Saturday, September 27, 2014

Uncle Bob

Dr. Robert Allanach, PhD
Today at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. My uncle, Dr. Robert “father Bob” Allanach, PhD, was laid to rest. 

To lose a brother, an uncle, a husband, and a "father" to so many who looked to him for counsel and advice? Another grim reminder of that truth Jim Morrison sang about back in the late sixties - "No one here get's out alive." Nevertheless, we all leave behind our reputation's lasting influence and example for others to honor and celebrate. So what was my Uncle's?

Despite the emptiness that has replaced the place Robert formally inhabited physically, I know he still very much walks with us. In fact, I have been thinking a lot about him since his passing on Sept. 8th. I have been asking myself - what would Robert say in response to this statement? How would Robert act in this situation? I laughed. I chuckled. I nodded. Sure, I realized Robert may have come across as too intense, sardonic, or damn straight honest to some, but fuck 'em. Don't interesting people often come across as 'too intense'? My uncle was direct and he despised bullshit.

Thankfully my uncle Robert was a man of principle who valued social justice and practicing good deeds onto others. He followed and lived by the teachings of Jesus Christ. He worked in prisons, the church, and as a clinical psychologist. Robert defended the rights of others and stood up for those who no one else stood up for. He believed people could create and establish positive change; accordingly, he spent his life seeking to do good and did. I encourage you to read the post my father wrote about Robert's life (reposted below the break.)  

Today as Robert's family and friends gather in the city he loved so much, I recall back to the pleasant childhood memories when we all lived in Maine. I recall enjoying the smell from my uncle's pipe when he would visit. I remember his wit, humor, and loud, jovial laugh. I always respected and was proud to see people looking to my uncle and my father for advice and meaning in their lives. Sure, my uncle and father had a healthy sibling rivalry. Although they didn't always see eye-to-eye, or agree on everything (and who ever does?), they managed to always get along and find deeper purpose and truth in life through constructive dialogue and debate. Despite their differences, I always respected the similarities they shared. I will miss these memories, but I will remember them so they're not forgotten.

Finally, I'm also happy to know my uncle found love in his life, our heart goes out to his husband, Keegan Allanach, during this difficult time of mourning. I was also glad to have been able to talk to my uncle, even if only over the phone, before he passed from this life. As usual, Uncle Robert was honest and unabashedly direct about his situation, and was more interested in hearing about my life than kvetching about his own lot. Now, we can only allow his lasting influence to advise us.

With love, light and peace Uncle Bob. Peace out.

DR. ROBERT C. ALLANACH, PhD (9-25-1949 - 9/8/2014)
By Ronald Allanach, PhD

SLIDELL, LA ---- Dr. Robert C. Allanach, 64, of Slidell Louisiana, a fierce lion for the rights of disenfranchised children and their rights from Greater Portland, Maine, to Oklaholma, Honolulu and New Orleans died Monday, Sept 8, 2014, at Slidell Memorial Hospital, where he struggled for two weeks with plasia white blood cell thymona, a rare and incurable illness.

Robert was born in Lewiston, Maine, September 25, 1949, spending his youth in South Portland, Maine, graduating from South Portland High School, Class of 1968.

Robert was founder of the Little Brothers Association of Portland, Maine, on May 18, 1972, an agency still existing for over 42 years today helping struggling children. The start was Huckleberry House, Eastern Prom.

Robert, a former member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) for over 35 years, served with the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons in Oklahoma and CT. While in Oklahoma at risk of losing his job and despite threats, Robert took on the US Govt which was manipulating to close the schools for poor Native American children. The schools remained open.

Robert later went on to become the Director of Boys Hope/Girls Hope of New Orleans for several years, also serving the parish of St. Joan De Arch in New Orleans. Robert loved New Orleans and especially had great joy showing out of town guests "his" city.

For over a two decades, Robert served the New Orleans Police Commissioner in the capacity of Police Chaplain responding to many desperate calls by officers who needed help for the mentally ill. Later, Robert sadly left the Oblates, feeling the Church was "too confining." Robert worked later as State Mental Health Director of Louisiana, LSU Health Medical Sciences Center, New Orleans, CEO, Youth Bureau of St Tammy and Washington Parishes.

Robert's two most wonderful times that brought him great happiness were when he purchased his home in Slidell where he enjoyed working in the gardens of his beautiful home, sitting and listening to the birds. The other was his marriage to Keegan B. Allanach, in Hawaii a year ago. Robert was finally at home and meeting his Love that brought him so much joy to his last days.

