Friday, December 30, 2011

On sitting silently

The words from the poets' mouths were entertaining. As a reader, as a writer, I've heard those words, thoughts before just in different combinations. It is the combination of the right words that makes a writer or a poet. The energy, the force, the gestures, the presence, the confidence and finally the nervous energy of the poets were all inspiring and enjoyable as I sat silently and took them in.

The words on the wall at Busboys and Poets were magnetic. Words in the air evaporate. Words on the page, in ink exist with strength in a way that spoken word lacks. But these writers share their words and themselves with an audience with reckless abandon and joy. They are saints.

The words of Dr. Mohammad Mossagegh on the writer-activist mural above my head as I watched the poets share their spirits, spoke to my soul: "If I sit silently, I have sinned."

I sit silently thinking about writing, thinking about teaching, thinking about beating some up with my wisdom, sharing my hard-earned lessons. I sit silently about friendships lost and gardens untended. I sit silently with words piling up, writing and rearranging themselves in my head. I sit silently processing, over-thinking, mourning, fearing, yearning, searching, weeping, loving...sinning.

I can no longer sit silently.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On carrying extra weight

When I "cleaned" up my classroom, I packed up so much "work" to do/"plan" over the summer. I took home several bags and then brought the bags right back to school in August. One bag, I unpacked immediately. The second bag got unpacked today, December. The bag has been sitting in a corner in my classroom for four months.

As I unpacked the bag, half of the bag was filled with papers to recycle. I had taken the bag home, let it sit in my house for two months, taken it back to school to sit for four months only to realize that half of the bag included papers to be recycled. I carried that stuff to and fro due to laziness, fear of what I might face, not enough space in my head to tackle more stuff.

I didn't even know what I was carrying and holding onto...just carrying around extra weight.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On memories...

I tear up listening to Luther Vandross' "Don't you remember you told me you loved me baby..." because it reminds me of an old love from college who didn't seem to remember a lot of what he said including how much he loved me. I tear up not over the loss of that old college love but over the strength of those memories of the love, loss and tears that I experienced many moons ago...I tear up because the song reminds me of all those feelings I once had. There's beauty in being able to remember what once was and how intensely I felt the joy and pain of that love that a song can cause it to flood my memory and find its way into my tear ducts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On expensive tea

Last weekend I walked past Teavana and was lulled in by tea sales associates peddling their wares via the tiniest samples ever. I usually taste and walk around the store and walk out because their tea is so pricey. But, I noted to myself that I would quickly purchase these expensive fragrant leaves for a friend and that it was time to treat myself the way I wanted to be treated.

I was worth insane amounts of money of tea leaves. The fast talking tea peddler almost sold me with "10%-off-if-you-buy-a-pound-we-can-do-eight-ounces-of-each." I was like, "yes, I love a discount." But then I did some very slow mental math and 2 oz. for the chai was $10 and for the energy booster $8 ; I love myself, but I can't spend that kind of money on tea. I wanted a cup of their hot tea to go, but refused to spend $5 on a cup of hot tea. I happily walked away with 4 ounces total for a little less than $20. I happily walked away proud of me for treating me how I want to be treated.

Then I walked my happy behind to Starbucks for a cup of $2 hot tea.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Refraining from Self-aggression

I look in the mirror and enumerate my flaws, just the ones on my face. Puny eyelashes, so imperceptible that I squint to make sure they are still there, darkness here, there, blemishes, scars and then the thought fiercely escapes its holding cell: I hate my face.

Pema Chodron writes, “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

I try desperately to love these parts that just no longer are the same. I fail continuously at being kind to myself. I try once more to be loving and kind. I fail. And I try this time to understand that it is with ignorance that I harm myself; it is a lack of respect that I have learned from others and taught myself, but yet my holding onto their harsh words inflicts harm on myself. My refusal to love my face is cowardly and disrespectful. In the morning, I will try again to be gentle and honest.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

On bottling these moments

So often I want to bottle these tender moments with my son to put on a shelf to experience later. I want to take enumerable pictures and record each moment and write down every feeling.

Today, this two year old went upstairs on his own, climbed onto the adult, 16" toilet and made a bowel movement, and then persisted to wipe himself. I was so thrilled and he knew it. He said, "look boo boo" along with a great look of accomplishment.

This afternoon, we painted together, but then he kept messing up my artistic work. So, I decided I would read The Washington Post Mag and watch him paint. He wasn't having that; he handed me the paintbrush and said, "paint, paint." I was obedient because clearly he needed me to be fully present and clearly I needed to be fully present for myself as well.

This evening, I watched him "read" from a few books and I tiptoed away to let him entertain himself. He often seems to need attention and I desperately want to foster a sense of independence. He read a few books before coming to find me. I said go get me a book to read. He said, "c'mon" and motioned for me to come to him. He was not leaving my room without me.

