Summer agenda

Since last September, the trials and tribulations of institutional academic life have applied ample psychic weight to my daily consciousness and have indeed dominated my waking (and sleeping) hours. But the spring semester has ended and June is nearly here — June… June! when I have to be finished with the last of the lingering todos on a very long and very overdue list of things I owe to other people. So, what is on the agenda for June, July, and August? In short, as little of a schedule as possible and a wish list of experiences:

  1. Try the creations at each of the Top 10 Falafel Spots in NYC (according to cityeats) — this is basically just an excuse to return, again, to Taim, which is well worth the trek down to the West Village.
  2. Go to the movies… a lot… and watch, among others:
    The Way, Way Back 
  3. Summer tv viewing: including “The Yard” (free on Hulu), “Arrested Development,” and (it might finally be time for a re-viewing of) all five seasons of “The Wire.”
  4. Taste test of lemon ricotta pancakes across the city.
  5. Thanks to E, I am now hooked on “Sherlock” — it’s the kind of show that begs a second and third viewing before the first has finished. So the two seasons’ worth will keep me occupied for at least a little while, especially as I play one of my favorite tv watching games: Guess where they are (the show is filmed in London, thus making the viewing and the gaming especially satisfactory.) And besides, who wouldn’t watch a show whose titular character is played by an actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, who could very realistically be the love child of Fred MacMurray, circa “Double Indemnity” and Dennis Quaid, circa pretty much any time.
  6. Embody and communicate a love of anything as much as Bobby McFerrin does here:

    or as Leonard Bernstein does here:
  7. Walk and walk and walk with no destination in mind, including in and out of the corners of Philadelphia, through the Sheffield Peak District, and along the Thames for as long as my legs will lead me.
  8. A photo a day for the summer (or as close to it as I can come). Here’s one I took in Central Park a couple of weeks ago:

    20130507_102155
    The not to secret Cherry Blossom walk near the Reservoir
  9. And my real summer reading list
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Witness by Karen Hesse
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolf

Gladly willing to accept any and all company who want to go along for the ride.

eve

The hour is late, although I suspect a few more will pass before I can surrender to sweet slumber — and even that will feel like too little, as the alarm is set to twinkle well before what seems like a humane wake up time. L and I were talking this weekend about the ever alluring “else” — that is, what else we’d be doing if not this. The “else” game is intoxicating and one that cannot be kept at bay when the hours that spill out in front of you are unfettered for days on end. But now, the “else” game feels like a punishment. Still, we played. There were other “wheres” that came with ease, but as for “what”… despite a year-plus spent pondering this very question, I came up empty. Initially. I realize that within mere hours of returning to campus, I had been transported back into the rhythms of others — ones that were tuned to manic frequencies, with every beat seemingly consequential, each transition or hiccup leading only closer to an impenetrable wall of agitation.

Tonight, on the eve of the new school year, I settle once again into the realization that is strangely comforting: this is exactly what I would be doing. Almost. I would eliminate all of the administrative duties, the negotiating of adult petulance (for which I have little patience and even less sympathy), and abolish most of the meetings that are currently mandated, if not by force then certainly by social pressure.

But the bulk of this gig I would want to continue — some of the teaching and especially the research that affords time spent with young people which yields stories about which I do want to continue composing artifacts and narratives.

But if I had my druthers I would do less and limit the extent to which I had to manage projects and be instead steeped in the doing — doing the work rather than talking about the work (which can also be the work, itself… sometimes). (However, with great power… or so the saying goes…)

My delusions are not of grandeur but rather of increased simplicity.

Perhaps in a society that swallows whole ideas like the four-hour work week and obsesses over talent as a commodity more desirable than consistency or effort, doing less and simplicity are counterintuitive. Doing less is swiftly translated into decreased revenue and fewer luxuries, not only for the self but also for those to whom and for whom you may be responsible or answerable.

