Barre None

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Most of us work out regularly hoping to change into a slender Black-Swan extra, not a muscle-bound field hockey hitter, yet regular cardio and weight-training often create thick, strong limbs, rather than lithe, lean lines. Since the early 20th century, body-conscious women with the workout skinny have sought the lengthening benefits of Pilates, a form of strenuous stretch-and-hold style exercise developed intuitively by Joseph Pilates, whose father was an Olympic gymnast, and mother a brilliant naturopath. The natural extension of Mr. Pilates’ challenging but effective practice, barre, a new fusion of ballet, Pilates, and yoga, helps us achieve a more svelte bod in as little as one month of dedicated class attendance, three to four times per week, with bouncy music in the background.

Can anyone attempt barre, even the clutziest, least-ballerina-like among us? Aimee Fulchino, who co-owns the only local studio for barre, aptly named simply Barre.–http://barreonline.com/ swears, “Yes, there are numerous modifications [the instructor can employ depending on the client].”

How does it transform us exactly? “Barre is a practice that focuses on each major muscle group in the body, burning it to fatigue and then stretching those muscles to achieve a leaner, longer and stronger body,” Fulchino explains. “Barre also has a meditation aspect. During class, you focus so strongly on the particular muscle group that you are working, you can lose yourself in the class. This is such a wonderful gift to the brain as well.”

Caution: It may take a few sessions before you mentally transcend the burning and muscle fatigue. What to expect, on a practical level: The hour-long class starts with a user-friendly warm-up series of knee-lifts and plies, followed by pushups and plank work, then a manageable arm weight session, moving on to a thigh series and seat-focused segment, followed by well deserved cool down. Repeat 12 times monthly, and carry your new kinder, gentler mantra: Now Natalie Portman has baby weight.

Barre. 2632 Quarry Lake Drive (410) 486-8480

ArtWalk 2011

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Art to Go: The time has come for the (artist) chicks to fly the coop. The Maryland Institute hosts the 2011 commencement at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Monday, May 16th, at 1:30. The graduating seniors’ corresponding art show deserves its reputation as a fantastic place to snag cool work on the cheap. Campus-wide exhibition will be open to the public Friday 11am-8pm, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 11am-5pm. About 400 students will present their work. Participating departments include illustration, graphic design, painting, fibers, and photography.
 
Early birds can survey (and purchase) work first at ArtWalk, which takes place Thursday night, May 12 at 5pm. ArtWalk gives the public an opportunity to stroll around and mingle with the students, who will be tethered to their exhibit for the night. Tickets for ArtWalk run $25, and a reception with food and alcohol follow at 8.

Anyone and everyone will have an opportunity to buy art from the graduating class throughout the weekend. You never know, you could walk away with the next Grace Hartigan. Pieces for sale will be designated with a price tag. There will also be a master price list of all artwork for sale through the MICA store (
Get a sneak peak at some of the work by students, faculty, and alum at
http://www.mica.edu/Browse_Art.html

Or check out my work at http://www.kristinhughesdesign.com/illustration!

Invasion of the Techies

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Long renowned for its industrial/manufacturing-based economy—which nearly disappeared over the final three decades of the 20th Century – Baltimore, in the past 10-plus years, gradually has established a thriving technology-driven business community. While not on a par with California’s Silicon Valley, the Route 128 corridor outside Boston, or even the stretch along I-270 in Montgomery County, Baltimore has recently begun to flex its economic muscles, fueled by support from the city and state governments, local universities, and, especially, innovative private entrepreneurs. Prominent among them are the following six individuals, determined to shepherd the city out of its rust-encrusted past into a wired future.

1 & 2. Yair Flicker (28) and John Trupiano (27), co-principals of technology consultancy SmartLogic

Yair Flicker

In a straight-from-the-tech-startup-playbook scenario, Yair Flicker and John Trupiano launched SmartLogic in 2005 in their respective apartments. Now operated from proper offices in Canton, their firm helps both startups and established companies implement innovative technology, shows marketers how to leverage technology to aid their clients, and demonstrates to existing businesses how Web-based applications can cut costs and drive revenue.

John Trupiano

SmartLogic boasts a smorgasbord of clients, from the Kidney Paired Donation project, which employs software to efficiently match kidney donors with kidney recipients, to the Spotcrime.com iPhone application, which allows users to type in their address – or any address – and up pops a crime map for the immediate area from the nation’s largest crime-accessible database (“My mom loves the service and is an avid user,” declares Flicker).

Not forgetting JP Morgan Chase, for which SmartLogic built a competitive analysis tool, and Brown University’s Distance Learning Program, for which it devised an online course management system used by the school’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies.

Meanwhile, Flicker and Trupiano’s relentless efforts to increase Baltimore’s tech savvy include sponsoring a gaggle of events such as—geek alert!—Bmore on Rails, Baltimore Javascript Users group, Refresh B’more, Ignite Baltimore, and BohConf.

 

3. Greg Cangialosi (37), president and CEO of e-mail marketer Blue Sky Factory

Greg Cangialosi

Greg Cangialosi sheds no tears for the withering offline marketing industry. Goodbye and good riddance to clunky brochures, hotel-conference-room dog-and-pony shows, and sweaty basement phone banks. Since 2001, when he founded Federal Hill-based Blue Sky Factory, Cangialosi has grown the company from two employees to a team of 25, cementing its reputation as a national leader in e-mail marketing. Its client roster features music concert promoter and producer behemoth Live Nation, testing and assessment services provider Prometric, and global PR agency Weber Shandwick.

“E-mail marketing is an immediate, versatile channel in which you can build relationships and stay in front of your audience,” Cangialosi says. “When done right, effective e-mail marketing will ultimately help your business make more money.”

