Sunday, May 19, 2013
All that aside, let me tell you all about the Howard University graduation. If you don't know Howard is an historically Black University (HBCU) and has a long history of graduating highly successful and service oriented folks. Thurgood Marshall received his law degree there. Since it's located in DC its students are in the thick of all things political. It was amazing to me that Chloe got to attend a premier HBCU in DC during the term of the first Black president. But Howard turned out to be so much more than we hoped for. For the entire time that she was there, Chloe has been told that her job in life is to be of service. I think that's why she was drawn to the school in the first place. She has always had a strong sense of justice, and her father and I have tried to give her a sense of obligation. We visited several schools before she made her choice, but from the moment we stepped on the Howard campus, it felt as if she belonged there. Even though she was accepted to 3 other schools, there was never any question of where she wanted to go. I'm so glad she did.
Even knowing all this did not prepare me for the graduation at Howard. It's a big enough school that the various departments hold separate awards ceremonies before the main commencement. The school of education is one of the smaller ones. This is partly because it is a very selective program. In fact, you are not allowed to major in education as an undergraduate. You must choose another major (secondary teachers major in the area they wish to teach, and elementary level teachers choose from an approved list) then in your Sophomore year (I think) you apply to the graduate school of education. If you are accepted, you will begin taking graduate courses in your Junior year. The Education ceremony was on Thursday, so we drove down Wednesday night after work. We spent Thursday morning listening to a series of remarkable speakers. The Dean of the education department and various students spoke eloquently of the mission of the University and of the education graduates. They spoke of the need to make a difference and of the tradition in the Black community in general and Howard in particular of reaching back to pull others along. What struck me most was how happy all the faculty looked as they gave out the awards. I attended a large state university as an undergraduate and the professors barely knew our names. Both my husband and I got our graduate degrees from larger mainstream schools. (Northwestern and Loyola). I don't think any of those professors particularly cared whether most of us finished or not. My husband had to actually disband his dissertation committee and start over. At the Howard ceremonies, the faculty hugged the students as they got their degrees. Doctoral candidates were greeted onstage by their dissertation advisors, and you could see and feel the joy and pride the faculty members had in their proteges.
On Saturday at the main commencement we got to see the entire graduating class march in, and we listened to a speech from the class representative that was as moving and eloquent as any of the ones that came after, including the one by Bill Clinton who was the main commencement speaker. We sat on the "yard" in a intermittent rain and watched some of the best and brightest of our children walk into the future. It was wonderful and scary and thrilling.
And so she's off. She has one more year of study to finish her master's and she has to take the Praxis exam, but for the most part she's launched. I joke with Ed that I get a catch in my heart every time I see her walk away from me. But it's no joke. It's been like that since she took her first steps. I have a really hard time with it. It's silly but there you are. So I thought it would be really hard to see her walk away from me in a cap and gown. But oddly, it wasn't. Maybe it's because I know she's ready now. I've seen her overcome a lot of adversity, and her own limitations, to accomplish something remarkable. She has fought her own tendency toward defiance, she overcame a serious bout of homesickness and inner doubt in her freshman year, stuck it out even when her grades weren't that great, worked hard to bring them up so she could make it into the graduate program, and held down a job to boot. I'm really proud of her. I think she'll be fine. And so will I.
Friday, May 27, 2011
I don't really know what to say. I had to stop reading halfway through because it was just too hard to take. I can certainly see why my Zumba teacher thought it was uplifting, but I found it very disturbing in the way I found Schindler's List disturbing. At first I figured that it was just that I couldn't see the"triumph of the human spirit" because I was mesmerized by the ugliness. And that might be partially true. But it's more than that.
When I teach the fourth graders at our school about the first Thanksgiving I start by introducing the Social Studies theme for the year. I tell them that we are going to be history detectives and work on various cases. To start, I define the difference between history and the past. The past, I tell them, is what actually happened, and history is how we talk about what happens. The past is always the same, but history changes across tellers and time.
I think that's why my instructor and I essentially were reading two different books. She sees what happened between 1958 when I was born and the 90's when she was born as history all neatly packaged and tied up with a ribbon. I see it as the past. I lived parts of it. I knew women who worked those jobs. My grandmother was a maid and laundress before finally becoming a restaurant cook. I remember the stories. I remember White ladies being condescending to me assuming that I would eventually clean their houses. And I remember the point at which I realized I never would. It's not history to me it's my past. History is written in books, the past is etched on your soul.
My Zumba instructor's inability to feel the way I do about this book gives me immense joy. I am happy that she can't quite get where I'm coming from. I'm happier still that my twenty year old daughter cannot even fathom why I would be upset over a book about some maids. My daughter has a White Jewish father and a Black Southern mother. She became a bat mitzvah at 13, and at 18 chose to go to a selective Black college after being accepted at an equally selective White one. She is just as comfortable working with homeless black children as a volunteer in DC as she is helping wealthy White Jewish kids learn their Hebrew as a camp counselor.
I am happy about all this but it frightens me too. I can imagine now how scary it must have been for my mother and grandmother to watch their children sail off into a racial landscape they never thought they would see. Even though they helped create that landscape, they must have worried about us just like my great, great grandmother (a former slave) worried that the slave catchers would come and get her family. We worry because we can't quite believe it's over. We worry because we still see the traces of the old ugliness everywhere around us. Our president tells us that those people are on the "wrong side of history" and I believe that to be true. My husband, with the supreme confidence of a White man with a Ph.D., tells me that there's only so much that crazy people will do. I wonder if he realizes that his own history tells him that's not true. But of course he doesn't. The Holocaust is history for him, and past for his parent's generation.
