Sunday, April 6, 2014

Full Frame 2014: A List

Rather than even attempt to post throughout the last four days, I told myself each time a film or a person or a place or a thing hit me square in the heart-I'd just list it all, as simply stated as possible, come Sunday. Here's that effort.

1. Documentary films tell stories in a way that is authentic, and they tell them in a world that is often inauthentic. They remind us of the real.

2. The Vietnam war was poorly taught to me in school. Either that, or I just didn't pay proper attention. "Last Days in Vietnam" rectified that. It also reminded me that history is perception amplified by a need to record the past. A measure of security, perhaps.

3. Too much effort is much worse, for me, than no effort at all. Trying too hard at a film-or at anything, or anyone, speaks only from a place of desire with an inability for fulfillment. While there's no shame in that, and while that's a thing I definitely have lived myself via other avenues, the only film I saw I did not enjoy was desperate for acceptance. Had it of told its own story-its true premise was really quite lovely. There's a lesson there.

4. "Olga-To My Friends" reminded me of what color is-its power, its place. I teach symbolism to children every year & somehow, in that process, had seem to of lost the ability to be captured by color. There's a scene in this one where Olga, who is alone in the vast Russian landscape-fully entrenched by snow, & all is white. When the men come in to herd her reindeer, that white is wrecked & becomes tinged quickly with crimson as they slaughter her herd. Two colors, red. White. The image sticks almost palpably.

5. "Private Violence," a film by Durham's own Cynthia Hill on the evil that is domestic violence, told a story with more bravery than I knew could be captured in film. Her power came in heavy doses of truth via the lives of folks that live exactly one county away from me. I heard her speak to a passerby on the stairwell after the screening. The patron remarked on the heavy-handed graphics, which were admittedly tough to stomach. Her response was simple: "It had to be that. It is that."

6. The capacity of the human spirit to exert positivity-to smile- to believe- to thrive when others cannot or will not-is never a thing I will understand. Abby Evans in "Butterfly Girl," and honestly, several of the subjects I saw in films these last four days, reminded me of our power to choose how we handle and experience and learn and grow. It is a choice.

7. Sitting around a picnic table, or in a row of theater seats, or at a bar, & talking about good films will inevitably lead to sitting around a picnic table, or in a row of theater seats, or at a bar, & talking about a good life. I am grateful for anyone willing to allow such a trend to transpire.

8. I will always be struck by contrast. Juxtaposition was a commonality in so many of these films--"E-Team," for example, where a Human Rights Watch Activist is undercover in Syria, standing beneath an airstrike, 8 months pregnant while she speaks to a mother that lost her family the night before. Life & death. A start & an end.

9. You may walk into a film with the intent on it serving your students. You may walk into a film with the intent of being a film critic of a sort-there to analyze, to pick apart, to evaluate every second. And then that film changes you, and you forget your purpose entirely. Best to embrace it.

10. After spending four days in this place-a place driven by passion, with so many stories shared-on screen & off-all about this life & our ability to simply experience-to try again, to try differently, to stop trying...You couldn't possibly be the same you were when it started. That's the measure of the festival--it's ability not just to tell stories of change--but to change the spectator.

And as this season turns to spring, I'd say a change was long overdue. At least for this spectator.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Finding my "Place" in Bull City:

Have come on back to this blog in an effort to record the results of what very well be the best decision I could've made for myself. Moving here, to Durham, seeing this skyline every early morning on my way to school, is a thing that felt absolutely impossible a year ago. Now, I sit here staring at this killer schedule for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and I can't fathom a better time to get back to writing on a blog I named after the feeling you get when you finally find home.

 Given the mountain of school work that surrounds me-I don't suppose I'll be able to grant this thing much attention until I'm fully immersed in the fest & fully detached (is that even possible?) from my middle schoolers. In the mean time, here's a schedule of films that, because of a killer program called "Teach the Teachers" that the festival sponsors, I will attend, for free, with a group of very cool teachers, this weekend in downtown Durham in an effort to continue to integrate documentary film into my classroom as a means of bridging learning gaps, creating a global social conscience among my students, & moving them towards mastery of every single Common Core State Standard ever written. Sure feels like a win to me.

Thursday, April 3rd:
Last Days in Vietnam
A Park for the City
Private Violence
112 Weddings

Friday, April 4th:
DamNation: Trailer
Butterfly Girl: Trailer

Saturday, April 5th:
The Hip-Hop Fellow: Trailer
The Great Invisible: Trailer
The Lions Mouth Opens
Devil's Playground: Trailer
Rich Hill: Trailer

Sunday, April 6th:
Alive Inside
School of Doc

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Week two, two and a half, maybe? What day is it today?

