Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Schooling,Education And The Difference Between Ignorance And Apathy

                    It needed to happen when it did. In June of last year,this art installation of over 800 empty classroom desks were placed on the lawn of the nations capital to symbolize the drop out rate in America's public schools. Personally? Its an idea I wish I'd followed through on because as with many American's,its crossed my mind on more than one occasion to do something of this sort. Despite what some people might think,I really am a very positive person. That being said even the most positive of people can still be haunted by ghosts of their past. What is about to be said is not a ranting,angry tirade about modern public education. So many people in so many places are already aware of the politics of that. And the difference between ignorance and apathy is implied,not necessarily literal,in this case either.  Its about the reasons that I myself came extremely close to dropping out of school.

                   Before going into this it's important to reinforce: this blog is often self oriented and is an adult (if not profane) topic. Many of the blog posts I've done are sprinkled with references to troubles in school with the local Board Of Education and some of the most severe forms of bullying. Now the time may be ideal to tell this story to hopefully inspire others to bravery of their character and to do so to others as well.  To start with,from the day I entered kindergarten,
something about the atmosphere of everything didn't seem right. While it was exciting to meet other people in my age group,none of them were truly relatable to me. Even from that age it seemed I'd unwittingly entered a world where apathy,a word I didn't even know at that time,was the accepted way to think. Teachers and students seemed to be going through the motions of everything. Often I was inwardly sad about this.
                   As time went on there were moments of sometimes extreme happiness. Though I noticed many of them happened off the school grounds. When people are in preadolescence, they are likely no more aware than I was about the actual sociopolitical complexities of what happens around them with cliques and such. And I kept being told this was a normal part of growing up. Heard it all from "toughen up" to "kids can be cruel". No matter how often this viewpoint was reinforced,it somehow seemed less and less reasonable each time it occurred. One thing I remember during my 4th and 5th grade year in particular was me diving headlong into what many described as a fantasy world. It included cartoon characters and people-some fictional. I started having dreams about them. In these dreams and fantasy's,there were friends and adults to handled life events well,cooperated and understood about life.

                    Typical of how many would react to such behavior,many people seemed to assume I was developing a mental disorder. They did everything from coaxing to outright counseling to try to discourage this emphasis on fantasy and enforce the need to deal with reality. What they didn't know then was that to me that fantasy world felt like it was torn and ripped away from me,as if it'd been a second skin. It actually hurt on many levels. I dislike reality around me. And couldn't seem to genuinely change it for the better. Even though there was a world of literature and music that was encouraged,it was out of step with reality again. And now I knew what people called it-being a geek. It does seem unthinkable to see myself that way today-compared literally to a circus sideshow whose act might include sticking rusty nails into their nostrils. 

                  By the summer of 1992 it was almost time for junior high. A member of my family painted a freeing picture of an intellectually stimulating world with a broader social climate that bought my fantasy world of before into reality. It was a beautiful idea. Still is. Yet the moment I arrived I stepped onto the grounds of Garland Street Middle School in September of 1992,it was a shock to my system that even today effects my life. Day after day passed seeing a vision of entropy before my eyes. Young people my own age wandering about-proudly flaunting every manner of dysfunctional pop culture before my eyes-from alternative rock to sports bar culture far beyond their understanding,let alone mine. Minor bullying led to the more severe variety-being beaten physically and one occasion being called a heretic-over a pair of faded jeans. 

                I remember not so vitally the pain I was experiencing,but watching my own family fight tirelessly against the bullying of my supposed peers and the racial bigotry of the school's administration. I felt the need for their help so badly as I was doing horribly in my studies,lacked any particular ambitions besides retreating into a new fantasy world of artistic ventures and tended to talk to my family for hours every day. Now I felt as if I was about to break down and lose it. This wasn't being a kid. This was growing up faster than anyone needs to. Finally I told my mother at least that I couldn't take it and wanted to drop out of school. She knew I wanted an education badly,and she was dead on right. But could no longer bare public school without basically losing my grip on reality.

                 Than a miracle occurred. We discovered this idea of homeschooling. We'd have to report to a certified teacher yearly. And some segments of society came down on me in particular that I'd lose out on the social aspect of public school. Personally seeing how everything has turned out since that time? With peers like that as friends,who needed enemies? There were kinder people out there,and now I could choose them. And in truth my studies and grades improved immeasurably during my homeschooling. Admittedly the events in my final year of public school had drained away much of my ambition. On the other hand,my interest in creative ventures bought many acquaintances in and out of my life who encouraged me in pursuing those visions I had in a productive and healthy way.