He then got some lotion from my desk and I teased him and made him laugh so hard that he backed into the bed and hit the floor and continued to just laugh the happiest, purest laugh. He warms my heart.

His independence shone through as he refused two books and was happy to read the third suggestion. We followed with a few more and then sang, "He's got the whole world in his hands." He sang a few lines on his own. I kissed him and said, "good night, baby." He replied as clear as day, "good night mama." My heart melted again.

A good friend said we try to "collect" their childhoods and in so doing we fail to be fully present. I do genuinely wish I could save these moments for later. The tenderness and beauty is unmatched by anything I have ever experienced. I know that I can best honor these moments, by enjoying this little person daily.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On my birthday

There is a magnificent tree that I pass as I pull onto my street after entering my neighborhood. The sun, rain and air tiptoe on the edges of the leaves creeping towards each leaf's stem. Daily, the tree changes as I drive home. Until one day, it is clothed in full majesty snatching the breath of its witnesses.

Year after year, for the last six years, as my life has changed dramatically with comings and goings, as I have aged, changed and become more myself, the tree lets me know fall is coming, it is here, and then way too quickly, it has passed. Without fail, the tree does its dance routine before my eyes, inviting me to watch and enjoy.

I have spent a lot of time watching and enjoying my own children and on some days my students. I enjoy watching various children (friends, cousins, neighbors) in my life learn new words, speak more clearly, learn to ride a bike, sprout up and dance into themselves. I have watched friends and family conquer challenges and pursue their goals, choose sadness, anger, happiness or joy.

The tree has spoken to me this year in a sing-song voice: As the seasons cycle through as they do every year, change is occurring ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly. If you choose to slow down as you hurry through, you can see the slightest difference within yourself as I mirror the passage of time, the change to vibrancy. If you choose to see yourself with the same awe and majesty in which you see me, this simple tree, you will see your own beauty and power. If you watch how people view and remember you, you can begin to treat yourself with loving kindness and compassion. Write out your life, stretch out your arms to the sky, embrace the divine within and watch yourself become amazing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On holding onto binders

I found two binders that I had shoved under my bed. The maroon one held my college days with one of the best professors I ever had. I grew as a writer with him and through my column with the Xavier Herald. I had a confidence during those years, that I have never had since. Reading my work and specifically my professor's comments brought tears to my eyes.

A few brief passages from a paper I wrote and read in class from that spring of 1998, "Not Having Anything to Say:"

"Many famous writers explore and explain the reasons behind their artistry in their work. One such writer Joan Didion,("Why I Write,") explains that a writer spends his or her most important hours doing what he or she loves: writing. Most often, I write from my heart, I try to write what my heart is telling me. But just because arranging words strategically on paper is something I love does not mean that I'm good at it. Didion's essay is telling me I do not have to be good or an "intellectual," because writing in its truest form is not about anyone else but me.


I do not try to be the bully that Didion claims writers become. I have no desire to manipulate anyone's thinking, shed a little light, well yeah, but manipulate, no. I just use the Herald as a vehicle to do what I love: write. But I do not want to write for the sake of writing, I want to write something that will be read. If I am the only one who thinks that I am saying "something" and in turn am publishing "something" not being read, then in actuality I am saying nothing.


This past weekend I called my mother and asked her opinion on my column; it was due in two hours. She told me not to write the column. All I could think was not write my column, the last paper of the year and not write my column. My mother told me that it was better not to write anything than write something that said very little or nothing at all. Troubled, I turned off my computer and did not write. For the first time I didn't write because I didn't have anything to say. I did not write and I felt good about it."

Looking back at my words from thirteen years ago reminded me of me. I've kind of lost that girl in some ways. I wish I could talk to her and tell her to avoid the pitfalls and stay secure and confident. I like what I read. In class, my professor said he watched my classmates nod and sit with rapt attention as I read. He wrote on my written version, "Yvette, I enjoyed reading this essay. It has a wonderful voice. It reaches readers with a modest grace, thoughtfulness and wisdom. You write very well because you're sensitive, observant, self-critical, skillful with language and smart. Keep on!"

I teared up thinking this older white man thought this way about this 20 year old black girl's writing. I didn't know that all of these amazing adjectives could describe me and my writing. He persuaded me to go to graduate school and pursue a PhD. And I did for five years or so. But it wasn't me. I'm not an intellectual; I'm a writer with a big heart, who lost herself.

I wonder if I had listened to Didion and myself where I would be now. At the same time, I know that all those challenges and triumphs came from listening to other people for a good portion of my life. Listening to others has helped me and hindered me in many ways. Maybe, I didn't lose myself, but took a much needed detour on cobblestone roads with bare feet in order to keep building myself.

The second binder was blue and dusty. The papers, from grad school, contained memories of someone I couldn't recognize. I took a class on Transnationalism in African-American Literature in 2003 and read complex scholarly articles like "Essence and the Mulatto Traveler: Europe As Embodiment in Nella Larsen's Quicksand." I kept this binder with articles and presentation notes from two really great classes while at University of Maryland. I even kept the program from a conference I participated in on African American Identity Travels.

