Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 5 - Hillary Clinton

2.  Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton did the impossible.

As one of most qualified Presidential candidate ever, she faced a ridiculous amount of sexual harassment and the most sexist, racist and xenophobic candidate in modern times. She never wavered from holding herself with an exemplary level of poise, professionalism and dignity.

The political story of the year is not how a privileged, unqualified, 'businessman,' fooled Americans into believing his lies. The political story of the year is how a woman, did the impossible, rose higher than any other in American history and inspired millions of Americans to believe once more in hope, optimism and themselves.

Her impact can be seen at Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite the day of the election, covered in “I voted” stickers. You can see her inspiration in the girls dressed up in pantsuits and the millions who continue to struggle with the trauma of her loss.

This was not a normal election and Secretary Clinton was no normal candidate. She challenged us to be the best part of ourselves while her candidate allowed his supporters to be the worst. His words were offensive and disgusting, and his sentiments were reflected on logos printed on shirts that were sold at rallies that are too obscene to restate here. Secretary Clinton displayed a higher level of virtue against a candidate who had none.

I was lukewarm about Secretary Clinton when she first entered the election. The decades of smearing about her character and accomplishments had affected my view of her as a politician. As time passed, the more she spoke and the more I was reminded of what she stood for, fought for and accomplished, I began to feel inspired.

This wasn’t just about the guy that she faced, but it was about who Secretary Clinton was and what she represented. Her story is the continuation of what makes America special. She is part of the counter-balance against those who would limit rights, which is the very thing that pushed our country to became a country with more freedom and liberty for all.

Respectful disagreement with Secretary Clinton’s political viewpoints is fine.  It is however irrefutable her importance to our country and the positive effect she has had country. If you do not, or cannot acknowledge this, I encourage you to examine why. Demonization, hate and sexism towards Secretary Clinton are more an expression of what’s inside of us, than her own actions.

Secretary Clinton, lost the election, but like comparing the battle to the war, this struggle isn’t over. Her most powerful effect on our country, will be seen years from now when women flood capital hill, when the rest of our country embraces a progressive movement and when all of us celebrate diversity over fear and inclusion over division.

This will be Secretary Clinton's legacy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 4 - Michelle Obama & Asma Khalid

[Click here for part 1, part 2 & part 3]

4.  Michelle Obama

After a long day and night of rehearsal, Leslie still lights up when you talk about playing Aaron Burr. “Lin is asking you to bring your complete and total self to stage—all you joy, all your rage, all your pain, your capacity for fun.” But, he says, is “arguably the best role for a male actor of color in the musical theater canon.”
“Ev-er. You get to show all of your colors. Nobody asks us to do that.”
 - Interview with Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Michelle Obama has broken the rules and surpassed the expectations for people of color, women, and the First Lady of the United States of America. As Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton fame celebrated in the character of Aaron Burr, Michelle Obama has shown all of her colors, with beauty, depth, dignity, and pride.

Mrs. Obama continued the tradition of capturing an feeling of Presidential royalty carrying herself with exemplary hospitality and grace in formal state dinners and other important Presidential events. She was never hesitated to humanize the highest office in with fun, humor, often poking fun at herself. This trip to CVS with Ellen DeGeneres is one example of many of her humility and sense of humor.

In the greatest date movie of the year “Southside With You,” we saw the First Lady’s younger self. In this film, we saw her struggle with her identity and her aspirations. Through the film, we saw her insecurities, and her flaws. Not many people would be willing to let others show the world their origin story.

The most powerful moment of Mrs. Obama’s incredible year, wasn’t just an expression of one part of herself, it was a speech that showed the world the whole spectrum within herself.  It was a speech that brought together her grace, dignity and insecurities. It was courageous, powerful, and humanizing. It was the speech where she spoke out against him.

After that guy's most offensive words were leaked, the reactions from our society were disheartening. While many were outraged, far too many were slow to criticize him and we watched in confusion as people who defended him, revealed their own sexism.

In all of the confusion, one voice rose above them all, Michelle Obama. She transformed a campaign speech in support of Secretary Clinton into a remarkable display of her intelligence, her thoughtfulness and her empathy. This speech in New Hampshire in October was unforgettable.

Mrs. Obama started talking about her pride she had in her colleagues, but as she reflected on her feeling about his words, her voice changed. We could hear in her voice how she was “shaken to the core,” and she uncharacteristically hesitated as she opened up. She fought through her fear, and discomfort and kept it together.

