Monday, July 31, 2006

Blog Anxiety

…and here I was, so anxious about starting a blog, revealing (sort of) myself to the world. Reluctantly exposing my writing self, my personal self (well, my age maybe), and my opinions (right, like I’m the only person with one of those). Since I’ve begun this blogging gig, I realize that every person in the free world has a blog. Millions of people are exposing themselves, butt nekked, in cyberspace for all to observe. And, while I’ve chosen not to use my name, the chances of anyone I know just accidentally coming across my space and shrieking, “I can’t believe she’s talking about me on the Internet!” are pretty slim to none. So, now I think I can relax about that.

What is most interesting about blogs are the titles that people give to them. Initially, I wanted to call this one Reluctant Blogger, but then found that I was not the only paranoid, schizoid blogger, and just went with what has inspired me. Among the blog names I find creative and clever are A Whole Lot of Nothing, If You Close Your Eyes and Try Hard Its Like You’re Not Even Here (yes, all of that), an MP3 blog called Said The Gramaphone, Croaking Marley, and Elegant Variation.

Even more vexing than collecting blog titles, is sitting for hours at the computer going from blog to blog, reading until my eyes glaze over. I mean there are millions of them! It is a whole ‘nother level of surfing the net. It’s a world where opinions really are like assholes…but is anybody listening?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Slavery As Literature

In response to the recent New York Times list of the Best American Fiction in the last twenty-five years, a blogger asked the question: “Is it me, or does a Black writer need to write about slavery to get "on the map?" Apparently, only two African-Americans, Toni Morrison and Edward P. Jones made the lists. And, while I have my own suspicions about why that may be, that is a discussion for another time and another post. Meanwhile, the institution of slavery, and the society which gave birth to such horrendous events, has been the source of many tales both historical and fictional, with a blended cornicopia of storylines and factual details that make for romantic and not so romantic ideas, not only about our history as Africans in America, but also about this country’s rough and rugged beginnings.

My fascination with American history was only recently ignited in a required history class concerning the United States before 1877. No, actually it began with a World history class where the discoveries of ancient literatures of the world are interwoven with the records of the culture and politics of the societies in antiquity. While records gives us (what we believe are) the facts, literature fills in the gaps and aids in aleviating the mysteries of who we are, how we got here, and where are we going. It would seem to me that history and literature go hand in hand.
A required book review, which I chose to do about the book American Slavery, American Freedom, brought into focus the reality of how closely intertwined and how relevant our presence was in this country at such a crucial point in time. Slave narratives such as The Bondswoman’s Narrative, Clotel or The President’s Daughter, The Autobiography of Fredrick Douglas, even Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the stories collected from former slaves in interviews sponsored by the Federal Writers’ Project during the 1930s, paint real or imagined ideas of what it was to be African in a country searching for it’s own identity outside of Europe. They help us to understand and believe that our lives and our stories are compelling and universal in terms of struggle, sacrafice, passion, hope and liberty.
The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, tells the story of slaves owned by a black man who had also been a slave. That’s a brain journey if ever there was one, not to mention the hundreds of blacks who lived free, in the south, during slavery. The history of Fort Mose at St. Augustine in Florida is a starting point for yet another story, or the last clipper ship that brought as many as 160 African slaves illegally to Mobile, Alabama from the Gulf of Guinea in western Africa. And, whose descendents still survive in Africatown, U.S.A.
Of course, our contemporary stories are important too. But, our history as Americans has been a unique, to say the least, journey and experience unlike any other Africans in history. And, it is worth telling over and over again until we can all heal, celebrate and walk upon this land with authority.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Warning: Providence Moving

One of my most cherished couplets is included in the writings of William Hutchison Murray, a Scottish writer and mountain climber, who chronicled his experiences in many books about the art and craft of climbing. It is a passage in his 1951 book titled, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, and incorporates the verse most often associated with Germany’s Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The couplet reads:

'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'

It is an incredibly inspiring and empowering thing to remember when attempting to do what everybody says you can’t, or shouldn’t. And, if you are of any faith at all, it is the entirety of the piece that truly gives power to whatever endeavour you choose.