Locally, Blue Sky Factory stokes the city’s old-school wired community as an active member of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, on whose board Cangialosi serves as vice chair. Other close-to-home partnerships/associations include the Baltimore Chapter of the American Marketing Association, the Social Media Club of Baltimore, and the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce.

“We help many local organizations build their presence in social media,” he notes, “and educate them as to where they should be focusing their online marketing efforts in order to grow their business.”

4. Martin Roesch (41), founder and chief technology officer of cybersecurity provider Sourcefire

Martin Roesch

Sourcefire takes its mission – protecting the data infrastructure of corporations, U.S. civilian government agencies, and the American military from malicious Internet attacks – seriously. Extremelyseriously. So seriously, in fact, that the Columbia-based firm’s website fails to mention even one of its clients, and its PR division, when asked to cough up a couple names, responds, “Typically, the company does not disclose customer information.” Okay, okay: Message received.

Founded in 2001 by Martin Roesch, who served as the firm’s first CEO, Surefire parlayed the success of the Roesch-written Snort intrusion-detection/prevention software into wider commercial applications. In the ensuing years, kerfuffles and epiphanies rocked the company: the feds ixnayed its purchase by an Israeli firm; Sourcefire rejected a takeover bid by another U.S. company; it completed a successful IPO; and, long after Roesch gave up the CEO title, a successor bowed out in favor of even fresher blood. Ultimately, a stronger Sourcefire emerged.

Accordingly, this past winter, Forbes magazine tabbed Sourcefire at #15 on its list of 25 Fastest Growing Technology Companies in the U.S., the only Maryland firm mentioned, and it now stands poised to expand exponentially with the massive infusion to the state of military and commercial contractors associated with the federal Base Relocation and Closure process.

And Sourcefire, it turns out, despite its overt cloak-and-daggerism, actually possesses a sense of humor. Inside its fortress of solitude, a bumper sticker in Roesch’s office wisecracks “My Kid Reads Your Honor Student’s Email.”

5. Tom Loveland (50), founder and CEO of consulting and technology services firm Minds Over Machines

Tom Loveland

Though only 50, Tom Loveland comes off as somewhat Brahmin-like in the context Baltimore’s youngish techie horde, having launched Minds Over Machines, his Web-design/IT-strategy/software-development business in 1989, the equivalent of the digital Pleistocene Era. Under Loveland’s leadership, the Owings Mills-based company has undertaken successfulprojects for a disparate group of government and commercial clients, notably the furniture/home accessories maker IKEA, contracting company Whiting-Turner, Calvert Educational Services, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Recently cited as one of the 50 most Influential Marylanders by the Daily Record and a member of the board of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, Loveland founded the Maryland Computer Services Association, a lobbying group that in 2008 cajoled the General Assembly to rescind a six-percent statewide technology tax before the law was implemented.

Last year, he was named (unpaid) “Google Czar” by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In that capacity, Loveland marshaled the city’s public and private tech forces in an effort to persuade the Web-search giant to wire Baltimore with ultra-ultra high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure as part of its Google Fiber program. After a yearlong wait, Google selected Kansas City, KS, late last month, but, reportedly, Baltimore made a significant impression, and may yet be chosen in the future if the company continues the initiative. Undeterred, Loveland continues to champion the city as “a tinderbox of innovation.”

6. Rico Singleton (31), chief information officer, Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Information Technology

Rico Singleton

This past January, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed an executive order instructing city agencies to make data sets under their control available via the Office of Information Technology’s website. Called OpenBaltimore, the initiative offers an instantly accessible /searchable/downloadable cache of information detailing property taxes, crime reports, flood-plain risks, maps galore (including one showing the locations of homicides), and a plethora of parking-related data. Previously, info-seekers faced a glacial-like wait after filing an official public request.

In a prepared statement, Rawlings-Blake said, “Innovative and creative people will now be able to collaborate with government, and hopefully find ways to improve service delivery and save money for taxpayers.”

Rico Singleton appointed the city’s chief information officer this past November after working as a deputy CIO in New York State’s tech office, led the OpenBaltimore project.

Two weeks after the program’s official announcement, more than 30 eager laptop-toters convened for a “hackathon” at the city’s Canton tech incubator to brainstorm potential useful applications for the raw information. Weeks later, the first one emerged: the website SpotAgent.com. Something of a backhanded compliment to the city’s data largesse, it allows users to determine a “threat rating” in Baltimore’s various neighborhoods for receiving a ticket for failing to feed a parking meter or running a red light/speeding in view of a pesky pole-mounted camera—all in an effort to avoid paying a fine, which, oddly, meets the mayor’s goal of “saving money for taxpayers.”

Pot-Smoking Parents

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Remember teen parties in the seventies and eighties? A thick cloud of smoke would envelope that cute, smart boy you’d been eyeing in math? That kid was going places. He was also getting high.  Guess what: Now in his 40s or 50s, cute math guy has revived his habit, however, these days he keeps it well under the radar.

We talked to a few part-time puffers, none of whom would speak on the record (um, it’s illegal). Despite the stereotype that recreational drug use is an inner city problem, it is alive and well in the suburbs. “Weeds,” it seems, may be more fact than fiction.

But is it all in good, stinky fun, or are there significant consequences to pay? We invite you to comment below.

Over the holidays, Lauren, 44, attended a black-tie dinner party in her suburban neighborhood. White linen and gleaming silverware adorned the table. Crystal glasses foamed with champagne. Later, without being obvious, the white-collar dinner host invited guests to join him on the patio to share a joint.

“I’m surprised by the option of pot at a party, but then I think, well what did we expect?” Lauren says. “The facts are: We grew up in the 70s, listening to Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat and Deep Purple.  Pot was ubiquitous then. It’s not such a leap.”

Jill, 45, who lives in the Greenspring Valley, but grew up in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a hippie mom and businessman dad, agrees that late-night joints are about as common as cashews on the party scene of late.