Mrs. Obama’s initial description of sexual harassment on paper is not disturbing, but with the emotion in her words, it was devastating. When she went further to describe the horror of sexual assault, the helplessness of the glass ceiling, the shared pain across generations of women and the dignity robbed of countless woman, it all painfully came to life. The crowd, filled with woman, cheered the First Lady on, for making sense of these feelings, for saying words others were too afraid to speak, and for showing us all a path to a better future.

His apology displayed no reflection, and no understanding of the his true sins. He made no atonement by speaking out against sexual harassment or quelling the constant sexist chants during his rallies or forbidding the selling of sexist merchandise. He proposed no policy changes to help women’s issues and didn’t meet with women’s groups to build bridges. His apology was meaningless.

Michelle Obama ensured that millions will never forget what this guy said. She is right, “the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” And the measure of a man is how he treats women.  By this measure, that guy fall shockingly short of being considered even a man. “Guy,” or “boy” is a sufficient label for him.

Mrs. Obama, as I write this, I feel myself tearing up. I don’t know how to thank you. I just know that you have made me so proud to be an American and to call you my First Lady. I will never forget your words and I will never forget you. I promise to take your inspiration and pass it on to my students and my son.  Even though I'm not sure how I'm  say goodbye to you as our First Lady, I am comforted knowing that I will not have to say goodbye to you.

[Fist bump]

3. Asma Khalid 

I am blessed to have friends who are Muslim.

I wasn’t looking for Muslim friends and when I met them, I didn’t think about this facet of their identity until they brought it up in passing.  Their identity as Muslims has opened up a beautiful culture and history to me.  Most importantly, their friendship put a face and a connection to an essential part of our society that experienced shameful discrimination and hate in the past year. Many in our country are not blessed to have people who are Muslim in their lives.  So for many, including myself, a Muslim voice came into our lives, over the radio and the internet and brought us knowledge, perspective and hope. That voice was Asma Khalid.

National Public Radio (NPR) has one of the finest political journalism team in America. These professionals are a counter to every single criticism of reporters, the news and the media. They report without bias, their work is well-researched and fact checked, they do deep and meaningful reporting and include a wide variety of perspectives in their work.

The NPR political team, worked tirelessly through the election to present a view of the events that was absent of sensationalism (and yelling). They set a high standard of journalism and one of the important people on their team was Asma Khalid.

Week after week Khalid talked to people all over America.  Whenever attacked with hate or prejudice, she responded with as a reporter with patience, letting these people tell their story. She took words of hate, did not retaliate and embraced her subjects as people.  Khalid did what so few seemed to be able to do during this election: listen to each other with respect and dignity. After the dust settled, she made her most courageously move, presenting this unforgettable story about what it meant to be a Muslim reporting on the campaign trail.

This column and accompanying podcast presented an revealing and powerful reflection on her struggles as a reporter and the beautiful bond between the reporters of NPR.  This story revealed her unbelievable bravery, incredible acceptance of those who would not tolerate her and a exemplary level of journalist integrity, which is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While so many succumbed to their baser emotions and fears, Khalid stood tall and refused to give in.

We are blessed to have great journalist play an essential role in our democracy and it is diverse voices of people like Khalid that bring relevance and strength of journalism in America. We may not all be blessed to have friends who are Muslim, but we are all blessed to have Asma Khalid reporting for all of us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 3 - Pres. Barack Obama & Lin-Manuel Miranda/Parenthood - Week 184

[Click here for part 1 and part 2]

6. President Barack Obama

“And I say that not just as President but also as a feminist.”

In his last year in office, President Obama continued the work he started almost eight years ago. He worked tireless to ensure more rights to more Americans, spoke as the conscience of our nation, comforted us through unimaginable tragedy and set an example of how to carry ourselves with dignity, respect and empathy.

President Obama received some of his most irrational and unsubstantiated criticism this past year, but he never wavered from demonstrating a level of respect for the rights of those who would disagree with him, even when they failed to express to him, the most basic of courtesies. When a protester interrupted his speech a couple months ago, he refused to let the audience disrespect that person’s voice.

There are those who feel that President Obama’s economic policy has had a negative effect on our country. However there are also many, including leading economic experts that praise the economic growth that President Obama helped foster. This is a highly debated issue and reflects different philosophies and perspectives more than irrefutable facts.

There is something about President Obama’s work that is irrefutably powerful, and positive. It’s something that we’ve sensed for a while. It was a feeling we got when the President signed his first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that prohibited sex-based wage discrimination. This action along with many others gave us hints of something that our President proudly stated last August in a Glamour magazine article; President Barack Obama is a feminist.

