Friday, February 22, 2008

Then and Now

In December I read Sesame Street and the Reform of Children's Television by Robert Morrow. It was a great book that talked about the beginnings of the beloved show and how they've been working to improve children's programming ever since. The other night, I started Getting to Sesame Street: Origins of the Children's Television Workshop by Richard Polsky. I am barely a dozen pages in, so I can't tell you much about it yet, but there is something that I've already noticed. So far, they both paint a drastically different picture of Joan Ganz Cooney.

It wasn't until I read the Morrow book that I really understood who Cooney was and what role she played in the Workshop. She is one of the original creators of Sesame Street and founders of the Children's Television Workshop. (She wasn't alone in doing either of these two things, but I am going to talk about how these two books have conveyed her so I'll be focusing on her involvement.) I really liked the Morrow book because he explained the setting that Cooney was working in and the research she did to justify her decisions. I wish I had the book here so I could find some quotes for you, but it has disappeared back into the interlibrary loan system. My impression and what I remember from the book is that Cooney was working against a lot of nay-sayers. People were criticizing head-start programs so the education purposes she wanted were under scrutiny. Parents were up in arms about what the television was doing to their families and the violence it was bringing into their homes. This meant that she was under attack for her choice in medium. Despite that, she wrote grants that funded research that ultimately shaped and justified Sesame Street.

The Polsky book is a little different. Let me share with you a paragraph from the second page.

One evening in February or March 1966 in New York, at a dinner party given by Mr. and Mrs. Cooney, the conversation turned to television. Among the guests that night were Lloyd Morrisett, vice-president of Carnegie Corporation and log associated with the foundation's activities in early childhood education and its more recent interest in television, and Lewis Freeman, director of programming at WNDT. As. Mrs. Cooney recalled that evening, Freedman said he felt television was going to be the great educator of the future. Morrisett then became intrigued with designing a TV series for educating young children and suggested that Carnegie representatives soon meet with Freeman and Mrs. Cooney to discuss in detail television for preschoolers.
That difference has really struck me. In one book she is a heroine standing against criticism and fighting for low-income children. In the other a television show was seemingly handed to her on a sliver platter (or her own china). I don't want to be overly critical of Polsky or call him sexist. I've just started the book, and it was published in 1971. I am just fascinated by my own reaction. I had to actually set the book aside because I was put off by my hero being described as a housewife. I am going to be working woman who also has a husband, children, and dinner parties. In fact, I've thought a lot about how much time I want to take off of work when my children are born. I am not at all put off by the idea of staying home with them while they are babies. If my perception of her is changed this drastically just by reading a second book, won't it be great to actually meet her and see how she conveys herself instead of how other people present her.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Eats, Shoots and Leaves

When my friends recommend books to me, that is usually all it takes to put them on my reading list, but when Eats, Shoots and Leaves was recommended to me, I was reluctant. She's a great friend, but she is also one of those writing people. That is certainly not a bad thing, in fact, I'm a little jealous of those people. In complete honesty though, when a person who uses colons with confidence recommends a book on punctuation, I am not expecting a real page turner. I thought to myself, "Ya, that is something I should probably read." When it was recommended by a respected faculty member, I thought, "Ya know, I should probably buy that. I'm more likely to read it if it is lying around the house." When I finally accepted that I was going to be writing a lot of cover letters this semester, I thought, "Now is the time. Where did I put that book."

I was in for a great surprise. This has been the most entertaining book I have read all year (I'll even say academic year so we can start that back in August.) I was expecting so dry grammar rules and punctuation talk. The first night I was reading this, I laughed so much that my husband came in to see if I was crying. Don't believe me? I don't blame you I was skeptical too. Let me share with you a couple short passages.

"...But to be honest western systems of punctuation were damned unsatisfactory for the next five hundred years until one man - one fabulous Venetian printer - finally wrestled with the issue and pinned it to the mat. That man was Aldus Manutius the Elder (1450-1515) and I will happily admit I hadn't heard of him until about a year ago, but am not absolutely kicking myself that I never volunteered to have his babies."

"If there is one lesson to be learned from this book, it is that there is never a dull moment in the world of punctuation. One minute the semicolon is gracefully joining sentences together in a flattering manner, and the next it is calling a bunch of brawling commas to attention."

"In the family of punctuation, where the [period] is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practices the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets over excited and breaks things and laughs too loudly."

In short, if this is the type of book that will take several recommendations for you to read it, add me to the list of people who are telling you to check it out. It is punctuation for everyone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Six Word Memoir

NPR's Talk of the Nation Interviewed the editors of Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. The idea started with a rumor that Ernest Hemingway was asked to write a story in six words and came up with, "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." I found these fabulous.

