Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Making of A.D.D./A.D.H.D. another perspective besides the Savannah analogy & techology


The Making of A.D.D./A.D.H.D.

I want to offer another perspective on the origins of this much diagnosed disorder, besides the Savannah analogy and the effect of technology, both old “saws” recently offered in an NY Times Opinion piece.  The Savannah theory holds that the DNA of those with the disorder is really a genetic throwback to hunters, whose”hyper” qualities […]
I want to offer another perspective on the origins of this much diagnosed disorder, besides the Savannah analogy and the effect of technology, both old “saws” recently offered in an NY Times Opinion piece.  The Savannah theory holds that the DNA of those with the disorder is really a genetic throwback to hunters, whose”hyper” qualities enhanced survival. The effect of technology, speeding up young minds, an occasion for hand-wringing, has no change in sight.
I want to underscore some practical history. At the end of the 19th century, many schools started girls in kindergarten at 5 and boys at 7. Now we know the part of the brain that governs understanding of social systems develops later in boys. Without the capacity to scan brains, educators observed that boys were “fidgety,”better able to deal with school at at a later age. Rather than assuming it was a deficit in boys, the schools made requirements fit children.
Consider also that great 20th century classic, Tom Sawyer, a figure Twain considered the prototypical American boy with the restless entrepreneurial spirit of his young country. Tom Sawyer was more than fidgety, he lied and swore, he cut class, and, when there disrupted it–behind his teacher’s back. Today, he would be drugged for ADD/ADHD, he would be in “special” classes and in therapy for defiant behavior syndrome. His behavior would be considered off the “normal” chart and perhaps on the autistic scale, because of his constant collections of bottle caps, rocks, whatever he could trade.
In the mid 20th century, before the diagnosis and labeling of children for easier classroom management, there were dedicated teachers who went into the profession with the idea of reaching every child in a classroom–no matter how difficult or disruptive. The movie, “To Sir With Love” was a popular 1960’s tale of a black teacher in a hard-luck English classroom, who inspired kids to turn their lives around..
My great aunt, a public school teacher until the late 1970’s, considered the “bored” and alienated her biggest challenge. Before retiring, she lamented that the student teachers, who worked with her, were schooled to teach a very narrow segment of kids and to refer for evaluation all who posed challenges. As the medical and educational sectors merged, children who did not fit the narrow categories for success–based mostly on academic progress–learned to think of themselves as not just failures but disabled people, who had to be “fixed” with drugs.
Consider the late 1960’s, when the U.S. battled Russia in the space race. Money was poured into science after-school programs. There were garage computer labs, which acted as  incubators for the innovative science that became our computer industry. And of course, many of the kids, who lived for after school, were “bored” in school. There was also money for art, drama and music now rare in public schools–though sports continues as the accepted outlet in wealthier districts.

inside of classroom
In 2014, we have schools increasingly focused on academics with conformity to the Common Core. There is scarce money for Art, Music, Science that’s inspiring. Though it’s been shown that kids, when engaged emotionally, can do intellectual work to equal adults, they are considered unusually “gifted.” Instead kids that don’t conform are labelled and treated, and their potential is compromised. Worse yet, anxiety, which is very common, is often misdiagnosied as ADD/A.D.H.D. Very few schools, where referrals are made by teachers with little psych training, and psychologists/psychiatrists, do brain scans to confirm this diagnosis.

And the stimulants used for ADD/A.D.H.D. are a disaster for kids who actually have anxiety. But rather than thinking of alternatives to drugs, when classroom management is the main goal, psychiatrists proscribe “toppers” to calm them down. Though the drugs often come with suicidal thoughts and are admitted to block creative thought, specifically drawing ability, this cocktail is widely disseminated.

