Saturday, December 19, 2015

get UP

it is hard to believe that i go from fall to winter without a word, but have been too busy to notice the drought. i am writing all the time.  my journal is ripped from the files of DMX: "ya'll gon make me write some words, up in here up in here".  what i write these days are lists of things to do that go undone, financial planning that goes unused, scribbles of moments to my son and my daughter, scores and grades on random assignments on every available surface.  they will have thousands of photographs to chart my kids' ascent into childhood, but i want the words to be there, too.  when i am no longer, at least there are the words.

it has not yet been winter. it is december 19th, and though it is finally starting to feel cold, the signatures of global warming are marking our weather patterns, and yet still so many people are asleep. don't understand what is happening.  sometimes i am reminded of the matrix, in the scene where Mr. Anderson tells Neo that human beings are like a virus, infecting a host and taking over. we have done this to our planet.  the summit in Paris gives me a little hope, but i am bleak about humanity's ability to wake up - to tear ourselves from our electronic devices for long enough to realize how we are destroying ourselves.  mother earth will recover from us quickly, but why do we have to live like disaster calls our names?

we are at war with ourselves.  there is the incessant need by the news to create an enemy, to bring fear to the hearts of every person, which then justifies governments/companies trapsing through the world like it's a Monopoly board.  and it is, to them, it's all a game.  people are pawns, are property, always have been, always will be.  whether the enemy is wearing hijab and prays to God by a different name, mashallah!  whether the enemy is wearing a hoodie, carrying Skittles and an Arizona. we hide behind the guns that can end lives, instead of discussing differences, mutual respect and how to get along, why to get along.  if they pit us against each other, we do not realize that we are in the game. ChiRaq? who put the guns in the hood in the first place?

i am tired, ill, behind on grading.  not feeling the holiday spirit, but always feeling so full and grateful with what i have.  my voice is crackling and threatening to give out.  but i will not be quiet.  there is too much at stake. our lives, our communities, our future is hinged upon waking up and using the freedom of voice that you have.  it is a privilege, not a right, and it is time to move from thought to action.  i will be right here, documenting what you do.  i will help you, but you must move.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Time to make the donuts

Of course, J Dilla is the soundtrack to the mood swing that shifts summer to fall. I did Detroit dirty when I was home, only came in for a Tigers game like most white people that circumvent the city. My absence speaks volumes to me, I am at odds with much of the gentrification of Detroit and the white-hipsterdom that flanks my favorite building, which much to my surprise was also having windows put in.

This trip was also about family, and none of mine is in the city proper anymore. Suburban sprawl is the story of southeastern Michigan, and while I was born in Detroit and spent my youngest years in Dearborn, Ann Arbor is really my home.  I rep Detroit on the macro scale, but when we get micro, I need to be real with you: I am not from the hood.

I have chosen to make the hood my home, and my life, and that is white privilege, too. I reap it everyday when I walk the streets alone, but when I'm with my husband, or my kids, it's strange to see my positionality change. Identity is complex like that. You cannot make assumptions about people. But you can begin by listening to their stories.

We're going to be delving into the drama of identities. When you feel yourself compartmentalized or disconnected, hopefully these exercises will help you connect with others again. We are more alike than different, us  humans, but there is how the world has cultured and shaped us. We created the difference and now cannot undo our creation.  Race does not exist, but racism does.  Discuss.

Friday, June 5, 2015

shifting back... twisting forward.

this marks the end of an audience for my blog, but it has been a nice run.  the end of the year is approaching, so i will write about 50 reflections on how it went.  i'm such a nerd.  i'm already working on next year and what i will change, how things will be different, moving around books and units, trying to work new ideas into this.  how can i continue to bring in historical context, but also talk about current topics and issues, keep a pulse on music and its intersection with life?

i was going to apply to this amazing program called Write A House in Detroit, because i do want to set roots and also be working in education there, even as i continue teaching at BAL.  if i had a house there, we could live there during summers, begin the community space we want to (which includes foster/shelter space), spend breaks there but hire other folks to run and care for the house.  right now i feel at home in my life, and i am not looking to open it up any more, but maybe someday...

the risks that i want to take, however, are in my writing, and i don't feel like i had any writing that was solid enough to submit.  i wouldn't have won, but i should have submitted.  it's been a semester of making excuses, but my life is mine to take by the reins.  i say this every year, but it's really time to get organized.

i have a big summer bucket list.  there is so much that i WILL get done.  with my kids in tow, with a killer tan, all smiles and sunglasses, all music and mango.