“I think pot’s definitely on the upswing, and has been for several years,” Jill says. “Why? We’re suddenly dealing with middle age. Life is hard, with these midlife questions, and with the suck-y economy. A few years ago, everybody was trying to have four kids with bows stuck to the sides of their heads, wearing their adorable Lily smock dresses… My peers are getting real lately—I hear them talk about it; they’re giving up on perfection. They’re getting more realistic, and therefore more self-medicating.”

Jill sees marijuana as a healthful alternative to heavy drinking, which invites a hangover, and often conjures histrionic emotion in public settings.

“Among my friends, getting wasted on wine is a daily occurrence,” she says. “I see so much alcoholism among my peer group, it’s scary. To me, pot is a lighter alternative, one that is considered taboo only because it’s illegal. Look, as you move into adulthood, you’re going to pick a poison… And I’ve seen alcohol be more destructive in people’s lives.”

Many doctors and drug counselors still consider recreational pot to be a serious gateway drug, especially for younger people.

“I think [pot] can be a gateway drug in that exposure to mood-altering substances, especially at an early age, is often also exposure to the drug culture itself,” says Chris Ciattei, certified associate counselor in addictions for the Howard County Health Department. “However, nicotine and alcohol could be gateway drugs as well. It all depends on what gateway you are talking about. I have seen recent research on rats that suggests that cannabis use alters neuronal pathways and may make one more vulnerable to opiod abuse.”

Certainly, marijuana’s illegality makes it much more of a societal taboo than alcohol. It’s not something people discuss openly at Starbucks. For parents of underage children, the second controversy is an ethical one: The notion of hypocrisy becomes a provocative issue with which to grapple. Average parents, who have forbidden their kids to smoke or drink, are asking themselves, “What happens if the kids bust us for similar behavior?”

Though Lauren, who lives in Ruxton, didn’t try pot until she was 21, and afterward sampled it only a handful of times, she stopped for good once her kids were old enough to wander through her social events, identify such behavior, and be influenced by it.

“It freaked me out too much to think of my kids catching me,” Lauren says. “Therefore, I’m done. Imagine the embarrassment you would feel, and the credibility you’d lose if caught.”

Ciattei says there’s further reason for concern, beyond bad impressions. First, kids who witness their parents using drugs and alcohol are much more likely to try pot themselves. In addition, children who discover that their parents have lied to them or made an irresponsible decision are likely to have lingering trust issues.

“Most addicts I treat have family histories of substance abuse,” Ciattei says. “Children do model behavior they see in their home. [Additionally,] children shape their early views of the world based on what they experience in the home. In an environment where clear boundaries and honesty are not present, trust cannot be established. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is pure hypocrisy, and adolescents will pick up on that in a second.”

Marla, a North Baltimore resident, has been very strict with her kids about drugs, alcohol, dating, and schoolwork. When her teen son caught her smoking pot last summer, she wanted to evaporate with the fumes in the air. Marla wasn’t sure what to say to him, so in the moment, she simply apologized. The regret lives on. And she still worries about the message she sent that evening.

“Too many times I hear of parents getting caught by kids, especially kids over 16,” she notes.

Marla says her pot pals generally know how to control and conceal their marijuana use, to hide the practice from colleagues and neighbors who’d disapprove, and to purchase the drugs from “safe” sources. They bring pot to “certain” parties, where they feel ultra-safe. They think of the joint as their now-and-then martini. She says she fears the danger is not that parents will become addicted to this forbidden treat—the threat is not to their careers or relationships, it is to their kids.

“Parents realize that if they want to get high, they have to do so in a private place at home, which happens to be that same secret at-home spot where kids seek to engage in their own forbidden behaviors.” explains Marla.  They end up finding the parents’ stuff: a leftover pipe, a lighter, a half smoked joint, she adds. Ciattei agrees the bigger threat is to the young person in the equation—namely because a parent may not be genetically vulnerable to addiction the way her child very well might be.

“Biologic vulnerability, or genetic pre-disposition to addiction is a very new field of research,” Ciattei says. “…[However,] a human organism is either vulnerable to having their neuro-chemistry hijacked by a flood of feel-good chemicals, or has the ability to have a good time without the use of a pharmacological hammer. Research in the field of alcoholism is close to identifying an ‘addictive gene.’”

Additionally, Ciattei notes that habitual marijuana use may negatively affect a young brain still in the growth process.

“Recent research suggests that cannabis use, especially habitual, has a negative effect on the growing adolescent brain with regard to memory, cognition, learning, pre-frontal cortex development, and higher risk of psychiatric disorder development,” he explains. “It should [also] be noted that most addictions develop in late adolescence and early adulthood, prior to the full development of the brain around age 25.”

Jill expects that marijuana will someday soon be made legal nationally a decision she eagerly awaits, because, for one thing, it will remove the stigma that makes parents feel like hypocrites and even criminals.

Marijuana remains illegal. Though a bill to approve medical marijuana passed the General Assembly last month, Maryland Secretary of Health Joshua Sharfstein called for more testing on the issue and Governor Martin O’Malley agreed. It’s likely frozen until next session.

Even if the bill never becomes law, pot is incredibly easy to get. Rumor has it that many North Baltimore marijuana buyers often obtain the drug from a weekend warrior who can be found playing a popular local sport. Husbands generally procure it from the same man, who plays weekend games and sells his supply at this time. But where does this athletic, clean-cut fellow make his original buy? From a supplier in Philadelphia who grows a range of hydroponic grades, party pot, mellow pot, etc, in his basement, they say.

For Lauren and Marla, it makes perfect sense to stay away until their kids are out of the house, and perhaps old enough to face similarly tough questions as parents of utterly impressionable little ones.

“If my kids asked me if I smoke pot, I’d lie. If my kids caught me, I’d be like, ‘Once you’re 21, you’re allowed to make your own decision; you do it before and you’re dead meat,’” adds one party guest of Jill’s, a joint dangling in her hand.