Immediately my mind drifts to the documentary series “Alone in the Wilderness” that chronicles the experiences of Dick Proenneke while he is living in the Alaskan outdoors. Over the course of countless pledge drives on PBS (the public broadcasting service in the US), I have watched the entire series at least a few times, and each time I catch a glimpse, I stop — mid-sentence, mid-phone call, while drying dishes — and listen to his tales of not merely surviving, but living off of the land. Proenneke films and narrates while also living the experiences about which he is crafting stories. This video excerpt below, that comes from the second video in the series, documents Proenneke’s return to the cabin he had built a year earlier. Simply put, he takes his leave of the civilization with which he was familiar to pursue nature’s beckoning calls. For extended periods of time. Away from the everyday. To something else.

Proenneke also sets out on a new life after the age of 50, like Duncan E. Slade’s turn to art education. (I’m making a mental note to pay extra attention when my 50th birthday rolls around for whatever life changes come my way.) His narration is unhurried, keeping in harmony with his patient practice of living in the wilderness.

Unhurried. But purposeful. I think I remember writing something about this earlier this year.

So I’ll seek out unhurried but purposeful ways to be responsive as new students share their anxieties or as colleagues threaten to spiral deep into their own frustrations. I suspect a visit or two to Dick’s cabin couldn’t hurt, either.

Happy new year!

Size matters

When Y asked me to reflect on what elements or affordances characterized this past year as simply sublime, I was momentarily rendered speechless. Everything, I wanted to say – that is to say, nothing: no appointments on my calendar for days at a time, no mandatory meetings to plan more meetings (in between which no actual work is accomplished), long blissful stretches of time of silence and solitude (and not only when I was sitting Vipassana), no guilt when spending full days free from agenda with my spouse, friends, or family. A full sense of nothing. No thing.

The answer, it turns out, was far less philosophical. I relished my limited wardrobe, namely a predictable uniform of jeans in some form and a tee shirt whose sleeve length was determined by the weather. It was the denim, however, that was the linchpin, the signifier of time spent away from judging eyes, the reassurance of moving through the hours and on the streets on one’s own terms. Of course, in an academic environment, jeans have become commonplace (thank goodness!) and form the core of my work wardrobe, as well. Ah, but the freedom from a work wardrobe

My penchant for dwelling often in the comfort of denim showed when, last week while walking upwards of seven or eight miles between domicile and commercial enterprises, several times in fact, I was made suddenly aware of a sad reality. The year’s ocean crossings and multi-terrain, varied climate travels had taken their toll on these woven denim relics and had rendered all of my remaining jeans utterly worn (through). And then the other shoe dropped: I needed to shop for new jeans.

It has been years since I stepped foot into a store with the express purpose of purchasing a pair of jeans. I had taken a page out of my father’s book of “find something that fits and buy multiples” – and so I had done just that. Only now, the jeans stockpile was no more. (To be absolutely truthful, there are still two or three pairs tucked away on a shelf somewhere – or now, in a suitcase waiting to be unpacked having traveled back from Philadelphia to New York – that will do in a pinch, but they are one critical assessment short of the donation bag. When will I learn that trends are not for me?)

Syllabus planning, book writing, email responses, phone calls – they all took a back seat one afternoon as I steeled myself for the task at hand. The Center City crowds seemed overwhelming, so used to the quiet of my neighborhood had I become that constant chatter blended with car horns and diesel engines struck a cacophonous chord in my ear. Simply to escape the noise, I opened the glass door of the first store ready with anticipation to be enveloped in the icy cool blast of air conditioning, although it was less of an embrace than a full frontal attack by the air duct register hung above the main entrance.

My air assault was followed by a cloyingly sweet greeting uttered by a salesgirl with an oddly brusque looking face; she took on a completely different appearance when she smiled. This was not to be the place, I determined quite quickly and, with a perfunctory tour around the store, I skirted the glare of the first salesgirl and scurried out without so much as bothering to feel the fabric or decipher the code for the different jeans leg openings.

