(#3) Everything I need to know I learned from Penny Jean

I've been trying to come up with something deep n contemplative to write today but the only thing my brain is going to right now is Penny Jean. Penny Jean is a dog I know from Brooklyn. I'm not gonna say she's the coolest dog ever cause I've definitely met and loved some cool dogs, but she's pretty damn cool. Yesterday I texted Penny Jean's mom and was like, "I need penny jean pictures PLEASE" and this morning I got a bunch to enjoy. Penny Jean is more than a handsomely cute puppy. I feel like I have learned a lot from Penny Jean.
Way back in the day when Penny Jean was a wee pup. She knows to take advantage of a snuggle when she came across one.
Way back in the day when Penny Jean was a wee pup. She knows to take advantage of a snuggle when she sees one.
When she needs to talk things out, she is not ashamed to visit a professional.
When she needs to talk things out, she is not ashamed to visit a professional.
She takes really good care of her teeth.
She takes really good care of her teeth.
She's serious. But she likes to have fun.
She's serious. But she likes to have fun.
Obviously there is more to Penny Jean that meets the eye. At first glance she may look like just another dog hanging in Greenpoint, but she's got a wisdom about her, I tell you. She may hold the answers to some of the world's most troubling questions.
She's also practices humility on a regular basis.
She's also practices humility on a regular basis.
Love you Penny Jean!
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Craftivism: Three Days of Crafting, Queers & Connection in NYC

What's craft? What's art? Who decides? And what does it mean for Queers? Craftivism, an upcoming exhibition, intends to peel some layers off these questions and present space for a community dialogue to talk about the intersection of present and past of craft as art and art as craft. International multi-media artist and curator Coral Short is behind this three-day event being held at Le Petit Versailles in the Lower East Side in New York City on July 12-14. The exhibition is filled with installations, video and workshops with approximately 15 performers and installation artists from 10 different cities.
Design by Andre Azevedo. Silk screen will be available during all events in the garden.
Design by Andre Azevedo. Silk screen will be available during all events in the garden.
According to Short's curatorial statement, "Craftivism is a welcoming art gathering that showcases an emerging generation of artists for three days. Queerness, feminism and textiles go hand in hand for many of these contemporary artists, as they rethink and reclaim craft in their own unique ways... These artists use their skill sets to fight patriarchy, transphobia and homophobia by creating a pop up community together in the lush blooming garden that is Le Petit Versailles." July 12 is opening night and there will be delicious cake by Quito, yarn portraits by Buzz Slutzky, textiles by Liz Collins, and a variety of installation art to get lost in.
Breastival Vestibule Installation by Rachael Shannon as seen at Transmodern Festival this year in Baltimore. It will be one of the installations at Craftivism next month.
Breastival Vestibule Installation by Rachael Shannon as seen at Transmodern Festival this year in Baltimore. It will be one of the installations at Craftivism next month.
Saturday brings a Circle and Potluck Brunch Panel where crafters will talk about the intersection of their politics and art. There are also a plethera of workshops that day. A donation of $15-30 is requested but all the workshops are NOTAFLOF aka No One Turned Away for Lack of Funds. Rachael Shannon from Baltimore will be facilitating a Crafting Circle where participants will go through a list of different questions regarding relationship to body/where our feelings about bodies come from and then have a discussion and/or craft about it. Brooklynite Kris Grey/Dr. Justin Credible will also be on hand to lead Craft-Identified: A Support Group to talk about craftphobia and academia's preference for the word "design." You can also involve yourself with BabySkinGlove hosting a baby craft circle and some special Magick to inspire artistic revival with Tif Robinette.
Gaycave by Caitlin Sweet, photo by Ty August Chance.
Gaycave by Caitlin Sweet, photo by Ty August Chance.