Free time really only exists here in the early morning, (now) or the very late nights. And because the very late nights usually involve me giggling at the other Ashley across the hall over things that wouldn't even hold the slightest bit of humor in the real world because in that world I don't work seventeen hour days and live where I work and eat where I work and work, where I work, here at Yale.

Week two began slowly and frankly, it creeped me out how well things were going. I am sharp enough to know that we've done a stellar job, here, but I don't really much care for complacency and I have no intention of slowing down until my time here ends. There's always a better best. Week two is about shaping the academics happening here. Improving classes, conferencing with all thirty (down from thirty two-did you catch that? That's another story that involves my mother deciding that "The Terminator" is a fantastic nickname for her youngest daughter) instructors, and beginning prep for Parent Visitation Day this Sunday. I knew coming up here that the greatest challenge for me would be looking a tenured Yale Professor in the eye and explaining why you can't teach 13 year olds the same way that you teach Ivy League-ers. I stand at a looming five foot two and possess a voice that has been called both elf-ish and totally communicable with neighborhood dogs due to its high-pitched frequencies which occur, let's face it, at pretty regular intervals. Pair that with my southern-ness, which comes out full force out here as a defense mechanism, and I just didn't see how anyone that educated and experienced was going to take a lick of guidance from me.

And, to be fair, some have not. I've had the most difficult conversations of my professional career here at Yale. I always tell the children back home that this is a sure sign that you're learning-it's not comfortable, you kind of feel like you might die a little, but you get right on through it & that other side looks just fine. To be even more honest-these types of talks were the ones that comprised the end of my first week in the program as Academic Dean and the start of this week, too. And then, just when my heart was hurting and I was wondering if perhaps I should review all the Terminator movies just to get some tips on how to emotionally separate myself from that awful process-I had the type of talk that I'd wanted all along.

She's a college professor with a wealth of experience and knowledge. She's teaching middle school children-and up until very recently, the class was primarily lecture & video. I observed, took notes, brainstormed strategies that have worked with my own sweet peas in South Carolina, and then, very carefully, had the talk. Admittedly, I braced myself for the blow that I'd become pretty used to after last week. But it never came. She was receptive and appreciative. And y'all-the strategies I suggested are now in that class and working. Children are happy. She's happy. And I did that.

I really believe life's got this balance-like you work real hard, and you struggle on and on, and then you get this really sweet reprieve. That's what this is, I'm sure. While I know that more challenges lie ahead-(Company President arrives tomorrow) I also know that this job wouldn't be nearly as rewarding if it weren't the absolute toughest thing I've ever taken on as an educator. And, when you've got the support of good, solid, smart folks like the ones I have with me here, you can really do just about anything.

Even on five hours of sleep, which is totally your fault because you stayed up til the wee hours of the morning eating pizza at staff social and laughing so very hard at things that again, are not at all real world funny.

But this is not the real world. It is, however, mine for a few more weeks & I fully intend to live every minute of it the best I can.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An update from Yale: Week 1

