Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year and Hiking

As I predicted, I'm at home on New Year's Eve in front of this laptop after having hiked five miles around Burke Lake this afternoon. One of my neighbors was cajoled into having a New Year's Eve celebration, but having only sent out invitations last night, many of the folks who were invited had already made plans. So instead of celebrating New Year's Eve, we will gather at my neighbor's house tomorrow to celebrate the New Year. I am accustomed to being alone on New Year's Eve. I was never one for going out. I don't like driving home in the cold in evening clothes. I don't like negotiating the beltway after midnight. It's much easier for me to stay home and read a book.

But I did begin the day with a hike around Burke Lake. As a group of about 20 hikers braved the high winds (up to 50 m.p.h. gusts) and intermittent cold, I thought about how we redefine actions as we age and our bodies change. Now, my son and I used to skip, walk, saunter, hop, run, and jog around this lake when he was three years old. I never realized it was five miles around the lake, otherwise I probably would not have insisted that my three year old son join me in circumambulating the lake. I just recall that whenever we went on our excursion to Burke Lake, afterward he would promptly fall asleep in his car seat en route home. Now I know why. So, just imagine how confident I was when I realized that five miles around the lake is a piece of cake because I had done this before with my three year old. This is not a hike, I told myself! But, since I tend not to engage in moderate exercise, it's either all or nothing, I decided that I need not push myself; that five miles is plenty distance for a windy, winter afternoon.

A tree limb fell twenty feet or less in front of us as soon as we began the hike. The clouds gathered ominously, and I turned to the woman walking beside me and said, "if we were in Michigan, these would be snow clouds." She responded, "we are not in Michigan." But as soon as we turned the bend, the snow began pirouetting from the sky to confirm my lifetime practice of reading the clouds, much to everyone's surprise.

The hike was moderately paced. At one point we had to slow down because a tree fell across the trail, and it would have been too difficult for some of the hikers to walk off the trail and around the fallen tree. We opted to stoop under the felled tree. As I stooped, I was reminded of my physical therapist's warning to retain my mobility, flexibility, and balance as I age. For this reason, I am back in the yoga studio. As everyone stooped to get under the limb, me and another hiker assisted people, and I noted how difficult it was for some to stoop close to the ground and get beneath the fallen tree. In fact, three people opted to crawl on their knees. Some hikers needed assistance rising after they cleared the limb. So for some, I suppose, the hike proved to be a bit more rigorous than anticipated. But we all made it to the end of the five mile hike in tact. No injuries. No one winded. No complaints.

I am grateful to have had a prosperous and rewarding year. I've made some new friends, reconciled relations with two lifelong friends, and fine tuned my life's work. My son ended the semester on a high note! He's happy and grounded. And this makes me happy. As the year closes, I always list my ten top priorities. This past year, I crossed out eight of the ten top priorities. Two of the priorities were impractical given our financial markets this year, but the eight other priorities were quite attainable.

Have a good New Year's Eve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Well, the shopping mall across the street from where I live is packed. People are running helter skelter trying to get those last minute gifts for family, friends, and spouses. I feel good only having to bake bran muffins for brunch tomorrow, picking up four bottles of sparkling cider for dinner, and relaxing this afternoon while watching the sky get grayer and grayer. I wanted to skate tonight, but I couldn't convince anyone to join me. I still might get up and make it to the rink before it closes this evening. If not tonight, there are plenty of winter days to skate and be in the cold.

I decided to start off the New Year right by signing up for a yoga class on New Year's day. This means that I will not be out late on New Year's eve gallivanting around and trying to sip champagne. Rather, I'll be in early, probably reading a book, and sipping sparkling cider to bring in the New Year.

Have a Merry Christmas tomorrow. Hold your loved ones tight, look them in the eyes, and remember to tell them how much you love them as everyone tears off the wrapping paper and stuff their bellies.

Friday, December 19, 2008

White Vigilante Shootings after Hurricane Katrina

When I was at the Richard Wright conference this past summer, Julia Wright showed a clip from a documentary capturing white vigilantes shooting and killing U.S. Africans in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. An article in the "Nation" captures in words some of the images that I viewed in Paris. Check out the article at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090105/thompson

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cold and Quiet in Metro DC

So recently I lost my favorite academic and intellectual buddy to a difference in perspective about a situation. Oh, well. But my Machiavellian buddy, who is intellectual in a purely non-academic way, re-emerged to engage me in continuous lessons about survival that I often forget while getting caught in the romanticism of literature and fiction. This buddy was an English major, which is why we probably got along when we met 30 years ago. But unlike me, he turned his English degree into a gold mine, and he is always reminding me to stop letting the job work me that I need to learn how to work the job. Yeah, don't you hear the corporate, Machiavellian tone to his advice? But in the past two weeks, I decided that he was right. So, when I posted grades I gave all students better grades than what they earned from my purely crunching the numbers. Hey, and two students have already complained about their grades; even one student who plagiarized an essay. He neglected to remind me about his plagiarized essay in his efforts to negotiate a higher grade. But since I maintain electronic copies of problematic essays (I have told the students this, so I don't know why they are always testing me), I was able to ascertain immediately that this student was being very arrogant or ignorant in attempting to negotiate a higher grade after being warned about plagiarism. However, after sending the student an e-mail message reminding him about the plagiarized essay and also sending him a reassessment of his final essay (which he also plagiarized, but since I was grading so quickly, I ignored language and concepts that appeared suspicious and this essay slipped through the cracks), the student has conceded and thanked me for giving him a second (and third) opportunity to pass the class. Oh well, I am so worn out.

But back to my discussion about friendships at the beginning of this post. Anyway, there's always a yin and yang to relationships, and while I cherish all friendships very deeply and will work at maintaining them, sometimes it is best for people to part ways even when I regret the parting, even when the parting is painful. My mother used to tell me that it takes only 60 days to get over a casual relationship. So I operate on the 60 day rule. If I miss a person's friendship after 60 days, I will make one last concerted effort to mend the fence. However, if after 60 days I have made an adjustment, then I move on. If fate should cause our paths to cross again and we decide to mend the fence, then I will be amendable. But if fate does not intervene, c'est la vie.

The semester has finally ended. I have posted the vacation notice on my university e-mail and voice mail accounts. I've spent the past two days reading Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time" as a way to decompress from the semester. Tomorrow morning, I will return to my own writing, which has been woefully neglected these past 15 weeks.

It's cold in metro DC as it is everywhere else in the nation, it seems. I dread the cold, but I'm planning to ice skate on Christmas eve in memory of the way that my eldest niece, Brandi, and eldest nephew, Deondre, used to beg my mom and me to take them ice skating on Christmas eve, downtown Detroit. We would skate at Hart plaza with the Detroit river in the backdrop and the lights from Windsor, Ontario beckoning. Hopefully, I will get some of my neighbors to join me. However, if my neighbors decide not to join me, it will be me and the other lonely hearts on Christmas eve ice skating with the U.S. Capitol building and the Smithsonian museums in the backdrop. But I don't doubt that in addition to lonely hearts, there will be families, lovers, and people who just like to ice skate on Christmas eve.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yoga Practice and the Books are Shelved

Finally, I made it to the yoga studio. One of my former yoga instructors opened her own studio this past spring. Since early June, I've been promising that I would go by Radiance Yoga and take a class. But each time, I'd talk myself out of going. However, with all things quiet on the eastern front, I finally got to the yoga studio.

I purposely took a slow moving, beginners class, even though my practice level is far pass the beginner's stage. As I became reacquainted with muscles that I have long ago stopped recognizing, I realized that I was exactly in the class that I needed to be in yesterday morning.

My muscles hummed, talked, and even yelled at me. At one point, in a simple warrior pose, my left arm started shaking uncontrollably. That was when I acknowledged that I was woefully out of shape. Having succumbed to working two jobs last year, I realized that I have sacrificed my health trying to survive economically while living in metro DC. So, I have to set my priorities right. It's back to yoga practice at least once per week, back to the pilates studio for my allegro reformer class (I prefer doing this than lifting weights); and I've enrolled in a tap dance class. Hey, don't laugh. I tapped as a child and teenager. When I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan from 2001 to 2005, I tapped at the community center with a bunch of other middle-aged, college professors. Besides, once you become proficient in tap dancing, it can provide a really good cardio workout, and it is much gentler on the body than running.

In addition to re-committing myself to getting in shape again, I finally shelved the books. Along one entire wall, from the floor to the vaulted ceiling, are my books. A wonderful friend, hearing the "chick cry" in my voice, offered to come over and anchor the book shelves. I owe the brother a crab cake dinner. It took him ten minutes to anchor the shelves. He turned to me and said, "this was easy," and chuckled. He used my drill, but his bits. I noticed that his bits were of a better quality than mine. So no matter how much I drilled, I did not have good bits to get the job done. I own wimp bits! Now I wonder why the guy in Home Depot didn't steer me toward a better drill and bit set.