So here I stand on one side of the great divide watching my daughter with relief and fear. I am so happy that the children I teach are mystified later in the year when we get to the Great Migration and I try to explain why there were colored toilets. I am thrilled that my daughter's friends look like a UN delegation. I'm happy my Zumba instructor thinks this book is just an uplifting story about things that happened a long time ago. I wish with all my heart that I could jump across the abyss and live where they do, but I can't. I can't anymore than my grandmother could jump to my side or her grandmother to hers. I hear Dr. King's mountain top speech in my head at times like this. I understand the reference to Moses in a different way. People say he was predicting his own death, and perhaps he was. But I've learned by now that the people who build the bridges often can't cross them. We are stuck with the baggage of the struggle. Once people have sunk to a certain level of ugliness toward one another, you can never truly fix it. You can't, as my husband says, unring the bell. That's why I'm careful in relationships. I know how ugly sticks. And that's why I've come to see the continuing struggle for racial equality in this country as so vital. I get angry when I hear Black people making rude comments about Asians or Latinos; or when they make those comments about us. I want to grab them and shake them and tell them they are tying chains around their legs that they will never be able to get off. That they will look up one day as their sons and daughters move to other ways of being and know that they cannot follow them. I want them to see how terribly sad that is. In the end that's what makes The Help worth reading. Depending on where you are on the timeline (and the color line) you may find it uplifting or disturbing; infuriating or depressing; or some combination of those things. But it will make you think about that divide and which side you want to be on going forward.
I'm going to bed now. Thanks for listening.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
This is our second older house. We should have learned by now. They woo you with promises of returning them to their former glory. They reward you for your first tentative tries. You remove carpeting and find beautiful oak flooring in wonderful condition. You take down wallpaper and see that the plaster is in great shape. You paint a few rooms, maybe revive a flower bed. It all goes so easily. The house whispers "come on, do more, it'll be fun, what could happen?" Then you get into the hard stuff. You start opening up walls, workmen come in and leave large bills. But it's too late now, you're hooked. Finally you go for the big one: the kitchen renovation. You become obsessed with finding period reproduction hardware for the kitchen cabinets. You stop blogging, or going out with your friends. All you talk about is whether it's OK to put vinyl tile in the laundry room or would that ruin the integrity of the house; and whether the cabinets need to be quarter sawn oak or will cherry be fine. People stop calling. You feel that you must spend every waking moment in service to the house.
Then you know it's happened. You are a slave to your older home. When will it end? Who knows. Perhaps if I can get the perfect slab of uba tuba granite for the kitchen I'll be able to stop.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
This is my group just after getting off the plane in Accra. 11 hours in coach and we still look fabulous. We were met by a group of very helpful guys including Pakwesi who is married to an American and whose main job was to keep us from doing anything stupid.
That's Pakwesi in the plaid pants helping me out at the Cape Coast slave castle.
We drove to Cape Coast the night we arrived in Accra and stayed at a guest house called The Mighty Victory. It is run by a Ghanaian woman who lived in the US for forty years and then went back to run her father's guest house. In Cape Coast we visited and toured the slave castle. it was a strange experience walking where all those Black folks walked. This would have been their last sight of Africa. The tour guide starts every tour by showing a plaque installed by the current Ashanti chiefs apologizing for the role that Africans played in the trade.
Here are some shots of the castle.
These are the cannons that protected the castle.
This is Denise and me in front of the cannonballs. Don't I look like that aunt you had who went all these exotic places and never wore pants? Picture me in a dress on a camel...
It was eerie how beautiful it was there. The views over the Atlantic were beautiful, and there were fishing boats on the shore outside the castle, much as there must have been when it was being used for slave trade. The guide said that there was a chapel where the White people who ran the castle held services. It was located right above one of the dungeons.
The view from the castle
At any rate there were children outside the castle selling some of everything. You can buy anything, and I mean anything on the streets in Ghana. In the cities people walk through traffic carrying things on their heads -- food, clothes, phone cards, dog leashes, toilet paper... it's amazing. They are a very entrepreneurial people. It struck me how true this was when Pamela and I were walking on the street in front of Kwame NKrumah's tomb on our last full day in the country. A woman walked up to us with a baby on her back and began to beg for money. We were shocked since we had literally not seen a single panhandler for the entire trip and Pamela had not seen one on her previous trip. As we were standing there a Ghanaian man came up and began to berate the woman. "You are just asking for money for nothing, do not do this! Someone in a car passing by asked why he was yelling at a woman, and he said "She is just asking for money!" Turning to her he continued "Find something to sell!" For us that said it all.
This is a picture of the kids outside of Cape Coast castle. The girl is selling plantain chips. I am addicted to plantain chips. If you go to Ghana, you will also become addicted. Accept it. You will find yourself hanging out the side window of a tro tro frantically waving down a plantain chip seller trying to get your next fix.
From Cape Coast we began a two day trip to the northern border of the country just across from Burkina Faso. We were headed for Bolgatonga where the Center for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI) is headquartered. This is an organization headed by a woman named Franciska Issaka. She is a force of nature who started the organization with her sister. They focus on helping other grass roots organizations make changes in the everyday lives of villagers. Their particular concern is gender equality -- education for girls, getting wives full ownership of land that sort of thing. They are doing wonderful things. We visited some of the organizations they help, made a donation and had a wonderful dinner at Franciska's house where we heard from the young people who work with her.
