Saturday, December 20, 2014

This Revolution Is Women’s Work - Take One

I am the mother of a Black boy.  I don't get Thanksgiving and Christmas off. How can I stop holding in my heart the images of anguished, tear streaked, grim lipped mothers? How can I forget that a mother’s son’s last words have been printed on t-shirts and hats, the profit from which she will not see one dime?  How can I forget that some woman’s husband’s last words have become a chanted hashtag.  (Which a White woman wants to trademark!?!)

Think about that. I mean meditate on that.  Imagine that you are Leslie McSpadden, Mike Brown’s mother. You leave your bed.  Start there. Just start with the getting out of bed after your son has been murdered. That’s the part where I usually start crying a little bit. The part where I imagine my feet touching the floor.  

But, keep going. The hard floor connects with your soft warm feet. Your mind is slowly creeping out of the misty dream. As your feet hit the floor, you remember that you need to remind your son that his library books are due or that his college needs him to send in the health form.  You have to tell him something about the future you have planned for him. And he is dead. 

And your feet are on the floor. You’re sitting on the side of the bed. The phone rings. You answer it. Some activist you don’t even know on the East Coast wants to talk to you and forgot about the time difference. Because your son is dead.  You politely ask them to call back later.  Because your son is dead.  Everybody needs something from you.  Still.  You just want to go back to sleep. 

But, you don’t. You stand up. You can’t imagine how this body can defy gravity. What makes these muscles, these joints, these bones, these heart blood filled arteries so special other than life?  You have a bladder. It is full. That means your feet. Those feet which hit the floor ~  like your son’s body hit the pavement ~ have to rise. Like your son never rose.  They have to rise again and again and again to carry you to the toilet. 

And the urine releases like the blood released from your son’s body. In the streets. For four hours. Just leaking out and out and out.  And the tears, the tears, the tears stream down. And the mucus, the mucus leaks out.  You place your face in your hands. Your body heaves then spasms. His body heaved and spasmed. But, you clean yourself and stand up. He didn’t stand up. 

People are standing up in the streets. They want something from you. People are talking on the television. And they want something from you.  Everybody wants something from you.  And you are a Black mother. You don’t get the weeks and months following you son's death off. There are dead Black boys in the streets.

I think about the profits Arizona Ice Tea and Skittles made.  Who are we as people to race into the streets crying justice all the while lining the pockets of the unjust?  I get the politics of class. I get wanting to have something after generations of having nothing. I get it. It hurts. Our poverty legacy cripples us. 

But, unless we want it to get better, the real retail therapy we need is abstinence.  And this is where my revolution begins.  I have a two pronged attack. 1) Educate my son fully, comprehensively and accurately.  2) Live simply so others may simple live.   I have long known that the most definitive vote I have is my dollar. I don’t have any answers.  

I’m making this up day after day.  Every 28 hours, I get a new idea about how to resist. I am doing my own version of#NotOneDime. I'm not spending any money on any non-essential items. 

Pumpkin bread - 1 for today, 2 for the freezer
At first, I looked at one small way to reduce dependence on corporations. No more take out coffee. No more Saturday brunches at our favorite waffle place. But we like these things. Which means, I've had to become very conscious or mindful of our behavior. I know I like coffee. So, I pack a thermos. I know we get thirsty, so I pack water or juice. Once I got that down, I picked another battle.

For example, I know we eat everyday. It's not a surprise.  When I was engaging with corporations, hunger sometimes felt very much like a surprise. Like, “Oh, sh*t, it's 6:30 and I'm hungry. What the heck can I make for dinner? Oh screw it, let's just order pizza.” 

Then I think of Sybrina Fulton, Leslie McSpadden, Esaw Garner, Samaria Rice, all of the women, mothers, wives, sisters who put their feet on the floor every morning.  These women who lift that foot up and put the other foot down.  These women who keep moving.  I know, I can not allow this to creep up on me. 

But, I also know we keep a pretty good pace around the house. And that sometimes I'm too tired to cook. Sometimes, there have been one too many racist micro-aggressions in my day.  Or that feeling of helplessness at the sorry state of the world we are giving to our children makes me just too damn aggravated.  So, I've started planning for my shortcomings and distractions. I have to face them and be mindful.  

I'm doing some batch cooking on the weekends so, I have some easy, nutritious meals to throw in the microwave or oven and/or making a lot of things from scratch.  I’ve reduced or eliminated breakfast cereals, bread, cookies, crackers, snack items etc.  For example, waffles. A double batch of waffles can go in the refrigerator or freezer and then turned into toaster waffles. I'll do three batches of cookies. Save the dough in the refrigerator and cook them on demand. I just commit to one thing. One day. One thing.

my toaster waffles are better
In the past two months, we have used over 20 pounds of flour, 3 tins of baking powder, more than several dozen eggs and a bottle of yeast. We have eliminated over 8 different corporations from our budget. And if there is something you can not "live without," chances are you can find a copy cat recipe on the internet.  Here's a head start. This link has copy cat recipes for 17 desserts that people crave from chain restaurants.

Because I realize all of these things which have traditionally been classified as “women’s work” ~ cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care ~ are the revolution. It is why they have been dismissed and undervalued.  If women walked out on everything that was expected of us, society could well, 

change. It would take a minimum of $113, 586 a year to replace me.  See for yourself the annual value of women's unpaid labor.

