Michael Rosen

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February 2010 Archives

It's snowing here in New York...
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I've been riding my bike across town. That's my bike, the red one.
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Everyman, my normal coffee spot, is closed. I came back east, past Mary Help of Christians church on 12th Street, which the Archdiocese has slotted to close - they're apparently open now only for Sunday mass.

Last night, I met the parents' group at Brooklyn Friends School, where our 17 year old Morgan still goes, from where Ripton graduated. A spoke about What Else But Home, read a short section, and one woman asked what I've learned.

I've learned a great deal. I remembered Emanual Levinas, the French philosopher, speaking about Cain and Abel. Cain kills and buries Abel. God asks Cain where his brother might be. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain asks God.

Most interpretations castigate Cain for mocking God in his answer. Levinas says no. Cain isn't mocking God. Cain is asking a question of ontology, of existence, devoid of ethics. Am I responsible for my brothers and sisters, for my fellows?

Yes, Levinas answers. We are each responsible for each other, "and I more than anyone else."

This asymmetry is captivating to me. It is poetry. It is beautiful and impossible and a brave way to live.

Michael is kneeling in the snow. Often opening his arms to the sky, "Hail Mary full of grace...."
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The church is closed...
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Michael asked me to join him.
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I told him I couldn't. I told him I'm not Catholic. I didn't describe my bad knees. I left. A little while later I went back and knelt beside him. Joined with him. I watched the snow fall. I listen to Michael pray. I wanted to honor his invitation. To care more about the sanctity we share than the differences we define.


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Yesterday, in Midtown Manhattan, I realized too clearly what's wrong in America right now, and what could be more right....

This is the HUGE Midtown storefront from Diesel...
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There was more, another or other windows, more corporate "Be Stupid" encouragements.

In my C-SPAN Book TV After Words interview, John Hope Bryant quoted his mentor, Quincy Jones, saying that America has spent the past couple decades "dumbing down", making "stupid" cool... So here it is. Gosh, is global warming understandable with "be stupid", or getting past racism and class discrimination?, is job creation achieved with "be stupid" ? I'm just not sure.

So John Hope Bryant said we need to spend the next decades making "smart" the next cool. Dr. King would agree, I think. I do. My heroes now are people like Bill Strickland, Dr. Harvest Collier, at Missouri S&T Jeff Rickey at Earlham, Jim Donathan at Elon, Sidney Bridges at Brooklyn Friends School, because they aren't allowing things to dumb down. Something about Quakers, too. Quaker places.

We can't dumb down. It's a crisis.

And this.... !
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The Peninsula Hotel. A grand fancy expensive luxury delux hotel. Fifth Avenue. I locked my bike up on the scaffolding in front of the hotel and went in yesterday, to see if one of my sons was there. His part time job. The hotel keeps many workers on part time so they don't have to offer medical and other benefits. But that's a story for another time...

Yesterday, walking in, the doorman stopped me and asked if I was delivering something - I was wearing my bike helmet, my pant legs rolled up, my windbreaker....

"No," I answered.

"Are you delivering a message to a guest? The delivery entrance is around the block."

He was much younger than me, well dressed in his doorman uniform, African-American.

I assured him I wasn't delivering anything, just trying to say hello to my son.

On the way out, I went up and shook his hand. "It must be a hard job, for you, treating someone like a second class citizen," I said, smiling.

"It's just the rules," he said.

"I know. I don't mean you. But why do you think people here are afraid to see someone working? Why does someone working have to go hide in an invisible entrance?"

And I realized. We don't make much in this country anymore. We don't make automobiles competitively. We don't make garments. We don't make electronics. We don't make much furniture, or sheet rock, or steel.

You'd think, maybe, if we INSISTED people who WORK, dressed in their work clothes, HAD to walk through the front door of luxury hotels, were CELEBRATED, if we were NOT ashamed and embarrassed by anyone really WORKING, maybe we'd be a heck of a lot better off?

Maybe?

I'm simplifying things. I'm naive. Romantic.

"You biked here, sir, to deliver a message to someone? Come in, can I help you?"

Shame on us. For glorifying stupid, for insulting work. Just a day in New York.

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A photo of me and Judy Bernstein at our Denver First-Year Experience table...

I've been lucky to meet extraordinary people - educators, writers, administrators - dedicating their lives to good things.

The depth of being here ---- honest conversations (that give me hope) about race, class, family, parenting, fathering & opportunity in America. Harvest, and his wife Shirley, I will write more. My eyes are continuously opened.

Judy & me at our table:
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David Leslie helped me with my poster, than Valeria Patterson.