Similar scenes played out in three more stores, although I did manage to take a few candidates into the dressing room, only to be completely confounded by a) what passes for denim and b) the sheer lack of understanding on the part of jeansmakers about the meanings of words like rise and flare and straight as they pertain to the garment of their livelihood. In short, no luck.

I didn’t intend to purchase jeans from The Gap, nor do I intend this as an advertisement for the brand or corporation. But my curiosity and historical familiarity pushed me to pull open the excessively tall doors that are initially resistant and then, without warning and with encouragement of the spring hinges, augment the motion by swinging widely. It’s a wonder more people aren’t injured for just entering the store.

What happened next was swift, free from overthinking, easy. I tried on six pairs of jeans in a range of waist sizes, lengths and styles. One worked well, the same style name I remember purchasing nearly a decade earlier, but the length was a bit long. So I gathered up all of my things – because by this point in the afternoon on a day full of meetings, gym, and errands, I had acquired an additional few bags of various shapes and sizes that, in addition to my laptop bag, were hanging off of me – and avoided the wider abyss of the store by making a beeline for the jeans display and within a few seconds located the right leg length in the right style and size. Oh, if only that was the end…

I repeated this search and rescue operation two more times and in doing so came upon a strange fact: jeans of the same style, rinse, and size may have different material composition based on inseam. Length!

With the matter finally resolved, and with my new purchase tucked away between my sneakers and old gym clothes, I checked my watch on my left hand as my right found the metal handle to push open the large glass door. 97 minutes. That was the time it took to find a new pair of jeans and to be reminded that despite the industrial revolution and all the technical revelations in manufacturing, individual hands – thousands of them – are never far from the journey taken by the material goods in our everyday lives.

And then I remembered a short film produced by a young man — a teenager — who I met at an academic conference. For his poetic take on hands, take 2:21 minutes and watch this (part of the DigMe video collection):

happy

Sydney Pollack’s documentary about architect Frank Gehry — the one who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the crazy mind behind LA’s Disney Concert Hall, and other distinct structures that demand passers-by pay attention — includes extensive looks at the design process, one that for Gehry now involves assistants who translate his verbal mutterings or napkin scribbles into models. During one scene, as Pollack sits alongside and observes while also videotaping, Gehry and his assistant are cutting and taping pieces of metallic silver cardboard to create a physical facsimile of a building design in progress. Gehry is unhappy with one side and suggests that it needs to become crankier. The solution: corrugation. The clip below is just over three minutes long, and right at the 3:00 mark, as Gehry sees the problem wall come alive anew, he exclaims: “That is so stupid looking, it’s great!” and a few seconds after that, he throws his arms in the air and exclaims “wheee!”



A recent addition to my personal ever-expanding hopper of examples of “adults embracing glee” comes from the Monty Python crew. The sketch is titled “Ministry of SIlly Walks” — it is absurd, some may say overly childish, and yet, with precision commentary about, among other things, the peculiarities of bureaucracy. (I originally wrote that: bureaucrazy…)



Perhaps to be happy can require, at times, a bit of silly — or, as these researchers suggest, a forced smile.

The focus of the post was inspired by a recent one on Kate’s blog about the happiness of nothing (in which she, too, draws from the wisdom of the mighty Python), who was responding to a prompt on Side View’s Weekend Theme: Things that make me happy.

framing the artist

There’s little I can say that hasn’t already been said about the film “The Artist.” Prior to seeing it, I had read very little about it and had read almost none of the available reviews — just a feeling I sometimes get with some movies for fear that the words of others will ruin my own viewing experience. I knew that it was a modern take on silent films and that my mother-in-law had raved about it. This afternoon, after an exhausting few days of post-illness recovery, I finally left the flat and sat in a nearly empty theater just around the corner and took in this cinematic experience. I’m embedding the tap dancing, fancy-filled trailer here.

