Here’s the Real Challenge, Gweneth, but Thanks for the Effort! #FoodBankNYCChallenge

One of the big headlines this past week in celebrity news was Gweneth Paltrow’s pledge to survive on $29 of food in a week.  Here is the instagram snap she shared of all the food that amount of money can buy.

gwennie

Ms. Paltrow is taking part in a sort of ice bucket challenge gig to bring awareness to the issue of SNAP assistance (food stamps), or more to the point, how small an effect SNAP assistance really has on helping a person to survive, .  I mean just look at the picture.

LOOK                   AT                          IT.

Contained within that one picture is not just a week’s worth of food.  It’s an entire lifestyle.

You see, there’s a psychological framework that we all work within and an astute man by the name of Abraham Maslow put it in a tangible illustration called Maslow’s Triangle, or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

maslowpic

At the base of the Triangle, as the very very very very foundation of our needs, we must be safe and fed and have a roof over our heads.    Maslow observed that until our physical needs are met, we are trapped at the first level of Need. We cannot meet our social needs of feeling loved and having a sense of belonging until we reach a point where we consistently have full tummies, safe sleeping quarters, and clothes on our backs.

Here’s what we miss:   Statistically, if a person is utilizing SNAP to meet their basic needs, chances are their entire life is stuck at the first level of Maslow’s Triangle.

It’s not just the food you see, its the lifestyle that goes with the food.  It’s knowing I have food at the beginning of the month, but I’ll be eating ramen noodles the last week of the month – for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It’s wondering if I can find a job this month, or if I’ll be able to keep the one I have, or maybe trying to deal with my work hours being cut.  It’s wondering if my babies will be safe in the neighborhood playground because I can only afford certain housing.  It’s working with a damnable toothache because I cannot afford dental insurance let alone the trip to the dentist.   It’s sharing a bed in the winter because I can’t afford the heating  bill.  It’s going without nail polish, using the same mascara for a year, and wearing torn underwear – the kids need clothes you see. It’s excruciating pain when my child comes home crying because he was teased for having holes in his shoes.  It’s fighting with my husband over steak or beans for dinner again.  It’s laying in bed, in the early morning hours, worrying, anxious, trying to figure out how I can come up with ten measly bucks so my daughter can go on the school field trip.

It’s the day in and day out grind, just barely surviving, just making ends meet (or learning to live with yourself if you can’t – a silent surrender to your circumstances, a compromise you never thought you’d make), its scratching out even a meager existence any way possible  –  THAT’S what this picture really represents:

gwennie

Education is the key to understanding.  I am grateful that some attention is given to the issue, but we must realize that it’s not just the food, or lack of it, that our brothers and sisters deal with.   They deal with the mere act of surviving on a daily basis, without physical safety, without choices, and without understanding. They cannot contribute to society in a meaningful way since all their attention is focused on meeting their basic needs one day at a time, they have no energy left over for anything else   I would challenge Gweneth, and any others, to look beyond the picture in order to comprehend the lifestyle.   THEN we might be able to effect some real change.

Here’s to making a difference.  Here’s to awareness.  Here’s to less of us struggling to merely survive.

Frankie


America’s Homeless: Taking the Fall for Alan Greenspan, Hank Paulson, and Co.

This past week a well meaning, albeit misinformed youth, posted a link to his facebook page about putting welfare recipients to  work instead of just giving them welfare money.  “Make them earn it” the message says, “They shouldn’t be allowed to be lazy.” it continues.

I quietly fumed inside.

This past year in my hometown there’s been a loud outcry for something to be done with the homeless population, all of them focus on making homelessness a criminal activity and a scourge on our local society.

I am deeply concerned and saddened.

Over and over the message I hear and see is that being homeless or receiving welfare benefits are a huge crime.  They are the ones ruining our nice clean cities.  They are the ones abusing the system and taking advantage of our hard earned money.