                Anyway,that's the story of what happened to me. Adult life of course has presented,and continues to present,both challenges and many barriers that are flat out hard to overcome. People close to me today are often puzzled and even roll their eyes at the notion that two decades later I could still be so deeply effected by...those final four months of 1992 that forever changed my life.
Its even been recently suggested that I myself am a negative person in much the same manner as that 1990's generation of people who once tormented and criticized people like me. My answer to that is that I always play a balancing act between the realism of the world and my own instincts in being a dreamer. Adding to that conundrum is that by definition dreamers are almost always discouraged and disappointed by the realities of even their own existence. 

               To paraphrase the rather philosophical vocal legend Chaka Khan from her own autobiography I'm often forced to ask myself a similar question as she did when she felt let down by life in different ways: what are you contributing? Its a worthwhile question to ask oneself now and then. You can walk around with a dirty look on your face,feeling ashamed because you have so many good ideas locked inside of you. Or you can choose those have to feelings and still do what you have to do anyway-because its the right thing. These are noble words that are not as easy as one might think to say. And all the same they are even more challenging words to live by. Today I wonder one thing above all: were some of those children whom those empty desks on the Capital lawn represent people much like me who perhaps weren't given the same option and advantage I was? Does that make homeschooler's privileged and pampered somehow?

              From the few other people who took another road same as I did,one of the few things I feel completely happy (and lighter) about was saying so long to the public school system. At the same time I include myself among the group of people who,deep down,am hoping that the situations that make public school so negativism that children fell the need to drop out of it will change drastically in my own lifetime. Today the world needs peace,love and understanding more than ever. And exclusionist social cliques,bigotry and bullying doesn't provide the proper education for young people in public school to begin to achieve that goal. Personally I think the world has quite enough hardened,career minded people out of touch with their heart,mind and soul. No church,mosque,temple or synagogue provide instant answers either. Sometimes,to educate ourselves the best way not to be a dropout from society is just being yourself. Even if you cannot easily put it under the heading of a label. Easier said that done? Well,it can be done-truly.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Summertime Is Still In The Air!

                 For myriad reasons a feeling of growing melancholia takes a hold of my emotional well-being during this particularly time of year. Used to think that it had to do with the climactic change of seasons. To perhaps overextend a metaphor, that is in the neighborhood but not quite at the front door of the matter. The point begins during Labor Day Weekend roughly and extends through mid September. I will be in public shopping and either on a radio commercial or through somebody at the cash register there will inevitably mention of summer being over.

             Sometimes its not as clear as it once was that most people realize the beginning of the autumnal equinox actually falls on September 21'st-three weeks after the Labor Day holiday weekend. The easiest answer to this would be that the concept of summer being over in the beginning of September is entirely corporate. Most schools are back in session and there seems to be enormous pressure for stores to begin stocking Halloween items to take advantage of holiday sales. These are easily observable to any American-regardless of the boundaries between states. Yet its far from the be all and end all of the story.

               The photograph you see above you was taken less than half a day ago. Through the cameras eyes this is not dissimilar to a photo taken in the same place and location in May,June,July and August. Foliage changes have not emerged to an even adequate degree and the feeling in the air is definitely in the mode of summer. Personally I've grown to loath the almost celebratory tone with which people around me seem to greet the end of the summer season. Summer in the state of Maine is an extremely special time for me. And seems to be for many of those same people who so quickly make mention of the conclusion of the season.

                  One reason for my discontent with such attitudes is that the area of the state I have always lived in has very intense (and often frightening) seasonal contrasts. Someone such as myself feels as a squirrel to a hollow log most of the summer-hiding acorns away for the coming harshness of winter-again metaphorically of course. Another is the more obvious issue of mobility. Barring accident,no weather conditions in the state of Maine would ever cause the cancellation of people's jobs or special events in the summer months the same way..say a 'Nor Easter would.  So why in an area oriented around summer tourism and the seasonal mobility of person would there be such an enormous and temporary embrace of a transitional season to a time of year that creates little but physical hardship for its residence? 