My memories of grad school include never quite belonging and never feeling smart enough to be there. I'm shocked that I could even stand in front of big name scholars and read my paper on expatriation and transnationalism. She (the girl reading that paper) wasn't me, which is why she/I didn't go on to write a dissertation. I'm surprised I held onto those papers for so long. I easily threw away most of the articles, though I kept a few. I'm not sure what I'm holding onto as I slide them into the binder full of good memories from Xavier and my publishing days.

I don't know why we hold fiercely to the negative moments of our lives and allow the images of amazing moments to fade. Why do the hurtful memories, harsh words, brutal pain tether us to insecurity, anxiety and fear? Why when we throw out the tangible representations of those moments can't all the intangible feelings be drained from our being as well. I don't understand why I've listened to others' opinions of me or why I've allowed negativity to overtake me in exchange for embracing the amazing parts of me.
One binder is leaving this house and I'm going to work at getting rid of what it represents as well.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On Envying Tatum (the short version)

I’m a little jealous of Tatum O’neal. She has this golden opportunity to try and get it right with her father. It’s impossible to tell how much is for the camera, her new book, their careers and how much is truly authentic. But the audience knows Ryan and Tatum have had a troubled past and now they are together talking. Maybe they are understanding one another, listening to each others' stories, hearing each others' pain. I sense that from them when I watch them dance a very complicated ungraceful father-daughter waltz.

My dad and I never really talked. So, I try to tell my students, my friends, whomever, to forgive and understand that their parents (loved ones) are doing the best they can. I try to tell my story as a way to get people to see that in an instance all those opportunities can morph into regret. Forgive. You may never understand.

I remember sitting at dinner or lunch with my dad, just sitting. Trying desperately to make conversation, yet few words would pass between us. It was challenging to come home from college and make a lunch date with him. We went to O’Charley’s or Ruby Tuesday and ate and said a few words and he took me back home. So much was left unsaid and unheard.

I think maybe he let himself leave this earth so early because he had reached an important apex in life. Much like that episode of Seinfeld, where George Costanza says, “I knew I had hit my high note so I thanked the crowd and I was gone.”

Yet, beautiful blond Tatum who is writing a book for the world to hear her story has this opportunity to understand her father, for him to see her and to build a relationship with him. Ryan hasn’t quite hit his high note. He’s sarcastic. He’s still here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

On forming your destiny

I just finished The Untelling by Tayari Jones. It wasn't literary genius like anything by Toni Morrison or Edwidge Danticat, my ultimate favorites. But it was a good read about a modern day black woman whose tragic past was a part of uncertain present. What struck me and stayed with me after reaching the end was that the main character Aria didn't want to tell her boyfriend, turned fiance', that what she believed to be a pregnancy was an illness that led her to learn that she was menopausal and incapable of bearing children at a very young 25 years old.

She didn't want to tell this boyfriend the truth, because in her words, "Dwayne is going to leave me." And he did leave her, not because she couldn't have children, but because she didn't tell him the truth. She told everyone else and he learned from a third party and couldn't understand why she couldn't be honest, thus he couldn't marry someone who could hide something so serious. He did leave her as she expected, though not for the reason she expected. She either spoke it into being or knew through her communion with her self what would become of this relationship.

The story ends on a rather forced moral: "There is balm in the telling, and in the hearing too. These words, these truths will ride on the air like a ragged scrap of song. ... Our past is never passed and there is no such thing as moving on. But there is this telling and there is such a thing as passing through."

I think our past forms, reforms, transforms us on many levels as often as we let it. And though I believe that telling the truth, telling our story can heal us and others, I believe we neglect the power in speaking what we want for ourselves.

I love Project Runway for that reason: these talented designers choose and speak what they want for their lives and they run after it with such passion.

Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club echoes the power of speaking for yourself and your future. One of my favorite lines, "And I think now that fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention. But somehow, when you lose something you love, faith takes over." Rose partly expected her marriage to fail and partly let it fall apart. In retrospect, her expectations contributed to the failure of the marriage. Like Aria, in The Untelling, Rose told herself this union will not or can not last. Speaking those words, even to herself, put what would be into motion. She helped to form her fate or destiny.

I firmly believe that when things fall apart, as they do, or you lose something you love, faith is powerful and takes over and helps to reform you. But, the more I read literature and people, I firmly believe, there is power in speaking what you want for yourself.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I love who he is.
He demands my attention when he needs it, pulling my arm or pulling my face to him. He finds an ooowie when he has been reprimanded, refusing the reprimand and seeking consolation.

He hurt himself, said ow, and then kissed his arm and went about playing. He sneezed and didn't wait for anyone to speak up, but said, "bless you" to himself.

