Adieu

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WHEN I’M HELPING STUDENTS WITH THEIR ESSAYS, and they ask if something is a good idea, I respond, does it help support your thesis? When I’m in a meeting, and folks are wondering what steps are next, I often ask, well, what is our mission? When I’m working on a project of my own, I ask those same questions of myself. The answers to those questions let me know whether I am on the right track or not. So I have been asking myself these questions about a number of things lately, including this blog.

I started this writing project on my birthday-gift website from my kids, a little over a year ago. I had a few reasons. Foremost in my mind was the desire to practice a slightly different writing voice, one that was a bit more popular-culture in tone, a step away from my (still very accessible) academic writing, and in yet a slightly different direction than my creative writing voice. I fancied doing some journalistic-type writing and wanted to settle in on a style that seemed more conducive to the venues where I would try to publish my work. I think I succeeded in that mission.

This blog also provided an opportunity for me to share my thoughts. Why would I think anyone would want to share in my thoughts? Well, because a lot of people — believe it or not! — seek out my opinion. And, yet other people quite often echo the things I have been thinking. So it seemed there would be a bunch of folks who would enjoy the discourse I was having in my head, and also be interested in the conversations I had with others. According to comments, that mission was accomplished, too.

It was pointed out to me by my wise daughter that it seemed to her that the blog was aiding me in connecting with others. She is correct; and that supports my thesis as stated in the last paragraph! And who wasn’t/isn’t trying to find some connections during this pandemic!? Well, a few people are not, but most of my even hyper-independent peeps were seeking evidence that they still existed outside of their heads and abodes. I know I was. And then, well, I went and moved across the country, away from friends I saw regularly, so of course I wanted to stay connected to them by sharing my thoughts and experiences. (In long form, as opposed to simply a tweet or happy-face photo). It also has been a means of some of my new community getting to know me. So that’s been a nice added footnote.

My insightful son then observed that my blog at times frames others’ ideas as ones I have never had. In fact he even mentioned that a number of the observations — and even revelations that I seemed to be experiencing for the first time — according to my writing — were the very things he had been taught by me as he was growing up. That gave me pause. (Yes, I am super fortunate to have wise, insightful children who trust me enough to share their thoughts with me. And those of you who have such children know, it ain’t always easy to hear what they have to say)! So I had to ask myself, was I attributing wisdom solely to others that I also carried? And did I already own certain beliefs that seemed brand new when coming from somewhere else? Well, yes, somewhat. And, that can all be very valuable at times, to hear your ideas presented differently — and to acknowledge others’ astuteness. But I also didn’t want to participate in any kind of self-deprecation at this point in time. Like, I spent way too many decades dimming my light for others. Self-deprecation, my friends, is not humility, it is a dismissal or disparagement of oneself. Ladies, take note. Women, be on alert! We still get sold the bill of goods that being self-deprecating is a polite, feminine thing to do. No it’s not.

Anyway, as I have been thinking about why I do this blog and what would be a good idea to add to it, I have been asking myself the thesis question. As in, what am I trying to say. And while I have been able to answer that question for the past year, it seems I may have run out of answers for the moment. Apparently this blog is no longer supporting my thesis; I have moved on to a new mission statement. My desire to connect is being satisfied in other ways right now. And I’m not focused on pitching articles because I am actually working on a grown-up deadline for a book draft. And I also just sort of feel like keeping my thoughts to myself, and my journal, and my inner circle for a little while. I am mildly wrestling with a couple of things, and I would like to do that wrestling in private, before putting my stuff out there again.

So, heartbroken as my legion of fans (!) may be, I’m going to step away from my weekly blogging and use my Sunday afternoons for some new missions. (Now you have time to catch up on a year’s worth of Katie blogs)! I really want to thank those who gave me feedback and encouragement. As some of you know, it’s not that easy putting your ideas out into the ether and seeing what sticks — and who might throw things at you because of them. I am really happy that I did such a thing; it felt brave. But I don’t want it to feel redundant. Many blogs ago I wrote about schedules and routines and how I was a fan of the former but eschewed the latter. This blog has become a routine, routine, and so I know it is no longer serving me. And that means I’m serving no purpose, and thusly and heretofore I am out. I’ll be taking an alternate route for the time being.

Let’s keep the love going that we have amongst ourselves. Let’s stay connected with each other through varying channels. And let’s keep changing this world — through words, through action, through faith. Peace.

Voicing Vocal Women

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JUST BEFORE GOING TO BED THE OTHER NIGHT, I scribbled a note to myself. A question, really. Do I go around empowering women and their voices because my mother had lost hers? It just came out like that. It happens to all of us, ideas popping up in our heads. Often fleeting. Those of us who spend a lot of time writing tend to record those sorts of thoughts, even when we don’t initially understand them, or are even sure we are behind them.

Now what might I mean that my mother lost her voice? Well, we are most all of us born with a voice, and babies, for example, have no compunction with making that fact known. I mean they think nothing of using their voices, even in the most inconvenient of times. Like, when the parents are trying to sleep, or smack in the middle of a Sunday sermon, maybe. But after a while, as we grow up, some of us start to question our voices. Not how they sound exactly — although that can be a factor in all of this — but how our voices should be used. We begin to apply rules, and get rules applied to us. Children should be seen and not heard. Keep your voice down. If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all. Shhh! But why do we allow others to tell us how and when to use the voices we were given?

