Friday, April 15, 2016

End of the third week working new job. It’s been a trial by fire. Feeling like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  Allow me to start at the beginning. 

The journey west was wild; first day Josiah throws up twice.  Late that night I get lost in the backwoods of Tennessee with two visibly black children and  me – who could be anything racially – but most attractive to the enemy: a woman alone.  In the dark, no network connection, no street signs, to direct the way.  Long story short, 911 call leads me to Shelbyville, TN.

Wake up in the least seedy hotel Shelbyville has to offer with what looks like a huge bug/spider bite under my arm. Turns out to be staph infection.  End up spending four expensive days and nights at a hotel in Mississippi.  When I am finally well enough to set out on the road, have to turn around 30 minutes later because we left Rio’s backpack containing my $200 camera and the DVD player that is supposed to be entertaining Josiah for the next five days on the road.


Once we get out of Mississippi, things get better. (There’s a historical joke in there somewhere, but I’ve used up my sense of humor for the week.)  Make my first visit to the Grand Canyon.  Make a mental note to see it again without kids so I can fully enjoy the awe.  Arrive in my hometown on the coast of Oregon to spend a few days reprieve with my sister, mother and good friend from elementary.  Feeling somewhat rested, I head up to Portland to my cousin’s who has graciously agreed to let us stay with her my first week of work until my house is ready.  Her house is 40 minutes away from work each way, still it suits me fine. It’s a beautiful, mountainous, spring green drive, so I don’t mind.  And the Lord knew I would need it.

Within the first week there were two fights, a large group meeting with two families and their students regarding theft and threats of violence – an extensive conversation made longer since it all had to be translated in Spanish.

The second week, we had another altercation involving a male student and two female students from another campus, one of whom is pregnant.  Then I had several students playing with BB guns outside the school, painted black with spray paint and nail polish to look like real guns.  The police arrived (and the media of course.)  If not for a student leader who announced “Their BB guns!” we might have had another Tamir Rice (Cleveland, 2014) or Andy Lopez (California, 2013) situation.


By the third week, I’m feeling like “I got this” and the days go by relatively – and it is definitely compared to what was at Metanoia, i.e. here there is excessive use of profanity, blatant disrespect, intense drama and constant conflict/tension.  I now feel a deep sense of loss at having left a faith based community organization, but I am encouraged because  when I call upon Jesus, my staff say Amen!

My daughter is making friends, Josiah is at a school with an African-American male teacher – a blessed gift – his transition has been smoother than I could have imagined.  In fact, he’s doing better at home now than when we were in South Carolina.

Which brings us to today.  I get a message from my daughter claiming responsibility for doing something wrong, but she doesn’t give me the details. The e-mail from her teacher is more comprehensive. The consequences of her actions could include  no computer, no use of my phone and revoke of promise to buy her a phone, no visits to new friend Lindey one house down the street for at least two weeks, double child care/chore duty, and an old- fashioned, southern style whoopin’. 

She catches the school bus to the Boys & Girls Club, a block over from where I work, a wonderful convenience, but when I find out there is no club today, I realize she is probably at home alone.  Fortunately, I think, she has a key to the house so she should be good.  I speed through the five minute drive from my job to my house to find her homework scattered all over the front lawn, pencil laying just near the front door like a clue for the next Criminal Minds.

I charge in the house.  No Rio. 

I check the park across the street.  No Rio.

I pound on Lindey’s door (her new friend from school, one house down.) No Rio.

Did she run away in fear of her punishment? Did some sick bastard snatch up my baby? (The day prior, I heard a mother from Sudan speak about how her daughter was taken by some woman in a white van claiming to be a nurse.  Her daughter was missing for three days.)  I go back to the house and check every room and closet.  Still, no Rio.  I call Lindey’s mom.  No, Rio is not with them.

I pray.  I see the front door open to at house between mine and Lindey’s.  It belongs to a female couple – very kind neighbors who offered memory foam so I could be more comfortable on the foam pads we’d been sleeping on for a week.

I pound on the glass door and ring the door bell at the same time.  The woman answers.  Rio follows behind.  I breathe.

I want to scream.  The woman sees.  She understands my panic.  She smiles gently, knowing. 

Rio calls to me. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, I left my key inside this morning.”  But I asked if you had your key before you left - you said “yes!” 

I can’t even get this thought out of my mouth.

I walk down the block. 

Rio collects her homework and pencil from the front lawn.

I return and write a list of what she needs to do while I am away so I can...breathe, alone.  Gather a moment’s peace to do what brings me the most tranquility.  Writing. 

