13 Take-aways from 2013: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

NYE Champagne glasses

As the New Year is upon us (be GONE, 2013, don’t let the door hit you in the A**!), I’m reflecting on the lessons I learned, the moments that will be remembered, as well as contemplating what’s to come. I’ve made a list of 13… nothing better than writing it all down to flesh out the perspective… take-aways from this year:

NYE Cartoon B

NYE Lessons learned

1) Expect the unexpected – no matter how well you’ve planned your life out, how perfectly (in your head) the details all fit into one beautiful mosaic, curve balls will be thrown and you must be ready to catch them

2) Be kindER – as a result of The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, coupled with my reading of R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder, I have a heightened sense of just how much benevolence matters.

3) Believe – in something, a higher power, perhaps, or simply the power of people. I’ve tattooed myself with the word on my wrist to remind me that there is a plan bigger than myself, bigger than what I can see in front of me right now, and I just have to trust it.

4) Be resilient –  changes happen around us all the time: some we easily ebb and flow with, while others are like trying to swim against a powerful tide. In these moments, we must focus on our own goals, do what we need to do with the power we’ve been given, and forge ahead resiliently according to what we know is right.

5) Learn to let go – in life, I’ve come to count on some things, like my family being together — it’s comfortable and it feels right. However, in the grand scheme of parenting, I know I’ve raised my children only to set them free. Many things are like this. Change is uncomfortable, but in order to let the new in, we somehow need to let go of the old (even when we aren’t necessarily ready to). I’m learning. So, in the spirit of being a taker-of-baby-steps, I am finding comfort in the benefits of letting go.

6) Be thankful – as an experiment, I wrote down every day, for 30 days, during one of the most trying periods of my life, something I’m grateful for. And what I learned is that sometimes big goals are overwhelming, so in making strides (small ones) toward something positive, the journey is much less painful.

NYE Memorable Moments

7) Seeing Chicago and my son’s new beginning (his world) through his excited eyes. It amazes me that after all these years (twenty-two), I’m still seeing the firsts through his eyes.

8) In a moment of real connection (and with teens, these are few and far between) my son told me that I’m his best friend. While, as a parent, you tell yourself over and over, “I must be his parent, not his friend,” particularly in getting through the obstacles of this stage. If through all of that hard parenting, he can tell me that I’m his friend (with no strings attached), I have truly succeeded as a parent, in my eyes.

9) Laughing. Simply laughing with my daughter. No matter how hard life gets, I find comfort in the playful moments we share– two girls who love & respect one another, as well as enjoy each other’s company.

10) My sanctuary. The building of it mostly. For years, I’ve waited for some place in this house to be only mine. Putting the words on the wall, and standing back to admire them– such a cathartic experience. I finally, again, have a room of my own.

11) My students words. Two, in particular. First student, “Somehow I just feel a connection with Mrs. Carbone that I haven’t felt with any other teacher. We have a lot in common.” Second student, “I always feel comfortable in Mrs. Carbone’s class. She makes me love learning, and the best part is that I’m learning a lot about myself.” These gems are the reason I love my job.

NYE goals

12) Live in the present. Love it. Cherish it. Recognize it as the chance to do something I’ve never done before and will never do the same again.

13) Follow my dreams, my intuition… ultimately, be truest to myself.

NYE Poster Final copy

And as an added bonus:

NYE blog

30 Days of Thankful

LEGACY: The People Who Leave

The Magic of Teaching: First-Day-Ever Teaching Advice to My New-Teacher Friends

Wonder, R.J. Palacio- So much more than a review, a call to action

SummerGarden Splendor

 NYE Thank you

The Wolf of Wall Street Begs the Question: Who is Responsible for What?

I watch every Martin Scorsese film. I watch every Leonardo DiCaprio film. With two big names like these, you can’t go wrong; or can you?

Christina (Prousalis) McDowell thinks so, and, after reading her open letter to the public entitled “An Open Letter to the Makers of The Wolf of Wall Street, and the Wolf Himself,” published in LA Weekly, December 26th, I’m beginning to think she might be right.

Wolf article

http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/12/wolf_of_wall_street_prousalis.php?page=2

McDowell, the daughter of one of Jordan Belfort’s associates, Tom Prousalis, and, hence, one of the many victims of his illegal activity, begs the question: What is the responsibility of filmmakers?

Major Wilson’s Last Stand, released in 1899, is the first recorded film based on actual events. Prior to 2000, 211 films produced were based on real-life events; while, since 2000, that number has more than doubled.1 What is it about the scandals of others that we, as a society, find so alluring? Now, arguably, not all such films are based on events that inherently ensue victims as collateral damage, such as The Wolf of Wall Street, but many do.