- figment art festival
- brooklyn promenade
- coney island w/ nas, sali and mohammad
- rockaways
- orchard beach
- liberty science center
- newport beach, jc
- jersey shore
- traverse city
- detroit
- soccer in lincoln park - 3x a week
- the heights
- egyptian festival
- bday brunch
- visit: baby mama and joe, jingy, amama/papa, elena, amanda & karl, jyna, jos, keisha, grandma and grandpa (flynn and fardig), amy and mani, danny and randi, gen, dario and michael, nicco, lindsey, t'ai jamar, maija g.,
- cleaning/organizing house
- curriculum planning
- UP summer mural and next year

the work never stops, but neither does the fun.  night night.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The end is only the beginning (BAL Blog Post #11)

I can't believe it's almost over.  This has been such an amazing year where I have learned so much from you, and I have been trying to meditate and master balance.  3 day weekends have a habit of bringing you the balance and time to reflect that you need.  In fact, if we went to a 4 day work/school week each week, I bet we'd all actually be a lot more productive.  Families would be healthier, stronger, together more often.

But I digress.  Our year together is coming to an end, and I will honestly miss the time, space and communities we have built together.  my 2nd period class is always lit with videos like this: "Stromae - "Papaoutai"", 3rd period I will always remember for our arguments and discussions, like the one about Kendrick's "hiiiPower", 4th used to be a huge class with Ms. Cotton, one of my favorite days was discussing Biggie's "Juicy", but we've also had so many memories as a small but spirited crew!  Oh, and 7th period, I especially enjoyed the silence with you.   We made it through narrative essays, poetry, Beloved, my maternity leave, a (still unfinished) zine/newspaper and A Raisin in the Sun.  Through it all, I tried to weave in current events around police brutality, race and class in the U.S. and link it to our history through the texts we were reading.

One of the most difficult, high-level texts we read was from Michelle Alexander's book "The New Jim Crow", and we learned about the Reconstruction Era - after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, and the laws began to change to convict freed slaves of any number of inane laws in order to maintain dominance.  She makes the direct connection between the Black Codes and laws of this time period in beginning the modern prison system, and the prison industrial complex (in which prison is for-profit and someone is making money off of every jail cell that stays filled).  I hope that I have begun to get you to question what you see in the media, and consider that violence against black people has always been a custom in the United States, and that while police brutality is still a huge problem, this has been going on for a long time.  

I don't think you'll necessarily think back on this year and say lovingly, "oh, annotation! so glad I met you!",  but I do hope that you fondly remember some of the conversations we had, about books, about life, about trying to change and shape our world into a place that is rooted in equality and justice. About dreams and making ours into realities.   Because your dream has been deferred, but you do not have to sit back and let it happen.  Take your future back.  I dare you!

(please leave as comments your reflections on my class.  this will be an ongoing and open assignment until the end of the year, as I want to hear about moments you'll always remember, things you enjoy about my class, what I need to change next year so you'll stay awake, which books/songs/topics you liked most, your ideas for improvement.  my class is only good because of you, so help me make it better for next year's you.)

I don't say goodbye, I say, "you won't get rid of me that easily". Until we meet again (in the hall next year, while I'm pushing my mobile classroom around!)

Ms Lauren

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Requiem for a Spine (BAL Blog Post #10)

in honor of national poem in a pocket day tomorrow.  we will respond to this next week, but if you feel so inclined, after you're done reading post #9 and responding, you can also write your own poem here in the comments!

-Ms. Lauren

requiem for a spine

they say that they didn't strap him into the van,
and that is how his spine was severed.
they say that he had a hammer in his hand,
and that is why they squeezed 10 rounds off.
they say that she was carrying a knife,
in her own home,
and that is why they opened fire.
they say that he assaulted the officer,
that he stole something,
that he was selling cigarettes,
that he had a gun and not a wallet,
that she was an intruder on the porch at 2am.

when his spine snapped,
our breathing went shallow.
when his eyes dropped,
we coughed up a lead-filled lung.
when her knees hit the floor,
we sputtered.
when he backed away, hands up,
blood dribbled from our noses.
when his breath stopped,
our eyes bulged in terror,
our mouths went dry
our wallets spilled out receipts
our car batteries stalled in middle of the road.

your hands around my throat.
your eyes doused in hatred,
as you bring dreams to abrupt ends,
that had already been
shoved under the rug
and forgotten.

we dare to dream anyway,
defiantly, because we will bring
to fruition what you have stolen,
what they have wrenched away
from so many others,
and what we all deserve.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pop Quiz!