He calls for his brother when his brother is not there. He likes to talk to his uncle and grandmother on the phone. He told another kid's grandmother, "bye grandma" one day, just cause she must be everyone's grandma. I asked him why do I have to yell at you in order for you to come here, he shrugged his shoulders and said "I dunno." He calls for Morgan, his two year old friend and he knows the names of the neighborhood kids and adults alike, going down the street, saying Jay, Lydia, Corey, Ms. Rain...

Once I asked, "what is that?" He said, "a lego," I said, "how did you know that?" He said, "I mart" leaving off the "s"

He pouts and his bottom lip is adorable. He likes to hug. And when I put him to sleep, he says, "read, sing, winkle, pray." I pat his back and sing, but he reaches to make sure I'm still there by touching my arm.

From the moment they pulled him from my belly and said it's a boy, I thought it's Ezra. I love when he exckaims, "I'm Ezra!" He is.

I love who he is.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On Laughing So Hard

I tried to be ladylike and stifle my laughter by covering my mouth. I didn't want to be too boisterous. But the laughter could not be contained. It wriggled out through a compulsory kick to the seat in front of me. The laughter squeezed out of my eyes in the form of tears. As I wiped tears away, more followed their cousins. At one point, I was sad for the main character. But somehow amazing writing and comics danced across the screen and this time as I covered my mouth, my body lurched forward. It is rare for laughter to run rampant through one's body seeking an exit. I welcome that type of hilarity back for more frequent visits.

Monday, July 4, 2011

On The Help

I enjoyed reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It was quick and easy and entertaining. I was rooting for the team all the way throughout. I didn't like Hilly and couldn't understand how an entire group of women could blindly follow her. This was a tad unbelievable and contrived for me. I felt really crushed that Skeeter was able to escape the madness of her home and Aibileen and Minny (and the other black women) did not have that same luxury. I did not like that Skeeter's involvement in the text thrust her into the career of her choosing, whereas Aibileen and Minny suffered after the text's publication.

I became more critical of the text when I really thought about the blurb on the cover by NPR and then sought out the article (this could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird...If you read only one book this summer, let this be it.)

Why is all of NPR appearing to applaud this book? What about Toni Morrison's Beloved or Octavia Butler's Kindred, James Baldwin and all the texts by Black writers that deal with civil rights and/or slavery? How do we leave out a whole history of black authors writing about race to only focus on two white women as writers of the most important literature. It's a good story by a white
author about black women, race issues and civil rights. However, I take issue with it being called great literature.

I disagree with the reviewer, Grigsby, who says that Stockett has put us in the shoes of three ordinary women (white liberal Skeeter and black maids: Aibileen and Minny)at an extraordinary point in American history. I don't believe that Stockett gave her reader as intimate a portrayal as she herself might have believed. I believe her position as woman who had a black nanny/maid causes her to be inept at putting on the shoes of a black maid, let alone help her audience walk around in those shoes. I think her position of power inhibits her from portraying an accurate voice of the oppressed. I also think Toni Morrison's Beloved does an amazing job of illustrating that we can not understand the complexities of being oppressed no matter how intensely and good intentionally we try.

Are these texts The Help and To Kill A Mockingbird so great because they are so accessible? Why is the bar so low in terms of classifying something as important? Why is the source attribution so vague? Why not attribute this phrase (Most important book) to a specific speaker (Karen Grigsby Bates)? Of course NPR is loaded with ethos and the vagueness of the quote attribution leaves room for interpretation that all of NPR supports this claim and thus helps sell books. I just wonder if white women writing about black women/people/Civil Rights is much easier on the mainstream American palate than black authors writing about these issues in more complex, nuanced and convincing ways.

On communicating

I think people respond to each other based on how they see that other person and not really on what the person said, meant or intended. Philosopher and psychologist, William James wrote Whenever two people meet there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is. ( #1: how A sees B, #2: how A sees A, #3: how/who A really is, #4 how B sees A, #5 how B sees B, #6: how/who B really is).

That's a lot of damn people in a conversation between 2 people. Imagine how this grows exponentially when C walks in to disrupt the impossibly delicate balance between A and B and then D interferes with the good intentions of fixing the problem. How many people are now engaged, enraged in a confusing conversation and no one really knows what the hell anyone is saying!

How do you communicate effectively when no one really sees the other person?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

On forgetting

I'm often afraid I'll forget the magical moments of watching my kids grow and the amazing things they say and do. When I am fully cognizant about that worrying, I try to let go of it, and enjoy the moment. It is then when I'm truly happy.

Ezra will begin, "we will wock you," and I'll listen; but he will demand, "sing." I love the demand for choral singing, the insistence on my presence and engagement and the rejection of my passive listening. I love my child's personality. I love hearing him sing, "winkle, winkle, wittle tar, how I wove you up a bove..." as he tries to keep the melody and remember all those words. I need to videotape, because writing can not capture the pure honey of his voice and innocence.