Shelving the books was like taking a stroll through my past. My life is marked by the books that I read. Also, having to shelf the books again, reacquainted me with books that I have long forgotten I owned. This also allowed me to take inventory of the books that are missing. For instance, I don't know what has happened to my editions of the Marquis de Sade. Don't be too judgmental, my mother gave them to me to read while in undergraduate school, and I don't recall why she gave the books to me, but I am certain it was in response to something that I asked. Oh, yes, there was a play on campus about the Marquis de Sade, and I was surprised that she had copies of "Justine" and Juliette" in her collection.

Nonetheless, I am most intrigued by what I was reading during my adolescent years. So I paid special attention to those books: John Henrick Clarke's "Harlem" that I purchased and read before I entered high school; my high school editions of Salinger's "Franny and Zoey," "Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters," and of course, the infamous "Catcher and the Rye," which I read every year from the time I was 14 years old until I was 29 years old; and Kurt Vonnegut's many novels that my physiology and anatomy teacher tolerated my reading and chuckling over during his lectures. I really don't know why this teacher accepted my rudeness, except that he would tell me that I was bright, shake his head, and place my A examination down before me. Ironically, I was the only girl who sat at our lab station of four. And perhaps there was only one other girl in the class besides me. In my curriculum, by the 12th grade (which is when we took physiology and anatomy after two years of intensive courses in chemistry and biology) most of the girls had been weeded out and had transferred to another curriculum (usually health and welfare). The three boys who sat at my lab table all went on to be medical doctors (one is a pretty successful orthopedic surgeon who admitted to me about seven years ago at a class reunion to having copied off my examinations; I asked him for a chunk of his salary in return). Perhaps my physiology and anatomy instructor knew the odds were against me if I decided to pursue the hard sciences at the university, particularly if I did not attend an all-woman's college. I never thought about sexism in the hard sciences while matriculating in high school. I just knew that for the most part, the teachers (mostly males, I recall one female biology instructor) simply ignored the girls, or seemed to tolerate us. We were the best and the brightest of the students in Detroit, so they seemed to be a little hesitant to reject our presence overtly.

But, back to the books. I opened a biography of Vita Sackville-West and from the yellowing pages dropped out a letter from a friend whom I haven't seen in 21 years. I sat on the floor reading the letter and recalling our friendship, and how and why we lost contact with each other. Multiple editions of Morrison's books, falling-apart-editions of Tolkien (another author that I read during science classes), and various books in Spanish that were assigned to me in high school that must have suggested that I had a high degree of fluency that I have subsequently lost. Shelving the books and paying particular attention to my books from adolescence reminded me that I have always been doing what I now earn a living doing, that is reading and sharing my love of the book with others. While in an orthodox manner, I am a classroom teacher (even when my job title says, "professor". In a less orthodox manner, I am doing no more than what I have always done my entire life since I learned to read: consume a book, find a group of people who will listen to me, and share my enthusiasm of the book with them. As I anticipate the new semester, I'll have to remember this when the lifting gets too heavy and I just want to quit mid-term.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Our Children and My Self-Induced Anxiety

I have figured out the true source of my anxiety. While there are some challenges in my personal life that warrant attention, they should not be causing me anxiety and vertigo. But I realized today as I got on campus, that the true source of my anxiety is acknowledging the degree to which so many of my students at the community college and university where I teach are ill prepared to be in classes at either the college or the university. At the college my students' lack of preparedness boils down to a deficiency in basic reading and writing skills. At the university, it is a lack of study skills and seriousness.

I've always advocated that not every high school graduate is ready or willing to attend college or university. Some high school graduates need a dose of reality and should go immediately into the work force. Thus, when they realize that their promotion opportunities are limited because they lack a bachelor's degree, then perhaps they will buckle down, get focused, and apply themselves.

My anxiety intensifies at the end of each semester when I watch the attrition rate in my classes rise, the failure of students to submit their final essays, and the increase in my students' lackadaisical attitudes. Then it is the deluge of e-mail messages and phone calls with the explanations for why they haven't been to class in two months, but really need a grade in my class. They always forget to say "passing grade." Yes, a failing grade is a grade, but my students lack the savvy to be specific.

I probably have more anxiety than usual because the majority of my students are U.S. Africans, and native Africans recently immigrated to the United States. Many have graduated from the public school system in this country. While I cannot fully blame my students' lack of preparedness on the public schools, I am seeing an increasing number of students who seem to have been simply passed through the system. Any student at the college level who cannot craft a coherent sentence has not only been passed through K-12, but also has been passed through freshman-level English courses: a prerequisite for every class that I teach.

So while I want to get to content, I spend too much of my time teaching basic research and writing skills. Yet, my students are not astute enough or lack the courage to hang in there with me and acquire the skills that they need in order to be successful. Either it is apathy or they disbelieve me when I tell them at the beginning of the semester, "if you hang in here with me and take this course seriously, you will not only learn the course content, but you will also have better writing skills."

Ultimately, my anxiety also hinges on my annual review. Last year, my colleague and I (the only two U.S. African in the department at the college at the time) were verbally reprimanded for having the highest failure rate in our courses. I succinctly explained to my chair and dean, that far too many of the students had been passed through lower-level English courses, and when I got them, they were woefully deficient in their writing skills. This year, I have put in place all types of mechanisms to make it virtually impossible to fail my class unless you produce and submit nothing. And some of my students are producing and submitting nothing.

How to solve this age old problem? Do I accept the fact that an entire segment of our population (mostly African and Hispanic students) are purposely under-educated? Do I continue to emphasize to my students the need to have excellent writing and critical thinking skills when they cannot see how these skills are relevant to their economic survival, no matter how many examples I give them? And how can a sorely underpaid college or university professor tell students anything about having marketable skills when they perceive my sole skill as teaching, a skill with limited economic returns from their points of view?

It is a complex issue. But it is an issue that I am not willing to abandon until I figure it out. I know that this country educates at least two kinds of students: the elite and everyone else. If you fall into the category of everyone else, but have the economic resources to attend school in an excellent school district, you just might survive. However, if you do not have these options, chances are you will neither be prepared nor survive college or university without a lot of commitment, sacrifice, and tenacity: qualities which far too many of my students lack.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Habit of Reading and the "Dancing Mind Challenge"

As I have posted earlier, I am indebted to my parents, and my mother in particular, for habituating me toward sitting quietly with my own mind either reading or writing, or simply thinking. As a child, I was known for sitting on the sidewalk and watching the ants for long stretches at a time. My mother never disturbed me; or, perhaps she did to call me in for a meal. Nonetheless, she honored my need for solitariness, and often I could finagle my way out of doing housework simply by picking up a book.

Many years ago, Toni Morrison bemoaned the fact that students at some of this country's best universities and colleges unabashedly confessed that they had gotten through high school and their undergraduate studies without as much as reading an entire book. Morrison brought attention to the deficit in reading in our culture, and encouraged all of us to learn to sit alone with our own minds.

This February, in conjunction with Bucknell University, Morrison is inviting college and university students to spend eight hours alone reading or writing during the week of February 18th. Morrison's birthday is February 18th. This is her "Dancing Mind Challenge." Morrison addresses the inability for people to engage in solitary endeavors in her "Dancing Mind" speech that she gave upon accepting the National Book Award in 1996. You can read her speech at http://www.nationalbook.org/nbaacceptspeech_tmorrison.html.

So all us, regardless if we are college and universities students or not, please don't forget to mark your calendar and set aside eight hours beginning February 18, 2009, to sit alone with your own mind and dance with another's.

Friday, December 5, 2008

End of the Semester and Cold

It is the end of the semester. Students are jockeying for grades. The pleas are coming in: even telephone calls from parents. And my resolve is crumbling. Like them, I just want it all to be over. Unlike some of my students, I am obligated to do the work to get to the finish line.

It is colder than usual in northern Virginia. I picked up my son from the metro so that we could retrieve his tuxedo. He looks so good in it. Hopefully, he will also remember to wear his topcoat, which he tried to convince me not to buy. He swears that he will never put on a tuxedo again. Oh, yes he will even if he has to escort me to a formal affair. Anyway, I have asked him to take pictures. Hopefully he will.

There is a lot of anti-Africomm buzz in and around metro DC. As soon as I get a handle on it, I will blog about it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Boredom and Young Adulthood

My son has been in northern Virginia since Tuesday evening. And until an hour ago, I hadn't seen him since Tuesday evening when he left my home to go and play basketball with his father. My last words to him were, "don't let those old men shove you around."

Tonight, yes four days later, he stopped by just to check on me. He promptly announced that he's bored, and he can't wait to get back on campus. I offered to rise from my comfortable spot on the bed reading a book, dress, and drive him back to campus. My earnestness in getting him away from boring northern Virginia quelled his sighs and moans for an hour. In that hour we chatted. I got a little information out of him, not much. But I do know that although I hadn't seen him since Tuesday, he needs me to take him to rent a tuxedo tomorrow for the winter ball! Now, I told him about time management, asked him what has he been doing since Tuesday, and queried him as to why hadn't he secured a reservation for a tuxedo already. He had an explanation, but the bottom line is that he wants me (yes mom) to go with him to pick out a tuxedo. Oh, he's still my baby after all.

