Twins

January 5th, 2013

Four years ago, I went to the Middle East, and twins were everywhere. They popped up double in the labyrinths of Jerusalem, the gardens of Lebanon, and the kibbutz of Ein Gedi by the Dead Sea. When a motif presents itself, you at first become a collector. You collect for a time, knowing that the repetition is important but not knowing why, until you can connect, until you can apply. So along with documenting the lives of children in conflict for my teaching fellowship, I also collected twins.

I reconnected with my elementary school boyfriend, a photographer who had recently shot some celebrity twins. He was a person who throughout life kept circling back to me, like those loops on the figure eight or infinity sign. When I first met up with him in Tel Aviv, it was awkward for a loop, and then normal. We were fifth graders once again. In the Mazda that looked just like my Mazda, he drove me to the house by the sea to which I had air mailed letters as a teenager. We drove through a fire and fell asleep with cats under an enormous tree. We sat on the floor of his apartment, acting nonchalant, like we had when we were twelve before he moved away. Was he my twin?

Goats of Ein Gedi

Your shutter clicks twenty times
You want to frame two goats that look like one
“You only know it from their two little butts,” you say
And we all marvel at the unity of their horns.

On the hills of Ein Gedi they roam
A pair within a scattering herd
They stand out as lovers, best friends, twin goat souls
In a dry landscape.

Now turn your head!
And there is the Dead Sea.
You want to float there with me
and let our arms cross over?


Photograph by Daniel Tchetchik

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Old Wives

November 25th, 2012

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I wish I was living in the time and place of old wives. They would circle around me and cluck their tongues and dangle rings and needles and look at me from different angles and assess the situation I’m in. They would tell me if this little being doing flips in my uterus is a flipping boy or a flipping girl. I wouldn’t need an anatomy scan for this- I would trust my old wives. But alas, I don’t live in this time or place, and tomorrow is my anatomy scan.

At the eleventh hour, this anticipatory night before, I’ll call around for some old wives. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, a time when people are wearing thin on “I’ll ask my mom,” but they’ll do it anyway. Even if the old wives can’t circle around me, I’ll heed their predictions.

Italian and Irish Old Wives (from Erikka and Molly Z)

Perform the threaded needle test. Take an ordinary sewing needle and thread it with about a foot of thread. Hold the end of the thread and let the needle dangle about six inches from the expecting mother’s stomach. If the needle goes in a circle: girl. If the needle moves in a back and forth motion: boy.

According to the Italian old wives, It’s a girl.

Irish variation: Instead of using a needle and thread, put a gold band, the woman’s wedding ring, on the end of the thread. If the ring swings in a circle: girl. If it swings back and forth: boy.

According to the Irish old wives, It’s a girl.

Listen to this fascinating story of an Italian “Nonna” who accurately predicts the sex of 23 of her descendants, even from beyond the grave.

Puerto Rican Old Wives (from Lilly)

If you’re still looking pretty, you’re having a boy. If you’re not having a pretty pregnancy, the little girl is stealing your beauty!

According to the Puerto Rican old wives, It’s a boy.

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Ms.

October 31st, 2012

It’s Halloween, a Dark and Stormy Night, and your phone rings. You answer it. It’s Gloria Steinem. She tells you that you should be afraid, very afraid. Of what should I be afraid?, you ask Gloria, not even wondering how she got your phone number. She makes her voice all ghostly and raspy, and tells you some horror stories. She starts with the one in which Rush Limbaugh calls a Georgetown student protesting about contraception a “slut”. Next, she chills your spine with the one about women not being allowed onto a panel of witnesses at the hearing on the White House mandate to require employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage. You shudder some more when she tells the tale of Rick Santorum proclaiming that those criminal-breeding single mothers need politicians who aren’t afraid of “kicking them in the butt.”

The stories that scare me the most are the ones that I experience. My friend who counsels college students tells me that many of his female students start sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but…” You’re not a feminist? Let me Google that for you. You’re not an advocate for equal rights for women? That’s too scary- it might make excessive hair sprout from under your arms, or people might think you hate men.

When I got married, I chose to add my husband’s name. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, but it was a choice. One friend commented that she was surprised, that she thought I was more “independent.” Choosing my new name, a name I will share with our family as it grows, felt independent to me. But I did consider the context and implications of being a woman who took on the name of her husband (in addition to the name handed down by her father). After the wedding, acquaintances would ask: “What is your new last name?”, and I would think: “Why do you assume I have a new one?” Or they would call me “Mrs. Gumiran”, and I would say: “I’m going by Ms.” Some of them asked why. What is Ms.? What is Ms.?!  I started to realize that many women my age and younger did not know about the title of Ms. and what it signifies. I was horrified!


From http://bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com/

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Athena

October 21st, 2012

 

Is Athena in Athens, her namesake city? If so, where and how does she live? Do today’s Athenians “believe” in her? As a deity, historical figure, patroness? Under the guise of a honeymoon, I went to find out. I looked for her on the streets and in the people. I’m still not sure if I found her- maybe if you read between my lines you can tell me?

