Monday, May 31, 2010

Philly Moms: Whose 'body' are you?

Whose 'body' are you?

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

BlurredKinoCoupleI love language and enjoy keeping track of the weird, convoluted ways living languages evolve. This exasperates my teenage daughter since I'm forever asking her to define terms I've only heard come out of her mouth, or her friends'.

"Meh" is one example. I'm told it is the verbal equivalent of a shrug. I like it. We needed one of those. Then there's "sick," which teens use to describe something great or outstanding. I'm less fond of that one, but English has a long tradition of slang that stands existing words on their heads, so I'll bide.

But watching a CBS news report a few days ago, I heard an expression I don't ever plan to allow my daughter to utter: body. As in, "I'm his body."

A 15-year-old in the report explains this is the expression pre-teens and teens use to talk about the person they've had sex with. And, according to the report, almost half of them (46 percent of teens 15-19) have had sex at least once (see the whole "Sex, Dating Too Young" video clip here).

That's a whole lot of bodies walking down our school hallways.

And the image that conjures is disturbingly like something out of a George Romero movie - Dawn of the Dead with its zombies haunting the halls of a shopping center, to be precise.

Look, no mother of a teen is going to be surprised by the statistics the "Sex, Dating Too Young" report puts up on screen. We've heard the stories and the numbers before - often from our own kids. My daughter told me exactly when her classmates started dating (fifth grade); she's told me how many middle school girls are currently pregnant (three); she acknowledges that some high school couples she knows have sex in the boys' bathroom during school hours, and that the majority of her friends and peers are sexually active.

That's a lot of children who believe they are emotionally ready to handle what relationships - or sexual non-relationships - require and sometimes exact from human beings. Which means that's a lot of parents who have failed at their jobs. Because, somehow, we've failed to let our kids know that they are more than just bodies.

This is, of course, the argument most religions make when decrying casual and pre-marital sexual relationships. But I'm not here to talk religious belief, because frankly, there are many others who make more convincing spokespeople for that.

I'm here to convince you to join me in watching our language.

I don't mean curbing occasional or habitual use of vulgarities or expletives (though some day I'll have to write about how peculiar I find it that in English all of what we consider the proper terms for anatomical parts come from the Latin and all the ones we consider obscene are from the Anglo-Saxon). I mean refusing to allow the language than turns our children into those zombies I was picturing earlier.

Ever notice how we sometimes empathize and feel pity for movie vampires and werewolves, but never zombies? That's because we know that despite all of the functioning attendant parts, zombies are nothing more than ambulatory shells. A body needs a mind and a spirit to inhabit it.

When we allow our daughters to describe themselves as someone's body, or we allow our sons to refer to their girlfriends that way, we are complicit in ensuring that those appalling stats from "Sex, Dating Too Young" stay high.

Words matter. Let's make sure our kids choose them well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fairy tales and poems

In an unabashed attempt at self-promotion, read my newly published
poem (based on the fairy tale of Briar Rose, a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty, but a decidedly non-Disney version) at Cabinet des Fees, an online journal of fairy tales.

Or, if you hate poetry, don't read it -- but go click on it anyway so I get lots of hits.

Oh, and comment here or comment there, you'll have my thanks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Philly Moms: Art and the City

Art and the City

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog

FairmountparkNightsculptureOne of the joys of working in Philadelphia is the public art that surprises you at every turn. From the iconic Alexander Milne Calder sculpture of William Penn atop City Hall’s tower to Robert Indiana’s equally iconic Love sculpture at 15th and JFK, the city has more public art than any other U.S. city, and there's something for every aesthetic.

Some of the city’s public artworks are part of our pop culture visual record: Walker Hancock’s Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial in 30th Street Station towers over Lukas Haas’ young Amish boy on his first trip to the city in Peter Weir’s movie “Witness,” and in a reverse of the usual process, A. Thomas Schomberg’s bronze “Rocky” found a public home after figuring in the eponymous series of movies.

I’ll confess that many of my favorite public sculptures in the city have a personal connection. My mother (working under the name Joyce de Guatemala) has a sculpture, Mayan Game Group, on Howard St. between Huntingdon and Lehigh in the Kensington section of the city. Robin Fredenthal (Water, Ice, Fire at 1234 Market St.); Arlene Love (Face Fragment at 3500 Market St.); Joe Bailey (Gift of the Winds at 5th and Market Sts.); Chuck Fahlen (Major at 8th and Locust Sts.); Lily Yeh (Ile-Ife Park at 2544 Germantown Ave.) and Edna Andrade (Belgian Block Courtyard at Broad St. between Fairmount and Brown) are all local artists I met during the few years I worked at the Marian Locks Gallery (now the Locks Gallery on Rittenhouse) and whose diverse aesthetic adds to Philadelphia’s cultural patrimony and character.