All is quiet in our hood. My best friend's father died on November 25, 2008. I've blogged about how diligently my friend has been caring for his father since this past May. My friend's tenacity is amazing to me. He is alarmingly quiet now, but on some level I know that the quietness is due perhaps to a disbelief that he has nothing to do. These past few months my friend had grown accustomed to providing for his father's basic needs and care, nearly around the clock. A nurse came in three days per week for a few hours to bathe his father. However, often my friend was dissatisfied with the nurse's care and would go behind her to improve his father's cleanliness and comfort. I know that witnessing his father's slow demise has altered him in some way. Perhaps when we see each other, he will share some insight with me.

I was spared watching my mother die. She always felt that death was a very private affair, and she died very privately in my father's arms. The closest that I have come to witnessing the dying process is when a very close friend and former paramour was dying of brain cancer. I went to the hospital to visit him. I found him half his normal weight: thin and fragile. His hearing was impaired somewhat, so I had to resort to writing on a notepad what I wanted to communicate to him. We spent a few hours scribbling notes back and forth. This was the last time I saw him alive. I recall that he wanted to give me power of attorney, and I couldn't assume that responsibility because he had three children, two of whom were adults. He couldn't explain to me why he did not trust either one of his children with his affairs. But I perceived that something was amiss and I did not need to get involved. Nonetheless, despite my reservations, his desire to give me power of attorney signaled to me that after all those years of knowing him and although we had broken off our romantic relationship (we remained friends), he trusted me completely with making decisions about his medical care and handling his business affairs. But we both knew that if he were my attorney advising me (and he was always my attorney who gave me excellent advice) he would have advised me not to get in the middle of that "mess." I took his unspoken advice and stayed out of his affairs.

So my child is bored. I dread going back to work on Monday. And it's too cold for anyone to be outdoors right now. Perhaps sometime soon I will finally blog about AFRICOMM and Obama's cabinet. But until then, it's the holiday and I'm not engaging in any real thinking until Monday.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I know that for some of my friends, today represents the beginning of European genocide of the Native American and African, and the onset of European hegemony. But for some, it is a day to get together with friends and family and to eat too much.

Johnny is responsible for the turkey this year. The women in our Starbucks crew have spent time schooling the brother. My goal is not to take over, and allow Johnny to figure it out (he cajoled me into preparing nearly the entire dinner last year, doing the grocery shopping, and even purchasing table linens). He's going to put the turkey in the oven and drive 30 miles each way to run an errand. Oh well, there goes a moist turkey. But hey, it's on him. My best friend dropped off some crab cakes last Saturday. Yes, a guy, and he cooks better than I do. So I've just filled my belly with two delicious Maryland style crab cakes; if the turkey isn't good, I won't be hungry.

One of my weaknesses is helping men who pretend to be helpless or needy. But I'm not going for it any longer. I have a self-sufficient 18 year old son, so I know it's possible for men to take care of their domestic needs, if they want to take care of them.

The younger Michele used to walk into a man's environment and straighten it out. The new Michele knows that if any person lives in a domestic environment in a state of chaos, it's because either he doesn't care how he lives or he is incapable of creating a habitable domestic space. Either way, it's not my job to fix anything.

When I walk into my father's home, it is neat, orderly, and clean. Having always seen my mother take care of the home, I presumed my father was incapable of taking care of domestic matters. But to the contrary, he's real good at maintaining his home.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving; don't eat too much; and I will blog tomorrow about Johnny's turkey.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friends and Thanksgiving

Spent time with a friend whose father is slowly dying. My friend and his mother are providing, in-home, around the clock care for the father. I admire my friend, his mother, and his father. I am unsure if I would have the tenacity to do what my friend is doing for his father. At times though, I know that he is tired, and he takes a respite at my place to collapse and rejuvenate. But this time he told me that he had to have some television, so he brought an antennae to hook up to my television. I really don't like television, and I've never been much of a watcher of television. For some reason, I can't follow the story lines. Anyway, anything to make a friend comfortable. When you've known someone nearly 30 years, and have shared almost every life-changing event with that person, from marriage to death, you have to accommodate the person. Oh, and I finally found out that he is a grandfather. I suspected that his younger son became a father last year, but my friend wasn't speaking a word about it. He told me that he wanted to be "60 years old" before he became a grandfather. I told him that "you should be proud that your son is carrying on your gene pool."

A neighbor (and friend ) is planning Thanksgiving for all the single people in my neighborhood. We had a good time last year; my niece and I did the majority of the cooking. Unfortunately, I am struggling with vertigo, and I can't commit myself to cooking for 20 people and then find myself flat on my back with a half-cooked turkey. So for one of the few times in many years, I'm only responsible for preparing a side dish for Thanksgiving. Wow, it feels so good not to be responsible for Thanksgiving dinner.

It's too cold outside. Thank goodness for Du Bois and hot mochas, although moving to Florida is looking more enticing each winter. Stay warm, and don't forget to curl up with a good book. Soon I will have to post a word or two about Obama's cabinet. To say the least, I am disappointed. But an astute scholar and friend warned me that nothing would change under an Obama administration, that he would be simply a tool of the elite to further their agenda. I knew that he was right, however, everyone knows how damn idealistic I am.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ten Reasons for Looking forward to My Son Coming Home

Okay, I've almost survived my first lengthy separation from my only child, my son, David Malik. Now, I have seen him a few times on campus. One time he caught me totally off guard by walking up to me on the quad and wrapping his arms around me in a bear hug. It's not uncommon for one my students to tap me on the shoulder and then move, causing me to get whiplash as I turn my head to find out who's trying to get my attention, but my son's bear hug was completely unexpected.

But, I have to admit, I've missed him despite all of my proclamations about being single, moving into a bacherlorette pad, spending more time writing, and reading, and hey, maybe even dating!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So I miss him and want him to come home because:

1. I'm tired of throwing away food that I buy and then don't cook.
2. I'm tired of eating alone.
3. Sometimes I can go an entire day and not talk to anyone, so I miss our grunts and half-spoken sentences; unless, we are conversing about something important.
4. There's no male scent in my living space.
5. I miss seeing his height come through the door.
6. I miss hearing "hey mom" as a preface to a question.
7. I miss hearing him say, "what's for dinner"?
8. I miss responding "food" to his question, "what's for dinner"?
9. I have no one to nag about cleaning up the second bathroom.
10.I simply miss his big rusty butt.

I can't wait until he comes home the second week in December.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Memories of Decadence

My memories of decadence having nothing to do with material wealth. As a child, my parents provided for us as well as, if not better than, most U.S. African families. I was privileged to have college-educated parents, a father who took graduate courses in taxation, a mother who dedicated her life to rearing her children and supporting her husband, a three bedroom, two bath home with a two and one-half car garage (hey in Detroit your garage had to have enough room for two cars and the other stuff), and an abundance of love. While we had everything materially that we ever wanted and asked for, my decadence comes from the sheer leisure that my mother imbued her children with whenever she felt it necessary to our well being.

There were periods when my mother would remove each one of us from school and allow us to do whatever we wanted to do for the day. I recall having lunch at Elias Brother's Big Boys, then wanting to go either to the library or to a bookstore and get a book. Then I was allowed to sit and read all day, undisturbed.

Today as I made a cup of ginger root tea and grabbed Du Bois's "Black Reconstruction," I felt so giddy I had to examine the roots of this giddiness. I suddenly realized that my feelings come from the absolute pleasure that my mother insist that my siblings and I have in books and intellectual engagement. Quiet time in our house was not often spent in front of a television, although we did watch our share of television as children. However, quiet time usually centered around each one of us choosing a book and sitting down to read. While my siblings may have read for an hour or two, I recall reading until I was beckoned to the table to eat. Only my brother could out read me. Sometimes he would raise his head from a book, his eyes bloodshot and blurry, to tell me about how many Russian lives were lost collectively in the two World Wars. I wasn't very interested in Russian history, but he was and no one could get him to stop talking about Russia until we all stopped what we were doing and listen to him.

Toni Morrison once bemoaned the fact that as a whole, some of us are no longer trained to sit alone with our own minds for lengthy periods; or alone and engaged with the mind of an author. I wonder how people fill their time if they are not reading and thinking, habits that are so intrinsic to the constructions of my siblings and me as productive citizens of the world, that it is unimaginable for me to understand one's purpose for living if that purpose does not revolve around ideas and the expansion of one's intellect.

So, as they say, I am as happy as a clam. Du Bois and I are about to get it on again. And after Du Bois, C.L.R. James is by my bedside. It's nice to have a stack of men by my bedside just waiting with baited breath for me to caress their covers and flip through their pages. Okay, I'm writing about books. But as one critic argued, "there is pleasure in the text."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Du Bois and Snow in Northern Virginia

So what do Du Bois and snow have in common? Nothing except for I don't feel guilty about being sequestered in my home, watching the snow flurries, and reading Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880. This is a tome that has been on my reading list for years, and finally I got tired of reading historians citing Du Bois and decided to get Du Bois's work and read it for myself.