President Obama embraced a label that got twisted and distorted into the disgusting term “Femi-Nazi,” and for a generation of men and also some woman, was the last label they would want to embrace. There has a quiet movement of men, who refuse express their own male insecurities by forcing their wives into traditional gender roles, who stop their male friends from making inappropriate jokes about women and fight for the rights of their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and daughters. The Presidents pride in this label, validated all of us, who are horrified at the complacency of so many in the face of sexism, and want to make the world better for the woman in our lives.

President Obama concluded, “That’s what twenty-first-century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.” As men by embracing feminism we will be free of our limitations, our own stereotypes.  By serving the women in our lives, we will find meaning. In the face of incredibly discrimination, sexism, objectification, violence, and hatred, women have refused to give up on our country and on men. So in turn we cannot give up on fighting for women and we must take the lead of President Obama, our first feminist President.

5. Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda is not racist.

He has never said anything racist to the press or in public that was racially insensitive or prejudicial, but this doesn’t prove that he’s not racist. Not saying racist things does not mean that you are not racist. The only thing that this proves is that you understands basic social norms and social conventions. Not saying racist things proves that you are not an idiot.

You want to prove that you aren’t racist than do something about racism. Include diverse perspectives and voices that are underrepresented like with Miranda’s musical In The Heights. Place people of color in positions that were previously unimaginable like by casting am African-American as George Washington in Hamilton. Work to authentically represent other cultures like when Miranda collaborated with Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina to create music for Disney’s latest animated feature, Moana. Make a positive change in the way that people view people of color and how people of color view themselves.  Basically be like Lin-Manuel Miranda and you can prove that you aren't racist.

In 2016, the glory that is Hamilton just kept growing. With the opening of the Chicago production, and the release of the Hamilton Mixtape album, Lin-Manual Miranda’s masterpiece continued to find new audience members. One of the greatest musicals of all time and what some consider one of the greatest pieces of art ever, Hamilton tells the story of one of the most important founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Musically, it is beautifully crafted with musical motifs intricately woven through out the texture of the score. The music somehow reflects the history of Broadway music, as well as hip-hop culture, weaving these styles together to create a work that is respectful referential with a sound that is uniquely Hamilton.

The story, lyrics and themes in this story resonate with our modern times and is nuanced and humanizing portrayal of the figures from this era, bring us comfort and perspective as we seek to understand what it means to be American.

Then there’s Moana. An animated Disney film with out a princess, or a prince, featuring characters that are all people of color, with songs that Miranda wrote through collaborations with Opetaia Foa'i, and Mark Mancina. The songs are some of the best Disney songs since The Lion King. The music of Moana eclipses Tim Rice’s and Elton John’s efforts to be culturally authentic, by bringing Polynesian music alive with vibrancy and respect.

Because of Miranda’s efforts, my son’s first (and only) image of George Washington is Christopher Jackson.

For him, Alexander Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda and the difference between Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette is how Daveed Diggs styles his hair. Because of Miranda’s efforts Ollie’s current favorite toy is a Maui doll from Moana. He dances around with a character that is a person of color and tries his best to sing along with the Polynesian in the songs from the soundtrack.  And because of Lin- Manuel Miranda, my son’s world is filled with art that shows him the beauty of racial diversity, a wonderful soundscape of musical styles and stories that are empowering and inclusive.

Check out this video. It’s my son, a interracial child, singing along to a half-Puerto Rican rapper/singer from one of the most successful musicals of all time, making a doll dance from a successful Disney film that has no Caucasian characters.

This is remarkable and extraordinary product of the American dream, but for Ollie it’s simply his reality and what he loves.  For my son, this is his normal and for that fact.  Ollie has learned that this is the way that the world should be, and for this I will always be grateful to Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 2 - Kate McKinnon & Dan Savage

[click here for part 1]

8. Kate McKinnon
If all comedians did was make us laugh, they would have an essential role to play in our society, but they do so much more than that. This year, comics continued the tradition of social commentary that great comics like George Carlin pioneered.

In the same way that Batman brings justice to Gotham City in a way that the police cannot, comedians push past the boundaries of journalism asking essential questions, bringing to light overlooked experiences and issues and entertaining audiences at the same time.

This year Amy Schumer kept at it. Her show, Inside Amy Schumer, continued to bring up issues, some would rather not admit are real and absurdities that are too often overlooked.  Her book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, revealed incredible depth. Schumer went deep into her personal history and spoke candidly about her experiences with abuse, the challenges of being a woman and many other pervasive issues that we far too often ignore.

Then there was Ali Wong, whose Netflix special, Baby Cobra, was um . . . well., check out this clip:


Revelation works as a word to describe this special. Asian-Americans are underrepresented in comedy and we got a lot of stuff that we need to work out by laughing about it. Ali Wong is out there helping us and helping everyone understand a little about what is fantastic, ridiculous and awesome about being Asian.