George Valentin is at the one center of this dual-nucleus film and is portrayed by the devastatingly charming Jean Dujardin who, along with his film co-nucleus Bérénice Bejo, the utterly enchanting female lead, offers a layered, nuanced, and loving letter to a key moment in film history. In addition to the two main actors, this film also serves up a panoply of supporting actors all of whom deliver poignant and punchy performances regardless of how many or how few minutes they are on screen — including James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and Penelope Ann Miller who call attention to the many dimensions of screen presence that go far beyond vocalization or verbalization of lines in a script. Eyebrows move, shoulders shrug, hands gesture and hold strong, looks are held and broken, there are dance numbers, and playful and meaningful glances and grazes. And what comes through in this film, more so than in many I’ve seen recently, is the strength of the visual framing of the story. The characters and the narrative are elegantly and precisely framed, especially moving are the shots that incorporate staircases and mirrors in fantastic ways. My teacherly self wants to recommend this as a core text through which to explore this practice of framing and the play of sound, song, and speech off one another. And the pop culture connaisseur in me can’t help but think of the ways in which the stories about artists in the public sphere are framed and played out in various texts and media outlets. Or how, in my walks through the city, I have seen artworks framed by adjacent structures and the ways in which my own movement helps or constrains the ability to see the art.

Art from afar
Art from afar
Art up close
Art up close

And for those who have watched the film, click here for a parting gift — a bit of video fun in which the much-celebrated lead of The Artist, whose voice we barely hear in the film, collaborates with FunnyOrDie to put his vocal talents on display in this excellent example of self-parody.

while you were sleeping

jet lag is a strange thing. your body fights it, tries to trick its power, and ultimately falls hard under its spell. the result: walking zombies. in this zombie-like state, attempting to ward off Jette Lag — likened in my mind to a nefariously comical villain from an 80s-style spy movie — we went on a stroll last night that took us to the the south bank via the waterloo bridge. the video below was taken at dusk, as the busy london workforce rushed over the bridge to one or other tube stop. just behind the bridge to the southeast, is the ever-turning london eye all lit up in electric blue.

after a bit more walking and overuse of the tube daily travelcard purchased by mistake — and therefore one must get full use of it, even if it is just to go one tube stop while fully absorbed by the human crush that is london rush hour — the penultimate stop on this delay-JL walk was the nearby Sainsbury’s supermarket; not a Sainsbury super as the internet had promised, but just a Sainbury’s local. the plastic, blue shopping basket was full of an inexplicable collection of odds and ends including frozen meals created by the Quorn company* — fantastic news for a soy-free vegetarian! at the self-checkout the computer politely asked if we would like to register our Nectar card. what is this Nectar card, so full of the promise of untold bounties and joy — implied, perhaps, by the very word nectar. a store helper heard me muse this out loud and asked whether i’d like to join this “national loyalty program” and not being one to shy away from a program that accrues points for purchases i’d make anyway (case in point: my love of fatwallet.com), i agreed, we swiped, and we were on our way!

nectar card info packet

the evening was a blur that included a simple but surprisingly delicious meal (me: green salad with steamed broccoli and roasted cashews and the Quorn tikka masala and basmati rice). prepared, by the way, in the micro-flat’s micro-kitchen that is par for the course in london abodes — well, maybe not quite so micro. more flat pics to be unveiled as time passes (and as i find clever ways to photograph its unique features).

the micro-kitchen - a model of efficiency

post-dinner: setting up a temporary, unlocked mobile phone and taking in some BBC news before passing out at a respectable 8:00pm local time.

all in all, not a bad way to start getting situated in this town. today’s mission (other than finishing up a few lingering Stateside todos): take the long, meandering, city-exploring walk i usually like to do upon first arriving in a new place, regardless of how familiar it already is. it’s my way of getting a lay of the land so that i end my map-reliance sooner rather than later. and of course, find a good cafe or two 😉

*in the States, a completely different and much more limited assortment of Quorn products can be found in select grocery stores.

unsolicited sound advice (from the internet, not yours truly!)