Robert during the last few years of his life realized his dream of opening his own private practice in Slidell, LA providing therapy to individuals, couples and families. Beyond his private practice, Dr. Allanach was also an active consultancy with Medical Management Options, providing behavioral health care services to MMO's IOP and PHP programs in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Dr. Allanach held an undergraduate degree in Justice Management and Theology from Chaminade University of Honolulu; a M.Div. degree from Boston College; a MA degree in counseling from Emmanuel College in Boston; a doctorate in clinical studies and psychology from Andover Newton, Newton Centre, MA.

Dr. Allanach completed his clinical internship at Massachusetts General Hospital's Charlestown Mental Health Unit. He completed his residency training at the Elan School in Poland, Maine under the clinical supervision of the late Dr. Gerald Davidson, MD, who served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Allanach also received training at Our Lady of Holy Cross College, New Orleans in clinical supervision.

He was certified Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, Life Fellow of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, Fellow and Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Psychotherapists, Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association, Clinical Member American Psychological Association, Clinical Fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, Clinical Member American Group Psychotherapy Association, and Board Certified Group Psychotherapist with the National Registry of Board Certified Group Psychotherapists.

Dr. Allanach published articles on juvenile delinquency risk factors, mental health issues, and clinical supervision. He also authored "This Hurting Place".
Above all else, he was a friend and supporter to all.

Robert is predeceased by his father, Harry Allanach and mother, Christine Norris Allanach, and is survived by his spouse, Keegan B. Allanach, twin brother, Dr. Ron Allanach, , and his spouse, Ben Lorgeranon,of New Westminster, British Columbia, a sister, Denise Tibbetts and her husband Dennis of Cumberland, Maine, brother, Thomas Allanach Sr., and his wife Mary-Ann of Nashua, NH, nieces Laurie Tibbetts of New Orleans, and Jessica Tibbetts of Los Angeles, nephews, Nicholas Allanach, spouse, Ena Hashimoto, New York City, and Nathan Allanach and partner Misty of Harriman, NY, Thomas Allanach Jr., Tolland Ct., Mary, Nashua NH, Mark Allanach, Santa Ana, CA, adopted sons, Dr. Murat Gemici., MD, Denver, and Robert E. Cooper and spouse Geraldine Cooper and one granddaughter, Solynn Cooper of Slidell, LA.

Celebratory service and prayers will be Sept 27, 2014, at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, New Orleans, LA. At Robert's wish, In support of life, the body was donated to advance medicine through Science Care, a whole body donor program. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mira's Method

Mira Erickson (1971)

In June, the International Center of Catholic Charities, lost its esteemed and beloved director, Mira Nikolic Erickson (1940 - 2014). Her memorial service was held in the place she worked and dedicated much of her energy - the center itself. Former students, volunteers, friends and family gathered on this occasion to honor and reflect on the life of this “classy,” “inspirational,” and driven matriarch, who spent so many late nights and early mornings ensuring the projects she focused her positive energy and expertise on succeeded. 

Four years ago, while earning a certificate in teaching English at the New School, I met Mira when searching for a place to gain invaluable teaching experience. The International Center (then located on twenty-third street) had a history and reputation for volunteerism and civic engagement. Mira interviewed me and asked if I’d be willing to offer a structured class of my own creation for one night a week. I agreed and have been doing so ever since. From that initial meeting, I knew that despite the warm smile and support, Mira was someone who did not suffer fools. I would be given an opportunity to prove myself - nothing more. She had little patience for pettiness or negativity, but was always supportive and encouraging to those willing to work and better themselves. Mira also had a unique way of finding the best in people and giving them opportunities to act on these better qualities.

Mira new what it was like to arrive in a new place alone, but so full of hopes and dreams. She came to the United States in 1962 as a student from Yugoslavia. Mira came here to complete the degree she had started at the University of Belgrade at Smith College, the esteemed independent women’s liberal arts school located in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was refreshing to hear stories of Mira’s youthful adventures from her longtime friends and colleagues, It was also inspiring to reflect back on the historically significant decade she would live through while attending school as a young women.

In the late sixties, Mira began working with Dr. Caleb Cattengo in New York. Dr. Cattengo would establish Educational Solutions in 1968 and transform the field of language teaching by developing his “the Silent Way,” which  became “an approach to teaching languages that let students do all the talking. The teacher guides students into correcting their own mistakes, giving them first-hand experience navigating the ‘new’ language.” Mira was a lifetime proponent of Cattengo’s approach. She gave her teachers and students room to grow and to acquire knowledge through their own efforts. Admittedly, teachers and students accustomed to more disciplinary, or teacher-driven lessons, would find Cattengo’s unconventional “Silent Way” challenging; nevertheless, learning itself is a challenge that ultimately lives with the individual student, not the teacher. This is not to say that Cattengo’s “Silent Way” completely disregards the needs of the student. The “Silent Way” does not mean there are no grammar lessons or tests; however, the impetus for learning must come from the student, thus allowing the learner more autonomy to grow and own the newly acquired knowledge. 