And a double shot of scotch, neat.

Pray for me. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Years Greeting, 2014

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ, our Saviour,
Was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan's power
When we’re gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

We don’t often consider the words of songs we hear over and over again.  Unless we are assigned the task of study, we accept the lyrics as is without much thought.  It’s about familiarity and tradition, not so much contemplating the deeper meaning in what we sing when it comes to songs sung year after year.  For me, this year has been one of contemplation, an honest effort to answer a single question: Where is God in all this? 

Rather than recording the juicy details of this past year (and they have been rather sumptuous,) I would like to summarize my findings to this inquiry as a Christmas greeting.  It is not so much an answer as it is a culminating feeling experienced when seeking, one in which I believe binds us all together.  We may live in different places. We may not look or think the same way.  But one thing is true of all of us: we seek connection, long to be loved. And as humans, we all feel the same emotions.  Fear.  Courage. Regret. Pride. Sorrow.  Joy.  Confusion. Clarity.  The circumstance by which we encounter such feelings may differ, but the feeling “is what it is,” regardless. 

This Christmas, I feel it is my duty, as the one often labeled as “over-emotional” to reflect on how we feel about the world around us.  Close and far away.  Familiar or completely foreign to our way of life.  I ask that we do what God does for each of us, in our ugliness and our most fabulous: love one another.

I’ve had many highlights in my life.  One occurred when I lived in Los Angeles and shook hands with Stevie Wonder.  It was late, I was alone and had no one to share my enthusiastic glee at having met one of my heroes.  His song, “Love’s In Need” is my comfort and joy to sing, and in light (or darkness, depending on your worldview) of the state of the world today, I’d like to share these lyrics in the hope – which I hold onto in remembrance of the promise in Christ – that we would enter the new year with these words on our hearts and minds in each personal interaction, whether we agree with the person or not. 

We must return to the singular commonality that we all share:  We are human.  We’re fragile. We fall short.  Despite our best intentions, we completely fail:  as a national legal system, as a local government, as an educational institution, as individuals.   Though we are imperfect, we can, at any time, access the most perfect freedom from all failings when we go where God is by responding with LOVE.  Please, in the name of all that is good and right in the world, choose love this year.  For a refresher course in this life saver, see Corinthians 13.

Now, then – pull out your old record player, or click on YouTube, search for the melody (lyrics below,) and sing along with Stevie!  Have a very, merry Christmas and a loving New Year.

Love’s In Need of Love

By Stevie Wonder

Good morn or evening friends

Here's your friendly announcer

I have serious news to pass on

To everybody

What I'm about to say

Could mean the world's disaster

Could change your joy and laughter

To tears and pain

It's that love's in need of love today

Don't delay, send yours in right away

Hate's goin' 'round, breakin' many hearts

Stop it please, before it's gone too far

The force of evil plans

To make you its possession

And it will if we let it

Destroy everybody

We all must take

Precautionary measures

If love and peace you treasure

Then you'll hear me when I say

Oh that, love's in need of a love today

(Love's in need of love today)

Don't delay

(Don't delay)

Send yours in right away

(Right away)

Hate's goin' 'round

Breakin' hearts

Stop it, please

Gone too far

Love's in need

Of love today

Don't delay
Send yours in right away

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reflection of Residency

Gratitude is a character trait we emphasis at the Metanoia Leadership Academy in North Charleston, South Carolina.  I serve as director for elementary development, and one of my recently added roles is designing the curriculum for all age groups.  In the past, we have celebrated gratitude in May to take advantage of the opportunity to review all the blessings we received during the school year.   Lorraine Harrell, founder of Heart of A Woman (HOAW), invited me to share my gratitude for being awarded residency in the African-American Emerging Writers Over 40 program at the Africa House in Gallatin, Tennessee.   As November is the traditional month to give thanks, this is a timely request and quite fitting in my roles as a leader, a single mother, and a child of God who is growing, stumbling, and getting back up to try again day after day.

First, I have to thank my professional coach, Eileen Rossler.  She is an intuitive listener and also one who intentionally challenges those around her.  First, she challenged me to claim a title that I had been reticent to add to my list of roles, as it had been almost four years since I had been acting the part:  emerging writer.   During one of my coaching sessions she asked me if I had been writing.  I answered with two of the most common excuses for not doing what one loves: no time, no energy.  More succinctly, I was creatively drained.   Eileen did not accept my excuses. Not long after this session Eileen sent me an e-mail: “Two weeks in a mansion in the country with every need provided and nothing to do but write!! I think you can, I think you can, I think you can....what do you think?”  What could I say?