They are the ones taking the fall for the ills in our society simply because they are right in front of us.

corporate-welfare5

The real perpetrators, the real criminals, and the true manipulators of the system, people like Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson are the responsible parties. they escape our focus however because they live quietly tucked away, out of sight of the public and certainly not on our everyday radar.

They are the ones however who deliberately allowed the past two economic crisis to occur and led us into the Great Recession.  It doesn’t take much reading for any citizen to discover that they are the ones who went out of their way to mutilate the economic system entirely in their own favor.   They consciously broke laws.  They ignored loud warning signs from economists that the system was going to crash.  They are the ones who deceptively invented ways to shift massive amounts of money from the pockets of the middle class to their own offshore bank accounts.

This disconnect.

This idea that welfare recipients are ‘milking’ the taxpayer while Wall Street members still receive obscene bonuses.

This stain.

This concept of blaming the homeless for the degradation of society when it was Wall Street who shuttered our homes and our stores.

This shame.

This……is one of the greatest social injustices we’ve ever created as Americans.

It is a situation easily remedied though, if we’re willing to take the time.  It means being aware and educated.  It means addressing problems such as unemployment and de-regulations instead of treating the symptoms such as homelessness.  It means electing leaders who are not afraid to let the right people take the fall.

We are a better nation than this, I am sure of it.  Let’s act like it kids.

Frankie

P.S.  Keep an eye out for a new website I am launching next week intended to help us be aware and educated as I admonished “Twentyfirstcenturyrevolution”.   It’s new information and provides some real focus to our current socioeconomic problems.  Here’s to finding solutions.


Cheating Teachers: Ain’t No Surprise To Me

In a big mess of a deal, several Atlanta teachers and school administrators were sentenced (too harshly in my opinion) to jail time because they cheated on the State Standardized Tests.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  At. All.

Several years ago I went back to college after having all my babies with the lifelong goal of teaching in my sight.  There is always something about academia that excites me and I couldn’t wait to get into a classroom and passionately share my enthusiasm for….History!  I was so looking forward to igniting at least a handful of bright minds about the subject, I was so looking forward to making History at least ‘not boring’ for the rest of them.

Then something happened that caused me to seriously reconsider my career choice:  No Child Left Behind.  My observations of classroom transformations, witnessing my own children navigate through them, and long talks with teachers who were stuck implementing the legislation convinced me that I would never make it as a successful teacher within the new parameters set down.

You see, successful teaching is largely a creative venture.  There is really no right way to go about it except to hold high expectations and be observant of one’s students at all times.  That way we are aware when an “A-ha” moment is about to occur and can help the pupil to it.  Lev Vygotsky, a renown child development psychologist, keenly observed the teacher’s role as providing a bridge for the learner to be able to ‘connect the dots’ as it were. Writing sage Kahlil Gibran echoed the sentiment in his work “The Prophet” when he says “No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.”    It’s work to make those connections happen.  It’s bleeding, investing, time-consuming creative work to set down the kinds of paths needed so that our students can learn. Those paths were blocked, blown up, and utterly demolished with the advent of NCLB.

Tests are everything now, thanks to No Child Left Behind. They determine whether or not a school gets funded.  They determine whether or not a teacher is successful. They make lots of money for the test makers who have a close ally in DC. They remove any sort of creativity from the teaching experience and put our educators in positions to cheat in a system based on monetary values.  They have robbed our children of the value of learning to think.   They have eroded our schools so that they are nothing more than faceless information factories.

nclb

This group of Atlanta educators have a fair slice of my personal empathy. I’ve not been surprised at all that cheating of this kind has occurred.   Not one of us should be.  The confining, restrictive, and narrow paths of standardized testing necessarily invites criminal activity.

Teaching is a creative process and should have wide spaces to work with.  Anything less is detrimental to learning. Hopefully – Maybe – Fingers Crossed – one day this stain on our national education system will be removed, hopefully, maybe, fingers crossed, without too much residual damage.

Here’s to all those teachers out there who managed to stay in the classrooms after NCLB was implemented.  You are braver than I am and you have my utmost respect.  And to the group in Atlanta, I understand.

