Monday, October 24, 2011

Third Grade Bliss: The First Field Trip

Today I was treated to a third grade field trip. Mr. Mattson, 19 kids, and 8 parents walked the 8 blocks to the Spring Street Firehouse Museum. The museum was chock full of cool stuff that threw me into the depths of New York City history in a far stronger way than I imagined it would while crossing 7th Avenue South with so many squirming kids. Turns out, the treasures were indisputable: painstakingly preserved hand-painted helmets from the 1800s; embroidered belts used for fancy dress during parades; original buckets used in the first "bucket brigades"; stovetop hats for helmets? Really?

The Firemen that run the museum were walking history books and knew how to tap into the kids' collective mentality without blinking an eye. The class sat for a video about fire safety (um, I will be doing a fire drill and checking the batteries in my fire alarms, which everyone should be changing twice a year, "when you change your clocks", according to Mr. Eddie, retired Fire Lt.? Colonel? Captain?). Then they got to go inside of a fake apartment where they identified all kinds of unsafe things, including space heaters near billowy curtains and irons plugged in near bathtubs. From there, they got to make their way through a real fake fire made from a heavy fog that had somehow been emitted into the atmosphere! They dropped to their knees and crawled along the perimeter of the room until they found their way to the exit. Once out, they stayed at their designated "meeting place", which we should all also determine in our own personal fire plans.

The history of urban life can be seen in the progression of the fire trucks themselves. We moved from the first Bucket Brigades to hand pumps drawn by horses; moved from steam controlled pumps to, finally, trucks with engines. There was even a gorgeous carriage stamped with "Steinway" that Mr. Steinway himself had commissioned to protect his early workers in his Queens piano factory.

The charmer of the day was the stuffed dog "Chief" who was taken into a firehouse and wormed his way first into the hearts of the firemen, then onto the trucks, and finally, into the fires themselves where he rescued animals and people alike. A real canine hero (shown above). In the same room was a painting of three firefighters who lost their lives in a rudimentary house fire on Watt Street in 1994. A woman had carelessly let a bag of groceries fall onto her stove. The man in the middle was Mr. Mattson's High School football coach, and it being a Catholic School, he paused to say a Hail Mary with the children for his lost mentor.

This was just a precursor to further tragedy: the 9/11 room honored the 343 firemen who lost their lives on that day, in a 102-minute period, a fact I hadn't known so specifically before. The photography of that day surrounded an arched memorial, which featured faces of all of the fallen. Most moving of all was the uniform of Father Judge, which hung behind glass, still covered in soot. From the fire safety education to the history to the remembrance of lost heroes, this field trip packed a wallop of an impact.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Learning French

I'm blogging less because I'm sitting in a French class for four hours a week. Literally. Both classes are held entirely in French, and I'm getting to the point where I can understand most of what Professeur Samuel is saying (j'adore Professeur Samuel); responding to him without freezing first is another story altogether. I lose my confidence when I have to conjure the correct articles and verbs. Verb endings aren't that horrible right now; it's confusing etre (to be) and avoir (to have) constantly because the French use them differently than we do.

I can see that my hurdles of speaking are largely around the thinking process-- I try to translate English into French, word for word, as I speak, and it just doesn't work that way. The article usages are completely different. You aren't cold; you have cold. You aren't tired; you have tired. Or something like that.

The other problem is that I need to hit the books more. I feel like the time I've given over to learning French has been a generous four hours a week, but that's not enough. I need to compound it. The best I felt in class was when I had class on a Tuesday, came home, watched a film in French with English subtitles, and went back to class on Thursday. That was slightly more immersion.

The scope of the idiomatic underbelly of the language is extremely daunting. I remember thinking I'd never crack the surface when my friend Jenn explained to me that I was a little chicken, and that was a term of affection that women called one another. Ma petite poulet? Or is it mon? Because the masculine and feminine are a whole other wrench thrown in. I'm hoping that this part of it becomes second nature after I take the clues that the language can give to me; certain endings are always masculine, certain endings are always feminine, and there are exceptions for every rule.

I guess we're mired in our own abundance of idioms. I consider this as it's raining cats and dogs outside of my window. Or as Jim snores like a train in the other room. Or Jamie tries to read his book until the cows come home when it's time to hit the sack. I'm climbing a huge mountain, but shall persevere.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Social Media as Art

On Thursday me and my Word City Studio collaborator Kathleen Sweeney went to check out an exhibit at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea about social media. This is how the gallery summarized their show, which closed on Saturday: "An exhibition investigating the ways in which contemporary artists approach public platforms of communication and social networks through an aesthetic and conceptual lens and examining the cumulative effects of social media on our daily lives."

To be fair, it's accurate that it was an investigation of how artists are incorporating social networking into their lives. The possibilities are as endless as the infinite Twitter feed, and most effective to me was a collection of thermal printers hung from the wall with a constant stream of twitter feeds that were in their wholeness a study of how emotion moves through the electronic ether (the paper mess of it is shown above). Overall, the artists communed on the theme of pulling together collections of words/ collections of images/ collections of Google Searches to illustrate greater happenings of our collective consciousness. A wall of sunset images from Flickr (?); a study of the emotional peaks and valleys of emotional expression across the span of a lifetime (20 somethings tweet about connectivity and isolation, while people over 50 tend to feel blessed about their worldly and unworldly accumulations).

I left the exhibit feeling empty. It seemed to me that everything was so parceled out, broken down and abstract that I couldn't reach in and pull out anything human and real. Makes me want to ditch social media for awhile and call a real person on the telephone where our concerns can't be captured and tampered with and manipulated beyond, "Wow, it's just really great to see you."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thanks, Momosyllabic!

It's an honor to have had my essay "Robot Moms in the Closet", which was published in the eAnthology Welcome to My World, reviewed by a fellow blogger, Antje Rauwerda. Antje also contributed an essay, and blogs over at My desire to clone myself over and over again in order to tend to any task, person, or role in life, resonated with her. If there could be an Army of Rachels, why not an Army of Antjes?

I have to admit, it's deeply gratifying to know that my writing isn't being swallowed up by a big vacuum, vortex, or black hole. It mattered to someone and made her feel better about her own ability to cope (or not) at any given time. In my essay I spoke candidly about treating depression. To have this mean something to another mother makes the vulnerability of this disclosure fall away. Though I don't believe there should be a stigma for such self-care, I still fall prey to the occasional self-deprecation over why I can't tackle everything on my own, all the time, every single minute of the day. When I try to tell myself "I'm better" and can end treatment, the bad end of my emotional cycles comes whooshing back to remind me that I'm better off with therapy and closely monitored medication. From a parenting perspective, this means I've been able to make good and thoughtful decisions instead of rash and reactive ones. I've had to fight the good fight in a few areas, and frankly at times it's exhausting: legally, with the Board of Ed for Jamie's education; legally, with a deadbeat magazine that doesn't like to pay writers; and even with my own physical health, which requires monthly monitoring and blood work to manage my blood clotting disorder. Mama's need help sometimes, and it's okay to ask for it.

Thank you, sweet Antje!