The comedian that brought me the most laughter this year and got me through some of the most difficult times this year Kate McKinnon.

Every week, when the election seemed more confusing, more absurd and more hopeless, she got out there on Saturday Night Live and as Hillary Clinton, helped us all process what was happening in the country. In addition, she played other characters that reminded us that it was okay to laugh.

The week after the election, she appeared at the start of the show as Secretary Hillary Clinton, and performed the late Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece, “Hallelujah.”

McKinnon sang as Secretary Clinton and for Secretary Clinton. She was able to say thing that Hillary could not. At moments she let the mask down and she was one of us trying to figure out the mixture of emotions we were feeling in the face of a loss that we did not and could not understand. The courage of McKinnon to sing in such an exposed and vulnerable way reflected Secretary Clinton’s bravery and dignity in the face of such unjustified and irrational hatred.

After completing the song, McKinnon stated, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” Her voice shook slightly as she spoke for herself and for all of us. We didn’t need her in that moment to be stronger for us, we just needed her to let us know that we aren’t alone and there is always hope.

Hope is exactly what McKinnon gave us that evening.  

7. Dan Savage
The world can be difficult to understand. We need people to help us process events and see through our own lack of perspective. One of the most important voices in my life who does this for me is the sex advice columnist, author, and podcast host, Dan Savage.

Every Tuesday morning Savage starts his podcast with a “rant,” as he calls it. During this opening, he addresses a range of topics including current events. Savage is incredibly witty and his rants are humorous, thought-provoking, and deeply insightful. On June 14th, 2006, his opening rant was heartbreaking (Click here).

Savage did what he often did and addressed a current event, but this event was different, he talked about the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub. In this opening, Savage embraced the burden of having to explain to majority, a minority experience.

Many minorities, including myself, find the burden of explaining our lived experiences to people who are not part that minority group exhausting and annoying at times. Why should I have to spend my day explaining to people who are not Asian what it’s like to be Asian? This is not something that we should expect out of minorities of any kind but Savage has leaned into this burden and made it his responsibility. Because of this, thousands of other people who read Savage’s words and hear his voice are more understanding of other people and themselves.

I will not try to paraphrase Savage’s words, but know that while they will make you cry, they paint a story, a history of Gay nightclub culture that has been a beacon of hope for a group of people who faced unimaginable intolerance perpetrated by bigotry and hate. There is one point that I will highlight and is important to remember. In 1969, during the Stonewall riots, the police were fighting against the rights of homosexuals. During the Pulse nightclub shooting, the police were putting their lives on the line, some in the direct line of fire to protect the lives of people who are LGBT and their allies.

Dan Savage talks about sex on his podcast, but more than that, he talks about acceptance, embracing the plurality of human expression and how to love yourself and others. Savage is not always right, but he tries. Savage’s words have saved relationships, gotten people away from abusive partners and spread empathy to his listeners and beyond.

If we all took Savage’s advice, we would be a lot happier, having more sex and most importantly embracing the beautiful plurality of the human experience . . . and we’d also probably be swearing more and smoking more pot.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 People Of The Year: Part 1 - Bayley & Sgt. Hawkins

2016 was a horrible year for many different people for many different reasons. We had to say goodbye to some of our most important cultural icons, while this has been difficult it is nowhere near as tragic as the children who are being killed in Aleppo. They are not getting tributes and magazine covers and it just continues. Unfortunately, the suffering of children is not limited to Syria.

There have been personal challenges in my life, though nothing to the degree of a great tragedy. The blessings in my life continue to persevere though sometimes it has been hard to keep them in perspective.

I am mostly through the mourning process of the election, but like the loss of a loved one, the dull ache exists. This man has done nothing to bring me hope and comfort and his actions continue to alienate those who did not support him and his own supporters who believed his lies.

There is hope.

We can’t look to that office anymore for that hope, but it’s there. While so much in the past year was dark, there were many examples of people doing what they could in small and big ways to fight the negativity, fight the cynicism and fight the hate. To wrap up the year, I’m going to write about these people.  These are people and their organizations who in different ways made the world a better place. They got me through the tough times this year and I will continue to look to them to bring us the hope we need to get through the hard times on the horizon.  I listed them as a top 10, the ranking isn't all that important, but it makes it more fun.  

10. Bayley 
The happiest moment I had this year experiencing any kind of entertainment was Bayley’s surprise appearance at WWE’s Battleground PPV in July (yup, we’re talking about professional wrestling here).