Frankie


J K Rowling, Professor Dumbledore, and A Writer’s Family

Did you catch the big fuss this week about a comment someone made concerning Professor Dumbledore?

J K Rowling has gone on the record long ago about her beloved Professor and that she always just thought of him as gay. A fan this past week asked her about it, saying “I can’t see him that way.”    Rowling’s response is widely heralded as brilliant: “Maybe because gay people look just like…people?”

I loved that she didn’t feel the need to defend her character.  She simply responded with a logical observation and remained steadfast in her creation of Professor Dumbledore.  What an excellent example to us writers.

After all, we writers invest untold quantities of energy into our creations and as I wrote not long ago we become bonded to our characters.   It can’t be helped, our days and nights are fixed upon them as if they were our compass, guiding us through their story, leaving a trail of crumbs for us to follow and use for inspiration. And if Albus Brian Wulfric Percival Dumbledore presented himself to his creator as gay, then that was that.  Who is J K Rowling to question him?

harrypotterrainbow

I understand it more than most perhaps.  I am nearing the end of a manuscript (only a week or so of tears and toiling and laboring left, wahoooo!) and one of my heroines is transgender.   I simply could not imagine her/him any other way.  There was no questioning or wondering.  She arose out of the ether as a counterpart to the main character and behold!  this is who she is.  And just like she wouldn’t let her mother change her, she wouldn’t let me change her either.  He stood steadfast in the knowledge of who he is and who am I to challenge that?  I couldn’t, nor would I want to.  I love him just the way he is and if caught in a pinch, he can defend himself much better than I can.

Ms. Rowling’s response is an example to all writers:  there’s no need to defend our characters, they speak for themselves, our job is to merely give them the voice.

Here’s to our characters kids!  May we be as loyal to them as they are to us…

Frankie

P.S.  Coming beginning Summer 2015 on e-book format:  Caysee and Mac Ride the Train:  A Story of Friendship, and Freedom by Frankie Wallace


Water Conservation: The Neighborly Thing To Do

We are all in this together.

Last week NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti published an op-ed article in the LA Times concerning the severe water crisis in California.  It’s not for the faint hear-ted. We are in serious danger. Towards the end of his writ he says this:

“Finally, the public must take ownership of this issue.This crisis belongs to all of us — not just to a handful of decision-makers. Water is our most important, commonly owned resource, but the public remains detached from discussions and decisions.”

We are all in this together.

As responsible citizens I put the challenge out to each of us this year to become conscious of our water issues as Mr. Famiglietti admonished.  The probability that our plight will continue for a few years is high, and conserving water isn’t just some Greenpeace, hippie, Sierra Club, feel nice kind of gig – it is a community effort, a neighborly consideration, and in our current crisis, water conservation is a civic duty.

We are all in this together.

Last year, ours was the only brown lawn in the cul-de-sac.  I hope there are more this year.   As a ‘neighbor’, I know that there are homes in the outlying areas who must water their yards because those green patches are the only fire break to their precious houses.  I am willing to have a brown yard so that others can afford that fire break.

We are all in this together.

As Mr. Famiglietti notes in his editorial, Central Valley farmers are depleting ground water wells at a rapid pace since reservoirs can no longer provide their water needs. This means our neighbors down south are losing their drinking and cooking water.   I am willing to make use of my grey water for the few houseplants and outside herbs that I have in order to keep as much water as possible going to those further south whose well water is gone.  I am willing to give up gardening – fresh tomatoes, gorgeous yellow summer squash, and crisp green beans – in order that fields of tomatoes and artichokes and zucchini get water, that way we all eat.

We are all in this together.

This fall the California Department of Fish and Game will take over the water rights and control the flow of water from Shasta Dam so that the salmon run from the San Joaquin delta remains in tact and viable (Its the price we pay for damming our waterways).   I am willing to forgo the beautifully manicured landscape of local businesses in order that this important natural phenomenon continues to occur, as it has done for hundreds of years before we arrived.

We are all in this together.

