Friday, February 03, 2006

31 flavors

Well, it turns out that I think I have a lot to look forward in my non-profit classes after all. My program development class is taught by the sort of gutsy neighborhood activist I love running into in Baltimore, who talks about protecting her scruffy corner of town with eloquent, straight-shooting, mama bear intensity. My brain was spinning the entire class. I could barely keep my nerdy, hand-raising 8th grader alter ego inside and had to be reminded by my friend and classmate Emily that she would break all my pencils if I ever asked a question one minute before the end of class again.
The non-profit studies survey course I'm also taking was a happy surprise. The professor is a very engaging economist. My smile really grew though as I discovered the variety of people I was taking class with:
A Pakistani accounntant and development officer
A former head of an after-school program in New York City
A Nigerian human rights activist
A Peruvian policy analyst
A woman who did citizenship training in the Ukraine
A former ecologist who studied snakes in Arizona.
A mother 30 years out of college who ditched commercial realty for working in a non-profit.
A Hopkins undergrad researching children's literature in India and thinking about working at an Indian non-profit.
I felt like a big scoop of plain vanilla.
It's really good to feel my brain working again.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Can I get a Sensei?

I’m starting a graduate level course in non-profit management tonight, and I’m approaching it with a little skepticism. The world is rife with professional degree programs, and I wonder how much of that education is useful or valid. I bet even internet users in Zimbabwe have gotten a pop-up ad that inspired them to ponder a degree in hotel management or law enforcement from the University of Phoenix. I’m well aware that many universities have become veritable factories for certificates and maser’s degrees for any number of exotic areas of expertise. I myself have a graduate degree possessed by a percentage of the American population that’s probably the same numerically as the proportion of bluegrass mandolin players in New Delhi, India (BTW I’m interested in meeting mandolin players anywhere, especially someplace like India). I was struck by how much the program I was in was seen by the university as a profit-making money machine by how little was given to the program for any sort of accommodations. Undergrad programs are sold like cruise ships – teenagers and their parents on tours examine food courts, dorm rooms with cable and workout facilities. George Washington U. even had a bowling alley. The first day of grad school for me didn’t even start with a welcome reception. There was a plate of chocolate chip cookies given out which we were promptly told was the last food or anything of the like we’d get free from the university. Aren’t some undergrads getting a laptop when they start school? Well, when I was in grad school I did use the gym…..

I’ve been told more than once that the best way to approach any education program is as a customer. Demand what you’re looking for, make the program work for you. I’m certainly not approaching this program like I did college. I wasn’t entirely sure why I was going to college. I picked classes like I was at Old Country Buffet, trying a little of everything, realizing many were like so many piles of jello (tasty but devoid of value) and pickled beets (barely worthy of chewing on). I really wish I’d had some more job experience before I went away so I could have better known what I was looking for. Fortunately in this round of professional classes I know what I’m looking for, and I’ll get it or drop the program. Still, I worry that I’m really taking these classes to fill a sense of professional inadequacy that will never be satisfied in a classroom. What I think I really desire is mentorship. I’ve had some crappy supervisors, reflected largely in what little I’ve learned from them. Granted, pearls of wisdom are usually earned, and I may not have learned how to get along well enough to get my bosses to spill their guts. But I wonder if with the explosion of professional education, bosses are losing a sense of obligation or need to act as mentors to their underlings, when in fact the best knowledge is still learned on the job, in the heat of battle where lessons naturally have relevance and context. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve moved around so much. Nobody wants to invest in someone halfway out the door.
Someday I’ll have my Obi Wan Kenobi.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

God made dirt, so it can't hurt

I was having a late night conversation with a friend. Late conversations with me have often veered off into bizarre territory, usually because my brain is half in dreamland, but in this case my friend gave out the strange details.
"Pregnant women get a craving for dirt."
I voiced my doubts. She added, "I have a relative who eats it."
Double bullshit I think. Then I looked it up, and with barely a keystroke I discover there's a veritable pregnant woman dirt eating debate. Once again I returned to my state of humility in matters of perceiving the mind of women.
Apparently dirteating has cultural roots in the Carribean, Latin America and Africa in a practice called Pica. It's also a behavior associated with some psychological conditions. Scientifically it's called geophagy. Apparently some women even scarf it down with claiming health benefits. Check it out:
Eating Dirt: It Might be Good For You
Pregnant Women Eating Dirt
So I guess I'll continue to apply the 10 second rule for food on the ground when I go camping.

