Monday, December 25, 2006

Home for the Holidays

I am spending most of my Christmas break back in my hometown. For someone raised in the kind of atmosphere that I was, living up North can be a challenge. A small Southern town is not quite like any other place. I don't pretend that my home town is perfect. It has all the flaws of any small town. And I don't pretend that my family, my large sprawling Southern family, is the Waltons. We have all the problems of any big family. But tonight I sat in a crowded house and listened to the younger generation stand in the kitchen singing. My family is full of gospel singers and we have always been prone to impromptu concerts. As the kids sang I heard echoes of my mother and aunts. And I remembered what it was like to grow up in a house full of music. We played records and sang songs and talked -- always talked. My family was big and messy and funny. And my town is a place where newcomers eventually get folded in and prodigal sons and daughters get welcomed back. Every now and then you need to come home. To be reminded of who you are, to be reassured that you still are that person and to be with people who speak the same language and sing the same song.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, November 17, 2006


This is a letter to the editor I wish I'd written. It was in the Nashville City Paper.

Redefining righteousness

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.

Nate Herweyer

Holiday Season

The holidays are upon us with my favorite one next. I really do enjoy Thanksgiving because it's a time for families to get together and enjoy each other with good food and companionship. My family is fun to be around, and I look forward to being with them when I can. We used to play games and spend more time doing such as that; however, the new additions to the family have made that more difficult for their parents to juggle seeing everyone and taking care of their babies. It's wonderful to see things through the eyes of these children and rediscover the marvel of the world. I'm so glad they had them and that we can all enjoy them. I can always play board games with my friends. Listing them in the order they arrived, Kelsey, Kari, Luke, Brendan, Ally, Carter, Will, and Reese are bringing so much pleasure to the rest of the family. We are thrilled to have them!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Talkin' 'bout My Generation

As I mentioned on my Updates blog, the 50's and 60's have been politicized. This and all those emails going around the 'net about 50's nostalgia made me think about it.

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

It's All In Your Point of View

Sometimes the best people to make you stop taking yourself so seriously are children. I am on the board of a local theater company and went by to meet with the artistic director last week. I am new to the board and he is new to the theater, so we were having one of those rambling "getting to know you" talks. He told me that he was on faculty at the University of Iowa. I asked if that was where they have the Iowa Writer's Workshop and he said yes. I mentioned that my daughter really wants to go there eventually and asked if there were any Black people at all in Iowa. He laughed and said that most of the Blacks at the University were in the medical school. Then he told me the following story:

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

I am not the Shabbos Goy

I've been away at a conference for Jewish Educators on the campus of Duke University. I love Duke. It is a wonderfully quirky place even in its architecture. It's campus was designed by a Black architect named Julian Abele. If you're curious about how that came to be you can take a look at this article on the Duke website. It was reprinted from Smitshsonian. I kept a journal while I was there because my wireless connection went south on me so to speak. So this is what I would have posted had I been connected.

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

My Hometown

I just posted some memories about my hometown which I plan to expand on here soon. If you'd like to read them, look over there on the links and click Joy's Updates. Thanks!!

Sunday, July 23, 2006


My Spouse pointed out that none of us identify ourselves at the beginning of our posts causing people to have to read all the way to the end before finding out who's speaking At first I thought I would suggest that we change that. Then I began to think about it. Why should we conform to standard procedure? I personally like reading without immediately knowing whose post it is. I wonder if my anal retentive little husband is the only one to find this disconcerting?

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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Email joke

Here's a joke Earl sent me I'll share with you.

Southern Lady

A very genteel Southern lady was driving across the Savannah River Bridge in Georgia one day. As she neared the top of the bridge, she noticed a young man ready {fixing} to jump.

She stopped her car, rolled down the window and said, "Please don't jump, think of your dear mother and father." He replied, "Mom and Dad are both dead; I'm going to jump."

She said, "Well, think of your wife and children." He replied, "I'm not married and I don't have any kids."

She said, "Well, think of Robert E. Lee." He replied, ''Who's Robert E. Lee?''