I know that many people in my area are going to be suffering financially from the water crisis.   Hundreds of independent landscapers will find themselves unable to mow brown lawns.  Local hospitality industries have already seen a decline in summer tourism the past two years since Lake Shasta, a house boating mecca, has been desperately low.  I will need to be sensitive to an increase in unemployment in my area and perhaps a recessive local economy.

lakevday

(My husband and I and the locally known “Three Shasta’s.”  That is 

we are standing on Shasta Dam, with Shasta Lake and Mt. Shasta in the

background. 02/15)

We are all in this together.

Water is a universal need and for the most part we northern Californians tend to take for granted the proximity of the Sacramento River to meet our water requirements.   Now however, it is time to reconsider what our requirements really are.  It is absolutely the neighborly thing to do.

Here’s to brown lawns and dead flowers!

Frankie


The Importance of Being Inspired

I attended an open mike session last week, a local event where writers and wanderers meet to share their works.  I hadn’t been to one in a over a year and as I sat and listened to a variety of people share their writs, I realized that I had been shorting myself.   Hearing the voices of others and watching their passion burn for the phrases they carefully constructed inspired me and challenged me.  Here is a perspective on love from a young just – twenty- ish man, there is a young woman wrestling with the conflict of how society tells her to act and dress, and what she knows to be true about herself.  An older man muses over a day in the life of a golf ball, a Mrs. Dalloway kind of narration.  The phrase ‘electrostatic syncopation’ is tossed out in the course of a monologue like a bean bag, it was a gem to me. A small opal that popped among the rocks, I wanted to pick it up and bring it home (apparently I did). I left the night refreshed and full of creative energy.  I thought about one of my mantras:  Creativity begets Creativity.  I became acutely aware of the Importance of Being Inspired.

bohemianartloft...

The Bohemian Art Loft

Redding, CA

Inspiration feeds the artist’s soul and without it we will starve.   We give out a lot you know.  Mr. E. Hemingway put it best when he described his take on being a writer, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Any artist can relate, we could well replace the verb ‘writing’ with ‘painting’ ‘sculpting’ ‘composing’ ‘playing’ ‘dancing’ ‘acting’ ad infin. We invest immense amounts of energy in our work and that energy must be replenished from somewhere and on a regular basis.  I made a promise to myself to attend more open mike nights as a means of replenishing my creative wells and keeping my writer’s mind inspired.

Because the Importance of Being Inspired has been foremost in my thoughts this past week, I noticed how often I tend to subconsciously replenish my soul with other creative forces.   Music of course.  Always there is music.  My morning shower and workout tracks are chosen for their ability to immediately quench my thirst for energy, get my neurons firing, and set off ideas to bounce around in my head the rest of the day.  A treasured painter friend will sometimes let us in on what he’s listening to as he delves out himself with each stroke of the brush or scrape of the pencil.

Nature constantly provides Inspiration for the artist’s soul.   Monet fixated on light as his inspiration and painted the same church from the same angle at different times of the day, recording its varying hues and tones, its changing mirage and shadows.  The result is a symphony of paintings that have gone on to do some hefty Inspiring themselves.   How many poems have the stars inspired?   How many similes have we managed to come up with for the movement of clouds across the sky?   Nature is infinite in its beauty, its nuances can be fleeting, a small shadow can make all the difference – we artists agonize over a way to capture them.  What right combinations of words can describe the way a river is lit by the sun?  What color mixture will I need to ensnare the way the sky looks after a summer storm?

monet's churches

Words inspire.  Great speeches have changed the course of history.   Beautiful novels remind us that resolution is always possible.   Poems etch out a new facet to an object or an idea.  Words challenge us to consider a thing.  They challenge us to make a decision.   They challenge our prejudices and our secrets – and whether we agree or not – we are stronger for the challenge.

The strength of an artist, I’ve come to learn, is in his ability to understand the Importance of Being Inspired.   We can not create something from nothing after all. Bleeding and starving, insomniatic and obsessed, agonized and tortured – we must nourish ourselves with the work of others and the work of nature – or we starve.  And the songs start to sound the same, the books end up with the same plot line, or the paintings become the same fruit bowls.

