I’m back! Sorry I was away for such a long time. Many things have happened. The main reason I disappeared was because after five years, my computer decided to destroy itself from the inside out and it took a little bit to find time to replace all of its innards. That’s finally done now and it runs better than ever but I lost every photo I’ve ever taken and every word I ever typed. Fuck. Now that I typed that out, it makes me feel really shitty. But what can you do? New beginnings I guess.
Speaking of new beginnings, another reason I was gone was because I have a new girlfriend. That has been the greatest feeling I’ve had in my entire life. That’s been keeping me preoccupied, obviously. By the way, her name is Ali and she has a twitter account. She is an artist (a really fucking impressive artist at that) and her work will no doubt be showcased here at the Compass soon. But anyway, at this current moment, I have the time to sit down and actually write something to completion.
My sister had to write a speech for her class about someone they love and deliver it in front of everyone. She chose to write about me and then sent me the transcript. I read it through my phone sitting in the parking lot of the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, right before the George Washington Bridge in New York City. I cried. So first will be her speech and then my response. I hope you enjoy!
It feels good to be back. Feels so good, man.
Happy Kid: A Letter to My Sister
An Untitled Speech
by Elise Martino
Anthony Michael Martino. I know this name has absolutely no significance to any of you and you are probably confused, curious, and wondering to whom this person might be. This person is my brother and he is probably my biggest role model in life. All my life I have looked up to him as an inspiration. For fun, we used to drive around random places with our sunglasses on, windows down, and blasting music. Those days are some of my favorite memories. But, eventually my brother turned 18 and left for college in New York. This was hard for me mainly because it meant that I would be living at home without a sibling and when he left we didn’t get to talk as much. Sure, he came and visited a lot but even now its different since he graduated college. He left then and moved to Washington D.C. to work with an organization called Americorps and now we really can’t talk as much because he is always working and I think that’s the hardest part for me. It’s hard knowing that I will now only get to see my brother about 2 times a year. Even though I don’t get to see him, I still miss him more than words can describe and he is still the one person who keeps me going. Anthony is the kind of person who is never down in the dumps and never abandons his goals. I know he is always just a phone call away or even a skype call away, but to me, it’s not the same. He always comes home and says how much it bums him out that he had to miss his sister learning to drive, and getting her license, and growing up. I know he is my older brother, but sometimes I feel like its harder for me to watch him grow up because I know we will never get to create memories like we used to because he is an adult now and I barely get to see him. I miss having my big brother around to help me through the good times and the bad times. It seems like time flew and now all of the sudden he is grown up and living his life. I love my big brother so much and I just wish he could be around more. He has taught me so many life lessons and he is honestly the one person who I can turn to for anything.
An Untitled Response
by Anthony Martino
You are not alone in these feelings. It hurts how much we have grown apart and I can only see your life through miscellaneous bits of technology. If it is any consolation, I think about calling you every day. When we do talk, I always ask you how school is going; I ask you to tell me about your teachers and your homework and your detentions and bad grades and the pictures of sea life you draw on your tests when you don’t know the answers. I ask about your friends and what you guys do for fun. I ask about the music you listen to and the parties you go to and how our puppy is doing and what foods he eats now. Watson is a picky dog but I still need to see him eat breadsticks because apparently it is the greatest thing in the world to watch, according to your texts.
I miss you, Elise and I’m sorry I haven’t been there in person every step of the way. I wanted to be there in the car with you the day you got your license. I wanted to be at home waiting to guilt trip you after you got your first detention. I want to be there to scare the living piss out of the first boyfriend you bring home. My plan was to just sit at the kitchen table and clean all of the gigantic knives mom has in the kitchen and just stare out the window and quietly repeat the words “I hope tonight is a good night” in a whispery version of the Batman voice. I’ve thought about all these things and it kills me to know that I won’t be able to. I’m going to try my hardest to be there to help you move in on your first day of college, which no doubt will be an ivy league. At least I can get really drunk at your wedding and make a great toast and embarrass you, provided you have an open bar. I’m not going to miss that for the world.