She replied, ''Well bless your heart, just go ahead and jump, you dumbass Yankee."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Mouth Full of Twinkies

I have not contributed to our blog thus far because it appears that I am in the midst of some sort of mental breakdown. We’re cautioned not to bite off more than we can chew. Well, apparently I’ve crammed an entire twelve pack of Twinkies into my mouth at one time. Divorce, new job, graduate school, teenagers, and a multitude of dysfunctional family members—somewhere along the way I decided I was Wonder Woman and could handle it all while holding evil at bay with my handy dandy magic lasso. If ever there was someone begging for psychiatric intervention, it’s got to be me.

In my defense, I did attempt to get help. I asked around for recommendations for a good therapist; I knew I needed to talk to a professional. The woman I made an appointment with had come highly recommended; the entire practice she was associated with was top-notch. I felt smugly virtuous that I was facing my problems head on and actively seeking help. I have to admit that this notion didn’t totally alleviate my nervousness when the day of my appointment actually arrived and I found myself in the therapist’s waiting room.

You have to understand that no one in my very southern family had ever received counseling or therapy unless they had first been strapped into a straitjacket and hauled off to one of those euphemistically southern sanitariums. Voluntarily confronting my demons was not something I was genetically predisposed to do.

Sitting in the therapist’s waiting room, I found myself fidgeting and pacing and glancing longingly at the exit. Fortunately, I didn’t have long to wait. The receptionist called my name. Standing next to the front desk was a very elegant older woman with a stern, but not totally-unwelcoming, expression. What caught my attention, however, was that she was holding a small terrier that was wearing some sort of tiny coat. Now I’m a sucker for animals, and I immediately thought, “Wow, what a cool place—they bring their pets to work with them!”

Before I could comment or speculate further, the woman said, “Follow me,” and started off down a long hallway. As we walked down the hallway and up a staircase and down another long hallway, the woman made no attempt at conversation. I began to feel uncomfortable and nervous again as I trailed along behind her, watching the little dog’s tail wag from side to side. Finally she ushered me into a large office. Comfortable chairs and couches, soft lighting, floor-to-ceiling bookcases—it could have been someone’s den or study. She pointed to a couch and said, “Have a seat.” She sat in a chair opposite me and placed the dog on the floor. For the first time I noticed that the dog’s coat had something written on it, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. While I was still straining to read the dog’s side, the doctor launched into speech.

“Now, this is my hearing dog; he alerts me when the phone rings or someone knocks on the door. He is not a pet—he is a working dog. Do not attempt to touch him or pet him.”

At this point, I felt an overwhelming urge to pull my feet up off the floor and cower in the corner of the couch. The dog was staring right at me, as if daring me to extend my hand toward him. It was only as the doctor continued to speak, that I really started to take in what she was saying. The woman was deaf. She couldn’t hear, but she was apparently an expert lip reader. Panic and dismay streaked across my brain. How was I supposed to talk to someone about some of the most intimate and difficult problems I had ever had, when she couldn’t hear a word I said. I felt myself giving into the ridiculous urge to speak with exaggerated mouth motions when I tried to answer her questions. And I couldn’t make eye-contact with her because I was afraid to take my eyes off the dog. He certainly wasn’t taking his eyes off me. I just knew he was waiting to pounce if I had even the briefest sentimental thought to treat him like a cute little pet.

I truly have no idea what I said to that woman. It must not have been too horrible or deranged because I was allowed to leave the building on my own—no sedatives, no straitjackets, no men in little white coats. I felt anything but normal, however. I felt like I was walking out of an episode of the Twilight Zone. What were the chances that on my very first attempt I would manage to find what was probably the only deaf therapist in the state? I do know that she was an excellent doctor; unfortunately, she just wasn’t the right doctor for me.

Needless to say, I have been more than a little reticent to seek out professional help again. At this point, I don’t really know what to do about this mouth full of Twinkies.

Got milk?

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Kudzu - bane of the South! It's taken over trees and anything else in its path. So don't take a nap outdoors anywhere near it, or we might never see you again. For an enlightening and entertaining article about it, check out Dew on the Kudzu and enjoy!!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Rebel or Yankee Test

Paige told me about this online test which is interesting in terms of language and usage. Try it and let's discuss! It's fun. Click here.