What you can do is pick a few battles with specific corporations.  I can’t tell you which one. Just try eliminating The Koch Brothers from your household budget. They are actually easy to replace with a Black owned company called Freedom Paper. Walmart is good to boycott. In addition to the fact that the Walton's combined wealth is bigger than the combined wealth of Americans, they have simply terrible labor relations.  Try Nestles. They believe water is not a human right.  Then don’t buy from just that one corporations until you are ready to eliminate another one. 

Do your best to shop locally. Do your best to support individual craftspeople. Do your best to reduce spending on non-essential items until #BlackLivesMatter. It’s making a difference.  The #notonedime campaign cause a 7 billion dip in Black Friday and Cyber Monday revenue.  But, more importantly, speak out. Often. Relentlessly. Until your friends join you. Just do one small thing loudly.

I am the mother of a Black boy.  I don't get Thanksgiving and Christmas off.  But, together, we can start trying to take them back. 

Before you go shop.  Finish the meditation at the beginning. Cook the breakfast. Go to the funeral home.  Look upon that child's bullet ridden body. Poke at the dinner. Don't turn on the tv. Follow that meditation all the way through to the part where you climb exhausted into the bed knowing tomorrow will be the same and the same for another mother and one after that.  Every 28 hours, a Black mother somewhere is putting her feet on the floor and standing up after her son has been killed.  Then think about how much you need that whatever it is which seemed so important five minutes ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Everyday I Have The Power To Change The Future: Black Mamas Of Sons, Diahann Caroll, & The Deer

From time to time, I will take in some television. I have rules about it. The show has to have Black characters. They can't be seriously jacked up stupid. (I don't watch a lot of tv.) There are more rules, but, that's something else.
Never have I ever had a Forewarned Is Forearmed television moment until tonight. The below monologue is what the mother of a very handsome (Black) surgeon said right after she meets his girlfriend.
"Of course, you'll choose a less time consuming specialty once you marry Character-Name-Sounds-Like Winston. I don't know a young woman who wouldn't want to marry my Character-Name-Sounds-Like Winston ~ given half the chance. He's handsome. And he's brilliant! He's the best thing I've ever done in my life. He's the most important thing in the world."

& in that moment, I knew I had the power to change the future.

The woman in my show was played by Diahann Carroll. Same vocal cadence I would have used. Same imperious bearing. For a moment I thought I was in a televised time travel moment.  

This story is all about how that Mother character could very likely be me one day and how I really need to not be like that in the future. 

That tv time traveling moment evoked strange thoughts. So much of the way in which I parent necessitates being in the moment.  I do my best to attend to what is happening right now, between us.  It is important for me to be present with my son. 

The news stories of Now makes that difficult.  It creates hyper-vigilance, a second guessing reflex; an over the shoulder neck cramp; a continuous urge to furtively glance around.    (That is the default coping mechanism for persons who have been repeatedly traumatized.  And every Black mother has been routinely and systematically traumatized since we set foot on the shores of this country.) Black mothers are always on guard.  And because of this, we love our sons into cliche. Beyond reason. Beyond logic. Beyond politics. Beyond life, Black mothers love our sons.

That’s why I laughed so hard when I watched Diahann Caroll give that monologue.  But, for the grace of God/dess, go I.  I could hear that coming out of my mouth. I could.  She made me look around at what I think I’m trying to do here as a parent.  And how easily the tricknology of Heteronormative Patriarchal White Supremacy can take us out of ourselves.  So, I find myself on notice to be observant.

We recently moved. Here on The Acre, the deer here just don’t care. They are bold. They will watch me come outside on  my patio. They will wait for me to take their picture. Sometimes, I even think they pose for me.  They have no fear.  Those deer are White mothers.

I think about the deer back home in Pennsylvania.  They bolt if they hear a twig crack. They flee when you open a door. They run. They never saunter. They eat with one eye watching. They eat quickly. They are scared.  Those deer are Black mothers.  But, we don't have to be.  No Black mother has to be.

Everyday, I have the power to change the future.

I like to think my new deer friends reflect the emotional space I’m trying to occupy as a Black mother.  This here grass is good. I’ll eat it.  This here shade feels nice. I’ll be in it.  There is another energy. I see you.  This here fence is big and I’m strong enough to jump it, if the energy shifts. But, the energy here. It is good. And the grass. It is tasty. So, I’m here. Eating grass.

I think the deer are reminding me to keep holding onto these right now moments.  I imagined the Diahann Carroll character to have been a very similar mother.  A mother for whom the survival of her son was never the goal, but, the side effect of a daily celebration.  A mother who has built an impregnable castle around her son made out of the tiniest simple victories.  One stone is tying shoes. Another is a successful project. The next is learning a new song. We just keep adding stones.  Only seeing the stones.  Until one day she is confronted with the surprise that it is done. It is magnificent. 

A living son doing the work he is called to do who navigates his world safely and successfully is rare and precious. That can do something to a woman.  It can turn her into Diahann Carroll’s character - unconcerned for anything or anyone but her son.  Ready to challenge anything.  Acting subconsciously on the fear that everyone is going to try to undo everything she has done.  That all of it, all of it, all of it has been a waste of time.  

She has history on her side when she worries.  Any (Black) mother - especially bright, talented Stay-At-Home and/or home educating mothers - are told that mothering their children is a waste of time. They could be out blazing new paths, having careers, doing anything. Anything except listening and loving. And when all too often our sons are violently transgressed upon, we wonder.