There is a reason I left you guys though. There is a reason why I felt comfortable travelling so far away from home. It is because I knew you would make it. I knew you would be fine. And you proved me right. You’ve done everything better than me so far. Your grades are better. You have more friends than I had. You have a direction. As much as you look up to me, I have a confession to make. I have no idea what I’m doing. I run my life like a massive experiment on an hour-to-hour basis. I travel around the country so much because I don’t quite know my own place yet. Its not easy. Moving to Washington D.C. in a post-9/11 world is probably the scariest thing I’ve done and I know how much you and everyone else at home worries and I’m sorry for that. I need to challenge myself in order to keep going. I wanted to challenge you to see what you were capable of and you went above and beyond my expectations of how successful you could be. You are my role model, Elise and I am very jealous of how well you’ve navigated yourself through middle school and high school.
I’m able to stay away for so long because I know you are doing great. Yeah, you have mood swings like a mothefucker but I know on the inside, you are going to kick life in the fucking balls and prove to everyone that you are the best at whatever you set your mind to. I tried to instill that in you all these years because I was unsure that I could do it myself. I didn’t want you to make the mistakes I’ve made; I didn’t want you to miss out on anything. I wanted you to be better than me. And you are.
Working with City Year has actually made me closer to you, believe it or not. Right now, I work in the lowest performing middle school in Washington D.C. in one of the hardest neighborhoods in the country. I work in a school where the fire department doesn’t show up when the alarms go off. I get threats against my life on a weekly basis. Recently, a student told me he was going to bring a gun to school and now I may have to go to court because I am a witness. This can’t be easy hearing this when I call home. I can’t even imagine the emotional pain I’ve caused our family and I am deeply sorry for that. But when I see my kids in class, when I see them actually learning, I think about you. I think about how I want them to be just as great as you are. You are the gold-standard of excellence and I am infinitely proud of you. I see all of my flaws in these students. I see the ignorance I had in middle school. I understand how serious it was that I had to write all those apology letters to teachers for my behavior. I failed English in 6th grade, the grade I help teach now, and then I went on the become and English major in college and hopefully one day earn my PhD in literary theory. Anything can be done as long as you believe in yourself and I believe in you.
We’ve been given an amazing family and I am proud and unfathomably excited that you are my sister. You are going to be so happy with where your life is going. I am now and you’ve done everything a billion times better than I have. Don’t worry about a single thing but don’t ever give up. Keep reaching for what you can never have. Grasp towards infinite space you will never know what true sadness is. I love you and can’t wait to see where life will take you. As always, I’ll be right there next to you. I never left.
Next time I’m home, we will drive down River Road together and blast Bootsy Collins and Gogol Bordello as loud as you want.
I’m going to tell you a story. When I first started working in the public school system, I felt pretty good physically. I felt refreshed in the mornings and was happy to be a part of something very important by the end of the day. When I got home, I smelled like sweat and cafeteria but I was proud. My pants would have some pen marks on them from when students would try to write on me when I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t angry; I wore it like a badge.
A few months went by and I started to become physically tired and homesick. I was spending the same number of hours at work as I was at my apartment, a twelve-hour split. I would wake up angry about how horrible some of the conditions are and arrived back at my place numb. I began to cherish the weekends more.
One friday in mid-October, I came directly home and went to bed. Fuck going out to the bars. I didn’t know how people had the energy. Upon waking up around noon on saturday, I made breakfast and then decided to take a nap. I was awake for no longer than forty-five minutes. I woke up later that day around 8 p.m. confused, frustrated, groggy, and melancholy that I had wasted a full day. I had no idea what to do with myself. The longing to be home in Kentucky was almost unbearable and I decided to leave my basement apartment and walk around the neighborhood with my camera. This resulted in roughly 70 photos that perfectly encompassed my mood. It made me feel much better. Sometimes it is difficult for me to express how I feel. It usually all comes out in a scramble of words and noises. Conversations with friends sometimes feel like packages filled with puzzle pieces from different puzzles.
The result turned out completely surreal, hence why I left the pictures in color from my usual preference for black and white. Everything seemed fake yet every problem seemed so very real. It was something that at the time, I could not have possibly translated into words and looking back at these photos now, I realize that the initial feeling was completely preserved in the strange colors, focuses, and angles of these shots. The following are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy/understand.
