Month: February 2016

It’s Official, We’re Doomed


Critical thinking.  In my opinion, it’s the single most important thing (after learning to read) for people to learn.  It’s what allows us to make informed decisions, objectively analyze information, sift opinion from fact and learn to incorporate the nuances of life.  Develop empathy, compassion because we understand (at least the facts of) all sides, whether we agree with them or not. Not just so we can make sensible charts and see patterns, but critical thinking also feeds imagination, promoting innovation, new discoveries, and progress.  The higher the level of educational institution, the more critical the thinking should become.  And it’s something we’re seeing less and less of.  There isn’t a whole lot of room and time left for teaching critical thinking skills when public schools are forced to spend the majority of their days teaching to (high stakes, homogeneous) tests and teachers are evaluated based on how their students perform on said tests, and how well they design a bulletin board.  That leaves college, right?

On one side, we’ve got Bernie Sanders, who wants to eliminate tuition, and offer free education at public universities.  I like Bernie, and I agree with much of what he has to say.  I would absolutely support free tuition at public universities.  It isn’t unprecedented in the US, California public universities were free to California residents until the 1920s, with a nominal fee for another fifty years.  In New York the CUNY (City University of New York) schools were free (I think some, but not all) until the 1970s.  If I were king, I’d make it free for in-state residents, still charge for room and board for other than low-income students, and place GPA restrictions on the free tuition, both to get it in the first place, and then to keep it once a student is in.  (And no more bullshit with these “weighted” high school GPAs, stop penalizing economically disadvantaged kids from poor communities who don’t have the opportunity to take 23 meaningless AP classes.)  I think these types of restrictions and minimum requirements would have to be in place to avoid degrees from public universities becoming meaningless.

And on the other side, we’ve got this. Excuse me a minute while I puke, will ya?  In a nutshell, concealed carry laws will now allow students to carry handguns on campus at public Texas universities.  Because of this, professors are being told to avoid sensitive subjects, drop certain topics from their curriculum, and limit student access to them.  Putting aside the underlying facts regarding guns, gun violence, and gun safety (because we don’t want to get involved in too many high fallutin’ facts here, it’s just a blog, after all), there is no way to look at this and not see how very wrong it is.  College.  What’s the point of it, anyway?  A liberal arts education was intended to provide students with (drumroll) critical thinking.  Different ways of viewing the world, figure out how to solve complex problems, communicate effectively, provide you with the ability to think for yourself.  I suppose liberal arts is definitely out with this now, huh?  Well how about an applied degree in science, mathematics, law?  Nope, sorry, because any and all of those fields of study may include sensitive topics and be offensive to personal beliefs, they can’t be studied.

To be fair–and possibly even demonstrate critical thinking skills–despite my left leanings I also think the extreme on the other side is a bunch of bullshit. Excessive trigger warnings and attempts to “protect” students from subjects they might find uncomfortable or offensive effectively muffle debate, discussion, and analysis. This warm and fluffy blanket of avoidance isn’t doing us any favors.

I believe in education.  Power, reasoning, and opportunities grow from academic discourse, exposure to new ideas, and studying history.  That said, I don’t believe everyone should or needs to go to college.  Some people aren’t academically gifted.  Some people aren’t good at sitting in a classroom. *that’s me*  It doesn’t make sense to me when I see help wanted ads for receptionists that want college degrees.  Way to penalize people who don’t go to college.  Skills learned outside the classroom are important too, and many jobs and careers that make our society keep chugging along have nothing to do with a BA, BS, MS, etc.  I do believe everyone who’s capable of doing the work and wants to go to college should have the opportunity to do so without trading a degree for homelessness, life on the pole, or forfeiting any chance of ever using that degree to get ahead in their chosen field because they’re so in debt from it.

Regardless of the path chosen, and regardless of whether you lean left or right, aren’t we all saying we’re frustrated because we want better, we want more?  Downward mobility isn’t just about economic status.  One by one we’re burying the tools we need along with our heads in the interest of…what?  Ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and divisiveness.

I don’t care whether your classroom of choice is a traditional one, online, or in the corner bar at happy hour.  What matters is that we insist on continuing to learn, listen to all the sides and all the facts, and grow.

We need knowledge.  Progress.  Problem solving.  Opportunity.

Reef Problems

Beaded anemone, heteractis aurora

Beaded anemone, heteractis aurora

The one thing I’ve yet to experience in one of my tanks is a successful anemone-clownfish pairing.  Corny as it is, I’ve always wanted to be able to look over at my tank and watch the symbiotic relationship of a pair of clowns with a host anemone.  I’ve had fish lay eggs, coral frags grow into colonies, I’ve even had corals spawn, but no hosting.  In the ocean, clowns always have a host anemone, that’s how they survive.  They’re pretty tough little fish, but they are little and they aren’t fast.  So they basically live on/near and lay their eggs on anemones, bringing it food, and in return the anemone offers them protection, stinging or eating other fish that come too close.