But, I’m thankful for better role modeling.  I used to be a little skeptical of the way my Grandmother doted on my father.  How she and my mother had a carefully nuanced Understanding. (I would say detente, but, that would not convey the warmth and mutual respect they shared.)  I think my Grandmother and the deer would understand each other.   This right now, right here is good.  This woman. This life.  His choice.

And I can only hope, that I have the privilege to see that letting go, being here moment with my own son.  To experience what must be the most heady, exhilarating, adrenaline charged moment of any woman’s life.  That moment when you simply have to let go and trust your child to have their own life.  

In the meantime, I’ll just keep building my castle, listening to the deer and asking the ancestors to keep me open to the always of right now.

Everyday, I have the power to change the future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How A Bee Taught My Son How To Survive

It has taken me a long time to write this. I could never figure out “the angle.” For one moment, I must let go Adrian Peterson and the legacy of corporeal punishment.  Let go the school to prison pipeline. Let go of Ferguson.  Leave Tamir Rice to rest.  Just tell this story.  How this moment happened.  

A perfect Autumn Day. We woke to rain in a drought stricken area. Plans for a picnic on the beach followed by pumpkin hunts and minotaurs in hay bale mazes. According to pictures on Facebook, all of these things happened. None of these things were important that day.

The real story is what happened for fifteen minutes that afternoon on the beach. The most powerful, frightening and beautifully intense minutes my son and I have shared.  It was the day I stopped fearing, as much, for my son's life.   No matter what he faces as a Black male, he already has within him everything he needs to survive.   

It goes like this. 

After a short, half mile hike, we stood on the cliffs above the beach.  Win read me a Tsunami Danger Zone sign.  

“Umm, I don’t think we should go down there.” he said, looking up at the cloudy sky.

“No, I’d know if there was a possibility of a tsunami.” 

“No. I don’t think it is safe.”

“If I had any idea it would be unsafe, would we be here?”

“No,” he said kicking the pebbles. 

Reluctantly, hesitantly, we walked down the 45 odd stairs to the beach. At the bottom of the stairs, he felt the pebbly sand and decided this might not be a very good beach.  

“The sand here.  It’s not good.”

“Oh. Hmmm.” I said. “I like it. It reminds me how ancient and powerful the ocean is.  How many millions of sea creatures it has held, nourished and transformed into these small pieces all making a beach together.”

“Oh.” He said looking down at the sand.  And we stood a moment.  

So, I asked him,  “Are you still thinking about tsunami’s?” 

“Yes. I am very worried. I’m not sure I can stay here,” he said.  

“Oh. Hmmm. I feel pretty confidant there won’t be a tsunami today. I didn’t see any warnings in the news.” I said.  “Should we go? Or do have it in you right now to trust me with your safety?” 

He stood for a moment. Thinking. 

I waited. This is the hardest part of parenting. Giving your child information.  And then allowing your child to make decisions.  This moment is always followed by the most excruciating part of parenting ~ allowing your child to experience the consequences of decision making. And sometimes supporting them through those consequences without being judgmental or self-congratulatory.

“I’ll try.”  

I nodded.  I was so relieved and delighted. Not because he trusted me.  But, because I really didn’t want to walk back up those 45 steps, carrying the picnic cooler, and my purse, and the blanket.  I really didn’t want to find another place to have have lunch. And furthermore, I had researched this and made a plan for the day and we were proceeding according to plan.  We were on schedule. And every other truly trivial reason.

But, there it is. That hard part of parenting.  If I want my son to be strong enough to leave a situation in which he doesn’t feel safe, I have to be prepared to honor those moments when he needs to practice what it feels like to say, “I don’t feel safe. I’m going.” No excuses needed.  So, I would have abandoned my picture perfect plan for a Autumn picnic on the beach if he couldn’t be right there, in that place, in that moment.  And thankfully, we didn’t have to practice that core life lesson. 

Not long after I laid out our lovely luncheon, a bee buzzed around scouting out our offerings.  I instructed Win, “Remain still. Be calm. Find your center.  Stay in your absolutely peace place. Send out go away energy to the bee.”  Together, we did that for a few minutes.  

The bee landed on my face.  I closed my eye.  It crawled over my eye.  I could feel him watching in absolute horror.  Then, the bee flew off.  We laughed and joked about how well we communicate with the bees. We continued eating talking about being in harmony with nature and oneness with the world. And of course, Halloween and candy. 

And then the bee came back. It came back with a friend. It buzzed around Win’s head.  Again, I reminded him, to go to his solid, immoveable center. Breathe slowly.  He closed his eyes.  I instructed him to stand up. 

He stood. Walked slowly away from the food. He took ten steps away from me.  The bee kept at him.  
“Keep walking” I said. 

He kept walking.  The bee stayed with him. He turns around very slowly and walks back. 

The bee would not leave him.  

“Come back,” I tell him.   His eyes slowly glanced over at me. I can not describe his eyes - simultaneously far away, alert, focused, terrified, calm. “You’re doing great! Stay in your place. Be in your quiet place.”

He slowly walks back to me. “Kneel down,” I say quietly. 

He kneels. The bee is on his face.  He closes his eyes.  I see his pulse racing in his neck.  

“Breathe with me.” I begin to breathe slow, deep breaths.  His breath matches mine.  “Stay with the breath,” I say as I blow gently at the bee. 

The bee stroll across his cheek. It saunters slowly across his lips. It pauses on his philtrum, antennae waving as if deciding whether to climb into his nose.  

