This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

December 2, 2009

In fact: National Sentence Writing Week (NaSeWriWee)

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Yeah, I know you haven’t heard of it. I just made it up. I’m so proud of folks (like Nordette!) who have successfully completed NaNoWriMo. Every year since I heard about it I say This year I will join in on all the writing fun. Every year I’m at December 1 or 2 saying, Oh darn well maybe next year.

I think what I’ll have to do is start small. Realllllly small. Like maybe one sentence. And one week.

I’m going to get started on the perfect sentence from somewhere in the novel that I will likely never write. So here is my progress so far:

In fact

Yup. That’s it. Two words so far. Two letters, space, four more letters. No punctuation (yet). I’m leaning towards a comma next, but may go buck wild with a left parentheses or dash or maybe an ellipsis. You’ll just have to tune in next time to see.

By the way, I have “tweeted” my effort.

I mentioned here before that I Don’t Do Twitter. But after falling for listening to the advice of several people who are expert users, I decided to join in. But I am about ready to quit. I cannot seem to get the hang of it. I feel as though I am a latecomer to a large party, mingling around the room and catching one sentence only of 23 or 24 different conversations—none which I seem to be a central participant in.

We’ll see.

In the meantime I’d love if others participated in the first ever NaSeWriWee. I think I might actually be successful at this, and think you could be, too!

November 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Old Friends

I did something yesterday that I absolutely hate: I said goodbye to old friends.

I had been building up to it for a while, trying to prepare myself emotionally. Over several days I had gone through and caressed all of them, trying to decide which I would keep and which would be gone from my home. Finally, I decided I was ready.

Light tan bankers box, emptied of hanging file folders containing remnants of two semesters of my graduate school career. (Which I saved. Never know when I might need, for instance, my notes from a family theory course from the early 2000s.) Okay, I said to myself, only what will fit in this box. Any that do not fit in the box will go back on the shelf.

I had made a stack, a tall tower on the floor that reached up to counter height. A few were books that had been given to me as gifts, but that turned out to be not my cup of tea. Two taboos broken here: never say goodbye to a book and never return a gift. Yet those went in the bankers box fairly easily. A few were books that I had bought, tried several times to read, but never managed to finish. (One, We Who Are Dark, I put back on the shelf. Didn’t I just read a review of that book that brought up an interesting aspect that I had not considered? Maybe it was worth a third try.) These, too, went from the tower to the box.

"Fillmore St. Marcus Books." PPR_Scribe

There were three titles making up the tower that were duplicates of ones still on my shelves. I don’t know why I kept these multiple copies. Perhaps I thought I might one day open up my own book store? The Women of Brewster Place and John Henry Days duplicates went in the box. I imagine some bored teenager who had just seen the film version picking up my copy of Gloria Naylor’s first novel and becoming transformed. I imagine someone in the bookstore searching the fiction section looking for a book by some author whose last name starts with W—Richard Wright, maybe, or Thomas Wolfe—not finding it, but happening upon my copy of Colson Whitehead’s book and deciding to give it a go….

But I put the Breaking Ice anthology duplicate back on the shelf. That copy was one I had bought when it first came out. Around the same time I had just begun dating the now-spouse. He had given me a copy of the book too, which he had signed and wrote a very nice note on the inside cover. For years the two copies sat on my shelf: the one that I bought and the one that I had been given. Without both red spines on my shelf, how would I remember the story behind them, the story of one of the earliest and most meaningful romantic gestures from the man I love?

Several Patricia Cornwell books from her Scarpetta series went in the box. As much as I love the doctor’s hunt for clues from the dead, I consume the books like cotton candy and there is no reason to hold onto them after I have read them. Plus, I figured they are ever popular and should fetch a high price as the sell-back counter. The three José Saramago books I own owned went in the box. Blindness had been my first and favorite. It disquieted me for days after I finished the last sentence. I experience mind tremors still, today, when I think of it. I have avoided the movie version because I love so dearly that feeling I got from the book and fear that the movie will be a huge let down. If I were filming that movie I’d just have audio and a white screen. I’m guessing that’s not what the actual movie’s director did.

The book and its siblings (The Cave and The Double) went in the box. Someone else should get the chance to love them.

A Mercy went in the box. Then out of the box. Then back in the box. Now it sits on my bedside table. My promise to Ms. Morrison is that I either re-read the book within the next two months, or I give the book away to someone else to read and enjoy. I additionally promise to do a review on this blog of the novel, based on my second reading of it. I will have to have the book in order to re-read and blog it, right? So I guess you could say the bankers box, then, was A Mercy-less.