My mother had many voices I never got to hear, or only heard whispers of. She was an anthropologist, for example, seeking to understand communities to which she did not belong. I didn’t hear much about those stories. She was a musician and singer; I do remember hearing her playing her guitar at parties when I was very young. She was an artist, too, and fortunately that voice lives on in her paintings — and in my daughter who also speaks with an artistic voice. When I was growing up, my mother’s voice was rarely heard in the house, unless it saying some pretty bad things things under the influences that overtook her. My sister’s and my voices were pretty quiet, too. We learned early on to pretty much speak only when spoken to. It was a matter of some survival and not just manners. My father’s voice ruled the roost; even now I quote him regularly, hear him still, all these years after his passing.

Now what do I mean that I think I empower women and their voices? Well, I do think I am a woman’s woman, as they say, a pretty fierce proponent of women of a certain age, in particular. My age. Women in our “silver years,” as Pastor Smith (blessedly back in the pulpit) coined today. In my day-to-day I am on the lookout for women’s voices getting tamped down — at meetings, on social media, in personal conversations… I have finally become the person who says, “I believe that’s exactly what my friend just said” or, “did you know she was a historian, maybe she has some things to add to this conversation.” Who is to say which came first, but my work in the field of oral history is directly tied to this mission that I have apparently accepted. Specifically, I am interested in amplifying the voices of African-American women through the stories they have lived and told. Having been a student, and now a teacher, I can testify to the paucity of Black women’s voices in the classrooms of this country. And that drives me crazy.

Many, many people have asked me over the years how and why I — a White woman — am dedicated to the field of African-American History and Culture. I do not know the answer, but I can see a trajectory. From my 4th grade best friend Brian Johnson’s mom, who lived in what we called “welfare housing” (with no concept of derision) who was so busy with work as a single mom; to my fabulous girlfriends of color all the way up until high school when an apparently universal sociological event happened that separated White kids from Black kids; to the music, and the art, and… But I think it’s mostly because there were just not enough stories told about these folks that I knew, and I wanted to know why.

Please understand, I do not “give” voice to the women in these oral history interviews. They surely don’t need my help there. I merely provide increased access and contextuality to their stories. Whether I am writing an article about Louise Epperson, fierce Newark, New Jersey activist central to the city’s mid-century housing battles https://newestamericans.com/over-my-dead-body/; or interviewing members of my former First Baptist Church of Madison, where I facilitated an oral history project featuring stories about domestic work, the old neighborhood, and segregation, I believe it is important that Americans hear these voices amidst the cacophony of yet-mainly White male voices. They speak to us in the news media, on the movie screen, and in the political arena. Sure, you can think of a lot of exceptions to this White male domination — thank goodness — but they are still exceptions.

I believe that unearthing the stories of women — of color, especially — is a call for me. Whether I am writing a blog about the obfuscated Biddy Mason park in downtown LA https://ncph.org/history-at-work/responsible-relationships-in-historical-commemoration/, or interrupting a man telling his story for the fifth time to a table of women with untold stories, I want our country’s chorus to sound different than it does right now. I want people to read the words of my friend, Naomi Extra who just defended her dissertation while already being a lauded poet and writer http://www.naomiextra.com/about; my friend Evelin who has seen a lot in her day and yet walks with enviable grace as she facilitates diversity training sessions for companies and organizations; and all the Black women whose lives have been cut short because of our gendered and racially violent society https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2021/03/11/sayhername-movement-black-women-police-violence/6921197002/. And then there is my mother, a woman who had fewer obstacles in keeping her voice than some, and yet chose to internalize so many other’s stories that she lost focus on the telling of her own.

This blog is my voice: awkward, controversial, and out of tune, I would imagine, at times. But it is mine, and I use it to tell stories — of life, thoughts, experiences, and other people. Sometimes my stories resonate with you, the way that your stories so often do for me. There is so much more I could say right now, on the subject of saying things. But for now I will leave it here. It’s someone else’s turn to speak.

Risking and Receiving

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“THE BLESSING OF IMPROVISATION” WAS THE MESSAGE IN CHURCH TODAY, “A New Wine for a New Time.” The sermon was courtesy of Pastor Jonathan DeCuir, guest preacher. (Pastor Smith made a video cameo, and we all agreed he was looking close to 100%)! Now, I never intended for these blogs to be regular reflections on Sunday service, but the thing is that what happens on Sunday is quite often an extension of what I have been thinking about all week. Coincidence? I think not!

This week I was writing in my journal about loving oneself. My devotional suggested saying to the mirror, “I love you.” Yikes! Sorry, not ready for that, yet. (Why is that so hard to even consider?! Anyone else ever done that successfully)? Anyway, I got to thinking how it really is honoring God to honor oneself, to love all God’s creations, not just the other ones. And this got me thinking about discernment, and how some of us are more discerning than others about what we do with, and in, our lives. Like if you really loved yourself, would you accept scraps, bow and scrape at the feet of other humans, embrace compliments from those who do not mean them, or accept money from activities not in keeping with your values and beliefs? “Celebrate yourself,” Pastor DeCuir exhorted us. Let me tell you, when you’re sitting in church and immediately start feeling some kind of way when certain words get said — or sung — then you know it’s time to pay attention. In fact there were audible sounds from the sanctuary of ooh, huh, etc. when he told us to celebrate ourselves. So it seems I am not alone in how that hit.

A person can suffer from lack of self-love. So can a city, or even a people. Like if we buy the message long enough that we are not worthy of true love then we are vulnerable to all that is said dirty about us. I can think of a lot of ways that I have been negatively described (think inscribed, like we take these words to heart). How do we get back to self-love — not self-indulgence or selfishness, but the kind of love of self that frees us up to go out and do great things? Well, Pastor DeCuir had some suggestions.