Hey guys,
Happy return from break!! It's time to get focused.  Please write a comment below with a 2 paragraph response to your reading of Act 1, Scene 2 in A Raisin in the Sun.  You may get out your Annotation Guides and any notes you took while reading to use in your response, but may not open your book.  Just checking to see who read, and what you're thinking of the Younger family so far!

Ms. Lauren

Saturday, April 11, 2015

writing that dream down (BAL Blog Post #9)

I have been a bad teacher this spring break, in that I haven't done that much work.  One of the most difficult things about my job sometimes is that the work continues to pile up, but this stretch off I need to attend to the other facets of my personality: myself as a human, myself as a mother, myself as a wife.  Do you ever find it difficult to juggle the responsibilities you have?  This is one thing I think about as I get older -- how many selves am I?  How do people learn to balance all of the different demands that life has for them?  I hope that I figure out the answers to these questions someday.

I have never pretended to be perfect: I am as imperfect as they come.  But even though I feel that I mess up on a daily basis, I am still deserving of happiness.  What "the dream" is has shifted over the course of my life.  I wanted to be successful, as in have my writing published and my expenses covered by a benefactor when I was younger.  Then my focus shifted to activism, to feminist and womanist thought, to queer politics and riot grrrl, zines and emo rock, then back to hip-hop and consumerism.  I was challenged by a college friend to finally realize my dream of becoming a teacher in 2007.  That's a fun story, ask me sometime.

I never wanted to get married or have kids.  I thought that teaching would be enough fulfillment, that I would have my students, colleagues, family and chosen family to guide me through the ups and downs of life.  I was upset that others looked upon my life as "incomplete" if I chose not to marry or bear children.  However, life had secrets in store and I am often a passenger in fate's vehicle.

I never wanted to be an adult - do adult things like buy cars or houses.  I wanted to travel the world (and still do) with few possessions, learn language and art forms, drums and dances of cultures on peaks and in valleys of remote world-corners.  Suddenly, I am thinking of interest rates and retirement funds, saving for a down payment, things I never thought I'd see myself go for.  Have I fundamentally changed over time, or have my dreams changed?

Just yesterday I was talking about buying property with a barn, so that we can have livestock and host parties, so that my DJ retirement plan can come to fruition as my husband caters his astounding food in a farm-to-table venue.  Where did this dream come from?   This is far from my original desire to live in a brownstone in Brooklyn and publish words about the Q train for volumes of best-selling chapbooks.

What happens when the dream shifts?  When you're not who you thought you were, or you want something different from what you swore on before?  Do your dreams stay the same when you change?  Tell me your dreams.  Tell me your diamonds.

Monday, March 30, 2015

when dreams fade... (BAL Blog Post #8)

Hi everyone,
My babies are really sick, so I'm at home taking care of them today - but there's lots of work to do, let's stay focused on the prize!  Email me if you have questions or concerns, I'll be back tomorrow, inchallah.  :) -Ms. Lauren


Where do we go when our dreams drop?  When being sidetracked on the way to your future becomes your future?  What happens to the dreams we let die?  What happens to the air around us when we let a dream go?  Does an old dream stay glimmering in the air, or does it fade to black?  Tell me about your dreams, what they are, where they will take you, what landscapes you will discover in your life in the form of a poem.  Talk about dreams being realized, or being deferred.  Here's my poem to get you thinking:  Happy National Poetry Month, friends!   Write to your heart's content on the IPG poetry website!

I've been thinking in languages that I don't speak, and trying to expand my vocabulary in new ways this spring.  But, I also always think back to what has come before, to how history has connected to the present and shaped the present like a sculptor and her clay.  While the idea of redlining, or segregating people to certain neighborhoods through mortgage restrictions or denials, is no longer a practice in the United States -- I also know that when I travel uptown and pass 86th street, the white people all get off the train.  There are certain areas of the city where the impacts of redlining are very clear and evident -- where you can SEE the boundaries of neighborhoods based on who gets on or gets off the train.  What has your train experience been with regard to redlining?  In which neighborhoods is this most obvious or evident to you?  In which neighborhoods is it more subtle?