None of my textbooks went in the box. Not a one. On the spot I made up a rule that only in the process of major residential moves will I say goodbye to textbooks. My last big move I got rid of dozens. It is not yet time to get rid of more. Not sure why this decision was elevated to “rule status,” but I am comfortable with it. It has a ring of seriousness and formality about it. It stands.

In the end, that still left a very full bankers box of books. There were a couple of odd gaps left in the box, so I stuffed a couple of pulp paperbacks in the spaces. The box was heavy. That is as it should be. Before anyone gets rid of a shelf full of books, she should feel the literal weight of such a serious decision. It should be a little painful. The cardboard cutout handles of the bankers box should bore into her fingers, leaving a reddish mark for the next 40 minutes. She should get a back spasm from lifting the boxed books into and out of the passenger car seat. Her thighs should ache from where the box repeatedly bumped them on the long walk from the parking lot to the store.

My daughters went with me to say goodbye to my books. They were fascinated by the new (to them) process. Their reaction reminded me how infrequently I do this kind of purging, and I promised myself to do it more. Maybe…one book out for every two books in? Something like that. Maybe keep a fresh, empty bankers box in the junk room or in my home office labeled with thick black permanent marker “TO BE SOLD”? Maybe.

My daughters assumed we were going to be wealthy from the sale. I think they were imagining riches like those that awaited Alladin in the cave. They excitedly pulled my jacket sleeve when they heard the bookstore clerk call my name over the loudspeaker, indicating he was ready to give me my offer after inspecting my collection of volumes. Calm down, I said to my daughters. I’m guessing it will only be about $20.00.

At the counter the clerk gave me the verdict: $25.00.

Before I even left the store I saw my copy of The Scarpetta Factor on the shelf in the new titles section. I had to restrain myself from buying the book back. The three of us bought books that totaled a little over $7.00. I left the store, then, with almost 18 extra dollars and two new, lovingly used books. And, I guess, I also left the store with the satisfaction of knowing that now others will now get to experience the joy of discovering books that once sat on my shelves.

And an empty bankers box.

*Image: Marcus Book Store, 1712 Fillmore St., San Francisco

October 8, 2009

Riddle, Poem, Tale, or Joke—Take 2

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My first category here at this blog I named “Riddle, Poem, Tale, or Joke” and it included brief pieces that were short-short stories or other creative writing. (The story of how the category came about is here.) My thinking was that I would just do freewriting, or very very very rough drafts, and polish them later. And that was fine. For a while. Until more people besides my initial 3 visitors started to read the blog. Then I became self conscious about these fledgling works of fiction and stopped posting them here.

But every so often an idea occurs to me and I feel a hankering to write it out—and make a commitment to it by posting it here.

Well, I have two such drafts sitting in my drafts folder right now. I’ll post them soon. But first I just wanted to reflect a little about what I have already written, because when I first posted those other pieces I provided no context or explanation.

A two-part piece I posted called “Friday at the Front” still gets several hits a week even though it has been some time since I first posted it (Part 1, Part 2). I am not sure what folks are getting out of the two posts. (No one has ever posted a comment about them.) The piece is a take-off on a short story by Neil Gaiman called “October in the Chair” (in Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub, 2008, Doubleday). I think of my story as making some statement about topics related to the theme of this blog (e.g., racism, race relations, gender). But exactly what that statement is is something that I did not think a lot about before or during the writing of the posts. I could make some ad hoc claims now about what that statement is. Or I could just hope that I achieved something in fooling around with Gaiman’s stroytelling style and that people will have a moment of pleasure reading it.

Except.

Except that one of those posts I was talking about in my drafts is a follow-up—now it is Saturday’s turn at the head of the conference table. Where the first time I just freely wrote and worried about message later, now I am stepping more cautiously. I would love to be more intentional about message, but I do not want the message to take over to the extent that the story is crap. That’s not a thought process that builds much creative confidence. But I will be going for it. It’ll be posted sometime soon and then I’ll just see.

The second draft story-post features a suburban, middle class, professional Black woman. You may think that this suburban, middle class, professional Black woman is me. You would not be correct. I definitely know this fictional woman. Quite well. I have written about her before—In “Water Under Bridges” and “Inside-Out,” for example. And she may have had some initial experience that is very similar to one I have had in my real life. These blog posts may, like in some movie disclaimers, have been “inspired by true events.” But just so you know, they are not 100% fiction-free, not 100% about-me. Which is why I classify them in my category just for these types of posts. Anyway, the draft I have follows this fictional woman as she consolidates aspects of her life…with unintended consequences.

Should be fun. In fact, both of these have been fun to think about and begin writing so I hope they are just as fun to read and (hopefully) talk about.