Through Jane Golden and the Mural Arts Program, the city landscape is also dotted – from Girard Avenue to the Schuylkill Expressway – with colorful and varied large-scale two-dimensional art works. Better yet, the program has engaged hundreds of children in the artmaking process – bringing groups of them in to collaborate with mural artists in producing the public works of art. Now, the innovative program has joined forces with city government to put art on wheels: Philadelphia’s recycling trucks will be tooling around the city with art on their sides. I love this, and can’t wait for other cities to emulate the effort.
Not surprisingly – given that I'm the daughter of a sculptor – I believe in the value of making art accessible and available to children, pedestrians and motorists and people transiting through the city streets with other things on their minds. Happening upon a previously unnoticed or unstudied work of art can shift you into a different mental space altogether. And it can create indelible memories.

The first time my family went to Sakura Sunday at Fairmount Park (see blog post here) my daughter’s meanderings brought me face to face with Edward Stauch’s 19th-century bronze, Night, near the Horticultural Center, Now, our annual visit includes a visit to this lovely and demure sculpture (that’s my daughter’s photo of it at the top of this post). Likewise, a shopping expedition with my daughter (see blog post here) brought me face to face with Christopher Ray’s Wissahickon Valley Gate on Chestnut Street between 17th and 18th streets. I can no longer pass it without noticing it – it’s inextricably entwined with my memories of a great afternoon spent with my daughter – and it has become one of my favorite places to pause during my lunch hour strolls.

A truly valuable guide to the city’s public sculptures is Penny Balkin Bach’s book “Public Art in Philadelphia” (Temple University Press, 1992), For a guide to the city’s murals, the Mural Arts Program web site (here) gives suggested tours through the different sections of the city have been enlivened by the program’s effort to create art in community.

We don’t engage with art and artists enough. Cuts in funding to schools have eliminated most visiting artists programs. Shrinking funding for public art and the nonprofit arts organizations that keep art accessible to all of us has had an impact on our vital city’s vital art tradition. People tend to think of art as a luxury, but really, should what feeds the soul, adds beauty to the world and builds community be considered a luxury?

There is an opportunity in June for any and all of us to experience art and meet some of the artists who make it at "Art in the Open Philadelphia." From June 9 to 12 more than 30 artists will make art along the banks of the Schuylkill River. Art stations will be set so that visitors can try their hand at creative expression, and a number of arts and cultural institutions will offer free public programs. Also, the first Sunday of every month the Philadelphia Museum of Art has "pay what you want admission" and other galleries and arts non-profits sponsor low-cost or no-cost events throughout the summer, so keep your eyes open.

As the commercial says, just do it. Make art a part of life. This is the city for it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

HB2479 - Et tu, Pennsylvania?

Per the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition:

"This morning, Representative Metcalfe (R-Butler) held a press conference to announce his intention to introduce Arizona-style legislation here in Pennsylvania. More information is available in his press release.

"Pennsylvania and America can do better. Polices that encourage racial profiling and create fear of police turn back the clock on the advances of the civil rights struggle and are counter to our values as Americans. Until we enact workable solutions at the federal level, local communities will continue to struggle with the impact of our broken system instead of moving forward together to rebuild our economy and secure our future.

"The Arizona law requires law enforcement to stop and question anyone whom they have 'reasonable suspicion' to believe is undocumented, requires immigrants to carry proof of their immigration status or else face fines and criminal penalties, and a provision that allows private citizens to sue law enforcement or other state and local government agencies over the issue. The Arizona law has raised concerns from law enforcement officers trying to focus scarce resources on their real job of protecting all of our communities, concerns about racial profiling and civil rights violations, and public condemnation from a wide range of elected officials. A number of organizations have announced their intention to bring a legal challenge."

Take Action:

1. Join people from faith, labor and immigrant communities this Thursday as they speak out against the Arizona law and any similar legislation here in PA, calling on the Senate to take action on reform at the federal level.

Thursday May 6, 10 AM
In front of Senator Casey's office in Philadelphia at 20th and Market. Followed by a procession down Market Street to Love Park (at 16th and JFK), to join people from all faith communities and participate in the Mayor's office of Faith Initiatives Day of Prayer. Faith leaders who are interested in offering prayers while at Love Park can contact Rev. Malcolm Byrd at the Mayor's Office of Faith Initiatives.