Monday, January 09, 2006


I made it to the new American Visionary Art Museum's new exhibit "Race, Class, Gender (can't make a doesn't equal sign on this computer)Character" on Sunday. I'm impressed that AVAM isn't afraid to get opinionated or political beyond comentary on the art itself (although I could see how others might find it obnoxious), and this show exemplified that without being shrill. Still, there was something strange about watching this exhibit that took a while for me to a finger on. When I entered, there was a work of art that included a large angel decorated in broken glass, dangling as if it was falling through the hall formed by the central staircase. In the background Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings was playing, a really sad atmospheric piece that I've seen in a bunch of movies, most memorably Willem Dafoe being shot a billion times in the slow-motion climax of "Platoon". As I walked through the exhibit, the music was loud enough to be everywhere, in every room in the whole museum, on repeat. Most of the exhibit showed happy things - street scenes from a busy city, a smiling Dalai Lama made of glass, paper cutouts on banners and memories of childhood collaged with photographs and paint. Yet, as I was walking through I couldn't understand why I was feeling sad - really sad. I couldn't stop running my mind through the things that bring me down lately - it started with my messy apartment, climbed to stupid arguments with my parents and ran over to the lamer parts of work. Right as I was mentally punching Dick Cheney in the nose in front of a banner depicting smiling children following Josephine Baker dancing with wings on, it hit me - it's the music! It's sneaking into my brain like mopey carbon monoxide. If it had been any other kind of music heavily on repeat, even something I like, I probably would have been quickly chewing on my own arm from the repetition, but this snuck up and infected me so unexpectedly. I couldn't believe it, but as soon as I realized this my dumpy mood evaporated. It only taught me all the more that though I'd like to think I control my own mind, my head really can be a soup of chemicals and flesh, sometimes stirred by whatever floats in the air. So my advice is: definitely go to the new Visionary Art exhibit, but bring your iPod or Walkman, and stock it with a full load of Stevie Wonder or whatever makes you shake it. I think you'll be glad and everybody around you will be jealous, but won't be able to figure out why.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hawaii Might Be Wasted On Me

I have wondered whether despite its claim to the title of paradise, Hawaii is quite the perfect vacation destination for me. After several days over the holidays with my family of perfect weather, rainbows and sunsets from off the side of a 1970's van, I still may have proven through my behavior that Hawaii is wasted on me, and I should take my pastey skin elsewhere:

Time spent on the beach: 30-45 minutes
Time spent mountain biking: About 10 hours
Feet climbed on bike to top of mountain with view of "Grand Canyon of Hawaii", 62 degree air temperature and rain: 3500 feet
Time spent riding bike to a much heard about taco stand: 2 hours
Time spent hanging out with a bluegrass fiddler on a street corner: 1 hour
Pictures taken of a ranch and cattle: About a dozen

Based on these calculations, my ideal vacation spot is somehwere in New Mexico or maybe Guatemala combined with the promise of ubiquitous fresh sushi and humpback whale sightings.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas on glue