The book is helping to clarify a family narrative passed down to me from my mother. It is one about how one of my female relatives, perhaps my great great grandmother, searched for her children after slavery. My mother always said that carpetbaggers took my great great grandmother's children from her. However, in a conversation with Dr. Ahati N.N. Toure, he suggested that during Reconstruction an apprenticeship program was established that literally removed U.S. African children from their parents and homes, if the Europeans in the community deemed these children's parents unable or unwilling to provide for them. Hence, this was another form of slavery and a legal form of kidnapping, and might lend some insight into what happened to some of my relatives during Reconstruction.

In reading Du Bois, I am becoming more acquainted with this practice of alleged apprenticeship of U.S. African children, but I need to read a text that exclusively focuses on this painful part of U.S. African history during Reconstruction, for Du Bois does not deal with the apprenticeship of children with any depth. However, I am curious now how my foremother's children were taken from her. As the narrative goes, she spent some years walking from Alabama to Ohio looking for her children. I am uncertain if she ever found all of them. I am uncertain how she negotiated her safety. I know nothing about this narrative but the bit that my mother knew. But it is a fascinating and painful narrative passed down to me, nonetheless, that I intend to investigate.

In the meantime, since it's too cold outside to walk, and not enough snow to go skiing, I'm going to get back to my book. Hey, I tried to talk to my neighbors this morning at the local Starbucks, but when one has a choice between communing with Du Bois or talking to neighbors about the Dallas Cowboys, I'd rather commune with Du Bois. But I am trying to be more socially engaged!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Body Is Not Willing

For those of you living in metro DC, wasn't the weather absolutely gorgeous yesterday. Even when the rain came down in unrelenting sheets, the air remained warm and I kept my patio door open until the temperature outdoors dropped to 56 degrees, and it became apparent that a chill was replacing the cozy warmth in my home.

My son is having the predictable freshman end-of-the-semester-melt-down. I offered him some strategies for how to cope and complete his classes successfully. Hopefully, he will listen and implement some of the strategies I recommended. But it's time for me to put together that care package full of protein, some homemade cookies, and other necessities to keep him going until the semester break.

I tell my students that their stress level equals the stress levels of their professors at the end of the semester. Well, at least those professors who are engaged and invested in their students' educational success. My breakdown came last weekend when I awakened in a hotel room at 4:00 a.m. in New Haven, Connecticut with the worse case of vertigo in 10 years. I know the technique to try to alleviate or at least wait out the vertigo: keep your eyes closed, don't move, and try to relax. But nothing was working and the symptoms were getting worse: so much so that I was completely immobilized. Just turning my head from one side to the other, with my eyes closed, resulted in extreme nausea and the ultimate result of nausea (I will spare you some of the gory details). But it was the pain in my right shoulder and the realization that the women of my family die of heart failure (damn we live by our hearts, this is something that I'm trying to change, but to no avail), when I finally called the hotel front desk and asked them to call EMS. When the desk clerk asked, "would you rather have a taxi"? I had to spend two minutes explaining to her that I was immobilized with pain in my shoulder, that unless someone could carry me downstairs, ride with me to the local hospital, and hold a bag under my mouth while I deposited bile into it, I think it best that they call EMS. The hotel manager did call back, brought me some water (for I knew that I was extremely dehydrated), and assured me that EMS was on its way. The EMS technicians were so jovial and polite, that I couldn't help but find someway to laugh at their silliness, that is, once they ruled out that I was not in any imminent danger, but I did look a "little pale." I mustered up enough humor to ask them, "how can you tell that a black woman looks pale"? We got a good laugh out of that one. Of course, as they wheeled me on a gurney to the EMS vehicle, we talked about Obama and the change hopefully this country will undergo. They transported me to a Catholic hospital (the only one my health insurance will cover: the hell with these PPOs), and the nurses at the hospital were equally jovial and teased me because I managed to be fully dressed when I arrived at the hospital. Yes, I did muster up the wherewithal to clothe myself despite the vertigo, but doing so seemed to take the better part of an hour.

I write this because it became very apparent to me how vulnerable persons are who are alone. It dawned on me as I was lying across the bed in the hotel room waiting for the EMS to arrive and hoping for the symptoms to subside that perhaps my son will remember that I was in New Haven for a conference. I processed how easily it can be for a person who spends most of his or her time alone, to become ill and perhaps die unnoticed for days. I realized how important it is to remain connected even when remaining connected often works against my nature. I believe that I have always been a very solitary and alone person, and being connected to others has always required a lot of effort on my part. When I tell people that I prefer books to people, they often think that I am joking. However, if my mother were alive, she would validate my perception of who I am. But as I age, and as I realize that I have only one child who will be responsible for me as I become less capacitated, I must come out of my shell and force myself to interact with others more. It is not healthy to spend so much time alone.

My body is signaling that it too is tired. That it needs human stimuli. That my brain is just one part of my body, and I can't do a mind/body split anymore, for when I do this, the price is severe vertigo that often occurs when I am alone because I spend so much time alone. So it's time to bring my head out of a book, my eyes off the computer screen, my pen out of the journal, and look up and see and interact with the people around me. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Obama White House

He won! And for one day we will celebrate, dispense of the cynicism, and relish in a major victory. For today it doesn't matter if we think that Obama's win won't radically alter the power structure in this country that subjugates people of color and African Americans; it doesn't matter if some of us believe that African Americans are not part of the body politic; it doesn't matter if some intellectuals are announcing that we are in a post-racial moment--let us celebrate for Barack and Michelle Obama, their children, and all those persons who believed that it was possible for an African American to ascend to the highest political position in this country and to one of the most influential positions in the world. For one day, let us celebrate. Remember to turn counterclockwise as you dance and yes, the ring shout is permitted.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Picked up my son from the metro station to take him to vote absentee since he has classes on Tuesday. After a two hour wait and getting close to the room where the voting booths were set up, I was pleased to see members of the OSCE monitoring the voting site on Franconia Road in Fairfax County. After the 2000 elections, I have been crying for the UN to monitor our elections. So hopefully with the OSCE and the world's eyes on the U.S., perhaps there will be less disenfranchisement of voters. We shall see.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Busy, Cold and Settling in for the Fall

It's busy as always in my life. Pulling teeth with students at Howard who still won't buy books. One student suggested that I scan in pages from June Jordan's collection of poetry, "Directing Desire," and e-mail the pages in .pdf to the students. Now, my dear parents out there, we have raised a generation of totally inept young people who will do nothing for themselves if you allow it. I pray that my son isn't at Howard University suggesting to his professors that they scan in pages from the textbooks that he should have bought!

Saw the first frost Monday morning; I'm always unprepared for the cold. But it's good to have a change of season, I am forced to slow down because the days are shorter, and I have absolutely no energy when the sun doesn't shine.

Reading Gene Andrew Jarrett's "Deans and Truants." Well, I'm yelling at the book, literally and figuratively, while I'm reading it. I'm reviewing it for a journal. The book is very problematic. When I finish writing the review and it is published, I'll add the URL to the blog if you are interested in reading the review.

All is well, it's rough being middle-age, single, and woman. I thought that this would be the prime of my life, but it's not working out that way. So I'll retreat to the only world that is completely comprehensible to me: books!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Forget about the Economy, Enjoy a Walk

I awakened this morning determined not to listen to C-Span on the radio or tune in to NPR, but to grab my journal, book, and purse and head to the neighborhood Starbucks and write. I accomplished this goal. Hurray! I was almost tempted to grab the Washington Post as the glaring headline, "Feds Nationalize Banks," or something to that effect, arrested my eyes. But I didn't; I got my mocha and sat down to a peaceful morning. To hell with it all, my mother told me that I'd never retire; I believe her now.

Fall is upon us. I walked around the pond this morning to check out the leaves changing and the snapping turtles meandering along the waters. The sap in the pine trees is running and the mushrooms are large and have the oddest shapes. The air is just right, not too cool and not too warm, but perfect for a fall walk. I wanted to take a path along the brook, but as I walked with Luther Vandross crooning from my ipod, the path led me deeper and deeper into a densely forested area. Now I knew eventually the path would dump out into either a subdivision or a paved trail or asphalt walkway, but I wasn't feeling it, so I turned back. I suspect that the children in the neighborhood have worn this path through the forest, trying to find a quicker access to the clubhouse and shopping center. Perhaps with a companion one day, I will walk the path and see where it leads me.

Enjoy this day, and if it is as gorgeous where you are as it is in metro DC, forget the damn economy and go for a walk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

AIG and FASB 157

Oh, they are engaging in double speak. Please listen to the committee hearing regarding AIG. It's the SEC's fault and FASB 157 for the failure of AIG according to the former CEO. My oh, my, are these guys robber barons or what?

Here's a link to FASB 157 for all of us non-accountants out there. Read and learn.
http://www.fasb.org/st/summary/stsum157.shtml

Too bad my former husband's not speaking to me otherwise I'd call him and get an SEC accountant's insight into this mess. Hum, maybe he's not speaking because for the first time in his career he's really working hard. Who knows? Hum, mark to market accounting rules. My assets have fixed values: that's because I'm so doggone poor. Well, the values do float I suppose according to the market, but one thing for sure, I'm not holding anything on the books that is overvalued for future markets thereby misrepresenting my net worth.

