The Patio Argument

Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the sixties and early seventies, my sisters and I looked up to Mom for an answer to everything. She was a power greater that inculcated the manners and mores of middle class society to me and my three sisters. A vibrant woman – she squired the socialite scene of Smoke Rise, and made a cutting figure on the dance floor. However, our “patio argument,” in the fall of my thirteenth year, changed my rose-colored Mom view; I challenged her like an equal to my adolescent self.

Throughout my youth, I clearly felt loved by my father. Born two days after his 32nd birthday, our connection, although never really intimate, thrived on an intuitive understanding of each other’s mentality. We were destined to be connected, and our minds saw the world in similar ways. Although later we would create a bi-polar relationship because of our divergent political views, during my childhood his love never wavered. Dad saw in me a ‘special something’ that set me apart from my sisters. His belief in my assets despite my liabilities highlighted my mother’s shallow understanding of my potential.

During my ‘adolescence,’ Mom always seemed burdened by me. As I neared that age where girls are supposed to act like ‘young ladies,” my overweight, awkward presence frustrated her well-groomed coiffed world. Any attempts to seek attention through a budding intellectualism fell on deaf ears. She saw my logical schemas as odd commentary – strange world views to her devout patriarchal maternalism colored by her late night movie mentality. Each time I asserted my true self, Mom glared with skeptical eyes that expressed a silent dig, “That’s not the way girl’s should act!” Blind, or dismissive, to my yearning for attention, Mom’s love and acceptance became near impossible to get.

This patio argument became a defining moment where our two worlds came face to face for the first and last time. Mom had been cleaning with Clorox, and was in her usual Capri pants and white t-shirt. Her firmly held hands-on-hips framed her petite figure, while her short dark brown hair matched the deep black pools of her struggling eyes. Mom extorted that my loose “other side of the trax” friends were not what she expected of me, and she didn’t like the direction my life was going. She yelled every which way to rein me in. For each assertion she made, I retorted with some logical reasoning that rapidly broke down her illogical arguments about propriety.

I always wanted my mother’s mindfulness, and hoped that any conflicts we encountered would, by the laws of nature, lead to a more meaningful mother-daughter intimacy. My 13-year-old perspective thought our battling interplay was the natural order of things. I imagined, within this argument, she would stop in awe of my sophist talents, instantly embracing my mind and spirit. But seeing me for me, and spending quality time doing things for me, was not her way. There were too many children; to many responsibilities; and too many cocktail parties to see straight. So the only means of keeping order to her world was through discipline – everyone falling into line – wearing the right dress, speaking when spoken to and never challenging social norms or authority. I became the one who never matched her expectations.

I turned my mother’s judgements inward, and they came back to the surface with angry assaults on her intelligence. For all that she did not see in me, I did not see the values in her. We raged, cried fearful tears, and slew insults. Our clash of titans argument clearly showed we were in different worlds that would never find a common ground. Her failed attempts to silence my voice eventually stopped when Dad intervened.

He took my arm and led me into the kitchen. Dad patiently listened to my frantic tirades that tore my mother’s integrity and intelligence to bits. Every now and then he would nod. It seemed he had no words to quell me – he only wanted to know what happened. Eventually I claimed the death knell statement, “How could you stay married to her?” My Dad said nothing and looked down. His silence became vindication of my right views.

The next day, we all moved through our separate worlds keeping a careful distance from each other. Over time, as winter turned to spring, my path moved further away from my parent’s frivolous, materialist world, and closer to edgier pursuits. Having already taken the leap of intoxicating nights, I readied toward a world that could not talk back, criticize or rein me in. Yearning for a more creative, intellectual, and comfortable place, the first ‘maryjane’ sent me on my way.

Real WoMen Don’t Teach

The gendered hetero-norms of my childhood society dictated that women should behave as budding maternals, and men as bread winners. However, my 21st century reality, and that of the many women who support me in my life, has us as the bread winners, while the men struggle to find their solid path.

These reversed roles send our egos, on both sides of the sexual spectrum, into spirals. While dejected men fight against their inculcated expectations from bygone upbringings, we women continue our climb toward financial independence.

What my imagination always feels is the judging eye, who’s periphery always catches our business like image, and winces. Through a concentrated gaze, the protectors of true womanhood spy, and size up the “to what extent” do we imbue femininity. Somewhere in their thoughts, they secretly wonder, “How could she ever be a mother, with a mouth like that?” Perhaps they secretly wonder if we are not hetero at all, because our ‘certitude’ or competitive spirit seems all too masculine for them. They then quickly characterize us as super feminists, bordering on misandry.

Whatever their judgements, in the end, we are left paying the bill. So for us to survive the role reversals, our assertive method of a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude, and making sure a paycheck is in the pocket, is not only fair game, but a necessary means to an end.

Subway Home

Traveling up to St. Nicholas terrace on the D train provides cheap amusement. I gaze over to see a tired slumped face in a corner chair finding respite from a long hard day. Behind the sleeping slump, two gay friends share polite conversation with flamboyant gestures. Across from me a kindle reader, with her glasses sitting comfortable at the edge of her nose, carries a faint smile on her face as if watching the scene unfold with pleasant ends. Suddenly the train stops at West 4th street. They all leave. A whole new crew climbs into the car.