In tanks, clownfish don’t actually need anemones, the nems don’t really need the fish, and most clowns bought and sold now are aquacultured, spawned in tanks, no experience with the ocean. I’ve had many reefing friends talk about the wonder of their clowns’ instincts, how they brought home a nem, placed it in their tanks, and their clowns dove in those tentacles within an hour, blissful.  Not me.  I’ve had two bubble tipped anemones.  The first one was stunning, but the pair of clowns I had at the time weren’t willing to give up their special relationship with the mag-float (basically an algae cleaning pad stuck on a magnet for easy cleaning of the glass) in order to live in the anemone.  After several months, that nem decided it needed more privacy anyway and jammed itself into a hidden crevice in the rocks, never to be seen again.  There’s debate as to whether or not anemones actually need to be fed, but either way they need strong lighting to survive.  Anemones are hard to keep in home aquaria under the best of circumstances, and their survival is always questionable.

Last year Husband bought me a beautiful rose bubble tipped anemone for Christmas.  These clowns weren’t interested either.  Unfortunately, my pair of skunk cleaner shrimp were way too interested, tugging and nibbling on his tentacles until those fuckers harassed that nem to death.  When he died, he nuked the tank with his own special chemical warfare and took the majority of coral with him.  That particular pair of shrimp were very aggressive together, dancing through the tank like enforcers.  This Thanksgiving, one of the wrasse decided he’d had enough, and by the time my family was eating pumpkin pie, the tank inhabitants were enjoying their own cocktail hour with an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet.

Now the mean shrimp are gone, so of course I wanted another nem.  Add in that the clowns are displaying mating behavior, it seemed like perfect timing.  This time I decided on a different type of anemone in the hopes that I’ll be more successful, and got the beautiful yet surprisingly budget-friendly beaded nem in the photo at the top of this post.  Perfect spot all picked out, acclimated and placed him.  My incredibly shy and well behaved fire shrimp decided she didn’t like him so close to her, and proceeded to begin eviction proceedings by way of tugging and nibbling.  Are you freaking kidding me?

Anemones are weird.  Dangerous to so many creatures, they’re quite delicate.  They’re also mobile.  They’ll “walk” around the tank if they don’t like where you place them, looking for a spot to call home.  They have a “foot” that they attach to rock, sand, or corals, and once they attach it’s very hard to get them to move unless they want to without tearing their foot.  If the foot tears, they die.  They can stay in one spot for years.  Needless to say, this anemone decided he did not like the spot where I placed him, and has been walking around trying to decide where he wants to settle.

The foot.

The foot.

He seems to have picked a general area, but not the exact spot. At least the fire shrimp is ignoring him now.  It doesn’t help that he apparently doesn’t like my choice of food.  Every evening I feed the tank, and when the bits settle on/around him, he lets go of where he’s begun to attach and flips himself upside down so none of the food gets stuck on his tentacles or lands in his mouth.  He could just keep his mouth closed.  Today I figured out he prefers fresh food to frozen.

The open circle in the middle? That's his mouth. The black bit coming out of it?  A snail shell he's spitting out now that he ate the snail.

The open circle in the middle? That’s his mouth. The black bit coming out of it? A snail shell he’s spitting out now that he ate the snail.

The male clown has indeed decided hosting is a lovely idea.  Not with the anemone, of course.

Why snuggle up with a big comfy anemone when you can rub all over a snail instead?

Why snuggle up with a big comfy anemone when you can rub all over a snail instead?

Those Moments

Quintessential Guggenheim

Quintessential Guggenheim

The NYC public schools were closed this past week for the February break.  I’m cursing this break when school is still in session at the end of June, but in the moment?  Yeeees, so necessary.  For the most part, the girl and I spent the week resting and ate half-priced-post-Valentine’s Day chocolate.  But yesterday morning Husband needed to get new glasses, so Art Child and I went with him to help pick frames.  Since we were going to be on the east side anyway, I figured it was a good day to hit a museum.

The Upper East side has been (marginally) more resistant to change than most other residential neighborhoods in Manhattan, so there are still a few old gems left to wrap me in the nostalgia of remember when.  Like this one.

Almost makes me wish I liked egg creams.

Almost makes me wish I liked egg creams.

