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News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Sharing Michael Jackson’s blues

Being of a certain age, I grew up with Michael Jackson. I remember dancing with my cousin to the Jackson 5 for hours (ABC, it’s easy as 1,2,3) while choreographing our own elaborate steps and twirls. Michael, in particular, caught my imagination from the start.  I watched with the world as his music evolved and his sense of self morphed into something alien that made me sad. Days after his death, I’m still trying to make sense of what his music and persona meant to me. In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Wesley Morris wrote an article about Jackson that resonates, not only because it acknowledges his great musical talent and explains the allure he held for folks of all colors and nationalities, but because it attempts to understand why Michael Jackson was not good enough for himself—just the way he was created—with dark skin, round nose and nappy hair. Morris attempts to explain the struggle some African Americans have being okay with their blackness, and as a white female, I admit it’s not something I’ve experienced personally. But I do know about gender struggles—such as being okay with throwing like a girl, being emotional, or physically weaker than many men. I have experienced my own version of trying to accept myself as good enough as a woman in a post-feminist world that expects super-career-moms who handle jobs, childcare, community service, and managing the home without breaking a sweat. The unrealistic expectations are difficult enough; the fact that they thrive within an historical and cultural context that exalts manhood makes it worse. So yes, Morris hits a chord with me on many levels when he writes: “They – we – could see well past the bleached skin and unnatural Caucasian features. We could see his blues.” Finally, I understand better my empathy for Michael’s madness. On a more pleasant note, this link on Dick’s blog allowed me to revisit why I love dancing to Michael Jackson’s music and why watching him sing and move is still joyful—a gift he leaves us all. May he rest in peace.

posted in In the News, Just life, Local Politics, Women's issues | 0 Comments

The White Tiger

For sometime I’ve felt that some of the best novelists writing in English are Indians. Just as the Irish dominated English literature in the early part of the 20th century, with Yeats, Joyce and Shaw, I feel that Indian writers are using the English language to advance literature, to make the novel their own. Much of our contemporary fiction seems interior, airless; the art of telling a good story seems sometimes to be lost in this country. However, in India, writers like Vikram Seth, seem to honor the tradition and imitate the great novels of the Victorian age. His great book, “A Suitable Boy” explored and exhausted the limits of traditional fiction. The heartbreaking fiction of Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy and Rupa Bajwa deal with the pressure of events and circumstances on people’s lives, rather like early 20th century American fiction. Now, Aravind Adiga has raised the bar with a groundbreaking, disturbing work, “The White Tiger.” Rightly compared to Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Adiga’s book is more humorous but no less bitter. It is also suspenseful and gripping. At first I didn’t like his decision to write the book as a letter of confession, but that narrative device quickly diminishes in importance as the story is told. Once I read a few chapters, I couldn’t put it down. It rings with moral authority but is also just a good story. Thanks to India, the novel lives!

posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Home is where the film is

Last Friday, I received a hand-delivered flyer from Jillian, a Location Scout for the upcoming film “The Fighter,” due to begin shooting in Lowell over the next few weeks. Jillian was interested in possibly using our home as a setting for the film based on the life of local celebrity boxer, Micky Ward. To say my kids were excited is an understatement; of course they immediately fantasized about meeting stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in person, not to mention how “awesome” it would be to have our house in a movie. “We’re definitely buying a copy of this movie,” announced my teenager. For my part, all I could think about was getting the house clean before they came. True to her word, Jillian arrived Monday and took photographs throughout the house, the porches, yard, and from the top-floor windows looking out to Tyler Park. According to her, the film includes a scene where the main character brings a girl to a beautiful Victorian and she says, “You live here?!” only to discover that he lives in a tiny apartment inside the Victorian, which has been converted to a rooming house. Hearing that, I figured our inside didn’t match the setting they were looking for, but Jillian said they may use outside shots of the house or ones from inside looking down at the park—so there was still hope. Her parting comment nailed my doubts though: “The director was looking for a yellow house,” she said, and seeing my disappointment added: “They have been known to paint houses the color they want,” she noted, as we gazed up at the three, very tall floors of turret that is the front of my house. “Or maybe, he’d be okay with the purple…We’ll let you know.”