Oh, it's difficult to value securities when there's no specific market for the securities according to AIG's former CEO. Huh, am I that dense. If there's no market for the securities they have no value. Hello. Basic economics, but of course, I'm only an English professor not an accountant.

Guess what? We own AIG. We, the taxpayers, have bailed them out. I want to go to the resort in California for a vacation that some AIG executives just enjoyed. I'm working two jobs to keep up. Come on, lets take over AIG's corporate headquarters, check into a $400+/night room, spend $23,000 for the hotel spa (I'm in need of a manicure, pedicure, and a massage; I had to give myself my own pedicure last night. Bummer).

I'll just have to take my former husband to dinner so that he can help me figure this out. One thing for sure, the boys and girls at the SEC do not get hefty bonuses for turning a blind eye to financial abuse and misrepresentation. THEY ARE THE REGULATORS. Yes, I'm shouting. Oh, and by the way, their compensation package is LIMITED. AIG is in the hot seat, and the former CEO is squirming.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Educating African Students: Historicity and the Present

Okay, this is what I've been writing today. Since I don't have the intellectual or physical capacity to generate a separate blog, here it is.


Educating African Students: Historicity and the Present

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education[1] evidenced a nearly two-hundred year debate about the efficacy of educating the African in the British colonies, and subsequently, the United States. Based on theories of inherent Western European supremacy and African inferiority, 19th century arguments concerning public education, no matter how progressive, continued to advocate and support an inferior education for the African relying on bogus scientific theories of biological evolution and cultural determinism that placed the Western European at the highest level in the hierarchy of being, with the African at the bottom.[2] Deemed intellectually inferior, the African, if educated at all, received an industrial arts or manual education that relegated the African’s participation in the capitalist economy solely as a laborer performing the most menial tasks, and as a consumer. This hegemonic attitude by educational policy makers, reformers, and progressives in the late 19th and 20th centuries have far-reaching implications that continue to shape attitudes and policies toward educating the African to the present day.

An industrial arts or manual education ensured African subjugation and is the type of education that was advocated and supported by the founder of Hampton Institute, Samuel C. Armstrong. Armstrong “firmly believed that blacks were fundamentally inferior to whites in almost every way, especially in their mental capacities.”[3] Likewise, Thomas Jesse Jones, a Welsh immigrant, reinforced Armstrong’s premise in his position as a chaplain and professor at Hampton Institute, and later as chair of the Committee on the Social Science of the National Education Association in 1912.[4] Jones’s fervent belief that Africans were ill-suited for a liberal arts education, incapable of academic rigor and critical thinking, and inherently intellectually inferior to Western Europeans would be just a ripple in the sea of discourses about education reform in the 19th century, if his premises did not have such negative implications.

However, battling Jones’s ideology and arguing diligently against the belief of the innate inferiority of the African was W.E.B. Du Bois, who advocated for a liberal arts education as an option for all Africans who desired it. While Du Bois did not exclude the plausibility of Africans receiving an education in the industrial or manual arts, he rejected the premise that the African was not intelligent enough to pursue an education that required abstract reasoning and critical thinking.[5] The battle that Du Bois waged against 19th and 20th century education reformers, who dubbed themselves progressive but advocated for a substandard education for Africans, continues in present pseudo-scientific studies and is evidenced by the proliferation of publications about race, education, and intelligence such as Allan David Bloom’s (1987) Closing of the American Mind, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s (1991) The Disuniting of America, Richard Herrenstein’s and Charles Murray’s (1994) The Bell Curve, and Frank Miele’s and A. R. Jensen’s (2002) Intelligence, Race, and Genetics.[6] This ongoing debate that is grounded in 19th century biological evolution and cultural determinism continues to influence educational policy in this country, teacher training at universities, and teacher’s attitudes toward African students at all levels of education. The community college and university are not immune to imbuing both their curricula and dispositions towards educating African students with an overt or subliminal belief that the African is inherently intellectually inferior.

By African, I am referring to all peoples who are racially and ethnically identified as African regardless of how long has been their removal from the continent. Inclusive in this definition are not only African immigrants who comprise a substantive population at the college, but also U.S. African students. Both groups have been the object of continuous economic and political subjugation through educational policies that ensure their ongoing domination by Europeans. In the U.S., the African disproportionately receives an education that prevents or precludes him from entering into the capitalist economy in a competitive manner that will guarantee an above-subsistence existence and entrĂ©e into the middle and upper classes. The African is overwhelmingly tracked for Special Education or the General Education high school diploma, reinforcing 19th century ideologies that the African’s sole participation in the capitalist economy will be as either laborer or servant, but neither as producer nor as part of the intelligentsia.

While some Africans do manage to circumvent the educational policies and practices, enter into universities and colleges, and obtain a liberal arts education that will prepare them to think critically, become part of the intelligentsia, and participate in the producer class, far too many Africans remain under-educated, poorly trained, and woefully unprepared for full participation in the capitalist economy. The prison industrial complex and other apparatus of the criminal justice system become the repository for those Africans who leave U.S. high schools and are unprepared to matriculate at college or university. Since this country is seeing the end of work in a post-industrial age when high-paying, blue collar jobs are almost non-existent, lack of preparedness almost ensures a downward, rather upward, economic mobility. In a high cost of living area like metro DC, graduating or departing high school without the educational background to matriculate in the college or university eliminates young people from entering into the work force and makes them particularly vulnerable to poverty, crime, and consistent underemployment. Even federal government jobs that relied on a merit system where one could graduate high school, secure federal employment, and work one’s way up the GS scale—based on sheer tenacity, commitment, and merit— are no longer an option for such young adults, since many entry-level positions and promotions are now based on having a four-year college degree. While I am advocating the African’s access to and success in a liberal arts education, I am still very cognizant of the Eurocentric and white supremacist tenets inherent in such an education that fail to acknowledge the contributions of Africans to the intellectual and cultural capital of the world.

In a true democracy, all citizens must have equal access to a high standard and culturally relevant educational system regardless of race or class. Failure to provide access to an education that ensures an individual’s participation in the capitalist economy as something other than a laborer or consumer is tantamount to political, economic, and physical genocide. Ignoring the need to establish educational policies and curricula reform that address and deconstruct the inherent belief of African intellectual inferiority, simply reinforces a policy of subordinating the African that dates back to the birth of public education in this country. It is imperative that frank and open conversations ensue that admit the hegemonic attitude toward educating the African before change can come about.



[1] The sole premise behind this Supreme Court decision, which was championed by proponents of integration, was that resources were woefully lacking in segregated schools. The integrationists aim was to desegregate the public schools thus enabling African children access to better resources; hence a better education. However, what was not addressed was the fundamental hegemonic attitude toward educating African children in the United States. So while African children were integrated into predominately European schools, they encountered physical, psychological, and educational violence as they were attacked and demeaned, and educated without any cultural relevancy to their experiences in the United States or the world. Further, integration resulted in a disproportionate number of Africans being tracked for special education, general education, and vocational diplomas. Quite alarming though are the numbers of Africans deemed to be learning or emotionally disabled, with far too many African boys labeled with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Carruthers contends that “[i]ntergration, which was advanced as the answer to the inferior education given African-Americans under the system of segregation, has managed to ensure an inferior education for African Americans.” See Carruthers, J. H. (1999), Intellectual Warfare, Chicago: Third World Press, 128-129.

[2] See Carruthers (1999), 67.

[3] Johnson, D. (2000). “W.E.B. Du Bois, Thomas Jesse Jones and the struggle for social education, 1900-1930.” Journal of Negro History, 85,79.

[4] Ibid, 88.

[5] Ibid, 83.

[6] Carruthers, 129, 133-139 and Asante, M. K. (1991, Spring). “The afrocentric idea in education.” The Journal of Negro Education, 60.2, 173.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Free at Last

Sorry for not posting a lot lately. I know, it has been continuous excuses this fall. I took on a rather visible project at work: the Book Bridge Project. It involves the college and community coming together to discuss a book for the academic year. While directing the project is not difficult, negotiating the administrative morass can be very frustrating. I'm not one known for diplomacy, particularly when inaneness seems to impede my moving forward. But I am learning.

The maiden voyage of the Book Bridge Project, a panel discussion and question and answer, went well thanks to some dear and committed colleagues: Ahati N. N. Toure, Ph.D., E. Ethelbert Miller, and Nelson Kofie, Ph.D. I owe them tremendously. My students responded to all of the presenters very enthusiastically, and I am happy for this because the forum was at 10:00 a.m. Normally the students are still dozing at this hour or often are missing in action.

I have been messing around with podcasting primarily for my online students. Some of them are auditory learners; well most of them are. The majority of them are not readers. Therefore, it is become increasingly imperative that I include audio in my course design if I want certain students to be successful.

Nothing else is going on. The weather is fantastic here. My son loves Howard, University; he's studying hard and even reading an unassigned text: Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father. Saw the Jacob Lawrence exhibit thanks to Jim Miller who prodded me to go along with him and his students to the Phillips Gallery to see the exhibit. All 60 panels of the "Migration Series" were exhibited, and I am happy that I accompanied Jim to the exhibit because I had never viewed all 60 panels hung at once.