My score, by the way, was 97% Dixie! You can take the girl out of the South but not the South out of the girl!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

An Experiment Gone Terribly Wrong

Imagine the gods and goddesses in their modern-day Mt. Olympus strolling the grounds, smiling in the shade, playing games, and relaxing inside their palatial mansions. There are all kinds of them in various types of clothing and appearance. Each has created a world and follows its progress as s/he chooses. There is a master control room with screens where they can monitor their creations. Perhaps one creator is very controlling and regimented, and the people in their world don't have much choice about their lives. Others could be environmentalists, pacifists, war mongers, zoo keepers, clowns, whatever.

The creator of our world Earth is played by George C. Scott, with a cigar in one hand and a whiskey in the other. He sits at the monitor watching us as we go about our lives. Once the world was created, he left us alone, much like Kino who watched the ants with "the detachment of God" in Steinbeck's The Pearl. He notices the governments, individuals, everything. Then he laughs raucously puffing on his cigar and almost spilling his drink as he calls out to some of his cronies with, "Hey come here! Look what the dumb bastards have done now!"

Lawn Boy and the Weather Goddess

People (who shall remain nameless) have been laughing at my recently acquired gardening obsession. I realize that I have become one of those people who talk about plants as if they are human. I blame it on the roses. Once you start to grow them you go insane. However, I had some vindication when my husband decided to put in a lawn in the back. He cleared out an area between the path and my cutting garden and laid sod. He was blessed with ample rain and he nurtured his little patch. Then mysterious yellow patches began to appear. He turned into Ward Cleaver. It was so funny. Finally one evening he came in with a jar and went upstairs to the computer. Turns out he had lifted the sod and found bugs. He captured some and went on the internet to identify them. Having found that they were indeed the culprits he purchased insecticide, and killed the little varmints off. The insecticide part was tough as neither of us really likes to use that stuff. Men and grass are strange. They get really weird about it. I guess no man is immune. Thank goodness it's just a small patch or I might never see him.

While my husband works on his little patch of green I have decided to open a rainmaking business. If you want it to rain in your area have me come over and put my bicycle on the roof of my car. It's the most amazing thing. I love to bike and recently purchased a nifty new trail bike. It's wonderful because it has front and rear suspension. I added a padded seat which has springs on it too. (I like to bike but I need to be comfortable). I am, as they say, a traditionally built Black woman, so I don't need to be jiggling around. At any rate I was so excited about this bike and couldn't wait to ride it. Then to top it off someone told me about a new trail in the city that runs along the river, is 15 minutes by car from my house and has access to a hip shopping district at its extreme end. It was like heaven. Well, my beloved and I went out one afternoon and loaded the bikes on the roof rack of our car. This is no mean feat. The bikes are cumbersome and it really takes two people to get them up there. I can do it alone but it involves a step ladder and lots of obscenities. (Please don't tell me to get rear hitch for my car because we have tried that and because of the sort of car we drive and the sort of bikes we ride it didn't quite work out.) At any rate, as soon as we got the bikes up the sky opened and it proceeded to rain for a week. The sun would come out and I would put the bike up at which point it would begin to rain again. Today the sun is out and the sky is blue, and I am too busy to ride. So we should have continuing sun. Joy told me that I was really powerful to be able to control the weather like that. So I am embracing my magical powers. If you need rain, just call me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I don't know what I'm doing here. Of course, that could be said for most parts of my life. Obviously, I am a procrastinator since it has taken this long for me to get on this blog. Who knew that retirement and part time work would be so time consuming. Everything takes longer-waking up-there must time for visits with the cats-making coffee and sitting in my chair-moving to the deck and sitting in my chair-going to the creek-looking at the water there and the swaying of the tops of trees. Looking at the swaying tops of trees can be an all day activity if one allows oneself to get into the activity. Reading- I spend lots of time reading. I must stop this explantion of daily activities to express my regret that the user name possum was already taken. What better name to express deep south feelings. Possum. Oh well. Apparently others came before me with that same thought. I could get into my thoughts about the current leader of our country, but an e-mail that I read by Garrison Keillor expressed it so perfectly-violently ignorant- how can you say it better than that. When I wake up and finish my chair and creek activities and my thoughts are more clear I will write more.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Chaos and Clutter