                  There is a saying used heavily by the antiwar and counter-cultural movements of the late 1960's: the personal is political. At least where I live,a very analytical person such as myself probably draws a similarly sociopolitical take on such unusual reactions to seasonal changes. Perhaps people want to find ways to make themselves unhappy. That they've forgotten how to find joy in the embrace of a green oak tree of the petals of a flower in the modern working world. Since winter in what essentially amounts to a Tundra climate would obviously create more physical labor for a person,could be that hoping for such conditions is a sign of merely individual aspirations aimed too low. At any rate,while summer is still with us these are questions worth people pondering.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday The 13th,Awareness Of Our Challenges And The Freedom From Fear

                 Today is an event that only occurs once,or rarely twice,each year. Friday the 13th. An entire series of motion pictures have been named for this day. Its become synonymous across the nation,and many areas of the world, with superstition. One can slice this bread of verbiage however they please. Yet in the end superstition qualifies as one of many words for fear itself. On this particular combination of number and day on the calender its advised by many not to carry an umbrella,walk under ladders,step on cracks and of course allowing a black cat to cross your path. The proceeding week has also been National Autism and Special Education week. Strangely enough,there is an often unseen link between this two subject matters.

                    From my own personal research it seems the origins of this Friday the 13th superstition is based on 19th century Christian mythology having to do with the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. On the surface it might seem like the stereotypical "fear of god" ethic. Under the surface is perhaps a linkage to something I experienced last night as I was creating my latest painting. I was listening to a song by a band named Mutiny,for those not in the know a spin-off of George Clinton's P-Funk  musical collective,called "Thee Funky Prez". Musically I liked what I heard of it. Suddenly this very intrusive rapper came into the song out of nowhere. I've heard this before and never been bothered. On this night I saw ghosts-flashed before my eyes and mind as an intense barrage of thoughts and memories.

                       What I saw in this dizzying mental flashback was much like someone changing the channels of a TV too fast. News about race riots in LA,the deaths of Kurt Cobain,Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls,the child abuse charges against Michael Jackson-someone known before hand mainly as an extremely charitable man with an all encompassing passion for children's rights. There were thoughts of ghoulish people in white makeup-maybe latch key kids discouraged with life and developing an obsession with death. These were all events I remember witnessing and living through in reality during the mid/early 1990's. A very strange type of generational post traumatic stress. 

                  For a few seconds I could feel the pure,unadulterated fear of someone who was convinced they'd seen an actual ghost. It was like being kicked in the head not by anxiety,but a sudden pacification bought on by fright. Of not being able to confront what I saw. I turned off the music,spoke to a kind friend on Facebook and the feeling faded. I began to have a realization this morning. The world in which we live is facing much change for the better. A change towards celebrating diversity of self for its own sake. A change towards embracing life rather than death,understanding rather than killing. 

                 Yet faced with the very embodiment of humanity's greatest desires for peace and harmony,many are retreating backward towards unusable older modes of thinking-reacting to the positive new changes seemingly as I did to hearing that song. So not only do I not understand the nature of my own fears. But have equally little understanding of why so many people would be afraid of something unquestionably good? Perhaps it goes back to the fears I had of seeing people during my adolescence put such strong emphasis on exploring mainly the darker aspect of their psyche: superstition and death as a lifestyle choice. 

                   Another thought occurred to me regarding this total embrace and almost passion for fear. When I was growing up I was very mistakenly placed into a special education class for behaviorally challenged children-mainly because I had trouble making friends. No braggadocio intended but it never bothered me too much that I was more imaginative and intellectual than anyone else in that class. What was bothersome was a couple of the students extreme behavioral reactions to their inability to accomplish their school work. One student would scream,back into the corner and hurl heavy objects at anyone who approached. 

              Two things would happen in such cases: either the teacher would call an "emergency recess" similar to that of a court proceeding or I would personally employ the old cold war duck and cover method to keep physically safe from this school room assault. Without a doubt this was fear uncut on all sides. Fear on the part of the protagonist for his perceived lack of ability,as well as his fear of being called on it. It was the other students fear of his reaction. And it was fear of the teachers and principle of not being able to do a great deal to handle the situation. Discipline would have no effect,neither would the PTA. Pure adrenaline rushes on the part of a troubled preteen student proved to be totally beyond reasoning.

              That represents the linkage of fear of a changing world so many desire and the challenges of helping developing young minds in special education to handle a social climate that all these years later still seems to have all odds against them. Though stated in a broader context the great American composer Duke Ellington,during his acceptance of a special lifetime achievement award from then President Nixon,spoke of "freedom from fear"-both within and without Ellington's own context an enormously profound statement. People who place value in the wrong things know what about themselves. Yet they keep doing whatever it is that troubles them. 