It's the Duke Ellington Jazz festival this weekend in metro DC. I might catch one or two shows if I can get from under this pile of work.

The House of Representatives signed the bailout bill. How will the government absorb this bad paper without the consumer taking a hit? And to whom will this bad paper be sold back to when it is all said and done? Will it be sold below par? I suppose I should go and read the bill and stop speculating. The text of the H.R. bill is posted on C-Span if anyone is interested. Go to http://www.cspan.org/

J.P. Morgan acquired the assets of Washington Mutual, you know the bank that fell in California. Something seems so damn fishy to me. I can recall from history that the big boys like Morgan once threatened to collapse our economy by pulling their hard cash out of circulation. Now I know that the U.S. Mint can just print more money, but what will its value be on the currency market? Further, in the days of deregulation, do the Morgans and Chases still have control over our economy? Hum, just a thought.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall for the Book Festival, George Mason University

It's a beautiful fall day, cool enough to walk without overheating, but warm enough so that you don't need a jacket.

Last night I helped to introduce Chinua Achebe along with the mayor of Fairfax, Virginia at the Fall for the Book Festival. I have to thank my friend of 16 years, Pier Penic, for this honor. Achebe read from a collection of his poetry and from Things Fall Apart. I realized when Achebe was reading one of his poems in Ibo that the poem is recited in the PBS series, "Africans in America, Part I, The Terrible Transformation," for last Wednesday I was viewing the film with my students, and two of my Nigerian students got real excited. When I asked them what was the commotion about, they told me that they were familiar with the poem, and one of the students started translating it for me. But neither student told me that it was a poem by Achebe. So I am indebted to my students for always broadening my understanding of the work that I do. I learn so much from them.

Check out the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. Here is the URL so that you can gleam information: http://www.fallforthebook.org/. My good friend and mentor, James Miller, will be speaking about Richard Wright on Wednesday, September 24, 2008, at 11:00 a.m. He is the Director of American Studies at the George Washington University and president of the Richard Wright Society.

Nothing to report. Everything is eerily calm with my son in college. I'm busy, and it feels good. My students are performing better, which means that I have become a better teacher. The panel discussion on Barack Obama is solid and ready to go at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 30, 2008, at the Rennie Forum in the Student Center Building at Prince George's Community College. If you are available, please join us for what I think will be a wonderful discussion. There are some absolutely brilliant scholars and writers on the panel.

I'm rereading Richard Wright's Black Power because I am joining James Miller in a discussion on Wright at Howard University on Thursday, September 25, 2008, at 4:00 p.m. I know that Miller knows his stuff, so the good student that I am, I'm going to be prepared.

The Congressional Black Caucus starts tomorrow. If you are in DC, give me a call.

Nothing to post except that years ago my astute mother and aunt encouraged me to buy gold. I didn't. Now I regret not listening to them. One day, I will pay attention to my elders.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Collapse of the Financial Market

Flat on my back with vertigo. This happens when I am tired and I spend too much time with dusty books in the stacks of libraries. I suppose this is an indication that I need to socialize more and stay out of the libraries.

Heard A'lelia Bundles, the great great granddaughter of Madame C. J. Walker, give a talk about A'lelia Walker at the Alexandria Black Resource Center on Wednesday evening. She debunked two myths: Madame C.J. Walker invented the straightening comb and A'lelia Walker spent all of the money. Look for Ms. Bundles' book about A'lelia Walker sometime next year.

Chinua Achebe will be at the Fall for the Book Festival at the Center for the Arts on the campus of George Mason University on Monday, September 22, 2008, at 7:30 p.m. I am helping to introduce Mr. Achebe, so please join us.

Still up in the air with the publisher about my book; it seems that one of the four readers' reports is recommending a massive rewrite after the reader admits that there is nothing published in African American literary studies and class. Oh well, I think that some of my colleagues treat their peers like graduate students.

The county where I work is threatening to furlough approximately 500 people, including, but not limited to police officers and fire men. Since I work for the county system, I better start watching my pennies.

The financial markets are in a mess. If you don't know this then you have really buried your head deep in the sand. But hey, why don't we march on Washington and demand that the Bush administration refinance our debt at below market rates?I mean, come on, we are productive members of the society; we get up and go to work everyday, rear our children, stay out of jail; some of us even pray on Sunday. I'd like a cool $58 billion in my bank account to ride through this recession.

I once worked in the bond market so I'm not as naieve as the above-paragraph implies. I just wonder how it is that the greed in this country is so pervasive that the greedy will collapse the whole system rather than just steal a little.

This is one reason why I left the bond industry. I was working downtown Atlanta on the legal team that was helping to structure a general obligation deal on that "black" day in October 1987 when the financial markets hit bottom. I kept waiting for folks to jump out of the windows of the Georgia Pacific Building; but guess what, there weren't any windows that would open, so we just worked all night to get the deal to market before the interest rates increased.

So we are stuck with a big hole in our economy after the junta has been in office for eight years. The Bush cartel will walk out with their pockets lined, and we will be left holding the empty bags that all of our hopes and dreams won't ever fill up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Plate is So Full

Okay, I've been waiting for this moment: son sequestered off on a university campus and I have time to do what I've always wanted to do: read and write all day; not prepare a meal but eat a bowl of grapes in the bed; hang out in the District until I drop and not worry about what time I get home; stay at work and actually get some work done without placing a thousand telephone calls or text messages to check on my son.

So, I'm doing all of this and more. My plate is too full, I have signed on for far too many community projects, agreed to direct too many projects at work; contracted to write too many book reviews and biographical entries; and, pulled down from the shelf too many manuscripts-in-progress with intentions on completing them. I mailed off one manuscript on Monday. And I'm revising a book proposal to mail by the end of the week.

Sometimes I think that I actually married subconsciously to slow myself down. My friends used to complain that "we can never get in touch with you" during the days when landlines and answering machines were the main mode of communication, and I would go for weeks too busy to answer the phone; only coming home to drop in the bed.

But I like it this way. I don't know how to operate unless my plate is full. So if you have received an invitation to the panel discussion on Barack Obama's "Dreams from My Father" that I am organizing for the Book Bridge Project at Prince George's Community College, at 10:00 a.m., on September 30, 2008, please drop by. And if I missed your name in the distribution list, please let this serve as a special invitation to come out.

I'll be helping to introduce Chinua Achebe for the "Fall for the Book Festival" at George Mason University at 7:30 p.m., on Monday, September 22, 2008. I am so excited, and I want to give as lyrical an introduction as my friend and colleague Ethelbert Miller does.

I've been holding down the Library of Congress reading room on Saturdays trying to track down short stories by Marc Crawford, a personal friend of James Baldwin. I actually found one in print in Negro Digest. The story is about a writer who is unable to sell his manuscript. Sounds like the plight of some of us. If any one has contact information for Crawford's family, please forward it to me at michelelsimms@yahoo.com.

We survived the torrential downpour this past weekend. Leaves were strewn everywhere. Fall is rushing in rather quickly this year. I will miss the hot summer days.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Negligent, But Back in the Groove

Okay, I know. I've been negligent in posting this blog. Believe it or not, I still journal everyday, I just don't always post my blog. I suppose it's because I find it easier some days to sit and sip my coffee while writing. Lugging my laptop, firing it up, and getting on the internet seems a lot of trouble to me lately. But I'm back at work and in my office by 6:30 a.m. So I will return to my routine of posting my blog as soon as I get in my office.

What's going on? Obama is the democratic candidate for president. A dear friend of mine bet me that this would never happen. I should have made the brother put his Jaguar on the line. McCain has made a really stupid move with his VP choice. Whose baby is it anyway: hers or her daughter's? The Clintons, the Clintons, what can I say?

My niece has had a daughter: this makes me a great aunt tenfold, I think. I've lost count of the new kids in the family. Everyone is doing fine. My son is at Howard. At 5:00 a.m. on Monday, I received a photo of and a message about a cockroach in his room, on my cellphone. I know, $23,000 + for cockroaches and mice. Well, he hasn't seen the mice yet; but when I asked the R.A. "what does my son need to be comfortable in Drew hall," he told me, "mice bait." Oh, well, what can I say? I gave my son the spiel about how you don't kill mice because of the bacteria they emit, lawdy, lawdy, dah; and how you need to be adamant about calling the Dean of Residence Life and demanding that they exterminate. I'm just getting the kid primed for how to deal with property owners if he winds up being a renter for a short time after graduation.

But yes, I'm wholly taken aback by roaches and mice in Howard's dorms. My son is a better person than I am, I would be ballistics about right now and staging a sit in on the quad. When I was leaving campus on Wednesday, a student from Africa pointed out that he had been bit by bed bugs in Carver Hall. Okay, enough, I'll stop here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Moved, Nearly Settled, Empty Nest

I suppose that I'm finally back. I've moved into a smaller space. Boxes of books make it impossible to walk around my study on the second floor. I finally gave my son a door key although he will be gone and living on campus this Friday. I will miss him, I even made and froze chocolate chip cookie dough, so when I really miss him I can bake a batch of cookies, wrap them, walk to the post office, and drop them in the mail.