I'm attempting to create some order from the chaos that is my house. After a year of retirement, I'm beginning to feel rested and relaxed. Debbie, my massage therapist, told me yesterday she could tell a big difference from a year ago and that my muscles feel more like they are supposed to instead of like a wall. So last week I started with the kitchen and got rid of bags and boxes of out-of-date food from shelves and the refrigerator. When in doubt, I tossed it and dealt with the guilt of wasting food while children are starving all over the world. Seriously, it did bother me to throw away all that food I'd let stay too long. I began with the kitchen because there were two choices: keep or throw away. I became ruthless and now enjoy opening the cabinets and refrigerator to look at blank spaces and organized food that I can see and know is there and will use in a timely manner. My dishes are organized because their number doesn't change. I like those lazy susans and organizers and will put things back when they have a place. I wish I had a pantry with shelves and those sliding out components that hold canned goods and boxes. I love all that stuff. It's fun to browse Lowe's and Home Depot and Staple's and Office Depot. The organizers, carts, furniture, and binders are part of what appeals to me about scrapbooking. They have neat stuff!

Now I'm ready for the harder jobs with more choices. With clothes, books, knick-knacks, videos, and all kinds of things, I'll have to decide to keep, toss, donate, or sell. I'm hoping the skills I used in the kitchen will carry me through with the other rooms. Paige calls this urban archeaology - good name for it. If I'm brave, I'll post some before and after photos. You'll be horrified and amazed. Just sorting through the kitchen made me realize what an emotional coma I've been in for more years than I'd realized. It's sad and scary, yet somehow I was able to teach. I'm not sure how well I did, but it was like a haven of normalcy in a way since the rest of my life felt out of control. Having cancer has longer-ranging effects than just getting over the disease, and those are bad enough. It's so scary that I'm not sure we're ever the same. So now if nothing else will interrupt my nice, boring, peaceful life, I can continue the excavation and finish this dig. So far, so good, but I've only just begun.


My daughter is 15. That sentence alone should say it all. She is a wonderful girl in many ways, but she is 15. Fifteen has to be the scariest number in the universe. Next year she will be old enough to drive. She will not be allowed to drive, but she will be old enough to do so. This conversation alone, has been like WWIII. She attends a performing arts school downtown and has a bus pass, a cell phone and a collection of artsy teenage friends. Today she called me at lunch from school and said she would be going home with some friends to help them study for a science final. I have allowed her to do this sort of thing before, but for some reason today my heart lurched when she called. I think that periodically we remember what little ability we have to actually protect our children, and it causes momentary panic. Last night I clipped a magazine article which details how to "crash proof" your teen. It basically lists all the frightening statistics about teen drivers and then urges parents to wait as long as possible before giving them free rein with the car. After reading those statistics, I may make her wait until she's thirty. My husband the neuropsychologist has not helped in this regard. He informed me that the parts of the brain which govern self control do not fully develop until the early to mid twenties. Yep, thirty sounds good.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Northern Weather Demons

I have come to the conclusion that I am a regional chauvinist. I'm sure that none of my friends and acquaintances will find this the least bit surprising. However, I had deceived myself for sometime that I was an open minded person. I had this picture of myself as someone who could easily acclimate to foreign ways. I mean, I moved up north and got used to such oddities as unsweetened tea, crisp vegetables and meals which did not include cornbread. I even adapted to the insane pace at which people walk and talk up here. But yesterday I finally had to own up to the ugly truth.

It all started with the weather. I found myself getting extremely exercised about it. You can all understand it though. I mean, really. People talk about how hot and humid it is in Tennessee and parts of the really deep South like Mississippi. Well, that's true. But down there you expect it. I mean, if you complain too much down there people can say "Good Lord you're living in Memphis, what do you expect?" But up here it's different. You get lulled into a sense of false security by a mild Spring, and then BAM, it's 80 degrees. You don't even have time to switch the clothes in your closet. Pittsburgh, especially, has some of the most bizarre weather I have ever experienced. A few days ago we had turned our furnaces back on because it was so cold at night, and then yesterday it was 80 degrees. This is not right. What happened to transitional weather? See, this is why it's better to live in the South. It's hot, it's always hot, and we know it. We can prepare, we can brace ourselves. And we don't have those ridiculously cold winters. And when it snows down there we have the good sense to stay in the house. People up here actually go to work when there is ice on the roads. Then they get all upset when they have accidents. Well, if you would stay home, you wouldn't have that problem! Once when I lived in Chicago, I was actually forced to stand at a bus stop when the snow was drifting up to my knees. So now it's out there. I suppose I have no choice but to repatriate. I'm thinking of starting slow. Maybe Maryland...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Katherine Dunham