As we begin reading this text, I want you to think about your ideas of family -- what defines family to you? Is blood thicker than water?  Why or why not?  Must we always prioritize our family over ourselves?    I'm excited for you guys to get to know the Younger family, and learn about their story.  Also, if you're looking for some new/old music to brighten up your spring, here you are.  You can respond to these songs/videos for extra credit to boost your grade (on paper, emailing me your responses or as a comment on the blog) You're welcome, in advance.

Dreamy Spring Playlist 2015
You can respond to these songs in addition to free-writes, for extra credit or to make up for missing work.  Lyrics for most of these songs are available on   A ½  page response will earn you 5 points.

Kendrick Lamar – “Blacker the Berry” -
2pac – “Keep Ya Head Up” -
Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy” – (Subtitulado EspaƱol)
                  (in English)

Drake – “Successful” -
Common Sense – “I Used to Love H.E.R.” -
Sekou Sundiata – “Blink Your Eyes” -
Stromae – “Papaoutai” - (French, Eng sub)
Jaded Incorporated – “I Ran” -
Flock of Seagulls – “I Ran” (Original) -
The Cure – “Love Song”
Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence” -
REM – “Losing My Religion -
Nirvana – “Smells like Teen Spirit” - (espanol)
Squarepusher – “Port Rhombus”
The Beatles – “Yesterday”
                 (subtitulado Espanol)
Eugene the Dream – Spongebob Trap Mix -
Proof/J Dilla  -  “Life”-
Frank Ocean – “Swim Good” -

What are your favorite songs about dreams, that induce a dream-like state, or are generally dreamy?
Let the warm air and the rain wash over us as we head into spring.  Good riddance, winter - it's been real, but we need the sun.

Ms. Lauren

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Beatles and Dreaming (BAL Blog Post #7)

What do you know about old music?  Before the time when you were born.  Tell me what you know about music from the 60's, what you know about jazz, what you know about early 90's hip-hop.  This weekend, I am going all the way back to music that blew life into me when I was just a kid - that still means something to me today.  I go through phases with music.  These days, I have kids, so it's less Mobb Deep and more Bob Marley, less Outkast and more Beatles.  I challenge you to listen to something that is not on the radio, find out who Kanye sampled and go listen to the original Motown song.  

March is ending and with it comes the promise of spring, though the irony of snow on the first supposed day of blooming isn't lost on me.   It's been a heavy year, and a long winter.  I find myself lost between the covers sometimes, dreaming of things that I can't change.  Or can I?  I am always incredibly self-critical, so I was sending doubts into the universe, and received this response today:

The first thing I wanted to tell Joshua was that his place in society as a man of color is at the top - and anyone who tells him differently isn't worth his time.  I cried, because it is the small moments like this that make life worth it.  I will never be paid what I'm worth, but I chose this profession because I was hoping to have an impact on just one person.  Affirmation that I have done this is beautiful.  But, I am far from done growing, and I have much work to do to become a better educator.  Joshua himself is an amazing thinker and I didn't make him that way, he was born with ideas.  I do not see my role as an educator to give you thoughts - it's to extract your thinking from your brain.  I'm curious, at this point in the year, what's one lasting impression that you will take from this class? 

We're beginning a new book this week (really, next week because of the overnight trip and disrupted schedule this week) and it's one I've taught before and love so much.  It is a play by Lorraine Hansberry titled "A Raisin in the Sun", and the first thing that we will talk about is a poem (you'll see it below).  What do you think about the poem?  How does it connect to what we've already learned and studied?  What do you think this play might be about, which is titled after a line in this poem? It's about to be April, aka National Poetry Month... so even though we're reading a play, we will be poeming all throughout this month.  Get ready for good reads and words galore - and please don't forget to post any poems you write on the IPG Site!


BY LANGSTON HUGHES                                       

What happens to a dream deferred?                             