“You’re doing great. Stay in your center place,” I encourage. 

I light a cigarette. (No comments please.)  I breathe smoke on the bee. The bee moves off. Climbs up his cheek.  Crawls over his right eye. The bee lingers above his tear duct. The bee crawls under his eyebrow. The bee pauses between his eyes. 

I blow more smoke on it.  The bee ambles down to his left eyelid.  I can see he’s starting to break under the strain. It has been a full 10 minutes. His eyelid starts twitching. 

“Okay. The bee doesn’t want to go. The bee can’t hear us.  That’s okay. We can help it.”

His jaw clenches and unclenches. “Okay listen now. “ His lips quiver. “I’m going to tell you to stand up. When you stand up. Walk slowly down to the ocean. You can hear her. Follow her voice.  When the waves touch your feet. Slowly reach down. Scoop up some water and splash your face.”

His eyelid twitch.  His lips tremble. 

“Okay. Stand up.”

He stands. Slowly, he walks toward the ocean. The tension in his gait, shows every ounce of willpower not to run.   I fold the napkins.  Pack up the cooler.  Fold the blanket.  Put my shoes on. Jam his shoes in my purse. 

As he reaches the edge of the surf. He bends down just as the water recedes. He walks closer. Another wave comes in.  He misses it.  I can see him fighting the panic. Just then, the surf swells and a big wave comes slamming in, wetting the bottom of his shorts. He reaches down and throws the water in his face.  Turns and runs back to me.  

The bee is gone.  I hug him.  He breathes out a deep, shuddering breath. “I am so very proud of you,” I say. “Let’s go.”

He races up the stairs.  Halfway up, he turns back. Sees me carrying everything. I see the debate in his eyes. And the resolve before he asks, “Do you want me to help?”  

“Oh, no! I’ve got this! I’ll meet you at the top.”  And my heart truly pounded for a moment. In spite of calmly managing to handle this awful threat, he was able to hold onto who he is as a human being.  He was able to remain the person I affirm daily that he is. And I was so grateful.

At the top, there were hugs and high fives.  We had a lot of life lessons that day.  How when we live in a place of fear, the universe has a way of giving us something to really be scared of.  How important it is to not give into unreasonable fear.  But, most importantly, how to handle reasonable fear with grace.  

On the ride home from Half Moon Bay, he said, “Prayer really works, Mama. When I was at the ocean, I said, help me.  Please help me ocean.  And then that really big wave came. Right when I couldn’t do it anymore. The ocean, she came to help me.”  

And I said, “Yes. Yes you are loved.”

We’ve discussed it frequently since then.  We keep coming back to it.  When he is unsure. When he needs courage.  The other day, I don’t know how it came up.  We slip into it so naturally.  We were playing that game we play called “Where you going boy.”  He said, “Yeah, but before I say “My lawyer answers questions. Am I free to go? I have to be in the place that the bee showed me.”

That's right son, "Always go to the place the bee showed you."

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Excerpt from draft, "Studio Dreams"

I had a dream right before I left 
the heart flower paper airplane cage.
here is what happened.  there was 
hats and fathers
an ornate white bird cage 
brown leather bird mask
on the floor, tiny wooden toy 
wheeled animals 
the trees lost their heads
at the side swipe of a little boy’s hand.
& then the whirring 
{a hummingbird’s wings,
a teleportation device
an enthusiastic audience claps 
jet fueled grass-faced spirit dances}

falling. air tunnel. heart racing don’t care
snap ~ a hay colored parachute.
knees impact like an angry slap.
the black road burns off a layer of callouses.
dust. an armadillo.  a rusty truck 
one flower petulantly stares at a cloudless sky
horses Alice Walker the rolling hills. 

I am confused. 
the palm trees take off their masks. 
{ghost goat girl in her purple dress
waves and motions to me 
we meander a maze of wooden shacks
to the old slaughter house.
she dips one toe in the stone trough
where the blood ran off. & disappears.)

I shimmy under the shed. collect a jaw bone.
an old woman with snakes for hair 
shakes a backbone bellowing laughter.

a sudden reluctant peace crashes through my sternum 
erupts from my tear ducts when I realize the old woman is me
and this is the lost dream of a 20 year old girl
resurrected and frail.  presumed dead just like all the other 

good little Brown girls no one remembers. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

White Tears

one day, I will gather my White women.
every last last loving friend who ever said

"smh" or "no words" or "I can't believe that." 
"this make me sad." "this hurts my heart."

I will ask them to kneel before me & cry
into a hand crafted amber vessel.

I will collect each facile drop. save it
for all times I am in danger.

that they can not be there to save me.
I will at least have this magic potion made 

of the finest White woman water.
anoint the foreheads of my beloved boys.

it will save my friends from being dragged out
& drowned by my riptide heart. my tears are 

fathomless & seldom seen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

quick notes on a few non-violent parenting things I do

Parenting is a relationship I initiated.  As parents, we have the power to determine the dynamics of that relationship.  We define what kind of relationship we are going to have based upon the actions we choose.

I want to be in an honest, respectful, trusting, caring relationship. My children are here because I decided to let them come here when the Spirit offered me this opportunity.

However, they are not extensions of me.  They are individuals with their own personalities, preferences and interests.  Over time I have learned that my children are not a product.  They are an on-going process to which I have committed.  We are learning things from each other. We both make mistakes.