I was logging on to my yahoo account and saw a news headline that said that Katherine Dunham had died. She was 96. I spent my college years as a dancer. I remember studying the Dunham technique for the first time under a Black choreographer in Memphis. It was like being hit with a mac truck. This was a movement vocabulary that celebrated me! My body, my internal rhythms, my history. Suddenly it was all right to move your torso and dance from your soul. I loved it, and it was what caused me to turn to African dance when I could no longer pound on my body with "classical" techniques.

Dancers are like storytellers in that we pass along our history face to face. There is a dance notation system, but not many people use it. Instead we teach each other by show and tell. This is a very intimate way of passing along a tradition. We must see and hear and touch each other, and each time a movement goes from one body to another it changes just a little bit. Imperceptible modifications have to be made to accomodate the individual's quirks. The struggle is to make that modification transparent. You leave traces of yourself in another person when you put a piece on them. As part of my college degree I studied choreography. I was never anything great in that department, but I came to understand the frustration and joy of depending on other people to articulate your vision.

Ms. Dunham left a legacy of art, social action and courage. She died in poverty having depended on former students and various celebrities to help her meet day to day expenses. She spent most of her time from the sixties forward in East St. Louis, IL, trying to pull a horribly defeated community up through art and education. I saw her onstage once when she must have been in her mid sixties. Her company was doing a retrospective and she came out at the end and danced down the stage on the arm of a young corps member. She was magnificent.

I don't dance anymore. I gave it up reluctantly when I got too sick to keep up. I've never gone back even to social dancing because I married a man with no rhythm. But sometimes when I'm cleaning the house and a certain type of music comes on, I feel my body move in the way that one of Miss Dunham's students taught me, and I remember who I am.

Goodbye Katherine, we'll miss you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Job Search

OK, I know that everyone has at one time been on the hunt for a job. So, tell me am I the only one who thinks job hunting is like internet dating only much, much more painful? This is especially true these days with more and more employers using the internet to collect and screen resumes and applications. You read an ad online and it sounds like a perfect match. You respond only to find that the handsome guy with the high income is really a bald, fat nerd with a job at Best Buy.

I have changed careers several times so that means I've done a lot of job searches. In the past I've had some truly scary interviews. People have asked me illegal questions, propositioned me, asked me to be a front for shady operations ("I want to get a city contract, but I need a Black Female to be my front") and told me they would definitely hire me only to never call again. The Black Female guy ended up in the news a couple of years later. So glad I passed on that one. This time I'm not so vulnerable to scammers since I'm looking for teaching jobs. But the pickings are slim right now. And anyone who has ever applied for a teaching job can probably attest to the difficulty of just filling out the paper work. In my area you have to fill out a ridiculously long standard application and then assemble a packet of information that is different for every school district. Some want the application, resume and all your clearances, transcripts and test scores at the time you apply. Some want just a resume, some want a supplemental form all the other stuff PLUS your letters of reference in a sealed envelope. Each ad or website contains the ominous warning that "Incomplete packets will not be processed." By the time I had filled out several of these I was a nervous paranoid wreck. "Did I put all the right forms in that envelope? Were they stapled? Did they want them stapled?" Since there are relatively few jobs for a lot of candidates you could really work yourself up into a tizzy about this. Today I hand delivered the application for a job that opened Monday and will close on Friday of this week. It took me 2 hours last night to assemble the packet because they wanted such weird stuff and several of the standard application answers had to be tweaked to fit their specific format.

I guess you really have to want to be a teacher to get through all this. Meanwhile I'll keep trying. Maybe I'll write my own ad.