2. Call Senator Casey
Tell him: We need a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate.
Toll Free Numbers: English 866-877-5552 Spanish 866-901-3139

3. Contact the White House and call on President Obama to put an end to policies like 287(g) and secure communities, which promote racial profiling and undermine police community relationships. 202-456-1111

Philly Moms: The wonderful world of bugs -- and nicknames

The wonderful world of bugs -- and nicknames

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog

Bugs1Insects don’t frost my cookies.

I don’t groove on spiders (I’m actually kind of scared of the brown ones the size of quarter that sometimes find their way into our kitchen). I’m less intimidated by the stinkbugs that seem to have proliferated the last few years (why is that?) but I can’t say I like them at all -- despite their cilantro-ish scent. Ladybugs and gnats are cute, but they both have a thing about flying just about head level. And the spectacular butterflies, dragonflies and praying mantises are, well let's be honest, a little freakish.

Still, my daughter’s nickname is Bug. Occasionally Buggy, sometimes Buglet, but mostly just plain Bug. As a baby she was tiny, cute, an astonishingly quick crawler and, very occasionally, pesky.

For a long time she really liked the nickname. She asked see the bugs at every natural history museum we visited. She put together a model of a golden beetle, wore an Egyptian scarab pendant and her favorite t-shirt depicted insects of all sorts.

Everything changes.

Not long ago when we were discussing what “name” I’d give her when I write about her in this (Philadelphia Moms Blog, no longer active) blog “the Bug” was my first choice.

“Don’t you dare,” she said. “Just call me Brooklyn.”

Umm. O-kay.

Nicknames are peculiar. I’ve been Bree, Breeny, Beanie (and its variant, the Bean), Nina, Nena, Toots, and, given the Latino habit of adding a diminutive to every name, Sabrinita. I love them all -- because they’re associated with a particular person or set of people from all the different lifetimes I’ve lived in this one.

But I’ll admit to at least one case of nickname envy.

Barely out of my teens, I met a girl whose name, Ximena, provided the coolest possible nickname: “X.” She fit her nickname well. She was a fledgling visual artist with the edgy sort of style that wouldn’t come into the mainstream until a good decade after she had worn it. She was younger than me, but much savvier and just a little bit jaded. I easily imagined her leading the life I dreamed about in those days: smoking Gitanes and discussing New Wave film in some Parisian café with the ideal composite Jean (looked like Jean Marais, created art like Jean Cocteau, articulated his existential angst like Jean-Paul Sartre, and left me breathless like Jean-Paul Belmondo) sitting opposite me until dawn.

Can a person be shaped by a nickname?

I have no idea where life has taken X, whether she continues to be the epitome of hip, or even if she still goes by that nickname. As for me with my beloved-but-not-even-remotely-hipster nicknames -- I haven’t been to Paris, can’t be relied upon these days to remember the title of a movie much less its director, and lose all capacity for coherence if I stay up past 2 a.m. And my husband has never much liked to linger at cafés -- but his steps have matched mine wherever I’ve wandered.

I worry about future I might have made for my daughter by giving her a goofy and affectionate nickname instead of a cool one -- but I’m thinking she’ll sort it out.

Brooklyn. It does have a ring to it, doesn’t it?

For Chinche (bedbug), Piojo (nit) and Pulga (flea) -- and my younger brother who gave them all those nicknames.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

After Arizona - Stand with immigrants

Philadelphia rallies in support of immigrants and comprehensive reform today:

noon - 2 p.m.
Elmwood Park, 71st & Buist Ave,, one block from the 36 trolley stop at 71st & Elmwood

Kennett Square
noon - 4 p.m.
North Walnut Rd., Nixon Park Soccer Fields


Family Unity BBQ,
Sunday May 2
Philadelphia, 1 p.m. - 6 p.m.
Mifflin Park at 6th and Ritner in South Philly
Celebration of the strength and diversity of immigrant families and a call for the end of the collaboration between local police and ICE

On Wednesday:

Immigration Education Forum
May 5, 7:00 PM
St. John the Evangelist Church
21 S. 13th Street, Lower Church

The forum will discuss the following topics:

  • US Catholic Church history as an immigrant church
  • Inability for the undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status
  • Local policy that impacts immigrant communities
  • Value of immigrants to the United States
  • Catholic Church calling for provide dignity to the poor and oppressed
  • The Church’s position on immigration reform

The panel of speakers will include:

Father Tom Betz – Pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish, Philadelphia
Msgr. Hugh Joseph Shields – Director of the Office of the Vicar for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Sister Mary Kay Flannery – Regional coordinator of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign
Peter Pedemonti – coordinator of the New Sanctuary Movement, Philadelphia
For more information call (215) 990-5730