All is well with me. If you are a technician, check out the alumni roundup at www.casstechhigh.ning.com. Hopefully I'll be posting more now that my summer break is coming to an end.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hello, I'm Back from Paris

Well, I'm back from Paris, and I have been suffering from post-Paris blues. The Richard Wright Centenary Conference was wonderful, and having Wright's daughter, Julia, present was very other worldly to me. She is outspoken, assertive, and engaging. She truly is her father's daughter. Julia Wright raised a number of concerns that everyone should be aware of, particularly the surveillance of U.S. writers and intellectuals by the U.S. and foreign governments while abroad after the Second World War, a surveillance that remains under documented and analyzed.

It was good seeing Houston Baker and his wife, Charlotte Pierce-Baker, John Edgar Wideman, and Michel Fabre's wife, Genevieve. Genevieve Fabre invited scholars to utilize Fabre's archives at her home in Paris. I made some good acquaintances, some of whom are turning into friendships already. I traversed Paris, stood at the Seine, had lunch on the Seine, viewed exhibits at the Louvre, ate and drank wine at the cafes, chatted with colleagues whom I hadn't seen in years, and basked in the aura of Paris: one of my favorites cities in the world.

So I return to the suburbs of metro DC, and I am suddenly very bored and impatient with living in this area. As much as I love it, it is a terribly conservative environment. I've always known this, but the conservatism of this area reveals itself in stark relief whenever I travel to any of the other First Cities of the World.

I will buckle down and shift my attention elsewhere like getting my son off to college in a few weeks, scaling down my living space, and maintaining my blog. Thanks for your patience during my absence.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Daddy's Girl

My father departed today, and I now fully realize why I am a divorced, middle aged woman. I am a daddy's girl, and I make no bones about it. So while I yearn for companionship, struggle to date, and modify my expectations of men, I know that I am the way I am because I am the eldest daughter of three girls, and I am the apple of his eye.

Now I know that my two sisters are probably puffing out their cheeks right now. But hey, hold on a second and let me explain. I am the second child, but the first daughter. So while my mother maintained the patriarchal covenant of producing the male heir as the first born and securing the Simms bloodline, she produced me second. I can only imagine how my father marveled at me, that baby girl laying in the layette. My father has a photograph of me in the layette with my 23 month old brother peeping in; I am small, innocent, and trying to sleep. Although my next sister was born 17 months after my birth, and with red hair just like my father's was when he was a child, and another sister was born 17 months after my sister with red hair, I was the first daughter.

This past weekend with my father, whenever he introduced me to someone, he said, "this is my number one daughter, Michele." And I found myself quipping, "yes, and #2 and #3 need to get over it." We would chuckle together because on some level we have been saying this most of my life.

So while there are advantages to being "Daughter #1," the disadvantage is that a dad's dreams, hopes, and aspirations are equally embodied in that daughter as they are in a son. Thus, the pressure to achieve, to measure up, to marry with my heart, but also to a man who could provide for me the way my father did, seemed overwhelming at times. I recall as a younger woman deciding it will never happen, and had vowed to spend my life alone and childless until my father visited me while on travel for business, and later expressed concern to my mother that I was "alone."

In many ways, I felt that I was not only Daughter #1, but son too, as my father kept me by his side and honed my entrepreneurial and business skills. It wasn't uncommon for me to be granted the job of posting accounts for my father for the various businesses that he ran when I was a child and teenager. And whenever I sought advice involving anything in the business world, I consulted my father first. But both of my sisters were equally shaped in this manner, it's just that by virtue of birth order, I was the first daughter my father took under his wing.

Well, this "Daughter #1" just spent three glorious days with her father. I am rejuvenated, calm, and very happy. My father always reminds me of my value as a human being and how a man should treat a woman. I am my father's daughter. I am Daughter #1. I am a Daddy's Girl, and I love being so.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father's Day

My week has been jammed packed with my son's prom, graduation, arrival of immediate and extended family, grocery shopping, house cleaning, and all the other activities that go along with preparing for my son's rite of passage.

After speaking with my father yesterday to confirm his arrival time, I remembered that Sunday is Father's Day. While I don't necessarily celebrate every Hallmark holiday, I did note that my father had said that he was departing on Saturday. He knows me well enough to hear the unspoken (why can't the other men get it), and he immediately called back and told me that he had changed his itinerary to remain until Sunday, but that he had a meeting on Monday that he had to prepare for (uh, my father is retired, but that's a different story), so he will have to leave Sunday morning. I know that that bit of information was code for "don't make reservations for brunch, Michele."

I immediately thought about how my father has never been one for pomp and ceremony, despite the fact that he had a career with the Department of the Army, which is replete with pomp and ceremony. As an example, when he retired, he notified none of us; or maybe he said simply "I'm retiring." I later discovered through my mother handing me a stack of photographs that there was a retirement celebration that all of his children should have attended. He was later presented with the American flag that was flown on the U.S. Capitol building on the day he retired as well as four stars to symbolize the equivalent military rank that he would have achieved had he not become civilian personnel. I was in awe. But my father's reticence and unassuming posture amaze me, and it is what he has bred in not only me, but which I have also bred in my son.

So while my father is arriving to celebrate the hard work that my son has done by timely graduating from high school, getting accepted into the university that is his first choice, and causing me no problems (oh yeah, single black women can raise black male children and keep them out of trouble , but with the support of family and community), I am going to pause and reflect on my father's unrelenting commitment to being the best father and grandfather that he can possibly be to me, my siblings, nieces, and nephews. Of course, he will not allow me to do anything special for him, but he will hang around long enough for me to say thank you. For thank you is about all that he will permit any of us to give to him.

My father is, in an old fashion sense, a man of a different era. It is only in my father's presence that I feel completely secure, the way that I imagine women in past epochs felt when they knew that the man would take care of everything. In our post-feminist moment when most women do not know how to allow a man to be a gentleman, I love having my father around as he opens car doors, picks up the dinner tab, copiously checks out my house and notes any repairs that need to be made (and makes them without as much as saying a word), drives me around, enjoys my food, brushes the lint from my skirt, and reminds me that I am daughter and woman.

I will love having my father around for the next couple of days. Everyday is Father's Day when my dad is with me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Graduation, Paris, and the Price of Gas

My son graduates on Friday from high school. Yippie, now I can reinvent myself. Watch me transform from super mom to super woman; or maybe I'll just chill and do nothing. Paris is on the horizon; I am looking forward to three days of intense discussion about Richard Wright. The price of gas, the price of gas. And to think that I gave my bicycle away to the Salvation Army; I just might have to co-op my son's bike and get on it for short errands around the neighborhood.

Listened to some authorities on oil prices on public television last night. According to these authorities, high oil prices are about high demand (the Chinese and Indians, oh no, not the Americans), limited production, and antiquated technologies in the refineries. My friends tell me at least we aren't paying the prices that some Europeans are paying. This, of course, is no consolation to me and millions of other Americans who remain in this country specifically because we don't want to pay the high cost of goods, services, and housing that Europeans pay. While I'm not comparing the cost of living between Europe and the United States, as a friend of mine so aptly reminds me: the U.S. is the best thing going on. "For now," I always add to his quip before his lips seal.

But from a more cynical perspective, my mother warned me as a child of the high cost of living that would eliminate the middle class in this country. She had a way of studying the data and trends, and making the prediction. Just like she told me as a child that she better not ever catch me in the World Trade Center towers; her words were, "they are going to take them out" as I sat on my cousin's balcony in Brooklyn watching the towers sway in the overcast day and yearning to take the elevator to the top. So while my cousin begged my mother to let us catch the train and go to the top of the towers, she refused. And I honored my mother's warning and never set foot on the grounds of the World Trade Center.

Perhaps this empire is truly near its demise. Its hegemony is beginning to wane, and some economist are worried about what it means to further enrich those rogue states that produce oil and how this economic enrichment will jeopardize our democracy. Well, we can start walking, design more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly cities and neighborhoods, improve public transportation with intercity trains, manufacture more hybrids, and I can list a host of other accommodations that we could make to lower our dependency on oil. It is about a lifestyle change. Are we willing to make one? Or, are we so addicted to oil that we will continue to demand more than our fair share, and if we do not get it, we will obliterate an entire state to satisfy our craving?

Okay, enough for the politics; just food for thought as I prepare for a weekend of walking, walking, and using more public transportation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Michelle Obama, First Lady

I've been refraining from blogging about Prince Von Anhalt's racist comment about Michelle Obama, that she looks like a washerwoman. But this morning as I reflect on the strides that Black women have taken to deconstruct and challenge the pervasive racist and stereotypical images of themselves as not only washerwomen, but whores, bitches (sorry dad), venus hottentots, welfare queens (thanks to Clarence Thomas), and many other pejorative appellations that are too numerous to enumerate in this blog, I cannot remain silent.