While up North we visited a women's cooperative that produces rice for resale. The same group also makes baskets. We bought Bolga baskets while there, and talked with Stella who runs the organization. She is an amazing woman. I left promising to help her produce some specialty labels for small runs of the rice. Franciska will take the labels back when she visits at Thanksgiving. Here are some pictures of Stella at work. Yes this is how Ghanaian women dress to go to work! I am humbled.
Me, Stella and the label!
We also met the women of the Kanada women's association (they produce the baskets) and visited Kantia school. These are all organizations that work with CENSUDI. Everyone was wonderful and the Kanada ladies even let me dance with them. I was out danced, but it was fun. Pamela has the pictures, so fortunately no one will see my shame.
The Kanada ladies.
Kantia School. The children were amazing. They are focused and serious. The school is really just a cinder block building. Each classroom faces out on to a hallway and the fourth wall is open. The headmaster and teachers can walk by and see everyone. The amazing thing was that while we were there the sixth graders were studying for a national science test. They were working on things that I cannot understand now. I know I never saw that stuff until high school. We stood outside the classroom while the teacher reviewed the material. Talking (quietly) to the headmaster and senior teacher. Not a single one of those children lost concentration or looked around. I was awed.
One of my traveling companions, Denise, is also an elementary teacher. This is her teaching some of the younger kids how to play tic tac toe.
Traveling in a developing country had its challenges. Apparently paving roads is optional and we spent hours in bone jarring motion on the trip north. Also, the sanitation infrastructure is really, really bad. Let's just say that when we came back we felt a compulsion to flush toilets just to watch them work. But that's to be expected. There was one incident involving lizards in a bath house that Pamela and I will share forever.
After our week in Bolgatonga we started the drive back. Going both ways we stopped in Techiman and Kumasi and on the way back we stopped at Mole national game preserve where we had close encounters with elephants. Let me tell you it's not like the zoo.
The requisite elephant pictures
Safari guides and Pakwesi. The little guy in the middle had a very large gun. I stayed very close to him. Especially after the guy on the right uttered the following sentence: "You know I was in Kenya and they are so lucky. They have the big five. And since they are on the savannah, their lions are easily seen. Not like our lions who hide in the trees." Yes, I stayed close to the man with the big gun. He was my friend.
We also visited Bonwire which is a village which specializes in kente cloth. Kente is only woven by men. Let's just say that driving into a village where every single vendor is male, they are all more or less related, and they all want to sell you something is a unique experience.
Here are some pictures of the wonderful cloth. I bought a piece of black and white kente which is traditionally worn for mourning. I went there specifically to buy it. Kente is very expensive, and I was determined to buy the mourning cloth and nothing else. Then I saw this.
The picture does not do it justice. It is beautiful. I wanted it, but did not buy it because I needed to have money to get home. Seriously, it is that costly. However if you happen to be in Bonwire and want to make me happy, buy this for me. Seriously.
We had a great time, and I will probably go back one more time with Pamela. This time we'll take Ed and stop in London to see the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Here's hoping that works out.
Well I won't bore anyone with more pictures. I'm glad I went, and I'm glad to be back home.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Doesn't she look gorgeous?
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
But I digress. Anyway, Opie finally got all the roads cleared but my suburban school district is still suffering with downed power lines and broken water mains. So I have no school tomorrow. A full week off is great, but we will pay for it next week when all the little ones come back wound up like tops. It will be like the first week of school all over again. It's a good thing they're cute. My beloved and I went out today to run errands, mail bills and go to the gym. We were scheduled to drive to DC to see my daughter at college this weekend. Beloved was revved to go because he will drive in anything, but I chickened out so we called and moved our hotel reservations. HRH was disappointed but bounced back when we said we will reschedule for two weeks from now. So for now it's more books, more food and maybe a nice dinner for Valentine's day. Life is good.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
My husband dug us out and we had a couple of opportunities to go out between snows to get essentials: books, food, books. The beautiful northern magnolia in our front yard lost several large branches and was responsible for the loss of cable service. I mourn the tree more than the television. I hope an arborist can save it. Meanwhile I am discovering something disturbing about myself. I do not want to leave my house. I am enjoying just puttering around fixing things, cleaning, cooking huge pots of soup, baking bread, inviting the next door neighbors over for waffles. It's fine with me if I only get out twice in 5 days. This is scary. I always thought of myself as more social than this. My husband is the perfect companion as he is quiet and likes to read even more than I do. He eats what I cook, helps me work on things, and thinks my company is just fine. We got out one day to go to the gym and a movie, and then yesterday I bought an exercise DVD to keep myself going. I spent yesterday afternoon at the book store spending my birthday money which had been burning a hole in my pocket. I already had a stack of books from the library and from paperback swap. I could last at least another week. Food is not a problem as I have stores of ingredients and shelves of cookbooks.
I'm not sure what this says about me, but I have decided to enjoy my solitude and wait for the thaw.
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Well, I was driving along and periodically glancing in the rear view mirror. She was following at a safe distance and a reasonable speed. She had her hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head and her new very cool glasses on. She looked like the responsible college student she is. When we left the rental place I got in the passenger side and watched as she navigated the roadway. She drives like a grown up. It's amazing. She stopped for a bagel and asked very politely if I'd like anything. I waited in the car and thought about this change. Chloe had a rough and characteristically dramatic adjustment to college. But in the past few weeks she's had one of those miraculous maturity leaps which have become her trademark. I'm getting a glimpse, now, of the kind of adult she will be. She is always going to be flamboyant and probably headstrong. I'm sure she'll be high maintenance in relationships. But she's also extremely generous, funny, loyal and kind. Her first semester of college went fairly well. Her grades aren't terrible, but there's room for improvement. She was upset but not unduly so about that. Chloe has always had a remarkably positive outlook and a good sense of self esteem. Those are two of the things I've always loved the best about her.