Here’s to Inspiration kids…may we seek it, may it find us, may we be more aware of it.  Who knows what creative wells we might discover?  Who knows what great works might be produced?  Who knows who we might Inspire ourselves?

Peace, Frankie


Citizen of the Empire

“Bomb them all, let god sort them out!”  that’s my mantra,

Because I know I have the biggest and the best

Military in all the world.

Bigger than the next  six nations put together

So big that we have bases everywhere

So big that over half my tax dollars support it.

“Bomb them all, let god sort them out!” that’s my mantra

Because I blindly believe in a thing called

American Exceptionalism

And that means I am certain my Nation is the best

We have the best democracy

We have the best food

We have the best of everything

Don’t we?

“Bomb them all, let god sort them out!” that’s my mantra

Because I am ignorant of my own Empire

I do not know that we’ve meddled

I do not know that we leave destruction in our wake

I do not know that we are suspect

Wherever we go

I do not know that ‘they’ are wary of ‘us’

“Bomb them all, let god sort them out!” that’s my mantra

Because they’re barbarians anyway

They don’t follow the correct religion

They eat strange food

They have weird customs

They are not worth our time

They’re Towel Heads and Sand Niggers all of them

“Bomb them all, let god sort them out!” that’s my mantra

Because my vision is short-sighted

And my compassion follows a narrow road

My ears hear only war drums

My heart feels insecure pride

I am safe in this land – what do I have to lose?

“Bomb them all, let god sort them out!” that’s my mantra

I am a citizen of the Empire.


Dang -It

Author Terry Pratchett has died.

terry pratchett

Here’s a great write up in The Guardian should you want to know what kind of utter genius this scribe was (Terry Pratchett Author of Discworld Series Dies at 66) – he’s inspired me terribly and if you haven’t read anything of his I suggest you drop what you’re doing and go out right now and find one of his books, your writer’s mind will never be the same.

Sleep well Mr. Pratchett, thanks for some damn good work.

Frankie


Book Review: ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison

(Penguin Books, New York, 1987)

‘Beloved’ is perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve ever read, as a reader, and definitely one of the most heartbreaking.  Of course it won a Nobel Prize….

Ms. Morrison’s microcosmic world of characters, former slaves all of them trying to carve a life out of the freedom the war apparently won them, is wrought with a raw emotion and human-ness that strikes the reader to the very core of what it means to be trapped by circumstances.

“For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love.  The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one.”

“During, before and after the war he had seen Negroes so stunned or hungry, or tired or bereft it was a wonder they recalled or said anything. Who, like him, had hidden in caves and fought owls for food; who, like him, stole from pigs; who, like him, slept in trees in the day and walked by night; who, like him, had buried themselves in slop and jumped in wells to avoid regulators, raiders, paterollers, veterans, hill men, posses and merrymakers.”

Ms. Morrison draws and paints her story from some un-sounded deep wells of humanity, reminding us that within each of us lies the capacity for evil as well as good. The story’s main character, Sethe (pronounced seth-uh) escaped via the Underground Railroad to Cincinnati (giving birth along the way), where she waits with her four small children for the husband that never catches up to her as agreed (She finds out later that his sanity snapped when he witnessed her being abused at the hands of two white boys).   In the very first weeks of her freedom, her old master comes and “…she flew, snatching up her children like a hawk on the wing; how her face beaked, how her hands worked like claws, how she collected them every which way:  one on her shoulder, one under her arm, one by the hand, the other shouted forward into the woodshed filled with just sunlight and shavings…”

Sethe made a mother’s choice.  She made a heart-wrenching, unforgivable, understandable mother’s choice:  Send her children into the afterlife where they would be free from the torture of the man coming to get them, or allow them to be captured again, treated like animals.  Could she let her sons face the potential of a horse bit in his mouth like her brother experienced?  No.  She would see them on the other side, God would understand and so would they, and they would not suffer this life.

