Friday, March 23, 2007

Adventures of a Non-Traditional Student: Oh the Places You Will Go

I’m at the point in my student career where, okay let’s face it: it’s time to make a couple of dollars. I was beginning to feel like I need to have some kind of steady cheddar (income), and besides that, my loan money is running out. I decided to try and get a job on campus. I could work it in-between classes; I gotta go on campus anyway, so I’d save on gas. And, I could study in-between. I tried for a student stipend-ed position, but didn’t get it. Then, I applied for a position in the Office of Student Affairs; that’ll look good on my grad school application. Well, that fell through also. So, I thought: Starbucks! I’ve worked at Starbucks before, and that was one of my favorite jobs. They’ve just opened one a mile from my house, I can work the hours around my schedule, and I am still in touch with the cool young lady who used to be my supervisor, who is now a district manager, and I could probably get in quickly.

Well, the day I delivered my application to Starbucks, AE, the very cosmopolitan young lady I attended AWP with, called and asked, “Are you still interested in my spot in the President’s Office?” I thought, Starbucks who? Any way, it turns out that AE, who currently works in the President’s Office, will be transferring to a bigger University next fall. I’d forgotten that she’d told me she’d refer me to her boss as a possible replacement. Well, she referred me, and I started training today! I was a little nervous because, well, it’s the President’s Office. In several semesters of being back in school, I’d never even looked in the President’s Office, let alone seek a job there. It doesn’t pay much, because it’s a student position. But, I’ll be greeting the school’s VPs, deans and whatnot throughout the week, helping to keep the President abreast of his meetings, sorting mail, and making coffee, etc. And, the best parts: I can study while I’m there, and man, that’s gonna look good on my grad school application.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The Winds of Civil Rights Change

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I become a little idealistic within earshot of a skilled orator, espousing rhetoric that moves even the most politically lacking individual to action. I grew up in ‘The Church’, and though Christianity is no longer my first religious language, I know a good preacher when I hear one. And, while the Reverend Al Sharpton has been dismissed as an “opportunist” and a “publicity seeker”, he is among the few that can without a doubt successfully draw attention to issues concerning black people.

So, you ever get the feeling that a prophetic wind is blowing and you just want to be in its path? I had that feeling this weekend, and wanted to be in the room when Reverend Sharpton spoke. It was more like, I didn’t want to be like those who dismissed Martin Luther King, Jr. and decided to stay home and play dominoes when he marched in Selma. I didn’t want to miss out on a potentially historical moment. So I attended a rally for the National Action Network’s newest Atlanta Chapter. NAN is a “political, social, and activist-oriented organization” founded by Sharpton, and he was in southwest Atlanta to help promote the organization’s local group. The Atlanta Chapter leadership, founded by Marcus Coleman, is surprisingly youthful, professional and seems as full of promise as was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was at its inception.

During his visit and recently on his syndicated talk radio show, “Keeping It Real”, Sharpton has suggested that some African Americans have become so economically comfortable that they don’t believe there’s anything left to fight for. I propose, also, that there is an uncomfortable divide between African American haves and have-nots that we rarely, if ever talk about. Or, is it that maybe our forgotten connections to one another run deeper than we care to consider?

If nothing else, Sharpton’s political preaching skills sends listeners off with some social and political food for thought and conversation. He drew an uneasy laughter from the crowd when in reference to computers and the internet he said, “We have fifty ways to communicate, and nothing to say.” He did not mean it as a joke, but a reprimand. Sharpton kept it real indeed when he told the crowd that “we must use the commitment and dedication of our grandmothers,” who incidentally, did not have the benefit of modern technology in their struggle for civil rights.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Interpretation of Dreams and Research

It is not possible (I think) to be studying Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Psychoanalytical Theory without paying close attention to my own unconscious night scouring. That dreams (according to Freud) are a free association of events and repressed memories from the course of the day, or several days leading up to the dream, is beginning to seem plausible. Throw in the suppressed fear of a missed period and test anxiety from the guilt of not having studied, and you’ve got yourself some dream food. But, back to this in a minute.

While the research I am doing on the history of St. Louis and its African Americans sometimes has to take a backseat to Theory, Biology and the other degree required necessities, the fact that I’ve decided to do my senior thesis on a little known, less analyzed, female author of a slave narrative from St. Louis, has given me an immediate outlet for studying the stuff I really want to be studying right now. But, now, surfing the internet is a funny and miraculous thing. It’s sort of like free association in that, I could be looking for one subject, and something on that page could prompt me to look for something, not quite, altogether different. So that by the time I shut off my computer for the night, I’ve learn a whole bunch of stuff! It’s kinda fun, you should try it sometimes….Okay, so I don’t spend my spring break in Cancun, or in downtown Atlanta trying to revive Freaknic, but research can be fun too.