As Black parents, I notice we spend a lot of time worrying that our children’s behavior is a life or death issue.  It isn’t.  Our children make decisions about how they engage the world. For my son, especially, this can be life or death.  The simple fact of his Black maleness urges me ~ no compels and commands me ~ to make every effort to model calm, rational, caring behavior. This will be his best survival strategy.  

Giving him the ability to self-regulate; to take time to consider his actions; to learn to trust his decision making capability, these are tools he will use the rest of his life. 

I am not a great parent. I don't define myself that way because it is not a useful way of orienting myself to the world. What I can say is that I work very hard on being a thoughtful parent, a listening parent, a mindful parent.  This is the right style for me, in this moment, at this time.  That is the absolutely most important part of my parenting. I try to always understand that my parenting practices are not fixed and immutable.  They are ever adapting to the changing needs of my child.

So this is what works for me.

Don’t offer choices that aren’t there.  Life requirements aren’t a test.  Don’t ask questions when there is only one correct answer.  

If it’s time to go; put on a hat; or put the toys away, don’t ask a child if they want to do it.  They don’t want to do it.  They are children. 

You don’t have to me a mean dictator barking orders.  A simple, “please put your hat on”  or ‘thank you for cleaning your toys up now” suffices. 

When you are offering choices, honor the decision they make.  Oh, how painful this can be.  I can get a real flashy pair of rose colored glasses on and expect my child to make a difficult choice because I am absolutely 100% positive that know they know what the “right choice” is.  And because they are such a fantastic, glorious child, they will make the right choice. No. It doesn't work that way. They are still a fantastic, glorious child. But, they are a child. Consistently making the right choice takes practice.

I am eternally challenged to do the right thing in this instance.  The child wants to look at a puddle.  We have plans to go to the zoo.  What I have to ask myself is for whom is this activity?   The better parent in me can step back and say, “Okay, then, sure. we can stand here and look at this puddle for the next 30 minutes." 

So, they’ve made their choice.  And you are living with it.  They don’t see the long term. that’s your job.  I always make sure that they know the consequences of their choice.  And have them repeat it back to me so I know that they understand.

I say, “Tell me, 'I may have to wait a long time for another zoo time if we don’t go now.'”

If they can repeat that on. 

The thing is, I am the grown up. The zoo will always be there. The puddle won't.  There are times it just isn't about me.  I wanted to go to the zoo. But, the outing was for the benefit of the child. If I want to go to the zoo so badly, I have the power to get some child care and go. 

Calmly Communicate Clear Consequences 

Be prepared to enact consequences for bad behavior.  I have left groceries in the aisle. Left after 5 minutes of a long anticipated coffee date.  In the very early pre- 2 years when we ate out, I carried cash.  If tempers were unmanageable, we left. I kept a mental tally of our order, added extra for maternal brain death and an acceptable tip. I had to use it twice.  We got home. Ate bread. Drank water. And I communicated we had better opportunities.

No need to guilt. No need to call names. No need to be emotional.  The facts are the worst thing about what happened. (This is my attorney father slipping out.) State the facts.  1. Screaming in restaurants is not okay. 2. You screamed. 3. We left. 4. This bread and water is dinner. 6. We can always make different choices tomorrow. The end. No further discussion required.

Focus On The Positive.  "I really like it when..."
It’s all wonderful to think they should get some kind of warm fuzzy internal reward for doing the right thing.  Well, they don’t.  When a child does the right thing without being asked, notice that behavior.  

I praise and thank my son for all kinds of trivial things.  “I really like it when you turn the tv off quickly, get your shoes and coat and go stand by the car. It really helps me keep our schedule.  Thank you.”

“I really like it when...” is one of the most useful parenting / teaching phrases I have ever found.  After awhile, children actively seek this attention.  This phrase has gotten me through many a teaching artist gig.  It can be exhausting noticing all the very many, many wonderful things children do.  It is a choice for me.  Do I want to leave that classroom exhausted and dispirited? Or exhausted and deeply fulfilled? I choose the latter feeling.

Side note: even adults don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling about doing the right thing.  But, we do them.  And it’s nice when someone notices.  We thank my husband for going to work. He thanks me for making dinner. Living in gratitude creates a positive environment.

Don’t Reward Bad Behavior
Internet rules apply to real life.  Don’t feed the trolls.  Don’t make a big drama.    Develop selective hearing.  

I don’t hear whining.  I don’t hear rudeness.   Don’t talk about things they already know.  (Unless you are engaged in a quiet discussion about what exact thought process lead them into doing something they clearly knew was wrong.)

I do hear screaming.  I do acknowledge turmoil.  Acknowledge the normalcy of the feeling.  But, they can’t do that near me.  I have other more interesting things to do.  They can go work that out far away from me.  I’ll be here to do wonderful interesting things with them when they get back.

Expect Good Behavior. “Here is what I know about you...”

I often list all the reasons I am surprised that we are having a discipline moment.  It usually begins with “here’s what I know about you. You are a thoughtful person.  So I’m really surprised that you’ve done this thing. I need to hear about what isn’t working for you, so you don’t feel like you need to behave this way again."  This is the part where really active listening occurs.

Do What You Say You Are Going To Do
If you say there will be ice cream. There had better be ice cream. 

If it is going to be 5 minutes. Set the timer.

If you said you could hear the whole story, when it’s a good time, go say, “I wanted to hear all about the worm in the mud. And I have time now to hear the whooooole story.” (Sometimes they’ve forgotten about the worm in the mud. What is important is they know that you were listening and that you care.