She was not recaptured.  The sight of a blood crazed mother put out their fire.  Sethe was left alone, with three of her children unharmed since they got to the shed in time.  She went on to live a semblance of a life, taking care of a heartbroken mother-in-law and watching her two sons leave as soon as they were able.  She ended up with only Denver, the little girl born on their escape, living in a house haunted with the ghost of the child she sent on ahead.

The life Sethe leads reminded me of an important lesson I learned a while back:  we have the ability to make our own prisons in life, whether it be to circumstances, a health issue, an unhealthy relationship, a burden of guilt.   Sethe was a literal prisoner to ‘schoolteacher’ but she made herself prisoner to her guilt and shame.  Ultimately, the prison closed in around her and in a final act of fear, she lets go of everything, broken and in pieces.   An old friend comes round, he’s been unsure of Sethe until now, but he offers a new life, without any prison:  “Sethe,” he says, me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody.  We need some kind of tomorrow.”

In the end, the two lay down their past and lift their heads to ‘tomorrow’ and the ghost that haunts Sethe is laid to rest at last.

beloved

‘Beloved’ is perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve ever read, as a writer, and definitely one of the most heartbreaking.  Of course it won a Nobel Prize….

If the story itself wasn’t enthralling enough, if the characters didn’t break your heart, then the writing will capture your eye and mind and keep you hostage.   Ms. Morrison’s use of language and structure in this work is wonderful magic.   A single phrase when referring to one of her characters, “Baby Suggs, holy,” offers a visual and mental motif to the story that provides an elegant consistency, like the bass line to a good song.   She breaks up the chapters occasionally, to keep the rhythm varied and the reader awake:  long narratives interspersed with short ditties that add fine details, another layer of depth and nuanced tones to the overall piece.  Ms. Morrison sets a high bar for us writers with ‘Beloved’, as such I can only be inspired by its artwork and its place among masterpieces,

As a reader, I would recommend this book for its beautiful story, engaging characters, and the sweet resolve it finds in the end.

As a writer, I would recommend this book as a sort of standard to hold up – “THIS!  THIS IS WHAT ART AND WRITING ARE ABOUT!”

No wonder it won the Nobel Prize…..

Keep writing kids…who knows what deep wells might bubble up from within….

Frankie


Sorry Bibi, You Didn’t Fool All of Us

Lots and Lots and Lots of murmurings and postings about Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his visit to the United States, especially his address to the nation’s Congress yesterday.  He may have felt like he overcame a great political coup in order to stand in our hallowed halls – oh wait, he did – and he may have felt welcome by many of his U.S. supporters who applauded his walk to the podium, and he may have reveled in the pats on the back and the congratulatory handshakes when the moment was all over….but he didn’t fool all of us.

See, here’s what some of us know about Bibi.  We know that he’s made life a living hell for millions of our human brothers and sisters living in the West Bank and the Gaza strip.   We know that his own nation is in economic peril because he’s chosen guns over butter.   We know that he’s cried wolf’ over Iran’s nuclear arms for over a decade now. We know that he’s got a fairly decent stockpile of nuclear weapons himself, something about a pot calling a kettle black. We know that our own problems with Iran go back over half a century to our placement of the puppet Shah and any dealings with them must take that particular history into consideration.

So whilst he was speaking, many of us couldn’t hear him because the war drums he was beating drowned out his words and made them impossible to hear. We could hear them from him and we could hear them from our own because we know that many of our own leaders are chomping at the bit to have another war started.  We know that war is profitable for them.  To many of us, Bibi’s rhetoric is as inane and ignorant as theirs – we’ve heard it all before you see.

Probably, in the long run, not much harm will come from all the fuss and the Prime Minister will go home to an uncertain re-election and the exciting memories of moment he spoke to our Congress.   But if I could have him take away one thing from his visit here, he should understand that he didn’t fool all of us.

Isn’t it about time for another Enlightenment kids?

Frankie


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