Seeing Hope in a Tough Part of Baltimore

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This is the first in our regular series of college essays and speeches by area seniors. We invite submissions and will even pay a modest fee of $20. (That’s 1/4 tank of gas!) Please only the eager, thoughtful and reverent apply. A little irreverence is okay. Contact [email protected]

Below is the senior speech of 2007 Bryn Mawr School graduate Flannery Gallagher. She is currently a senior at Columbia University. She graduates this May. 

On September 26th 1929 Mary Kelly, my grandmother, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She was taken home by her parents to 700 E. 21st.  St. She grew up in that neighborhood, moving from time to time, but always within blocks of her first home. She married Francis X. Gallagher Sr., also a resident of this neighborhood. Over time the neighborhood, which had once been home to primarily German and Irish-Americans began to diversify with a growing African-American population. My great-grandparents, unlike many in the neighborhood, did not feel uncomfortable with their black neighbors and did not immediately leave in the movement that would be known as “White Flight”. After some time, however, they too followed the pattern of their neighbors and moved up Greenmount Avenue and York Road to Govans. 

In the past two years I have moved back in to the neighborhood that my grandparents’ families left over 50 years ago. The neighborhood has transformed as urban decay has afflicted it for too many years without the intervention of effective politicians or a sufficiently concerned public. At least one of my grandmother’s childhood homes is boarded up. In the 1980s, with the influx of new, more potent drugs, there became the need for a community center that would serve the children of the neighborhood. This need was met by the Franciscan Youth Center – known by most as FYC. FYC operates as an after-school program and summer camp. I joined the FYC family during the summer following my sophomore year, to complete my required community service hours. I stopped playing basketball my junior year so I could return to the after school program, and it was then that I decided to apply to for Broadus Grant for the summer of 2006. I have been there this winter as well at the afterschool program. I was hooked that first summer and haven’t left since.

The Franciscan Youth Center is a beacon of hope in a neighborhood that struggles on a daily basis. The children primarily live at or below the poverty line and depend on the Franciscan Youth Center as a safe place to go after school and as a camp. FYC is one of the few positive options that the children have in their neighborhood. The parents and grandparents trust those at FYC to help nurture their children. Many children in the neighborhood are at every disadvantage. Each and every day they are faced with difficult decisions and FYC fights to be an example of the right path. The children at the center live in either Midway-Barclay or Waverly, two neighborhoods situated on the Greenmount Corridor. The Midway-Barclay neighborhood faces many problems. It is plagued with an abundance of vacant houses, high domestic violence rates, a large number of juvenile arrests of youth ages 10-17, a median household income of $18,712, a higher than average percentage of children 0-6 years old with elevated blood lead levels, and a high number of drug treatment clients in the zip code of the Center. These characteristics of the neighborhood are constants for the children. With the loss of our building in Midway-Barclay, for the past two years we have moved our program to the Waverly neighborhood, also situated on the Greenmount Corridor, keeping our offices in Midway-Barclay. The statistics are slightly better in this neighborhood, but the trends are similar. We continue to provide a van service that drives the kids from Midway-Barclay to Waverly, as we especially don’t want to lose them, as they are particularly at risk. In the future, we hope to move back to Midway-Barclay, while maintaining a satellite program in Waverly. A graduate of FYC said, “I saw friends that didn’t stay at the center and were lost to the streets.  It could have been me. The staff always offered a helping hand, or an encouraging word.” The risk is real and prevalent in these children’s lives. The children, with some help along the way, are more than capable of breaking out into more successful lifestyles.

I have the task of trying to explain one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever been a part of. The magnitude of the intricacies is considerable and the memories are invaluable. This experience has added a completely new dimension to me. It influences every last thing I observe no matter how seemingly unrelated. My time there has incited a passion in me and has led me on an educational journey. Although the complexities are evident on the surface, my relationships with the people at FYC are some of the least complicated relationships I’ve ever had.

To understand my interaction with the FYC children, it is important to understand the projects on which I worked. This past summer with the assistance of the grant, I was there daily from 8am to 5pm for six weeks. Although I had strong relationships going into the summer with most of the staff and children, the Broadus grant was key in giving me the opportunity to strengthen those relationships, in ways that I otherwise would not be able to do and I am so grateful to the Broadus family for giving me the privilege of spending so much time at FYC.  In the mornings after breakfast there were two class periods- a character enrichment class that was based in Christian values and the Academic Enrichment class- the latter  for which I was responsible. My role was Team leader, and I helped my Head Teacher, in the ways that I could. The classes were an opportunity to supplement the education that the students receive during the year. Classroom management was also a key factor  and paying attention to each student was important in this management. Making the lessons fun was also essential, as many of the kids understandably find academics in the summer less than desirable. At times, I felt that my lessons were not helping, that I was teaching in a less- than efficient way. Building self-confidence helped me be an effective teacher, but it was also incredibly important to reevaluate my teaching methods. Lunch would then be served and the children would go on the their afternoon activities which included swimming at Druid Hill Park pool, lacrosse, or a field trip. I taught lacrosse to girls on Mondays and Tuesdays for two hours each day. I saw teaching lacrosse as the perfect opportunity to blend two things, which are very fulfilling for me: sports and the Franciscan Youth Center. I also chose to devote my lacrosse time to the girls because in past experiences at FYC, I had observed that sports were dominated by the boys, and that the girls who did participate were very hesitant and had little self-confidence in their abilities. Our lacrosse sessions were always interesting. I soon realized that the brutal Baltimore summer afternoons would be one of the main challenges. I learned how to work with the given situation, and we soon had water balloon fights at the end of each practice. Skills came more quickly for some than others; some were interested and excited throughout all the sessions; others had to be pushed through every second of every minute of every practice. I wanted the girls to enjoy lacrosse, and while I realized that it was impossible for all of them to love it, I knew some would. I wanted them to learn how to cradle, how to pass, and how to catch, but I really wanted them to learn how to cooperate, how to cheer each other on, and how to have fun with physical activity. Baltimore is the headquarters of lacrosse and walking around this neighborhood, that comes as no surprise. Fathers here pick their sons up from practice and hold their sticks and equipment for them, reliving their glory days from 30 years ago. Why is it then, that after traveling down Greenmount Avenue for ten minutes, you will find many fewer people who recognize a lacrosse stick? These Baltimoreans have not been afforded the opportunity to experience the sport for which their city is known. Lacrosse is a perfect indicator of the segregated nature of Baltimore. Introducing lacrosse to these children, is just one step in leveling the proverbial playing field for all citizens of this city.           