Tune back in soon at this same Bat-time, same Bat-channel…

September 20, 2009

Anyone else reading…

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Sag Harbor or Kiss the Sky? What are your thoughts? (But please—no spoilers! I am only about half way through each.)

August 30, 2009

Missing No. 1 Ladies

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Usually—along with the cooling temps, shortening sunlight hours, and back to school sales—fall, for me, means looking forward to the new seasons of my favorite television shows. “Heroes is all set September 21st to begin down the road to redemption; “Nip/Tuck” appears ready for more delicious guilty outrageousness in October; Sports-wise, a couple of weeks of US Open grand slam tennis starts tomorrow and the NFL is preparing to use this football season celebrate the 50th anniversary of the AFL—with, hopefully, particular attention to the league’s pioneering Black players.

For me, the only thing missing is “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

All through the summer, I feared that the program would not be coming back. No promos for HBO’s fall line-up featured show. On No. 1 Ladies’ discussion boards and Facebook pages fans lamented the lack of word and commitment about the show’s return. Little by little the C-word began to leak out. Was the show…canceled?

Well, apparently not—though what exactly is the show’s status is not entirely clear:

The acclaimed BBC-HBO adaptation of the popular series of mystery novels by Alexander McCall Smith, starring Broadway veteran Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe, a lady detective “of traditional build” in her native Botswana, is still alive HBO president Michael Lombardo told Canwest News Service at the semi-annual gathering of the TV Critics Association.

Despite strong reviews, the series did not fare as well as other recent HBO dramas like True Blood and Hung, or established programs like Entourage and Big Love, all of which will return with new seasons.

True Blood is averaging 11 million viewers for HBO, and is the pay cable channel’s most-watched series since The Sopranos.

It would be “an incorrect assumption” to think that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has been cancelled, though, Lombardo said, even though it was pointedly left out of HBO’s programming announcements for the 2009-’10 season.

“We’re actually in conversations now and are trying to figure out the next step,” Lombardo told Canwest News Service.

Two of the series’ original creators, feature-film directors Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, passed away shortly after production began on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective‘s first season.

“It’s been a challenge because, as you know, the creative vision behind that show unfortunately passed away,” Lombardo said. “So we’re trying to figure that out.”

HBO’s programming president, Richard Plepler, concurred.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency did very well for us critically and with audiences, and we’re very proud of it,” Plepler added. “So we’re going to try to figure out a way to get it back.” [Source]

I hope they figure out a way PDQ. I really miss Precious and Rose and all the rest. And I do not know if I can continue to justify paying for HBO for “True Blood” alone.

May 21, 2009

Reflecting on Race and No. 1 Ladies’

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I did not fully realize it until I excitedly checked my DVR for this past Sunday’s episode, but The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is finished for the season! I plan to search around the web for any information on whether the program will be coming back for a new season—I certainly hope so. To keep me occupied in the meantime, I am planning a series of posts inspired by the series reflecting a little on race, cultural authenticity, and depictions by Whites of people of color. Racialicious has a good post up about this very issue.

Some random thing I may cover:

  • The first book I read that (to my knowledge) was by a Black author was Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which I read while in high school. It would be an understatement to say that this book changed my life and reading habits forever. But I am often annoyed that it took so long for me to read a book by a Black author. I am trying to ensure that my own children do not suffer the same fate.
  • An experience I have had as a parent is rediscovering children’s books I loved as a child, only to discover how incredibly racist the books are. Also, I have found some books that I loved that I know now were about White characters, but that as a child I had somehow “read myself into” them, recreating lead character in my own image. To me, for example, Pippi Longstocking was a little Black girl (though her non-Black image was clearly illustrated on the cover and throughout the pages).
  • I struggle with the idea that there is an “authentic” Black experience, or authentic anything experience. I am not sure what that means, or who is to judge, or what happens to those experiences that fall outside of the realm of defined (by someone) authenticity. Yet I have very definitely read and seen depictions of Black folks that rang absolutely untrue to me. (And not all of these depictions were by White folks.)
  • Along those lines, it used to annoy me in the 80s when some folks (Black, White, and other) complained of the Cosby Show that it did not depict a “real Black family.” In many ways, the Cosbys were much like my own family growing up. We were all Black. But somehow were we not “really” Black? Of course that is a ridiculous notion. But I am intrigued by what I think that statement and claim of inauthenticity really means.

Those are some of my thoughts right now. I welcome any other thoughts you may have. In the meantime, I do not know what I will do without both “Heroes” and “The No. 1 Ladies’.” So if you have any suggestions for summer TV viewing, I’d appreciate that as well.

