Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A cookie sandwich of cool

Two cool experiences today, with a row sandwiched in the middle.

The first, a visit to two of my friend Sam's sixth-grade classes where he teaches music. I got to be the guest and thus interviewed by the kids. The 12-year-old South Boston charter school, serving grades 5 to 12, has a simple mission: to get its kids to college. I didn't get hard numbers, but in talking to an 11-year-tenure teacher, it's apparently succeeding. There's a lottery to get in (the only requirement is that the kids live in Boston), and its standardized scores are good and rising.

Schools are a fascinating, entertaining world, especially for those of us who don't live a daily existence there. The kids were great. They asked interesting questions that I won't be able to remember the bulk of, but about me, my life, my interests, my work, my challenges, my family ... and whether I liked stuffed artichokes (that was one of my favorites). They grilled me a little on leaving my job -- why hadn't it worked? With a follow-up question to let me know that the convenient adult phrase "it wasn't a good fit" just wasn't going to fly in these kids' serious reality.

As for the creme-filling row between the cookies of the day's experiences, it was one where I debated turning around most of the the way out. It was a split personality day where the sun was brightly shining, sky was blue blue blue, and it was cold. A breeze was running, not terrible, but enough to make me think about turning back every mile or so. And then I would hit a patch of river silk, and find myself unable to stop, not yet, then a gust of wind and roughed-up water, OK, maybe I should, then more irresistible glide. I stopped at the mark for a 6-mile roundtrip and basked in the sun, the stillness of the river. A squirrel busily foraged near the waterline, ducks floated on the surface, a few bottom-up doing their own foraging. The way back offered a lot more smooth water for glide, more warmth, much less wind, but this time, I knew what waited on the other side if I were tempted to add more miles. Two bridges away from the boathouse, a flock of geese flew low overhead, a formation of seven.

The bottom-layer cookie was a new book reading for The Good Men Project. Two of the contributors were in attendance, one a man who was adopted from a NY orphanage when he was two, with two other siblings adopted from Korea. He was a former Army Ranger who survived his sister's suicide, his recovery from addiction, and subsequent transformation into a yogi, a husband and a father. The other contributor was a poet with braids; he shared his memories as a child listening to the women in his mother's beauty salon, how it cast an impression of what male-female relationships were and set the stage for some of his beliefs about relationships and gender that took a little work and releasing/reformulating later in life.

Both contributors were entertaining, well-spoken and inspiring, as were the book's editors who were also present. They've presented the book in NY and Boston and will go to LA next week to continue a dialog about what it means to be a good man in our world and the work that needs to be done yet. They recently took the book to Sing Sing prison and shared stories with life-sentence convicted murderers, realized their commonalities, found unexpected compassion. It was awesome. Oh, and proceeds of the book go to a foundation to help at-risk men and boys mainly, but girls as well. Check it out at www.goodmenproject.com. Inspiring stuff.

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