For one thing, if we don’t keep promises to ourselves (which isn’t what we do to folks we love) then we mess with our confidence. We lose our focus, though not necessarily our faith. When we are focused, intentional about keeping those promises, for example, we stay strong. This made me think of balancing in yoga. For balancing poses you are told to choose a spot in front of you, and to focus on that spot. This aids in balance. If you look away, maybe start thinking about how you appear to others, or how somebody else’s leg is higher, or whatever, boom you’re down! You broke your promise to balance your body, you gave away your focus, and now you’re thinking maybe you just can’t do Eagle Pose at all, and maybe should just quit practicing yoga anyway. Instead of going down this dark road, Pastor DeCuir recommended we “hold space for transformation.” I mean if yoga isn’t a perfect place to practice holding space! Try to stay with me on this metaphor: I can stand in that space of Eagle Pose, shaky as it might look, until I get to that transformation of my mind that sounds something like, Well, look at you all balanced and everything, looking like some kinda yogi. You go, girl.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 

A perfect Eagle Pose! (Or at least a good one.) If we find our mind is wandering, we need to adapt! To improvise. Perhaps there’s been a particular thought that typically helps bring us back to center — maybe a prayer even. But what if for some reason this time it isn’t working so well, and we continue to feel unbalanced – in class, in a relationship, at work. We’ve got to go somewhere new for our focus, for that confidence. We can’t keep going back to the well too many times, as they say. It turns out — and here’s where Pastor DeCuir might say, Lord, help me explain this part right — you can’t pour “new wine into old wineskins” (Mark 2:22). You’re in a new season, at a new point, feeling a new kind of way; so don’t go back to where you used to go, but be in the moment and let it take you where you need to go now! I mean, this pandemic has certainly given us that lesson, that opportunity. As the Pastor said today, we have been given the chance (aka forced) to be much more intentional about everything — from hugging to churchgoing, because most of us are in risk-assessment mode. (Most of us. Please don’t get me started on those who seem to think this thing ain’t real).

I wonder, sometimes, if this blog is too church-y for some readers. After all, not everyone is about the tradition that I follow. I hope that what comes through here is that I seek truths, and that that truth-seeking resonates with you even if my way of seeking does not (yet). I’ll finish up with a visual that Pastor DeCuir shared. (He likes visuals; last time he brought a box with him to illustrate how we should carry ourselves). It was a simple gesture today, the way he imitated the pouring of water into a cup and then he put his hand over that imaginary cup. We ask for things, he reminded us, and then we hinder the flow. We have to allow those cups to actually fill and run over. We can’t do that if we don’t think we’re worthy of such abundance, if we don’t love ourselves enough to receive all that there is. I am preaching to myself right now, and I am taking notes on my sermon — just the way I did on the preacher’s message today. Amen. Peace. And Namaste.

I’s the Limit

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THE TITLE SOUNDS A LOT LIKE A MOTIVATIONAL POSTER that might be hanging in a fluorescent-lit office space somewhere. I don’t mean for it to. But I guess motivational posters do have their moments. (I mean the “Hang in There” kitten is a classic, right?). What I wanted to say with this title — and I almost never have a title prior to completing my writing, but this one was buzzing around — is that limits are all in our heads. And I don’t just mean, “we can do anything if we set our minds to it” (another poster). The definition of what a limit even is varies so much from person to person that I am really asking, What does “limit” mean?

I was thinking the other day how limits are necessary in order to live life effectively. Speed limits, age limits, seating capacity limits, and service limits to only those vaccinated, to name a few examples. (If business owners choose to do this, I support it 100%). We are always told to set limits for ourselves. That is unless we are being told that there are no limits. Pretty confusing, if you ask me. So let’s go to the etymology, shall we? (While many of my students tend to head over to Webster’s to commence their essays — even though I forbid dictionaries as a source — I, myself, often fall back on Oxford Languages to get things started). So the word came from the Latin limes, meaning a “boundary” or “frontier.” I mean right there, that sounds like two different things to me. (At first I thought limes, like the things you put in your Gin and Tonic. But no). So those two words — boundary and frontier — conjure up very different visuals for me; a boundary is something you don’t cross, while a frontier holds promise of things to come. Those are my connotative associations. But these conflicting (for me, at least) origin words make sense of my original thesis, that a limit can be many things to many people.

*By the way, Webster’s defines the word as, “bounds, restrains, or confines.” And this, my dear students, is why we don’t use dictionary definitions, because they are concretized in connotations based solely upon present societal thinking. #nodictionaries

This is starting to become a blog on connotations and denotations. Oh well, that’s okay. But I need to interject yesterday’s sermon here; you knew it was coming. (My Sunday blog turned into a Monday blog, by the way, because my daughter and I were putting my new bed together last night. It’s almost done, okay!?). Anyway, Pastor Nick was in for the on-the-mend Pastor Smith. And he shared with us his message entitled, “Growing Up in Love.” Pastor Nick encouraged us to take “ails” as joy. As in, “Count it all joy when you meet various trials” (James 1:2). Because I’m on this limits thing, I was seeing the ails as limits, or what we tend to consider limits until we start counting those things as joy. I came up with some examples pretty quickly, though they are fairly mundane. Like last week I was on my union’s Zoom meeting. Now I have been lamenting the fact that I am still teaching remotely, having yet to secure an on-campus teaching gig this side of the Rio Grande. Well, after listening to the chaos of university mandates, recommendations, and suggestions, and then the confusion and anxiety in the voices of my fellow faculty members heading back to campus, I said a little thank-you prayer. Seems God might just be sparing me from the messiness of yet another school year plagued by the plague. So I am going to take that ail as a joy, for now anyway.