Tonight, I put Ezra down to sleep and sang "Twinkle, Twinkle," with him. I put my head next to his and he kissed me and I kissed him and I just rubbed my face against his satiny skin, taking him in.

I sometimes can't follow Elijah's winding staccato stories, but I try to keep him talking, so he can practice telling stories and speaking coherently. So much is so urgent for him. I brought him to my job yesterday and he had to use the restroom. Once finished, he flew out of the restroom, "Mama, I have something to tell you. It's really important." I looked at him giving him my very rare full attention. "Someone wrote f*&% Crossland on the bathroom wall." I didn't understand the urgency nor why he believed it was okay to repeat what he had read. But it's kind of humorous to think that the vulgarity I had become used to held a demand for immediate attention and rectification to my seven year old. I quickly told him, in motherly fashion, "don't say that word ever, even though you were reading it, I don't want you to say that word." He agreed, and insisted that I tell the authorities about those words on that wall.

I have forgotten so much over the past 7 and a half years, but I'm working on remembering to be present for them and for myself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Soul Food

I didn't cook anything but the rice & spinach dish. I simply went to Wegman's and bought some Bourbon seasoned salmon and crab stuffed mushrooms to put into the oven. I got veggies, pretzels and dip for my glass partitioned snack tray, that I love but never use. It wasn't really soul food. There were no greens, pork, fried anything, mac n cheese or excesses in anything. I had enough for everyone to eat a perfect portion (not out of any sense of anything, simply because I didn't plan well enough to have extra). And watermelon as opposed to chocolate cake for dessert.

Everything tasted good. It was satisfying without being overwhelming.

But the food that enriched my soul was being with my family: my 82-year old grandpa, my aunt and her two boys, my cousin, his wife and their son, and my kids. It was easy-going and light, but full of spirit and good energy. I only thought how sweet that they still love each other like that, when my cousin's wife reached behind him and put her arms around him. It didn't occur to me until later how great my response was in that brief moment.

It was so good to see my grandfather moving, albeit slowly, but taking in his grands and greatgrands. I see age creeping into his bones and interfering with his energy. I see good genes at work as he traveled all the way from NOLA alone to see his family. I am slightly bothered by his trembling hands as he shows, but loving that he wants to show my teenage cousin how to sketch a face.

I love watching my kids play with their cousins. I believe things work out even when other things fall apart. It's so amazing that my kids have 2 cousins their age to play with and grow up with. It's amazing that they've known each other since birth and are good friends and they have this constant in their lives.

I only had a little watermelon after the evening was over, after everyone had gone home and children were sleeping soundly. I remembered my father, who loved watermelon and whom my brother and I laughed with as children eating watermelon together, while tasting the sweetness of this fruit. I remembered a beautiful day with my family who is still here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

on Language

I think language is failing me or I'm just a failure at language. Maybe it's tone that I fail to accurately convey? I'm playful and light and it's incorrectly identified as a jab that needs to be defended or lack of awareness on my part. I'm serious and the hearer goes into joke mode.

And what's all the more humorous is I'm a language teacher. I help students analyze language, tone, word choice, an author's use of specific strategies for a specific rhetorical function. Yet, I can't seem to effectively apply appropriate language use for my own target audience(s).

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Grading and Being Kind

I have a friend who recently started writing a blog and she gave herself a D in mothering/parenting. I felt so much sadness for her because the amount of stress and heartache she is dealing with means her mothering tactics are shifting and sharpening daily. There is no scale in which to measure mothering under immense stress. I told her, what a friend always reminds me, "be kind to yourself."

But, I catch myself doing the same thing, evaluating how well I'm doing as a mom, beating myself up for not doing this or that, for fussing, for wanting things to be just so. I've lightened up on my tongue lashings, but I'm watching myself shift and sharpen as I navigate these waters. The first part of my journey was a hard, almost hateful, heart-wrenching dump into a murky, muddy ocean. I'm grateful my heart no longer aches. But the stresses continue, they shift and you learn to shift with them-- learning to upright yourself once you fall and continuing with that cyclical pattern of falling and up-righting.

On your good days, you realize you will always fall, and you just "shake it off." On your bad days, you put a noose around your own spirit with mean, evil criticisms that interfere with God sparking/re-igniting His divine flame within you. It's hard to recognize your own unkind words as aggression towards yourself (The Wisdom of No Escape) or plainly put, evil setting up shop in your mind.

I love reading to my 2 year old because he loves books and repeating words and pretending to read on his own. I love reading to/with him, except when I get tired of it and want to read my own magazine or watch t.v. or check email. And then I'm upset with myself for not giving myself over to this curious child who only has me a few hours a day. I'm upset that I don't make my seven year old read more. Reading to him began when he was in utero, and somehow he has fallen in love with legos and out of love with books. And I don't encourage reading because I'm tired, and then I beat myself up again. (This is simply a short list; a portion of what goes on in my home, in my head that I'm willing to be honest about)

I beat myself up, then I remind myself to get rid of the grading scale and just try to be for a little while. I think of how I made Ezra laugh with silly voices and kisses in ticklish spots. I'm proud of myself for taking in his laugh, the dimples near his elbow, the teeth that are taking their time to appear, his beauty, how he's changed, his eyes as they narrow when his whole body becomes engulfed in laughter. I was fully present when I made him laugh.

