Reconstructing the Lennon Wall . . . Again


Over the last few months, I’ve written several times about the Lennon Wall I’ve created in my classroom. From the initial debacle of having to take it down to sharing student art, the response from readers has been overwhelming. Knowing that the message of the Lennon Wall has reached beyond the confines of my classroom is an incredible experience and I hope the message continues to spread.

In the months since I posted Reconstructing the Lennon Wall, the Listening to the Wall series and Clearly, I Will Not Be Silenced, the Lennon Wall has been pieced back together one section at a time. I made the decision not to re-create the same pattern that existed prior to the walls being painted.  Instead of returning to a moment of sadness, I decided to move forward with a fresh start. I used all the same pieces my students created in May 2012, but I let the random nature of fate decide their new positions on the wall.  The result is a beautiful new Lennon Wall that is full of vibrant optimism.

Center Section of Lennon Wall as of August 2012

On the first day of school, my students from the previous school year stopped by in droves to check out the newly constructed wall and to find their pieces. Meanwhile, the power of the Lennon Wall continues to grow as my new students are already buzzing about creating their own pieces for the wall. I am so excited to see them embrace the beauty of individual expression and I can’t wait to hear their voices.

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c.b.w. 2012

The Converse Mentality


The Converse Cult has millions of members, but we all wear our shoes with the spice of individuality. No matter the color or style, these shoes will work for anyone who wants to embrace them. They have a distinctive voice and they expect the same of those who wear them.

The Converse brand has been around since 1908, but was relatively unknown until it started producing shoes for the athletic industry, most notably tennis (1915) and basketball (1917). In 1921, Chuck Taylor, a former basketball player started working for the company as a promoter, which eventually led to the shoes being referred to as “Chuckies” or Chucks.

An original 1917 Converse Shoe
Photo from mini smile

Up until 1966, Converse sneakers only produced one style of shoe, which was a basic white or black high-top. However, pressure from basketball teams forced the company to start producing sneakers in different colors.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Converse celebrated and marketed its shoes as essential to the American image, most notably through high school and college athletes. It is in this era that Converse became an iconic brand. By the 1970s Converse started producing styles other than high tops that included knee highs and low cuts.

Modern Chuck Taylors or Chuckies
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The 1970s also saw the company purchase the rights to a sneaker designed by Jack Purcell.  Originally created for the badminton court, the sneaker caught on with its slightly different style.  Purcell Sneakers differ from Chucks in that they have a thicker rubber toe with a distinctive “smiley face” design.

Purcell Sneakers
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

When I was about sixteen years old, I laced up my first pair of Converse sneakers and I never looked back.  They were a blue pair of Purcells and I wish I still had them! Almost twenty years later I’m still wearing Converse sneakers on a daily basis. These days, I prefer low-cuts in either the All-Star or One-Star variety.

At the moment, I own six pairs of Converse shoes in black, blue, green, gray, pink, and purple.  Like any good Converse devotee, I let the white rubber get scuffed up and I get ecstatic when the fabric around the seams begins to fray. I’ll only throw a pair away if there’s a hole in the sole, although I’ve been known to keep a hole-ridden pair of shoes for years. I’m in the middle of a new shoe revolution, which accounts for several pair looking so new.  No worries, though. I’ll have those things beat up in no time!

My current collection of Converse Sneakers
Photo by: c.b.w.

I am of the firm belief that this is a shoe that can be worn with anything from jeans to khakis to shorts and skirts. They never go out of style and they go with everything. Of course, not everyone agrees with me on this point. As a professional, I’ve had to defend my Converse Sneakers on a few occasions. The dress code at my job stipulates casual business attire as the accepted wardrobe of all employees, but I’m not very good at following that rule. I come to work each day wearing a pair of Converse sneakers that best matches whatever I’m wearing. Although, I’ve been known to purposely wear a clashing color.

Now, not everyone can get away with this and I don’t recommend trying it unless you have a quirky enough personality to pull it off.  I’m lucky in that I have a reputation of being the “weird one” and the strange girl no one can quite figure out.  Wearing sneakers is actually the most normal thing I do.

The Converse brand is more than just a swatch of canvas and white rubber in that these shoes embody the spirit of independence and endurance.  Whether it be basketball players, skateboarders, or funky history history teachers, we all wear our Converse sneakers with the same relentless sense of individualism.

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c.b.w. 2012

Treasure Stones


More than 20 years have passed, but I can still hear the waves lapping on the shoreline, while a canopy of leaves rustles overhead.  It’s summer in Northern Wisconsin, and I am just a little girl basking in the oblivion of 85 degrees.  Cool lake water swirls around my feet and smooth sand curls around my toes.  Up and down the shore I go, searching the shallow waters for the perfect stone to add to my collection.  The blue and green ones are pretty, but just won’t do.  Red, black, and brown rocks are beautiful, too, but I’m looking for something else. White stones are different from the others and always sparkle when a speck of sun peeks through the trees.  I can’t resist the urge to pick them up and put them in my pocket.

White Stones from my favorite places. Top two: Big Portage Lake, Wisconsin. Bottom Left: Thames shoreline, London. Bottom Right: Vltava River, Prague. c.b.w. 2012

As a child I didn’t understand why I was so drawn to white stones, but after having some time to think, I believe the beauty of white stones wasn’t about how they sparkled, but rather the lessons they had to teach. For a kid who never fit in anywhere and always felt out of place, my treasure stones told me it was okay to be different.  If anything, I should dare to be myself and revel in my individuality.  I don’t match my surroundings and I never will, just like white stones lying in the sand.  Do they wallow in the dirt and wish they were something else?  No.  They always find the bright side and boldly stick out from the rest.

To this day, I keep my stones close and stay true to their wisdom.  As I travel around the world and through life, I still pick up little white rocks.  From London, Prague, Ireland, and wherever I land next, my eye will keep searching for the next treasure stone. I am older and wiser, but I am always listening for the next bit of truth.

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c.b. 2012

“The Soul Thief” Could Be After You


The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter revolves around Nathaniel, a grad student, who meets a man that is known for mimicking everyone from his neighbor to famous philosophers and writers.  Every word, mannerism, and quirk belongs to someone else, so in effect the man “steals” personalities. When this “soul thief” sets his sights on Nathaniel he absorbs every detail and tic with unnerving accuracy.

While the creep factor on this is bad enough, Nathaniel is at the precarious point in his life where he is trying to define who he is and what he wants to do with his life. He is in college but finds academics pretentious, he wants to fit in but isn’t sure how or why, he wants love but is trapped by lust and infatuation, and he wants direction but can’t find his way.  The antics of the soul thief only exacerbates his internal angst to the point of a complete and total breakdown.

Baxter’s almost allegorical story plays with the idea of identity theft by putting a spin on the actual meaning of identity. His characters and their stories pose the question of whether there is even such a thing as individuality. As the soul thief himself puts it, “Someone, believe me, is clothing himself in the robes of another. Someone is adopting someone else’s personality, to his own advantage. … Somebody’s working out a copycat strategy even now. Identity theft? Please. We’re all copycats.” Essentially, society is a conglomerate of clones and people only think they are individuals. There’s that moment where we choose to surrender what makes us unique for the sake of fitting into the grand machine.

Nathaniel’s ultimate fate will appeal to some, while others will question whether he has truly found himself or has simply found another place to hide.  Regardless, Baxter has pieced together a riveting tale that offers both harsh and hopeful observations of humanity.  In what could easily be a harsh criticism of society, The Soul Thief instead offers sly optimism towards the notion of being more aware of the influences that shape our perceptions.

c.b. 2011