2009 Archives - The Jose Vilson


Young James Kirk looks at the USS Starship Enterprise, Star Trek

2009 may never leave me alone. We go through these crazy up-and-downs, hoping not to leave too much on the cutting room of this movie we call our lives. None of the lessons get left on the floor, though. They stick around, secretly making their way into our laments and celebrations. It’s with this that I reflect upon the last year. (Yes, this is a sitting affair.)

By the Seasons:

President Barack Hussein Obama

In the earlier winter, I celebrated another birthday with my first visit to a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, where not only did the Knicks win, but I showed up on the screen for some apparent reason (maybe it was the big hat and big foam finger). Nice highlight, but not even 1/2 as cool as seeing President Barack Hussein Obama get inaugurated in front of millions while Dick Cheney hurt his back on his exit out, even when I secretly questioned how his opponents would seek his death. While In The Heights the Musical showed a positive and vivacious side of the neighborhood where I work, I saw my former student Ruben Redman buried and many other faces file in for his funeral only a month later in shock. Katt Williams taught us to work on the star (fuckin’) player the night I met a good 10 of my current Twitter friends while the New York Post was shooting down monkeys in caricatures, Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna, California teachers lost their jobs left and right, and my age would find the cube of 3. I found classics like Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and books like Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa rather intriguing and vital to my sanity.

In the spring, American Latino TV premiered my interview with them (and replayed it often enough that even people who didn’t even hear about it caught it), I re-met Felipe Luciano, and The Watchmen finally went on the big screen a few months before I finished reading the graphic novel. I made a few personal mistakes that had huge ramifications later, but life still felt good. The huge labor protests that I attended near City Hall barely made a dent on City Hall’s autocracy while we waved to Maino’s remix of “Hi Haters.” We didn’t have time, too busy we were flying, watching Staceyann Chin introduce her book The Other Side of Paradise, watching the mercurial The Soloist with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx and the refreshing Star Trek with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, watching Mos Def and Talib Kweli unite as Blackstar to sold-out audiences at the Nokia Theatre, going to wedding after wedding, wondering how my students would do on the New York State Math Test. Like Downey’s character, I too found my writing catharsis, but this time through Aracelis Girmay at my first Acentos Poetry Workshop. All the while, I started to hear the buzz of the winds of change …

Michael and Janet Jackson, "Scream"

In the summer (as the year wound down), the once and future king returned to my place of occupation, and I was alerted of a math coach position that no one wanted until I took it, putting on Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” while people got used to the idea of me in this new (and not necessarily higher) position. My Macbook Pro came through the door on the same day Apple Co. announced to the world they’d lowered the price of that exact laptop about 400$ (geez), Sonia Sotomayor was nominated and confirmed for the Supreme Court and I went on a 7-day whirlwind tour including Orlando, FL and Hillsborough, NC where I met (and remet) some of the brilliant minds associated with the Center for Teaching Quality and simultaneously giving a workshop on blogging (too easy). The Los Angeles Lakers won the championship, but Shaq never kissed MVP Kobe Bryant’s rear in the process, Julian Bond and Cornel West conversed at Barnes n’ Noble for the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, and The Young Lords celebrated their 40th anniversary. Even Q-Tip rocked out for us (with a secret Diddy appearance) for free in Central Park. Vibe might have covered that better if not for their (temporary) shutdown. New York City’s skies turned red-orange on a weird June 26th, 2009. Was it a forecasting of impending doom or a dedication to souls already past? After all, Ed McMahon, Frank McCourt, Ted Kennedy, and Michael Jackson had all died, the last of whom I spilled my drink for at an end-of-the-year party. Bob Marley had to pass me his herbal remedies in his house sometime in August, and Coldplay with Jay-Z had me “Lost” in the calm before the storm …

Beatles, Rock Band, "Here Comes The Sun"