      Does it dry up                                                                    
      like a raisin in the sun?                                                      
      Or fester like a sore—                                                     
      And then run?                                                                    
      Does it stink like rotten meat?                                    
      Or crust and sugar over—                                                          
      like a syrupy sweet?                                                        

      Maybe it just sags                                                              
      like a heavy load.                                                           

      Or does it explode?                                                          

Sunday, March 1, 2015

redefining Envy and rethinking speeches (BAL Blog Post #6)

I'm in my feelings today, as it snows again and I'm wishing that I could magically transport myself to a cemetery in the north Bronx, where he is buried.   I've been looking back through photos and writing from 2012, which was an epic year for me - I got married, had a child, moved back to Detroit with my new family and lost both a student and my uncle within a few months.   On Friday, I brought copies of the zine you'll read in class on Monday to his aunt and reconnected with many of my former students over the weekend - our school family is alive, even if the Banana Kelly that we know and love no longer exists.

I still fully believe, as I say in the introduction, that you can keep people's memories alive by telling them.  Storytelling is extremely important to our lives, and to our histories: we each have our story and we need to tell it.  So when people's lives get cut short, I feel a responsibility to tell their story in addition to my own.  Their story becomes a part of mine.  Envy, your story will keep being told.
Have you ever lost or been separated from someone?  How did you cope with the task of missing them?

Also, we're beginning our campaign and election process this week and I'm incredibly excited about the writing and action that will come out of this.  I want you to survey one another and figure out some suggestions for improving our class - there is much room for improvement.  How can we do the notebook grading procedure better?  How should progress reports function?  How can we be updating Engrade weekly so that you have much more consistent access to your grades?   Figure out some key issues that you want to tackle as you run (or help your candidate run), and we'll brainstorm about how to solve some of the issues in this class, so that we can improve its function for you.

So, a speech is one way to show your fellow classmates who you are and why you're running for this position, but the best speeches are NOT just informational, but also lyrical.  You remember the poetry of speeches more than the information, so as you're writing, make sure the facts are there (who you are, what position you're running for, why you'd be good at this role, issues that are important to you), but your constituents will remember HOW you read the speech and how you can CONNECT with them.  I invite you to re-think your speech and really work on your informational AND persuasive techniques simultaneously.  We'll look at a few models of speeches that have been informational in nature, but creative in approach.  What do you think makes a good speech? 

Let's have a great week, and may the best folks win (but may we all write like the wind)!

Ms Lauren

(here's the link to the powerful speeches for Wednesday's homework:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

on returning (BAL Blog Post #5)

i am not ready to return, but life happens, even when you're not prepared.  as i spend precious hours with both kids asleep planning (instead of sleeping), i know that everything is going to be okay.  i have memorized the curve of her cheeks, her smile will be illuminated throughout my day, his curls and his curiosity will follow me back to work.  they will be well-loved and taken care of, and i will go back to my routine of splitting my time between my separate selves: NY/NJ, work/home, personal/professional, teacher/mother, listener/writer, feminist/wife.  i live my life in transit between two halves, and i have made a career out of tight-rope walking between identities.

we are reading a really difficult piece this week - and i want to start by telling you that, because it will be rough at first.  there will be words you don't understand, dictionaries to consult, annotations may be mostly questions, there will be things we have to stop and discuss.  however, i think it's worth it to read this piece, because it sets a historical framework to what we're experiencing today - from stop and frisk, to the racial tension with police in NYC, in Ferguson, in Detroit, Chicago and Baltimore, from school-to-prison pipeline to stereotypes about race and culture.

i am stepping back a bit in history because i am also searching for answers.  as i comb the news and see race-related stories of violence and prejudice almost everyday, as i see the inequality that still exists in our society, i often wonder if slavery is really over.  has it ever been over?  do we know what a world could look like without people trying to gain power over one another?  i often think about laws as necessary to keep peace and order, but as i re-read this essay, i've been wondering, what if the laws are the problem, and not a solution to the problem?  it seems like the laws keep changing, but the inequality that exists in our society remains the same.  does changing the law ever change how people think or act?  or do we change how we act by our own choices?  or something in between?   again, i have more questions than i do answers.

here are the questions we will think about as we read (PRE-READ the questions, remember PUKE?) this excerpt from Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow.