Sunday is busy, too, with more workshops. Make a headband with Heidi, learn about making craft a full time job with Wai Yant-Li, make a moving image with Zeesy Powers and examine the histories of craft and queer with Caitlin Rose. Sunday night also offers a ton of short videos featuring 16 artists from four countries and 10 cities [Berlin, Oakland, Montreal, Finland, Toronto, Baltimore. Philly, St. Johns Newfoundland, UK, New York] The Craftivism artists are: Alexis O’Hara, Allyson Mitchell, Anthony Privitera, BabySkinGlove, Bizzy Barefoot, Buzz Slutzky, Caitlin Sweet, Cat Mazza, Ezra Berkley Nepon, Heidi Nagtegaal, Janey Moffatt Laloë, Jason Penney, Jeni Little, Josh Vettivelu, Kailey Bryan, Kandis Friesen, Kate Sorensen, Killer Sideburns, Kris Grey, Liz Collins, Max Göran, Maya Suess, Mev Luna, Niknaz Tavakolian, Quito Ziegler, Rachael Shannon, Sabrina Ratté, T.L. Cowan, Tif Robinette, Tracey Bullington, Travis Meinolf, Tuesday Smillie, Zeesy Powers. I caught up with Short one night via Skype. Here Coral talks how Craftivism came about, the concept of social architecture and the difference between craft and art. How did this event come about? "I studied textiles in my undergrad at Concordia University in Montreal and ever since then textiles influenced the way I worked. But I’ve been noticing an evolution of craft. We can see each others work and we all influence each other’s work, but there is unique directions and paths we are working in. I see a queer aesthetic emerging and we can share it on the Internet in a way that we couldn’t do previously. For example, Tif [Robinette]. Her work just popped up on my feed in Facebook, I was like 'What is this,' and I just wrote to her and she's in the show. I feel like in the new craft movement there is a lot of healing around our bodies and gender, and there is a whole politic about nurturing each other. It's hard to put your finger on what queer craft is, but I see it as high experimentation, some raw DIY aesthetic and also creating social architecture - where we create an artistic environment that creates a space where we can feel at ease with each other, where queers feel completely comfortable. It's creating a space that’s ours, celebrating each other and ourselves. I’ve been thinking about curating Caitlin Sweet and Heidi Nagtegaal for some time, wanting these queer minds to meet. And this will further the momentum ball of the queer aesthetic, it's going to really be a catalyst moment for queer craft. When I got approached from Le Petit Versaillas about a show, I immediately thought Caitlin and Heidi needed to meet because not only are they super talented artists but they are organizers, too. There is so much talent in New York and I thought the queer infrastructure would swell. I put out an open call [for the exhibition]. Because of the Internet, things just move from queer family so quickly." What is the difference between craft and art? "Some people don’t see a difference – the institutions, the universities, they have been trying to take craft out of the naming of things and replacing it with other words. Craft is a radical form of making art. It has to do with class. What is high art? What is low art? These are loaded and problematic questions. In the show, we have a lot of crafting circles, it’s a constant dialogue. Craft can be anything from crocheting, knitting, sewing, ceramics, braiding. I definitey believe craft is art. How has craft changed over the years? "I think it has deepened and broadened in the last 10 to 20 years through the Internet and our more rapid travel. I found a few of my artists through Facebook! (Rachael Shannon, Max Goran and Tif Robinette) The call out for the videos was only on FB and people are delivering videos to me online through wetransfer. We live in a fast new age with all its pluses and minuses, but craft in fact helps us to slow down. We as textiles/ craft artists are taken more seriously than we used to be as we become more confident to take up more space as queers and feminists. I believe we are flourishing with each other’s support and often we get inspired by each other as we are in more dialogue than ever due the Internet and traveling. Artists are dreamers, visionaries living in our heads but then creating physicality for our thoughts. For the underground, the queers, the radicals are always one step ahead for all of time, always with change and revolution on our minds. Craft is a way to stay raw, real and connected for we are woven together in our queer kinship. Craftivism is a slow thoughtful activism, a strong powerful display of resistance. Craftivism is an established word. We are coming at it from a new angle. Personal is political and queer. None of our work is appropriative. I’m really excited to see the work, I think it’s going to be epic." Interested in getting involved? Volunteers are still needed. A week before the show opens [aka soon] artists will will begin to meet in the garden to start setting up and making a braid cave. People are welcome to join. Contact Coral at coralshort [at] gmail.com. The garden's July visiting hours are Wed-Sunday from 2-7PM. All events are rain or shine.