In the fall, Hall of Fame inductee Michael Jordan blazed another trail into the national zeitgeist by simultaneously crying and shouting out his biggest detractors, even his best friends. Kanye West and Goldman Sachs both shrugged their way through 2009, but only one of them was properly admonished for his act (then again, only one of these entities was completely honest about their intentions). And whereas Obama shouldn’t have commented on one, he definitely should have had more of a hand in the other. Plaxico Burress was jailed for 2 years (and thus ending any chance of the The New York Giants having a championship the previous or this year), Tara Betts showed us The Arc and Hue, and I went Ghost from some social networks in hopes of starting the new school year right and helping my friends mourn the loss of Patrick Swayze (not in tribute to Sammy Sosa’s new looks). In October, I had every reason to scream and shout after the New York Yankees won their 27th championship (my age), Soledad O’Brien gave me (and a few other hundred people) a sneak preview of Latino in America in El Museo del Barrio, Lemon Anderson wowed us with his performance in the one-man show County of Kings, and I became more focused on the education of my students than ever before.

In the winter, my dentist, general doctor, and cardiologist, all new to me, told me I was in very fine shape (though a smidget overweight), and even with these copies of Abbey Road by The Beatles, Day and Age by The Killers, Eduardo Galeono’s Open Veins of Latin America, and One Love by David Guetta sitting on my desk, the greatest gift I got this entire holiday was a peace of mind. And that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Alex Rodriguez and Jay-Z at the Yankees Victory Parade, 2009

Alex Rodriguez and Jay-Z at the Yankees Victory Parade, 2009

The five major themes of 2009 for me:

5. Independence on the Internet Rules.

Nowadays, the idea of having one’s own web site is normal. People use their own names as their domain names on the web, and having their whole identities on the web is normal. Two years ago, I dedicated myself to developing my Internet identity, and this year, it’s paid dividends. Separate from all these “host” sites, we should have less dependence on other things and people to develop our identities. While some people still find this idea weird, I see how much it’s become a part of me.

4. The Writer’s Inspired.

Everytime I write now, whether in poetry form or scripts like these, the words simply flow from me without little hesitation. It’s liberating in a way, but it also says that I’ve finally found a space in my life where I’m not handcuffed by what I say or do. At least not when I’m writing. Spaces like the Chicago Sun-Times, LiveStrong.com, and GothamSchools found a space for my writing, even if they were just clips.

3. Success Found Me At An Opportune Time.

Mercedes Sanchez and Jose Vilson, LATISM Awards

Every 2-3 months felt like more opportunities blossomed for me. Yes, the American Latino TV interview was rather nice (and a big shout-out to longtime friend Mercedes Sanchez for that), and so was meeting Toure, Soledad O’Brien, Cornel West, Carl Cohn, and Pedro Noguera (among others). Yet, the ones that mattered most to me were the meet-ups I had and even the ones where I haven’t met the person yet. From the people I did get to meet like Tara L. Conley, the social media activist and head of Media Make Change, and Mike Brown, the jovial networker whose meetups and get-togethers got me in touch with lots of others, to the people I didn’t get t meet in real life like Raquel Cepeda, my friendly neighborhood Carmen Sandiego who quoted me in her CNN.com article regarding Latino in America, and Chad Ratliff who’s constantly pushing my ed-thinking, I can honestly say none of my successes haven’t been due to someone else looking out for me.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention people like Louis Pagan, George “Urban Jibaro” Torres, and Ana Roca Costra, founders of LATinos in Social Media, Lance Rios of Being Latino, longtime friends and current collaborators in MiBodegaOnline.com Danny Susana and Argenis Fernandez, Center for Teaching Quality collaborators Barnett Barry, John Norton, and John Holland, the hostess and activista (respectively) of WBAI’s Rise-Up Radio Keisha Dutes and Janna Zinzi, and Aurelia Flores of PowerfulLatinas.com for her consultations. Even a grand (GothamSchools) fundraiser where I was considered cool enough to be in a room with my favorite ed-blogger NYC Educator, Diane Ravitch, and Joel Klein let me know I was on the right track. Like Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Derek Jeter and the playoff MVP (in my opinion) Alex Rodriguez in 2009, I did more when I focused on myself less.