I think of how I was interested in Elijah's story about the bug that Micheaux accidentally killed. The children found some leaves to cover the dead bug and wrote rip (I didn't ask or correct, I just listened)near his resting place. They named the him Mordecai Something Something, "bugger" for short. "What a long name," I said to show I was really listening, as opposed to my sometimes,"mmmmhmmm," that one day he'll recognize as not really listening. Today, I listened to the story. I made vegetables with dinner tonight. I let Elijah play outside and I brushed the baby's teeth. If I kept going, I would realize how much I've actually done and be all the more kind to myself.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Namaste

Namaste....I've only understood it as a greeting, signaling respect. As I try to be more consistent with yoga, with writing, with being with myself and less checking out in front of the t.v. before bed. I needed to understand more. So, the first wiki article was very technical about how namaste originated in India as a greeting. I found a great Yoga Journal article that further illuminated "The Meaning of Namaste" for me.

The writer broke down the parts, explaining them as "I bow to you." But he went down a road that I've recently been traveling via various writers and modes. He wrote, "We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart."

As I do the yoga poses, I'm in touch with my breath and all parts of my body, in the way that Thich Nhat Hanh encourages in many of his books/teachings (i.e. Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices). I feel different, very mindful of myself, in touch with myself, calm, happy.

At first, I was skeptical when I thought about humans as divine. But, then I read about buddhism, mindfulness (great writers/teachers: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, even Elizabeth Gilbert), and the more I understand Christianity--"we are joint-heirs with Christ," the more I can accept and cherish the idea of surrendering to the Divine in the heart.

Surrendering to that divinity opens up a world of possibilities, that surrendering reveals the weight of God's glory.

Shirley McClain echoed the opening of possibilities when she expressed that we were all psychic if we just let go. I think being in touch with ourselves, the divine part of ourselves opens us up to knowing ourselves, knowing what is in front of us and knowing what will be.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On compassion

Elijah and I were having a conversation about parents doing bad things to their children. I told him about a student whose mother said, "I wish I never had you as a daughter." Elijah considered the statement and asked why the mother would say that, why didn't the mother give the girl up to be adopted and why do parents do bad things to their children???

I explained as best as I could that sometimes parents can't handle their stress, anger, money issues or whatever and take it out on their children. I candidly told him. "sometimes I'm upset you, sometimes I'm upset about other things and may take it out on you. Sometimes, parents do bad things to their kids, though they may not mean to. How do you think that child feels?"

I don't know if he understood. Child abuse, emotional and physical is hard for me to digest; I can't imagine how a seven year makes sense of it.

I gave him kisses and told him to say his prayers. "Dear God, thank you for my mommy and all the things she does for me. Please help that girl's mommy to not say those mean things. Please help that girl. Is there anything you would like to say?"

"Thank you Lord for giving Elijah a good heart. Help him always to care about other people and to love you," through my restrained tears, I added.

Then, of course, I had to explain my tears to this always curious, compassionate child. "I'm crying for the child and I'm crying because you have a good heart, so I'm happy and sad. I love you. Good night."

Not a few minutes later, he was out of bed feeling sad for the child for whom we had just prayed. He might have sought more attention from his doting mother; but nevertheless he'd had a lesson on caring for others, a moment of looking deeply into the situation of our brothers and sisters, (a la Thich Nhat Hanh)---maybe that's the best I can do; explain that we all suffer and we should all show compassion.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On telling stories

I don't know how to share my story without my story becoming me. Or how to be unconcerned with others' perception of my story and by extension, me.

I struggle with revealing my story and feel that I should be cloaked in at once, and hiding from it at the same time. I sometimes prefer the mask and sometimes sheer honesty. I'm moving towards letting my story speak, and writing it so that I have control of it. People will choose to think and see what they will; if only I could remember and take to heart, "what other people think of me is none of my business." And rationally that makes sense; emotionally, however, I'm still working on that.

I can only control how I share my story and how I rewrite it as I go along. I control who I am in my eyes only.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

On searching for God's eyes and heart...

Between dropping the second child off and arriving at work, I try to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for the day at school. I either listen to a little NPR or some calming, spiritual music. I talk to God a little bit or mostly just try to listen to Him. I may chant or sing.