I’m so happy that everything is up and running now. The posts have been great so far. This is so goddamn exciting!
Anyway, that’s all I have to say. Here’s the piece that was inspired by the city I live in, a sunrise, a poor understanding from trip to the Natural History Museum, driving through Gettysburg, Matisyahu, a thunderstorm, and the computer game the Oregon Trail. Whatever.
I can’t even imagine what this land looked like before we built it up. Before we had to look though buildings and traffic lights to see the sunrise. Before all these trains and bridges and buses and stores. I can’t even imagine what the air would smell like.
There was a time when none of this was here; none of us were here. Just a vast ocean sprouting volcanoes. An atmosphere in its infancy. Not a single satellite roaming the void like the trilobite in the water’s depths. It crawled out and started changing. It started spreading. A chain of events and thousands of years later, we appeared but not the way we are now. Just the wilderness and the beings that lived off the land. The battlefields of Gettysburg were just fields. The Capital Building was still part of the trees and the earth. Pigeons didn’t know what pavement was. The sound of the city was nonexistent. There was nothing ever like it but earthquakes and thunder. It had to build up. The dream had to formulate and the sound followed. A dull vibration in a brain cell slowly swelling into an industrious roar.
I wonder what it felt like, to see this land undeveloped for the first time. To feel the gigantic blast of spirit and possibility. I wonder what it felt like to be in a caravan and to head out into the unknown. To take the people you love the most, to take your family and start walking west into the uncharted, terrifying beauty that was young America. To see the bison for the first time, the tornado, the infinite gray death of the Great Plains winter, the rocky woods of Wyoming and the vast, virgin galaxies of Montana’s night sky. But the ungodly challenge of the Rocky Mountains. To look your loved ones in the eye and have the ability and strength and hope and drive to push forward and not fear death. And to be greeted by the monstrous redwoods guarding the Pacific Ocean. Have I ever felt manifest destiny before? Is it still possible?
So then we started making our own things when we ran out of land to explore. We took the dirt and we made modern civilization. The land wasn’t enough. We made guns and money, oil refineries and shopping malls. Designer drugs and social media. Hate and tombstones. We turned against one another. We turned against ourselves. What was once a world of endless light got lost in its own bullshit and faded back into the dark matter of the universe. In our own creations we lost perspective of what it meant to be alive on this planet at this very moment.
But the light is still here. It is not within our buildings, plugged into electrical sockets, installed in our cars, printed on our clothing. It is within the people. It is within the life here. Within us is the spirit of the trilobite. The spirit to climb out from our pits and ignite the world with life again and rise above the hate and minutia of modern life.
We must never forget about the trilobite.
Sorry I didn’t post on thursday. I haven’t had the time really and I don’t quite like it yet. It will have to wait for another week. However, I didn’t want to just leave this week with nothing (especially since I woke up in a particularly strange and melancholy mood for no good reason). So I am going to post a journal entry that I just finished writing.
Spoiler Alert: This is kind of heavy so you may want to have something happy lined up to do immediately after. Just sayin’.
Enjoy and see you in a month when I will hopefully have that other piece ready, which is entitled “Manifest Destiny”. Until then, stay safe and I’ll miss you.
6 November 2011 - Chevy Chase, Maryland - 3:26 pm - Sunday
Today I am overcome by a deep, unexplainable sadness. A hopelessness that makes me want to be anywhere but here. It is a feeling of fear and longing and regret and I don’t know why or how. I want to cry but I can’t do it. I feel so bad and alone.
My family is attending two separate funerals today. One death was the father of a family friend, the other is the daughter of another. Both of which I think I may have only met once. Maybe. I can feel their sadness.
Nothing in this reality is permanent and within that, I can find comfort knowing that this feeling will eventually go away and I can feel happy again someday. Completely happy. But this is also a testament for death, mutability. Everything has to die eventually and when it happens, everything we knew, loved, and experienced is gone in an instant. A bolt of possibility of both death and happiness. But when we pass, nothing we know now will matter and we will become part of everything else here in our abandoned solar system.