2. I’m Starting With the Man in the Mirror.

Glass of Blue Moon

In 2009, I started to see some of the stronger parts of my life fall apart. I had a jagged wisdom tooth pulled out and some of my stress pains just wouldn’t go away.  Parts of my relationship started falling apart in front of me and I only had one person to blame: myself. I became a bit of a recluse and delved myself into meeting after meeting, whether it was Elon James and Bassey Ikpi’s Bar 13 joint with Rich Villar and Melissa Harris-Lacewell amongst others or finding the bottom of too many cold glasses of Blue Moons and Coronas, I did everything in my power to take my mind off the plethora of distractions and detractions. People revealed themselves in covert and overt ways, and the only shelter I found was in my recently acquired iPod Touch and the mounds of student work that left my desk as soon as it touched my hands. Oh right, and a little jam I used to snap my fingers to whenever things got tough: “It’s gonna feel real good, it’s gonna make a difference, gonna make it right …” While things all over my life have definitely improved, the lessons still hold true for me.

1. On To The Next One.

With all that’s going on in my life, one might think I was leaving education. A Tweeter commented that my blogs waver from frustrated to hopeful, but always good reads. To that end, I have to agree. Sometimes I blurt out that I want my PhD only to hear about it back at work (I see you, spies). Sometimes I would get frustrated and say I want to be the principal of my own school (I don’t anymore, really I don’t, stop badgering me about it, mmmkay hahah). Usually, I’m happy to be an educator, especially one with a resounding voice. Even with my trials and tribulations, this education stuff has been worth most of the drama I’ve sustained. It’s been hard to read through books like The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit, but it’s a pain recognizing how much I need to be unschooled rather than not having known any better.

It’s not just about pedagogy for me; there’s plenty of that out there. It’s not just about politics; others can handle it better than I. It’s more about those gaps people never pay attention to or ones people refuse to pay attention to because it’s “too easy.” I don’t know whether I’ll still teach in the next 5 years, but I do know education is truly my calling, and every encouraging e-mail, phone call, tweet, or conversation I receive about the job I’m doing with my students keeps pushing me in that direction.

Even with the (handful of) people who keep saying “I’ve changed,” I still consider myself the same Jose Vilson, just a little more driven, a little more focused, a little more motivated to get on that space ship.

In 2010, I’ll have a million ways to get it. Choose one.

Jose, who wonders what’s “A Day In The Life” for you …

Me at the Old Yankee Stadium


Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen

Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen

2009: the year I finally got more than I asked for. Ironically, I didn’t really get the plethora of gifts, trinkets, and well-wishes I used to get during these holidays, but that may have been to offset the tidal wave of lessons and presents I received from 2009 as a whole. I promise not to get melodramatic in this write-up, but please note that I can neither look at these events as negative or positive anymore than I can look any single person as good or bad, as I have yet to determine their ultimate causality and effect. I do know that it’s made me a stronger person as I’m constantly having to squash the rumors of my demise.

Also, since this is almost uncensored, I’ve certainly walked to the brink of discussing personal situations and people in this blog, but I didn’t. Much the way gentlemen never kiss and tell, gentlemen also don’t spill everything out at once. Thus, I’ve involved no names. I understand I leave myself open to criticisms and discussions after, but I plan to keep cleansing in the hopes for brighter tomorrow.

So, in no particular order, here are the lessons I share and hope to impart upon all of you (in no particular order; I’ll leave that to David Letterman):

Life Is Meant To Be Lived

One of my favorite fellow staff members, Mr. R, retired this year, and if there’s anything he ever left me besides a penchant for insult and impeccable pseudo-administration-title writing, it was that we work to live, not live to work. Often, when I’m under the towers of papers, binders, books, and computer gadgetry, I simply and temporarily disband from the madness and go out. Maybe in the midst of trying to achieve some status, following some superstar mogul who rarely slept, or creating the “next best work,” we need to remember ourselves and living. Our work does not make us; we make our work.