Let’s just say, I’m betting our big, old, beautiful, purple house will remain the setting for family Christmas cards and movies of the home-grown kind only, and that’s okay with me.

posted in City Life | 0 Comments

Will more school cuts be necessary?

By the end of last week, the results of the state budget via the Conference Committee’s Report were public although we’re still getting final numbers on what that means for the Lowell Public Schools. (See Dick’s post for a breakdown.) Because our school budget was based on $4.2 million from the stabilization fund and that number was reduced by $500,000, it’s not clear if the shortfall will have to come off the backs of Lowell schoolchildren. By the end of the day on Friday, we still didn’t know final numbers but heard that the superintendent was in conversations with the city manager regarding whether a state increase to the city would impact the school budget. (School administrators indicated that the city’s increase was $1.5 million, but I’m not sure what that’s based on or if it’s a final number.) Besides the possibility of the city providing additional school funds, there still exists the potential for concessions from school unions. After eliminating positions and programs worth more than $7.5 million, it’s safe to say there isn’t a committee member who wants to cut any deeper into the education of our children.

posted in Education, Money Matters, State Concerns | 2 Comments

What my father gave me

When I was in graduate school nearly 20 years ago, I wrote a short story about my father. It was part truth laced heavily with fiction, and rather harsh on him. My father never read the story, but many years later I read it to a group of elderly people as part of Northern Essex Community College’s Lifelong Learning series. Several older gentlemen approached me after the reading, grasping my hand firmly in their gnarled ones, and telling me, their eyes wet with emotion, that they knew my father had loved me—that he had loved me very much. I remember being stunned by their response.

They seemed to want very much to explain my father’s behavior as a product of the times more than a reflection of his true feelings. I like to think that expectations for fathers have changed since those days. With time, my view of my father has also changed—now that he has been gone for 16 years and I have children of my own. He wasn’t demonstrative, it’s true, but instead of soft words and hugs, my father gave me an unwavering sense of integrity to self. That integrity included standing by your family, being loyal to your friends, and above all, being accountable to yourself. Looking back at the way he modeled those values, I realize instilling the same qualities in my own children is my way of passing on this precious gift.

Happy Father’s Day, and if you’re lucky enough to still have yours with you, please take a moment today to thank him for the gifts he’s given you.

posted in Just life | 1 Comment

Meet with Governor Patrick

Governor Deval Patrick continues to hold town-hall-style meetings across the state to speak with citizens on various topics. It is a great opportunity to see the man in a small group setting, hear his thoughts, and speak your concerns directly to him—why not experience democratic government at its best! (I attended one he held at the Pollard Memorial Library in Lowell a few months back when the focus was transportation reform and his proposed gas tax. I loved that he was here, pitching his ideas, and most importantly, listening to citizens, who represented our city well I might add.) Visit this site for more information about upcoming meetings. The following list notes some dates and locations for meetings currently scheduled:

  • Mon. June 22,  7:00 p.m.     Arlington
  • Mon. June 29,  6:30 p.m.     Lynn
  • Wed. July 8,    6:30 p.m.      Shrewsbury
  • Tues. July 14,  6:30 p.m.     Sharon
  • Thurs. July 16, 6:30 p.m.     Pembroke
  • Tues. July 21,  6:30 p.m.     Newburyport
  • Thurs. July 23, 6:30 p.m.     Boston
  • Wed. July 29,  6:30 p.m.      Wareham
  • Tues. Aug. 4,   6:30 p.m.    Groton