So, kind of like I finally had the birthday that my 21st should have been when I turned 25 and had 2 women make out with me at the same time while being serenaded by a blues singer in white vinyl shoes and a captain's hat, I'm having the kind of holiday season I would have liked when I was 17. I managed to avoid any sort of shopping or even thinking about Christmas until this weekend when I bought nearly all my presents online. After a fantastic, civilized round of Trivial Pursuit with some of the Baltimore blogosphere entirely free from Christmas decorations except for a Charlie Brown style pine branch, I ran for my life (from the suburbs, not the bloggers) back to the city. I went down to a holiday party featuring the first Christmas pageant I've ever watched in a basement. Ostensibly, it was based on "A Christmas Carol" featuring a cowboy Ghost of Christmas past, a talking bear ghost of Christmas present and a cross-dressing ghost of Christmas future. Best of all there was caroling in between scenes. Now good caroling is always about audience participation, but in this case it meant the basement turning into a giant mosh pit of which, appropriately, Scrooge and Tiny Tim (both women) were usually at the bottom, often on top of each other. I also found that "For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Metallica makes a surprisingly poignant holiday song.
Sunday, I ended up at the mall, but I only bought things for myself.
Monday, I went to the open practice for the Charm City Roller Girls to see my friend Emily skate. I felt like a parent watching their kids play soccer, only a lot of the "kids" had tattoos and the "parent" next to me had a nose ring. The follow-up party was at the Mojo Room. There was a food spread that as holiday buffets should, consisted almost entirely of cookies and dessert, and the only protein was the bacon on some bean salad and a couple small containers of bean dip. I wasn't the only one on a sugar high, becuase even though there were only about a dozen people left at the party, two roller girls kicked a skate-shaped pinata to death on the floor, showering glitter and chocolate eyeballs everywhere. Glitter is insidious, so I came to the executive board meeting at work today looking like I'd made out with Cyndi Lauper the night before.
The punk rock holiday won't be over until Friday when I go to the Trixie Little Holiday Spectacular at the Ottobar and see how Trixie Little saves Christmas, probably somehow by taking off all her clothes.
As I said to Emily last night, I think I'm putting the "Jesus H. Christ!" back into Christmas this year.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Baltimore, Now Sold in New Collectible Packaging

I went to the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor's Association annual meeting this morning. I sometimes forget as I answer questions about how many stars were on the flag in 1837 or scraping gum off a 200 year old floor that I'm somehow demographically connected to all the hotel concierges and drivers of those floating duck truck tour buses in the visitor services business. We all deal with the legions of suburbanites, Shriners, high school marching bands, swimming pool sales conventioneers and Red Sox fans that strap on their fanny packs and leave behind their shopping malls to visit...... a shopping mall with dolphins and a sailing ship. Even though it was the basic ballroom meeting with round tables and lukewarm breakfast with a lot of speeches, there was an interesting re-branding process presentation (I can't wait to see what they come up with for a new slogan: "Baltimore: It's Infectious!"). They also had a motivational speaker. I have to admit I got a little excited, and then felt kind of embarrassed that I got taken in by the whole melodramatic presentation, kind of like the way I felt after watching "Driving Miss Daisy."
In the presentation about promoting Baltimore as a desitnation they made a point that really caught my attention. When they talked to ordinary non-Baltimoreans in focus groups, people said that they really had little interest in seeing the neighborhoods outside of downtown, that the quirkiness and vibrance of Baltimore's neighborhoods did little to make it stand out as a destination. Those were honest comments, not really surprising. However, the presenter followed by suggesting that this meant that promoting this part of Baltimore had little relevance to advertising Baltimore to the outside world, and that the focus should be on promoting downtown and the Inner Harbor. Now it can be easy to be cynical about the Inner Harbor alone. But my mental brakes screeched for another reason. Regardless of the difficulty of getting people there, shouldn't promoting visitorship in Baltimore's neighborhoods still be a primary or at least parallel concern for the promoters of the city? If only the pockets of the Hyatts, Marriots, Cheesecake Factories, Sunglass Huts and Aquariums are lined, how does that help the families who actually live here? How does promotion of Baltimore benefit the citizens of Baltimore if visitors aren't drawn to the small businesses the citizens themselves own? Isn't it going to be that much harder for local leaders to justify calls to improve the liveablity of their neighborhoods with infrastructure improvements if they're not part of an overarching plan for drawing outside people in? I don't think that the neighborhoods are not still part of city or even BACVA plans, but I think I heard the beginning of a dangerous new level being reached in the continuing fetishization of a certain inlet off the Patapsco River. In the meantime, I'm just starting to wrap my head around this and where I fit in the ant hill.