I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! … Part 9

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 7, 2020

Aloneness is wealth, loneliness is poverty…

“The cure for loneliness is solitude”— Marianne Moore

A dear sister-friend sent this: “…Social distancing and sheltering in place…of all the people I know this is probably easiest for you…” Oh if only I had the emotional-superpowers people often attribute to me.

I think that bonafied extroverts (who rule the world in part because they are better at communicative-social-networking), get to define the world of bonafied introverts; after all, when you rule the world, that’s what you do. The truth is, ‘social-distancing’ (for which I am in complete compliance), is in fact very difficult for me. An isolation that is forced is never good or pleasant; it’s an imposition on the self, not an act of self-affirmation.

The “Extros” interpret the world in the quantity and frequency of social-contacts; The “Intros” on the other hand only seek the qualitative-deepness of a few social-contacts; they also enjoy investing time and effort into their #1 friend—themselves! But, the secret meaning of Introversion (what Extros define in their worldview as ‘fear’ or ‘pathology’), is that Intros love and care so deeply for others, that they are unwilling to waste that energy by sharing it casually with the undeserving or prematurely with the unready…

Black folks please be careful of both the Covid-19 virus and the viral disease of racism…

OK, I have now been made aware of three situations (I know the individuals personally) where three highly educated, smart and articulate African-American men (one a PhD. who reviewed my book) who have entered a commercial establishment correctly wearing a Covid-19 facial protection mask, only to have the store employees and/or a fellow white customer assume that these individuals were there for the purposes of committing a crime. Fortunately, none of these scenarios ended tragically. I suspect that there are other instances in the nation of which I am unaware.

Look, I know that many of you have received, and in some cases adopted the US ‘post(Obama)racial’ story-line. But I am going to give you the same old-fashion Black elders advice I received as a youngster. This is the cautionary instructional lesson that I ‘upgraded’, rephrased; and then gave to all of my Black (and Latino) students over the years; even when they did not want to hear it.

To be honest, I hated as a child every time a family member, neighborhood or a church elder told me that: “Because you are a Negro (or Black), you must work twice as hard as a white person, because of prejudice!” I felt that those conditions were extremely unfair; and since I spent most of my childhood school days at the top of my classes, and ended up being placed in gifted and talented programs; I felt that I was already, “smarter” then most of my white student peers, without having to work too much harder. In fact, I spent many countless days/hours in the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and The Brooklyn Museum, reading books at home; essentially competing against myself (not white kids) in acquiring vast amounts of knowledge. But back then (1950’s) you had to actually listen to adults and could not argue back. But, over the years I have come to be less critical of and more appreciative of the elders of my youth.
Their approach probably did not meet my pedagogical standards for teaching a lesson. But they were doing the best they knew how in trying to protect us from the horrible reality of the societal and US cultural wide practices of discrimination, low expectations (still very much in play in our public schools today) and biased negative perceptions.
The elders of my young days did the best that they knew how to do; and their wise observation and assessment of the true identity of America was correct then, and it is with some small modifications, for the most part still true today.

We should not get it twisted, or confused; whether you like it or not; living in a nation that is built on, thrives in, and is powered by racism and bigotry, your Blackness is your ultimate existential reality. For over forty years I have pushed and supported young people by way of education, to realize their highest aspirational career dreams. There is no record of me ever encouraging a young person to work below their potential; and in fact taking that position has caused me a great deal of personal, financial and professional pain. But let’s be clear, it does not matter if you are a MD, PhD, Ed.D., JD, DD or no D; rest assure at some point, in small or large aggressive ways, you will over and over again encounter the ‘black group treatment’ of prejudice and discrimination. And please note, that many of the pathological racially damaged black persons in our nation, could also be the very individuals who will inflict this racial prejudice mistreatment on you.

I am proud to have served as a public school principal and superintendent; but I can also say that not one day ended without someone, a parent, public or district official, one of my peers or even the people I supervised; failing to remind me that they saw me as no different from any Black person who was at the bottom of the school or district staffing chart.

Two of my best friends are highly accomplished Black physicians; and they both have numerous stories of being on the receiving end of racial aggressive actions, including from white doctors they were training! One, a trauma surgeon was told by a white patient arriving to the trauma center after a car accident: “Can I get a real doctor?” (I told him that he was a better person then I, because I would have said: “Sure, in fact he stared in a James Bond movie and his name is Dr. No-doctor!”)

Every prominent Black American thinker, artist and educator (W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Lorraine Monroe, Ralph Ellison, Asa Hilliard, to name a few) has made this point: That against our will, and not requiring our consent, awareness or agreement, we Black people are forced, by virtue of our US residency to live in two separate and unequal political world realities. And any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this edict, will always lead to loss, pain, suffering and perhaps even death.