Our relationships can be limiting, too. Maybe we could ask ourselves if they are boundaries or frontiers. Pastor Nick suggested yesterday that God may well limit our contact with certain family members because we are putting them before God. Interesting idea, and tough for some of us to hear. But the Bible says, depending upon translation, that we are supposed to “hate” our family if we are to truly be disciples of Jesus. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Now, again, the connotation of hate is in question here. I don’t think we’re supposed to sit back and talk bad about our kin. We love them — mostly! But the idea, apparently, is that if we get too caught up in all things earthly, including its humans, that we lose sight of the biggest picture, God. We then limit our relationship with God. Now, for some this could sound super harsh, and for others it is actually a watered-down interpretation. I’m still grappling with all sorts of things, so I’m just sharing my thinking process here.

In church yesterday we were also reminded to keep an open heart. (See, we have so much capacity for love that we can be close to man and God)! Even when folks have hurt us Christians — and lots of other people — we believe that we are to keep our hearts “sensitive” as Pastor Nick called it. And I see the limit theme here, too: we limit our vast capacity for love when we harden our hearts. It’s on us. (By the way, I had all these classic rock songs about hard hearts spinning around my brain as I listened to this part of the sermon, but I couldn’t nail down one specific one. Can you?).

The bottom line — right now anyway, because the bottom line is unstable to say the least — is that love has no limits, in its original form. That’s my thought. I mean most everyone knows this scripture in one form or another:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Sounds like love is a straight-up frontier, unless we choose to make it a barrier. Sounds like life is a frontier, too, ready to explore (but not colonize, please). I’m just going to keep on picturing frontiers — which is especially easy to do out here in the wild, weird, west. This won’t be a practice of denying that which is painful, but simply one of seeking out hope in even the darkest of situations. Easier said than done, but I am going to try real hard to start limiting my limits from now on.

Dropping the Bomb

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MY PRACTICE THIS WEEK HAS BEEN ABOUT KEEPING MY MIND STILL ENOUGH, at times anyway, such that God can “drop” His thoughts in there. Like a still pool of water waiting for more rain, if my mind is splashing and sloshing around then that fresh water will have nowhere to rest. Maybe this image could be useful to others as you meditate, pray, or just plain make yourself sit still for a minute in order to breathe in some truth.

Unfortunately, at the same time that I am meditating on this, the image also takes me to another place where things have dropped. This month marks the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima in Japan by the United States. It was the first time ever that a nuclear weapon had been used. Fortunately, so far it has been the last. A few days ago I listened to a fascinating interview with the author of a book on the subject:

https://www.npr.org/2021/08/06/1025059199/fallout-tells-the-story-of-the-journalist-who-exposed-the-hiroshima-cover-up

Lesley M.M. Blume wrote about a New Yorker reporter, John Hersey, who basically let the world know what had actually happened to that Japanese city at the time of the bombing, and just as devastatingly in the days, weeks and months to come. See, apparently our country was none too keen on publicizing that event as anything but a victory over the enemy. American soldiers on the ground in Japan saw it as a “win,” revenge against the egregious attack on Pearl Harbor. Hersey’s reporting is credited as one of the reasons that attack was taken as a cautionary tale by so many — because his audience was provided an eye-witness account of the human destruction that ensued.

So yes, you can see why I have to work so hard for my mind to be still. A smooth body of water can quickly turn into a scorched field of radiation in my imagination. Now this may have something to do with my father’s raison d’etre, which was to end of all military conflict, with a focus on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He published a lot on the subject, if you’re interested:https://www.thriftbooks.com/a/j-david-singer/488600/

Growing up with my father, as I have shared before, was both a blessing and a curse. (There are probably a lot of kids who would say the same thing about their parents — including mine)! I learned some valuable lessons: that truth was crucial if we wanted to right wrongs; that being popular was thoroughly unimportant (that lesson took a little while to sink in); to pay attention to the world around me at all times (which is exhausting but also great practice for writers and activists). But I also learned — because sometimes we learn things, integrate things, take things in that might not be so great for us — that my problems were never commensurate to the world’s. Bad grades, broken friendships, losing seasons were all utterly petty compared to the world’s problems. Of course this is a fact in the deepest sense, but after becoming a parent myself I realized it was really alright to treat the misplacement of a child’s favorite stuffed rabbit, for example, with an urgency equal to what that child is feeling. Otherwise it makes for kids growing up confused by the contradiction between how they are feeling and how the world is reacting to those feelings. Raise your hand if that sounds at all familiar.

I need to take a moment to still my mind, to let some more thoughts drop in. I am feeling the waves starting to crash hard. Inhale, exhale…

The way I chose to treat my child’s lost toy came from inside of me. It came from what in my tradition we call the Holy Spirit — or the Holy Ghost if we’re not trying to be so buttoned up, as Pastor Smith reminded us last week. As Pastor Kevin spoke on today, the “Holy Spirit is the great teacher and interpreter” for so many of us. Anyone who listens for that message from inside, whether we call it God or intuition or whatever, knows that particular feeling when it happens. (Now, the advantage of faith here is that we don’t spend a whole lot of time, hopefully, questioning said message because well, God). So if I am thinking about breakfast and I hear almond butter, then my only question is, “honey or jam?” And if that same spirit says it’s time to move across the country, well the car and cat get packed up, and off we go.