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15 Minutes with Patricia Racette

Patricia Racette was a good sport when my date unknowingly blocked her way to the stage during her Jan. 27 show at 54 Below. We were nestled in on the side, to the back of the piano (which actually made for a great view once my date turned their chair around), but what we did not know was that our seats were in direct route to the microphone. Of course I had to bring that up to Racette, who flashed us a gracious smile before getting up on stage, when we got on the phone. She laughed and said, “Oh that was you!?” It was then I learned her entrance was timed and she just barely made it to the mic on the beat. She did, however, and once she was there it was obvious she loves what she does. Her black, sequined flowered chiffon robe was fabulous, and she immediately started talking with the crowd. Performing her breakout cabaret album, "Diva on Detour," she kicked off her set with "I got Rhythm/Get Happy" (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin & Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler) and then worked her way to "Here's that Rainy Day" (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke) which she admitted to the audience was what she sings in the shower. Racette also said she loves singing sad songs and listening to the lyrics of one particular piece, "You've Changed," (Clarie Fischer) prompted me to write "depressing" in the notes I was scribbling on the set list. Elton John was right, sad songs do say so much. Honoring her French-Canadian heritage, Racette performed four songs in that tongue. "You could say the French language has been chasing me all my life," she told the crowd. It was during a French medley ending with La Vie En Rose (Edith Piaf/Marguerite Monnot & Louis Guglielmi) that we were able to experience a taste of her operatic flavor. The audience loved it and she said, "You all like the French stuff, eh? Me too!"
Patricia Racette during her show "Diva on Detour."
Operatically, Racette is a soprano and has appeared in some of the most famous opera houses in the world including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Paris Opera. If you missed her in January, don't worry- she'll be back at 54 Below in Midtown March 26-28 to perform from her "Diva on Detour" album. I highly recommend the show if you are looking for an intimate date night and to get out of your regular dinner, drinks and party routine. There's something romantic about being in a night club, with just a singer and pianist on stage sharing a table with strangers. Here Racette talks about preparing for a show, her favorite role and coming out (her wife is mezzo soprano singer Beth Clayton). What inspired you to record your first breakout cabaret album? And how did you decide on its name? This is coming full circle for me, it’s something I started out doing. Then I was introduced to and pursued my operatic career. It’s something I’ve always loved and always known how to do; it’s really a matter of returning to it. In 2004, I was invited to do a little slot in a concert in Santa Fe [where she and Clayton have a home] and they said do something different, not operatically, and I thought, ‘oh great, I will do some jazz songs or some cabaret songs.' We agreed what those songs would be and it took off from there. I’m not one to be in a recording studio and I told them that when GPR [the producers] approached me. They said, ‘Let’s turn the studio into a live studio.' We recorded it in front of a live audience. Beth has coined the phrase, ‘I thrive on live,’ I really love the energy of the audience as being part of the performance. When they told me we could do this and have the audience to record and get what we needed, I thought it was great. In terms of 'Diva on Detour,' Beth and I were talking about what I should call this and it just seemed so completely accurate and appropriate to call it that. How much do you actually collaborate with Beth? We were lamenting when the CD notebook came out because Craig Terry, my pianist, did in fact arrange a couple of the songs but he only arranged one song himself. Everything else has been a collaboration. Quite honestly Beth has been a part of that collaboration, obviously I have, and from time to time Craig’s husband, Hugh Russell, has also been a contributor. I’ve read in print that Craig has been called music director which is not entirely accurate because some of these songs in fact are medleys that I’ve done before I even met Craig. I musically direct it with assistance mostly from Craig and also from Beth and occasionally from Hugh. How do you decide on the order of the set list? Does that happen right when you get on stage or does it depend on the night? It’s rather spontaneous and what’s interesting about doing these live shows is that you can play around with that order and see how it resonates with the audience. It’s very interesting for us to see that. Do you have a ritual before you go on stage? It’s sort of the same for opera. I keep calm. I keep focused all day, keep somewhat quiet and I do a really good warm up. For the cabaret, I look at all my music, I look at my note cards for the chatter and the patter and I just keep my memory very, very fresh. Do you ever have performance anxiety? I think it would be very untrue if any performer said they didn’t. I do. If anything the anxiety is before, once I’m up there I feel like I’m home. It seems like you embody the emotions of the songs you perform and are able to create a really intimate experience. This is the treat of doing music of this genre, you can really be intimate and tell these very subtle stories as opposed to the opera, which is usually such a grand event, if only through the number of participants that it takes to make that event happen. So it’s a nice change for me as a performer and as an artist.