The fundamental confusion I had about ancient Greek civilization was with all those blurry, intersecting lines. Drama, philosophy, mythology and history all seem to intertwine, leaving one to wonder if a Cyclops is a real threat and if Helen of Troy existed. When people ask about the honeymoon, they don’t ask me if I could feel the Acropolis while I slept (I could), they ask if I witnessed riots and unrest. Poor Greece. Poor because they suffer from a national reputation as lazy and economically challenged, rather than as descendants of  an innovative and influential civilization. The blurry lines could not exist without so much that flourished. It’s a lot to uphold while the world is calling you lazy.

On Adrianou Street in Athens, Aristotles Marouli sold me a beautiful leather bag. I asked him about Athena and he accessed his Greek pride which was not too far beneath the skin. “I am Greece. I am sorry.” He said he was sorry not because he was sorry to be Greek, but because he was about to insult the European Union. The Sunday before our conversation, the vote had passed to stick with the Euro rather than return to the Drachma. “I am not Germany. I am sorry. They killed millions of people. And we? I am Greece.” We spoke for a while about Greece’s contributions, dating back thousands of years, and the relative youth of countries such as my own. So what do people see and feel when they look at images of Athena and the other Olympians? According to Aristotles, they can draw on these figures as a source of pride, much needed in this time of disregard. Read on

Evil Eye

October 14th, 2012

When you go to fertile Naxos, Greek island in the Cyclades, tell a proud, playful Naxian that his island is the best. He’ll wink and tell you, “I know.” Tell him it has everything: potatoes, antiquities, xinotiro cheese, wine, olive groves, herbed honey, kefalotiri, miles of beaches, terraced mountains, bougainvillea, kitron, and robust people. He’ll say, “I know!”

One thing you can find only in Naxos is the lucky eye of the sea. It is the oval opening of the shell shaped by sea and sand- smooth swirl on one side, rugged on the other. Creative Naxian jewelers incorporate them into earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, promising good luck. My lucky eye’s companion is my evil eye amulet from Lebanon. As they hang out on my wrist together, overlapping and intertwining, they get me thinking: What’s better? Something that protects you from harm, or something that brings you good luck? Which would I rather have, and which would most people rather have? Is there a difference, or is this a question of semantics and framing? How contextual is this choice? Do people in distress prefer protection, and people with security prefer luck?

 

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Brides

May 27th, 2012


The Marriage, 1989 by Stephane Sednaoui

I had the best day of my life a few weeks ago. It was my wedding. It was exactly everything that Justin and I wanted it to be. Because our friends and family placed no particular pressures or expectations on us, we were able to make it whatever we wanted. That involved making many decisions together. It also involved carving out identities of Bride and Groom. Despite how simpatico our relationship and how collaborative the wedding planning process was, some choices had to be made on an individual basis. Since nobody forced a veil over my face or clamored for my bouquet, I could be a bride of my own design. Early on I had to ask myself, what bride will I be?

I was captivated by the above photograph, found at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in the midst of our wedding planning. This bride has something of the iconic and something of the strange. Clearly, she didn’t spray tan for the wedding. She didn’t do eleventh hour P90X to tone her upper arms. She’s heading uphill, but there’s a pull to the sea. She’s connected to her groom and keyed in to her officiant, but she stands on her own, independent. I really like all of her fabric– she can negotiate it, but so will the wind.

Interpreting photography is fun, but at some point a bride needs to make some decisions. She needs to decide not only what to wear and what vows to say, but whether or not she’ll change her name. While a pro/con list might work to make one important decision, the myriad of decisions involved in a wedding requires a matrix. I used this matrix as a tool to investigate the origin and symbolism of various traditions, determine whether or not I like what it represents, and decide what to do. Sometimes the (dis)approval of the representation does not align with the decision, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like my choice. Sometimes the pull to do or not do something was as elusive as the wind on this strange bride’s turban.

 

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Make-up

March 9th, 2012

During freshman year in high school, while I could have spent time learning the fundamentals of astronomy and algebra, I instead passed my time shoplifting. I would sit cross-legged in the town commons with the alpha friend who taught me how to remove sensors, and we would sort our loot. Among the hot piles, make-up was always the mode. Blush, concealer, liquid eyeliner. I applied the stolen make-up, and kept my fingernails filed and painted just as 1990 dictated. But, perhaps out of guilt, I never really learned how to make the make-up look good.

In my twenties I had trouble with ambiguity. I was conflicted by my feminist belief that women should not have to paint their faces, and my desire to have even skin tones. So on top of the layers of identity confusion, I inexpertly painted layers of base. Often I retained a natural face, and was jealous of the smoky eyes and glossy lips of less conflicted and more integrated young women. I also admired the women who did not wear make-up, looked beautiful and confident, and didn’t appear to struggle with themselves at all. I still feel a mild sense of panic when I apply make-up. It’s in my muscle memory- the deceit, the confusion, the conflicted feelings about femininity. I swipe eye-shadow across my lids with my finger like I’m stealing frosting off of someone’s birthday cake. There’s no reason for this now. I’m comfortable with myself and with the concept of wearing make-up. I’m ready to learn how to apply it well.