Art Child and I said goodbye to Husband, I grabbed my camera, she grabbed her sketchbook, and off we went.  The Guggenheim isn’t one of the museums we visit regularly, it is not one of the suggested donation institutions.  Those types of museums can quickly blow a week’s budget.  Eat before we go.  No, we aren’t buying anything in the gift shop!  No, we can’t go again before the installation leaves. The saving grace is that flat admission price doesn’t exclude any of the temporary exhibitions.  If you’ve never been, the building itself is well worth a visit.  All curves, you spiral your way up a continuing ramp to see what’s on display.  Certain floors branch off to more permanent exhibits and/or smaller installments.

Every time I go I think of being there with Man Child when he was a little guy, an installation of motorcycles.  Very cool, even if I still don’t understand why they were there.  Mostly I think of it because Nerd Child was an infant.  They didn’t allow strollers/carriages along the ramps, and Nerd Child was a champion puker–one of those babies where every spit up looked like an audition for The Exorcist– so Husband and I took turns carrying him while zig-zagging around the bikes.

The current primary exhibition is a retrospective, a collaborative effort from Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss that spans over thirty years, “How to Work Better.”  Huge, the sheer number of sculptures, photographs, videos, and instillations left me overwhelmed at times.  Art Child tells me I’m supposed to be.  Some of it I really liked, some not so much.  The first thing you see is the costumes the artists wore while making their films THE POINT OF LEAST RESISTANCE and THE RIGHT WAY.  umm, ok.  I didn’t take a ton of photos, I was busy trying to understand what I was seeing, but I’m glad we went.

IMG_7344 IMG_7345

Here's where I love the tourists, they remember the views over the park are part of the intended experience.

Here’s where I love the tourists, they remember the views over the park are part of the intended experience.

IMG_7352 IMG_7353

In the Thannhauser Gallery there are an assortment of paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cèzanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others.  Regardless of what else is on exhibit, whether it’s something I enjoy, understand or not, I’m moved and satisfied sitting in that gallery.  I love Picasso, his paintings, his etchings, his sculptures.  Not all of his work, he starts to lose me with swaths of his Cubist period.  Does that mean I’m déclassé?  Maybe just a peasant.  That’s ok, I don’t mind.

One of my favorite paintings is there now.  Sorry, I must have knocked the dial on the camera right before I took this photo, it’s way too yellow.


Woman Ironing, by Pablo Picasso.  Can I say it again? I love this painting.  From his Blue Period, there’s something about it that has always drawn me in.  I don’t remember the where (pretty sure it wasn’t the Guggenheim) or when (I was a child, for certain) I first saw it, but I will never be tired of this woman.  When I hear people refer to a work of art speaking to them, this is one of the paintings that comes to the forefront of my mind.  Maybe I always knew I was destined for drudgery.  And scoliosis.  And shadows.  Take a closer look with me, the shadow along her neck is delicious, makes me shiver.

Everything you can't see in her eyes, but see in her curves and angles.

Everything you can’t see in her eyes, but see in her curves and angles.

This was the first piece of the day that Art Child chose to sit and sketch.  I can’t say what I enjoyed most, being able to sit down and enjoy the Ironing Woman, the girl sitting at the end of the bench and sketching her, or the museum visitors stopping to watch her sketch for longer than they looked at the painting in question.  Perfect moment.

After we had moved on, and were back to Fischli and Weiss, I felt my phone buzz.  A text from Nerd Child, frustrated and disappointed about a lost opportunity.  No fault of his own, one of those life-happens things. Still, I’m a mom, which means through the life experience that enables me to understand the whys, hows, and frequencies of disappointments, my heart aches for each of my kiddos, every time they’re faced with one.  In the middle of the gazillion clay sculptures I happened to be standing in front of a representation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.  I walked past the donkey to the inner wall of the museum and looked down.

Something had clicked for me, and the artists’  spent Rat and Bear costumes lying on the lobby platform made sense. Trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t, philosophical questions that don’t have a right answer–or any answer at all, dreaming about success.  Yeah, these are the things we need to do, to experience, the questions we need to ask.  These are the moments we need, perfect or otherwise.


Excuse Me, Your Fly is Open

Fresh  off the dirty laundry pile!

Fresh off the dirty laundry pile!

I haven’t wanted to talk much about Trump and the upcoming election here on Mrs Fringe.  Why feed the fire and all that.  Or not, maybe if I’m honest, it’s because I was hoping to cling to my default defensive position of burying my head in the sand, thereby pretending he’ll go away.  Surely Americans will come to their senses long before an election?  Surely his blatant lies, manipulations, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and generally abysmal record as a human being will send him straight to the peanut gallery.  Apparently not, heh.  And let’s face it, you don’t come to Mrs Fringe for political analysis.  I’m not that objective.  I’m not that good with the straight facts and figures.  As I’ve said before, I’m not that smart.  If you want a blog with reasoned analysis, I recommend this guy, Benjamin Studebaker.    (I know, not completely objective, but smart, backs everything up with facts, and straightforward.)