Now after 11 years of observing me honor my word my son says. “well, actually Mama if you say it’s going to happen it will happen. As long as you have absolute and total control over it happening." He added the last part. Because once something didn't happen which I told him would happen. He was shocked. I had to explain that other really important life lesson. You can't control everything and everyone. You can only control yourself.

Find The Real Problem
Sometimes, when a child is resistant to the correct choice, there is actually a deeper underlying reason.  In spite of believing that I am a fantastic active listener, at times, I am so far from being able to make that statement. It would almost seem like a delusional statement to my child.

Toilet training was one of those times.  He was just a little over 2 years old. One day, he woke up and simply wouldn't let me change his diaper.  Well, I did not wrestle him to the ground and change him. I let that diaper get ripe.  I kept checking in with him about that diaper. Eventually, I needed to let him know I had to make a decision for his health and well-being.  I said, "I'm going to take that diaper off because I don't want you to get sick. Do you want a new diaper?" He said, "No." and I stopped and thought about that.  So I asked, "When I take your diaper off, you don't want a new diaper?" He said, "No diaper." That was was an epiphany moment for me.  He had been presented with lots and lots of information about toileting. He wasn't being defiant. He was making a huge life decision and just needed a little space to commit.  He never looked back. He never had an accident.

Every now and then I need to say, "Is this one of those times you need me to listen and not say anything?"  This has done wonders for creating an atmosphere where the child is clear that this is almost an amnesty zone. A time when you can just let them work through all of their conflicting feelings and emotions without fear of a lecture, punishment, or advice. Sometimes, they need to hear themselves say things out loud so that they can find their way to their own solutions.

When they are done, you can ask. "Okay, so where are you with this situation? Do you need help? Would you like me to respond?"  Sometimes they do. Sometimes, they don't. What they do learn is that you trust them to do their best to solve their own problems.  And that you can help them find their own way.

I have come to see that when I offer care, concern, trust, respect and honor, I get it back.

NOTE: I have a full grown, wonderful daughter engaged in the process of becoming who she should be. I am thankful to her for being a teacher to me about ways to improve my parenting.  The bulk of these suggestions reflect the parenting of my son. There is a 16 year gap between the two of them.

just thinking about discipline

My parents gave each other parental autonomy. My mother spanked. My father did not spank. I have to say, it was more agonizing being disciplined by my father. He would sit us down to talk. And he wouldn't stop the talk until we had come to some remorseful self-awareness about how selfish, greedy or stupid we had been and how we had known better and still made poor choices. And then he would ask us how we would punish ourselves. And we had friends, so we knew about all kinds of punishments. 

With Mom, we were up and back to our bad selves. With my father, we were grounding ourselves for weeks, taking away our own tv privileges and writing essays about our badness. He taught us how to self-regulate.  Because his parents taught him how to self-regulate.

Spanking ultimately derives from not having enough time to contemplate and develop strategies to address the adult's unmet needs. To be able to be perfectly present in the whirlwind of ever changing needs a child expresses is truly challenging and requires diligent self-checking. 

When do I say no?  I say no when I actually care enough to stand up and walk across a room to do something about enforcing that “no.”  When do I say yes?  I say it when I enthusiastically support the activity.  Typically, I communicate my ambivalence through a middle ground statement.  “I don’t see why not.”  If I can’t think of actual real, tangible reasons why something should not occur, then I empower my child to make that choice.  

However, this isn’t really a switch-up fixit fad. I began practicing this response in very early childhood.  I never said, ‘no’ unless it was an irrefutable and unchangeable fact. (Usually around concerns of health and safety.  The times when you need a child to understand that they must freeze in their tracks or get hit by a car.) Instead,  I always said, ‘this is why not” and provided a list of concerns. This way, by the time the child is older, they have a history of understanding that you don’t say no just to be arbitrary and mean.  

I find myself telling my son all the time, “I feel bad when I have to say no.  Every fiber of my being wants you to be a happy person. But, this thing you are requesting right now? This is a short term happy.  It isn’t going to make you become the person you want to be. So, the hard part of my job is saying no. Because I love you.’

That takes a lot of time.  The same amount of time Dad spent with me.  The time he had to take out of his busy, tiring day to deal with some knucklehead decision I made because I was young; thought I could get away with it; and had very little impulse control. Time he could have spent watching Hawaii Five-O or preparing for work the next day.  But, he took the time.  Discipline was about building life skills. It wasn’t a problem to be ticked off a list so he could get about the rest of his day and reinforce his disagreement with what I had done.

In all fairness to my mother, she was an executive for a major corporation, a community activist and was responsible for the care and cleaning of a massive house, household maintenance and overseeing the needs of two independently minded children. (Often while her husband was on the road.) I would say she had a lot of unmet needs.  She would say, she doesn’t have time to wallow around in thinking about her unmet needs when there are things to get done in the world. (I salute her. She is an incredible and amazing woman.)

It has taken me a lot of time to cherish and value what both of my parents gave me through their parenting techniques.  Some days, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to leisurely root around my garden of unmet needs looking for truffles of despair.  In those days, I need to take swift and immediate action. Fix the problem and move on.  Other days, and always with my child, I am reminded to take the time.  To slow down. To breathe and think before choosing which words I will use.  

         I don’t see why not.
    Here is why not.