Prince Von Anhalt's racist comment is not just about Michelle Obama, but it is about Black women whose physiognomies do not replicate the European and Euroamerican standard of beauty. Those of us who are not light, bright, and almost white need to be in the streets protesting, because Von Anhalt, an unapologetic racist, is only echoing what no citizen of this country will dare say aloud to the media; although I have had one African American girlfriend wish that Michelle Obama looked more like Suzanne Malveaux. My girlfriend's pronouncement has caused me to reassess our friendship, for I look more like Michelle Obama than Suzanne Malveaux, so in my warped analytical mind I'm thinking so how does my girlfriend really feel about me.

For many persons, the idea of a First Lady who is African American is enough to cause them to give up their U.S. citizenship. For others, the plausibility of a First Lady who is African American and brown skin is a deep-seated betrayal. How can this possibly happen? Why didn't that biracial man marry a light-skinned African American woman or a white woman? Wouldn't this make the country's acceptance of a Black president easier if his wife just looked more white?

Well, you know me, I want Barack to win, Michelle gracefully to assume the role of First Lady, and hey, I'll drop by the White House and lock her hair; then folks can really do backwards flips. But at least when she visits the Middle East she won't have to keep raising her hand to her head to press down her hair that won't lie down missionary style, like our Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was so preoccupied with her hair during a state visit to the Middle East that I felt sorry for the sister and yelled at the television, "girl you know you're supposed to braid that stuff up when it's hot outside; what's wrong with you?"

With all joking aside, it's not just about hair and skin color, it is about Michelle Obama representing a sort of unadulterated blackness, for it is about her strength, her presence, her support of her husband, her love for her husband and daughters, her working-class background, and the inability to decenter her. I see these characteristics in Michelle Obama that I have witnessed in so many "washerwomen" who held families together by taking in laundry when their husbands could not find work, were run off or killed by white terrorists, or when their husbands' wages were not enough to provide for their families.

So if Michelle Obama represents the washerwoman in Von Anhalt's mind, then she embraces a legacy of tenacity. While I am not misjudging or minimizing the economic assault on black women's labor that the washerwoman signifies, I am celebrating the symbolism of the washerwoman as an icon of black strength. So Von Anhalt, you may see the washerwoman as the silent black woman who does your laundry, but in the historiography of black communities, the washerwoman is a force to be reckoned with, and you better watch out when she starts doing the laundry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Technology and Parenting

In some ways, the advancements in technology have made parenting a lot easier. For instance, I am old enough to recall my mother using a wash machine with a wringer attached. Imagine the hours she spent sending our clothes through the wringer. I was never old enough to use the wringer before she and my father got rid of it; however, I recall as a young child at least standing beside my mother and conversing with her while she did the laundry. And even in the days before dryers, I would join my mother in the backyard to hang the laundry,and even hand her the clothespins. This was another opportunity for us to converse, me to ask questions, and for her to impart her wisdom.

But with the advancement in technology, what I am noticing is less interaction between children and their parents. I am guilty of allowing my son to walk around the house with an ipod stuck in his ears; however, in his formative years we used to practice "no television, no playstation, and no computer" for a few weeks each year. This worked because he did find ways to interact with me and to occupy himself.

Recently I noticed that more and more parents are simultaneously walking their toddlers in strollers and conversing on their cell phones. While I am not passing judgment, I reflect on the pleasure I got when I was out the house and walking my son in his stroller. These moments were magical as we found the duck pond and fed stale bread to the ducks and geese, looked for turtles on the sidewalks, and marveled at the flora. These walks allowed me to detach from the responsibilities and "shit work" always awaiting me in the house, and forced me to focus on my son, his acquirement of knowledge, and expanding vocabulary.

Yesterday when I noticed that every parent I passed strolling with their toddler was on a cell phone, I started to yell, "They will be 18 soon and won't want to talk to you. Get off your cell phone." But I refrained because my parents raised me to have better manners than that. Nonetheless, the trend of always being on a cell phone has permeated those moments that should be precious and sacrosanct. But who am I to judge.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Idyllic Days

I have very little to blog about; my life is unusually quiet. I'm trying to stir things up a little, but to no avail. My former students finally understand that I will not spend my summer responding to their e-mail messages, my son is preparing for graduation and prom (he's taking a sprinter to the prom, right on for him choosing an athlete), I'm looking for a smaller habitat (I'm tired of cleaning this house and I have too much space in which to accumulate more stuff), and I'll be in Paris in two weeks.

My day now consists of reading, writing, walking twice per day, and weeding out my library. Yes, for the second time in my life I am selectively choosing books to give away. I am a bit disheartened, but I also know that I do not need copies of Brecht and Hesse's works in German, and my collection of Spanish short stories from high school I'll probably never read again. However, I am keeping all of my books in French because I'm applying for a Fulbright to Senegal. I've been having a great time studying French again.

My son is in his own world. Wheeled up to my house this weekend in his father's car and it dawned on me that he is grown (he's been telling me this for a year or two, but I've been ignoring him).

Nothing has changed in the political arena. I want Clinton to drop out the race, Obama to win, and a dear and wonderful friend of mine to test the national political scene because he has outgrown the environment he's in (hint, hint if you are reading this blog).

The tiger lilies in my front yard are in bloom, the azaleas are spent, and I need to plant some annuals. But I'm too lazy to even mow the lawn these days. I have a wonderful neighbor who must take pity on me because he mows my lawn. We laugh about the fact that between the two of us we have four boys who are too busy to mow the lawn. But I must confess, I never mowed my father's lawn either. He didn't want me to mess it up.

Everything is quiet, and hopefully I'll have something more interesting to post tomorrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Richard Wright, Paris, and Memories

I am going to the Richard Wright conference in Paris next month. Whenever I'm preparing a paper for a conference, I tend to re-read as much of the writer's work as I can. I decided to re-read biographies on Wright by Walker and Fabre. I'm always intrigued by writer's lives, wishing that I had had the nerve to take the risks that some of them took in order to live their unique vision of their life. For awhile, I was headed on that path. Then I capitulated for security: got married, settled down, and had a child.

But I was combing my memory trying to remember how Richard Wright entered my life. Trust me, it was not from my institutionalized education. I am certain that my mother gave me a copy of "Black Boy" to read when I was thirteen years old or so, because I have given each one of my nephews as well as my son a copy of "Black Boy" to read when they turned thirteen, and I know that this tradition did not originate with me.

This past Friday, my son sent me a text message: "Mom, do we have a copy of 'Black Boy' in the house?" Although the books whose authors' last names begin with W are not shelved (I've run out of shelf space), I was certain that all of my books by and about Richard Wright were accessible. When I combed through a stack of books, I realized that I own six copies of "Black Boy," including two hardback copies from my childhood. I sent my son a text message, and he responded by asking me to bring the book to school at 12:30 p.m. Oh, it must be nice to have a mom who is readily available to drop off a book at school in the middle of the day.

I was puzzled as to why he was asking for Wright's autobiography, for I was certain that he had read it before. When my son arrived home I queried him, and yes, he had read "Black Boy" before, which is why he asked me to bring it to school. Evidently he needs a book to read for English class: the last two weeks of school. In my opinion, his English teacher should have taught "Black Boy" in 12th grade English as a prerequisite for graduating. But hey, I don't select the books for Fairfax County Schools, and I have met some of the folks who do. Don't ask me about them. It was quite a revelation when I served on the committee with these folks and wrote reviews for "School Library Journal." I quickly gained insight into why the public and school libraries in Fairfax County are replete with mysteries and romance novels. Oh, and yes, I was the only African American on the committee. Uh, hum.

Unlike my relationship with my mother wherein we discussed nearly every book I read, my son will not discuss literature with me. My son was an avid reader when I homeschooled him. He had no choice. I designed his lessons so that he read in all discipines, and wrote across the curriculum. No worksheets in my house; however,when he entered school in the 7th grade in Ann Arbor, he came home with a stack of worksheets, and he quickly realized that he could not finish all of the worksheets if he took time to read the material in his textbooks. He stopped reading. When he entered the 7th grade, he was tested and his reading level was at the college level. Each year that he was in school, his reading comprehension level dropped, so that by the time he was in the 10th grade, he was reading only at a 10th grade level. Work sheets and busy work decreased his enthusiasm for reading literature and likewise lowered his comprehension level. My mother always warned me that public schools can ruin a bright child, which is why I homeschooled my son in the first place. Oh, well, I am hoping that he will one day revisit his love for reading and understand why I made the educational choices for him that I did.

In the meantime, I miss that my mother is not alive to talk literature with me. This is one of the greatest losses for me in her death: the ability to call her and talk about any book because more likely than not she had read it. My mother and I talked about Wright, and many other writers, at length. And I so miss her stories and insight. My mother grew up in the same neighborhood as Paule Marshall and June Jordan. In fact, once my mother and I attended one of Paule Marshall's readings when Marshall's novel "Daughter" was published. Afterwards my mother and Marshall talked at length about people whom they knew from their neighborhood. Marshall is older than my mother, however, she remembered some of my mother's older siblings.

So I forge ahead without her insight and conversation, but with memories of our debates, and a house full of books to prove that I am truly her daughter.