In taking a look at where we are compared to fourteen years ago, I would argue that the aggrandizement of such behaviors as embezzlement, violence, organized crime, excessive substance use, and much more has produced a society whereby our morals and values have crumbled due to our desensitized perception of the world… not to mention our ever-increasingly skewed idea of the American dream (and how to obtain it).

Wolf Review final

Even in a review on Internet Movie Database of Scorsese’s latest film, Brent Hawkins asserts “Under most circumstances, the actions of Belfort and his cronies … would be viewed as disgustingly abhorrent, but Martin Scorsese frames this tale of greed with a comedic lens that allows us to laugh at things we probably shouldn’t find humorous.” And, yet, we are compelled to pay money to watch. True, we (the viewers) make the choice, so can we blame filmmakers like Scorsese and others who make a killing at the box office by exploiting stories like this and others? Or do we blame ourselves for allowing them to exploit a forum that sells?

Reading Christina McDowell’s letter is an eye-opener for me. It asks me to consider the perception of the victim in a way I hadn’t before. I consider myself a seasoned film viewer; I even teach and wrote the curriculum for a high school film course in which we consider a myriad of topics such as how the perceptions of the director and actors affect a story, whether or not the script needs to remain true to its actual source (novel, play, short story, real event). But one topic I hadn’t considered before reading this article is the impact on the victims of a story based on real-life events. 

Christina McDowell, naming “Marty” and “Leo,” charges, “You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.” This ignites an awareness within me that I’d only just given a passing consideration to before. To what degree does this film (and many others) sensationalize immoral behavior? What is the message of the film, particularly to young and impressionable viewers? And, to what degree should the film industry (and other media outlets) be held accountable for societal norms?

There are so many thought-provoking topics to ponder in connection with this letter and film:

1) How responsible is the media for shaping society?

2) Does media reflect or create culture?

3) To what extent is (or should) society be held accountable for fueling the power of the media juggernaut?

The teacher in me hopes this article will ensue a teachable moment for all of its readers. The lesson: the more we support the media’s (movies, news, music, games, internet…) infatuation with scandal of any nature (without questioning or becoming fully informed), the more it (immoral behavior) becomes the reality rather than the exception to it. 

wolf poster

Will I watch the film? I’m still not sure. But I can be sure that I’ll be seeing it from a difference lens, if I do, thanks to Christina McDowell’s letter.

Sources:

www.imdb.com

http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/12/wolf_of_wall_street_prousalis.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_based_on_actual_events

Christmas Carol Mash: “What Christmas Means to Me”

CCM ryan

Chestnuts Roasting, which I never liked, when Silver Bells always rang on a Silent Night. We bellowed our young voices to the old wondering for the first time if Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer would offend. Marilyn Monroe sings the best Santa Baby; I knew that even then. And I always tried to picture Daddy’s face when he saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause. Rudolph, my favorite reindeer, because he was different, I presume, battled The Little Drummer Boy for my affection. And I could sing a solo of Frosty the Snowman on repeat for as long as it took him to melt on a sunny afternoon.

My mother always taught me to Put One Foot in Front of the Other; while, my father played the part of a Scrooge, rather than a Heat Miser. With my brother and sister, we took the parts of Johnny, Susie and Nelly; I, like Nelly, wanted a storybook because I memorized the whole ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by the time I was three.

CCM tyler

Jingle Bells chimed whenever a guest arrived ducking under the Mistletoe and Holly, hung from the doorway, to find us Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Waiting patiently through The Twelve Days of Christmas, praying for a Winter Wonderland, waiting for loved ones to come Home for the Holidays.

As I got older, the benevolence of Christmas became apparent as I took part in Feed the World to Let Them Know it’s Christmastime. I worried about others, not only myself, having a Blue Christmas when I thought mine so Merry and Bright. I began to have faith that everyone would, one day, experience Peace on Earth.

CCM Lexy

Once I fell in love, You’re My Christmas Present became my theme, and together our love blossomed into Baby’s First Christmas. We warned our children of Grinch tactics by keeping the spirit magical by reminding them Santa Clause IS Coming to Town. We sang Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! sipping hot chocolate before and Open Fire after taking a Sleigh Ride through a Marshmallow World.

As our children grow, we hope they’ll always come Home for the Holidays because it isn’t a Happy Christmas unless we spend Christmas with the Family.

CCM angel

Happy 2nd Anniversary to ME (Mirror Muses)

Wordpress anniv

I’m officially entering my 3rd year of blogging and so eager to see what’s ahead of me. Last year, I ended the year by establishing some goals for myself; it’s neat to look back to see which of them I’ve achieved (& surpassed) and which of them I’m still working on. Not surprisingly, I have abandoned a single one!