So where does our next generation of innovators come from to invent new industries and inspire a skilled work force? Not in a United States, where a generation of children suffer the stigma of labels. Worse yet, little research has been done on the long-terms affect of drug cocktails on growing brains. Managing a classroom for convenience is a choice that has impoverished the lives and futures of children, their families, and our nation. You have only to look at The Economist’s comparison of the U.S. and Britain, where only 2 out 10 boys are diagnosed to the U.S.’s staggering 8 out of 10. In Britain, the treatment is cognitive therapy, in the classroom and home, with a 98%  success rate.
Susan I. Weinstein, author and playwright, is working on a new play, “The Making of ADD/ADHD.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

MY FAVORITE THINGS, Maira Kalman's delightful curated life, inspired by The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

Maira Kalman is a phenomenonal author/illustrator, painter, whose work is loved by both adults and children, with the categories often overlapping. Whether her story's about a fireboat or the Alphabet, she narrates the fantastic in the everyday world. In MY FAVORITE THINGS (Harper Design) she paints scenes that tickle our imagination with an ironic wit and affection for the secret lives of objects.

What a brilliant idea for The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to invite her to choose objects from the Museum's more than 200,000 pieces for its inaugural exhibit. Kalman chose more than 40 objects which can be viewed in the Music Room of The Carnegie Museum. Her book weaves these objects into a story of Kalman's life made vivid with more than 50 paintings.

Maira Kalman begins with her family's fairy tale story. Her painting shows her mother drowning in a river in a Russian village  She's saved by her father's very long beard. That same wonder and fear is present in a painting of Kalman's father, in an impeccable suit, falling several stories from an apartment balcony. Miraculously, he's unhurt--right before they move to New York. He becomes a diamond merchant and she shows the serious black case he took to work. She segues from his collection to the story of Nellie and Sally Hewiit, vivacious and eccentric sisters, who began collecting when it was  the rage.

This sets up Kalman's purpose of telling stories with objects, beginning with her childhood, as she makes sense of life through smells, tastes, and sights--nature, rooms, people and their objects. Her selected objects are worked into the story with segues that are great fun. Kalman's method is lateral or associative thinking over linear. An object is associated with something that looks or feels similar. She quotes Pablo Neruda's 1959 :Ode to things." "I adore cups, rings, soupspoons, not to mention, of course, the hat.".

The hat Kalman paints is from Egypt's 13th or 14th centuries, quilted and embroidered, made of gilt parchment. It leads you to incredible stiff white hats, soaring above heads from postcards of ancient Normandy. The shape of these hats leads you the Kylix, painted earthenware from Greece, 800 BC,  And the pattern is is akin to the geometric pattern on fabric from Knoll in 1947, which relates to the design of "Loopy" Kantharos, an Italian vase from 6th century BC, There's a visual logic that associates this with the famous angular zigzag chair of 1934.

A favorite segue of mine is her  link between a sensationally ornate scribble from Holland in 1529 to a square modernist bracelet  and Fred Sandacher's square room divided with string. A similar logic occurs, when the reader goes from a scallop shape to a girl in a pink scallop dress on a lawn, that could be Kalman. She asks "What happens when you stand a long time? You get tired." This leads to the bed, "Whoever invented the bed was a genius.
When you get up from bed, get dressed in pants and socks and shoes.

This ends to a vintage wall pattern, showing a room with a bed and clothes to patterns of shoes. The Shoes are long and thin, curvy and ornate, royal and common, fanciful and elegant. You get the idea of different ways shoes,"give the ability to walk from one point to another, the glory of life. And after the walk you probably will be hungry, you will want to eat something," and of course we see a perfectly lovely inscribed silver spoon--with Wimpy's eternal plea from a Popeye cartoon,"If you buy me a hamburger today, I will gladly repay you Tuesday."

