll have my first real-world job, i'll be living on my own - i'll be living far away! - i won't be going back to Miami, i'll be flying back to L.A. to go back to my own apartment, preparing to teach classes. how weird the difference a year makes.


today my eyes feel tired and dry, like i've been crying all day (but i haven't). i'm sorting thru the mess that's accumulated in my room for the last 22 years, trying to figure out what's important enough to take back, to keep, to tuck away in secret drawers, to give away, to burn, to preserve, to remember, to leave, to live, to let die.

frequently, the most trivial, ordinary things are the most precious. it's the little notes left in forgotten corners, stuck on doors and mirrors and desktops, that linger on bookshelves and in notebooks and letterboxes. these are the mass of my personal affects, the ones i've been collecting and saving to the chagrin of my mother - who finds this practice messy and pack rat-esque, or that my dad sees and dismisses as over-sentimentality. how to explain...

i don't keep a diary any more. my blog is my living document (oh, the digital age...). but there are things - little things - that i don't post here, but these things, when you piece them together, say more about the life i've lived and the people i've met than anything else. after all, it's the little gestures and details that mean the most. it's not a gift someone gives me that i cherish forever, it's the way they laugh when we're together, the way they hold my hand when we're walking together, the way they tie their shoes, their shape in a doorway, the way they muss up their hair when they're stressed, the way they sip their coffee or chew cookies, their walk, their handwriting when they write a note to me compared to when they're making a grocery list and don't care about presentation.

it's these things - these portraits - of my loved ones that i choose to remember and save. i have thousands of little portraits tucked in books and pockets, which, whenever i feel sad, always make me happy to know that i'm truly very lucky.


anyway, this is all very funny, b/c the one thing i really meant to post on today was this note i was looking at today when i was packing up my stuff:
it's from the summer, the contextual clues suggest probly from before i went to Mongolia, and i wrote it about my brother. we had just gotten back from a run - he was running, i was riding my bike - and i was ad-libbing this song about him as he ran, joking him for his tanlines. i sang it in a country accent, high and whiny. there were other verses too, but they were forgotten between the street and my room.

i thot it was funny, an endearing moment b/w my brother and i captured on post-it.

i guess i wanted to post about it but turns out i had more to say.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008


this news is madness!

i found out this evening that Teach for America accepted me, and i will be teaching grades 1-8 in Los Angeles next fall!

i can hardly believe it. i've been sweating the news all break. anytime anyone brought it up, i got all defensive. everyone i know has been saying for the last 3 months, "oh, i'm sure you'll get it steph. you're perfect for it. they'd be crazy not to have you." and i would get really upset, tell them not to say it, b/c i had convinced myself that i messed up in my interview, that i performed poorly on the problem-solving task, that my lesson plan on the difference between farther and further was not impressive or realistic. i didn't want ppl thinking i had it locked in, only to find out later i was rejected.

so, this is why i haven't been sleeping well lately, i think. i've been tossing and turning, dreading the news. what if i didn't get it? what then?

i spent the morning looking for other jobs. a teaching position at a boarding school in Massachussetts presented itself. some thoughts for labor-organizing or volunteering with non-profits crossed my mind. aiding the campaigns in 08 occurred to me, too.

but now, i finally know. and now it seems the next 2 years of my life are planned out. i should be relieved, really, but it seems my anxiety is reaching new directions. i've gotta move across the country, to a city i've never seen, to teach something i'm utterly unprepared to teach, to possibly start a life i'm not ready to start living?

i don't know, it just seems like things are happening too fast for me.

i'm excited, just scared. and trying to think of ways to enjoy my last months as a college student, and really get to know the ppl around me, who i may never see again. i want to know what it feels like to live in the moment, and enjoy it for every drop. i've met so many wonderful ppl where i am now, the idea of moving so far away from it makes me kinda sad. and lonely.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

show me something real

there are times in my life when i just need to hold on to something, or be held tightly, to be convinced something is real.

i woke up at 4 am this morning sobbing into my pillow. i haven't been sleeping well in the past week. and last night i had two horrible, really bizarre dreams. i was dreaming of the apocalypse and the presidential primaries, taking acid and kissing old friends in tree houses.

in the first dream everything was dark. i remember vividly watching from inside my house as hail the size of comets tore up the surrounding neighborhood, ripping through concrete sidewalks and leaving holes in everything - like swiss cheese. and everyone was herded into a mall with a glass ceiling so we could see the hail falling and try to duck, but we knew we were all spending our last days trapped inside and the glass was to make us feel some tiny bit of control. i was walking with my mom and dad to find cover when a hail bomb the size of a house fell thru the glass, and while my dad and i ducked out of the way, it crushed my mom and killed her. i woke up screaming "no no no! oh no!" and then in my half-awake state i wrote something down on a note pad by my bed, something about a fear of natural disasters, and how i needed to write a letter to Obama, Hilary and John Edwards to convince them to make environmental issues a more significant part of their platforms. we've got to save my mom... i went back to sleep an hour later wondering if i might have a heightened fear of hail.

the second dream i only barely remember, but i was hiding out in some dilapidated dark building which i sensed was lifted from the ground, and no one else had faces but me and my ex-boyfriend, who was wearing a funny hat. we were slowly shrinking, becoming kids again, but with our adult heads, and we were taking some strange drug together that seemed to be turning back time. we were kissing, which we knew was wrong b/c we both had ppl in our lives now, but because we felt we were going to continue shrinking until we were no longer there (reverse death - becoming younger and younger until finally u're just a sperm and an egg - would it be any better?) it seemed better to hold on to whatever and whoever was around you, than to spend your final moments alone and sad.

i woke up. it was dark. all i wanted was someone to talk to, someone to hold me and let me cry in their arms and tell me things were going to be ok. the sun is going to shine tomorrow, don't worry...

listen: The Waves At Night [mp3 - yousendit] by Phosphorescent


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

oh yeaaaah...

making good on my promise to make 2008 the best year EVER, i finished writing chapter one of my thesis today, at 10:33 pm. and at 22 pages - plus notes for chapter two, an appendix, works cited page (containing no less than 24 sources) and a table of contents - i have to say, i'm actually quite happy with it.

what's more, i find that i really enjoy grappling with all the complex connections between democracy, education, and market ideology. especially fun was the section on democratic philosophy, in which i got to teach myself about classical and liberal republicanism, having never taken a poli sci class in my life!

anyway, it's done. and i'm half relieved, half scared, because now the brutal waiting begins. will Bill like it? only time will tell... i really hope he does, i slaved away at it, hunched over at my little ottoman desk, my books in piles around me. my back hasn't been the same in weeks!

now i'm stretching out for the first time in days, and taking a real deep breath. i'm cleaning up my space and trying to remember what it feels like to have a life again. weird, really.

let's hope all my effort wasn't in vain,

p.s. and what's more, all those creative juices flowing and i finally got a title for my thesis!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

new year's tidings!





also, i've been reading my thesis in a thick Texan accent, just on occasion to lighten the mood - something i suggest trying when you're bored.