Remember, that the poor national government response to the coronavirus is very much in part due to the large numbers of white Americans who wanted (and still want according to polls) a president who is clearly unfit and incompetent; but who would work hard to make bigotry and prejudice great again.

Referees warn boxers before a fight: “Protect yourself at all times!” And so, despite the bad ‘medical advice’ being provided by “science experts” on social media platforms, Black people are not immune to coronavirus.
We must at all times, in the best ways that we can (e.g. staying home!) protect ourselves and others from this dreaded disease. But at the same time we must be of ‘two-minds’ and be proactively and protectively aware of that other American chronic and untreated deadly viral disease of racism, for which no vaccine has ever been employed.

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! … Part 8

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 5, 2020

When I Think Of Home (WITOH) I…

(My sincere apologies to ‘The Wiz’ fans!)

WITOH: I don’t think of a place of quarantined-isolation. Where I’m reduced to dialoguing with an air-fryer!

Me: “OK, how are we doing?

(After another month of a solo-quarantined existence and the air-fryer will start answering me back).

Air-Fryer: “It’s almost done sir, give me 7 more minutes.

WITOH: I think of a NYC where I was born and raised, and served as a superintendent during “9/11”. I learned then about a city that was overflowing with love, patience, perseverance and the determination to come back better and stronger…

WITOH: And living in a nation that would (with all of Hillary Clinton’s very human flaws), select one of the most unqualified, amoral, unimaginative, uninspiring, unethical (did I miss anything–Just fill in the blank), and ___________ person to run this country. And tragically, for all Americans (including his supporters), to lead a nation that is presently facing one of its gravest challenges.

WITOH: I think of a present world-wide place and time, where the plague’s pain will reveal the best people, as well as revealing the best in people; including the emergence of extra-ordinary people, who in this moment of collective suffering, will reveal their best extraordinary gifts of human-kindness service.

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 7

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 3, 2020

The Plague as a metaphor for political oppression…

Yesterday I read (after swearing not to) another of those post-mortem analysis of the Bernie Sanders campaign; this time (I thought it would be different) written by a former Bernie “black campaign worker”. I must remind myself that time spent in coronavirus prison is extremely valuable. I promise (again) to not read another: “What went wrong with Bernie’s campaign” article. The problem with all of them is their subtle and sometimes overt disrespect for Black voters. When did Black folks become the “Democratic Party Establishment”? Even Obama was careful to ‘tip-toe’ around any specific Black related issue.

What’s causing our nation to suffer beyond the necessary under this pandemic; and what hurts America in many areas of human life (the part that Bernie and crew don’t get), was not produced by Black voters. Our present national suffering under the rule of a pathological narcissist, and a Republican Party that is slightly better at hiding its malicious-malevolence; was created by large segments of (non-billionaires) white voters, voting to reconfirm that the US should preserve a white-power apartheid structure. In that way they are like those self-destructive citizens who continue to gather in large groups in the midst of a highly-communicable disease.

What the plague has taken away from us—collectively experiencing the live performing arts…

Lynn Nottage: “I love that theaters are getting creative about streaming live performances, but somehow the experience always feels a little like eating food without being able to fully taste it. I miss the visceral experience of sharing emotions with an audience.

So true, (and I would add all live artistic performances), there is nothing like the experience of live theater! The plague in all of its evilness is teaching us a great deal, by what it takes away from us.

We are born to be hunters of the secrets of our hearts;
and the performing arts gathers those sacred secrets for us;
and then presents them to us in the most creatively beautiful way…

But we shall all return, artist and audience…

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 6

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 2, 2020

The confessions of an outgoing introvert…

It’s the not-so-nearness of you that works…

People inclined toward introversion really like people…just not a lot of people, and not too often. When first hearing the term: ‘Social-Distancing’ I thought: how bad could that be? It’s what I always do! But separation caused by a disease is different; for it’s a sad forced necessity for the sake of survival.

“It isn’t your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation, oh no
It’s just the nearness of you…”

Covid-19 has helped me to fully acknowledged my seniorhood, being told again and again that I meet all of the criteria of the ‘high-at-risk’ group. Many seniors were already suffering from a kind of social-distancing in the pre-plague era, and so this mandated social-distancing must be doubly painful. We are also unable to distance ourselves from our collection of memories. Everyday I am thinking and using up my ‘prayer-credits’ because so many of my former students, friends and family members are ‘first-responders’, essential civil-servants and/or directly on the front line in hospitals fighting for all of us…
Could it be that those who resist social-closeness the most, are the ones who feel that closeness the deepest and therefore don’t want to risk losing it?