If life was truly the way things are supposed to work, death would not exist. We would live forever and there would be no balance in between. But there must be balance. There must be. The universe is proof. At any moment through an infinite amount of possibilities, we could die. In a split second, your consciousness can be permanently ripped from your body and you will slowly break down into your original basic elements. Death is the constant in this universe and we are all still here by luck.
But that luck is deeper than just being here, deeper than just witnessing this cold space. We are lucky that we can feel and react and communicate and fight and dream and drive and scream and build and love and cry and think and laugh. We can go outside and imagine whatever we want and someday if we work towards it, it might be a reality. We can create. We can watch the sunset or leaves falling or a baby learning to crawl or waves exploding against rocks. We can feel the frozen burn of snow on our skin or the warm touch of another life. But again, all that could end in a second. The fact that nothing has killed us yet, that space and time has not balanced us out in this vast, murderous universe is amazing. We should all hold each other close and love each other now and whisper how lucky we all are to be alive at this very moment and smile.
But I don’t have that now. I am alone in a cold city trying to find a point of warmth, another real person that feels. All my relations are work-related which is depressing because our work environment is a unending battle of hate and unrelenting blind faith. The people I care about the most I have to see through cameras and monitors and hear through speakers. I am essentially alone for the majority of the time where I can be myself and I just want to feel loved in person for just existing, not for my work or ideas, not the things I say or do, but loved for purely being.
I don’t want to stay in Washington any longer that I have to. I walk outside and even though I have the potential to create anything I imagine, to project my dreams onto the land, it is not my dream that is already here. The Washingtonian has a predestined role, one that is financially ambitious and career-driven and that isn’t me. I need somewhere quiet and powered by love and raw-living with none of the pretensions involved.
Everything I see outside is the dream of another person. Everything I see is on purpose from every road to every house to even the type of grass. Where the trees are, where the people walk, everything. It all exists because someone else wanted it to. I control none of it. The only thing left alone is the sky. I think that when you die, you get to control it. On the day your life ends, you get to say what the sky looks like for the people you love. To swirl the clouds and reflect the light into vibrant blues and brilliant pinks and the deepest oranges and purples. On the day you die, you finally get to become part of everything and call it your own.
There were no links this week. My post is not on time and for that, I apologize. I am still going through this transition from lazy student into whatever it is that I am becoming and it is very difficult to find time to actually sit down and refine some thoughts within the time limitations we have here at the Compass. That should be changing soon; expect reform but until then, things like this may happen.
This is officially Luke’s week now but I am going to make my post now since I actually have the time with the long weekend.
Sorry for the lateness and thank you all for understanding. I love you all.
City With No Children
So I just sit here now. Pretend like things are ok. There are no windows here so what else really matters besides myself right now? When the week starts, I’ll put on my uniform, smile when I need to, yell when I need to, look through books and magazines and movies and albums for inspiration during my planning period, and then come home reeking of middle school and go to bed satisfied? ”Don’t bring your work home with you.” We are a little past that point.
I exist in this city only for one reason. That is my job. To get in my subway car and stare at the silent, unhappy, dying faces until they slowly walk out. Towards my station, towards Congress Heights, no one is left but me and one or two other people. I walk past the projects and a cemetery to my school. A school that was just tested by the system to see if it should stay open in the following years. Reading and math comprehension. In less than five years, all the work I am doing could be for nothing but everyday I put on my name tag and go in there fully prepared that very few people will listen.
Some of my students need glasses. Some need medicine. Some need parents. There are some who haven’t seen a grade higher than a “D” in their lives and the system passes them every single year. In my class, in the 6th grade, some of my students can’t read. These kids are the future. Their lives are in their own hands. It isn’t just here though. My shitty school in Southeast D.C. isn’t the only one that isn’t properly preparing for the future. We are at 14 schools in the district in several different wards. There are 23 versions of us all around the world. The human race is in danger, specifically the people who live in the United States of America.