A yawning NYU student replaces the kindle reader, and sits at the edge of his seat, with his glance upwards toward the advertisements making his way to the subway map to get his bearings. Directly to my left a large black man gives me a stern glance as our eyes meet. Black skin against the charcoal jacket, with Apple earphones dangling, creating thin lines that fall effortlessly within the creases of his jacket. A young homeboy sits to my right, stoically looking forward; just a gaze. No phone. No music screaming in his ears. Then, as if my stare moves him, he adjusts his backpack, seemingly to exit, but when the next stop comes, he maintains his gaze.

A survey of the car’s length reveals a near empty place. As the landscape of this subway ride is taken in, my thoughts immediately reflect on my own image of what people must see of me. In a moment, my self-conscious self faces their to quick glances, as my subjects become my mirror. My somber head overruns my rational heart with unrealistic expectations of what I should be. Looking for some friendly place to make a connection of what I am, rather than what I project others see in me. Where I see all the world neatly tucked into a judgmental box, they tuck me into a very similar box. My perceptions of their perceptions frighten me. I quickly look downward, and furiously type into my Iphone.

Another stop; another set of people step into the scene. Across from me, a young androgynous Asian, with Long thin black hair draped over a black suit, feverishly texts. To the left, a sad gaunt eyed middle age man with a goatee gazes into the phone as if looking for some answer to a pressing question; or possibly avoiding the discomfort of his last encounter, searching for some other world to be taken in by. To right corner opposite me, a young Latino man, covered in asian tattoos void of color, and wearing a Bronx style Yankees hat, boxes in his girlfriend, as if shielding her from any outside distractions. With his eyes he seeks to convince her of his love, flirting with humor hoping for a kiss. Large laughs from the girl bellow over the din of music in earphones and my own inner dialogue. She swoons with contralto guffaws. On my bench next to me another couple, or perhaps well behaved lovers, seem challenged by the girls flirtatious howls. They bury themselves in their earphones, with eyes glued to their video game.

All this visual contextualization does not exhaust the fear – rather it waxes poetry in hopes of reaching some different ground. My efforts to break the habit of circular thoughts that run fast throughout my blood are not quelled by the train rolling on. By now, all the seats are taken. There is a cacophony of sounds of which no single sound lives larger than the other, until all at once the Latino girl’s laugh roars above the fray as the train comes to a screeching halt.
Time to exit.

On Mutual Dependency

“To open yourself up to need, longing, dependency, and reliance on others means opening yourself to the truth that none of us can do this on our own. We really do need each other, just as we need parents and teachers. We need all those people in our lives who make us feel so uncertain. Our practice is not about finally getting to a place where we are going to escape all that but about creating a container that allows us to be more and more human, to feel more and more.”
– Barry Magid

So grateful to have a “container” by which I can exist in – because that means I am still breathing. However, what kind of world am I creating for myself. My upbringing was all about outer appearances, and the success of my life was measured not on the relations between people, but rather the external products of home, family and work. For my upbringing, creating a “shangra la container” was external not internal. My mother was obsessed with the material. My father worked seven days a week to make this material world possible. Their children, me and my three sisters, measured our success based on our material/social gains. For me, I dropped out rather early in this endeavor, but never really shook the idea of the material world. I struggled in so many ways.

The materialism inherent in building a home and hearth where I feel a sense of solitude and safety has always been precarious. Smoke Rise in the 1960’s and 1970’s existed as the ultimate community built upon corporate materialist ideals – gated mansions, three car garages, acreage, private social facilities for tennis, swimming and horseback riding, cocktail parties every night, community country club like celebrations, and a censored association where only the “right” people could build. This exclusive homesteading provided CEO’s of the 1970’s a refuge from the outside world to protect their values and ideals, and perpetuate the great “have’s” mentality. Overtime, the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ became glaringly all to clear.

My parents, although never overtly saying so, consistently referred to “others” and their problems as those without solid moral values – something unamerican. Dad would infer those “people” (the socially other side of the tracks people, urban racial communities, unions or ungrateful immigrants) either took from the system, or were not grateful of the opportunities our American government and businesses offered. For my parents, the “others” were always the problem.

Although I never engaged in direct conversation with Mom and Dad about these problems while growing up, I sat, saw, and listened to their commentary, and then assessed my take on social conditions based on my ground up perspective. Conversations sat behind me, while I watched TV in our family Den during the Walter Cronkite news, or the Huntley Brinkley Hour. All to well, this child understood their slurs, as judgmental fears trying to figure out the causes of riots and social unrest splayed across the screen. My parent’s solutions to the social decay always blamed those “have nots” and glorified their opinions with Neo-conservative rants from their large black leather chairs they occupied nightly, while the children sat obediently on the floor in front of them looking innocently up to the screen. Although my sisters quickly became disinterested in the news and moved to either their bedrooms or the piano, I always remained there. While watching the TV images, and examining each move and attempt by reporters to seek objectivity, my parent’s commentary between each other carried on to help narrate the program.