Yes, I said.  I can.  Preparing my submission cracked open the hardening shell of atrophy around my desire.  The passion throbbed in anticipation, beating hope through my veins.  Then the announcement came: “Congratulations – " and I gave my second round of thanks to the Almighty and to the readers, including Lorraine, who judged my words worthy of accolades.

Next, I had to coordinate child care.  My daughter’s grandmother, Rhoda Briggs, volunteered to take the first week.  My cousin took week two.  Without these two women offering their time and energy, love and loyalty, and most importantly, their belief in me as a writer, I would not have been able to afford the worry-free time away. I cannot thank them enough.

Upon arrival at the Nashville airport, our host Dr. Nii Saban Quao seemed convinced that his Mercedes Benz could contain four women and their suitcases, swollen to capacity with what we each required for our two week journey.  I looked at my slim comrades. “They will fit fine,” I said, then pointed to my full figure.  “But there is no way we’re getting these hips stuffed into that back seat with them,” I joked, but in my head I was quite serious.  As a woman, I am hyper-aware of my plus size and often make unhealthy comparisons that pummel my self-esteem.  This was not one of those moments.  This was simply my acknowledgement of a mathematical impossibility.  The good doctor respectfully disagreed and proved me wrong with quiet pride and dignity.  He packed us all in, my hips included, along with all our baggage.  Thank you, Dr. Saban for the ideal icebreaker.

Forty minutes later, we rolled up the hill to Africa House, the gravel driveway crackling under the heavy weight of the fully loaded vehicle.  I had seen pictures of the house on the HOAW website, but it did not prepare me for the reality. Now, as I think of that first sight of the golden lights shining from the plantation house, I recall a verse: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden…. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”  (Matthew 5:14-16.) 

To God be the glory for the light shining in Dr. Arikana Chihombori, the most gracious hostess of the Africa House.   Her generous spirit welcomed us into her royal kingdom.  She shared the story of how she acquired the mansion, bringing laughter and delight to those present and to the spirits of our ancestors who worked the land centuries before our arrival.  Her purchase granted me the freedom to breathe unadulterated country air.  She dressed me in a purple silken gown so I could stroll down graceful stairways and lounge about lazily on cotton white porch swings, sipping her spring green martinis.  For unlimited access to the perfect setting where this emerging writer could finally stretch and explore her imagination, Dr. Arikana, I thank you.

I thank the murmuration of the starlings, thousands of black birds swarming across the fields, in and out of harvest tinted trees, their dance of communion recalling the thousands of southern souls now flying free from the tethers of slavery.  I thank the stars that became mine every night as I looked up from the doorsteps of my bedroom.  To the fog that rolled in many mornings, taking me home to the Oregon coast, comforting me. Thank you for knowing me.

I am grateful for the acceptance of my fellow writers.  I did not feel like an outsider with these women.  As the youngest one, I was allowed to be a five-year-old ballet dancer.  I was left alone to pace, stop and stare into space, pace again, and then return to my room without needing to explain what I was doing.  And nobody judged me when feeding horses and donkeys became my daily devotion.  Thank you, Lydia,  for your keen insight,  honest and constructive criticism, and that gentle touch on my hand as you said “Not your circus,  not your monkeys” in your big sister voice; Terri, for tickling my taste buds, showing me that there is more to salad than spring mix.  This hippy hippie child is ready to get back to her earthy Oregon roots of eating; Sweet Sandra, giving care comes so naturally for you.  Your spirit exudes gratitude, overtly viewed in your joyful presence and twinkling smile, both contagious. 

These three very unique and distinct personalities flavored an organic fresh mix of womanhood, and I was blessed to be a part of the full serving of creative abundance, a diasporic delectable sowed and culled by Lorraine Harrell.  She saw the vision, dared to share the seed, tirelessly struggled against all obstacles to dig, nurture, pull, and finally feed the need for writers like us to just – write!  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

One of the requirements for applying to this residency was an artist statement.  In writing the statement, I realized that words cannot express the feeling of wholeness I get when writing.  I tried to define this feeling in the statement:

write \'rīt\ v

1 : an act of keeping myself sane.  One hundred pounds of paper on which I have written is testimony to how crazy I might have been. Blue notebook lines straighten out twisted thoughts and confine dark moments to the space between, white like the straight jacket I might have worn had I not been able to write. I have three Rubbermaid boxes of writings kept in decorated journals and three-ring binders, stream-of-conscious thoughts scribbled down on hotel notepads, bar napkins.  Writing is my way out of emotional and mental collapse. It’s what I do when I’m sick with dizziness from the circles of worries that run round me singing “Here We Go Loopty Loo.” 