I serve because I am scared. Because when I ride the metro, no one smiles. We all know what is going to happen but no one is doing anything to stop it. Cars passing up a crash on the expressway. An elderly woman struggling to find money in her purse. A lost child in the mall. A pigeon with a hurt foot. The homeless man in the doorway in the tunnel. Black smoke on the horizon. An empty building where a bookstore used to be. Fights in the school stairway. Helicopters overhead. The stunted buildings of downtown Washington. My alarm every morning. I serve for the one day where I don’t have to wake up and say the word “Fuck.”
Two weeks ago I made my way to the national mall where the Library of Congress put on a national book festival. When I hopped on the metro, people were talking to each other. No one was in a suit. There were kids. I haven’t seen kids outside the classroom in so long. They were happy. I talked to a minister from North Carolina while I was in my Bad Religion shirt with the crossbuster. Mentally, I conflict between science and unknown faith all the time. Humans just want to get along. They do not want to worry about the politics of our society. They just want to exist without strife. But D.C. is all about politics. At the book fair, I saw children. I saw kids reading. I saw adults reading. Thousands of people gathered there for only one reason: they like reading. I listened to Dave Eggers, one of my favorite authors, speak about the power of young people and cannot reiterate enough, if you can find something to write with, do it. You don’t even know how much power you have with you at all times.
Everyone has the potential. Everyone has the ability to express his or her thoughts or emotions whether it be through the written word, graffiti, visual art, music, photography, public speaking, sculpture. Anything really. Don’t ever fucking give up. You are making a statement. Last week I walked past Occupy Boston by accident and saw what this spirit can actually do. Everyone in this country deserves equal rights. I saw none of my students at the National Book Festival because most of them do not have the financial resources to get out of their neighborhoods.
Occupy wherever. It doesn’t even matter. Wherever you go, make a presence. Whether it be on Wall Street or Boston or even here at Freedom Plaza in D.C., let the world know that the future is important. Let the world know that every single life is worth recognition, that no one person is better than the next. We are equal and we are love. Serve. Always.
I was planning to write something on the education system this evening. I was planning on just highlighting the struggles of the system in place and communities that need help. I was going to talk about my own struggles with this responsibility and try and figure stuff out as I write, as I usually do. Give a few stories here and there, maybe include a song lyric, and call it a day. But something came up and I had to change everything. It can’t be sappy anymore. It is going to be angry now. Something happened.
Maybe it was because I had a rough week that made this one thing set me off. It might be because I planned to just write something and drink a few beers so I could watch the NFL kickoff tonight, sleep decently, wake up at 6 a.m., do whatever my organization needs me to do, change, go to the bars, then come back home, sleep, wake up, make breakfast, go to the bank, read, and repeat but fate won’t ever let that happen. It threw and earthquake at me, a hurricane, a few tornado warning around the area today, whatever. You can’t really complain about those things. Nature does what it wants regardless of our plans. No one can stop that.
All week I have been preaching to my middle school that we are responsible for our actions. Today I saw kids fighting in the hallway outside of the cafeteria. I had to run all the way over to them to break it up, which means that once they saw me coming towards them, they scattered. I followed one kid and ended up cornering him, began to angrily question what happened. Apparently the other kid hit him first but who can really tell. What does it even matter? He swung back. That’s what I tried to explain to him. It doesn’t matter who started it, it just matters that he partook. He answered violence with violence and that only leads to more anger and he’s probably going to be in another fight because of his actions. He didn’t really seem to give a shit. He’s around twelve years old so he doesn’t really give a shit about anything other than the 3 o’clock bell. His friends didn’t either, as they demonstrated by throwing a hamburger at my back while I was trying to talk to this kid. They got ketchup on my Timberlands.
This evening I learned from the news that there is a credible chance that there may be a repeat terrorist attack in New York City and/or here in Washington D.C. this weekend during the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
So I ask a simple question: What the fuck did we do? I am just trying to make a living and help out people who need guidance. What did these kids do to you personally? You cannot hide behind idealism. When you choose to swing, your brain is the only object making that happen. It may be under the influence of certain ideas of others but in the end, the individual person makes the final decision.