Energetic, warm and caring educator with a passion for children and deep dedication to helping them succeed seeks school district of like mind. Send all information about every student you have ever graduated to me immediately. Incomplete packets will be graded and returned to sender.

Wish me luck.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Bed of Roses

In case you don't know, I have become a gardener in my later years. People think that growing up in small town Tennessee is the same as growing up on a farm. After all, you were "out in the country". The truth is that for most of my life I could not have told you how to plant a seed if my life depended on it. Then we bought our first house and all my latent fantasies came to the front. I yearned for roses. In fact, I found that I had a strong desire to live in a rose covered cottage.

When we bought our current home I inherited two rose bushes and added four more spread throughout the various beds in my front and back yards. I soon found out why some people hate roses. They are like temperamental teenage girls. Over the winter they sit sullenly in my yard resembling nothing so much as rusted rebar. I swear at that point that I will rip them out. Around the beginning of May I begin my enslavement to them. Each week I feed them with smelly concoctions, I watch carefully to see which ones have developed any horrible rose-specific cooties and then use gentle organic (read time-c0nsuming) methods to get rid of them. I prune them and coddle them and swear once more to get rid of them and plant a yard full of daisies. And then they bloom. The cottage roses at the front come in all full and flashy, the hardy bush rose bursts out in a riot of deep pink. The two old roses that came with the house fill my back yard with this wonderful spicy sweet scent. And I am hooked again. The two roses that I inherited are old roses and only bloom for a month in June. The others will bloom all summer if I am a faithful servant. I'm beginning to accept my relationship with the roses. A couple of years ago I bought them lavendar bushes to keep away pests. The lavendar completed the "scent garden" I had put at the front of my house. As you walk up the front path you brush against a creeping thyme and then you smell the roses. There are lilies later in summer which give off a less cloying scent.

You can tell a lot about a person from their garden. And often the act of planting a garden tells you a lot about yourself. I always thought that I would plant well ordered rows and boxes. I assumed I would do formal plantings in well contained beds. Indeed that's how my first garden started. But once I got enough space, my inner Byron came out. My well ordered beds morphed into a cottage garden in the front. The rock garden I inherited overflows now with lily of the valley and succulents. I have a cutting garden in back that is home to my sacrificial daffodils. In spring I cut every one of them and fill up a cobalt blue vase. Then I spread the rest through the house. This year I also had giant red emperor tulips back there. Those landed in my front hall. I am a glutton for color but somehow it all works. And I have no idea who this person is who plants these flamboyant plots. I'm beginning to think that a garden is the perfect path to self awareness.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our Blog

This blog is off to a slow start, but I have faith in its future. Tina and Jackie have been extremely busy (as usual). In addition to teaching English and creative writing, which have the most paper grading of anything, Tina is also teaching in the credit/course recovery program after school that I used to do, going to school herself, involved in community theater by acting in plays and being stage manager of some. She also has a son at home and one who works at the Renaissance Center in the theater. Both sons work in the theater, actually. She also has pets to take care of as well as house, car, and all the responsibilities of single mothers.

Jackie is also teaching and going to school. She's just finished her student teaching in the Pittsburgh school system and has stories that are disheartening for the future of education and don't make a good case for paying teachers more and having better instruction. She has a teenage daughter and bunches of responsibilities as well. She's also a professional storyteller, as I mentioned in my other blog, when I described her wonderful show Middle Passage she's performed in Pittsburgh and Dickson and that I hope she takes to other places.

I used to be a workaholic, too, and know how it is. Some of it was from necessity and some from doing things I enjoyed and was interested in. Now I'm the one without a busy schedule although some people consider me busy. If so, they must not do much.

Jackie and Tina will probably be writing about these experiences and more in this blog. I know Tina has some poetry and Jackie some stories they might post, too. I hope so because they have a lot to offer that you'll enjoy reading. Please keep checking on us.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Many non-Southerners don't realize that y'all is plural. Unlike those people who affect a really bad Southern accent and bandy about the word y'all indiscriminately, we use it as the plural form of you.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Funereal Fun

My neighbors on each side when I was growing up were Elaine and Eloise, three years older than I who constantly dangled the future in front of me with such taunts as, "you haven't lived until you can ride a bicycle, you haven't lived until you've gone to school, you haven't lived until you are in the 3rd grade, you haven't lived until you can shave your legs, wear make-up, drive, date" and on it went with all kinds of milestones always ahead. Maybe that's why I've lived in the future most of my life instead of enjoying the present. Sure, I think I'll blame them for that! Why not?