1. Can legislature (or laws) change how people act?  Why or why not?
2. What were the purpose of Jim Crow laws?  How were they different from slavery?
3. What were "black codes"?  How were they used after slavery was over?
4. What are two examples of positive achievements of the Reconstruction Era?
5.  Is this essay an example of informational writing?  Why or why not?

i'm curious to know how your thinking has changed in these few months since we've been examining literature and current events in America.  your response below can address question #1, or you can also respond with your prior knowledge or inference about what Jim Crow laws are, or you can choose another topic for your response.  we will also be looking at adopting a government structure in our 2nd semester classroom, so you can also tell me what you think about that!  how do you think the government should function in our classroom?

i may not be ready, but here i am!  are you ready for what's next in ELA?

Ms. Lauren

Saturday, February 7, 2015

february forever (Blog Post #4)

hi everyone.

happy bday j-dilla.

your music continues to grow and shape new realities, as we celebrate your life and work. (and check out the symbolism and imagery of the pharcyde's "runnin'" prod by Dilla)

february is a month that is built for poetry in some ways, and information in others.  it's my husband's birthday, jdilla (my favorite producer)'s bday, there is much to celebrate, especially this year!  but i have traditionally always been depressed in february - i used to say that february was my nemesis because i suffer from seasonal affected disorder.  i think that all of humankind has this diagnosis and that we are healthier when we are in temperate climates and eat fresh foods.  i have lost a few close friends in february, so it is a time of extreme joy and reopening wounds.

yet i love the winter, even when the wind bites my face in half and pushes my numbness around like salt on the sidewalk.   it pulls poetry out of me, because there is a harshness to winter that electrifies my keyboard.  i feel inspired, which is why it's a month for poems.  i have a love hate relationship with the news, because i crave the knowledge of "what's happening" in the world, but will read an article and only double the number of questions on my tongue.  i read and then i think about it - who wrote that?  what were they trying to say?  do i really understand the message?  what are their goals and motivations?  did they get paid to write that?  by whom?

we all assess the quality of our information all the time - without realizing.  as we move in our new unit, from the fiction of ghosts in 124 to the real streets of the bronx, detroit, chicago and oakland, ferguson and brooklyn, gaza and los angeles... we are going to be looking at information.  the power it holds, who holds the power, whose information looks differently and why.  we will review some of the most pertinent news that has happened in my absence, so let's start there.  What's one news story that really impacted you in December and January?  Maybe something you wanted to talk about it class, or did discuss with Ms. R, Ms. Cotton or Ms. Overton?  (boko haram killings in Nigeria, charlie hebdo in Paris, anti-police protests and police shunning the mayor in NYC, State of the Union address, free community college, ISIS and Jordan, what else?)

so, when we read something - we're used to annotating, then talking about it, then writing about it. one thing that we're going to be adding in this unit is the idea of questioning what we read.  we read in order to understand - the 5Ws, the "gist" of the story, the theme, conflict, character -- but we also read in order to ask questions. "is it true or untrue?  do we agree with this?" is the beginning, but then we also interpret what we read, and decide what WE think about the information we have received. this is why i like informational writing - because there is no NEUTRAL, but its purpose is to put the facts out there, and let people form their responses.    one goal i have for this unit is going to be to evaluate the source of our information, to determine if it is reliable (can we trust it?  how do we know?)  what's one of your goals for this unit, as we read, question and study informational writing?

hopefully, what you'll find is that we'll end up asking a lot more questions than we answer, and that's okay.  the poetry website is open, if you feel inspired (and are looking to start the semester off strong):  international poetry guild  (you can write an anti-love poem, or a love poem to a strange audience)  we'll also be reading and listening to all new information, and figuring out what we think about all of it.  will we fall in love with the truths that february brings?

i look forward to seeing you soon.  i miss you guys!

ms. lauren

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King and Sethe's Best Thing (Blog Post #3)

Today, on the observation of Dr. King's birthday, I am thinking about the whitewashing of this holiday -- how Dr. King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, in all probability because his political work, while retaining its peaceful and love-infused message, began to question the motives and goals of the United States' government.  In this speech that Dr. King made in 1967 in New York, he aligns poor people of all races in the United States with the citizens of Vietnam and poor people globally, in a furious protest of the Vietnam war.   He states his disgust with the U.S. government, for siding with colonizers and oppressors in international policy, as he questions their care for black peoples' lives, and poor peoples' lives in our country, .  Many of the points he makes are (unfortunately) still valid today, as well as relevant to Beloved.