Every once in a while I would turn to see their angered faces at the shape of the world they strove to isolate themselves from in their “ivory towered” village. Growing up within this dynamic eventually wore at my sense of identity. The chaotic early 1970’s only brought more insecurity, thus more volatility and blame. Looking for the scape goat preoccupied my parents, and made me feel for the underdog more. I saw myself as the underdog, the social miscreant – that which was not loved by society but scorned by it. Why I was the only child who did not adopt my parents mindset I do not know. I often asked, “why am I so different? Why me?” My first answer, and the one that stuck until the end run, blamed them and judged their intelligence – they were not evolved enough to understand the mutual relationships between groups. By judging the very essence between intelligence and place, I put them in a box on a shelf, and began to remove myself from their rooms, quickly becoming the odd child out, often missing from the dinner table. After years of watching and listening to those conversations, my assessment of our mutual dependency between parent and child, turned to a desperate individualism on my part. Eventually, I saw myself as the “have not,” and the world I was living within, that place of property and prestige, could no longer serve my sentimentality. So I ran away, first emotionally, then physically.

Running into the arms of substances that could not talk back, I sought to a new form of mutual dependency, the other side of midnight different from the world I was running from. Substances, the quest to find them, and the world they lived within, became my new dependency – my higher power. Each time these substances visited, they were like family loving me – my heart’s euphoria as a distorted perception of love. My substances loved me and needed me as much as I needed them, and they became the world away from the world I longed to forget. The people who provided the substances became the parents to my needy child. Together, we were the “have nots,” the forgotten, the blight society created from its unreachable materialism. We all marched as one.

Youth has resilience as long as the young can stay alive, and my tolerance for pain was great. I survived the near death experiences in a world that sought to steal my breadth. Eventually my idealism, my pink cloud, gave way to living on the daily edges of death. As other’s witnessed my decay, they were forced to look within themselves and ask, “How did this happen in our family?” This question plagued my materialist father, and in his desperation to find an answer, he took desperate measures to do whatever was necessary to save his child.

In an instant, the doors locked behind me. This clinical institution, which required insurances or hard cash to get a bed, provided a haven for me to face who I had become. My parent’s love, beyond the material, allowed me to surrender in a weakened moment. The padded rooms did not change my fears or potential capabilities, rather they provided a means to come to a decision about what I could become – the ideal me. In the moments when the doors locked behind me, I had a choice. Although the material world had to save the material child because that is it’s purpose, the child must choose their place within that world – to either go on to the bitter end – jails, institutions and death – or to find a new way to live. Mutual dependency became a necessity – of quest of finding a place to create a container that would allow me to be more and more human, to feel more and more a part of something good.


My interview with Dusty Miller, the principal of the Museum school in 2007, was one of those moments where I saw myself – assessed my thoughts, decisions and desires – as we weaved in and out of resume and conversation. I had recently resigned from a post at Harrison high school – a difficult post that challenged not only my principles of teaching, but my desire to work with more academically motivated students. This school was not a good fit for teachers who want to teach because they wanted teachers who allow students and parents to rule their classrooms.
So Dusty asked me what I would like to have the kids walk away with from my course. In this one question a monologue unfolded. In an intuitive instant, the principle values of my second life’s (second career) work had to be summed up, and then gracefully spit out. So starting with the pat good intentions, I began to dexterously paint a picture of a classroom of lessons that would help young people not feel so mis-directed in a chaotic world – to feel they can find a right path – a safe place to express their viewpoint while building self esteem through their process of learning those needed skills for success (reading and writing!!). Dusty nodded politely, which encouraged me to continue ‘I hoped to build a place where students walk away with a sense of their lives in a real world context of war, depressions and famine, as well as the joys when wrongs in history are made right.’ Then in the blink of an eye, the honest thought/desire of what I want from my students flashed across my brain screen and illuminated => Obedience, discipline, curiosity, fearlessness, passion, and an interest in the story history give us.
For me, the events we cover in my courses, are made personal. Nothing is arbitrary. Each study becomes a window into the human condition. For example today we were examining the Black Plague and I just finished a lesson on the economic impacts. While I was writing the characteristics of the post-plague economy, I was overcome by the similarities to the Great Depression and the 2008 economic crisis – history providing a means to understanding the moment – how I see my world. If my students can feel that connection, and then apply it to their own lives, they walk away from the class changed. Examining the past is the key to having a psychic change, and for me, the key to finding my right path.
As I work though feelings of marginalization in my day to day consciousness, the classroom provides a forum where my consciousness can find meaning. Underneath this idealism, I want my students to be able to think logically through their passions, and to write effectively.
This blog/project, like a school paper, is hopefully telling the story, through these short clippings of prose. All the divergent events of my life coming to this moment in time. There are beginning points to different eras of being, and major turning points. As I experience the moment in any given day, I hope to somehow be able to frame that in an engaging written expression. The key element will be truth, but hoping that it clearly beats a rhythym – lyric pulse – like an actor’s story painting a scene. My biggest fear is overtly idealist dramatics and mediocrity.