Guest Sonnet: The Fate of Fur and Feathers

Jessica Almy, the brain and brawn behind Vegbooks, joined the yeah write February Poetry Slam with a sonnet. I offered this space, assuring her that opinionated sarcasm would fit right in. Also, since I’ve defaulted on my participation in the challenge, this allows me to participate vicariously. But it’s not too late for you! Want to try sonnet writing? Go here. Now.

The Fate of Fur and Feathers

In our fair city, we hate these friggin rats–
The kind that run, the kind that fly and crap.
We curse bedbugs and mangy stray tomcats.
Yeah, but we love toy dogs who yap and yap.

We take our dogs on horse-drawn carriages.
They wear their Sunday best, decked out in fur.
Some even plan lil doggy marriages.
Dogs kiss on cue. Good matches we assure.

Elsewhere, we know that people love their birds–
Bright birds, smart birds–the type that say hello,
The ones who talk, who know a ton of words.
We like birds too: prepared with a nice Bordeaux.

Yeah, some are free. Others we prefer confined.
The birds and beasts should be to fate resigned.

by Jessica Almy

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Glad I Saw It: Random Crap from Here and There

i have mood swingsI do love the colorful and quirky windows in our local shops. This stopped me on a day when I had to agree with the statement. See it for yourself while it lasts at the Essex Fine Arts Gallery.

 

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Glad I Saw It: Curiosity and Art

photo copyWe were waiting at a local barber shop as my son was getting a close-cropped cut, when my daughter tugged at my sleeve and pointed towards the door. A man was sitting near the front, by the door, and he had a drawing pad out. “He’s drawing a cowboy!” she whispered. She stared and stared as the drawing took shape. Finally, I suggested she go over and let him know she like his drawing. She agreed, but I had to come too.

Her bravery dissipated as soon as the gentleman’s attention went from his creation to her presence, and I was left to explain that my six-year old had been admiring his cowboy picture. “She’s an artist too,” I explained. Oh! Wonderful! And a fresh sheet of paper came out.

Soon the man was sketching my little girl’s giraffe hat with a thick, black marker. And as it took shape, he told jokes and stories that felt like familiar friends. “Children are so great with art, so open,” he began. And then regaled us with micro stories about a child drawing God, despite being told it was impossible, and why he always brings a sketch pad to pass the time, and that he was glad my daughter had asked about the artwork.

In the end, we had a great conversation and got to take home a sketch of my daughter with her giraffe hat. At the top he wrote “A Happy Girl” then hesitated for a second and continued “is a Happy Person.”

If you want to see some of this gentleman’s work, visit Chuck Hayden’s art here, or stop in at Jacklyn Kling Distinctive Framework on Walnut Street in Montclair.

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Keep Dancing Like No One Is Watching: Katy and Missy

534733851JF00009_Pepsi_SupeI thought Katy Perry did a great job at the half-time show for Superbowl (insert number here). I was very happy to watch Lenny Kravitz sing Katy Perry’s breakout hit with her. And because I’m not tuned into music industry rumors, the Missy Elliott guest appearance was a total surprise. I was already seat dancing from the first “I can name that tune in six notes” teaser of Get Ur Freak On.

But to hear Twitter commentary during and after the show, Katy Perry was a total asshole for even being on stage with Missy Elliott. There was making fun of Perry’s dancing, how she didn’t have talent or skill compared to Missy Elliott, and so on and so forth. Because, you know, sharing isn’t caring when the Judgy McJudgersons are in town. Never mind that Missy Elliott was amazing in her responses. Never mind that people are always saying “Female artists need to help each other” and “If you’re on top bring someone with you.” Oh, and there is the “Dance like no one is watching” thing too.  See how far that goes?

But that’s okay. It’s all right. I’ll just made sure to take a good listen to Missy Elliott’s Gossip Folks, followed by Katy Perry’s Firework — or maybe This Is How We Do, just to piss people off. Because if you can’t see from their respective videos that Katy Perry was influenced by Missy Elliott’s in your face style as she started out, you are blind.

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Moving Forward in Love as We Work for Justice

Daniel Pritchard FoundationSusan Pritchard, an amazing woman I met through my work with Moms Demand Action, called me just a few days after my father passed away to take me up on an offer I’d made during the summer. She asked my help to write a piece honoring her son Daniel’s memory. It was an incredible responsibility, and an emotional task that helped me more than she can know. The letter was recently printed in the Verona-Cedar Grove Times, and I share it with you as an example of the power of hope and the sometimes fragile resilience of those left behind.