As I'm thinking about the connections Dr. King's words make to the book, I return to Toni Morrison's thoughts about race -- that it is an idea that we have created, because it allowed the people in power to justify WHY they were in power, and that this idea we've created is now so deeply rooted into our society that we are having trouble moving on.  In a similar way, Sethe could not move on from her past at Sweet Home.  Near the end of the book, despite all that had happened and the many years that had passed since Beloved's murder, when she saw Ella's boss coming toward the house to potentially speak with Denver about work, Sethe's instincts and her history drove her back to Sweet Home and the schoolteacher, and she tried to hurt him.  As someone who had experienced a milder side of slavery, but then also the brutality that came with blackness in 1864, could Sethe ever heal from these wounds?  Can we, collectively, as a country, heal from the past that we are still struggling to reconcile, and whose ghosts are still haunting us, today?

Last week, rapper Kendrick Lamar was ridiculed by many in the hip-hop community for his statement about the Mike Brown case, the Eric Garner case, and the #blacklivesmatter movement, saying that black people are not going to be respected until "we learn to respect ourselves".  Near the end of the Beloved, when Paul D returns, Sethe is mourning the loss of Beloved, saying that "she was my best thing", to which Paul D responds that Sethe is her own best thing.  I see the ending of the book on this moment as Morrison's way of trying to inspire the self-love and self-respect that many former slaves were missing; not only did white people not see them as human, but many former slaves did not see or think of themselves as fully human, either.

What I'm asking you guys to do for this, your final blog entry of 1st semester, is to take the following quote from Dr. King's essay, and write a practice introduction and 1 body paragraph, connecting the quote to Beloved.  This is a practice for your final exam on Thursday (7th period) or Friday (3rd period), which is completing a practice ELA Regents exam.

Critical Lens Quote: 

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Remember, in your response, be sure to:

- Interpret the quote, and explain what it means to you
- Agree or disagree, explaining why
- List which texts you will connect to the quotation (in this case, Beloved)
- Write a body paragraph in which you select specific evidence from Beloved to support your interpretation of the quote, and discuss HOW the evidence connects to the quotation.

Sending love, peace and the urgency of now.
-Ms. Lauren

Friday, January 9, 2015

Heart of the Story (Blog Post #2)

Hey guys,
I'm breaking the cardinal rule of motherhood, which is to sleep when the baby sleeps, because it's Friday morning and I'm asking you to blog by today, but I hadn't updated yet.  Sorry about that!  As you may or may not know, I did finally have the baby this past week, so I've been a little busy with her!  We are both home and happy, healthy as can be, thank you so much for your emails and comments wishing us well.  As a reminder, you can always email me if you have a question about something in the book or a question about class, grades, etc.  Also, I noticed that very few people commented on the blog last week - please be sure to stay focused during in-class time, as it is a chunk of your grade, and the semester is almost over!

Onto Beloved!  We finally learn, at the end of Part 1, that Sethe is responsible for killing her daughter, and attempting to kill all of her children; this came as a huge shock to me when I first read this book!  Sethe seems to be such a loving mother, who has her share of a very troubled past, but I never would have guessed that she had killed her own child.  Suddenly, lots of Morrison's foreshadowing started to return to my mind when I read this part... I started thinking about references to Beloved's scar, to the ghost baby being in the house at the beginning, to why people might not talk to Sethe and Denver in town, to why Denver stopped going to school, to Beloved disappearing in the shed while Denver was getting cider.  The shame of knowing that your mother was a murderer may have been too much to take!  Why do you think that Sethe acted so violently against her children?  What does schoolteacher's arrival at 124 have to do with Sethe's actions?  I'd love to see a conversation form about this in the comments, and hopefully in class!

Also, Stamp Paid goes out of his way to make sure that Paul D knows about Sethe's history, but Paul D doesn't believe him, insisting that the woman in the newspaper clipping wasn't Sethe.  He seems to be in denial at first, perhaps because he too can't believe that Sethe would commit such a horrible act. When he and Sethe finally talk about it and she tells him her reasoning, he makes the decision to leave her.  This was a decision that made me upset -- everyone else had left Sethe, and it seemed like she and Paul D were headed toward a happy ending, but the past can sometimes greatly impact the present, and perhaps her keeping this a secret from him was enough to send him away.  Why do you think that Paul D left Sethe after learning the truth?  Do you think it was the right decision for him to make?  Why or why not? (Use evidence from your reading to support your claim).