I’m still not ready to talk big picture, address my fears re who the GOP has put forth as viable candidates overall, but.  Today I’ll talk about Donald Trump.  First, a bit of background on me.  When I was younger, I worked in social services.  My very first job in the field was with a camp that served autistic, psychotic, and what was then termed “emotionally disturbed” youth.  (I don’t know why kiddos with autism were in that grouping, it was a long time ago, autism was even less understood, and it was considered rare–well before the epidemic it is today.)  In retrospect, it was a dumping ground for kids no one knew what to do with.  I know of three who were institutionalized not long after, but I’d guess that’s what happened with the majority of them.

One of the campers was a teen I’ll call Joey.  I don’t remember exactly how old Joey was–he wasn’t in my group– somewhere in his upper teens, already looked like a grown man, with limited verbal/comprehension skills complicated by English being his second language.  Joey had an obsession with his penis.  Every time he wasn’t actively engaged in something else (and often when he was), his fly was down, schlong out, and masturbating intensely, while shouting his catchphrase.  Between his catchphrase and obsession, I’m guessing there had been a serious injury and/or abuse in his past.  Obviously, for all the reasons, we couldn’t allow Joey to walk around masturbating all day (not least of which the injury he was causing himself with such frenzy).   So in addition to songs, chants, directions and redirections, hoots and echolalia, the command of “Joey, put that thing away!”  was a constant refrain.   We shared the campgrounds with other camps, and the other camp directors and counselors were forever threatening to get us kicked out if Joey continued whipping it out.  We smiled, nodded, made the right noises and then turned away rolling our eyes.

At the time Joey was considered harmless.  The majority of these kids, and the adults I ended up working with, were “harmless.”  I was passionate in my defense of these children, wished with all my heart I could protect them all, always.  When one of the kiddos broke my nose that summer, I argued on his behalf when the director kicked him out of the camp without a chance for me to meet with him and let him know I was ok.  I was so angry, so indignant I wanted to quit.  It hadn’t been an appropriate setting for him.  I didn’t quit because I also met my first autistic kiddo there.   I was idealistic, young enough and brash enough to romanticize what I was doing, but I was good at what I did.  The child with autism?  I was over the moon excited when I was able to get him to play one round of duck-duck-goose after weeks of trying.  I called his mother.  When she understood who was calling and why, she called to her husband, “Magic Fringe is on the phone.”  That’s what they called me, and thinking about it still warms the cockles of my heart.  There’s no magic, though.

Non violent, these children and the adults they become are a million times more likely to be the victims of predators than predatory themselves.  I just made up that “statistic,” but the intent behind it was a fact then and a fact now.  But the majority doesn’t mean all.  I did work with some people who were violent, on occasion a danger to others as well as themselves.  And as I grew more experienced, and now as I’ve gotten older, I see the nuances I didn’t see then.  It’s still heartbreaking, but not quite harmless to have a young man walking around hooting, yelling, and masturbating in public.  The potential for danger; the potential for violence caused to him, by him, or to those just too close to get out of the way was real.

When Donald Trump hoots about immigrants, about building a wall between Mexico and the US, when he calls women “bimbos,” when he trumpets that sexual assault in the military is to be expected, when he calls a woman “disgusting” for needing to take a break to pump breast milk, when he says he would eliminate gun free zones in military bases and schools, when he says the answer to our broken mental health system is to find a way to arm more of the “good guys” to take out the “sickos,” when he calls for banning Muslim immigrants from entering the US, when he brays about plans to bomb the shit out of Isis (does he know Isis isn’t a country?), when he shouts that he will force Nabisco to produce Oreos in the US, Apple to produce their products here–while at the same time his clothing line is manufactured in Mexico and China…I could go on and on.  The point is, when he spouts this nonsense, he’s whipping it out.

He has no filter.  He isn’t honest.  There’s a difference.  With all the lies he vomits, it’s shocking to me that anyone, anywhere, perceives him as anything other than a dishonest buffoon.  I’m also shocked when people talk about him as a businessman, how good that would be for America.  Umm, America isn’t a business.  It’s a country, made up of individual citizens, with varying needs and vulnerabilities.  Trump is indeed a good businessman, if good here is defined by  selfishness and the amount of money accrued.  He’s so good, he was able to declare bankruptcy multiple times–wipe his debts clean at the expense of thousands of jobs–and still make money.  He’s so shrewd, he’s got people supporting him who represent those he screwed with each and every bankruptcy.  By the way, that whole idea of businessman as politician?  We did that here in New York City, with Bloomberg.  He fired those who disagreed with him (oh, those pesky checks and balances) and when his term was up, he changed the term limit laws so he could stay.  Get ready to hand Trump a crown and scepter.  You may or may not want someone you consider a “bleeding heart” at the helm of this country, but do you want someone who is actually morally bankrupt?