In the past, I have worked as a hotel housekeeper, a custodian, a security guard, a sales clerk, and a reservations agent. I’ve flipped burgers, fried chicken, answered phones and thrown newspapers in the middle of the night. So many times, I’ve been employed in places where I have to remind myself that, “This is not who I am, this is what I do.” Now, I am excited to announce that I am ‘The Oldest Intern’. And, for the first time I will be working in an environment that will, in a small, first-step kind of way, affirm who I am: a writer. In addition to working for a local newspaper, I am also been considered for a position with my school’s newspaper as the Managing Editor, and eventually the Editor-In-Chief. This position, though only a student position, comes with a small stipend, which I would gladly accept. It is a position that I’d wondered about before, but because I was so ‘caught up’ with the day-to-day nonsense of the job, I never really had time or energy to pursue it. Now, with my resignation day close at hand (one week!), and my mind and spirit at ease, opened to new blessings and possibilities, this proposition just dropped into my email. I once heard someone say something like, ‘grace is what happens when you’ve tried the very best that you can, and then the universe steps in to help.’

I believe it.

from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, 1951
By: W.H. Murray

Until one is committed there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself,then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour
all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamt would come his way.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:'
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Trethewey's Ophelia

Tender like new fallen snow at midnight, the imagined life of Natasha Trethewey’s Ophelia melts upon the lips like Godiva chocolates. Bellocq’s Ophelia, published in 2002, is a collection of poems inspired by the eloquent black and white images of a “white-skinned black” prostitute photographed in the early 1900’s by E. J. Bellocq, and collected in the book, Storyville Portraits. I am fascinated with Trethewey’s use of poetry to tell a story, so compelling, and so lovely. Ophelia, at first, seems delicate and easily broken, but as verse flows, so does Ophelia, heroically transforming into womanhood, into photographer, and into survival. She sees in the world what the camera captures in us all; our thoughts, our secrets, our passions, and our sorrows. Through Trethewey’s words, Ophelia is made beautiful once again permeating the quiet determination of her song. A New Orleans backdrop drew me to this collection; the soft, sensual undertones of unspoken occultism, the subtle resonance of wash board jazz, and the intense images of sepia photographs which this work induces has earned it’s place on my nightstand.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Back Against the Wall

The Man Whose Back is Against the Wall
Libyan poet Muhammad Al-Fayturi
(translation by As'ad AbuKhalil “The Angry Arab” )

"For whom?
I embrace fire while dead...
and fight
I, who have no land, no country
no face, no time
no glory, no price
For whom?
Your eyes spit in my eyes..
I am the fugitive..
Stare in my eyes as you wish
Say that I was a coward
that I was weak
Cry over my birth
Raise your quivering hands
to the sky
If only you searched my soul..
my blood..
You will only findrejection and contempt
I hate you all..
Do not beg..
Do not smile..
Your dry smile..
only fills me with contempt
for you
A rock I am,
so do not call
I condemn you all,
you clowns
I do not make exceptions..
In the name of your glory,
my nation is clothed
in mourning
And in the dust of your horses,
my homeland was lost!
...My cause is mine alone
and after me, there is fire"


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Passing of Our Own Literary Tradition

Besides my reading list for the summer of books I actually do plan to finish, are a hand full of books that I just want to pick up and become familiar with, and maybe at some later date I can actually read them. A few of them are some books my advisor at school suggested that I look at. My advisor, who is an unnatural, horn-rimmed, southern, blond with a Ph.D. from Florida State, has a thing, not just for women writers, but also for Black women writers. She is encouraging me to pursue my graduate studies in African-American literature, and is the one who placed The Bondwoman’s Narrative and Clotel or The President’s Daughter (both slave narratives) in my hand, and both of which she teaches in her American Literature classes. As a bonus she also gave me Ar’n’t I a Woman? by Deborah Gray White, Black Women Writers: 1950-1980 by Mari Evans, and Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers by Barbara Christian.