The children create the FYC experience. They are dynamic, charismatic, and incredibly capable. They are hilariously funny, curious, and kind, despite all of the difficulties many of them have faced and will face. Some might think that I wouldn’t be able to relate to them- that our diverse backgrounds obliterate any sense of understanding. These people could not be more wrong. I hope and think that the children at FYC see my respect and admiration for them. 

No longer just Flan or Flannery, at FYC I have been transformed in to Miss Flannery. Although my name changes slightly, nothing else about me does. I talk the same, laugh at the same things, and get annoyed by the same pet peeves. I do not change when I am at FYC and there I am completely comfortable to be myself. I am pushed to do my best for only the purest reasons- watching and facilitating the positive growth of  “my kids”. 

In understanding my experience, it is important not to become caught up in divisions of black or white. Black, white, African-American, and Caucasian are only terms; they are words and they cannot do justice to the issues surrounding them. Race was not a defining part of my experience, and it is important to understand why. I was usually the only white person there, but I did not notice.  This was the first time I had ever consistently been the minority- and while my new minority status may have looked unusual, it did not feel uncomfortable. Although I did not notice being the only white person, some of the children did. I’ve spoken about race with a handful of the children- some of them more than others but I never dodged the subject. Our conversations ranged from superficial to pensive and serious. Their questions and statements about race are usually, genuinely curious, respectful, and often funny. When we would leave the center for outings, I would sometimes notice people trying to figure out my role with the kids, but I was always too busy to pay them any mind. Our races didn’t create any insurmountable differences.  Some people may not understand the bond between the children and me; some are not able to understand that you don’t have to look like someone or be from the same neighborhood to find a common ground.  My relationship with my kids is all too natural to waste time worrying about being the only white person in a room.??If my kids and I have so much in common, then you may be asking what distinguishes FYC from any program that I ever attended or any program held at Bryn Mawr. FYC children have a primary defining characteristic and that is their level of access. Access is a tricky thing. All of us here have access, although to varying degrees, because we are fortunate to attend a school like Bryn Mawr. Only a handful of the people in this auditorium fought for this access; for the most part we attend this school because of our parents. But, we as students, have done little, besides simply being born into a certain family situation. Levels of access are absolutely no reflection of character or ability. There is a misconception about people who live in the neighborhoods that my kids live in- that they don’t care or that they decide not to contribute to the workforce, or that they choose not to graduate from high school. They would be able to do all of these things and more if they had access to the tools. Pride is palpable in these neighborhoods- so are injustice and pain. I can see the frustration when a child feels inadequate doing his homework. He has not been given the tools to be able to feel confident about school because his teacher was not prepared to provide them, because the school system did not provide them to her either because they did not manage their money or because the government did not efficiently allocate their funds in the first place. The failure is everywhere and it is constantly being perpetuated.

At the end of any given day at FYC, chances are that I am absolutely exhausted. My limbs are heavy and sleep is my only goal. This is not any old type of tired, however. This is the type of tired, when you are absolutely content. This is when exhaustion is calming and fulfilling. This type of tired, I believe comes from doing something you love. Driving up Greenmount Avenue on my way home, I am absolutely serene. When I am at the Franciscan Youth Center, I am at my happiest. Worries and stress disappear, and I am able to appreciate everything in that moment. Seemingly small triumphs are monumental. I do not think that there is any moment like a child grasping a concept with which he has been struggling. It is not as simple as a child learning the function of a verb in a sentence or understanding subtraction. In that moment, that child is gaining self-confidence; he is beginning to understand the power and fulfillment of learning; he is feeding his curiosity; he is building his future. Witnessing a child going through this process is basic, yet momentous. Being a part of that child’s experience is infinitely gratifying.

Now, I feel like I have been at FYC for ages. The children and staff are my old friends with whom I don’t always need to speak, in order to communicate. When my sports schedules in the fall and spring prevent me from making it to the center for a couple weeks, when I come back to visit, the transition is smooth. I can barely remember the times in which I didn’t fill my idle time, thinking about my kids, or teaching myself about my city. There are moments from two summers ago that still bring a smile to my face. There are days and moments, as well, that make me furious. Who or what I’m angry at has still yet to be determined. I know what I am angry about and it is at the root of what brought me to FYC in the first place. When I was younger, I was taught and I believed that opportunity was for the taking. Democracy was for every last person in society. There is still much for me to see, but what I have seen so far in my home city, makes me believe differently. On my father and my many drives throughout the nooks and crannies of this city, I began to see that opportunity is not for the taking. I’m angry that when I leave FYC and come back to my own Baltimore city neighborhood, people seem not to pay any mind to their fellow Baltimoreans. Sometimes I wonder if they don’t know the extent of what’s going on 15 minutes from their homes, or if they know and don’t care, or if they know and pretend not to. 