When I write, each word slows the chase. I can catch my breath.   I enter into an ocean of endless time and space.  Once in the zone, I am complete.  The madness ends, and God begins. I know when the Lord has entered because my handwriting shifts. The writing ignores the lines on the paper, disregards grammatical rules.  The pronouns change from “I” to “You.”  What is written is simple, consolidating whatever complex issue I’m trying to work through.  Here, I’m not sure whether to leave a man who has hurt me yet again?  The answer, “Let him go.”  There, I’m worrying about my second car repossession. “You are greater than your circumstance.  Circumstances are temporary.  You are eternal.” That answer alone could easily apply to the total weight of my writings. 

2 :  I’m beginning to resent my writings; they take up too much space in my closet and they’re a pain in the ass to load up every time I move.  But I can’t throw them out.  Like the shelved books I’ve never read, I find the written word somewhat sacred.  What I have written is hardly holy, but it does serve as proof that I existed, easing a nagging fear that all the marijuana I use to smoke will kick start the family history of Alzheimer’s ahead of schedule.  I’ll want to recall my life; the joy of my children, my adventures to new places, the insight into old issues.  Though if I were reading the latter without memory, my response might be harsh - “What’s wrong with this woman?  Is she stupid on purpose?”  That may be another reason why I keep what I’ve written, as a record of how much I’ve grown.  Documentation that proves progress is possible; slowly insome cases, but it is made nonetheless.

3 : There is one major concern with holding on to a written history.  Once something is written down, whether fact or fiction, it becomes permanent.  Centuries later, future generations may use my writings as a reference.  In all my life, short as it’s been, there is much I’d rather forget.  I do not want my great, great grandchildren to uncover my writings and come to know what I once did, for even if I have changed and grown wiser, on paper my mistakes remain fixed.  So I find myself torn: keep my writings and through them preserve the memory of my existence, or let go of what has past and make room for this present.  When I’m this indecisive, I compromise:  bind the best, and burn the rest.  I’ll dig through piles of shit to discover the gems, lessons that can be polished and set. What remains will make for a wonderful winter bonfire.  I will perform a ritual of sorts, loose pages of bound burdens – guilt, shame, self-pity, blame – red flames blacken blue lines to gray ashes, writings of wrongdoings undone, stubborn sin and foolishness forgiven, released in the four directions to match the pattern of movement in this life I have come to know and love.

This residency, my first ever, renewed my love for writing.  Not wanting to lose that connection, I talked with Lydia about how to continue communion with my love.  She helped me make a plan, setting out a buoy that would mark the space for my return.  While driving home from Tennessee, I tethered my heart to the float and dropped anchor.

Now I am holding on with a firm, almost desperate grip; the tie can so easily slip in the waves of living. I am pushing myself to honor the talent God gave me, carving out time and saving energy to nurture my writing. Because Grandma Rhoda is still here with me, I was able to steal away an hour on Saturday to attend a festival for young adults and middle grade readers.  I attended a panel that informed how I might publish the book I started writing during the residency. Sunday, while Josiah was napping and Rio was in her room absorbed in her second viewing of a Strawberry Shortcake movie, I finished the edits on chapters one through five.  This morning before work, I began chapter six. 

I think I can do this. Yes, I can.  I will.

I pray for the character traits I will need: diligence, commitment, divinely inspired creativity.  And always gratitude for the time and energy to be free.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Seeking Co-Author

Decided to write my own love story.  Serves two purposes: 1) fulfills a life-long desire: to have, albeit imaginary, a romantic, long-term, successful relationship and 2) to write again - something I haven't been done since........can't remember.  Check the date of my last blog entry.  I may or may not keep going.  I just happened to be desperate to creatively express myself today, and longing for lasting partnership/love was the only emotion powerful enough to keep me still and focused so I could write (yes, I know, it's only a single page.)  I may not find time in the near future to do anything with this, but it's a start.


It is raining again, covering Oregon's green the misleading hint of fresh sorrel that turns to soggy spinach by mid-afternoon. A Gary Jules "Mad World" kind of day. It will be a clam chowder night, she determines, making her list for the trip to the grocery store ...which I need to get to before 4:00 or I'll run into traffic and be late to pick up the kids.