Meals and moves can turn into wrestling matches, or they can simply be calm moments of realization. It all depends upon whether we are willing to be led “beside the still waters” so our souls can be restored (Psalm 23). Too much planning, too much proscribing, and a drought takes place in our mind. Boulders of fear and worry and control take up space where a flowing spring used to be. And when we get to that rocky place, then there are questions that need to be asked. Like, is that diet you decided to follow really the best thing for your body? That schedule you won’t divert from, how is it working for you? That list of things your next partner must have — is that list inviting love?

Some things that fall should be stopped, like the atomic bomb. There is no waiting around for that message. As far as I can see, it’s already arrived loud and clear. But thoughts, well they can sometimes feel scarier than the “faraway” idea of a nuclear attack. It might be easier to escape our thoughts, but that doesn’t mean we should do so. I’m just going to keep stopping throughout the day, laying bare my mind, body, and soul for God’s thoughts and plans and commands to fall. And I am wondering how you clear your mind to receive truth and love. How do you ensure that nothing “drops into your spirit” — as Pastor Smith is wont to say — which is harmful to yourself or those around you? How do you receive those words meant for you and you alone?

Following the Thought Dots

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WHEN I WRITE THIS THING ON SUNDAYS, I usually have a few ideas to begin with. Then I see where they take me, hoping for a single point to eventually show itself. Today I feel as if my ideas are disparate. (Or perhaps desperate)?! So here goes, I’m going to try to connect these ideas — the way we teachers encourage our students to do in the classroom.

Why does our culture value togetherness over aloneness to such a degree? During this pandemic, there has been much discussion of people isolating themselves and suffering because of it. Of course it is not good to cut oneself off from the world. My DailyOm book warns against “disconnecting from the source.” But the world is not the source, God is (for me anyway). The world is simply where our faith plays out, or a site of service, or an opportunity to love. So right, definitely don’t cut yourself off. BUT, being alone is not necessarily bad for one’s mental health.

17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Truth. Many of us are so scared of our thoughts. I have written about this before. And even if we do somehow get caught alone and in public, we busy ourselves looking at our cellphones. Because, God forbid someone thinks we are not engaged in the world.

One of the million reasons I love church is because (mostly) people sit and think and feel and consider — and pray and worship, too. It seems to me that if more of us took the time to sit and think, then maybe there would even be more praise and worship. [Warning, messy transition ahead]. Anyway, I’m tired of hearing things like how social drinking is fine, for example, but drinking alone is a red flag for disaster. Really? I sure have seen a lot of folks drinking alcohol with other people who look like they could really use some help. And I have a sense there are numerous people who have a glass of wine or two all by themselves at night, and then go on to lead productive lives. See, we are told it’s romantic to curl up with someone on the couch and have a drink, watch a movie perhaps, but you’re just plain depressed if you do that same thing all alone. I beg to differ; I’ve curled up with a number of folk who have definitely tested my mental health capacity. Anyway, I could go on, like about being the only single person at a party and receiving looks of pity and confusion, or filling out a form that enquires as to whether one is single, married, divorced, or widowed. (Why does it matter what kind of single I am)?

Okay, here’s another question: why are we so obsessed with saving time? What are we saving it for? To find a solution to homelessness? great; to convince all humans to get vaccinated against the COVID virus? cool. But thing is, most of us are saving time so we can get back onto that aforementioned couch (I did it, I made a connection!) and simply indulge in a little food and drink and TV. I saw a meme recently explaining that those of us who had Pez dispensers back in the day had wasted so much time filling them up one by one with those fruity candies; turns out there is a trick to auto-loading them. It’s CANDY! What is the hurry? What part of the candy experience is supposed to be efficient, I ask you!? If I had a Pez dispenser right now, I would fill it with those little orange-flavored tablets, one by one, just like I used to.

Brian Regan has a hilarious comedy routine about Pop-Tarts and time. He reads the directions on the box and learns that microwaving them is even faster than putting them in the toaster. He contends that if someone is so busy that they don’t have time to toast a Pop-Tart then it might be wise to “loosen up your schedule.” (Please watch if you don’t know his routines, he is way funny)! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6GHPIwkXl0

And speaking of church again (connection #2!), some folks think service is too long — especially Baptist service. I am so used to a hearty two-hour Sunday service that when I visit another church and we are out and in our cars within sixty minutes, well I feel like I didn’t even go to church. I mean, after all, it takes some time to settle in, get right, sing some songs. And what are folks rushing home to do anyway? Their second job? Then I get it. Cooking for the week because they are unable to prepare meals consistently Monday through Friday? Makes sense. But a lot of us are in a hurry to hear that benediction just so we can go out to the diner for eggs and potatoes, or head home, take off our heels and get back on that proverbial couch again. So chill and “know that [He] is God,” y’all!

I could go on about the way our society treats time like a transactional commodity, how Amazon endlessly exploits its workers, for example, by seeking more and more “efficient” ways to get those boxes of stuff most of us don’t really need into our hands ASAP. What, you never saw the film, Sorry to Bother You? Well here’s a preview – hold onto your “horses.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XthLQZWIshQ

Sacrificial Love. That was the first of three points that Pastor Smith used in his sermon today, “The Disciple’s Checklist.” This first point really got to me as I have been thinking a lot this week about people my age and the way in which they hold onto things. These things might be material, or they might be identities, perhaps “principles”… It seems pretty obvious to me that those of us in a place to do so are responsible for making sacrifices for others, for the greater good. Imagine if everyone thought that and then went and got vaccinated (connection) simply to protect someone they don’t even know. Yeah that. The idea, Pastor said, is to ask, “what’s best for others?” Now, a lot of you reading this probably already do that. And we could all do it even more. But some folks just can’t get next to that concept. There’s a song that’s been playing in my head this week after two people I know did/didn’t do something that seemed to me an obvious opportunity for generosity. The song is “Mr. Wendal” by Arrested Development. Check the song out, its music and lyrics are so mighty. It goes in part:

Here, have a dollar
In fact, no brotherman here, have two
Two dollars means a snack for me
But it means a big deal to you

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfxvsHpTZWk

I mean, what’s left to be said? Pastor referenced “the other checklist” that sometimes interferes with the disciple’s checklist — that worldly one. (Oooh a connection again)! You know the list. One: have a lot of stuff; Two: make sure people know you have a lot of stuff; Three: hold on tight to your stuff because people are trying to take your stuff. That list.