So I guess I'll be riding in the car with her on a regular basis now. And when I'm too old and senile to drive myself anymore I can sit back and let her have the wheel.
Friday, August 21, 2009
According to Wikipedia a nerd refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obsure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Oh, God, I really didn't need the confirmation, but there it is. While I hope that I have learned to throw a realistic cloak over my social awkwardness, I still find myself drawn to obscure, esoteric pursuits to the exclusion of most normal activities. (That may be one reason that I was hesitant to start blogging--the possibility that I might take it to some bizarre extreme.)
My friends, both then and now, are very sweet and understanding about my peculiar disconnect from reality. They even treat me like a normal person, but despite their kind efforts, I am frequently reminded that I am a nerd. There are those awkward moments when I hear myself making inane conversation because I know the moment calls for conversation but I have no clue what I should say! Then I scurry back to playing my brain games until something or someone forces me out again.
If I thought it was tough being a teenage nerd, I didn't reckon on what it would be like to be a middle-age nerd! I really didn't mind getting caught wearing two different color socks when I was sixteen. Now I have to adopt a whole persona that acts like it's cool to wear mismatched clothing and forget what day of the week it is. I'm aware that I'm not totally dysfunctional, but I have more than my fair share of moments when I'm not completely in touch with what's going on around me. If it weren't for the fact that I was exactly the same as an adolescent, I might think I was slipping into early senility.
Stressful situations, an abundance of which seem to fill my life currently, bring out my nerdy tendencies. It is so much easier to scuttle into my shell and play word games and read books about existential questions regarding consciousness (An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman--great book). Social is hard. Pretending to be normal is hard--pretending being the operative word. Someone pointed out recently that my tote-bag with its side pocket full of pens was exposing my inner nerd--if they only knew!
As if all of these revelations were not disturbing enough, I have had the dismaying realization that nerdiness may be genetic. My eldest son, who has always exhibited too many similarities to his mother, threw a birthday party this week for H.P. Lovecraft, dead sci-fi, horror writer. The party included streamers, partyware, and themed food offerings--including a Cthulhu cake (creepy tentacled monster creation of Lovecraft's). While I was delightfully tickled with his bizarre creativity, I had a thump-your-head-V8 moment when I realized I had given birth to a next generation nerd. Wow, I wonder what kind of karma you accumulate for that!
So yesterday I was in Whole Foods and suddenly was overcome by this terrible feeling of loss. I realized that it had to do with Shirley and my daughter. I teared up and this very nice lady asked me if I was OK. I do not do public displays of emotion so I was very embarrassed. When I got to the car, though, I started to laugh. Here I was tearing up over the loss of two of the most exasperating people in my life. I should be happy that my daughter is on her own. I mean raising her has been like riding a wild bull. And Shirley is 84 and having the end of life experience she has always said she wanted -- no fanfare, no heroic efforts. She looked peaceful when my husband and I went to say goodbye. I understand being upset about Shirley -- no one is ever really ready to lose someone they are fond of. But I could not at first understand why I got so emotional about my daughter. Then I realized that I am mourning the fact that I have exhausted all possibility of having that fantasy mothering experience we all want. You know the one where your every move is perfect and you have this magical, mystical bond with your sweet compliant daughter. Ah well.
I remember a boy from Northern Ireland who was my friend in graduate school at Vanderbilt. Mike used to say "You can't pick who you fall for." He was talking about romantic relationships. But I think it goes for parenthood too. We don't pick our children. They come to us and we love them. As soon as someone puts a child in your arms or in your life and says "This one is yours" a switch goes off and you are lost. My daughter is adopted and when they brought her out and we looked at each other, we came to an agreement. She promised to be my child, and in return for the privilege of being a mom, she reached in my chest and took out my heart. And then she proceeded to stomp on it. She didn't mean to. It's just what children do. When they get hurt you bleed, when they get sick you nearly die. When they turn into teenagers and say the things that teenagers say you are devastated. There is a casual cruelty of which only a well loved child is capable. They are so supremely sure of their parents' love that they don't feel the need to guard their words. I realized this the first time I reprimanded my daughter for saying something hurtful to me. She looked confused. Mommies' feelings don't get hurt.
I have never loved another human being with the intensity I feel for my daughter. It is the same love I felt coming from my own mother to me. It is the only way I know to be with a child, and it is the most painful experience I have ever had. I had my daughter out in public when she was about five. We were in an ice cream shop and Chloe was being her usual self. I was constantly having to correct and corral her. This required a delicate balance of firmness and cajoling in order to avoid a scene. There was an older Black couple sitting there and the husband kept looking at me with that smile that made me know he wanted to say something. Finally he said "You need to have another one so you don't love this one so much." I think he might have been right, although at the time I barely had the energy to deal with the one I had.
So she's in DC holding the better part of my heart in her hand. I have a picture of her walking away with her roommate. They walk away from us without any idea that we are frightened and worried and sad. If had known what my mother was really feeling when I left home I would never have been able to go. I think mothers are the strongest people on earth, and the best actresses. We let the most precious thing we have walk away from us to a place where we can't protect them and we smile while we do it. My mother did it more than once. That makes her a super hero. If she were still alive I would call her up and apologize (again) for all the times I must have stomped on her heart. But being Mama she probably wouldn't even acknowledge that it hurt.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I believe I'm about to corner the market on imagining unique worst case scenarios--like being bitten by a rabid possum while putting garbage on my back deck or drowning in my shower or giving myself brain damage by pulling a five-pound trifle bowl off on my head. I'm up to at least a half dozen apocalyptic fantasies per day. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to borrow trouble as it were. Like most of us these days, I have the prerequisite amount of trouble and hardship--personal, work, financial, etc.--without imagining anything! But, no! I have to go and be paranoid and create bizarre possibilities for death and destruction. Okay, so maybe not death and destruction, more like miserable mayhem.