With Pianist Craig Terry
Do you have a favorite role? I think Tosca is my favorite at the moment. I love the character; Musically, vocally it fits me like a glove and I like the female she is. So often in opera - let’s just put it this way - you don’t find the most feminist of creatures in your leading ladies. It’s just great to portray a character that takes fate into their own hands. That’s fun to realize dramatically. You did an “It Gets Better” video filmed at the Metropolitan Opera with Beth. What was that experience like for you? What sort of feedback did you receive? It was really neat. I was hosting one of the HD broadcasts at the Met and they filmed it in the hallway. Beth was with me so we had the opportunity to do that together. It was a privilege and an honor to do that - to be able to have our sentiments and thoughts on the subject known and also appear as we are- which is out and proud. In that video you talked about how you came out in 2002 in print and you said it was scary for a moment. You said the price wasn’t worth paying to not be true to yourself and your relationship. What article are you referring to and was it something you planned? The article was for our trade magazine, Opera News, and it was my first time on the cover and they were doing a feature on my career. At that point they didn’t know I was planning on coming out in print. Beth and I discussed that it was time to answer those questions not just specifically and honestly but with the celebration of what we actually feel about our life together. To dodge the question and act ashamed didn’t match what we really think and feel. Also, for me to not be an honest person or not be myself 100 percent, I felt that my art, my artistic voice, would suffer. How did it change for you? I was scared for a little bit. You have to work so very, very hard to succeed in this profession. I had achieved much and wanted to achieve more still and I didn’t know if this was going to be a great impediment to doing so. I was scared that the bigotry was going to ruin what I had achieved and not allow me to do more. But honestly I have not seen any evidence of that. Where in New Hampshire did you grow up? How did you end up in Texas for college? A town called Bedford. And, there was a great jazz school in Texas. I still ended up in opera, kicking and screaming. I wanted to do jazz and cabaret but it became very clear early on that my abilities at that time were certainly best led to the operatic genre. I had voice lessons every week and I was obligated to learn repertoire and quite honestly it came very naturally to me. It sort of took on a life of its own and took me along with it. What do you do to unwind after a show? It varies, sometimes I’ll go out with friends. I go home and I might have a little bite to eat but literally I just sit there. Maybe take a hot bath. Sometimes we’ll go out to a party - but it depends how busy you are and what you have going on. You have to be very guarded about staying healthy and keeping your energy up to the best because it’s an enormous amount of energy being a performer. What’s next for you? I am doing Manon Lescaut at the Washington National Opera, and then I come back and do the shows for 'Diva on Detour' in March, which I’m very excited about. Then we go back to Santa Fe and check on things. We come back here [to NYC] to the Metropolitan Opera to do Les Dialogues des Carmelites, opening May 4. Catch Patricia Racette at 54 Below on March 26, 29 & 30 at 8:30PM and on March 27 & 28 at 7PM. 54 Below, "Broadway's Nightclub," is located at 254 West 54th Street in Manhattan.
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Get yourself a good haircut, call Riki

Shameless plug. I love Riki Razo. I met him through a friend who brought me to his house in Williamsburg for a haircut. I am mostly up for anything with my hair, as long as it somewhat looks the same. I like deviations from my classic look. He's easy with his scissors and yes, on the eyes. And he's got great stories. And sometimes, if you treat him right, he'll make a house call. Did I mention he's a DJ? [Check out his next gig here] And tells good stories about the dudes he meets on the street?
A total babe. And I totally trust him with my hair. [Photo stolen from Facebook]
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Who *really* is an American?

