Sunday, September 24, 2017

#SOL17: Kneel Down

"We Have Chosen Hope Over Fear" (Reilly, 2012)

I. 

The day after Barack Obama won the presidency in November 2008, Rob, Devon, and I were eating dinner at a local diner when I looked up at an image of the newly elected President on a FOX News telecast and snapped a photo.  At the time I wasn't sure what I planned to do, but I knew I wanted to work the image into a collage. As I worked our flag began to emerge alongside images of children and young people I had taught across many years. Like so many others, I too felt strongly that "we had chosen hope over fear." The flag symbolized that hope. I remember Rob and I believing that our flag was a beacon that called attention to what was possible. Thomas Paine in Common Sense wrote, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right" (p. 25). It was time, well past time, to set right what was and remained so very wrong. Not all  were treated equally, justly, equitably. As white parents to a child of color, we took hope that night that given the vote, other white people in this country finally understood that healing racial injustice was the most important step forward we could make as a country.  If we failed to do this, we placed in peril these United States. 

And now, nearly a decade later, that peril feels palpable. We are a long way from that night when a young Barack Obama and so many of us felt proud, and believed that perhaps America was ready, interested, and committed to heal our racial injustice.  That hope has grown dim these last few years. Now, we are led by a man, who at the very least, is highly sympathetic with white nationalists, who bates Americans to hate other Americans on a weekly basis, and who behaves as the bully of the country.  Our president, Donald Trump does not act like a man who loves America. Loving America and its people is the foundation upon which all other presidential responsibilities rest.

II.

The national anthem and the US flag represent many ideals for citizens, ideals that some have even died for and these beliefs aren't singular, nor are they owned. What America means has never been a simple or singular belief, nor should it. Democracies are far more complex. 

Being a patriot ought to involve some self-sacrifice and that's what the young quarterback at that time playing for San Francisco did. Sacrifice. Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest when the national anthem played. He explained, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." In kneeling down, he stood up and did so at potential personal harm. Unsigned, the talent remains in the wings this season as President Trump rallies his mostly white, Southern audiences by calling black athletes, like Kaepernick who kneel when the anthem is played sons of bitches.

Last week President Trump went to Alabama and said this to a crowd of followers:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

Imagine, an old, white rich guy bating a hoard of white people at a "rally" by saying that his NFL team-owner friends (other mega-wealthy men) could be the most popular people in the country by firing black athletes for exercising the very rights that flag symbolizes.  Now consider that the man spewing such hate is the man elected to protect our basic ideals and frankly the only thing I am left wondering is why aren't we all kneeling down?  



Monday, September 18, 2017

#SOL17: Healing with Art

 Call and the Birds Will Come


I. 

A friend, Heidi, recently returned to school to study art therapy. I was delighted for her as this seems like a very good fit. I have no doubt she will be terrific. Thinking about art therapy led me to also think how for the last 19 months I painted most every day and in doing so I began to heal.

As some of you have remarked, the last few months black birds seem to have flown in and out of most of my paintings.  Another art friend, Jim, asked today why there were birds in so much of my work. I told him I was not completely sure why the birds are flying in and out, but I feel better knowing they are there. I also realized that the last section of the memoir I am writing has the subtitle, Wild Birds Rising. I suspect there is a connection. Perhaps the birds are spirits.


II.

A few weeks ago, my friend Jane's sister, Susan, died. The birds showed up again in force right after her death.  I didn't realize until this evening that her death affected me.  For the last two weeks I have been feeling down, revisiting the sadness I felt months after Rob died. Susan was three months older than Rob. Both were far too young to die. Last year, I spent a week with Susan in North Carolina at the beach and the beginning of August I had the opportunity to visit with her while I was in North Carolina taking an art class. Some people I've know forever and others have come in and out of my life briefly and yet profoundly touched it.  That was the kind of person Susan was.  She profoundly touched lives by simply being herself.

Some days I think the birds are those spirits that carry away pain. Some days I think the birds are the departed who find ways to wing back to this world.


III.

For me, painting reveals new ways of naming and feeling--ways I am often not aware of in a codified manner.

I sense knowing. '

Edward Hopper explained how the language of art opens us in ways that words simply do not.  He wrote, “If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”

Here are a few of my new paintings.


How I See You (acrylic, collage, pencil, Tombow markers, gesso, digital remix)

Prayer  (acrylic, Tombow markers, pencil, digital remix)

Through a Window (acrylic, gesso, pencil, digital remix) 

Tangled (acrylic, ink, pencil, digital remix) 


Self Portrait  with Black Birds (Photograph, paint, transfer, acrylic)

A few art therapy links (Activities and books)


Here's a link to 100 Art Therapy exercises. Does anyone want to take some of these on? I am going to try to work my way through the list.

Here are 20 art therapy ideas that also looks good.

Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul

Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#SOL17: A Crazy Woman in Ringwood, NJ


Last night my son and I were coming home around 9:30 and a car coming off an Interstate pulled in behind us and talegated our car for the 15 minutes it took to arrive at home. We live at the end of a dead end street and the car not only followed us up our long hill, but also drove right in behind us in our driveway. I got out of our car and approached the two-toned sport utility vehicle, like a Suburban, to ask if the driver needed help. A woman in her 40s or 50s was driving.