Regardless, there is obviously something wrong with me. My youngest son delights in telling me to chill. He has no idea how much I would love to do just that. If I weren't certain that I'd end up in the emergency room, I'd try yoga. Drugs just make me see things, like fluorescent green spiders. Many of the more common stress relievers are not possible or not working.
Maybe I should just face the fact that I'm nuts and enjoy it.
Here kitty, kitty!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A couple of Sundays ago I stumbled upon an 8:30 am class taught by a professional dancer in her fifties. I went in and everyone came over and gave me what turns out to be their standard interview. It's like a secret little club over there and they don't let everyone in. It's made up of former dancers in their fifties. This woman's movement vocabulary is very similar to the one I was trained in (Graham, Cunningham, Dunham). It was wonderful to hear those words and see that my body remembered what is was supposed to do even if it took some adjustments to do it. To have someone say "feet in fifth please" rather than "ok put your right foot like this" is a relief and a wonder. To have someone know what fifth looks like and appreciate the need to modify it to third was beyond my wildest dreams. It was like when my daughter and I found the zumba class populated entirely by big girls. We walked in, everyone looked at each other and we all burst out laughing. It was great. We spent the class smirking at the skinny teacher and laughing. Most fun I've had standing up in years.
Anyway, I'll continue the search for my cohort.
Wish me luck.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
I am a child of the South--
rural child on the porch,
with lemonade and calloused feet,
and sun-bleached hair.
I hug warm breezes close
and slap laughing kisses
on each sultry, sun-blessed day.
I am my mama's child--
with doughy fingers
and flour-dusted hair,
in lavender taffeta,
floppy high heels,
and jaunty hat.
I am Daddy's darling--
held aloft on broad shoulders
to worship sun and sea,
tucked in with downy covers,
kisses, and whipsered prayers.
I am a child of the South--
rural child sleeping sound
with starlight and moonlight
in the magnolia-scented evening.
Happy birthday, Dad!
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I've decided that I want to be as resilient as wild chicory. Every spring I watch those beautiful pale blue flowers bloom along the roadsides and wild places. Inevitably as they reach their peak, road crews come along with their monstrous mowers and strip them away. It always makes my heart ache a little to see them disappear. But I only have to be patient and give them a few weeks to regroup, and then there they are again, their periwinkle faces bobbing on their spindly stems.
I feel as though I have been run over by a mower or two during the last couple of weeks. A conference, a workshop, hours and hours at my desk scrambling to get ready for a new school year and a plethora of changes. I love teaching, but life as a high school teacher seems to become more difficult with each passing year. I can deal with the changing nature of the young people I teach--life changes and so do the creatures that inhabit it! It is often a challenge to translate the current adolescent mind and its accompanying angst, but that keeps the job interesting! What I have more difficulty with is the apparent illogic and ineptness of the policy makers in the field of education.
There is such a focus on student performance on high stakes testing that true learning often gets lost in the shuffle. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but I can't understand why it's not obvious to everyone that the focus has to first be on learning--then the testing takes care of itself. Many of the policy dictates that educators are dealing with right now have a tendency to be counterintuitive. We are often asked to use convoluted methods to tackle problems that would be better confronted head on. It can all be exhausting and potentially demoralizing.
So I think about chicory. It is so beautiful and seemingly fragile, but it doesn't give up. Maybe I should plant a twig or two on my desk as a reminder.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
The repressed cultural anthropologist in me has become totally fascinated by the blogging phenomenon. This is human communication unlike anything we've ever known. It has created human communities unlike anything we've ever known. I am fascinated that individuals are allowing so much access to themselves, opening themselves up to a world of strangers in ways we seem incapable of doing face to face, even across our dining room tables!
While I find myself sitting here on the edge of the pool, unwilling to do more than swirl a toe in the water, I am absolutely enthralled by the swimmers--the fearlessness, the grace, the occasional antics. Blog on, blithe spirits, blog on!
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Sometimes it's hard
to even contemplate
of pen on paper.
to allow the flow of ink
to shackle you
to word and thought.
The bold gallop
and rends your veil.
It drags you shivering
and exposed into the light
and chides you
for your reticence.
No matter how weighty
the poetry or prose,
the letters are too spare
to hide the quivering soul
and the fiery mind
gave them life.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
There were problems from the start. I had been a very thin and extremely sickly teenager, and my physical problems continued throughout my twenties and thirties. In my late twenties I had to stop dancing altogether because I just didn't have the stamina for it anymore. Meanwhile I married a man who couldn't dance and didn't like to embarrass himself, so even my social dancing days ended.
Over the years I had surgery to correct my chronic health problem. I developed a thyroid problem that caused me to gain and lose weight capriciously; I adopted a child and changed careers several times. The career changes necessitated my going back to graduate school twice. All this led me to where I am now. Looking at me you see an overweight middle aged slightly frumpy Black woman. No one would ever believe that I used to be a dancer.