Anyway, my brain is in overdrive because I spend a lot of time alone. And I am not in any hurry to change my life, to know what’s next, or even to cook my food. I have been given time today and I will do my best to be present in it. And I will continue to practice some sacrificial love in my comings and goings, so that one day it might just be that it becomes my lifestyle and not just a goal. So thanks for following along with me on these connections today. Here’s to making connections.

Uncluttering the Path

I am back and thinking again. I don’t mean to say I don’t have thoughts when I travel, but the thoughts are traveling, too, so there is not the same kind of time to sit still with them. Perhaps that is one reason so many of us like our getaways — for that getaway from thoughts that are hard, confounding, irritating, or scary. But back home now, with time to read my bible, my daily meditations, and write in my journal, I find my thoughts are landing, and hard. Like planes being directed to circle above the airport due to crowding on the runway, my thoughts have been waiting for sometime to land.

I was reading about a meditation the other day that is supposed to aid in healing from one’s past. After considering who we might need to heal from, we are to envision that someone walking toward us, down a road, at their own pace. We are to ask that person, upon their arrival, if they are willing to heal with us. Now that might sound a bit woo-woo to some of you, but I seriously considered the premise. Who do I need to do that with? What relationships are lingering in my soul, as the Daily Om puts it, that are blocking my best life? I wrote down a list of possibilities, folks who I have experienced pain with, who have lied to me, mistreated me, blamed me, or cheated me. I mean, I’m 60 now, there’s a lot of water under that bridge!

Then I got to thinking — because I can now! — Are these feelings of pain and all memories? Are memories feelings? Just because I remember disappointments does that mean I’m still carrying them around like proverbial baggage? Or are they simply souvenirs of a life long-lived? Are we supposed to forget everything bad that has ever happened? How do we know the difference between forgiving and forgetting?

Well, I could keep all this interpersonal, but I want to zoom out (small-Z zoom) because I was joyfully back at Friendship Pasadena Church today. And church, if you let it, can really get you out of your head — which too often involves navel-gazing (you were right, Dad) — and into your heart, which has a much larger capacity for considering the whole. This has been my underlying goal for some time, considering humanity and not just me. Anyway, we started Praise and Worship with a song that included the words, “I surrender,” a pretty common suggestion when it comes to believing in a higher power. So, still thinking about that baggage question, I asked God to take any stuff from me that I might be carrying unnecessarily. I ask for something like that a lot, actually. As in, “just make me less extra.”

When it was sermon time, Pastor Nick Sherman lit up the scripture — along with some hearts and minds I’m pretty sure. He was reminding us, among many things, that there are certain items and/or people that need to be removed from our lives in order for God to do the things God has in store for us. Like when Judas had to leave the dinner party in order for Jesus to be “glorified.” As in a dark cloud was hanging around with old traitorous Judas in the room. Pastor Nick suggested that we check for any Judas’ we may have hanging around; even if we love them, they may still be in the way. Makes sense to me. Even those who might not believe in God understand that we humans often allow obstacles to block our ways. Fact is, we even build them ourselves sometimes!

I tried to think whether I was keeping any dark clouds around. That same list of names from before came to mind. And then that same question returned: are these just memories or are they truly baggage? Pastor Nick noted that we suffer issues in life sometimes just so God gets highlighted — as in look how I got through that storm, wow! But we could skip a few of those trials and tribulations if only we stayed more focused on God. And again, even if God is not (yet?) on your radar, you have probably looked back on your life and seen some ish that could have been avoided had you stayed true to you.

Oh, by the way, I don’t have a definitive answer to my question. (And they say age makes us wiser)! Have you been able to discern the difference, have you found a formula that helps you discern between the memories that you carry because you are a human being, and those things which are burdens that could be left by the side of the road if only you recognized them as such? The point of this “thought exercise” is to “‘Make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23). Thing is, I feel like that path in front of me is so sunny and bright and full of possibilities, uncrowded by brambles of strife and rocks of fear. That’s what I see when I look ahead. So maybe my memories have become reminders for me to stay on that path. I am wondering what the path ahead of you looks like right now. I’d love to know.

Photo by Tembela Bohle on Pexels.com

Travel-Log

Because in my recent travels I have been logging miles, and hours, and words, and laughs, and meals. When we last left each other, I had just enjoyed a delightful birthday party Saturday night in the West Orange yard of my dear friend, circe. Well, Sunday came and off I went to visit my New Jersey church family at First Baptist Church of Madison. So much love to Rev. Dunn, Fonda, Mary, Eddie, Jackie, Evelin, Rochelle, Jessica, Natasha, Mrs. Brewster, et al! Evelin and I then enjoyed brunch afterwards wherein I ordered the chicken and waffles.