"Do you need some help?" I asked, approaching the front passenger side of the car. The window was opened and I could see the driver quite well.
"Who is in the car with you?" she asked aggressively.
"Who are you and why are you in my driveway?" I asked.
"Someone in a car like that destroyed my property."
"My son is in the car. We did not destroy any property." By then, Devon had also gotten out of the car.
"Oh, I see his face. That's not him," she said contritely.
"Are you crazy?" I asked.
"I'm sorry I bothered you," she mumbled.
"Lady, what you're doing isn't simply a bother. You pursued us. That's aggressive and wrong."
Devon and I watched her back out of our driveway and then I went inside to report the incident to the police. 

It was disconcerting to have some crazy woman pursue us with the aim of confronting us about something we knew nothing about. What's very odd though was that it was a chance encounter, given that she had just come off of a highway and that is how she ended up behind us and we were miles from our home. Also, my son drives a very common car, a black Ford Fusion, hardly a unique car.

It made me wonder if Devon and I needed to fear having her return during the night, but I decided not to get caught up in this woman's craziness. I did call the police and reported what I knew and gave the dispatcher my home address. The encounter also made me wonder about the vigilante sentiment that Trump and his followers seem to embrace. Is this part of making American Great Again? Vigilantes driving around the streets? How bold and foolish this woman was to drive down our driveway. How entitled she seemed to feel and certainly acted.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#SOL17: Saying No to Best Practices



(M.A.Reilly, 2017)


I woke up this morning and realized that I am tired of best practices. In education and otherwise. Every fall with the startup of school comes the ads, tweets, and posts for best practices of this and that. It's like some absurd Seuss riddle and frankly it is well past time to say no to the whole idea of a best practice in learning. It cannot exist. The logic is flawed.

To me the use of the word, best, is an example of foolish coding.  Place that adjective before any noun and it is likely an invitation to think that the matter has been determined. When used in education to connote a practice, it begs the question why someone or group would want to reduce discussion about learning and variables and anomalies. It also belies context. How could any one practice simply be best? For whom? In what situation?

Kurt Godel's Incompleteness theorem told us that best as the exclusive correlative of excellence was simply not possible. There is always that which does not fit neatly within a given set. I wonder if we might do better to consider the exception rather than the comfortable fit? 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

25 Books that Helped Me To Notice

from The Poetics of Space.


I wish I knew you. I wish I could stand for a moment in that corridor of craft and doubt where you will spend so much of your time. But I don’t and I can’t. Eavan Boland, A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet (p. 249). 

Under my childhood bed were boxes of writing--mostly poems. None survive to this day. On the walls of my childhood bedroom were images I painted. On the radiator were plants. And on the shelves were books. A large part of being a writer is listening and noticing. Below are a handful of books that have helped me to notice differently, listen attentively. Some are fiction, most not.

What books help you live more wide awake?



  1. Bachelard, Gaston. (1958/2014). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Classics.
  2. Bateson, Mary Catherine. (2010). Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. New York: Knopf.
  3. Berger, John & Jean Mohr. (2011). Another Way of Telling. New York: Vintage.
  4. Berry, Wendell. (1996). The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture. Sierra Club Books.
  5. Boland, Eavan. (2011). A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet. New York: W.W. Norton.
  6. Carse, James. (1986). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: The Free Press. 
  7. Danticat, Edwidge. (2011). Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. New York: Vintage.
  8. Diaz, Junot. (2012). This is How You Lose Her. New York: Riverhead.
  9. Dillard, Annie. (2013). Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, Revised Edition. New York: Perennial.
  10. Gaiman Neil. (2013). The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Audio CD. New York: William Morrow. (I could listen to him read for weeks and weeks.)
  11. Heaney, Seamus. (1997). The Spirit Level: Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
  12. Heaney, Seamus. (2011). Human Chain: Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 
  13. Heat-Moon, William Least. (2012). Blue Highways: A Journey Into America. New York: Little Brown & Company.
  14. hooks, bell. (1997). Bone Black: Memoirs of a Girlhood. New York: Holt.
  15. Kawabata, Yasunari. (1972/2006). Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. Translated by Lane Dunlop. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  16. Lewis, C.S. (2009). A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins.
  17. McCarthy, Cormac. (2007). The Road. New York: Vintage.
  18. Merton, Thomas. (1979). Love and Living. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  19. Morrison, Toni. (2008). What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
  20. Oliver, Mary. (2006). Thirst. New York: Penguin.
  21. Rich, Adrienne. (2002). The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001 New York: W.W. Norton.
  22. Ruefle, Mary. (2017). On Imagination. Brooklyn, NY: Sarabande Books.
  23. Rumi, Jalal al-Din. (2010). The Essential Rumi. Translated by Coleman Barks. New York: HarperCollins.
  24. Solnit, Rebecca. (2010). A Field Guide To Getting Lost. New York: Penguin.
  25. Whyte, David. (2015). Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. May Rivers Press: Langley, WA.


from On Imagination.