I was going over “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, an early essay on theory by T.S. Elliot, contemplating what makes a writer traditional. In his essay, Elliot says what makes a writer traditional is a sense of the historical, “which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal…” which is not a blind following of the ways of the immediate generation before us, but that it is a “perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence…” I want to cultivate in my writing and study of literature that sense of the historical; from all the literature of the world; from The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer and Beowulf to Song of Solomon, A Prayer For Owen Meany, and Breath, Eyes, Memory. So, with this in mind, I picked up Black Feminist Criticism by Barbara Christian, published in 1985. I thumbed through it’s pages, it’s table of contents which lists a collection of essays on the works of mostly Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, along with other Sister writers; Audre Lorde, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, and Gwendolyn Brooks. I glanced at the back cover, where Christian, looking hip as ever with her TWA (teenie, weenie, afro), and an intriguing gap in her teeth, in the varying shades of a black and white photo. I read her bio and wondered, where is she now? So, I did what anyone with an Internet connection would do: I Googled her.

As what some might call a “late bloomer”, I’m catching up on a lot of reading that I probably should have done in high school. And because I am only now beginning to learn and understand this other planet called English Studies, I feel that there is so much and so many to discover. Sometimes I’m afraid there won’t be enough time for me to catch up. I knew about Endesha Ida Mae Holland who transitioned in January. Her “From the Mississippi Delta” which chronicled her journey from prostitution and poverty to Ph.D. is one of my many inspirations for returning to academia. But, then there was Octavia Butler, and Nellie McKay, whom I’d not known about, but was moved to send a donation to a Lorraine Hansberry Visiting Professorship fund in her name. I’ve felt cheated. These Black women, literary warriors are leaving just when I am able to get my bearings. Then, I Googled Barbara Christian, and the first item was; you guessed it, another obituary. I’ve missed Christian by six years.

My sense of the historical is coming along. I don’t want to be compartmentalized in a literary sub-culture, but as a Black woman writer in the shadows of women, so accomplished and diligent, who may only be recognized by those of us studying them, I can’t help but feel an enormous responsibility to step in, to learn, to teach and to write for our place, as a species and a people, among the literary whole.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Non-Traditional Student

Pushing ambition at six p.m.
Upon a rickety cart filled with dusty rags,
And toilet bowl cleaner,
Leaving little room for either.
The stench of contentment all around.
Balancing anxiety and fortitude
On a tray of vodka martinis,
Aching eyelids, resilient smile.
“Would you like an apple pie with your order?”
Three semester hours, or an internship?
One week of overtime,
Will buy the book for Calculus Two.
Aspirin eases tension from a tired body,
Pizza calms the angst of a History test.
Will offspring’s value the sacrifice?
Snooze buttons award nine more minutes of rest.
Ambition pushes at four a.m.


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Four AM

My countdown has begun.
There is, I think, a lonely sadness in choosing to walk away from something, someone, or someplace that you’ve become accustomed to. Like toxic relationships, or smoking, or Friday night parties, or fried chicken, or Pentecostal churches, or jobs, even if you don’t think it’s good for you, or meant for you, if you’ve relied on it for any amount of time for money, a high, a vice of any kind, then walking away can be sad. Because of a class for work that I was already scheduled to attend, the last few weeks of my employment has required a change in my schedule from the graveyard shift to days. So, not only are my sleeping patterns chaotic right now, but I am waking up way before daylight with many things occupying my thoughts. At about 4a.m. I stir, and maybe go to the bathroom. Then, I lay wide-eyed and awake, next to my beloved, listening to his deep and musical slumber, contemplating storylines, how many classes I can take in the fall and still make good grades, what to cook for dinner, how to tell my supervisor that I quit without being tricked into talking too much about what I didn’t like about the job, about the internship, getting into graduate school, and making a commitment not to eat to much today. Finally, I get up, make a cup of coffee, and begin to write or read. Whether I get up at three, four or five in the morning, or stay up until two, three or four in the morning, this is always a good time for reading or writing; the hour of God, while everything else is still at peace/rest. Anyway, my day has begun, and writing has, as always, calmed my fears.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So Many Books, Not Enough Time