The very same things that make me unqualified to be a political pundit–lack of filter, lack of understanding of the nuances in policies, inability to grasp the ramifications of decisions made today for 30 years from now (it’s true, I’m a lousy chess player), selfishness and general hotheadedness–are what make Trump unqualified to lead this country.

When people cheer him on, use him as validation to let their inner racist come out, their not so underlying faith that women are less-than, their complacence with ignorance of how the world works, when they vote for him–they aren’t just turning away from nuance and rolling their eyes, they’re handing him lube and inciting potentially dangerous situations.

Put that thing away, Mr. Trump.


This pair has been hanging out on the water tower across from my apartment all morning.

This pair hung out on the water tower across from my apartment all morning.

The crows seem to enjoy today’s fine flurries.  They stuck around, cawing and calling and circling until the flurries stopped.


It’s that time.  That time of year, when I start thinking about how nice it would be to get away by myself.  Still haven’t done it (not since I had children, anyway), but I think about it.  A little while ago I even looked up writer’s retreats for 2016.  They lose their appeal after about 3 minutes of web surfing.  Wooded settings, steep price tags, set meal times, and evening conversations with strangers.  Feel me shuddering through the keyboard?  Creating my own retreat, though, that would be lovely.  Just a few days.  Coffee, tea, salad, and Cheetos should cover all the necessary meals/food groups.  Maybe some salt and vinegar chips.  On a beach, because if I were to be overcome by the glory of uninterrupted alone-time and therefore not get any writing done, I’d still be happy.

It’s also that time when I’m thinking about writing.  A lot.  I know myself, what it means when I can’t stop thinking about a poem, a photograph, a song…and I know what’s next; obsession with the next manuscript.  You know when you hear women talk about nesting in the later stages of pregnancy? I never did that.  I do it before getting serious about a manuscript.  Why? I dunno.  It isn’t like baking or being caught up on laundry and grocery shopping beforehand makes a damned bit of difference by the time I’m a month in, but I do it anyway.  Feels like dropping down to a low gear in order to drive up a steep hill without stalling or getting caught at the red light at the top.  Not that it works, life provides red lights with regularity, and god knows I stall out all. the. time. while I’m writing, but that’s what it feels like for the moment.

So I’ve been thinking about Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody.”  I always loved this one, no matter how many times I’ve heard and read it.

I’m Nobody! Who are you? 
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one’s name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
I’ve never been Somebody, from my vantage it seems like there’s power in it.  But there’s freedom in being Nobody, do you think?  Maybe not, maybe it’s just one of the not-so-little lies we tell ourselves, along the lines of poor-but-happy.
A few weeks ago I took this photo on one of the (thankfully) few bitter cold days we’ve had this winter.
Lost? Forgotten? Abandoned?

Lost? Forgotten? Abandoned?

The flowers, this photo, a complete story by itself.  But which one?  My first thought for a caption was something like, “Screw you and your cheap-ass bodega flowers!” Such a frigid morning though, maybe they dropped from fingers so numb the person carrying them didn’t realize they lost them until they were fumbling for their Metrocard two blocks later.  The neighborhood where I took this shot is a busy one, home to a large social security office, a few social service agencies, and several thrift stores. Maybe they fell from the cart of someone’s wheelchair, or the little basket that sits across the top of a walker.  Maybe they were dropped as someone late for a date grabbed the first available cab they’d seen in twenty minutes, or maybe, maybe, maybe.  So many possibilities, and those are just a few of the more mundane ones.
I stopped halfway through putting this post together to go pick up the girl.  In Grand Central, when you walk through the tunnel connecting the tracks for the shuttle and the 4/5/6, there are several abandoned “windows.”  I can’t remember if there used to be stores behind them, or what they were originally for, but now they’re lit empty boxes, good for backlighting the various street performers and religious groups that stop in front of them. Today I was walking past and saw this.
MTA worker with dreams of being a display artist?

MTA worker with dreams of being a display artist?

Clandestine spy code?  Pre-arranged tableau signaling the all clear for a passionate liaison between an engineer and a station inspector?  I think, if I were writing this into a manuscript, I’d have to add a crow.