FYC is not a hobby, or an “extracurricular activity”; . it is an all-consuming experience. I have caught the bug, and I do not feel like I could ever abandon this issue. I’ve gone through many phases. There were times when I was obsessed with and read exclusively about the Holocaust, cars, Presidents, First Ladies, and NBA basketball teams. For the past two years, most of what I’ve read has been about the lives of today’s urban youth. I read the archives of City Paper to learn about the different neighborhoods in Baltimore. I read a crime blog every day, documenting the daily crime in the city. I read the census reports on the different neighborhoods. I read the Maryland State Assesment results for schools, which the FYC kids attend. I read the Maryland section of the Sun every morning, no matter how late, I’m going to be to school. I go for drives throughout the city, exploring neighborhoods that I wouldn’t otherwise see. And I cannot imagine moving on from this learning process like I moved on from the others.

FYC is a reflection of the larger picture. We as a society are failing our children. We are failing our children who live below the poverty line and our children who fall under a racial minority. We have left them behind and they know it and it is criminal of us. We make assumptions about them and judge them and forget that they are only children. We are failing our children and we are all responsible. If you make it nearly impossible- which we have done- for a child to gain access, chances are high that he won’t. The purpose of FYC is to help provide access. We cannot make a child succeed, but we can do everything in our power to ensure that he or she has the tools to have a chance. In today’s urban underclass, the children have lost before they even have the chance to play

I could go on for hours and often do- about how much I admire the people at FYC. Sandi McFadden and Alvarez Dixon have shown me the ups and downs of a non-profit and the innovation, which is essential in making a difference in the lives of today’s urban youth. They treat their profession as a calling, rather than a job. The rest of the staff has shown me the importance of dedication and finding humor in situations that can be disheartening. But it is the children, who have taught me more than anyone else. They see right through me whenever I put up my guard. They notice if I got a hair cut. They let me know when I’m wrong. They let me know when my outfit is or is not working for them. They lift my spirits, no matter how down I might be feeling. They find words for moments I cannot articulate. Kris Bridgeford, a 15 year old student articulated what FYC means for him, more beautifully and candidly than I ever could in the poem I am about to read. Let us listen to his words and learn from him. Remind yourself of Kris and his message and we will be on our way to understanding that we have no choice except to fight until things are just for all of our city’s children. These are the words of Kristofer Bridgeford.

HOME

They say home is where you can always find love,

But sometimes home isn’t always where the love resides.

This place is a second home to me, a place where love will always be.

A place of friends and family

A place where I can feel wanted and cared for

A place where I can make my transitions from a boy to a man

A place where I can put together my master plan to fulfill my dreams

A place where I learn right from wrong and life lessons

A place where I am understood and taught life lessons by mentors

A place where I sweat out the problems of the day

This is a place where I am free

And for years to come this place will always be a second home to me

THIS IS THE FYC!

Let’s Get it Arted

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Art at home inspires us.  It doesn’t have to be a Picasso or a Warhol. A well-framed child’s drawing or a memorable family photograph can be just as inspiring as those works deemed “correct” by art snobs. In our view, interior design should always start with art. It is so much easier to decorate a room around a bold, meaningful painting, than to find a matchy painting to respond to a carefully furnished room (cue the disappointing results).

Case in point: The contemporary painting above features large brush strokes of indigo and other striking colors. It feels modern. The rest of the room mixes mid-century furniture, a custom George Smith sofa and sporting paintings of foxes and horses. The furnishings are traditional, the art is not, but together they work it out. There is no algorithm to pairing art and interior design. The only equation is to make them a pair and make sure you personally care about the details, that you feel comforted or excited or challenged by them, whichever you’re going for.

Going Online to Find Love

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Heart advice from super-smart artist Sara Lynn Michener, an experienced romancer who lives and loves in Ellicott City, looks great in jogging clothes, and attended the Obamas’ Christmas party this year. Ask Sara for dating advice at [email protected].

Dear Sara,
I’m sketched out/embarrassed by the notion of online dating, and I shouldn’t be, I think, because there seem to be few ways these days to meet single men otherwise. What’s wrong with me, and how can I get a grip on the keyboard?
–Site Shy in Hampden

Site Shy,
Dating online is like The Diving Board when you were little. After you?do it once, you realize it’s just a way to get in the water all at once rather than little by little; the experience of immersion rather than wading. Online dating is an efficient filtering tool if you know exactly what you want. You have to go by the assumption that people are filling out questions honestly, sure. Some guys will fill out questions based on what they think their type of girl wants to hear, but you have that problem in real life too. Just be sure to be safe about it. Meet prospective dates in public places, and don’t give them much access to your real life until you feel comfortable doing so. (That said, unfortunately the only dangerous experiences I’ve ever had were with men who knew me fairly well.) Nevertheless, discuss these things openly with the other person, so any of your precautions are not interpreted as frigidity, paranoia, or disinterest. If he isn’t interested in waiting till you feel safe, he’s either totally oblivious to what life is like online for girls, or he’s an ass and not worth it anyway. Be prepared to receive spine-chilling emails from men who haven’t read your profile and are not paying any attention to your likes and interests, and feel free to ignore or block those emails. You have to be somewhat tough; save the sweetness for the person you end up dating long-term. Oddly enough, my biggest problem with online dating is philosophical. In real life, 90% of the men I have found myself in serious, loving relationships with, I frankly wasn’t remotely attracted to when I first met them; they grew on me. You can’t possibly mimic that experience online unless you go after guys you’re specifically not physically attracted to, which is a TERRIBLE idea. The point of online dating is you get permission to judge people because it’s the only way to do it. You get to ignore men who don’t use spellcheck. Hallelujah. Enjoy it.