There is an episode of The Twilght Zone, titled "Time Enough At Last" starring Burgess Meridith, in which he portrays a bank teller who loves books, but never has enough time to read. His bifocaled character, Henry Bemis, wishes for and is granted enough time to finally read all the glorious books he wants when a nuclear attack leaves him the last man on earth; stuck in a library. The problem is that when he realizes what has happened, he clumsily drops his eyeglasses, shattering them to pieces. So, now he has all these books, all this time, and no way to read. What a bummer. That's how I feel during the school semester. I have so much to read for classes that I don't have time for fun (read mostly fiction) reading. I usually don't take more than one class during the summer, so that's the time for my fun reading. And, this summer, I didn't sign up for any classes at all in preparation for my big move to full-time student in the fall. So, I've got a big summer reading list. I've already finished The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticant, and I'm almost done with The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts, and edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. But, it's already July! School begins in August, and I still have more to go.

The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticant
The Bondwoman's Narrative, Hannah Crafts
The Known World, Edward P. Jones
Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynne Truss
Beginning Theory, Peter Barry
Clotel or The President's Daughter, William Wells Brown
Bellocq's Ophelia, Natasha Tretheway
And, if I can get to them...

Our Nig, Harriett Wilson (also edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
1996, Gloria Naylor

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Oldest Intern

I had an interview for an internship this morning with a local, Atlanta newspaper. I imagined Wanda Sykes in the starring role of a comedy about a forty-something year old intern delivering a joke about having shoes older than her twenty-two year old, blond, girl-next-door boss, on a date with a co-worker fifteen years her junior, and winning the admiration of a generation X staff for having delivered a lunch of home-cooked fried chicken, red beans and rice, collard greens and corn bread.

I had to drive to downtown Atlanta in the morning rush, which meant I had to leave home at least an hour and a half early to make a trip that in normal traffic would have only taken thirty minutes. I reminded myself that if I got the internship I’d have to make that trip twice a week. I managed to get there about ten minutes early to take in the glass, concrete and steel, warehoused newspaper environs.

She was about fifteen minutes late. My interviewer was neither blond nor girl-next-door. She was, I believe, maybe ten years younger, with short twists and a no-nonsense personality. When I told her about my decision to leave my job, her immediate response was, “don’t give up those benefits,” which I didn’t expect to hear, but then she mentioned something about being ex-military. My soon-to-be ex-job is infested with ex-military and a “got to have those government benefits” mentality, so I privately excused her.

The job would mostly consists of typing in the information for upcoming events, no real or guaranteed opportunities for writing, unless like a couple of interns you are a real go-getter, or you bug the hell out of someone. (Perhaps I will get one of those chances.) And, of course its not a paid internship, but “we still expect you to be on time”. Then, she sprung it on me: a spelling test and, one of those ‘editing’ test where you have to make sure a comma is in the right place, “achieve”, hmmm, “ ‘i’ before e except after ‘c’” I felt like I had to prove I was an English major.

All in all I felt good about the interview. I believe I have just as good a chance as any college student. Although sometimes I think my age and maturity gives me a better chance in some situations. Even if I don’t get much of a chance to write, I’d like to be in the environment for the experience, networking purposes and a resume builder.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

On Risk Taking and Anxiety

Going to work everyday, I literally began to feel hopeless.
I know I need to work on my writing, and I am still developing
the confidence that I have any real talent or skills. I just know I
need the chance to work on it. I’ve been working full-time, going to
school part-time, and it is very frustrating. Although many people
work, and go to school at the same time, just being in the “just ten
more years until I retire” environment of a government job is agonizing
and depressing. I want to do something more. Like a lot of people, I’ve
talked about leaving my job to do what I’ve always wanted to do: write.
My work skills are minimal at best (I’m a damn good typist), but nowhere
except with the United States government could I make the money I do,
with benefits that are almost obsolete in the real world, without a degree.
I know if I leave, I may never have a job this good again, unless of course,
I go back. But, if I become full-time in school now, I can have a
Bachelors degree in a year and a half, (a Masters in three and a half, if I
plan it right). School is important because, I don’t want to just make money
writing. I want to study the history and forms of literature, theory and
criticism, maybe teach on the college level, and have opportunities to write
in areas that would require a degree. I want the credentials.
So, at 43, once again in my life, I am throwing caution to the proverbial wind.