So, last night I’m trying, as best I can, to follow a virtual paper trail of my subjects’ personal and professional associations, but then I also come across a
timeline for African American history in St. Louis which includes among other things the year the Missouri State Penitentiary was integrated, 1973 (a rather disturbing piece of history there), the year St. Louis TV personality, Debbye Turner became Miss America, 1990, and the year The Colored Aristocracy in St. Louis, which profiled St. Louis’ free African American society, was published by Cyprian Clamorgan, 1858. Now that sounded like a book I need to get my hands on, and what do you know, I was able to order it through the interlibrary loan program in the schools' library. So much information, so little time.

Now, back to Freud. Last night I dreamed that I was at my cousin’s house (in St. Louis). And, there was some kind of landscaping or construction company digging up the connecting backyards throughout her subdivision, but by the time she got home they hadn’t finished…so, there were all of these houses with their yards dug up, just layers and layers of dirt. When I took my cousin to her backdoor to see what the construction company had done, all of the neighbors’ dogs were digging more holes in their yards…and, the one directly behind us had dug a hole beneath the fence and was happily moving back and forth between the yards. Could it be that my dream is a confirmation of my unearthing the valuable information that I seek? That I am happily navigating from one buried treasure to the next? Hmmmm…..

In the dream, I was also making tuna salad with caramelized onions and cream cheese, but I don’t think that has anything to do with St. Louis history.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

My First Conference!

Spring Break is upon us, and I attended my first writer’s conference! And while from the outside looking in it had the feel of being an environment poised to legitimize what we do (or want to do) with our lives, from the inside it felt absolutely validating, like home, giving me permission to be my literary/creative self. I was invited to attend the conference by my gutsy, Southern, blond advisor who I now know is in my life at this moment for a reason. She understands and supports my ambition, my vision and my writing, which for a student and writer beginning a journey at age 44 is a valuable commodity. She is bold, unapologetic and encouraging. She is decidedly my mentor. On the other end of the spectrum was fellow student, AE, a tall, very young, but very mature, lady who at first glance seems New York-ish, dare I say too sophisticated for a small university in Georgia. She is among those youthful, brazen colleagues who continuously teach me a thing or two about expecting to get exactly what I want without blinking. Between sessions, we navigated our way through the Peachtree Center Mall to Spring Street, and lunched at Haveli’s, an Indian restaurant in downtown Atlanta.

The conference consisted of countless sessions, panel discussions, and workshop events, many of which were happening simultaneously, which made it a little difficult to chose one to attend. Honestly, I started out not really expecting to be inspired, but I found a little something in all the sessions I attended. There was the reading which featured writers celebrated by the Southern Women Writers Conference held annually at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. One African American woman would have made the panel diverse, but Judith Cofer, a Puerto Rican writer who is also an English professor at the University of Georgia, provided the spice in an otherwise bland reading by Southern women. We also attended a session where small press publishers talked about their efforts to promote fiction chapbooks, which is a great alternative to publishing in journals or anthologies as a way of promoting one’s work. Included were Eric Delehoy of Gertrude Press and Carmen Gimenez Smith of Noemi Press.

I had not intended to go a second day, but AE convinced me to attend the conference on Friday, and I was inspired a little by Robert Olen Butler who teaches creative writing at Florida State University. He’s not readily embraced by faculty so much though, because of his encouragement to students to ignore the stuff that they learn in literature and theory classes. Although I believe in having a strong foundation, I thoroughly agree with him that art is born from dreams and the unconscious, not from the mind, (although they are perhaps “formed” in the mind). After he spoke, I left that session in time to hear Rita Dove read her work. Dove has been the U.S. Poet Laureate 1993-1995, and also for the Common Wealth of Virginia 2004-2006. She also enjoys ballroom dancing! One big highlight for me was, (although I didn’t get to the New Voices of the South in time to hear her read), that I met the lovely Natasha Trethewey, Emory University professor and author of Bellocq’s Ophelia, which I loved. We learned that we have a mutual acquaintance (a friend of hers and my ex-creative writing professor), and I let her know that I’m working my way to Emory’s Ph.D. program.

My conference experience ended with AE and I having dinner at Sybydee’s, a really cool Thai restaurant in Midtown. I think I have been bitten by the writer’s conference bug, and I can’t wait to attend more. The fact that next year’s AWP conference will be in New York alone is reason enough to start planning and packing.

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