I was kind of like this:

(I don’t have the clip of her entrance, but her official Raw debut captures the similar feeling)

Let me back up for a second. One of the only facets of my life I have not written about on this blog is my love of professional wrestling.  The main reasons I got hooked back in after not actively watching professional wrestling for the past five years was Bayley. WWE’s has a show called NXT which is kind of like their minor league. For the past couple years there’s been a group of women on this who who have revolutionized the industry.

When I first started watching wrestling in the early 2000s the woman who wrestled were mostly there for eye-candy. Some of them were as skilled wrestlers as the male wrestlers, but most were not. Woman’s matches were the time that you would get up and get a snack.

These women in NXT changes that. They were called the “Four Horsewomen,” a throwback to one of professional wrestling's greatest staples. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Bank and Bayley made NXT a must watch program with specials that rivaled in excitement to WWE’s PPVs. Each one of these women got called up to the main roster except for Bayley.  So when she showed up at Battleground teasing her eventually call-up to main roster. It felt amazing.

Bayley like the other “Horsewomen,” were as good if not better than many of the other male competitors. They broke new ground throughout 2016 and continued to break down stereotypes around woman wrestlers and woman wrestling. While I respect and enjoy watching the other women, there’s something special about Bayley.

Bayley is kind, optimistic and works hard. She doesn’t give up, and she cares about her fans. She redefines what it means to be a woman in the wrestling industry. Bayley’s proved that you can have a sideways ponytail, dress like a 5th grader, enjoy hugging fans and still kick butt.

I was so overwhelmed with happiness when she entered at Battleground because it validated Bayley’s kindness and hard work. It also validated the goodness in all of us, and was a reminder that if you believe there ain’t no stopping us . . .

It's everything that is in this video and so much more.

9. Sgt. Jessica Hawkins
There have always been boogeymen in our society even before America was a country. These are people who threaten our woman and children who therefore must be controlled, converted, prosecuted and discriminated against.

First it was the Native Americans, then African American Men. Other racial minorities got a turn too. Then there were the homosexuals.  Now that reasonable people in our society have established that homosexuality does not equal pedophilia, the worst amongst have moved on and are now discriminating against people who are transgender.

Sgt. Jessica Hawkins is one of those people.

I heard this news story on NPR on the way to school. I was so effected by what I heard, I pulled over and started taking notes on my phone about what I was hearing.

This story includes Sgt. Hawkins struggle to accept her own need to identify as a woman, losing her wife in the process. While she struggled in many aspects of her life, the one place she found support was with her fellow police officers. She faces harassment from people that she meets walking the street as a police officer, but she believes that this has helped her better serve as an officer. Her experiences have given her more empathy and now she heads a LGBT Liaison Unit to address issues in the LGBT community.

Sgt. Hawkins' fellow police officers looked past prejudice and stereotypes and embraced her identity with pride and support. I don’t think they care what bathroom she uses, so why should we?

When the insecure, and the power-hungry bigots go after the boogeymen; they shine a light on them. Brave people like Sgt. Hawkins come out of the shadows and share their stories in response. People protest, the courts rule against discrimination and we grow as a country, more accepting of plurality and more compassionate for those others would have us fear. It’s a painful cycle, but we always come out the other end with more love in our hearts.

If Sgt. Hawkins is brave enough to walk down the street with her long hair in uniform, then the rest of us can find that courage to be proud of the things that we like about ourselves that don’t fit societies’ expectations.

Sometimes the most heroic thing you can do is to be yourself, fully and openly.   Sgt. Hawkins is doing this every day, she has made her struggle mean something and through her courage, she is making the world a better place by being herself

Monday, December 19, 2016

Parenthood: Week 183 - Joining The Toddlers

When Ollie was a baby and I’d carry him into a family gathering, we would be swarmed. Everyone was excited to see him. People would ask to hold him. Others would gather around and try to hold his little hand or just point out the parts of him that they found most adorable.

Almost everyone would try to make him smile by grinning at him and making silly sounds. Even the most serious people would become goofballs attempting to get a reaction out of him. People wanted to just be near him. It felt great to be welcomed so enthusiastically and to be adored by everyone. I believe that all of those smiles and warmth is one reason Ollie is such a happy person.

This is different now that Ollie is a toddler. When we walking into a room full of family, a couple people will come by to say hello to us and say hi to Ollie but we are no longer swarmed. Ollie sometimes reciprocates these greetings but sometimes doesn’t. While people would spend a lot of time trying to get Ollie to smile as a baby, they are less likely to try to make Ollie smile as a toddler.

People no longer come up to him and want to hold him (I know he’s three, but he’s still a fan of being held and cuddle). Many fewer people try to actively interact with him now that he is a toddler.