I remember reading years ago about a therapist in New York who specialized in helping dancers get over the trauma of ending their careers. I remember thinking how silly that was. Life goes on. People who use their bodies must realize that they can't go on forever. I didn't think about dancing again except in passing.
But this afternoon in a moment of idleness I engaged in a very dangerous pastime. I googled a long lost friend. Therese was a dancer with me in college. She had had an interesting life even then. She was in her mid twenties and I was 19 when we met. Like me, Therese came to dance without a lot of prior training. But she was really good. She was also strikingly beautiful with pale skin and masses of curly red hair. When I typed her name into the Google search box, she came up immediately. I clicked on the link and there she was. She is still dancing. In the pictures she looked as if her body had barely aged. There were beautiful shots of her soaring through the air. She does aerial work now. She looked strong and graceful and completely at home in her body. As I looked at the pictures and read about Therese's life, I found myself overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and loss. I remember what it felt like to be able to move that way. I remember being able to rise off the floor and fly across a room. Sometimes, when I dream, I still can.
These days I take Zumba classes. I follow along with the class leaders and ignore the fat lady in the mirror. I spend a lot of time on treadmills and elliptical machines. I fight against my endocrine problems trying to hold the line against morbid obesity. Most of the time I'm okay with this, but sometimes I'm hit by just how much I miss that other version of myself -- the one who was light and strong and graceful; the one who could fly.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I am about to turn fifty. With my students and friends, I joke about being old, but alone, in the eerie silence of dawn, I find myself agonizing over where I am in the span of my life. My anxiety actually has nothing to do with being x-number of years old; other than a handful of minor complaints, I don’t feel that I’m at death’s door or any such morbid thought. Instead, what I find myself anxious about is what I am not doing at age fifty. My anxiety is little more than unfulfilled expectations.
Looking back over the span of my life, I have to chuckle at myself for dragging this cloud of disappointment around with me. If I am honest, my life has been a series of unfulfilled expectations, almost from the beginning. Why I would choose only the latest in the series to go into a major decline over probably bears some contemplation.
If we are honest, most of us would probably find that our childhoods, no matter how idyllic, were a series of unfulfilled expectations. It is in truth the nature of the beast. Children can imagine almost anything and usually do. This, in turn, leads them to expect almost anything. Few if any of those childhood expectations will be realized. At six, I truly expected one day to discover within myself the mental and physical ability to fly—without benefit of machine. Needless to say, that expectation remains unfulfilled. On a more prosaic level, I expected to be a brilliant, awarding-winning doctor—didn’t happen. It is normal for us to go through an entire gamut of expectations as children—about our futures, our families, our own abilities. It is equally normal to have the majority of those expectations unmet, unfulfilled. It’s not considered a tragedy; it’s growing up.
Even as we leave childhood, however, and venture into adolescence, the threshold of adulthood, we have expectations which more often than not are never realized. Whether they be meeting and marrying prince charming or having an award-winning career, rarely do the road maps envisioned in adolescence hold up to reality. There are always unmarked obstacles and detours. In high school, I was overwhelmed by offers to attend colleges such as Bryn Mawr and Northwestern. I ended up at a local public university. By late in my teens, I envisioned myself on a quest to achieve fame and fortune as an award-winning writer. Two years out of college I was married to a local airplane mechanic, trudging along his chosen path to fame and fortune.
While in retrospect, the results of many of these unfulfilled expectations may sound dull and depressing, in reality we are very adaptable creatures. We compensate and adjust and most often try to carve out the best niche for ourselves in whatever pond we land in. I created an entire universe around family and children. Idyllic it was not, but it was for the most part busy and full and interesting. I still found time to write, and I still entertained notions of one day being a nationally-recognized author. Along with that expectation, however, I had discovered an entirely new set of expectations—watching my children grow and thrive and succeed, growing old with my mate, achieving enough financial security to sit on the back porch and watch the sun set in peace and tranquility. Those expectations fell victim to betrayal and divorce.
Now on the precipice of fifty, I sit contemplating the plethora of unfulfilled expectations that have adorned my life. The crotchety old woman in me wants to wag her finger and shout, “See, see! Just one disappointment after another!” There are moments, days, that it is not only easy to hear her, it is impossible to shut her out. I sigh, I sob, I fret over how I got to be where I am now. I blame life, I blame my ex, I blame myself, and I wallow in despair. I can throw an absolutely brilliant pity party.
Fortunately for everyone, however, my optimistic super-ego comes to the rescue. It picks me up, dusts me off, and gives me a firm whack on the back. “You’re not dead,” it points out. “There’s life in the old girl yet!” Despite everything, I find myself chuckling over my own doom and gloom. Everyone has unfulfilled expectations; they are a part of the human condition. They go with the territory, like birth, death, and spoiled milk—they happen.
So I reexamine this anxiety I have about what I’m not doing at age fifty. It’s true enough that I’m not doing what I expected to be doing—not what I expected when I was ten or twenty or thirty or even forty. But, then, neither was I doing what I expected when I was any of those ages either. Life truly is an unfolding mystery that most often defies game plans and road maps and even simple expectations. What can I expect as I turn fifty? Who knows? What do I hope as I turn fifty? I hope that I can greet each day with joy and curiosity and the energy to tackle the unexpected.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The sunken garden. This was where the patio used to be so I'm amending the soil to make it more fertile. For now, it's struggling a little. But the rock wall is here and the heliobore.
In my garden I can focus on little things like how to get rid of aphids without insecticidal soap. (It only takes a garden hose and a little determination). And in the garden I can let go of my need to fix things. Mother nature has a way of putting us in our place. People are friendlier when they happen upon you working in a garden. They seem to think you're nicer than maybe you are. Now everybody just be glad I don't like cats.