Editor's Note: Nicole Martin is an old friend of mine from Portland, Maine. We worked together at the sushi restaurant, Sapporo. When she first got arrested and spent time in a county jail six years ago, she would send me letters which I would post on this blog. Since she is a federal case and she is working on her appeal, they have since been taken down. We stay in touch via Corrlinks, the e-mail platform for those incarcerated and good old-fashioned letters. This is the first piece of writing she has asked and allowed me to post in years. BY NICOLE MARTIN America is a great country, our heritage rich and heroic. A country built on hopes and dreams come true, yet whose soil is stained with the blood, sweat, and tears of those who believed liberty was worth fighting for, even at the cost of their own lives. We are the archetypal underdog, the great melting pot, the land of opportunity. For over 200 years, hopefuls vying for their own 'American Dream' have flocked to the land of the free and the home of the brave. As a child, I remember crawling upon my mother's lap, begging her again and again to tell me the story of our family's immigration to America. My great, great grandfather was a wealthy sea captain and my great, great grandmother a lowly peasant. Societal norms prevented their marital union. So, they abandoned Norway and settled off the coast of Maine, where Johansson became Johnson as they became American. They came to America for the freedom to love. I also heard of my Scottish roots, and their immigration to America fleeing from clan violence. To think, I am just one American, my blood pumping because of so many immigrant dreams. Even this past year's presidential race boasted an immigrant heritage. Obama's father came to American seeking a better life, and Romney's father escaping the Mexican Revolution. Stories like these once united my patriotism, as I celebrated our diversity with liberty and justice for all. That is, until I met my friend Chely. Now, I am confused, asking myself, "Who is really American?"
Nicole Martin
I grinned, chuckling inside, as I silently observed the confused student. My friend Chely, a teacher's aide at a Vocational Training Culinary Arts Program, had just finished showing her student how to properly decorate a freshly baked cake. An average onlooker may have figured that the student was inexperienced or that Chely had given poor instruction. After all, her spunk and scattered energy can be misperceived at times. However, knowing both Chely and the student, I knew better. My assumption was confirmed as a Dominican native repeated Chely's instructions to the student, this time in proper Spanish. Chely's Spanish is not great. Though she was born in Mexico, her parents moved her family to the U.S. over 26 years ago when she was only two years old. They have remained here since. All five of her younger siblings were born and raised in the United States. The Martinez family, like so many others throughout history, realized their American dream. Well, all of them did, except for one. Though I had known Chely for years in passing, it was our jobs that finally brought us together. The culinary arts program where she teaches is coordinated by the Education Department where I work as an Educational Aide/Administrative Assistant. Due to our expansion of certain program components, my work responsibilities found me running into her more frequently. To my surprise and delight, I enjoyed her exclusive audience. In the past, I had never really tried to dodge my way through the crowd which usually surrounded her. I could not blame them. Her beautiful smile and boundless energy are magnetic. On the other hand, I feared that meeting her would reveal her attractiveness to be superficial, as charismatics can typically be. I am glad that I was wrong. I learned that her ambition is surpassed only by her sincerity. Working for years in the education and training field, with teaching experience myself, I like to think I can recognize an effective teacher when I see one. She possesses tremendous patience with students and a unique ability to motivate others. I was struck by her humility. You see, Chely is also an accomplished, self-taught artist. Her innate creativity is reflected in her painting, designer baked goods, and teaching style. Yet, she doesn't boast about these things. In fact, she often gives selflessly of her time and talents. In 2009, she was commissioned by the Wildlife Refuge of Danbury, Conn. to paint a 3' by 2' mural for display in their front lobby. Recently, she also held an entire art show to benefit the Children's Cancer Society. And, for the past few years she has served as a volunteer art teacher for weekly drawing and painting classes. It was no surprise to me that the same dedication and heart she put into her work she put into our friendship. "The fields, we used to be in the fields all day. I remember the strawberry fields first. I was helping my parents pick the berries, and