There's so much more to talk about and I'm sure you are having great discussions in class about the film and the book!  I'd love to hear more about your discussions in your blog response!  As I'm starting to think about Regents, I'm also starting to think about you guys using literary elements in your writing about novels.  I was thinking about conflict and plot structure, and particularly if the conflict of Sethe's murder of her child is also the climax, or turning point, in the book.  As a reader, it was a pivotal moment for me, when something major changed and I had to re-think the entire book. My last question to you is this: do you think that the scene of the baby's murder is the climax of the book?   If so, why?  If not, what do you think is the climax, or action-packed moment of truth?

Thank you guys so much for reading and responding!  I miss you all, but it's cool to see your responses here and I will be in better touch as my family starts to develop our little routine. :)  Oh, and I suppose you may want to see a photo of my daughter?  Here you go.  Now, write back to my questions and thoughtfully discuss the book!!

Ms. Lauren

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Denver and Waiting (Blog Post #1)

Hello my amazing students,

Hope your holiday break has gone well!!  I know that some of you expressed fear that you would forget to post to the blog over break, so you're in luck - I am giving you some time on Monday to blog in class (Ms. R and Ms. O will guide you through this), so that you can respond to me about your holiday reading of Beloved and make some connections to real-life events that have happened over the break.  I will be asking some questions as I think about my own reading through page 174 of the book, and I will write the questions below IN BOLD, so that you can have some prompts to think about - you do not have to respond to every question - but I am asking that your response be about 2 paragraphs, so please use evidence and details from your reading to support your ideas!  You can also respond to others' comments in your comment, too!

This week I am identifying myself with the character of Denver in Beloved, who I feel has spent so much of her life waiting for her father to return (and what's up with Halle?  Do we think that he has passed away?  Did he desert his family?  I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this character that we've heard about but haven't met)... my wait is for my child to make his or her appearance, and it hasn't happened yet, but I will post a photo next week, for sure! :)  Re-reading Denver's birth story made me feel very fortunate to be in the situation I'm in, though, as I have access to health care and modern facilities in which to birth my child.  In comparison, Sethe delivered Denver in a row boat and only had the assistance of Amy, they were alone in the woods on the Ohio River, and she had just escaped the brutality of a horrible slave owner, and nearly died in childbirth. I am very privileged.

Denver is a very interesting character to me -- the passion with which she has taken to care for Beloved shows evidence of her immense loneliness, but her feelings about Beloved don't waiver; even though she realizes that her sister really returned from the dead for her mother, she also cannot bear to think of a life without her sister.  I wonder, will Denver ever find a way out of the loneliness that seems to consume her?  When I read about her birth story, I was thinking about how Denver was born for a reason, against all odds, that she really is a survivor.  I wonder what Denver's purpose in life is, and how she will continue to grow as a character. Which character in the novel do you feel the most connection toward, either for the way that they have dealt with a situation you read about, or because of their approach to life?

* * *Spoiler Alert* * *

I also wonder about Paul D's feelings about Beloved -- he has very strong feelings of hatred for her in the beginning, but we learned in our reading over break that she has cast a spell on him, and literally moved him out of Sethe's bed and to sleeping in the shed.   I was shocked to learn that Paul D begins sleeping with Beloved... but it seems to me that she will do whatever she can to break him and Sethe up, so that Sethe's focus can return to her all of the time.  Beloved seems to be growing in power as a progresses as a character -- first she nearly strangles Sethe in the field from far away, and then she is able to physically move Paul D around the house, slowly moving him away from Sethe.  Why is Beloved so obsessed with Sethe?  What do you think she wants from Sethe?  And why is Denver keeping Beloved's secrets from Sethe (about her scar, about her true identity, about her relationship with Paul D)?

There is so much that we learned by the end of Part 1, and I am not going to spoil the major climax moment this week - we'll talk more about it in next week's blog response.  If you'd like, in your comment, you can answer the questions above OR you can write 1 paragraph AND make a list of the 10 most important events you've read in the book so far. 

Until next week, my lovelies,
Ms. Lauren