I make this observation not to be critical of any people or any group of people but rather to point out an interesting phenomenon. People go crazier over babies than toddlers partially because of evolutionary biology and the adaptions we have made to be incredibly cute as babies, the time when we need others the most for our survival.

The other piece is that we don’t always know what to do with toddlers. A baby is pretty easy for a short interaction. You sit-down, support the head and cuddle it and smile at it. That's it. When you got a walking, talking three-year-old, it can seem a little bit more intimidating. It’s not so bad. It’s just different.

Ollie can have a short conversation, he can laugh at jokes, he can play simple games, and will listen to songs and loves to be read to. He can give a lot more back through social interactions than when he was younger. In many ways, it is a much more rewarding social interaction to play with Ollie now as a three-year-old, than when he was a baby.

Next time you see a toddler, talk to them. Play with them. Find a book and try to read to them. Chances are, most people besides their parents will not be actively paying attention, so give them some of your attention and love. Yes, their little brother is a squishy and smells like baby (which is one of the happiest smells in existence), but toddlers randomly make up dances and songs and this is also awesome.

I believe that every person should hold a baby and change a diaper before they become an adult. I also believe that everyone should play a game, sing a song and dance with a toddler before adulthood.

Next time you are at a party, and you see a toddler on their own playing, join in. The games they are playing may not make any sense and you might have no idea what they are saying, but the time will be just as meaningful or more meaningful than any small talk you will have with other adults at the gathering.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Year 7: Week 16 - Concert Talks

Concert Introduction

Good evening.  Thank you for being with us tonight.

A thought: this is the only time that this exact group of people will be in this auditorium together. This collection of people will be never together ever again.

I bring this up because I want us to take a moment to reflect how special it is that we are all here together, in this space for the purpose of bringing beauty into this world through music. The diversity in this room is inspiring and is something we sometimes take for granted. This night is expression of what is unique, beautiful and wonderful about our school.

The performances you see tonight are acts of courage (you think public speaking is scary? try public singing), acts of giving and acts of fellowship. Let’s honor that and make the people in this auditorium the most important thing in our life for the next hour. These things, your phones, let’s not let them get in the way of our experience together, so please silence them and maybe even put them in airplane mode.

I totally get taking a video of your child on stage. Capture the moment and then bring yourself back to all us so that we can make this night special, together.

You may regret being distracted by your phone and missing a once in a lifetime musical moment, but I promise you will not regret being present and supporting our young musicians with your attention, your love and your pride.

End Of Concert Goodbye

My son is three and we’ve had a couple after school events. These are hard to make happen. Picking up my kid, feeding them, getting to back to school later. This is not an easy task. I’ll be honest; my track record for being on time with these events at my son’s school isn’t fantastic.

I say this because I want to acknowledge that you being here, getting your kids here and fed and ready to perform tonight wasn’t easy. I’ve seen many of you do this many times and I’m in awe of you. Thank you for that effort.

I’m thanking you on behalf of your children. They may not thank you for helping get them ready for this concert tonight and being here to support them, but they do appreciate your effort and your presence. While the most important work we do is during our preparation, your attention and positivity as audience members adds layers of meaning to their work and validates our students’ efforts.

Another thing I’ve learned as a parent, the food is as much us, as it is for the kids. Children, let’s not swarm too quickly. Let your parents get in there too and grab some food.

Have a great night. Take care.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

Parenthood: Week 182 - 3 1/2 Year-Old Milestones

The milestones in toddlerhood aren’t as noticeable as learning how to walk, but they are important and worthy of mention. So here are a couple we’ve noticed lately as our son is now three and a half.

For a while now, Ollie has been able to learn songs that are sung to him like the “ABC” song or songs that he learned in his music class. Other more complicated songs or songs he simply heard recordings of, he could recognize but he wouldn’t pick up. This has started to change. Just from listening to “You’re Welcome” from the Disney film, Moana, Ollie can sing probably 60% of the lyrics. It’s really adorable when the song gets to the rap and Ollie just mumbles his way through it.

Ollie’s favorite song from Hamilton is “Aaron Burr, Sir” and he does a pretty good job picking out louder parts of the rap. When it transitions to “My Shot,” Ollie nails the words “My Shot,” really well and the chanting towards the end of the song.

And the dancing that accompanies his singing, well, let’s just say that he’s working his way up to be a triple threat.

To The Moon
Two nights ago, I was getting Ollie dressed into his pajamas and he pointed to his height chart. On the chart it reads “I love you to the moon and back.” He pointed to “the” and said “the.” I pointed to “to” and he read that as well. Without much help he got “back.” “Moon” took a little bit more work, but before we knew it, he read the entire sentence. I almost cried in joy.