There are so many versions of the "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" cliche that I'm tempted to just list them all right here & leave my summary of my first week here at Yale at that. But that wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be right. To be truthful, it's made me more alive & wise than I've been in years. It's been the sort of challenge that anyone with any sort of ambition or grateful nature would kill for. In short, I'm about two inches from in over my head and loving every single minute on the edge.
A bit of background: I am an Academic Dean in a summer program for highly gifted and talented students attending Yale University for this three week session. It's an intense, academically rigorous program and I'm in charge of everything that is academically rigorous. The numbers demonstrate that: 74 classes, 32 instructors. Among them, published authors, Ivy League Professors, etc. It's perhaps the most talented group of educators anywhere, and I've somehow managed to become their leader. I'm fortunate to have another Ashley with me, here, who makes all of this quite possible. In addition to speaking Mandarin fluently, she's got a life that's taken her all over the world. She is fearless and brilliant and she is what gets me through most of these very long, very hard days. Together, we make this happen. We visited 36 classes in one day. We know this campus, these courses, their materials, their instructional frameworks and their academic budgets, all too well. Between the two of us and our overachiever brains, we can pull up details on any of these 32 faculty members, the daily lessons they share with our genius children, and the classrooms which make all of this academic magic happen each day.
Our office staff is true camp staff in that they are, without question, some of the best folks I've ever met. I adore these people & they were the sort who were strangers only for the first five minutes I met them. Following that, we were family. We are family. I mean no offense to my very wonderful and gracious circle of friends down South, but know this: you've got competition. New England has once again stolen my heart and made me all too aware of professional possibilities here in the north.
The other piece of this gigantic summer job puzzle are the TAs, who double as counselors here on site and are young-mostly college age, from everywhere, including Scotland & England. They're brilliant and far more capable and literate that I ever recall being at age 20. We've built solid bonds that I'd like to believe will last past my time with them. So many of them want to be teachers & I'm hopeful that this experience will propel them into that career. It is, after all, the greatest job in the world & children everywhere would be awfully lucky to be taught by any of these folks.
Yale, itself is surreal. Every inch of this campus breaks my heart. The buildings, the old old books, and the bike paths that I take daily-as part of my "job," mind you-are by far the most beautiful I've ever seen. New Haveners, too, are lovely. I've met several locals in coffee shops & around the town and am now quite sure that southern hospitality can, indeed, extend north.
I think that's quite an update. I should sleep now, as these days top 17 hours nearly every day & the morning brings more teacher observations. Just know that I'm here and lucky and happy. So very, very happy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Last Arts & Draughts of the Year Tonight at the Columbia Museum of Art

In the simplest sense,  Arts & Draughts, hosted by the Columbia Museum of Art and happening tonight from 7-11pm, is exactly what it sounds like: visitors experience the museum's incredible selection of art, which this month, includes a unique perspective tour of The Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design by Clark Ellefson, a guide most apt to explain the nature of these particular pieces of art thanks to his wealth of experience in post-modern and modern furniture design via his own experience with his company Lewis & Clark. Guests of the museum tonight also experience the unique perspective that stems from a complimentary taste of Harpoon Brewery's IPA, a beer that somehow manages to be both floral & bitter in its taste & hops. But while this undeniably awesome combination is an excellent fit for your Friday night all on its own, the evening holds much more than the title implies. First, you can pair that beautiful beverage mentioned above with food from Scott Hall's Bone-In Artisan BBQ truck for a southern styled dinner mix sure to please even the pickiest palate. 

The party also includes a line-up of live music that is not to be missed. Beginning at 7:20, Mechanical River begins the night, followed by that soulful trio everyone in this city won't stop talking about, The Mobros, at 8:00. You've got the Royal Tinfoil up next at 9:00, and then one of Columbia's finest & friendliest-Josh Roberts & The Hinges, who's song, "As Steady as We Can" featured on last year's Scene SC Sampler and a solid staple of their massive song catalogue, remains one of my favorite tracks to be born in this great city. Here's that track live & an excellent look at the magic that happens when these folks take stage:

Tonight's music line up is a well-planned scene, a diverse body of sound from four talented bands well worth the sacred hours that open your weekend this Friday night. 

If you've never experienced Arts & Draughts, tonight will most certainly make you a steadfast fan. It's the last one of the season for the Museum this year, so missing it really isn't an option. It's a seamlessly well-run event that brings out a friendly crowd you just don't get combined too often in the Soda City. The result? An evening you feel fortunate to have had, & of course, the pride you get from knowing that you live in a town where these events- & that fortunate feeling, too- occur fairly often. 

Get those tickets-which are just $8 & only $5 if you're a member of the Museum, ahead of time right here

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Let's Make Bacon!" Charcuterie Class Educates & Inspires at Motor Supply Company's "Make" Event

I don't know any good southern girl that doesn't hold a deep reverence for the smell of bacon sizzling away in her Mama's frying pan come Saturday morning. It's a solid signal in the South, an olfactory alarm unlike any other. I've loved it for as long as I can remember. I thought I knew it, too-how it was made, which cuts to search my grocery aisles for whenever I wanted that same smell my childhood brought me each weekend. And then, last night, I had the pleasure of being educated about True Bacon at the "Make" Charcuterie Event with Chef Tim Peters at Motor Supply Company. I quickly learned that true bacon is thick as a steak, meant as a main dish, & should be cured to bring out the quality of a Pork Belly so fine that it could have only come from Caw Caw Creek.