HA 2013 goals copy

 

These goals remind me that everyday, we truly are a work in progress. I’d like to thank all of my trusty followers, especially those who take the time to comment and LIKE my work. It truly means a lot to me.

CHEERS! And looking forward to another exciting year of blogging with WordPress.

Sincerely,

Donna a.k.a. Mirror Muses

In Memory of the Sandy Hook Tragedy: One Year Later

Sandy Hook 2013On the one year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I can’t help but go back to the devastation I felt as the events unfolded right here in a neighboring town in Connecticut. Beyond empathizing with all of the people involved as a human being, I, too, am a teacher and a parent. When tragedy like this strikes, I can’t help but imagine myself in their shoes, and God willing I will never have to. Francois Mauriac, in his forward to Night by Elie Weisel, wrote (and I paraphrase) that sometimes the tragedies we witness affect us most deeply. I’ve often thought, since this event, and before following Columbine and other school tragedies, how would I react? I feel each of my school children are, in some way, an extension of my family. I would protect them. I have no doubt about that.

When bad strikes, I try to find the good. At school, we’ve gone through several lock down drills addressing this very situation, something that we’d done before, but somehow since Sandy Hook is so close to home, it became more meaningful. Because something like this, we learned, COULD happen in our town.

After this tragedy struck, many families called society to come to action through deeds of kindness. I visited the town soon after the event and was awed by the outpouring of love and support from around the world. In my own way, I set up an ACTS OF KINDNESS jar where, throughout the year, I recorded my own deeds of kindness with the goal of committing to at least one such act for every life that perished. I exceeded my goal, and this year I will challenge myself to do more because our world needs us to be kinder to one another, more empathetic to one another’s struggles and obstacles.

SH Jar

SH Deeds

SH Kind

I came across this video I want to share with anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s made by the mom of Emilie Parker, one of the victims of Sandy Hook. Awed by her strong faith in God and people inspires me, as I hope it will inspire you:

May God bless the angels who perished on this day one year ago and their families and loved ones. ❤

 

RandomKid Profoundly Proves Holden’s Relevance

catcher in the rye poster copy

I’ve been teaching The Catcher in the Rye for years. I believe every American should read, if nothing more, these three classics: The Adventures of Huck Finn, The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye. Over the past years, the enthusiasm for Catcher has waned. Students complain it isn’t relevant, the language is dated, Holden is nothing more than a whiner; students, today, claim they are more mature and self directed…

They just don’t see themselves in Holden. I beg to differ.

RK student quote 1

In an effort to get students to delve deep into thinking about Holden’s characterization (as we approach Holden from a psychological perspective, later on, and go on to compare him to one of the characters in The Breakfast Club), I host Socratic Seminars.

RK Breakfast Club

This is how it works. For homework, the class is given a reading assignment and they must write questions gleaned from it and important quotes in a Double Entry Notebook format. In class the next day, I divide the number of students in half. Half form a circle at the center of the room for a fishbowl discussion, while the other have form a larger circle on the outside. These students sign into a class chat room, hosted by Today’s Meet, where they hold a parallel discussion to what’s going on orally in the fishbowl.

For the last 10 minutes of class, I post the discussion thread from Today’s Meet up on the Smartboard to open the discussion to the whole class. On a normal day, the discussion becomes lively, even heated sometimes. While students on the whole often have difficulty connecting to Holden in an explicit way, they demonstrate just how connected they are (even if they can’t see it, at the time, themselves) by the way the discussion evolves.

On this particular day, I instruct the class to sign on using their own names (so I can give them credit for their questions and comments: I’m taking notes throughout the lesson, making observations, noting the levels of thinking they demonstrate with their questions and responses to contribute to a cumulative grade at the end of the novel) as I always do.

Only, today, one wise guy signs in as RandomKid. When I ask who it is, he or she (I’ll use he for the purpose of this story) responds:

RK Its Me copy

I laugh it off and ask him to sign in as himself, which he does; only, unbeknownst to me and the rest of the class, at the time, he doesn’t sign off as RandomKid. He must be using two monikers/screens simultaneously because I can account for everyone in the chat room plus RandomKid. A stir ensues because the class just wants to begin, so we do. I’m thinking RandomKid doesn’t realize I’m monitoring the discussion on my IPad because he continues to post. I’m thinking he does so for the element of surprise during the last ten minutes when I share the thread with the whole class. What he doesn’t anticipate is that I’m seeing the nature of his comments escalate because he, apparently, isn’t getting the attention or response from the students he was hoping for within the chat room.