something in them kept biting my fingers." While asking Chely for her consent to write this article, I asked her some questions about her life - including her earliest childhood memory. Chely's parents obtained their legal status through farm labor under the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986. So, too young for school, little Chely trotted alongside her parents in the fields too. Though she spoke of this memory nonchalantly, within myself I felt guilty. I felt guilty for the privileges of American life I had so absentmindedly taken for granted. I began to more fully comprehend her humility, as I imagined a wide-smiled little girl in the hot sun picking our breakfast berries until her fingers were raw. I wish I could say that the 'biting berries' were the worst of Chely's childhood, that life slowly improved. But, that is not how her story plays out. Mr. Martinez was an alcoholic. As a husband, he was unfaithful, controlling and abusive. Being caught in a blouse that revealed skin was grounds for a beating, but then again, so was trying to speak English or learning how to drive. His many girlfriends knew the charming and funny Dr. Jekyll while Mrs. Martinez and the family were left with the awful Mr. Hyde, drinking away their hard earned savings until he would puke up blood and pass out. As a father, Mr. Martinez was not much different - cold, dictatorial, and abusive. In the Martinez home, displaying affection meant displaying weakness; life is hard and a good beating with some name-calling will only make a kid stronger. Consequently, Chely learned just that, that life is hard, and painful, and unloving. With her mother caught up tending to her younger siblings, and only seeing her father during chastisements and drunken episodes, Chely was often left to fend for herself. This proved to be a sometimes frightening reality for a young girl. It did not help that Mr. Martinez could never seem to keep it together long enough to settle his family into a home or create any sense of stability. The ever-enlarging family moved like nomads from house to house, squeezing into the homes of others where they could fit. It was during one of these haphazard living arrangements that her parents' neglect was the most damaging. At the hands of strangers, on at least three occasions she can recall, the worst thing that could ever be done to a child was done to little Chely. Listening to my friend's candor, I wept inside with her as she silently wiped her tears away with her sleeve and stared listlessly at the night sky. Turning back to me, her eyes cutting into mine, "They were never there." I was beginning to believe that my friend's American Dream sounded more like a nightmare. Family vacations are usually among the fondest of a person's childhood memories. Chely would not agree, the terror of her memories overshadowing any fun she experienced on her family's vacation to Mexico in the mid-nineties. Her five younger siblings had never been to Mexico, and Chely was really too young to remember. They ate good food, enjoyed some sunshine, experienced the culture, the vacation itself was not so bad. The trip back, however, reinforced the neglect that Cherly knew so well. At first, she was confused when her family returned home without her, leaving her behind with a strange young man. They promised her everyone would meet in Texas, but she was not so confident it would happen. She had no reason to trust strange young men, even professional coyote border-crossers, and the water was quickly leaking into the dilapidated raft carrying the pair across the border. Chely did make it make safely, physically that is. Inside, however, she felt more unloved and disconnected from her family than ever. It was at this moment that Chely realized there was something very different about her than the rest of her family. Public school may have saved Araceli Martinez's life. Living as an outcast amid dysfunction at home, school exposed her to normalcy and gave her a sense of belonging. With a smile and exuberance that charmed her teachers, Chely received the love and attention she never did at home. As a result, she loved school. She excelled in all of her classes as an honor student, joining clubs and staying after whenever possible. One year she even received a special certificate for her stellar attendance - the only kid in school who never missed a day out of the year! School was also where Chely discovered her creative and artistic abilities. If she was not eliciting laughter from her peers with school play improvisations, then she was wielding pencils and paintbrushes in pursuit of artistic punditry. In middle school, Chely's painting of a black boot was selected for display at the local bank. This day Araceli Martinez became a working artist, compensation: a $25 certificate. School life provided Chely with support she never would have received at home. Unfortunately, it was not enough to make her problems at home disappear.