Some of the ones that I really loved are:

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in!
- Nikki Beland

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson

On the seventh word he rested.
- Stephen Dubner

A Sundress can cure ones woes

Just let me finish this row.
- Libby

The stories range from funny and general to heartbreaking and personal. I've added mine.

Fairy tales abandoned, dreams coming true.
-Amanda D Allen

What is your six word memoir?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Fuengirola Zoo

My series of European journals is over, but there is one more thing that I would like to share with you: The Fuengirola Zoo. It is a small zoo in the heart of the city, but it feels much larger. There was only one spot in the entire zoo where I could see the high rises outside. It is a cageless zoo, so the animals all looked happy and there were monkeys swinging in the trees above our heads. In the places where we were separated from the animals, it felt much more like we were in a cage than the tiger on the other side of the glass. I haven't found any proof or documentation, but the people in town told us that it was designed by the same people who built Animal Kingdom. What do you think?

Disney's Animal Kingdom:

Fuengirola Zoo:
If you find yourself in Spain and anywhere near Fuengirola, you should definately go see it. It is just a short walk from the bus stop, and a great adventure.

It isn't without cultural differences though. As Mike and I walked the zoo, I decided that I was going to pick up some Fuengirola Zoo coloring books for my friend's triplets. I even considered some cute little monkey stuffed animals if I could convince Mike that we had room in the bags for them. When we walked though gift shop I was surprised to find out that they didn't sell anything at all that said Fuengirola or Fuengirola Zoo on it. Nothing at all. Even the postcards, which were obviously pictures of the animals we had just seen were missing the name and logo on both the front and back. I was disappointed, and I felt like an American consumer.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Silent Poerty Reading

Thanks to the Yarn Harlot, I just discovered that there is a silent poetry reading going on. I don't think I'm breaking the rules, but I am actually going to post a song. Music and poetry are so intertwined, that I don't think I'll be questioned. This song was written for me and about me by the inspiring Rachel Tavares. At the time she was Rachel Hodges, but what hasn't changes is what an incredible woman she is. She was only a part of my life for two weeks, but she completely changed the way I viewed my self. She made me comfortable in my own skin.

Well she's kickin' herself
and she tired of life
and she's asking for more and
maybe she's right
'cause life isn't perfect
but it can get damn close.

So she's up every mornin'
and working from dawn
Tryin' to better herself and
she's moving on
There's hell at her back door
and she keeps it locked down tight.

And she screams:
What do you do when ambition's up late?
What do you do when you can't even think straight?
I filled up my damn plate hours ago
and now there's overflow
but I keep piling on.

So she looks in the mirror
and she puts on her face
and she brushes her hair as
she curses this place
Just gotta keep movin'
Can't stand to waste her time.


So she's runnin
there's no use denying it
nobody's hiding it
it's nothing but fact.
She's stunning
clad in success dreams
the rarest of life's themes
the underdog wins.


6-3-07 Malaga

I know that Spain was not part of the trip that I have to report back on, but I do want to say something about it. Spain is the first place that I truly felt uncomfortable and out of place. First, it was not visitor/stranger friendly. There were no signs anywhere. Not in the stations. Not in the streets. Not even in the lobbies of tourist heavy buildings. I'm not talking about the beautiful multilingual with diagram signs that I had gotten use to everywhere else. I'm talking about signs in general. There were none anywhere; not even in Spanish. In addition to that, it was the first place that I looked different. I've written about my excitement when I may have blended in, I think it would be much harder here. The people we encountered before we got to the resort were shorter with dark hair, dark eyes, and darker skin. This white skinned red-head was clearly out of place.

Friday, February 01, 2008

6-1-07 Paris

While we were at the Louvre we saw a troupe of performers signing. I would guess that it was a dress rehearsal because they kept starting and stopping, but since I didn't know what they were saying, I can't say for sure. I've taken some sign language, and I had hoped that I might understand some of it since American Sign Language was developed by a man who spoke French Sign Language. Unfortunately, I couldn't get enough to confirm that what I did get was right. Something about the whole scene struck me though. I wouldn't be surprised to see community performances at a museum in the states, but I was surprised to see it there. I kind of felt like, "This isn't just a museum: this is the Louvre for goodness sake." It's hard to explain why I felt they shouldn't be there. I think it had more to do with the Louvre than the performers. It just seems like this great entity that is stoic and static; not a lively changing place where something as fleeting as a performance takes place.

I have a confession to make. After everyone left us in Paris, Mike and I had an American indulgence. We went to a theater on the Champs-Elysees and saw Pirates of the Carribean (in English to boot). I decided it was ok because if we were to move to Europe and fully immerse ourselves in a foreign culture, I would still want to see Disney movies.