Chef Tim Peters taught a full house about this southern-fried delicacy last night. In the "Make" event, guests were treated first to a selection of house-made Charcuterie by Tim & his very impressive staff. Among the bites that opened the evening were a wonderful sausage and a pate that introduced me to itself so tastefully that I will absolutely try it again. Wine & beer flowed freely from the very generous bartender, who kept guests engaged as they prepared to "make" their own bacon with the Chef.

When he took his place in front of the diversely delicious array of curing spices to speak to his guests about the art of Charcuterie, it became immediately clear to everyone in the room that Peters was much more than an expert Chef. He's that too, of course, but what was most striking about the way the spoke to folks last night went beyond his expertise in the kitchen. The passion with which he spoke, as a man who is inarguably successful, yet completely humble-a man who clearly loves and believes in his work as a Chef, is what I'm certain most will remember long after their bacon cures in a week or two. It's a rare thing in this world to see someone with that kind of joy, & Peters was more than willing to share that with his audience in hopes of inspiring & educating.

Finally, with the perfect blend of humor & direction, Peters wrapped up by answering every level of question from his guests with the utmost grace & detail. He then prepared them to choose their spices for the start of the curing process & head to a table he'd set up with all they would need to create their bacon. Following this process, guests had the option of taking their creation home to complete the curing process or the option of leaving it with Peters & his fantastic staff to finish up at Motor Supply.

It wasn't surprising to see several guests take this option, demonstrating an obvious trust in their host, his staff, and his excellent lesson on far more than just the art of Charcuterie.

You can enjoy Chef Tim Peter's creations long after Indie Grits ends by visiting Motor Supply Company, open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch & dinner on Gervais Street in the heart of theVista.

Monday, April 23, 2012

An Evening with Slow Food & the "Make" events this week at Indie Grits

A key component of the magic that is Indie Grits happens when its participants interact with one another. This has been true since that brilliant opening party this past Thursday night, where strangers filled the dance floor at 701, coming together to celebrate the beginning of what's been a most memorable opening weekend for the festival. Attending simply just doesn't cut it at Indie Grits. Participants can't help but befriend like-minded culturally conscious festival goers no matter what the occasion. They get involved. They experience. They participate.

A particularly effective participation-maker came last night, as folks reveled together in the vast variety of treats that were featured at the Indie Grits Slow Food event, held at the All Local Farmer's Market at 701. Chefs were on hand & more than willing to share their trade secrets about their featured dish. Set up at stations surrounding the perimeter of the space, participants tasted creations from Mr. Friendlys, 116, Terra, & so many other of Columbia's best restaurants that feature local and sustainable ingredients. The faces behind the food were engaged with participants in a way that was so demonstrative of the pride & passion they hold for their profession. I was particularly fond of Rosewood Market's always-tasty Shrimp Burger & 116's Chorizo and roasted Chick Pea salad.

Were the edible treats not enough to satisfy your appetite, Motor Supply Company featured a fantastic homemade Strawberry Ginger Soda that chef Tim Peters kindly gave second (and a somewhat shameful third, in my case) tasting of to thirsty attendees. Mixed with the featured Champagne being poured most liberally by the event's fantastic bar staff, it created a cocktail that served the diverse selection of entree tastes perfectly.

Tonight begins yet another round of edible entertainment with the start of the "Make" events. These events, run by Indie Grits Festival partners, aim at providing audiences with an interactive, hands-on culinary experience with two of the most talented chefs in the city. Tonight, Motor Supply Company Chef Tim Peters will engage his already sold out audience with a lesson on the fine art of Charcuterie. Participants will learn just how that unforgettably great Motor Supply Bacon comes to be by spicing and curing their own pound of Caw Caw Creek Pork Belly, which they'll take home as the ultimate Indie Grits souvenir.

On Tuesday, you can get a second dose of  "Make" with Rosso Chef Kristian Niemi, who will be running a limited class titled "Off Menu," designed to increase his audience's grill skills by offering a lesson that culminates in a dinner including a steak, salad, and American Harvest Organic Spirit Cocktail. For more details, you can contact the fine folks at Rosso at 803-787-3949.

If cooking doesn't sound so appetizing, try a third Indie Grits "Make" event, which is the already established art educational experience, "Craft. Bar. Happy. Hour," offered by the Columbia Museum of Art. Their "Make" event happens this Tuesday, April 24th at 6 pm. Attendees will be creating Voodoo Dolls of their favorite celebrities. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased here.

Whatever "Make" event you're fortunate enough to take part in this week, make it count. Get involved. Experience it. Participate.

It is, after all, the Indie Grits way.