I really do apologize for this post. It is out of the ordinary, not correctly executed, amateurish, but right now, I am not in the mood for this. I don’t feel like making things pretty because they aren’t pretty. Right now I am still in the middle of a major transition between being an adolescent and adulthood, a transition that is not going to be fully realized for several months, maybe even a year. But that is what I sign up for. This is what I wanted. This is what I needed.
Now that I think about it, I know exactly where this is coming from. On tuesday, we had a student that was arrested in class. I wasn’t there but a teammate who was told us all what happened; she seemed very disturbed by it. The kid was talking shit to some girl during class about something or other and eventually ended up stoping and working on his class assignments. When he finished, he got up to sharpen his pencil and punched the girl he was yelling at earlier square in the face. Of course a fight broke out and being the seventh graders they were, they all began to freak out and someone called the cops. They put the kid in cuffs and it turns out that he was already on parole for something else that we weren’t allowed to know. He was expelled on the spot and taken away in the back of a cop car to who-knows-where. In the course of a single class, he threw his life away. It is far too soon to make this poetic but far too serious to not talk about immediately.
He was on parole at the age of eleven. Think of where you were at eleven. I was running around the neighborhood with Nerf guns and trying to make girls like me. That second part I’m still working on. But at eleven. He was nearly eye-level with the door knob for the room. Eye-level with the officer’s handcuffs. I think I was still considering lego-building as a possible career choice. We had summer reading lists. What trouble did you get in at eleven? Your mom pulling you aside in public for saying “hell” by accident. Talking back. Pouring a can of Surge down the neighbor kid’s plastic slide which attracted bees. Playing Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys too loud and jumping on a bunk bed. Having Playboy’s hidden in your room. These are all personal examples so insert your own.
Actually, in sixth grade, I got in a lot of trouble. I hit a kid in art class in the nose with some thing made of copper and gave him a nose bleed. He called me a douche bag and at the time, I didn’t know what that meant. Well, that was 5th grade. In 6th grade, I failed english. Mind you, I have my B.A. in English Literature now. At the time, I refused to do any of the projects because A) I thought that putting six objects in a coffee can that represented 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea was stupid, B) none of the books were interesting, and C) all I wanted to do was play football (this was one year before the massive leg injury). I got an “F” and I carefully ripped that sheet out of my report card and hid it in the box for a computer game deeply buried in my closet, Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland.
My mom asked me why I didn’t have an english grade. I told her Mrs. Brown also teaches the 8th grade class and she is going to send them later. I was able to keep that up for about a month. One day in math class, I happened to look out the door’s window and saw my mom standing there in tears. I ran out an hugged her. She kept repeating “Why would you lie to me?” and I started weeping uncontrollably. We both cried in the hall and I kept saying “I’m sorry” over and over. I went home early that day.
I was grounded for six months. Six months. I couldn’t see my friends. No electronics. Only books and music. That is what formed me into the nerd I am now. The one who appreciates art and family. I had something to turn to. This kid that got thrown in jail, he may not even have familial support. He could still be in a cell somewhere as you read this as the authorities try and piece together names and phone numbers from this kid’s broken answers. He has no one.
And now the news tells us that someone he has never met over seas wants him dead. Me too. We have both made this group’s hit list. But for what reason? A few old fucks made some mistakes and don’t know how to sit down and work issues out like understanding human beings. They are corrupted by power and money. They don’t understand that now we might have to pay with truck bombs and deaths in the transit system. We are far too conscious to let another 9/11 happen but every single American is far from in the clear. That kid doesn’t deserve to die.
So what can we do? We help. We serve. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes things that others have done and ways of life that we’ve stood by blindly come back. All we can do is apologize and work our hardest to make sure our children don’t have to face this again.
What we need is the death of the ego. Only then can we move on. Until that happens, we must all live in fear of each other but you can pledge to everyone around you that you will always be there to help. You can let them know that you are a human being and that you make mistakes but can be quick to forgive others for the same flaw.
No one was born knowing what to do. No one was born a better screaming baby than the other. Our systems have placed people ahead of others. One day we may find the answers but in the mean time, please, please try and be civil to each other. That’s all we have right now.