My herb garden
My temperamental hybrid
We're building a rock wall. That's the royal we as in my husband collects the rocks, hauls the rocks and stacks the rocks. Then I tell him I want them someplace else. It's a wonderful backdrop for the hellebore on the other side.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Our friendships were forged during these years since I was learning along with them. I said soemthing to Tina about how I was so young then but didn't know it. Tina said, "Oh, we knew it." That's funny but quite true, I'm sure.
Jackie used to baby-sit with Brian for me, so they got close, too. Years later I was there at the funerals for her mother and grandmother, but not for her wedding. I did make it to her daughter's naming ceremony but not for her Bas Mitzvah - not good for a godmother. It was excruciating for those closest to her when she got her MBA and such a celebration when she finished it. I was worried when she went back to school for her teaching degree, but fortunately that was pain-free. She was here sitting out on the patio with Paige, Gena, and me drinking wine the night before the phone call when I got my lymphoma diagnosis. Gena and I went to a movie (I'd refer you to the Mission Impossible curse posts on my other blog but they didn't make the transition of the new version, so I'll just say that MI2 was released when my lymphoma changed to a more aggressive kind. Fortunately, nothing bad happened when MI3 came out because I didn't see it unless we count Tom Cruise getting more publicity.) the next day, but Jackie was around for me to call. There are many more examples of our foul-weather friendship, but you get the idea.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Monday, December 25, 2006
Friday, November 17, 2006
In response to "We can't alter God's rules:” God defined marriage? Then let God judge them in the afterlife. Last I checked, church and state were supposed to be kept separate.
Who are you to determine how other people live their lives on something as small as gay marriage? Are homosexuals hurting anybody? Are they plotting to bomb our banks and ports or kill our troops? Probably not. But a big thanks to Tennessee for stomping this fire out before it really took off. Way to recognize a true threat.
The Bible is a collection written to be accepted or not accepted how people see fit. If you choose to follow what is written on those pages, good for you. Live a happy life and let others do the same. But don't push your ideals on other people because of what you believe. If you feel homosexuals getting married is immoral, don't attend the wedding.
Maybe we should pass a constitutional amendment against the self-righteous too. Some things cannot be redefined indeed. Archaic thinking must be one of them.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
The 50's were a wonderful, safe time for me to grow up in. But then I'm extremely fortunate because my parents were loving, supportive, and functional and instilled values in my brother and me that gave us a feeling of responsibility and compassion for others, healthy self-esteem, and knowledge that we always have family there for us, just as we are there for them. This wasn't such a good time if you were black, gay, American Indian, a woman, or other minority who wanted the same rights as white males. It also wasn't a time when anyone discussed anything that could have helped them leave an abusive situation I didn't even know existed until I heard people on TV talk about it. While I grew up in what to me was one of those stereotypical 50's families on television I identified with so closely, I understood later that to many people it was a myth. I had no idea. In some ways I wasn't prepared to have problems since I tried to be a "good girl" who those things didn't happen to. In other ways the foundation of unconditional love always provided a safety net.
The 60's as chaotic, disturbing, and violent as they were brought about changes that were necessary. It wasn't all sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, although we did have good music then. The 60's made us gun shy enough that I didn't realize how tense I was about the Carters walking on the street during his inauguration until he got to the stand without being shot.
I identify with all the decades during which I've lived because they all shaped who I am. Jackie isn't a fan of sociology, but I am. I love studying it and cultural anthropology and history as well as the pop culture that's going on in the present.
Molly Ivins said that Southern liberals are formed because they lied to us about race. I agree with her about that and many other things. It's easy to sweep all those inequities under the rug and feel nostalgic about an era seen as blissfully innocent unless you had to give away your first-born child only because it made others uncomfortable because I was unmarried and nineteen. That was much too high a price to pay for maintaining the status quo of 1963, which was philosophically still part of the 50's. We nice middle-class white girls who went through that baby-mill holocaust of our own don't feel an obligation to return to that hypocrisy. Those of us lucky enough to be reunited with our children we lost to adoption are grateful to at least have contact with them now, but oh how much we missed!
Monday, September 04, 2006
A White colleague of his at Iowa moved East and was driving through a predominately Black and poor neighborhood here in Pittsburgh. She had her preschooler in the car, and eventually heard the child exclaim "Look at all the the doctors!" It was the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. Here this child had only ever met upscale Black people and so a street full of Black people was of course a street full of doctors! I often think of how difficult it is for parents of Black children to instill positive self images in our kids. It makes you wonder if we're coming at it the wrong way. I say we all move to Iowa where all the Black people are doctors!
Friday, August 11, 2006
Monday August 7, 2006
I once saw a made for TV movie based on the lives of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. In one scene Jim and Tammy are making a commercial to get more donations for some scheme of theirs. They have to make multiple versions of the same commercial because Jim names a specific city in his spiel. It went something like “We need the people of Tampa to come forward and help with God’s work.” Tammy had one line: “Jim and Tammy really needya!” It was to be delivered with her signature grimacing smile and perky diction. After they had done dozens of these, Tammy began to lose it. She was pretty much sobbing through the delivery of the last one. I remember thinking how completely messed up and out of control she must have been when this happened.