It isn’t clear whether the universe is trying to communicate something of importance to the earth’s inhabitants*, but the delivery of multimodal missives and messages that have flitted across my various inboxes, feeds, and walls reverberate with a degree of measured urgency. Thus, in the spirit of the coming new year and sharing the wisdom, I’ve collected a few of them here.

1. A straightforward, no-nonsense, slightly admonishing-toned list of 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself (via the blog: Marc and Angel Hack Life: Practical Tips for Productive Living). Among their recommendations:

Stop trying to hold onto the past. – You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.

Stop wasting time explaining yourself to others. – Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it anyway.  Just do what you know in your heart is right.

Stop being ungrateful. – No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life.  Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs.  Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.

2. A reminder to have compassion because We’re All Doing the Best We Can (via HuffPost)

3. Philosophy brought to life in The Cave (An Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay) — made me revisit an earlier post about shadows and looking. Well worth the 3.4 minutes it takes to watch & listen to the clip.

4. Advice in the form of a questionnaire that Vanity Fair claims is in the style of Proust and his contemporaries and responses to which may be quite revealing of one’s true character (if such a thing really exists). These questions were posed to the President and First Lady by Barbara Walters in a recent tv interview, resulting in some odd moments. A preview of a few of the questions:

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • On what occasion do you lie?
  • When and where were you happiest?

More than enough to ruminate on as 2012 approaches….

*Yes, I’m procrastinating — blogging even as one of those pesky, year-end deadlines looms large.

friendship

Friend.ship. A ship of friends?  Ship of fools? Bateau d’amis ou de fous?

Pronounced: frend-ship.

Two short vowel sounds. “e” like feather or let or Jeff. “i” like lip or listen or whither.

When do we know we are friends with someone? Can we still ask that question when the word “friend” itself is both noun and verb? (My greatest bone to pick with one Mr. Zuckerberg is not about the sudden and neverending changes to his social networking site, but rather to his contribution to the addition of the ugly term “friended” – while most other natural shifts in language amuse me, this one just aggravates.) One does not befriend someone anymore — or at least not in the traditional use of the word to evoke a sense of accidentally happening upon or intentionally pursuing someone’s connection to your life. One such on-screen instance of befriending comes to mind, perhaps because of this nostalgic time of year: The way Nickie Ferrante sidled up to Terry McKay to strike up a conversation aboard a cruise ship, in part, I like to think, because he saw a glimpse of something familiar he recognized in her (and not just because he recognized his cigarette case), and likewise, she in him; a glimpse that blossomed when Terry met his grandmother, Janou. [If I’m very good, and finish my other work in time, I just may allow myself to take advantage of the instant play version on Netflix.]

“I want you to be my friend,” an eight-year-old may to another eight-year-old. And so it is decided. But are they friends? How long does this last? Is friendship a discursive declaration? A felt sense? An inclination?  Once friend, always friend? Perhaps. Not.

There are people — and I am thinking of three in particular right now — with whom I haven’t been in regular, that is to say weekly, monthly, or even yearly — contact for close to two decades. Yet each interaction, however sporadic, accidental or intentional, feels meaningful. purpose-full. joyous. There are others with whom friendship has taken on a veneer of obligation. Perhaps we sat near each other in elementary school and memorized one another’s breathing patterns or the backs of each other’s heads. Or maybe our families were friendly once and to discontinue this trend in a next generation would be anathema, not because one’s companionship is missed, but instead because it is what is expected.

Who could be a fan of the obligatory friendship? Friendship with too many rules offends my sensibilities. And yet this is the fodder of many films about school, adolescence, and life, itself – in this way, friendship is perhaps more insidious than peer pressure. Yet, I also hold close Clarence’s words of wisdom that he shared with George Bailey; “No man is a failure who has friends.” (And at the same time I think of conversations I have had with young men who were incarcerated who were forced to confront an often cruel realization that friends who were numerous “on the outside” numbered quite few when they went to jail or prison.)