Araceli "Chely" Martinez
In 1998 the Martinez family moved into their own home. Maybe they would finally get their American Dream after all. Chely had begged her father to buy a home for years. So for her, it did feel like a dream come true. The optimistic yet naive teenager through that the new home would fix everything. Of course, it didn't. In spite of the years of cheating and beating, it was Mr. Martinez who filed for divorce. He chose to take the three oldest children with him while the three youngest stayed with their mother. In her despair, and having relied so heavily on her oldest daughter for guidance and translation over the years, Mrs. Martinez convinced herself that it was Chely who broke up the family. She began to treat her daughter with distant wariness, and Chely began to feel as unloved by her mother as she did by her father. Somehow, through all she had endured, Chely managed to hold onto her optimism. At 14, she decided she could work and still do well in school. She was hired at Chicago Style Sportswear. The employer told her to simply fill out some paperwork, and she could start: Name, age, address, telephone, social security number ...? Wait, Chely had all of the answers except for the last. She ran to ask her mother. The dream finally shattered. Her mother confirmed what she had suspected much of her life - she was not an American. The eager young girl began to conduct her own research into American citizenship. She learned that if her parents became citizens, she would inherit their American status. Confident she could accomplish this endeavor, she confronted her mother and father. Lacking both mastery of the English language and ambition, they met her optimism with cool complacency. Chely had translated for them, especially her mother, throughout most of her life. Ironically enough, she knew their social security numbers by heart. Frustrated but not defeated, Chely attempted to teach her mother English as a Second Language and facts about America. it did not work out so well. Chely's hopelessness grew as her mother's efforts waned. "No puedo hija." Mrs. Martinez gave up, and Chely did too. The strong little girl who had persevered through so much - tenuous farm labor, molestation, 'coyote' border crossing, divorce, and a lifetime of neglect - finally hit her breaking point. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Chely bought a social security number for $50 and started her new job. She had other jobs after that. She enjoyed being able to buy herself nice things for the first time in her life. Suddenly, it dawned upon her young mind that short cuts do pay off, even if illegal. After all, is that not how her parents brought her to America? As the years went by, the wrong decisions became easier and easier to make. Chely even found relief from her painful past in drugs and alcohol. This crowd accepted her, unlike her real family. Her boyfriend, a few years old than her, showed her love. At least, she thought he did. Chely did not know much about love. He may have been a gang member and a drug dealer, but he treated her better than anyone ever had. He showed her affection - and how to sell drugs. Chely and I have a lot in common. Perhaps, that is why we are friends. We can sit for hours talking about everything from our career goals to abstract concepts of life. We are both undying optimists with a passion for teaching and learning. We love to create in our own artistic venues and enjoy sharing our talents with others. We even share our tragic pasts, filled with different yet similar stories of childhood trauma and escapism through drugs and alcohol. In fact, it was our pasts that brought us together. Had it not been for our poor decisions, I may have never met Chely. Chely and I are both serving time in Federal Prison for non-violent, drug-related offenses. I am 30 years old, she is 28. The six years I have served seems like nothing compared to the nearly 10 Chely will have served when she is released in November of this year. Still, we have much in common, including the fact that our youthful follies cost us dearly. My friend and I are both inmates. However, there is something very different about me and Chely. When I have finished serving my sentence, I will go home, back to my friends and family. When Chely has finished serving her time, she will be deported to Mexico, a country she remembers only from a horrible family vacation and where she knows no one. America is a great country, but our history has its 'not so great' parts. Like teenagers often do, young America made some mistakes. Each year Americans gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving, taking time to remember our gratitude and the kindness of the Native Americans. But, we so conveniently forget the way our ancestors bullied and manipulated those same gentle folks out of their land. Then again, we empathize with young America. She was left with few other options when her parent Great Britain was treating her badly. Desperate times do call for desperate measures. If only our mistakes ended there, but the growing pains go on. Young America fought with her siblings in civil war. She also bullied foreigners; enslaving Africans, Chinese and Mexicans at various points in history. America would rather leave those photographs out of the family album. Herein lies my confusion. Who really is an American? Are you really an American? Maybe, I am not an American. I am not a Native American. I am living on stolen land. Those historic crimes of yesteryear would have surely landed a person in prison today. Maybe, I am not an American because my freedom was handed to me and I abused it, took it for granted. Maybe, my friend Chely is more American than me. She fought so hard to be an American and is still fighting. Yes, she did commit a crime, but teenagers make mistakes. She has been punished enough already. At two years old, it is doubtful that she played much of a role in her illegal immigration to America. Araceli Martinez is a vibrant young woman with so much to offer the world. Even within these walls, she has developed herself through educational and mental health programs and touched so many lives ... especially my own. The thought of my friend being deported to a strange, dangerous, and lonely land breaks my heart. If you are really an American, then act like one. Be bold, courageous, and willing to fight for what is right. Contact your local Congress person and ask them to include a provision in the Path to Citizenship bill for immigrants who were convicted of non-violent offenses and are facing deportation as a result of the offense and/or immigrants who were raised since childhood in the U.S. but are facing deportation because they were brought here illegally as minors by their parents. Advocate for immigration reform. Share Chely's story with others. She deserves her American Dream too. Nicole Martin is a co-prisoner and friend of Araceli Martinez. They are inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. Nicole is on year six of a 110-month sentence.