Life Is Wasted on the Youth

I often observe my students in action, looking at them as they live out their mini-dramas, wondering why they even care that deeply. Our worldview often distorts the importance of things and people. I think about this as I look towards Ruben Redman, whose death I almost refused to believe until the new school year started. The more people revealed on my blog and in the news, the more uncivilized the whole situation felt to me. Young people should go out and experience things, live happy and fulfilling lives with little worry about who spray-painted what, whose denomination one belongs to, or what colors shade their sneakers or their skin.

Success Is A Process, Not an Event

People often confuse “overnight” successes with real and sustained success. We look at a news report and say, “Oh wow, that just happened. I never noticed, so I guess they just succeeded at this really quickly.” As I can personally attest to, much of the “work” we see done instantaneously takes lots of the blood, sweat, and tears few are willing to put in (I include myself in both parties at times). When success comes rapidly, that usually means the work behind it was much harder.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I’d love to sit here and tell you life for do-gooders is paved with gold. However, the more good one does, the more certain people demand or envy that which you do. I know, the first temptation of many people is commonly to say “shrug it off.” Unfortunately, it takes more than that. Shrugs don’t support your fellow comrades, and oftentimes, the very people who shrug it off are the people who need the help the most. What’s often necessary to combat this is a personal revolution people aren’t often ready for.

Everything You Knew Is Not Everything There Is

It’s amazing to me how, in 2009, people and events revealed themselves in ways I couldn’t anticipate. In 2008, I steeled my mind unconsciously, preparing myself for the mental challenges of this year. Looking back, I took a few blows and came off those injuries more elastic and less dented. While the impressions and images of people changed slightly, none of it actually took me aback (minus Ruben’s death). Actually, it felt like someone turned off the lights in a hallway I’d already walked through a million times.

We’re Capable of A Lot More Than We Know

Whether it’s a good deed or something more insidious, we humans don’t know the extent of the things we’re willing or capable of doing until we arrive at certain situations. Sometimes, we as humans are tested, and whether we fail or pass those tests, we have to take a course of action from that point forward.

You’ve Never Actually Known Someone Until You’ve Been Inside Them

While I don’t mean this to sound perverted or gross in any way, I’ve found out just how much one can learn from actually getting into their personal space. One never knows anything about their boss until they’ve been to his or her office. One never knows anything about their parents until they’ve gone into their bedrooms. One never knows anything about their friends until they spend time in their house. One never knows a partner (or even a love interest) until you kiss them. The subconscious messages we pick up when we break barriers of a person take sacrifice because it often means we have to make ourselves vulnerable to this analysis as well. However, we learn so much that this information is often worth the vulnerability … and often, the hurt.

The Little Things Really Count

To some of us generalists, the little things really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. As I get older, though, I’m seeing the value of the “little things.” The details in my students’ school work. The greeting in the morning to fellow teachers. The mental mistakes we spew around loved ones, parents and siblings alike. Once the little things get ignored, the pile of little things add up to a large thing that’s much harder to control as a conglomerate than as simple parts un-melded. As I’ve witnessed, years of work can be crumbled into nothingness when that rock becomes too burdensome.

Time Is Relative

Everything we know about time has little relevance to actual time. Our measurements of time make no sense. If you’re going to make change, why wait until January 1st, 2010? If you’re going to be honest to someone, why wait until some designated day when you and your friends decided to do so? With this push on the Internet to have information (with varying authenticity) readily available and instantaneous, our relationship with time continuously changes. In the interim, let’s savor today and every day left in whatever we call 2009.

We’ll never know the things we may learn …

Jose, who has one more year-in-review blog that’ll recap his whole life in about 2009 words (I hope) …

{ 1 comment }