And:
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And these guys from the Penfield business center here were so kind. Mike & Tom, and all the people there...
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I stole...
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I'm at the First-Year Experience Conference. Judy Bernstein and I begin our Trade Show booth today. We're vendors. Other authors parade at their "COME TO THE AUTHOR DINNER!" (Penguin) and tango at a "MEET OUR AUTHORS AT LUNCH!" (Random House) but Judy and I are here for the duration. We're here to meet and talk and truly be here. PublicAffairs has graced us each with two boxes of our books, which costs each of us nearly $150 just to get out of drayage. Yes, there's a business of "drayage."

The conference is in the Downtown Denver Sheraton Hotel. There's a Starbucks across the street. I thought I'd save the world, yesterday, or at least a tree, and walked into the store with my empty paper cup of Starbucks Coffee from the airport in North Carolina I'd stopped in the day before, passing the hour and a half en route from Newark, New Jersey to here, sort-of changing planes.

I'd kept the paper cup of coffee through the flight to Denver, through the shuttle trip to this hotel, through the night.

"Can you refill this?" I asked the lady behind the counter at Starbucks yesterday morning.

"Sure," she said. Smiling. "Is it from this morning?"

I didn't know what to answer. I was already nervous. I'd sworn off Starbucks for a few years, took a vow to support local coffee store owners. I'd kept my vow for far longer than the year I'd promised. Traveling, airport to airport, city to city, I fell back in. I was already "sinning," going to Starbucks - at least in the Church of Stop Shopping, but that's a longer story. I nodded my head to the lady behind the counter. Maybe I said "yes." Maybe I did go that far. Implied or explicit. I... wasn't fully honest, was I?

"Fifty-four cents for a refill, for today," the smiling lady said.

Fifty-four cents.

I stole. I paid fifty-four cents, and bought a pastry. I went back later in the day and got another refill. That one was intra-day.

This morning, the cup pictured above, I'm already a hardened fifty-four-cent'er. "A refill," I said to the lady.

"Fifty-four cents," she smiled. Another lady. The same smile.

I didn't buy a pastry.

I'm here for two more days. I want to know how long one paper cup can last!

This is a table top in Starbucks from yesterday, a group of people got up and left. I was amazed they didn't clear their table. That's just me. A sanctimonious thief.

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This man, in an airplane into Denver, is reading....
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I'm in the airplane, across the isle from him, in a middle seat in the 9th row. I'm between two guys, each a few years younger than me, each living within their headphones, with his arms crossed, asleep, or seemingly so, since we took off.

I'm going to the The First-Year Experience conference at the Downtown Denver Sheraton Hotel. I'm sharing Booth 804 with Judy Bernstein, author of They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan.

I'll be in Denver tonight, will post this once I'm there or tomorrow morning.

I've been reading John D'Agata's About a Mountain while my row-mates listen to their music. About Yucca Mountain, in particular. I don't know much about US nuclear waste disposal plans. I don't know that much about Los Vegas. John D'Agata is head of nonfiction writing in the Writer's Workshop, the University of Iowa.

He can write.

My plane left Newark hours ago. We landed somewhere, the crew changed, most of the passengers changed. I think we were in Charllote, [spelling], North Carolina. Ripton is in North Carolina, but he wasn't where I was.

I was in transit, in an airport. In a terminal. The terminal was a long hallway with large bathrooms and fast restaurants, a bookstore that didn't sell my book, or Judy Bernstein's or Matthew Aaron Goodman's, or any John D'Agata or James Galvin. Yesterday I finished Galvin's The Meadow.

The long hallway of the airport where I passed an hour and a half between landing and taking off again did have electric outlets. There seemed to be a lot of us plugging our many pieces of technology into those electric sockets.

On the flight from New York, I sat in the middle seat between two women. One was a bit younger, a reading teacher to young children in public school in Asbury Park, New Jersey. That's where Bruce Springsteen is from. It's a poor place. Its public school children have an overall poor reading level. She said very poor. She was reading a novel from a "New York Times bestselling author." The other woman lives in Atlanta. She was in New York for a week long training session in electric lighting. Run by Phillips. The same Phillips that makes electric bulbs. That woman was reading Nora Roberts. She let me read a couple pages. I've not read Nora Roberts.

My point is, each woman was reading. Neither plugged into ear buds or headphones or any other technology. We talked. We talked a lot and they read.

The men I'm between now, we're not talking. I don't know where they're going--other than we're landing in Denver--or why they're headed there. I don't know where they live, where their parents live now or used to before. These men put on their headphones as soon as we took off. They turned on their music. One watched a movie on his computer. One is using ear buds. The other has large Bose headphones.

I do want to know those things about them. Those sorts of things, anyways. That make conversation.


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