Monday I taught my last-minute class assignment for Bard Early College: U.S. History 1960s to the Present. Funny thing, that’s my life span. Guess I’m made for the job. Monday night I headed to Newark’s Ironbound for a dinner meeting with the Newark-Scott Cultural and Civic Foundation, at Forno’s of Spain on Ferry Street. Many of us were meeting for the first time in person as we continued our discussions and plans around ensuring that the legacy of Madam Louise Scott, as well as other African-American philanthropists and entrepreneurs, remains at the forefront of Newark’s history — and American History writ large. (Here is our Facebook page — please follow! https://www.facebook.com/newarkscottccf/ Plus there was sangria, and July birthdays and retirements were also celebrated. What a treat. After a vast paella dinner I waddled over to the long, marble bar to meet a wonderful friend for black sambuca and espresso. Thanks for finishing your laundry in time, Mary!

Tuesday, Evelin was kind enough to fetch me once more so we could have lunch with Miss Lottie, the most senior member of First Baptist Church, at age ninety-two. Lottie is one of a handful of women who truly inspire me. She is smart, and funny, and full of faith. We got BLTs and talked everything from church politics to banana pudding. Tuesday night my kids came back over to West Orange and we cooked dinner together and then had a sleepover. Jake made sweet potato gnocchi — from scratch.

Wednesday had me teaching again. Then I went to visit my friend Tammy who hosted me and our way-back friend Donna, who came all the way from Georgia! We drank Chardonnay while Tammy’s wonderful husband Rich cooked up the most delicious spicy chicken tacos for us. I mean who says I have to forego Mexican food just because I came East? We sat outside in their lovely garden (because finally it was not one million degrees outside! I mean was it always this humid out here?!). I returned home, full as usual, and so happy to have caught up with my friends. By this time I had received temporary custody of my son’s elderly Mazda, whose climate control consists of rolling down all the windows and driving very fast. But it saved me from spending major amounts of cash on a rental — have you seen the prices lately?!

Thursday may have been the second major highlight of the trip, my party being the first. Of course they both involved my children. On a warehouse rooftop garden, in Long Island City, I had the pleasure of attending a poetry and performance event organized by my amazing daughter, Kayla. All sorts of young people were there, many whom I call friends. The West Coast was well represented, as a lot of folks apparently make annual summer pilgrimages from the Pacific Ocean over to the Atlantic side. There were gorgeous poetry readings — my daughter’s included — and awesome performances by other artists. I even got to read spontaneously, a short piece I had come across in a literary journal I brought with me for the ride on New Jersey Transit. It was called “The Poets,” by Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri. It’s an allegory about a society vanquishing its artists, a cautionary tale that no one in this group actually needed to hear.

We stayed late that night on the rooftop, drinking beer and eating — you guessed it — tacos. My son and I finally made it back to his apartment only to awake too few hours later for our prospective jobs. And oh, how worthwhile that loss of sleep had been. That next night I was out once again. This time in Montclair, a town which barely resembles the sleepy burg I moved to from Manhattan in 1990. Naomi (my comrade-in-arms from grad school) and I circled the whole of Montclair before finally finding a parking spot in downtown. The parking space chose our destination, not the other way around. A couple of frosés later we called it a night.

Saturday had me heading back to the city. The day started right out of a scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I was John Candy! Bus didn’t show, mercurial heat and humidity and then a rainstorm kept me damp most of the day… But I hiked to the Upper East Side to visit my ninety-two year old aunt who just kept saying in disbelief, “Do you know I am 92?” She is looking good, even if she doesn’t think so. After that I was off to Chelsea having been invited by my friends Mark and Robert for what turned out to be one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of salmon I have ever had! (I’ll never make it myself again). More crazy travel ensued — I think the transportation authorities are as out of practice as we travelers are. Finally made it home sometime after two a.m. I think I just sort of stayed on West Coast time during my whole visit.

Sunday was right out of a movie montage. I headed to Jersey City again where I met up with both kids and we walked, and ate pizza, and got ices, and lay on the grass at the Hoboken waterfront. The past rainstorms had broken the smarminess of the air, and it was simply a perfect time to walk the day away. Back to Jake’s apartment for some refreshments and a quick change before returning to the neighborhood for oysters and cocktails. Jersey City. Sunday night. Happenin’!

Last night my son came over and cooked for me: black beans and beet greens that people would give up a limb for if they could. I mean, delicious. Fried yucca and plantains to accompany. Wow. We did some more transporting, once he found a free charging station for his new electric car. And yes, every time I get in The Electric Slide plays in my head. Because of the important work he is doing as a union organizer he had to get up way before dawn cracked today, so we said our goodbyes last night, reluctantly. I am never okay saying goodbye to my kids; they are a major reason I am so happy in this life.

Today I am washing sheets as I put the finishing touches on this 2-day late blog. (I am sure you understand). God-willing, my flight does not get cancelled this time and I get home in due course to my bright, sunny apartment and my fluffy, white cat. (I really miss Skittles and I don’t care who knows it)! This trip was a marker for me of many sorts: the first major travel since the pandemic hit, and the first time as a visitor in a place I lived for so very long. And it is a nice place to visit — but I wouldn’t want to live here, anymore. My heart is in my new home and I am excited to return. And all these wonderful people I have seen over the last 10 days just need to come visit me in LA! It’s a great place to visit, too. Here’s to living where you land.