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How sparring is like social therapy on most days

Mondays are typically what I call my "mental health day" ... as I go to my social therapy group and then acupuncture. Yes, social therapy. It's basically a group that gets together every week with two therapists to talk about shit. It's super challenging and hard for me because I am actually pretty shy when it comes to a group setting. I get really nervous talking in front of people, and even more so if it's just conversational and I want to just contribute and build off something somebody said. It's slightly easier when I'm sharing something about me, but I have a hard time with attention on me, I realize (even though I have secret fantasies of performing). And I have a hard time with thinking I have anything meaningful or of value to contribute. It's really hard to admit that and I know intellectually it's not true, but it's old and dusty and something I'm working hard to transform. I always feel raw afterwards, though if I contribute and find myself talking a lot during a particular session, I notice I feel buzzed. It's a group of about 15 I think, so not that big, but it's growing. Three new people started this month alone. It's a mix of gay, straight, young old - and it's diverse in terms of where people are from. I started last spring, I think, though I'm not sure exactly. We basically talk about whatever - people's shit that comes up, what's going on politically and culturally, or certain themes about the emotionality of life. It's deep and the pace of the group can be fast. I'm always conscious of who is speaking and how much space they take up. I think I am conscious of this because I struggle with taking up space speaking, even though I know I do, just with my presence. I've had some pretty deep realizations by osmosis and participation since joining the group, some of which feel a little personal to share here, but I made an interesting parallel today while on the phone with V. There's no introduction in group therapy (other than a few initial sessions with the lead therapist), nobody shows you or tells you how it's done, or what to say or when to say it. They don't tell you how to introduce yourself or what to share or how to give feedback. You just do it.
These are not the people in my group. And actually we don't really even sit this close to each other.
It's the same sort of thing in sparring. Sparring is awesome. I love being in there with the more advanced students and my teachers (who are taking it easy on me, somewhat) but there is very little direction until I am in the thick of it. The minutes are ticking on the clock and I'm in a round, on offense and defense, going slow, but still wondering about what strikes to put out, and how to block properly. I had a coach (aka another student) the other day who showed me a round kick and then front kick sequence technique, which helped. And I am learning some blocks slowly, but for the most part, I'm thrown in and am picking it up as I go. This is happening for me in group. I feel myself flailing in there, contributing and retracting, and then just harboring. Of course it's different because I am physically moving while sparring, but with both things, I am forced to put myself out there and participate and I feel vulnerable. Vulnerable in sparring because I want to have a better idea of what I am doing and vulnerable in my group because I want to have a better idea of what I am doing. And I don't. And I'm really uncomfortable with that and trying to lean into the uncomfort and anxiety and just be OK with it. I'm moving and growing and I want to know what I am doing! And, then today, I was reminded that whenever things get hard, I tend to want to bail. I don't have that feeling in sparring, but in the group, yes, I do. I really do. I want to hide under my covers and watch Downton Abbey all day and The New Girl and just shut down. And cry. And yeah, I do some of that, but I also am working on visibility and my old coping mechanisms just keep me hidden. Aka they really don't work anymore. I have not yet found the balance of participating and showing vulnerability and doing it in a way where I don't feel overexposed or emotionally exhausted. It's a process and I guess, on days like these, when I leave group feeling defeated because I didn't participate on the level I want to, it's time to just be gentle and tender with myself and know that I am working hard and trying. PS. This post doesn't even address the concepts of conflict and playing well with others - both of which I am exploring in karate and social therapy. I have a history of conflict and have traditionally not done it well - it frightens me - and learning how to be in conflict constructively and sharing my perspective without my righteous edge is a new challenge of mine.
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