Right now, I'm loving Brandon Heath's, "give me your eyes so that I can see, give me your heart for the ones forgotten..." I don't know what I'm doing at work in terms of teaching, I know I hold people's heartache and sometimes their difficulties threaten to throw me off balance. The boy who didn't graduate because he didn't fulfill his requirements of passing the high-stakes assessment returns in a depressed state with no vision for his future, crying in the halls of the school that would have been his alma mater on a recent visit. I do my best to blink back tears as he tells his story. He isn't free with everyone and I seek help in trying to help him. I don't know if I can do anything for this kid, but let him know I'm there. I don't know if my presence is enough.

Or the petite, studious, kind, cute girl who read The Autobiography of Malcolm X ahead of schedule who struggles with her mother's indictment that she is the worst child and who alleges it is this 16 year old's fault that the mother is in life long care because 8 years ago the family was in a life-altering car accident. I encourage the child and want to take her home and be her mother, but I know it's not possible right now. I don't know what's possible.

I don't know what is possible when I choose for my students Malcolm X and they fall asleep while reading and refuse to read at home. I pushed myself through The Scarlett Letter and The Grapes of Wrath in high school. I don't know how to inspire the unmotivated. Thus, I don't know what to do, even after I plan the great lessons and grade the horrendous papers. I don't know the purpose of my being in that school, so I imagine it has something to do with my heart and eyes.

Though sometimes, I wind up insanely depressed by the stories and sadness.
I drive to school, singing, chanting, praying, thinking...and I round the corner and recall that a student had to be taken from the building by ambulance because of the severe beating he endured on the previous day, I shudder and feel that the my car-preparation in an instant has vanished.

I walk in the building and no one is genuinely happy; people are angry about the students, lack of motivation, lack of toner, lack of support, other teachers, administration and the list goes on. I hear myself join in the chorus of whining and sometimes step out for a solo. I hate hearing all of the voices causing confusion and chaos. I don't know why I'm here or what I'm supposed to do.

I leave the building at the end of the day defeated and unhappy, not sure what I did for that day. I try to calm down before picking up my kids and going home. I try to receive from God some divine intervention, inspiration, idea... I don't know what I'm supposed to do or see, but I know God knows, so I keep asking.

"Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the brokenhearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me your heart for those forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see"
---Brandon Heath's Give me your eyes chorus lyrics.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On Receiving and Giving

There is something so delightfully surprising and wonderful in receiving when you least expect it even when it's from people who you know think of you and love you and are in your lives quite frequently. But sometimes the best gift is from someone whom you love and loves you in return but she is far away and you never would have imagined a beautiful surprise from this person. It's not really the gift, though my tulips on a really difficult Valentines day from my dear cousin were so beautiful, it's that she thought of me and took time to share her thoughts and love with me across the miles. It's the unexpectedness and the love...

And my other surprises were so lovely, but they all added up to this amazing sum of's wonderful to feel loved.

I had this opportunity to share my love with neighbors who lost their father & husband. There is something in giving that touches the giver. I think Elijah was so touched when our neighbor teared up when he hugged her, that he knew to give her another hug. There is something in being able to touch someone for a moment and make a mark in their memory that lasts a lifetime.

The beauty in giving and receiving is living, breathing poetry for the soul.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On watching Ezra turn two...

I've been watching him more intently these last few months. His tantrums grew more intense, his ability and desire to sit through a book grew longer, his eyelashes seemed longer, his giddiness at getting a cup of milk or a "nack" more fun to behold, he has been turning two for a while now.

But today is the anniversary of his birth.

Early this morning, he got out of his bed and came to my room, "mom, mama," he said as he peered through the crack in my door. I said, come in, and he ran over and reached for me to pull him into bed with me. He climbed in and began to count to ten for me, upon reaching 10, he said "ten, ten, ten, ten," opening and closing his fingers. Then he let me know he is fully aware of his body parts, moving from head, to eyes, mouth, teeth, nose, ears, fingers, legs and feet, labeling them all for me.

He nuzzled his sweet face under my neck, making sure our faces were able to love each other for a little while. And I just breathed him in and remembered staring at him in my hospital bed two years ago.

As I watched him as a newborn, trying to figure out all of the colors in his eyes, I asked that time slow down. And over the course of the two years, I came to realize that I was responsible for slowing down time by taking in my child as slowly and often as I could.

I heard him make the "g" sound for the first time last week. He moved from saying, "all done" to "all gone." As family and friends say happy birthday to him, he responds, "happy birday" back. I guess it sounds like a greeting, similar to good morning, maybe. He wasn't sure about the candle in his waffle this morning and after his brother and I sang and said blow, he finally pushed enough air through his sweet little lips to extinguish the flame.

He will take my hand off the keyboard when I'm typing and reach to be picked up or he'll take my hand and place his cup in my hand entreating me to get him more milk. The cutenesses of this kid are too numerous to name, but oh, wait until I tell him to do something, he'll stonewall me, by staring at something facing the other direction, deliberately and stubbornly ignoring my requests or demands.