There is no way to know if the decisions we make will be the correct one.
Even the decision not to make a decision will still generate an effect.
It is a cause to not make a cause. Do risk takers feel anxiety? A month
from now, I will be risking some things to pursue my dream and goal of
completing my education to become a writer. I will leave the security of a
good job for financial instability, at a time in my life where I should be
creating a nest egg, in the pursuit of a career that I should have achieved years
ago. Unless one is already financially independent, there is no perfect time
to leave a job to go to school. And, yet I stand at the threshold of another
opportunity to live the life and achieve the dreams of my youth. I want to
prove to the cosmos that I am conscious of my worth in the universe;
that I am capable of reaching the potential it has reserved for me.
Am I anxious?
But, I’m ready.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

'Fenna Ain't A Word

As Americans who’ve survived and descended from those who were torn away from our own languages, and who under duress, was compelled to learn the language of our captors, it is a miracle that we speak English as well as we do. My colleagues often laugh when they are witness to my relatively consistent use of the word ‘fenna’, (‘fena’, ‘finna’, ‘fina’, spelling notwithstanding), a word I use unashamedly, despite my dogged pursuit of a bachelors degree in English. It is a word that I claim for myself to declare or emphasize my intention and determination; “I’m ‘fenna get me a degree in English, if it’s the last thing I do,” or “I’m ‘fenna get me something to eat,” or the ever popular, “I’m ‘fenna go.” When those around me enthusiastically race to remind me that I am an English major, I have a ready-made explanation that I pontificate, half serious, half joking. I tell them that in order to be qualified to employ a word such as ‘fenna (or, fixin’depending on what part of the south your folks come from, or ain’t, or y’all, or whatseneva, etc., etc.), you must already have a thorough knowledge and an intimate understanding of the English language as taught by the descendents of England and her profiteers, entrepreneurs and settlers in this country. You can’t use the word ‘fenna without understanding the implications of being ‘about to do something’, having the strength of will, as in “I’m ‘fenna get my freedom.” Or, when your Mama says you “ain’t gone get no peach cobbla ‘til you clean up that mess,” she means you won’t even be able to smell it until you do what she says. And when a double negative is used, (“ain’t gone get no”) you know she means it, so you commence to cleaning.
On an old Oprah Winfry show, there was a discussion about the use of what is now commonly called, Ebonics. (I marvel because the spell check on my computer only forms a squiggly red line under Ebonics when I don’t use a capital E.) However, I don’t prefer the term ‘Ebonics’, because that seems to imply that it is something other than English. It is a vernacular, an English ‘Creole’ of sorts, and I simply prefer African-American English. A gentleman in the audience reminded everyone about the historical flexibility, adaptability and versatility of African-Americans when he said, “…We can speak Ebonics, we can speak the king’s English, we can parlais vous Français if we need to…” affirming that we are a strong people, capable of changing in whatever ways necessary to survive.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Summer, 2006

Twirling, whirling,
A rotund, spiral of rainbows
Culminating in a fuzzy, memorial blur of
Burning ashes dangling from waxy,
Bubble lips, stained with Crayola red lipstick,
Back porch bar-b-ques, chicken and ribs
Piled high on Mama’s good platters,
And, Uncle Poindexters greasy fingertips beneath
Her dress pinching her chubby butt.

She used to be a fat lady in a circus,
With all her deformities readily on display
In the bemused, clash of colors that Miss Millie patched
Together from the drapery of the old Majestic Theatre
In Jasper County, and the discarded
Sparkling, scraps of the skinny girl on the trapeze.
Sewn in too was the memory of Hillard’s
Bucked teeth, mocking her interest in him,
And, panties with the days of the week
Not in her size.