Wednesday, January 14, 2009

20 Things My Parents Taught Me

Everything that I needed to learn to survive, I did not learn in an educational institution. In fact, if my education had been left up to the teachers, professors and schools I attended, I'd be woefully dumb. While I may have had a few bright teachers and professors, I must admit that my parents were the major influences on my intellectual development. But they also taught me a few other things. I will list them below.

From my father I learned:

1. The difference between a debit and a credit
2. How to file articles of incorporation (this was a family project when I was in high school)
3. How to check my oil, check the tire pressure, listen to the engine for problems, diagnose the problem, and how not to allow the service person or mechanic to treat me like I'm a dumb chick when I take my car in.
4. How to negotiate terrains of power
5. Never to tell a guy what will happen if he's late for a date
6. How to post accounts (he had me doing this for small businesses before I was in high school)
7. How to do problems in trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus (my father was a great mathematician when I was a kid)
8. How to write a coherent essay on the first draft (in elementary school my siblings and I were not allowed to erase our mistakes, my father made us rewrite the entire essay no matter how long it took us)
9. How to be a caring and loving daughter (I'm still learning this)
10. How to be daughter #1.

From my mom, I learned:

1. Never to act dumb no matter how much pressure was placed on me to pretend like I didn't know something
2. To read like my very life depended on it
3. To stir spaghetti sauce while simultaneously reading a book
4. To pay my overdue fines at the library (often my mother would load up the trunk of the car to return mine and my siblings overdue books with her check book in hand; I think my mom was solely responsible for Detroit Public library placing a cap on overdue fees on children's books)
5. How to enjoy poetry
6. How to play the piano
7. How to write fiction, poetry, and plays
8. To read literature within a particular context and to deconstruct it
9. To enjoy all types of literature
10. To develop my mind, develop my mind, develop my mind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hiking and Reading

I had an intense week teaching a one-week, all day seminar in African American literature. Pedagogically, this doesn't work because the students don't have enough time to retain any information. If this were a graduate-level seminar it would work because graduate students bring so much knowledge to the classroom, but for an undergraduate class where this might be a student's first introduction to African American literature, the course is very challenging even for the best students. But the students and I made it through, I posted grades tonight, and I get a slight break before the Spring semester begins at the college.

I've been hiking and reading, if you are interested! I'm reading "White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America" wherein the authors, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, argue that although the word "slave" was rarely used to define the legal and social status of the European indentured servants who were forced into or volunteered their labor in the Americas, they were, nonetheless, slaves. The authors hope to add to the vision and history of slavery in British America the image of poor English children who were mostly kidnapped, English female prostitutes who were sold out of the country as brides to English settlers as a way to populate the colonies, English men who either volunteered their labor or were convicts given emigration to British America as an alternative to death, and the Irish who were in constant battle with the English for their sovereignty and humanity and of whom England wanted to exterminate.

I am wrestling with not the concept of Britain's white slaves, but the implication of this sort of discourse on U.S. Africans seeking reparations for being enslaved. I know how discourse can be twisted to accomplish political agendas; therefore, deracializing, or de-Africanizing slavery in British America as a social and economic phenomena that was not overwhelmingly African and based on racism will be very difficult for me to wrap my mind around. Thus far, Jordan and Walsh argue that few white indentured servants survived indentured servitude, acquired land, or gained a social status above that of a slave, if they fulfilled their contract of indenture servitude. I haven't finished the book, and I'm curious how the authors will handle the shift in status of Europeans in the 18th century as they were increasingly defined as whites rather than by their national origins as a way to establish a racial hierarchy and race-based caste system in the United States that even free Africans in this country could not escape.

If you are curious, Toni Morrison states that reading "White Cargo..." was the basis for her novel "A Mercy."

Okay, so it's hiking this weekend, an 11-mile trek, regardless of the weather. Then I will relax on Sunday and break bread with a friend before going off to tap dancing class. My friend teases me about how I prepare for my hiking treks: eating my protein in the morning, not drinking my mochas (ugh, that hurts), hydrating with water, dressing in layers of silk and synthetics, donning my boots and wool socks, and pushing my locs under my wool cap with ear flaps. He told me that I look like I am about to hike the Himalayas. I had to respond, "no, I'd have a GPS tracking system if I was about to hike the Himalayas." We are best friends! Yet despite our 30 year friendship, he still does not see me as a physical person, which I find very ironic since we have hiked, played basketball, swam, scuba dived, and gone bicycle riding together. Hey, he was the person who taught me how to scuba dive. I suppose being middle aged, I think that he presumes that I will stop being physical and sit down. Wrong! I'm going to keep moving until my legs become like concrete. Besides I keep telling him that women in my family have congenital heart defects; yes every last one of us for three generations! Therefore, I can't ever afford to be sedentary.

Hope that all are having a prosperous year. We in metro DC are preparing for the president's inauguration; it's going to be pandemonium in DC and very difficult to get around the metro area next week.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Detroit, July 1967"

Below is a poem that I wrote back in October. I've been wrestling with a novel about the 1967 riots in Detroit for nearly four years. The novel is in various stages. Some chapters are complete. Others need more work. Nonetheless, the poem below emerges from my musings about the novel, where it is going, and what needs to be done next. The tentative title of the novel-in-progress is "At Home in the Night." One of my goals this year is to complete a good draft of this novel.

"Detroit, July 1967"

They swirled like a barrage of gnats
Spot lights unveiling
Hot summer night torn sideways
Babies screamed, slaughters gutted streets
Filled up with swollen anger and
Hungry mischief. That July 1967
When hope snapped necks and dreams
Broke backs and no more stilted speech
Like shattered glass on 12th street
Ringing as loud as the pain, and
Confusion, and silent slow silk
On his arms, strolling home beneath
Whorling wind and heat and loss.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Friendship and New Year's Resolutions

First, thank you Johnny for the wonderful get together at your home on New Year's Day. As always, you open your home with grace and abundance, and we always have a good time. I am thankful for your friendship. And I will not rag you about cooking anymore. I realized that we all have our abilities; you provide the space, and me, Lynda, and Kerin will bring the food. It's not about gender, it's about what we do best.

Secondly, I never make New Year's resolutions, per say. However, since the birth of my child, I have diligently set ten goals for the year. Most years I can cross off at least five of the goals from my list, this year I managed to accomplish eight of the ten goals. Two goals seemed improbable in light of this financial market and my status in it. So perhaps next year will be the year to make some changes financially. Whichever goals I do not accomplish one year, I carry them over into the next year; that is, provided the goals are still in line with my overall goal that I have set for my life.

The goals are nothing ostentatious. For instance, hiking was one of my goals. That was the first one that was easily accomplished. It was just a matter of doing an internet search, looking at the weekend section of the Washington Post, making a phone call or two, purchasing my hiking boots, and meeting the group for a hike. Already, I have formed relations with two other women from my first hike and we are going on a hike on the National Zoo grounds tomorrow after touring the Mary Cassett exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

I don't believe in setting goals that are wholly unattainable in one year. Rather, I break that long-term goal down into its parts and focus on that part of the long-term goal that I can accomplish in one year. This way, I don't set myself up for failure or disappointment.

I record the goals on the last page of my bound journal. This way I can always reinforce my goals by reviewing them continuously and I can also periodically realign my focus when I find myself going astray. When I record my list of goals, they seem more tangible and attainable. It's easy for me to forget my focus if I do not write down my goals.

What are you goals for the year? How do you maintain your focus? Do you share your goals with family, friends, or colleagues? Or do you keep your goals to yourself? I'd be interested in how you go about attaining your goals. Please post comments.