Planning her day is the one thing she looks forward to NOT doing when she retires - that and apologizing for past mistakes. Twenty years from now, poor decisions will look like gained wisdom. She'll be lucky to retire at 63. Her Ivy League master's degree in Africana studies is not turning out to be very profitable, despite what her educational debt implies. But she loves her job. She is making a difference, even if she doesn't see results of her efforts every day. Human growth is slow, progress arduous, never promised. In her field, hope in the promise is a barely visible fishing line that can either catch the 40 pound spring Chinook that will feed your family for a month, or snap fast and leave you eating ferns until another job bites; in her line of work it could be next fishing season.

She's had her coffee, minus the sugar. Sacrificing sweets is her latest attempt to subtract what might be the cause of her "pleasantly plump figure," a self-identified description of her figure on her peacock pride days, or "bubble butted heifer" on her drowned mermaid days. She's had the same 20 pound weight loss goal that would have been easily reached in her twenties, taken a few months in her thirties, but now seems to be an inverted and double number in her forties, gaining instead of losing, no matter what she cuts out of her diet.

It might help if you stop drinking, she scolds herself. But it's just wine, she whines. "You really need to stop talking to yourself," she speaks aloud.  Holding random debates with herself is surely a DSM IV condition, but she holds her head high, despite. Everybody talks to themselves in their own mind, she insists. She is wise enough to keep her diversified thoughts in her head, each voice conveniently organized for easy identification, simplifying the process of discerning who to obey and locking the rest away in their separate rooms: Mom, the billie goat gruff naysayer; Birdie the five-year-old dramatic but imaginative pretender; Hippie-child the nature loving, Spirit dancer who sings and paints and writes the pain away; Heaven, the exotic enticer at 20, the MILF at 30, the plus size retired ho' at 40+; Mrs. Right, the Baptist, Unitarian, Pentacostal, Non-denominational believer, full of faith, shaken, spilled, and running over with hopes and dreams and failures and pitfalls and "I wish I coulda, woulda, shoulda," and " least I tried" testimonies that will never be shared. Why should I? Nobody cares anyway. My life is shit. That would be EZ-E, the suicidal teenager. If there were a visual representation of the others mentioned, they would all express a collective sigh and shake their heads every time she speaks.

And then there is Ms. E, the chameleon with a professional title who can alter her presence to fit her environment. The woman who marches with merengue in her hips, the taste of Native resistance on her lips, the somber scowl of the silenced squaw. She has her nails done bi-weekly to hide the earth embedded beneath the tips that reveal her country commonness. And 'dat ass, the tell-all sign of blackness she can't hide, she never tries, resigned with a semblance of pride.

Ms. E is the "other" who sings Anita Baker in the spring, Billie Holiday in the summertime, Rickie Lee Jones in early evenings of fall, and makes up her own songs to get her through winters that are often unseasonably long, cold and quiet. With unconsented conception cradling her spirit, she determined that her life would have meaning, and so she committed to survival, hardly the fittest, but full of passion to fight for the underdog, trumpeting "Charge!" to all her other personalities as the situation required.

The dominant personality, Ms. E is competent, intelligent, and well traveled - Mexico, Cuba, Canada, South Korea, China, Costa Rica, Jamaica. Her map of "where next" includes unassuming places like Suriname, Madagascar. And countries either at war or nations that would be diametrically opposed to her liberated nature: Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Egypt. She wants to go because of the extremes, the spirit of resistance, and because she thinks it will be a pleasant respite to cover herself completely so men are only able to ogle her eyes instead of 'dem hips.

Ms. E claims many titles: mother, divorced single parent, educator, artist, a writer with no time to write, nature lover living in the 'hood cuz it's the only place she can find work to pay for life. Adaptable, a settler's spirit and a pioneer's drive, she's lived in multiple states and crossed country thrice. Yet as she gets older, she feels tired. The hinges that hold the doors to her rooms are loosening. The locks insecure. She longs for home, to come to herself, to be whole. To be known by someone other than God.

"To be loved," Birdie chimes. She is the dreamer.
"Hush, child. We got work to do," Ms. E interrupts and proceeds to type up e-mails and return phone calls through the last hour of morning.
"What's for lunch?" asks the teenager at 11:45.
"We should leave early and go on a picnic!" suggests Hippie-child.
"You need to call Patrick and ask him to take us out," Heaven tempts.
Ms. E shuts them all down. "I'm going to finish this stack of paperwork, and then eat the Indian food I bought from Trader Joe's. I have a budget and I'm going to stick to it this month!"
Mom and Mrs. Right agree with a curt nod while the rest pout in their respective rooms. The hinge on the door of an unknown room squeaks. Ms. E sighs. "No wonder I'm single. Can't no man handle all of me."

They all agree.