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 5

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 1, 2020

The plague is forcing us to listen to each other more…

“Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” —Rebbe M.M. Schneerson

A plague offers us the opportunity to learn better and more.
In the pre-plague era I was growing a serious dislike for communicating on the social media site Facebook. I tend to perceive the entire world as one big learning classroom. Meaning, I didn’t like the many anti-learning behaviors I saw on Facebook’s conversational platform. Often when people “responded” to a post, it seems that they didn’t even read the post or the article it was referencing, before they shifted fully into attack mode. I often ask after reading a ‘response-comment’: “Did this ‘responder’ and I read the same post; that’s not what the original posting person said!” Or, perhaps there is that irresistible ugly urge to negatively ‘troll’ or put down another human being, by writing something you would not dare say to their face; at least not without expecting a physical fight as their response!
The question is: “Why can’t we read, study and/or think about another person’s idea; even if we think we disagree with that idea?” But lately it seems that Covid-19, has taken the hostility edge off of a lot of keyboards. Are more Facebookers now listening and learning more? I sure hope so…

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 4

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

March 31, 2020

Collecting a work of personal art in progress…

“Solitude is the place of purification”—Martin Buber.

Now, I would make a film, but I am not like two of my favorite film directors: Akira Kurosawa or Ousmane Sembène, and so I don’t know how to star in and direct a quarantine-isolation movie. And so instead I am working on collecting a lot of pictures of me engaging in social closeness. Carefully putting these silent pictures together in tender concentrated togetherness allowed them to speak loudly to me without the use of words. These images are very much close and closer memories of the power and sacred purpose of touching. Some of them are people who the plague brought me back in touch with, although I can no longer touch them; seeing them again still touches me deeply.

Quarantining alone under the siege of a plague separates you from other people; and yet it also brings you much knowingly closer to yourself. You are drawn to pay extreme attention to so many of the small taken-for-granted parts of yourself and the world where that self resides.
It’s the separating out of those things that are really important from those that or not-so-important; the constant counting and counting down of life-items that came so easy to acquire in the pre-plague period; “will I run out of…?”
But we are always in a state of running out of something—-time. Ultimately we all die alone, that is with ourselves only, even if two people die at the same moment, or from the same disease, we still only die to ourselves alone.

At the end the still living are in charge of our no-longer lives. This idea leads to the last right operational thought of: “What do I do if I die alone in this place?” And me of course focused on and thinking: “How can I best managed that (the dying thing that is), without being a troubling inconvenience for too many people!” Since life seems to be so hard and complicated, then why not also death?

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 3.

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

March 30, 2020

“You can come close, but not too close”

“Nothing is too much trouble for love”–Archbishop Desmond Tutu

My entire adult life (except for a small group of folks) I have basically defined ‘closeness’ and ‘socialization’ as service-work: “OK, tell me what you need, or what you need me to do?” As a principal and superintendent my staffs managed the art of getting to the point quickly and without the usual standard/required introductory social pleasantries. There are some bio-historical reasons for my pre-covid-19/life-long social-distancing techniques, but I’ll spare you readers all of the psychotherapist couch chatter.

I think that this is why NYC Chancellor Harold Levy and I got along so well; as he was a “get to the point without the preliminaries”—“Just the facts I need to know” type of guy. At times in my superintendency, by necessity, we had to speak by phone almost every day; but thankfully these were the most “striped-down” efficient and productive conversations I ever had in my life (Michelle Rhee was second and J. Jerome Harris was third; and that’s because I was close to JJH’s wife, and so I always ask how she was doing.) I know Harris and Rhee’s discourse methods drove some people crazy; and even I realize when I employ that dialogical approach it does not always work well in every situation; but personally I love the “no frills”, ‘keep them at a distance’ conversational style…

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! Part 2.

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.
(10) March 29, 2020


When choosing is a non-choice…

“The greatest happiness in life is in knowing that others love us, for ourselves, or rather, they love us in spite of ourselves.” –Victor Hugo

Strange how the mind manages the power of choice based on the level of an existential threat. (pre-plague) Every day I wanted the right to be alone, to discourage any forms of random ‘drive-by’ visitations. The “I just happen to be in the neighborhood, and so…..”— Well, just keep on going Mr. or Mrs. Rogers, and don’t stop here! Oh the joy of dwelling in the quiet peace of reading, writing or just thinking , day dreaming, imagining; all without being distracted by a human voice.

I spent the bulk of my adult life in constant communicative service: “ Mr. Johnson I need… Can you…Will you please?” I honor and cherish a life without never-ending verbal request (principals will understand this).
My doorbell was not working for 5 years, which led my (‘can’t by nature and vocation stand broken things’) exasperated fix-it guy to frustratingly say: “Yo Mr. Johnson, let me fix that doorbell for you; I’ll even buy the parts and won’t charge you for labor!”—-Me: “Nope” . No uninvited visitors, everyone must call first!
But these Coronavirus isolation days have changed everything, meaning that I now leap to the door when the UPS guy arrives to bring my Amazon packages and boxes. And even though we both carefully practice safe social/commercial distancing; I am just happy to experience a human face and voice…