Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On race and racelessness

I just finished reading an article in which the only person assigned a race was the African-American flight attendant whose name was the only one not remembered, "it was something like Gazelle."

I'm immediately drawn back to graduate school and a Toni Morrison article and her challenging novel Paradise, where one of the opening lines is "They shot the white girl first." It's compelling to try to track the characters and determine which girl was white, but simultaneously almost impossible to track the characters to determine which girl was white. At the end, one question stood: does her race matter?

Why is race so important in character development? What does establishing a character's race tell us that helps us to better understand the character and/or author's purpose and/or theme?

Why was the personal essayist who was writing about meeting strangers in airports to gather and share people's stories so compelled to identify the African-American flight attendant's race in the story? Why couldn't she just be the female flight attendant, like Chad was the male attendant? Why was her name forgotten, yet Chad's remembered? Why and how did her name become similar to "gazelle?" Did her height and skin color and the modifier "stunning" make her exotic? Was her name so ethnic that it could be anything? Was her race identified to add imagery, color to the text? Why did her race matter?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On eating an elephant

I heard my father's voice last week when I went to shovel the 2-plus feet of snow in front of my car, with a heavy heart. He asked, "do you know how to eat an elephant?"
I forced a chuckle, "what?"
He repeated himself and I more appropriately responded, "no, how?"
"One bite at a time," he explained.
Eight or nine years ago, as I whined about being overwhelmed during my early graduate school days, he told me to take it one step at a time, that I couldn't take on the entire beast at one time. He helped me to calm down and not get so overanxious that I become unproductive, rather to move slowly, steadily through the process.

In the cold, as I looked at the snow mound, looked at the future and thought this is impossible, this will take forever, how can I do this, my father whispered, one bite, one shovel-full at a time. And I very slowly and steadily shoveled.

Then my 55+ year old snow angel came out with her shovel and said, "I thought she can't do this by herself," and she helped me two shovel-fulls at a time. We talked and laughed and shoveled. Her steadiness and willingness showed me that my strength is present, maybe a little buried under some flakes, but alive.

Then another snow angel appeared and helped me break through the ice around my car "to help [me] get the babies in the car safely." These women with lives of their own became my brother and my mother, my family, my strength, my help. They showed me my inner strength and helped remind me that I need people in order to be strong.

My daddy's whispers of one bite at a time, my family's ear, shoulder, support, my friends' shovels help me to eat every elephant placed in front of me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

On the weight

The thoughts, the feelings, the sadness form an anvil sitting comfortably on my chest, squarely on my heart. I try impossibly to catch my breath, to take in air. I fail miserably. I fall violently.

I hold my heart tightly, fearing it will crack wide open and become un-mendable.

I creep to a pillow, a friend's ear, my word catcher and only through exhaling the pain does the 2-ton weight lift slightly enough to let someone, something else keep me from being crushed.