Reading is one of the most important things that Ollie learns how to do. This skill will open up the world to him, help him open up himself to others and nurture his emotional growth and empathy. We read to him all of the time. Lately, he’s been crawling all over me wanting to check out whatever I’m reading. There are times when he asks to read the same book for the third time and I feel tired, but I push through because whenever I get going, I never regret spending that time and effort to share a book with him.

Beyond Twenty
When Ollie asks for things, sometimes I ask him how many he wants. For a while there the highest number he knew was twenty. Our school drop-off ritual ends with him getting twenty hugs. Now he knows thirty and forty (though he hasn’t asked for that many hugs). While it takes him a while to count that high, he’s starting to understand that the world through numbers is larger, more complex and more beautiful in it’s multiplicity.

Here’s the thing. Diana and I don’t drill him on his letters and his numbers. We surround him with toys that let him play with concepts related to counting and reading.  His sense of wonder and inquiry has really blossomed.

Ollie, as you show us what’s inside of you, we feel as Alexander Hamilton sings: “Pride is not the word I’m looking for, there is so much more inside me now.”

Friday, December 9, 2016

Year 7: Week 15 – The Past Month And The How We Find Hope

“I don’t pretend to know the challenges we are facing.”

The past month has been challenging. I got a massive head cold the weekend before (11/5) our 5th grade outdoor education trip and went on the trip anyways even though I wasn’t better. That cold stuck around, got slightly better but a cough remained and I found out two days ago that this cough became pneumonia, and now I’m home taking a sick day.

Things with my students haven’t been bad; there have been no major issues. Lots of little ones but that’s the nature of my job.  None of this is new for me. It’s my seventh year at this school, but my illness combined with this other piece, the results of the election, have added another layer of struggle to my job as a teacher.

We found out the news when we were on the camping trip the morning of Wednesday 11/9. Many of the adults on the trip stayed up after the kids went to sleep and sat is disbelief like most Americans at how the night turned out against our expectations.

The next morning we collected the kids and they all had a sense that we would tell them the results of the election. As one of the teachers started talking about the election, I stood and noticed two girls sitting next to each other. They were holding hands and their hands moved up and down, like they were skipping. When the teacher told them that he had one, their hands tightened around each other and dropped to the ground. The smiles melted from their faces. One girl put her head on the other one’s shoulder. The other girl patted her head gently as she started crying. At that point I had to look away as I felt tears coming to my eyes.

Somehow I kept it together for the rest of the trip, but when I was driving home from the trip, I felt myself falling apart. I wanted to see Ollie but I also dreaded looking in his face and knowing how much we had all let him down. When I entered the house and hugged Diana and Ollie. I completely lost it. I tried to apologize to Ollie through sobs, but I could barely talk. Diana see how distraught I was, wisely took Ollie away to give me some space.

I calmed down a little bit and walked into the kitchen where my mom was, and when I saw her, I lost it all over again. She almost seemed panicked to see me this upset and she asked over and over what was wrong and as I managed to get the words out, “the election,” she pulled me close and I cried, and cried, trembling in my mother’s arms.

I’ve never cried like this before. I’ve never fallen apart over politics or for anything else in my life except for the loss of a loved one.

That moment and the feeling of pain and loss is still with me. I feel my mom’s arms around me, the wetness of the tears, and the strong, powerful look in my mom’s eyes when she told me after I calmed down a little, “I don’t know how to explain this to you, but I can tell you that you are not alone.”

I walk down the hallways of my school and I see my kids and their parents and when I least expect it, I’m back at that moment. I try my best to make the emotions from that moment motivated me to be more kind to my students, to take more time to listen to what they have to say and make a stronger effort to make my school and in turn the world a more accepting, respectful and inclusive world. But it’s hard.

It hasn’t gotten better. Every day the news gets worse. As a teacher it demoralizing that the next secretary of education in charge of our public school system has no experience in the public schools as a student, parent, teacher or administrator.

There are some of you who know exactly how I feel and there are those who probably think I’m just need to get over this and stop whining.  If you are in the latter, please have a conversation who is someone is in mourning this election and do more listening than talking. If you just want to ride us all off as whiners, then you are taking the lead from him and creating a less tolerant and harmonious society.

I don’t know what’s up ahead and how all of this will impact my teaching. I know it strengthened my belief that my primary goal a teacher is not musical but rather to help my students embrace diversity and actively work to ensure the rights of all people.

Yes, journalists are an essential part of our democracy, but so are teachers. It is up to us to educate our student to be positive citizens that make our country a better place. It’s a role that is difficult to learn, and it’s not a role that’s easy to play. However, it’s our blessing and our burden.  Teachers now have to help our children understand this critical part of their lives.