Ultimately, Mira would appropriate Cattengo’s silent way and take it further by establishing her own (un-official) “method.” Mira’s method was one in which the student became part of a supportive and unique learning community, where no student was ever left alone. By providing a place of support for students to not only learn the language, but to also gain confidence and self-assurance to ultimately acquire communicative proficiency. She wanted all her students and immigrants to go, as Mira so succinctly put it, “from newcomer to New Yorker.” And part of becoming a “New Yorker” was for each student to develop their own unique voice and story.

When I reflected on Mira’s life at her memorial, I thought of the incredible and inspiring influence she had on so many immigrants lives. Accordingly, I decided it would be most apt to read from Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus” (which is mounted on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty). And like that mighty statue, that stands so proudly in our great city’s harbor, Mira was a true guiding light to those the “tempest-tost” onto this land. Mira Erickson was “a mighty woman,” who, in so many ways, was also a “Mother of Exiles” to those who came to her for support. Although she will be missed, her influence still burns bright in the dreams and lives of the many students and immigrants she helped become New Yorkers.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Esperanza's Workshop

Esperanza Spalding with her beautiful afro.
By Nicholas Allanach

Last night, Esperanza Spalding showcased ten new songs to a sold-out house of young fans and older Jazz aficionados, all were eager to hear the “prodigy from Portland” perform as the headlining act of the 92y Soul Jazz Festival. What was most amazing about last night’s performance, wasn’t the reaction to Spalding’s new music, but the new appearance (or persona) of the artist herself.  

Spalding is a world-renowned vocalist, bassist, and composer whose melodic voice and compositions have a growing and dedicated following of fans. Her sound is soulful, melodic, diverse, and honest. I’m not totally familiar with Spalding’s work, but from what I’ve heard, I’m intrigued and fortunate to have had the opportunity to be exposed to her new material last night. 

Spalding, like most celebrities, has a distinct image. Elvis had his hair and swaying hips. And Sinatra was rarely without cigarette and cocked fedora. Invariably, the public begins to associate certain character attributes, codes or images to these popular figures - Spalding is no exception to these rules and customs of our celebrity culture.

Instead of enjoying Spalding’s powerful and moving set, the audience was consistently distracted by this “new Spalding.” Throughout the show, I was approached by over fifteen members of the audience (no exaggeration) who honestly believed that the performer on stage was “not Esperanza Spalding!”  

Admittedly, Esperanza was workshopping new songs (e.g., some of my favorites were “Shine,” “Vanishing Point,” and “Funk the Fear,” which did seem to awaken the crowd from its self-induced shock). Accordingly, the material was unfamiliar to even her most ardent of fans. Also, someone introduced her to the crowd at the start of the show under a pseudonym (which I didn’t catch, but heard later from my colleagues and some patrons.) Needless to say, this “new” Spalding wasn’t so new that you couldn’t appreciate her work as her work. She still played the electric bass with the same elegance, ease, and expertise that only Spalding can achieve.

What happened last night was Spalding, the artist, workshopped a new image and sound that her fans were not ready for. Perhaps Spalding’s transition was not as dramatic as Bob Dylan moving from acoustic to electric guitar, or the Beatles remaking themselves as "the Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band." This is the artist challenging the comforts and conventions we hold over them and expect them to adhere to. Think of David Bowie’s transition to “Ziggy Stardust,” or even Beyonce’s “Sasha Fierce.” Spalding was moving her fans outside of their comfort zones and by doing so, scared them. 

Most surprisingly was the obvious and unmentioned - power of the afro (or, in this case, lack there of!) Yes, Spalding appeared last night sans afro, with straight hair, parted straight down the middle. She wore thick, neon-green “hipster” specks. Spalding’s striking, beautiful afro has become her unofficial trademark. So when her fans saw her hair straightened-out and shiny it shocked them. At first, I thought it might just be a thing that old, white people couldn’t get over and were somehow confused by. But when older black women started approaching me, insisting the woman on stage was “not Esperanza Spalding!” I started to really feel like the joke was on the crowd and that Spalding was really onto something smart.   

Spalding not only challenged the comfortable codes of celebrity culture last night by changing her appearance, she also forced her audience to look beyond her hair and the unsaid racial associations this hairdo inspires. Spalding may have arguably angered and offended some of her fans, but she got them talking. I for one think she looks great with either hairdo, but I can understand the implicit message this type of code-changing signifies to a large part of Spalding’s audience and American society as a whole. 

Judging from last night’s performance, Esperanza's new music held the crowd’s attention enough for them to sit through the set, even if many of them honestly thought they were seeing someone entirely different. What one could also tell from last night’s set that Esperanza Spalding is an artistic and musical force to be reckoned with and she is not just out to please, but to challenge us.