Dear Sara,
I’m a 35 y-o who is just not ready to try online dating, and I’m not the type of gal who hangs out in bars (not to mention, it doesn’t seem to be a good way to find quality men) All of the men I meet seem to be gay or married. What are my options?
–Anti-Internet

Dear Anti,
Join the club. We don’t date online because it’s fun (although it can be if you let it, and you’re lucky). We do it because we’re all at some sort of cultural crossroads, at which we have no established language with which we find other single people, thus the internet has at least attempted to fill this void. Take comfort in that; you’re in good confused company. If you insist upon meeting people by chance, you’re going to have to find ways to take advantage of opportunities wherever you find them. Think of the last time you saw a stranger to whom you felt drawn. Did you catch yourself checking to see if he was wearing a wedding band? For me, it was at a Starbucks. I saw a tall, beautiful, pale redheaded man in a nice suit. I’m pretty damn shy, but quirky enough to know when to speak up. So on my way out the door I said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to freak you out, but you’re beautiful.” I gave him a big smile. His face turned bright red, as I continued on my way out the door. (I did not BOLT out the door either!) A bolder woman would have ascertained whether he was straight and single, but I’m proud of the fact that, regardless, I gave a stranger a compliment. He didn’t follow me out the door to ask me who I was, maybe because he was shy, too. But that’s okay, because I felt pretty damn empowered all day over my moment of comparative boldness. I’m guessing you’re not an extrovert, so all I can say is be open to possibility and try to push yourself slightly beyond the boundaries of your?comfort zone. If you’re shy, work with being shy. Your way of being bold might be passing out blushing smiles. Whatever you do, do it for the experience itself, not for the outcome. Be yourself, but be the most fearless version of that person you can be now and then. Oh, and go to weddings alone. Don’t drag your best gay friend as your date! Chances are, your friends are your friends for a reason–I’ve met some fabulous boyfriends through mine.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

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When our first child Emily was born, we were young, but not too young, and so eager to provide her with the life that we envisioned for her—no opportunity denied her, no experience beyond her reach. We would give her everything she could ever want or need.

My husband and I have compatible philosophies about childrearing, and while we planned to craft a comfortable existence for our children, we also knew that we would have high expectations for them. They would be well behaved, and we would be disciplined. They would work hard, and we would reward them. They would be good people—we would see to it. Naturally, they would attend the finest colleges and universities, and meet every measure society might place alongside them.

Fast forward nearly seventeen years… Beautiful Emily, born on a cold January evening, has exceeded our hopes and expectations. She has played sports, a musical instrument, participated in clubs, activities, even scouts, and has done well academically. She has been nominated to leadership programs, and won scholarships. We have been good parents, and she makes us exceptionally proud. Our daughter has good friends. She is invested in her community, and cares about other people. But, by the standards in this world of the uber-privileged, she is just a normal kid – a really good, normal kid. She does not get the best grades in her class, which she will willingly tell you. And she is no star athlete. Mind you, we still think she’s exceptional.

Imagine, then, the swirl of confusion as we have come to realize that all of this, this well-planned, exemplary childhood, may not be enough! This child, our beautiful, smart, hard-working child, is average, at least in the eyes of some college admissions professionals. It’s true that we know she will go to college, somewhere, and more importantly that she will grow to become a fantastic adult with a real appetite for learning and personal growth. But we can no longer promise her every door will be open for her. This is the first time in her life, and in our life with her, that we cannot offer her full access to the next steps.

What has happened is no tragedy. It is simply the realization that “really good” isn’t always good enough to get you in every door. This is never more true than when the doors they are knocking on are the prestigious colleges and universities we parents assumed our children would attend.  “Naviance,” a web-based software product used by high schools to aid their upperclassmen in the college application process, tells us that the profile for the typical accepted students at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, three universities with acceptance rates of 7 or 8%, include SAT scores in the range of 2100-2400. Average GPAs hover around the 4.0+ mark. In the world where these kids live and go to school, some of their classmates will get these scores.  But not many of them.

At the proverbial end of the day, when we are being really honest, I’m not sure if my anxiety is for Emily—that she will not be able to get into that first-choice school; or for me – that my own vanity will be exposed. We have wanted our daughter to achieve the highest level of success at every step of her young life. How much of this ambition has been for her, and how much for us?  These are the things that make me look old from the furrow that worry leaves in my brow. So now, in the early days of spring, I make my resolutions. I resolve to leave her alone about the college process.  I resolve to celebrate the really fantastic person she is, and is becoming. I resolve that I will not listen to the hushed conversations of parents along the soccer fields and concert rows during the rest of junior and senior years. And I resolve that, at least in our little world, we will make sure our really good, normal kid knows we think she is the best.

Elizabeth Frederick is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the writer’s children.

Baltimore Novelist Jessica Blau Talks to the Fishbowl about Her New Book

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Jessica Anya Blau is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where she received her Masters in fiction. Currently, she is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Goucher College in Maryland. She has been awarded scholarships from Bread Loaf and The Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and fellowships from Johns Hopkins University and Sewanee. Her stories have won numerous awards and have appeared in notable magazines and anthologies. She is also the author of the novel The Summer of Naked Swim Parties.

We talked to Jessica about her much praised sexy second novel, Drinking Closer to Home (Harper, 2011), a funny and ambitious family story inspired by her own Santa Barbara peeps.

Fishbowl: Your laugh-out-loud funny + super moving second novel Drinking Closer to Home is inspired by your real life. Exactly how much is whole-cloth true? Overweight, “lesbian” cat, Maggie Bucks, a real family pet?

Jessica Blau: All the animals are real and I used their real names. I figured they wouldn’t sue me. I did take liberties, like putting dead animals with ones that are still alive. Gumba is dead now. And so is Jasmin. Little Carl White might be dead now, too. I never ask about her. Fat, nasty Maggie Bucks is still alive and getting fatter every day. She’s the size of an ottoman. It’s gross. And there’s a new cat who came in since the book was published. His name is Fweddy Wobitzer. He’s like some rude, spoiled boy who wears knickers with a ruffled shirt, and prances around like an entitled prince. But at least he’s better looking than Maggie Bucks.

FB: Who was the most difficult character to write, and why? The easiest, why?