posted in State Concerns | 0 Comments

Keeping the children in the forefront

Cutting millions of dollars from the school budget is not my idea of a good time, nor is it the reason I ran for school committee. But if there has been a bright glimmer of light in this whole dark process, it has been the people—especially the students—who have come to the podium and spoken so eloquently in support of our schools, staff, and programs. Last night was no exception. When Patrick Chhoy, a recent LHS graduate who will attend UMass on full scholarship, spoke last night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the chambers. Chhoy’s emotional plea was in support of the high school overall, but particularly his guidance counselor who helped him and many of his friends with the college application process. Chhoy’s point about the difference his guidance counselor made in his ability to attend college speaks volumes about how important a good education is to our children, not only for the individual lives that are impacted, but for the future of our community. One caring adult can save a child, and that is the work being done every day in our schools. As school leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure the structure that allows that to happen continues despite tough financial times. The fact that our young people, from current middle school and high school students to alumni, were active members in this process makes me incredibly proud and hopeful. I am proud of their willingness to engage and how well they represented themselves, proud of the people in our schools who gave them the skills and motivation to be involved, and proud of the support network that is our community. In the end, those students keep me hopeful that despite these tough times, this important work will continue.

posted in Education, Money Matters, school committee | 2 Comments

LHS crew fastest public school boat in nation

Last weekend, the Lowell High School Crew Team sent two boats to the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Cincinnati. Of the 142 teams from across the country that qualified for the event, LHS was one of only 20 public schools to compete in this prestigious regatta. The boys’ lightweight four (comprised of Mike McKeon, Cameron Crockett, Brandon Coombes, Josiah Todd, and Harry Finch) placed fifth overall in the grand final and was the fastest public school boat in the country! This was the third time in the past four years that the Lowell High School crew team competed at nationals. (Special thanks to Coach Jen Bauer for providing this information.)

posted in Education, Lowell High, Sports | 0 Comments

My take on the city budget

Here’s what I heard last night from Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch: We’re facing unprecedented cuts in state aid while dealing with skyrocketing health insurance costs. I get it—a similar situation exists on the school side. While local aid for the city is down $15 million and health insurance has increased $4 million, the manager presented a budget that asks for $11 million less than last year. (That alone is mind boggling when you consider how most everything, including the price of milk and eggs, has gone up.) I sat through only 3½ hours of this marathon council meeting, so I wasn’t there when the vote was made to cut the manager’s assistant and I’m not privy to details on the decision, but when looking at the entire organization, cutting a key management role during a fiscal crisis seems shortsighted. For more on this, check LiL.

The manager’s assurance that if more state funding comes in for the schools, it will go there, and the fact that he based the $5 million cut to the district on a $3.2 million state shortfall is appreciated as the schools face their own fiscal nightmare. His approach with his budget was to cut positions, raise taxes 2½ % which will cost the average homeowner $65 more annually, and adopt a 2% meals tax when it’s available. Since his budget is based on these revenue options, I support them because to cut deeper would severely hamper our quality of life and our ability to bounce back from this fiscal mess. (The schools will need to find an additional $400,000 without the meals tax revenue.) With that in mind, I am determined not to cut so deep into the schools as to completely erode the progress we’ve made or dismantle the programs with proven results (more on that later). The school budget hearing is tonight at 8.

posted in Local Politics, Money Matters | 0 Comments

Council, school meetings worth noting

One of the great strengths of a democratic government is the right of its citizens to participate in, even criticize, leadership decisions. That right (a privilege and a responsibility) is especially demonstrated during tough fiscal times when people, as we saw at recent school budget hearings, voice concerns to their elected leaders. Tonight, the Lowell City Council will begin its budget deliberations at 5 pm, and citizens should participate in (or at least watch on channel 10) the process. Also tonight, the school administration will hold a special meeting for parents at the Rogers Middle School at 7 pm regarding transition issues relative to closing the school. Tomorrow, the School Committee will continue its budget hearing around 8 pm in Council Chambers after subcommittee meetings on special education (6:15 pm); transportation (6:45) and its regularly scheduled board meeting (7 pm). Next week, the Lowell High School subcommittee will convene on Tuesday, June 23, at 7 pm to discuss the impacts of teacher and administrative cuts at the high school, particularly regarding class size, student distribution, and programs under the direction of the now-eliminated position of student support services coordinator. These meetings are all open to the public, and I urge you to be involved and express your concerns: a strong democracy, like a strong community, is one where citizens are part of the process.

posted in City Life, Education, Local Politics, Lowell High, Money Matters | 0 Comments

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