Kalman also looks at more serious objects, such as the Pall that covered Abraham Lincoln's coffin, wondering at how someone made the decision to add fringes. Feelings, somber or flights of fancy, can be guessed at, beneath the surface of what we collect. Kalman's book offers an artist's meditation on the part of our objects in our lives. Profound or silly, practical or luxurious, functional or decorative, Kalman's FAVORITE THINGS fit her criteria that the pieces be based on one thing only--a gasp of delight.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Prince of Los Cocuyos, poet Richard Blanco's funny, heart-wrenching memoir of growing up Cuban American in Miami

In poet Richard Blanco's funny and heart-wrenching memoir, THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS: A Miami Childhood (Harper Collins) young Riqui is a Cuban American boy in the Miami of the 1970-80's. He wants to fit in but knows he's faking it at home and in school.  In school, he's the smart "hoosky" (as his mother says) kid, who's good at writing and art. When he helps his teacher decorate for Easter, he finds just the right color combinations and cotton for bunny tails. But praise of his creativity elicits derision from his peers. At home his Abuelo, his grandmother, knows creative equals "muchaco," a word more insulting than gay. So young Riqui learns to hide his talents.

Naturally, Riqui is conflicted about his Abuelo, who acts like his worst enemy but can be most generous. He admires her clever frugality, the penny pinching that enabled his family to get out of Cuba. In Miami, she turns bargains into cash and works as a bookie. When his working mother assigns Abuelo the task of buying food and cooking meals, Riqui's enlisted to help with his American English and his bicycle. Though her goal is to eat Cuban in a Yanqui world, Riqui lures her to the American pleasures of the Winn Dixie. Though they agree that Cheese Whiz is a great invention, Riqui's  major problem remains--Abuelo's fierce desire to make him an "hombre."

When all the kids in art class are hooking rugs from kits, not only won't she buy him one but she confiscates one he buys with his own money--despite its macho Tiger image.. Later, she provides funds for the family to go to Disneyland, but is unhappy Riqui wants not only to go inside Cinderella's castle, but to put on her slipper. Though much of his childhood is spent getting around her efforts to make him a perfect Cuban male, Riqui does explore his own American dreams. He plans an American Thanksgiving Turkey dinner with yams and turkey but it doesn't happen in the style of the Waltons. His relatives politely eat turkey but heartily consume pork brought "just in case" and end the meal in a Cuban congo line.

With Riqyui's best friend Julio  new freedom enters his life. Abuelo considers him properly macho, so she looks the other way at their late hours and  loud American music. Still Riqui finds it increasingly difficult to square his American aspirations with his parents' somewhat claustrophobic Cuban community. He's gripped with alienation, a sense of not belonging to either place. Then, on a family vacation, he finds solace with a Jewish octogenarian/ at their broken down hotel. Though his mother and Abuela are furious at the strange attachment, Riqui learns from the Queen of the Copa, a WWII survivor, who's "not from anywhere,"

Then, because Abuelo feels he's too soft, Riqui's given a summer job at his uncle's Cuban Supermarket run by his aunt. Once a beautiful educated Cuban "debutante," she presides over the market, a queen in polyester. Riqui is happy she appreciates his competence, taste, and that he's developing into a fine young man. As they come to respect each other, she allows him to do intricate displays and show off the fine wines. Yet he's aware that the market, like his aunt and his parents,is stuck in the Cuba of the 1950's.

From more  recent immigrants, he learns about the immense poverty in Cuba and the harsh effects of the police state. His parents' world of  mansions and money, culture and education is long gone. Yet their community celebrates extravagant festivals, such as The Quinces, the 15's. When Riqui is recruited to play the "prince" in one, he enjoys the pageantry but feels peculiar about having so little attraction to his beautiful young senorita. He fights recognition of his  real sexual stirrings, unacceptable to both cultures. Then, working at the market, he meets an artist from Havana and admits to himself that he feels emotions for this man he's supposed to feel for women.

The artist reassures him that some day he will "grow into being different." Riqui also realizes, through the friendship, that the world outside his Cuban enclave will value his creative abilities. He doesn't have to pretend to like dead pigs, he can be himself. But first he must leave the warm insular world that nurtured him.

Though this is a poet's memoir, Blanco was named Inaugural poet, I was most moved by his tangible images. Soft silly chicks in his Miami backyard, a cotton bunny tail on construction paper,the pulpy texture of plantains, the glitter of Cinderella's castle, labels of wine bottles made of elegant whirls, the feel of water on erotically charged skin, a portrait that exactly reproduces the line of his nose. Blanco's imagery is palpable. Words and dialogue are simply the mind catching up with the beauty of his senses.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Down Under by Sonia Taitz is a farcical look at serious romance, when true love arrives--the second time around.