Happily, the past few weeks have been spent time in the company of friends who raise questions, allow the space to wonder, give hugs (literal and metaphorical), and feed the soul. We who have friends amongst whom we move and live and dance and play are fortunate indeed. (One unexpected challenge of sabbatical — particularly if one leaves the geography of one’s friends — is having sounding boards and comrades at the ready; thus, these moments become just as precious as the time that time away affords.) Given the possibility of this tenor of friendship, the bad behaviors of individuals who perform the most wicked form of friendship of all, that which is laced with false humility and conducted behind the backs of their “friends,” is especially disappointing.

How might a tendency toward the prudent, then – that is, toward erring on the side of fewer rather than many whom we call “friends” – fit with previous musings on living with an eye toward the possibility that anyone, any stranger, may become a friend. Is it cautious optimism? Measured citizenship? And what to make of work that is borne in friendship, and friendship that is borne through work?

Confucius — “To have friends coming from distant places, surely that is delightful?”

It is, indeed, delightful. Leaving all involved full of delight. Friends who emerge from unlikely moments, the seeds of whose friendship were planted ages ago, even if they’ve only just sprouted.

Apparently it all boils down to seeds and sprouts.

the year in pop — 2011

i was waiting for it, and was going to write some musings about DJ Earworm’s pop music compilation that i look forward to each year, but then i read the musings of slate‘s forrest wickman and realized that i could just post a link to his piece.

or you could just watch this year’s video as you fight post-holiday-family-tour-sugar-rush food coma and await 2012

boom, boom, BOOM!

(thoughts on friendship and the magic of cards currently brewing…)

 

a world seen, a world heard

just one of several (of millions) photos that tell the story of this past year — as documented in buzzfeed’s 45 most powerful images of 2011.

Christians protect Muslims during prayer in Cairo, Egypt. -- Source: @NevineZaki

as other collections of images come past my inbox or twitter feed, i’ll share them as well. i am also eagerly awaiting this year’s pop music remix — another take on a single year. in stark contrast to the arresting impact of the above image and the others in the 45-list are the yearly pop music remixes by dj earworm. my favorite is the 2009 remix.

completely different than the effect of, say, a song first heard at one age or in a particular year that comes to have new meanings upon subsequent rehearings. a relatively recent find are the songs of annette hanshaw to which i was introduced through my viewing of the curiously entertaining mixed media film, sita sings the blues. (i offer no other commentary on the film other than recommending a viewing; works even if you don’t happen to be familiar with the hindu epic, the ramayana.) here’s one of my hanshaw favorites as included in the film:

learning to look behind the shadows

Why it is that we — humans, adults, academics, Americans, citizens of the world, all of the above — forget that this, all of this, is not only a game but also completely made up. I said as much to a class of mostly early-twenties (I’m guessing, based on their pop references, social media proclivities and digital histories) graduate students during a class discussion this past spring.  We were broadly discussing the seemingly blind adherence to policies and the oppressive weight of testing that binds teachers’ hands and risk-taking inclinations. I wanted to get us/them out of this potentially-lemming-like complacency so I blurted out, “it’s all made up!” and I was referring to the classroom where we sat, the fact that they subject themselves to being formally evaluated by me at the of the term even as we spent most of the term engaged in collective endeavors, even the fact that we were all complicit in maintaining the discursive practices that uphold the very policies and systems that seem to bind our hands – at the end of my unplanned albeit gentle rant I was facing a sea of slightly frightened faces. I think I had freaked them out just a little bit. But at what point does the moment cease to be ever in service of the next moment? The rhetoric of “doing well” has launched me into a new phase of my existential crisis quandary: we are told to perform well in primary school to pave a smooth way in secondary school; excel in secondary school in order to gain entry to college; do college well in order to graduate with employment in hand; exceed expectations on evaluations* to get promoted to get a raise, and then another; acquire and accumulate — things, money, assets, social networks, status, power, influence; retire and, before you die, leave your offspring better off than when you were their age. Is it possible, at this point in human history with so much so deeply embedded in the fabric of being human, to imagine schooling that is not solely premised on social mobility?