Naturally, Elaine and Eloise went to a funeral before I did and told the other younger ones of us all about it. I was fascinated, asked questions, and filed the information away. It would be a while before I would actually see a dead person. I think I was probably around 11 or 12 when a neighbor died. She was young and the mother of two girls, one who was a couple of years older and one younger than I. The casket was in her home, and Mother took me there with her to pay respects. Then when I was in the 8th grade, a classmate died. He was a twin. They took a bus with all of us in his class who wanted to and were allowed to attend his funeral in a small country church. That was my first funeral.

Well, it was my first funeral for a person. Daddy always raised a garden and chickens, so I grew up on fresh vegetables, eggs, and chicken. Mother canned the vegetables, made apple sauce and tomato juice, and all kinds of delicious food. One day I remember that one of the baby chickens died, so I suggested to the neighbors that we have a funeral for it. We all volunteered for various roles. I wanted to be the family, so I could pretend to cry (ever the actress!). We had someone else to be the choir and another for the pallbearer (don't need but one for a matchbox with a baby chick in it). We needed someone to preach the funeral and thought Eloise's father would be the perfect candidate since he played the organ at their church. He refused. We were upset but found a replacement. The funeral was dramatic and grand and is something that I've discovered many other Southern children have played. I'm not so sure about other parts of the country, but then funeral home etiquette here allows for it to be a social occasion as well as a time to offer support and condolences.

After a while we were ready for another funeral, but nothing else had died. One of the older ones suggested that we kill a bee and then have a funeral for it. Made sense to us. So we caught a bee, put it in a jar, but didn't punch holes in the top they way we did for lightning bugs. It takes a while for a bee to die that way and would have been much more merciful if we'd stepped on it. In retrospect, I realized how cruel that was, but for those of us who had been stung by bumblebees, we didn't seem to mind. We watched the jar for days to check the progress of the bee's death. Yes, it's macabre, but there is a dark side to Southerners I'm not sure I can explain. Maybe one of my other blogmates can.

The bee died, and we had an elaborate funeral for him. Somehow we tired of funerals and didn't have another one. Perhaps it was too mafia-like to go to a funeral of someone we had killed. I don't know. Maybe we moved on to something else. That was the day we got our first television. Yes, kids, I was a child before TV and remember playing outside all day and into the evening. I was probably around seven or eight years old. We would just turn it on to watch certain shows we wanted to see and then turn it off again. It took it a while to warm up, and there was a test pattern on it when the stations were off the air. Everything was in black and white. It was a novelty but not something we kept on or watched all the time. I do remember Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy, Doodles Weaver, Spike Jones, and other shows, but those are for another post. For now, I remember that we got our first television the day of the bee funeral.

When I told this story to students, I generally got reactions and comments from them about how cruel I was. Lots of kidding followed, especially by Challenge Class student Ben Blankenship, who presented me with this gift of bees in a jar. Thanks, Ben!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dressing Down up North

Joy and I were talking the other day and she instructed me to enter my thoughts on living in exile. Since I always do what Joy says, I will begin with my "favorite" pet peeve. First let me say that I willingly came north upon marriage. This is only because I had no idea what I was giving up. Twenty years ago my future husband drove to Memphis and kidnapped me. (That's another story). For now suffice it to say that I ended up in Chicago. Chicago is a pleasant vibrant city. Unfortunately from October to May it is also the coldest place on earth outside of the arctic circle. If you don't believe me just go up there for Christmas. Of course I did not know this at the time of my abduction. So on my birthday in January I put on what a Southerner thinks of as warm clothes and prepared to go out for dinner with my beloved. Picture it: one Black Southern woman standing on the El platform in a skirt, tights and a wool coat. No hat. By the time we arrived at the restaurant I was a fudgescicle. I "insisted" that my very frugal husband hail a cab to take us home.