DOWN UNDER by Sonia Taitz (McWitty Press, Nov.11) is a farcical look at serious romance. Jude Pincus is not a heroine for the faint-hearted middle-ager. She's the Joan of Arc of bustiers and stilettos, a martyr for true love. Sadly, the man of her dreams, and the man who shares her bed, are equally missing from her life.  Judy teaches creative writing part-time and has two twin teen-aged sons, so she's not exactly idle but there is time on her hands.

She's trying to figure out how she arrived at this place in her life, where she's not essential to those she cares about.  Without that connection, she thinks, what is she but a pathetic creature alone with her worries?  Among these is her husband, busy rebuilding his fortunes with the perfect tubular pasta. His import business allows him to gallivant all over Italy with brief sojourns at home. Then there's her twins The popular outgoing son is in boarding school, while his studious brother at home never leaves his room.  Jude worries about his isolation, strange eating habits and whether he really is on the autism scale. .

Unlike her husband, Jude doesn't mind  coming down in the world. Their cottage boasts the relief of a blue plastic pool. As the story begins, she floats, musing like a female Prufrock, about what lies ahead in a life that no longer suits her, and what might have been. Her early life had great promise. She was a good student and daughter. Yet her very sense of duty had led to her greatest loss, a love she still treasures--Jude's exalted "what might have been."

DOWN UNDER intersperses Jude's present with her youth, age 15, when Collum Whitsun, a beautiful, wounded boy, became her forever love. Like Romeo and Juliet they were studying in English, she and Collum were from feuding families. His father was of an extreme Christian faith, who believed in rigor--beatings of his sons. Jude's father was a holocaust survivor, who believed Jude owed it to the martyred to marry within her faith. While neither Jude or Collum had strong beliefs, they both suffered fathers of inflexible belief and mothers, whose primary faith was to go along with their spouses. One traumatic night, all was lost and Collum suddenly disappeared.

Jude's world also includes her "perfect" neighbor Heidi, tidy and attractive, in her person and her house, who's created a successful home business based on her tasty cuisine of pure food. What's not perfect about Heidi is her husband, who quit his job, and her hostile, mess of a daughter. Jude, who is her writing teacher, is well aware that Heidi's daughter wants her dead. While she's alarmed, she also is weary of Heidi's understated disapproval of her sloppiness, lack of a "life," complaints about her husband, and her weird son. Jude senses that Heidi's "friendship" may be rooted in her feelings of superiority.

In a kind of inspired desperation, akin to a device in a Moliere farces, Jude opens a FB account and searches for Collum under his real name, not his movie star one. When his crazy father moved the family to an isolated Aussie station, Collum burnished his tan and musculature. With his light blonde hair, deep blue eyes with yellow flecks,Collum rose to his destiny as an international film star. Now divorced from his wife, hiding from his agent, Column is also looking for his Juliet. He immediately responds to Jude's message. But still a dutiful wife, she retreats, after declaring love. And to win her, her the actor resorts to disguise.

A cowboy, named Shy, with a falling moutache shows up at a riding camp and strikes up a friendship with Jude's son. Later, a Hasidic Rabbi shows up at her house. At first put off by the Yiddish speaking, cliche Judaism of the man, Jude finds herself moved by long-forgotten prayers, that remind her of her deceased father.As the Rabbi continues to visit, Jude's bizarrely attracted to him.

Eventually, Jude and Collum find each other. All the thwarted passion of their youth
erupts in white cloth, in the pool, and in the bedroom, Like any bedroom farce, they are caught by her son, yet continue with zest in seedy motels, then with less passion in better hotels. Fulfillment isn't all it's cracked up to be and in this novel proves to be something else entirely.

This is a book that you keep reading, turning the pages, thinking, is that "really" going to happen?  A good glass of wine and suspended disbelief are all you need for a good time.