When I recalled this story to a student the other day, she immediately blurted out, “It’s like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave!” Not being a Plato scholar, and only having read The Republic once and not very recently, I had to refresh my memory — luckily Amazon has made this text and many other books deemed to be in the public domain freely available for the Kindle app and a quick search brought it all back. And so, in Book VII of The Republic appear the following words in an exchange between Socrates and Glaucon:

Glaucon: “How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”

Wherein Socrates responds a few speech turns later: “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of images.”**

In urging for a peeling back of the curtain I am not advocating what most fear at first whiff of this sort of chatter: anarchy. I am not an anarchist nor do I think an unexamined approach of anger and destruction toward the social world (which is unfortunately what anarchist derivatives descend into) is right or good. Although I do enjoy a healthy bit of chaos that keeps us free from lapsing into complacency. Frankly, I blame (thank) my parents who took it upon themselves to give me, as my first book, an encyclopedic volume titled, “Tell Me Why.” The seeds planted in the pages of that seemingly innocuous book were especially volatile – I began reading my world through the lens of why.

I also wonder, like the Fresno superintendent who recently turned down his usual salary for the next three years in order to put most of the money toward early childhood education, “How much do we need to keep accumulating?” Such a question seems verboten in a social landscape of Bigger.Better.Faster.More. Why is life in a big house and all its social, discursive, cultural, economic trappings deemed qualitatively better and thus a greater source of educational motivation than other dwellings, ways of living, being? And why, oh why, do there continue to be posters of “cars, mansions, and money” lining the hallways of schools? Why do we keep glorifying the image of a  “better, richer, and happier life?” (my emphasis). Just because cultivating one’s sense of flourishing and intrinsic motivation is difficult, we shouldn’t cede this job to the idol/idle worship of extrinsic motivation. Has the financial crisis taught us nothing?

This existential crisis quandary of mine has been endured by family and friends, alike, and I am thankful they haven’t cut me out of their lives (yet!). The Plato reference and others like it, both temporally and spatially vast, give me pause and, perhaps ironically, great hope. If there have always been humans who have wondered about the fallacy of social life, and yet there have always continued to be those whose entire identities have been based on upholding, strengthening and broadening the reach of the naked emperor, it is oddly reassuring on the one hand to feel support across space and time for this less popular narrative. On the other, conventions of social mobility as *the* driving force for our social institutions, and especially schools, not only continues to distress me but is actually detracting from the tremendous potential schools hold as sites of meaningful engagement now and not just for the meaningful engagement they can serve as prep areas.

Perhaps Muriel Barberry has an answer and she brings it to us in the mind’s eye of a curious if somewhat precocious 12-year-old girl living with her bourgeois family in an upscale apartment building who befriends the building superintendent in whom she finds a kindred spirit: both are struggling with the notion that they are not what the world so desperately wants them to be, with their contradictory aspirations, practices, and ways of interacting and imagining (or not).

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, is full of much more nuance than I have allowed in this brief note, so while I continue to think about it I’ll leave you with two delicious clips from the film adaptation that delighted me equally (and made me newly appreciate the Oscar category of “adapted screenplay” – truly hard stuff to do well!)

The meeting of Mme. Michel and M. Ozu (who could not love a Tolstoy reference? Especially as it transpires between these 2 characters.)

Paloma filming Mme. Michel (ah, Paloma. She is charmant and, through her unassuming curiosity, coaxes out the charm in Mme. Michel.)

—————-
* When I was a postdoc, I had the opportunity to sit in on course taught by a colleague who until that point I had known only as a co-author of a text that moved me out of my own complacent funk as a graduate student — for the ways it spoke to the thoughts that had not yet emerged from the recesses of my mind and the groundwork it laid for much of the ways of working and thinking and seeing in which I engage now.
** The slightly longer excerpt of the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon:
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
Very true.
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.