Not to worry, though. After 10 years in Chicago my husband relocated us to his home town in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is further east and south. We were leaving the prairie! Sigh. There's one thing you need to know about Pittsburgh. Noone dresses here. I mean noone. Not even the Black women dress. This is disturbing on so many levels. I realized I was in some parallel sartorial universe when I went to a play in one of the beautiful theaters bequeathed to the city by one of their many robber baron benefactors. I looked around and people were wearing jeans, and even sweats. I'm not talking about those cute matching track suits either, I'm talking about honest God gray sweat pants. It was 8:00 on a weekend evening, so I cannot even fathom what possible excuse these people could have had.

Being an open minded person, I thought that maybe I was being too harsh. Perhaps the theater had designated this as a casual night and I had missed the memo, maybe these people meant to go to the Steelers game. I was ready to believe anything in order to avoid the possibility that I had landed in a place where people did not know what to wear when they left the house. After 10 years here, I'm sorry to report that my first impression was more than correct. Just last weekend I ventured out to the theater once again. Having lived here a while I dressed down. Since it was the 5:30 show I wore a pair of black pants and a brocade jacket. It didn't help. My husband now sees my reactions to what people are wearing as part of the evening's entertainment. I can refrain from commenting in public (I am still Southern) but when we get home, I just have to say something. I try not to, but it's just too much. Since we have a daughter, I have had to work really hard to instill the proper values in her around this issue. Trips down home and lots of supervised shopping have helped.

The way people dress is so bad that even the merchants have given up. Last summer I had to do a show down home. I needed an outfit for the second half, something simple and elegant. I had to go shopping in Nashville in order to find anything suitable. My other recourse has been catalogues. It's not just dressy clothes, either. People don't know what to wear to work! I,ve seen teachers in capri pants and house shoes, secretaries in fishnet stockings and spike heels, receptionists in torn jeans and sales people in lord knows what. There are two types of business dress here: sloppy and wildly inappropriate. I finally knew I had to leave when I tried to sell some business suits to a consignment store. One was a $400.00 Mark Shale wool suit in Olive green. It was in perfect condition and I was only selling it because I will never be that size again. I had another Mark Shale suit that had a cropped jacket and knee length skirt that I took by as well. I had purchased both of them when I worked in Chicago where people actually wear clothes to work. I had both suits cleaned, and took them to an upscale consignment shop. The woman told me that she couldn't sell anything like that in Pittsburgh because "women here don't dress like that". I finally gave the clothes to Goodwill. As my husband and I plan our retirement, my one requirement is that we move someplace where the women are familiar with the little black dress. Every time I see a woman in a little black dress here, I know that she's either obscenely wealthy or from out of town. I must admit that my standards have fallen since I've moved here, and I often take advantage of my surroundings to cheat on the clothing thing. It's a slippery slope. I just have one request: should anyone see me sitting in nice restaurant in a stained sweatshirt please organize an intervention!

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Welcome to our new blog! There are three of us who will contribute our ideas about life in the South and many other things that occur to us as we go. So now I'll introduce myself with a little background.

I'm the oldest of the group and the one who encouraged the others to contribute to this blog. I was born in Alabama while Daddy was working at a chemical plant during WWII. He was also born in Alabama but moved with his family to Tennessee when he was in 7th grade. My mother was born and grew up in Middle Tennessee. They met in high school since they were in the same class. Mother won the county-wide spelling bee when she was in 8th grade. Daddy used to say he was valedictorian of his 8th grade class but neglected to mention that he was the only 8th grader in the one-room school he attended. They were class officers and married several years after Mother went to comptometer school and worked at DuPont and Daddy went to the University of Tennessee at Martin. She was a beauty queen and he a football player which is royalty in the South. They had a mixed marriage since Mother was a Methodist Democrat and Daddy a Baptist Republican. It was important to them that they go to the same church as a family, so as Mother says, Daddy joined the Methodist people. I'm glad it happened that way and that I was brought up in the Methodist Church. They always cancelled each other's votes, though, and made sure they voted. It's an important part of being an adult, and when I was sick, Mother made sure I voted and drove me to the early voting place. She's an amazing 85 years old and sharp mentally and physically active. Daddy died much too young at 56, and I still miss him.

Stay tuned. There's more to come.