Children behave poorly when they have unmet needs. Making sure a child's needs are met - hungry, thirsty, tired, unengaged (bored) - can prevent a child from acting out. This is being a pro-active parent. This is something we, as African Americans, could do better at in general. Be proactive not reactive.

We need to live healthy lifestyles. We need to open spaces in our lives for spiritual and emotional refreshment. We need to anticipate our needs, so that we can plan to get them met. We need to slow down. Everybody needs to slow down.  We need to begin seeing ourselves in the long term.   I don’t see why not.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Dear Baleen,

you, the loneliest 200 ton blue black girl 
in the whole world. ripple along 

trusting any song is always 
better than none. 

notice even tempestuous weather ~ 
a punk rock hurricane or pattering globules waltzing ~

has some composer. know the way your food 
sounds like celebrating African women

krill! krill! 
sing! sing! 

even if you canΚΌt see me
I hear you sister! 

your wrong throated depth of 51.57 Hz 
or the difference of 20 hurts 

lower. your power 
seeks a new ear. 

my throat closed. 
I no longer tried

until I heard your sleek cicatrix 
muscled darkness calling

sing! krill! 
krill! sing! 

your own kind can’t hear you 
calling out over twenty years 

competing against  marine noise 
pollution; invalid frequencies; 

forgotten migration paths
swim. your own thing

opens my mouth.

NOTE: Scientists have been observing a Baleen whale who sings at the wrong frequency. She follows no known migratory patterns, can not find other whales and has been singing alone for over 20 years. New York Times article.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Home Educating & Gardening

home educating and gardening are similar. you get dirty. there's always water involved. the wind is more important than you know. sometimes there's fire. & sometimes that's necessary. not good or bad. 

not everything is about planting seeds. there's bulbs and tubers. there's transplants and cuttings. 

there will always be weeds. not good or bad. sometimes, they come to heal you. sometimes one of your good natural neighbors needs them for food & shelter. they teach judgment and generosity. the ones that are bad will kill everything you love. so, you have to dig them out by the root. sometimes, fire is involved.

there is always repetition.

always check the compost pile. it might offer more than nourishment. it may have next years fruit already growing.

you have to know the plants. nothing ever happens at the same time. not everything will happen in the same year. some skip a year. some you've got to put in year after year, especially if you like them. some come back after winter's rest. some a year. some can kill you. you have to know whether their beauty is worth the risk. some benevolent volunteers, just show up to remind you you don't have to do everything yourself.

some feed your body. some feed your soul. some do both. not one is more important than the other just because of what they do. you, your friends, your family and the Council Of Elders you assemble are the evergreens. make sure you plant those wisely so they don't overshadow.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Post-Modern Minstrals: White Male Artist Hires A Black Actress To Portray His Fictional Black Woman Artist

real or imagined, lyrical, 
literal, euphemistic, financial 
symbolic and/or metaphysical ~
to pillage and plunder Africa;
steal Black bodies; conquer & command 

~ { [ the elastic soul spark of Black women 
be Pygmalion'ed - extracted & siphoned 
into fragile glass vials - jammed 
into molds~ served like jello, wine or 
fired into reproductive vessels ~ ] }

this has never been problematic for Whites
except when any discussion of their right 
to do so disrupts their center 

or perception of self as perfect. 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

National Poetry Month...

Thought I'd post something with which I've been toying.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

August Wilson Center - Symbol Of A Greater Problem For Black Artist

You've met Christiane D. Leach  here on a few years ago. I blogged about The Formiable Christiane D. Leach in 2008 when I was thinking about folks people should know.  Now, here is a story you won't believe.  It's a story about the way gentrification hurts communities of color.  It is a real story.  And this time, it just got up close and personal.  

Meet Christiane D. Leach a respected Pittsburgh artist who is internationally known for cool beats and smooth vocals.  As the Artist Relations Coordinator for The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, her purpose is to make Pittsburgh a more viable and sustainable place to live and work as an artist. Part of that viability is being able to purchase a home.  In November of 2013, she planned and implemented HE-HO,one of the most comprehensive conferences for artists to learn about affordable health care and home ownership.

Little did anyone know, during that conference, through no fault of her own, Leach became homeless. Her landlord sold the house she was renting, gave her 30 days to vacate and the closing date on her new home was delayed once again.  Her credit score was good. She had her closing costs in hand.  She had completed all the necessary paper work.  She had done everything in her power to move the deal forward to a successful conclusion.  

She was working with the most logical choice to help her achieve her own dream of home ownership, the FHA. The FHA has successfully helped millions of low to moderate home buyers purchase homes, moving America away from a nation of renters to a nation of home owners.  

The only thing she failed to take into full account is Pittsburgh’s attitude toward Black neighborhoods.  Since1980, Black population in the region has increased, while the Black population in the City Of Pittsburgh has decreased.  From 1990 the Black population in Pittsburgh has dropped from 101,139 to 79,710. 

Gentrification, inability to afford housing and obstacles to obtaining properties in distressed areas have all served to push Black out of the center city.  

After over a year of attempting to purchase a home, Leach was informed today that the only way she will be able to purchase her home in the distressed area of Homewood  is through cash or an owner financed loan.  In essence, unless you have cash, the only way to be a home owner in a distressed neighborhood is to have over $30,000 on hand.  Not many people today - let alone African Americans - have that kind of money sitting in a bank account. 