I Have No More Wishes to Make

This is what I said when my birthday cake was presented to me last night. (Strawberry shortcake, thank you, circe)! People at the party seemed to think that statement was pretty profound, although maybe it sounds like resignation to some who are reading this. I had not meant it to be either. It was just that as I stood, surrounded by a beautiful collection of beautiful people all wishing me love and good life… as I stood, strong and healthy, tired only by a trip across the country that so many folks — for a variety of reasons — will never have the opportunity to take… while I stood, gazing at my fabulous children who are deep and lovely souls, who care and laugh and think and give… as I stood, being asked to make a wish for yet one more thing, no words came.

I believe that people looking at my life from the outside might just be moved to make some wishes for me, might see where there is lack. Perhaps they would wish a fulltime job for me, or a bigger home, or a romantic partner. The way I see it, those will come if they are meant to, but they are not missing. I have no wishes left to make. Of course there are things I imagine for my life (like living by the beach). And even stuff I think I want (some fancy sunglasses). But it seems to me that the more I leave these wishes to God, the better I do. See, God has ideas and an imagination that I cannot even aspire to. God has thought up stuff that I just cannot.

It feels like boasting if I list here all that I believe I “have.” Then again, I am told that I see my life as full no matter where the waterline in my glass is. Gratitude is funny that way, it makes no room for want. Desire, dreams, destinations, yes those all travel across my mind. But I do not await them. I only await the next thing, the next surprise, the next chapter, phase, or moment. I especially like the ones I do not expect (even when they are difficult, because I know I needed that particular challenge).

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not 100% without complaints and criticisms, after all I am very human, fallible, and weak. But this faith thing, man it makes me feel like Superwoman. And that’s how I felt last night, turning, sixty, surrounded by strawberry shortcake, hydrangeas, friends, and champagne — and most of all my beautiful, wonderful children. Like Superwoman. Super glad, super grateful, super happy, super proud, and super excited for whatever is coming next.

So happy birthday to me! And happy birthday to every summer baby (who is just a little extra special because we are born in the season of the hopeful sun)!

What To YOU is the 4th of July?

In between church and Kool and the Gang I want to say a few things about July 4th. It is a holiday that I am most ambivalent about.

“Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic,” begins Mr. Frederick Douglass in his famous speech, quoted so often (and sometimes out of context) on this day). https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927t.html

He picked a great way in to reminding the audience that this country has problems. It’s pretty much how I start off every history class that I teach. You see, there’s this suggestion going around that we liberal professors are on campuses across the country extolling the evils of the U.S. of A. I mean, critical race theory and then some! Thing is, this country was built on a lot of really bad things, literally and figuratively. Bringing that perspective into the classroom, and into revered holidays, requires some gentle handling.

Church today was wonderful, as always. Pastor Smith was speaking about sacred symbols, among other things — the way we get so carried away with the symbols that they themselves become sacred, instead of the thing they symbolize — in our case, God. The American flag, he reminded, is a symbol. And it is one that has become sacred for many. So much so, that when folks — following the supposed tenets of American freedom, the way I see it — protest the governing of the country that flag symbolizes, those protestors come under fire. Literally, as well as figuratively. And this got me to wondering, if Frederick Douglass gave that famous speech today, would he even have survived. What with the violent gun culture, White supremacy, and hostility nurtured in this country (and yes, it took all kinds of nurturing; it does not come out of nowhere). I mean Douglass was saying some way-out stuff to a bunch of people who were expecting a polite, gracious — maybe even grateful — oration from this famous Black man. That’s not, in fact, what they got. (Please read the whole speech if you have not yet).

“The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.” That’s what he said. As in, you all celebrate if you like, but there is work to be done. It’s what those of us who feel ambivalent about this holiday, and about this country, are saying. It’s not a bad place, America, I enjoy a lot of things about this country. But there is so much work to be done. Today, while people are dressed up in red, white, and blue, eating burgers, and watching fireworks, there’s a good chance an African American will be murdered by a police officer. There is also a good chance that an immigrant, locked up in a detention center under illegal pretenses, will succumb to COVID. There’s a good chance some family member of a gun owner will accidentally shoot themselves or a loved one with that gun. There’s a good chance a person of Asian descent will be assaulted on an American street today, and also a good chance that another “essential worker” will find out they are no longer so essential. And there’s a really good chance that most of us will forget that the parks in which we celebrate today have a good chance of being stolen indigenous land.

There are a lot of stripes and death still happening in this stars and stripes country. And if we really want to celebrate this country, then let’s celebrate our alleged freedoms: to assemble, to speak freely, to publicize that which we believe to be true… There is so much opportunity to heal this broken place. And yes, it is broken, just look who we voted into the Oval Office last time. Americans have been reaping what we have been sowing for a very long time; some fields are fertile, others are dust. I’d like to think of Independence Day as a day to remember to think independently of others, to act independent of the crowd. This is an individualistic country but that does not necessarily mean independent. We could be independently collective, going out into the vineyards to toil — for ourselves, and for our fellow citizens (and by that I mean anyone living on this soil).

“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!” said Douglass. It is lovely to celebrate our freedom, our families, our faith, but it does not mean we need to turn blind eyes to those living here bereft of the same things. Frederick Douglass was not some well-behaved man in a starched collar to be referenced briefly each February and July. He was a trouble maker. So were Harriet, and Martin, and Shirley; and so are Colin, and Stacey. We admire them but can get a little uncomfortable with the activist sides of these icons. America encourages radicalism — for better and worse, let’s not erase that facet of our history.

On this Independence Day, maybe we can declare freedom from caring what others think — and even feel — and just speak truth through love, for humanity’s sake. Like Douglass said, we have a lot of work to do.

“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival….”

The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume II
Pre-Civil War Decade 1850-1860
Philip S. Foner
International Publishers Co., Inc., New York, 1950