Teaching is harder than ever in America, and as we create citizens, we are also creating hope.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Parenthood: Week 181 - Gilmore Girl & Tea Time

Gilmore Girl

She just kept whining.

Diana took Buffy out for a good walk, we fed her dinner and still, she whined. Maybe it was the falling snow we wondered, but we knew it was something else: Ollie was over at grandma’s house.

Buffy is comfortable being alone in the house or with the whole family. However sometimes when unexpected combinations of people are in the house, she doesn’t always know what to do. This is especially true when Ollie is gone but Diana and me are home. I think she worries that if we are here, than who is with Ollie?

We tried giving her treats, snuggling with her and we even ended up giving her some table scraps, which we rarely do (though Ollie pretty regularly shares his dinner with her, which has required that everything Ollie is fed is safe for dogs). She got an extra walk and was let out in the back but nothing seemed to settle her down.

I had a crazy idea. The previous night we had been watching Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life mini-series and Buffy had relaxed on the couch next to us and became a throw-blanket of puppy relaxation. So I put Buffy on the couch, played the episode we had watched last night and within two minutes Buffy was splayed out on the couch, struggling to keep her eyes open.

Thank you Lorelei and your wanderlust (Buffy relaxed in the part when Lorelei tries to “Wild.”)

Tea Time

Ollie has always enjoyed teatime. He has two tea sets and even though we haven’t had a tea party lately, there was a solid month when his tea sets were his favorite toy. Beyond that time he would periodically pull out his tea set and carefully pour water into his cups and serve little plastic cakes.

Diana and I drink tea daily, so it’s not a surprise that he wants to emulate us. One of Ollie’s common requests is to drink “daddy tea,” and since I exclusively drink herbal, non-caffeinated teas, it’s not a big deal for me to share.

We were having a lazy weekend morning. Ollie got up and I made him breakfast and let Diana sleep in. After Ollie finished his French toast, he asked for some Ollie tea. I poured him some of my tea and put a little cold water in it to cool it down. Ollie climbed up into one of the dining room table chairs and proceeded to talk to me about what was on his mind.

I love talking to Ollie, but he’s not always interested in having a conversation when I am, which is okay, he’s still learning about how to talk to people. Something about the tea and the French toast in his tummy put Ollie in a conversational mood and he opened up to me about school, his friends he liked to play with and his world.

Teas is an important part of my culture.  Maybe there's something in his DNA from his ancestors that connects conversation with the act of drinking tea.  All I know for sure is that I'm always happy to share my tea with my boy.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Year 7: Week 14 – The Best Of 8th Grade

“Mr. Tang, I missed you.”

My 8th grade class meets on Mondays and Fridays. Because of various reasons, including me being away on the 5th grade trip, being sick, in-service days and the World Series (we cancelled school the Friday after they won), I haven’t seen my 8th graders in almost a month.

I started class earlier this week, asking them to raise their hand if I haven’t taught in them in the past month, and after some reflection, all of them of did. One of my trumpet players raised her hand and after I called on her, she said, “Mr. Tang, I missed you.” Thinking that she was being sarcastic, I replied jokingly, “Oh yeah, it’s you. Yeah, I um . . . thought about you.” Then I saw a look of disappointment on her face and realized that she wasn’t joking.

I felt horrible. I apologized to her immediately afterwards and again after class. I completely misread the intent of her comment. Way to go Tang.

Something really special happened in that moment. This student had shed all of her armor and genuinely expressed a feeling that displayed sensitivity and vulnerability. This is something that is difficult for 8th graders, but isn’t impossible.

I like to think that it has something to do with the atmosphere I have set up in my own classroom but I think it has more to do with how my school approaches middle school students.

It takes a lot of deliberate and proactive work to create a middle school space that makes students feel safe enough to be themselves. There is a lot of relationship building that happens inside and outside the classroom and consistently expresses to the students that we believe in them.

Middle school students don’t get a lot of props from our culture and the challenges of being a middle school student have colored most people’s memories of this time in their lives as being mostly negative. Kids sense this, so please be conscientious about how you talk about your own experiences at their age.

They frustrate me and push me but they have the potential to be wonderfully perceptive, empathetic and kind. I believe that the vast majority of middle school students who misbehave aren’t bad, they just don’t have adults around them who believe in their incredible potential for goodness and work to show them the way to make their own lives and the world a better place.

We’ve got an uphill battle. When a person gets an important job and isn't held accountable for his hateful, ignorant, sexist and racist words, the expectations we tell our students can seem unreasonable and silly. However if they know that we care and we model a better way, which engenders a genuine sense of community and kindness, we can be a more powerful force than the worst among us.