Here are his posts:

RK posts copy

I stop the discussion in a grandiose fashion when he uses the “F” word. Not only does it go against my classroom policy, it goes against the school’s policy and the responsible use policy for technology. I tell them if “they” are too immature to participate in this forum, they can read silently for the remainder of class.  Needless to say, I’m angry, the students in the fishbowl have no idea what’s going on, and those in the chat room are upset that we have to cut short the discussion. After several pleas for RandomKid to come forward (from both me and his classmates), so the whole class doesn’t have to deal with the fallout of this incident, he, to this day, has not. I’m not surprised, but I am saddened.

Hindsight has allowed me to look at this from a different perspective, and I’d like to share, here, the letter I’d write to RandomKid if I could:

Catcher

Dear RandomKid,

While you think you may have been acting rebelliously to get a laugh out of your classmates, put me on the spot, or even express your frustrations with this class, this novel or school in general, what you have done is demonstrate what a modern-day Holden Caulfield would do.

He’d pretend he’s someone he isn’t. He’d mask himself under the guise of a screen name and run, if the case may be. He’d protest the rules of society without having the confidence to express his thoughts as himself. You call him a liar, well so are you if you can’t come forward to own your actions. He’d call people phony behind their backs or talk behind doors about what an injustice it is that there are penalties he’d be held accountable for (such as no longer being allowed to use a chat room or being expelled from school).

RK student quote 2

You see, RandomKid, this is part of your development. It’s an aspect of coming of age and teen angst, all the things we discuss in class, that you are so adamant you are far removed from. You question authority. You defy it, even. You think you’d like to live in world in absent of rules, where you wouldn’t have to attend school or take this class or read this seemingly irrelevant book.

The truth is that if you admitted to seeing yourself in Holden, you’d have to face pieces of yourself that you don’t like very much. Perhaps, it’s your apathy for life in general or your utter disdain for all things that equate to authority. But, what I think, RandomKid, is that you’re scared. I think you’re afraid to grow up, just like Holden– afraid to lose your innocence because, let’s face it, it’s a scary prospect. It’s difficult to feel confused about who you are and all things this life represents that you couldn’t possibly understand. It’s far easier to think you’ve got it figured out, to pretend you are mature and have direction because, after all, if you could fool yourself, you could fool everyone else, right?

As your teacher and as a person who cares about what you think and feel, moreover, as a survivor of your stage in life when all things are uncertain, I’m here to tell you, you will survive. You will grow from even this (seemingly insignificant) immature act of posing as RandomKid.

Growing up isn’t about not making mistakes; in fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s about trying personas on to see what fits (I hope yours as RandomKid isn’t the one that does).  Making mistakes isn’t what defines you as a person, recognizing them demonstrates your true character. Having the ability to look inside, authentically, and communicate honestly is what growing up is all about. It’s from taking an incident like this and not just feeling wronged, somehow, but learning from it. I’ll leave you with these words from Catcher:

RK catcher quote

Thank you, RandomKid, for reminding me of one such lesson; moreover,  when you see a lesson coming back at you, you’ll recognize it, confidently, appreciatively, to acknowledge it as such, and realize you really were never just a random kid, in the first place.

Sincerely,

Your Teacher

RK BC Quote

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

2013 Winner Vertical Banner

I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo last year when a colleague asked if I’d ever heard of it. “No,” I had replied, I hadn’t. She couldn’t believe it because I write all the time; everyone in my life knows this. Experimenting with her class using the Young Writers’ Program, this colleague introduced the competition to her Writers’ Workshop class, a course I wasn’t teaching until the following semester, and she invited all her students (in other classes, too) to join her in the challenge. I decided to, also. While I’ve been writing since I was about seven years old, I’d never written such quantity in such a short amount of time. I didn’t know how well I’d do. Preparing for almost all of October helped, most certainly, in making my first go at this competition run smooth. In fact, I surpassed my goal by the deadline.

Now, I’ve completed my third NaNoWriMo challenge, also participating in CampNaNoWriMo in April of last year. In both April and this November, I’ve invited students to join me. Maybe the best part of each of these competitions is passing on the bug: the love for writing that is as necessary as breathing for some of us. The importance of a community of writers has become a paramount lesson in all of this for me. Writers understand one another, they fuel one another, and they inspire, too!

I’m a planner by nature, and, now, after round three, I can securely say there’s something to be said about writing every single day and writing abundantly. The connections I’ve made with other writers and the lessons I’ve learned about myself, as both person and writer, are inestimable.

Nano 2013 Winner stats

Nano 2013 Done