Daniel Pritchard’s Family Reflects Years After His Death

Five years ago, our son Daniel was shot and killed in an attempted robbery in Verona.  A second trial of one of his alleged killers has ended in a mistrial. Again. In the current climate of frustration and fear and distrust in our justice system, it feels selfish to join in the chorus demanding more from ourselves and those systems we rely on to keep order and public safety in our communities. In our family, in our own small way, we have chosen to move forward in love even as we continue to work for justice for our son Daniel. We have taken healing inspiration from Booker T. Washington’s words: “I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate them.”

Aside from our individual choices in healing from our shared family loss, in honor of Daniel, we created the Daniel Pritchard Foundation that works to “Let civility, respect and common decency prevail.” Through community generosity to honor Daniel’s life with his friends and family, we have raised funds for scholarships based on student perseverance in the face of obstacles, families facing great hardship and turmoil, and for community members who work tirelessly improving the lives of others. Recent recipients include the Homeless Bus and Elaine Lane of David’s Shoes. We have also worked for gun reform through expanded national background checks and against trafficking of illegal guns through the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

Those of us who have lost friends and family to gun violence and other terrible, sudden incidents, each move forward in individual ways and at our own pace. No one method is best for everyone, but what we in Daniel’s family and close circle have found is that our desire to live up to Daniel’s example – to help keep his memory and legacy alive – has overcome the resentment. It has allowed us to break the cycle of anger that once threatened to overcome our hopes for the future. Don’t mistake our positive outlook for compliance. And don’t think that those who work to make the world a better place don’t also work for justice for our loved ones. The two goals are tangled and intertwined, just as our memories and mourning will always mingle and coexist.

As the New Year begins, and as the anniversary of our son’s and brother’s death approaches, we wish each of you a peaceful year of civility, respect, and common decency.

A version of this letter first appeared in the Verona-Cedar Grove Times

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Glad I Saw It: Artist

drawing

I have always had great admiration for those who can create the tangible out of imagination.

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Technology and the Achievement Gap

38404b540f281c7e8e864f32e4a4d237Technology is not the way to close the achievement gap in education. In fact, it’s entirely possible that when school districts offer computer programs and tasks to do at home they widen the gap even further.

Last year I listened in horror as a friend in a neighboring township described her child’s required math homework. It was to be completed solely on the computer. There were no alternatives, and when parents were unable to access their children’s accounts, they went without. I tsk-tsked about it and felt slightly superior that this was (as far as I knew) unheard of in my school, or even in my district. Continue reading

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Glad I Saw It: Pencil Dispenser

We haven’t stopped by our library since well before the holidays, so this was new to me.

pencil dispenser

My first thought was that it was just a funky vintage feature. But then memories of dozens, scores, of dearly purchased pens and pencils — freely given — walking out my classroom door every month. Perhaps this installation is more about encouraging ownership instead of relying on the generosity of the librarians.

Or, perhaps it’s just because it’s so cool.

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Glad I Saw It: Pins

photo copy

I saw this collection of pins at Watchung Booksellers recently. Of course I loved the I can read! pin, but it was the Smile They’re Watching pin that I was glad I saw. There are a couple of other winning tidbits in there, so take a moment to check out the variety the next time you’re book shopping.

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Playing Chess with My Son

photoMy Dad liked to play chess. My son, now almost eight, was always too young to play chess properly with his Opa, but at least the idea was introduced and some of the rules and strategies were discussed between them. I never learned to play. It was too hard to remember which pieces could do what and in which direction. I preferred reading or watching television or flipping through my Mom’s Good Housekeeping or Brigitte magazines.

Now that my Dad is gone, I’ve made a commitment to play chess with my son. And hopefully with my daughter when she catches the strategy bug. This past weekend I played two games. Or are they matches? I play conservatively and slowly because I still don’t know all the nuances of moves and attacks and traps. I think I may have misused the Bishop once or twice.

My almost eight-year-old son didn’t like that I won. Twice. But he liked that I played. And we’ll keep playing, thoughtfully and patiently. As my Dad always did.

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