The dilemma of the August Wilson Center is symbolic of a larger attitude that Black Pittsburghers are incapable of being responsible of property. Here are some action statements for people who want to help. 1) Tweet her note with the hashtag#FHApghredlines or #pghredlines.
2) Or Tweet this blog with the hashtag#FHApghredlines or #pghredlines.
3) Share on Facebook and Google +

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Animating "Electronic Corpse: Poems From A Digital Salon"

As much as I enjoy making and creating my own work, I love being an artist in community.  And sometimes, I can't stand it that not everybody knows about every massively inspiring creation I encounter in my own life.   

It was that same need to create, collaborate and build community that inspired a non-profit, I co-founded and ran with Christiane Leach, Sun Crumbs.  Back in those days, when I encountered incredible artists, the first thing I did was scheme about a way to get them to present in Pittsburgh.  Christiane and I eventually shut down Sun Crumbs because funders were more interested in changing our vision to meet their own objectives and models. 

A few years ago, I decided to stop asking permission to do my art work.  I applied for very few grants. When I did apply, I presented the work as I saw it within, rather than as a list of objectives funders laid out before me.  Needless to say, I went unfunded more than I went funded.  Not surprisingly, my work was more supported abroad than at home in Pittsburgh.  

Living in London, brought about a tremendous inner freedom. My time spent at Historic Royal Palaces, University Of East London and City Lit College made me vibrate due to the positive reinforcement for being honest within my own artwork.  All of these experiences lead me to artist residencies and retreats.  

When I returned home to Pittsburgh, I made a conscious decision to no longer ask permission to create and produce.  I was simply going to do it.  So, I produced my one woman show, "She Diva Died. & Come Again?"  I realized, that changes in technology would free me to pursue my own work in community with other artists.  With all of this in mind, I began The Svaha Paradox Salon which responds with agility to under-exposed artists whose voices are marginalized due to the way in which they are performed in the minds of the dominant culture. And together, we share the results with audiences. 

Svaha Paradox Salon resumes where the Sun Crumbs left off in 2003 to seek out artists whose exceptional work requires support from non-traditional sources. Svaha Paradox Salon provides the encouragement necessary to complete these projects.

In 2012, I noticed M. Ayodele Heath was hosting digital salons on Facebook.   Inspired by the early 20th century French surrealist parlor game, Exquisite Corpse, M Ayodele Heath was offering group poetry writing exercises. (Syllabic Sundays, Metaphoric Mondays, Wildcard Wednesdays, and Free Verse Fridays).   I asked him, how he was archiving these.  He had thought about it.  I (and other participants) encouraged him to do more than think about it.  Then, I asked him if he'd be willing to let The Svaha Paradox Salon make this project our first book.  

To date, over 130 of these exercises have been created by poets of all experiences and geographies – from state poet laureates to the casual journaler; from South Carolina to South Korea to South Africa. We've selected the best.  The poems in Electronic Corpse: Poems From A Digital Salon reflect the way in which social media has transformed the ability of artists to engage with each other regardless of physical constraints or externally driven outcomes. 

It’s a truly unique and layered book.  The anthology has two sections: the collaborative poems and poems from the most frequent contributors.  The reason we are publishing individual poems is our hope that by seeing the individual poem, the determined reader might excavate that poet's voice within the larger voice of the group.  Almost like a soloist in a choral piece.

The most  important part of this anthology is for archival reasons.  Unlike pre-digital artistic communities, there will be no cocktail napkins or scrawled notebook pages to reconstruct the ways in which artistic communities engage.  In regards to social media - entire conversations can be lost if one person deletes their account.  This book archives one digital salon over the period of a year.

Making art and building arts community is truly amazing in the Digital Era.  Some days, I wonder if the same tools had been available in 1998, whether Electronic Corpse: Poems From A Digital Salon would be the twentieth anthology I've produced.  Regardless, I am happy to start somewhere.  This book feels like one of the many reasons I showed up for this life. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Typical Conversation About Race In Pittsburgh

[Negro lies on the sidewalk]

Al: Look at that wound!
Be: That's a bleeding wound!
Clear: That's a bleeding wound! open all the way down to the bone!
Dammit: That arm has a bone in it!
Al: Look at the bone!
Be: That's a bone with blood all around it and ripped muscles!
Clear: Are you sure that's not a ligament or tendons?
Dammit: It certainly is something.
Whitey: It could be a movie prosthetic. Are you an actor?
Negro: A little help here? I'm bleeding out.
JC Negro II: (rolls up his sleeves, kneels down and begins holding Negro's wound together.) Anyone got a bandage?
Al: Um, I'm actually just about to use this band-aid.
Be: Here, have this organic sea foam and Indonesian dirt tincture.
Clear: Have you tried yoga?
Dammit: We should get a Hazmet team in to clean up this concrete. It's a biohazard. Think of future generations!
Whitey: I'll write up a report about this polluted concrete right away. Ow! Paper cut!
Negro: (whispers )a little help?
Al: A paper cut! Are you okay?
Be: Omg! White light! White healing light all around you!
Clear: Call an ambulance!
Dammit: Omg! Omg! Omg!
Whitey: Owwwww! I'm dying!
JC Negro II: I got this! (rips off his shirt, tears it into strips of bandage, and wraps Whitey's paper cut. turns and look at Negro) You got this, Negro?
Negro: I got this.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka | October 7, 1934 / January 9, 2014


"A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and Black people
call across or scream across or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will.

Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone's
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air.

We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.

We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new

Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy,and create. What will be

the sacred word?

Amiri Baraka - October 7, 1934 / January 9, 2014