I watched him sleep the other day, and couldn't believe how long he had grown as he stretched out in his bed. And just last night, I let him fall asleep in my arms, so I could see if his face still held traces of the newborn I fell in love with two years ago. His eyelids resting on his big beautiful eyes and his eyelashes kissing his cherub cheeks nodded to the brand new baby who graced my life two years ago. But his chubby cheeks and wrinkled brow said, hello 2! Goodbye baby!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On writing and narrating stories

We all write ourselves into something... our destiny, our relationships, our image of ourselves.

Sometimes our image of ourselves relies heavily on tearing other people down to build ourselves up, to reinforce how we want to be seen or how we believe we are seen. Some people write fictional narratives to justify their choices, to make themselves look better in the eyes of others, in their own eyes. These people refuse to see anything else other than what they've written about themselves and others, forsaking logic and honesty.

Other times, we nourish others, listen, try to reason, be honest and try to be peaceful in order to reinforce how we want our story to go.

Of course there are many in-betweens...

Some people choose a career and a path at an early age. One of my good friends decided to be an ob/gyn as a teenager and chose to have a big family. She's now practicing in the field she chose for herself and just added her fourth child to her family. She's been with her husband for twenty years and they are only in their early thirties. I've found beauty and inspiration in her strength to move through her tragedy to continue towards the destiny she chose for herself.

After recalling her story and experiencing my own tragic experience, I'm revising what I've allowed to be written for me. I've had many people give both solicited and unsolicited input on what my story should look like. Many people had good intentions and spoke with love. Only a small few, wrote a narrative so false, so ugly, to tear me down to build themselves up. For a while I bought into the narrative and believed portions of the story, questioning myself, my choices.

I'm remembering these people who write untruths do so to bolster their own narratives which bolsters their egos. These narcissists who write whatever they choose whenever they choose do so for themselves only. These people from whom I'd like to escape, but they've written themselves in such a way, that they will always be present. All I can do is remember the truth about these people.

As I remember the truth, I revise their place in my own narrative.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On authenticity

I've spent a great deal of my life being fake, pretending, being inauthentic. The reasons vary: to keep the peace, to shove the situation under the rug, to not be called names, to not hurt someone's feelings, it's easier.

And though I am grateful for this new space to be completely me...I realize with some people in my circle, authenticity can not exist. I grow, become more myself, yet, I still lie to keep the peace. I quietly accept lies in order not to aggravate the situation. I am quiet and pretend to accept someone's lies in order to maintain some faux sense of ...

I am more grateful than ever for those with whom I can be authentic and truly trust...I am hopeful that this group will continue to grow. I need authentic relationships and people to balance out the inauthentic ones and to help me to keep growing and becoming me.

On reading to little people

Ezra grabs my heart when he grabs a book, brings it to me and says, "book." And I remember so fondly reading this same books to Elijah at this age. And they both loved hearing the stories, my sing-song voice, the pictures, the red balloon and the old lady whispering hush, the 3 plums, four oranges, the crickets and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, and Please, Baby, Please.

They also both turned the pages of the books before I finished reading the page or grabbed more books for me to read, when I finished one. I love looking at Ezra's eyes gaze with wonder at the pictures as I read and point. It's a small thing, but it's a beautiful moment in our hectic lives.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On being 7

For the last two days, Elijah has been wiggling this loose tooth, hoping it would fall out. Last night, I tried to twist it for him; but I just wasn't up to the task.

As we witnessed the first droplets of blood, I thought it was time. "If you keep wiggling it, it will come out." He did. And I was so proud that he was persistent, he was determined and was not afraid of the blood, was not afraid of hurting himself. I love these things about this little boy, in addition to the way his imagination works. He was seven! His new independence had come in full force..just like his two year old brother who insists on feeding himself, despite how little makes it to his mouth or pushes himself out of the chair and onto the floor when he is unable to assert and be rewarded for his new independence.

The parallels between these two ages is remarkable.

My seven year old's mind went to work explaining how his classmates wanted to know if the tooth fairy would come and how much money he would get.

Elijah took a trip into the recesses of his imagination and then detoured into logic-ville with his desire for rationale explanations he questioned the existence of fairies. (This same child insisted that Santa Claus was real when I told him Santa didn't exist. This child told me to listen to the Christmas songs and that proved Santa was real) He got to thinking and talking, "I wonder when will the tooth fairy come? midnight? How does she get the money to give me? Does she turn into someone and then go to the bank to get the money and then turn back into herself? Does she buy the money? I bet her house is made of tooths, I mean teeth. I think her doorknob is one big tooth... I'm going to wake up early in the morning to see what I got."

I let him call his grandmother and she fueled his excitement by saying maybe the tooth fairy would give him a lot of money since he pulled the tooth out himself. She seemed to forget our most recent conversation about the energy bill.

I snatched a single from Elijah's birthday money that I had put away for him to spend in February and slid it under his pillow. He spoke unintelligibly as I lifted his head and felt for the Ziplock baggie.

I rubbed some ointment on his itchy skin, kissed him good night and felt blessed.