JB: They were all fairly easy—they were based on my family so their voices and actions are embedded in my head. Anna was the most fun character to write because she behaved so badly at times. She does the most drugs, has the most outrageous sex, and is the most outspoken. All that stuff’s pretty fun to put down on the page.

FB: How did you get so expert at writing funny and convincing sex scenes? Would you say the awesomely detailed sex scene is becoming your trademark?

JB: I’m glad you think they’re awesome!  I think that I don’t even realize I’m writing a sex scene, in a way.  So I approach them the same way I approach any scene—from an interior place, feeling the characters, seeing the movie run in my head.  I was on a sex panel at the Baltimore Writers’ Conference and so I had to actually sit down and think about how I write sex scenes. What I discovered is that writing good sex is like writing good dialogue.  More than anything else it should reveal character.  So, rather than writing a play-by-play (hand on breast, hand on penis, etc.), which would come off sounding pornographic, the writing should focus on the internal lives of the characters (someone worried about greasy hands sliding right off a breast, etc.).  The scene should show who these people are and what it’s like to live in their bodies at that moment.  Does that make sense? I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re not freaked out by sex and just write it like any other scene involving two or more (or less!) people, then the writing should be equal to all other writing in the book.

FB: Your own one-of-a-kind mom is alive and well, but she is ill in the novel — did this poignant element of the story bring your family closer, or were you already great long-distance friends (as the closing Q&A suggests)?

JB: I’ve always been very close to everyone in my family. There are periods when we’ll drift out, but we always drift back in again. It’s a “no-obligation” family—you don’t have to show up for anything, you don’t have to call on birthdays, etc. (In fact, everyone in my family seems to forget birthdays). So when we see each other, it’s because we really do want to see each other.

FB: Would you have been able to tackle this deep life material so generously and humorously at an earlier point in your life, do you suspect?

JB: That’s a good question. I do think I was ready for this story when I wrote it and certainly couldn’t have written it earlier. It took a lot emotional distancing to look back on stuff that did happen and be able to tell it as a narrator and not as a participant. For most of us, the readiness comes with the distance. If you’re too close, still feeling it in your gut and the backs of your eyes when you tell it, then it might come out sounding like junior high diary entries, ie: “Oh mah gawd!!! You’ll never believe what happened!!!”

FB: Is it less intimidating to write a story inspired by your West Coast fam from the faraway reaches of Baltimore, MD?

JB: I think it’s easier to write about California from the faraway reaches of Baltimore. The distance helps me see it from more of an outsider perspective. My brother lives in Amsterdam now, my sister’s in Boston, and my dad’s in New York City. Only my mother is still in California, in the house that shows up in the book.

FB: Is your next novel, which I’ve read has mystery/thriller flavor, inspired by your own life as well? Give us a teaser synopsis.

JB: The next novel is 98 percent fiction. It’s about a good girl, 20 years old, who does something really, truly stupid and bad. The novel is essentially the unraveling of the knot she finds herself in. It takes place in Berkeley and Los Angeles—two very different but equally cool cities.

FB: Will you write a Baltimore-based novel sometime, do you imagine, and if you ever did, what would it be called?

JB: Well I do love Baltimore, so I love the idea of a Baltimore book, but I’ve never thought of writing one. I’m not sure why. Maybe if I title it now, the book will come to me. Okay, here’s the title: High Ponytails, Hot Weaves and Headbands. Of course I’m commenting on the hairstyles that run the gamut from Hampden to Guilford. But, that’s no good, is it? Okay, how about this: Running Reds. Only a Baltimore person would get that. After 15 years here, I’m still not used to the fact that you can’t drive immediately on a green light because you have to wait for all the red-light-runners to finish flying through the intersection.
 
FB: Have you sold this current novel as an ebook?

JB: It is available as an ebook. And you can get it on Kindle or Nook. I have a Nook that I use when I travel. It’s a lot lighter than five books.

FB: Do you think that most dedicated fiction readers will primarily read electronically in 10 years, and what will that mean for the publishing industry?

JB: I have no idea. Really, there are so few things I know in this world. When I was 19 I thought I knew everything. When I was 29 I thought I knew a lot but not everything. Now I realize I know very, very little. This is okay; it just means there’s more to find out.

Reading, The Solitary Vice

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Introducing “On Culture,” a new column by super-thinker Mikita Brottman, chronicling the weird and wonderful world of Baltimore, with special focus on fascinating small things oft overlooked.

This is an extract from my book about reading, The Solitary Vice (Counterpoint). I wrote the book partly in response to my work teaching literature to art students at MICA. My students read all the time, though they often do so in ways I found difficult to recognize (for example, they read online, on their laptops or phone screens, or via e-books). This led me to re-think some of my assumptions about reading, and literacy in general.

It’s about as difficult not to judge someone by the books (or lack of them) on their shelves as it is not to judge a book by its cover. But I keep trying, and I think I’m getting better at not jumping to conclusions. After all, books can be all kinds of things to all kinds of people—they can be tools, guides, investments, manuals, home décor, work, produce, or just a messy pile of clutter. I try to remember, too, that not all readers accumulate books. Some see no point in keeping books after they’ve read them, and will sell them, or give them away. More and more people are getting into the habit of reading e-books on their laptops or BlackBerrys, and more and more libraries are being converted to electronic form. Though it may well turn out that the portable, private form of the book—the kind we can hold in our hands, and cradle in our lap—continues to provide, for most people, the ideal fulfillment of immersion in another world, this doesn’t mean it’s the only way this need can be satisfied. Deep immersion is a style of reading which, in itself, is a by-product of the growth of the novel—traditionally considered to be a grand, fictional creation to be read at a leisurely pace, and in a private setting. Novel reading is certainly well suited to the lap or the bed, but other kinds of reading require different postures.

Mikita teaches literature and film studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art.