              People would rather move to a new location,change their job or even leave behind their friends and loved ones than to change those aspects within themselves that are the real source of their concerns. At times when they cannot place themselves in their group and changes seem to come so thick and fast,such people often become extremely suggestible. Even in cases where a sociopolitically powerful figure offers positive and long term change. They will tend to seek out those who are more like shifty social engineers who can offer instant satisfaction,instant answers and all things in the short term. Someone who prescribes an instant cure for their emotional ills. Someone to tell them what is wrong and what can be done to right it. A snake oil salesmen for the soul. 

          And as for the one presenting positive long term change? Well,especially if they look or sound unfamiliar they'll be almost completely rejected. So it all feeds on itself. The embrace of religious and political systems that encourage people to live in fear,the rejection by many of positive figures such as President Obama. We may all want that "freedom from fear" as part of our lives. Yet many of our actions contradict those desires. It often ends up more satisfying to this seemingly twisted ethic to worry about..say stepping on a crack on a day like this than delighting in a triumphant embrace of peace somewhere,anywhere in the world. So if people desire to achieve that freedom from fear,perhaps they'd be well advised to take a longer and harder look into the sources of these fears that so preoccupy their hearts and mind.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

Man's Inhumanity To Woman,Child,Animal And Other Living Things

     It's been nearly a months time since I've written anything on this particular blog. The reasoning behind this is that there didn't seem to be much that could be offered into the conversational pool that hadn't already been said. Outside of writers block,that might be the other key motivating factor in people's inability to offer consistent prose to the public. That also goes into the idea that sometimes a person has so much to say,nothing is able to come out. Well it would seem the inspiration for translating these thoughts eloquently in this particular case came from a Facebook comment thread in which I participated in earlier. Likely there are elements that have been illustrated in other articles here. But for this occasion I'll blend new commentary with what was stated in that Facebook thread to make better sense of it all.

               When news broke out about tensions involving chemical weapons in Syria,memories of last years holiday tension revolving around the Sandy Hook school shooting immediately came to mind. Considering the general attitude of hostility around me-everywhere from in the grocery store to say,a receptionist at a doctors office it does seem important to reinforce a certain point with perhaps greater moral authority which many find all too easy to evoke through religious righteousness but very difficult to find within themselves. Personally,and in this situation it comes down to this: I don't approve of war or the military as it is,there is another way to handle this Syria issue and I don't blame President Obama at all.

                  The president is under enormous pressure from what the majority of people know to be a government with an prevalent Military Industrial back-round-which actually has resemblances to Stalinist Russia in many ways: a governing body who begins treating citizens badly for the sake of an idea. Many people still pledge allegiance to a flag in a militaristic manner. Many also rely on pure propaganda-insisting one side is right and the other is wrong. In the end both sides of a given conflict are doing the exact same thing. Differences in political organization and leadership not withstanding? Human beings may not all be alike culturally. But the majority of them deal with interpersonal and armed conflict in a very similar manner. 

             Some might even cynically argue its humanity's indignation about our social and religious ideologies that define our very character. Still facts are facts: the last war we engaged in as a nation resulted in America becoming a morally and socially decaying society. Almost everyone are aware things have to be changed. Yet they are often too locked down into unwieldy social attitudes-just about any "ism" you could name. Today society seems to function much like a schoolyard-bitterly divided into it's own separate schools. There' democracy,conservatism, libertarianism,socialism,humanism,atheism,totalitarianism,spiritualism. You'll find a plethora of them just about everywhere you go in fact. 

             Now there are sadistic dictators in places such as Syria who will do unconscionable things. What is difficult to understand is why so many aren't able to see this as a mere symptom of a much larger problem. We claim to protect other countries from such tyranny's as chemical warfare. But considering our repulsively prejudiced attitudes towards immigration, is it not ourselves we're really protecting? Are we in fact morally superior to the countries whose tyranny we rail out against? Basically its time for the American people to discontinue behaving like preadolescenct boys at recess-hitting and bullying each other over an inconsequential material object such as a toy or a baseball bat. 

              No governmental system that denies the soul can be. One cannot create the person by merely creating the environment. That is why Communism and fascism were inherently flawed. And why America themselves face similar flaws today. Perhaps it comes down to misunderstandings of the entire masculine ethic,and further more than the masculine ethic is what is pushing society forward. An observation was made to me earlier today that,generally,a man who is still a heavy substance abuser may be more likely to try to hide such behavior from his family. Where a man who has recovered and grown beyond such behaviors may discuss them more readily and with great candor. Since the President is a caring family man who clearly loves and cares for his children and future generations,it's appropriate he take a firmer stance against world militarism/totalitarianism and set a new course for America and the world away from tyranny-of any sort and any kind.