Well, I had a Tammy Faye moment today. I am attending a conference for Jewish educators on the campus of Duke University. Duke is a beautiful school. In fact one of the people I came with pointed out that it looks a lot like Hogwarts. We eat in something called the Great Hall which looks like a narrower version of the dining hall at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. There are 2000 Jewish educators here and only two of us are Black. Everyone else looks “typically” Jewish. Whenever I am in a Jewish context I’m used to people mistaking me for a visitor. I joke that I love to go to temple on the high holidays because all the people who only come once a year run up and welcome me to the building. It’s like always being the bride. Here it’s been a little different. We all have to wear id badges on cords around our necks. They are large badges in plastic protectors. In addition, we have room keys on lanyards around our necks. It’s nice because you quickly spot a conference attendee. Well, at least I can. Apparently some of my colleagues have a problem with it. I should say that the majority of the maintenance and food service personnel here are Black. They, too, are easy to spot as they wear blue polo shirts with their names on them, or chef’s jackets. The plastic aprons on the food service people are also a dead giveaway.
We arrived on Sunday at 3:00 pm after a nine hour drive. By 9:30 this morning (Monday) I had fielded a number of requests to get coffee or clean up toilets along with questions like “Do you work here (in the dining hall) full time?”. It is interesting but not surprising to me that all these comments came from Northerners. Not a single Southerner has yet confused me with the help. The first 3 or 4 times I smiled and said something along the lines of “I’m so sorry, I don’t work here.” giving the person time to really focus on me and take in the street clothes, lime green conference goody bag, badge and keys hanging around my neck, etc. Whenever I come south my accent slowly regresses so that fairly soon this was being delivered with a distinct drawl. By breakfast this morning, I’d had to smile and correct quite a few times. Finally, this woman barreled up to me in the chaos of the dining hall and said in a New York accent “Did you put more coffee out or what?” I said “Sweetie I don’t work here.” At which point she looked extremely embarrassed. That’s when I began to channel Tammy. I made my way to a corner table and began to get really, really shaky. I called my husband to complain for a few minutes which is usually enough to reset my equilibrium when I get upset, then I walked out of the building. This poor little 20 year old boy in a kippah and a name tag saying he was from Chattanooga had the misfortune to ask me a question and I just lost it. I ended up standing in the middle of the student union in tears while the two people I came with tried to get me to a seat. It was horrible. I have no idea how I lost control like that. I now have much more sympathy for Tammy Faye.
I my defense I did not get much sleep over the past few days, and the conference was not turning out to be as useful as I had hoped it would be. Additionally I am in the middle of a job search and really can’t afford to be away for 4 days, but I had paid quite a bit of money for the conference well in advance and had committed to drive down with my colleagues who were counting on me to share gas and driving. So, this was probably not the best time for me to try to exhibit grace under fire. Still, it was not my best moment. As I write this I am hiding out in my dorm room (where the internet connection has failed). I will post all my missives upon my return. My hope is that things will look up soon. They certainly can’t get any worse.
I did call my husband and with his usual wit he googled Black Jews and came up with a website offering buttons and stickers for Jews of color. He offered to get me one that said "I am not the Shabbos Goy". Others were a little more direct as in "If you keep staring at me I'll hit you."
Wednesday August 9, 2006
After giving it our best shot over 3 days my two colleagues and I are throwing in the towel. Last night we decided to leave the conference a day early. We went into Durham and had dinner at a nice little French Bistro. Then we returned to our respective dorm rooms, packed and went to bed. This morning we were scheduled to meet with our religious school principal to choose materials from one of the vendors. We will do that, pick up a souvenir for one the women’s boyfriend and then hit the road. We plan to be home by 10:00 pm. My colleagues were disappointed with the quality of the workshops as was I. There were lots and lots of workshops (15-21 consecutive workshops every hour and a half with very few repeats.) The conference booklet is the size of a large catalog or a small phone book. When I saw it the first thing I thought was “somebody didn’t take their lithium”. The thing is that if you have that many sessions and presenters you cannot have quality control. The first session I attended was so bad that the participants were embarrassed for the presenter. I have never seen an entire room full of educators go completely silent. It was like that scene in The Producers right after they do the “Springtime for Hitler” song. You get a shot of the audience members staring in open-mouthed horror.
Things got a little better Monday but nothing was better than mediocre. Yesterday (Tuesday) I took one really extraordinary workshop with a woman cantor with whom I had studied before. The rest ranged from mildly interesting to mind numbing. This conference was extremely expensive and took several days of my time. I tell my students that no experience is ever wasted, and this was certainly true of this trip. I got to see a really wonderful campus, and I’d love to come back to Durham as a tourist sometime. I got to think about some issues of race and religion in a different way; and that will help me in journey. However I'd like my next learning experience to be just a little less like a spinal tap. Going to get on the road now.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Sunday, July 23, 2006
At any rate, I just spent the past four days dropping in and out of a storyteller's conference. There were 350 tellers in a hotel downtown. I knew I was really at a storyteller's convention when I went into the ladies room for the first time. As I entered I heard lots of voices but did not see anyone. However, all but one stall was occupied and people were carrying on conversations and finishing stories while they were in there! It was pretty funny. Of course I commented on it causing everyone to begin to riff on that. I belong to a truly interesting professional group. If you have never been to a storytelling conference or festival, you should go. Tellers are not like other artists. You are basically surrounded by extremely extroverted people who practice an artform that requires no equipment and who are always "on". People launch into their schticks seamlessly. It's like a convention of stand up comedians. Also having a serious conversation with a bunch of tellers is really amazing. You have all these people who can organize their experiences in an extremely coherent way on the fly. I always come away from festivals and conferences ready to work at telling more. I've been a dancer and actor, but storytelling is the scariest and most satisfying thing I've done as a performer. It's like flying without a net.