In 1983, as I was watching my mother expertly apply Clinique, educators Pearson and Gallagher were busy developing an instructional model called “the gradual release of responsibility.” The model involves the teacher transitioning from assuming the responsibilities of a task to students assuming all of the responsibility. Also called “I do, We do, You do”, this process begins with the teacher modeling the activity while the student listens and observes (I do). Next, guided instruction occurs as the student begins the task and the teacher prompts, questions, facilitates (we do). Collaborative learning may occur, as students consolidate their understandings by working with peers. Finally, students transfer their learning, solidify their understandings, and complete the task independently (you do). Educators Fisher and Frey further developed this model, and it is widely used by teachers today. I decided to employ it in order to learn to do make-up.

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Aldermen

January 9th, 2012

Digital illustration by Craighton Berman for The Alderman Project

Dear Alderman Colón,

I am a resident of your ward, and am interested in meeting you. I have a blog on which I write about topics that I don’t know about by interacting with others who are more knowledgeable. This is the blog: www.thefundamentalist.org

One of the topics I’m curious about is aldermen. I am not exactly sure what is involved in your job, and I’d like to find out from you since you are my alderman. Would you be able to meet for a short while (I can imagine how busy you must be) to tell me about your work? I have heard from several sources that you enjoy [omitted] bar, and would be happy to treat you to a beverage there, or we can meet at the place of your choice.

Please let me know if this would be possible.

All the best,
Katie Schneider

***

Dear Katie,

Alderman Colon will be available for meetings during Ward Night.  The next Ward Night will take place on Monday, January 9, 2011 beginning at 5:30pm and ending at 7:45pm.  Our office is located at 2710 N. Sawyer Avenue.

Respectfully,
[Name omitted]

***

Homophones

January 2nd, 2012

A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word but differs in meaning. Homophones may or may not differ in spelling (right/write, tire/tire). The above photograph is of a letter, sent to me by the Chicago Board of Education, confirming my resignation, and misspelling a homophone.

It’s hard for me to write these words: I am not a teacher anymore. I resigned from the Board and am now a coach of new teachers at turnaround schools. A turnaround is defined by Mass Insight as “a dramatic and comprehensive intervention in a low-performing school that: a) produces significant gains in achievement within two years; and b) readies the school for the longer process of transformation into a high-performance organization.” The stakes are high, and the teachers I coach are under a lot of scrutiny and pressure.

Transitioning from teacher to coach is like going from being a superhero to being the person who massages the superhero before she changes into her world-saving cape and leaps into the air. My bosses don’t see me as a masseuse; they believe that coaching is the lever to raise teacher and student performance. A lever amplifies an input force to provide a greater output force. So yes a lever can uplift you, but there’s force involved.

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Cookies

December 10th, 2011


It’s been a little gloomy here, what with blood diamonds fueling civil wars, Chicago youth murdered by the hundreds, and bacteria holding my counter tops hostage. How about a few cookies to cheer us up?

Of course, these can’t be conflict-free cookies. Their very batter stirs up psychological disturbances from my past. Behavior was modified and inner children were hugged in the baking of these cookies. Thankfully my friend Tim of Lottie + Doof was there to help me through it.

It all started in 1979 on the first day I met my stepmother. I was three, but just as neurotic as I am at thirty-five. I don’t remember this day at all, but I am told that on the first day we met, we baked cookies. What a classic lure! Just as Hansel and Gretel were lured into the witch’s oven by a gingerbread house, I was lured by chocolate chips. And just as the cannibalistic witch of the fairy tale fattens up children in an iron cage, I was fattened up with cookies!

Actually, knowing three year old me, I probably licked the spoon briefly with a paranoid tongue and ate a single cookie with hesitant bird bites. Life is pretty Disney for my stepmother and me today, but many of our years together were quite Grimm. And so the cookie-lure of my primary years lurks in my psyche.

Flash forward six years to the fourth grade. I was drafted into the Brownies. Yesssss. Finally, I had an in to that exclusive group, that secret society, no doubt shrouded in secret handshakes and hard to crack codes. We would surely meet in a cave somewhere, don our brown sashes, and ceremoniously pin our sisters as we chant in strange tongues.

Really we met in the Kindergarten classroom at my school, and glued a Polaroid photo of ourselves onto a construction paper flower. How lame. There was no secret handshake, nothing secret at all. The overhead fluorescent classroom lights gave off their ordinary glare. Ah but…. on the calendar… a meeting at Lisa Bard’s house! It must be off school grounds where the secret society flourishes. And what happened there? Kids yawned, and moms delivered instructions on how to sell Girl Scout cookies. I dropped out of Brownies immediately. Read on