May 5, 2009

Dr. Dunham, Her Dissertation, and Her Baby Boy

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As someone whose dissertation (actually, 3 copies of it!) merely sits on my office shelf, I am always pleased to hear when another academic has their own dissertation published. So, kudos to the late S. Ann Dunham on the publication of Surviving against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia (Duke University Press).

Dr. Dunham was an economic anthropologist and rural development consultant. According to her abstract, the dissertation:

…is a socio-economic study of peasant metalworking industries in Indonesia. The emphasis is on traditional blacksmithing, but data is also provided on copper, brass, bronze, silver and gold industries.

Since the late nineteenth century, economists and administrators have been predicting the demise of village industries in Indonesia. Despite such predictions, the number of persons employed in these industries has steadily increased, the rate of increase accelerating during the last two decades. Social scientists working in Indonesia have tended to view this increase negatively, as a sign of crisis in the agricultural sector. However, their models of rural change have been based almost entirely on studies of lowland wet-rice villages. This dissertation contends that these models need revising because they start with the false assumption that agriculture always generates more income per labor hour than non-agricultural occupations. It describes a number of villages where, for a variety of historical, ecological and demographic reasons, metalworking tends to be more profitable than agriculture. Villagers accordingly give metalworking priority in their strategies of resource and labor allocation, and consider agriculture to be a secondary occupation…. [Source, ProQuest Document ID#:744692521]

By the way, Stanley Ann Dunham, PhD is probably better known as the late mother of President Barack H. Obama.

April 9, 2009

Obama in Pop Culture

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Via Literary Obama comes this call for papers for Obama-Mania: Critical Essays on Representations of President Barack Obama in Popular Culture:

The 2008 Presidential Elections has been one of the most intensely debated and commented on race in modern history. The passionate standpoints expressed in this election not only stems from ideological conflicts, but from Barack Obama’s uniqueness as a Presidential candidate. This book collects specific examinations of President Obama in popular culture with the hope of creating a scholarly record of Obama’s presence in popular media free of historical revisionism. With this in mind, Obama-Mania will bring together essays that examine how Barack Obama’s image has been used in comic books, music, television shows, movies, and how talk shows and radio programs have commented on Obama’s campaign and election. In short, the specific focus of this book is not specifically on Obama and the politics surrounding the 2008 Presidential election, but on the conversation between popular culture and President Obama.

April 5, 2009

“Aiding” Africa? The Helpers Have No Clothes

One of the things I loved about the HBO broadcast of “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” is that it portrayed a different picture of the African continent than what we usually see: either a place where only exotic wild animals roam the land or a place where only famine, disease, poverty and war characterize the people.

Of course, this is not to say that the continent is problem-free. So often, however, these problems are painted as endemic to the countries and their people, with Americans and other great Westerners as those who will come in and save the day.

So it is nice to get an alternative view of the problems on the continent and what is and is not helping–and a view that is not from a non-African, White, male. Dambisa Moyo provides just such a view:

Dambisa Moyo is a unique voice in the debate over African aid. In a conversation dominated by white, male westerners—and most conspicuously by celebrities such as Bono or Bob Geldoff—Moyo is a black, African woman. Born in Zambia to a banker mother and a father who now runs an anti-corruption organization, Moyo earned her master’s from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Economics at Oxford. She’s worked as a consultant to the World Bank, and for the past eight years was the sub-Saharan economic expert for Goldman Sachs. It was at Goldman Sachs that Moyo began work on her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, released just a few weeks ago.

Moyo does not see the premise of her book as controversial, saying that to most Africans it is simply common sense:

I think it’s quite bizarre frankly, and slightly laughable, when I hear people say “Oh, the book is controversial.” My view is that it’s hardly controversial; it’s very obvious. Someone described it quite appropriately as The Emperor Has No Clothes. Because I think we all know that aid is not working. That’s why in the book I draw on literature from organizations like the World Bank. It’s somewhat bizarre that all this evidence is out there [that aid doesn’t work], but somehow we just continue to push for more. Let’s take the capitalistic system for a second. It’s quote, unquote, not working now. We have centuries of evidence that it generates wealth and delivers jobs, and yet here we are after one bad year and we’re ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. So I find it quite worrying that we can look at aid—after sixty years and one trillion dollars that haven’t worked in Africa—and we still don’t question the system. It seems the natural thing that when something has as bad a record as aid does, we should question it and want to overhaul the system.

I readily admit to not having a very good mind for macroeconomics. That is why I depend so much on the analysis of others–those who I must trust with their expertise–to get a handle on such issues. I’ve only recently begun reading books on economics, starting with two by Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World and The Future of Freedom. I’m looking forward to adding Moyo’s book to my self-imposed syllabus.

March 18, 2009

Fully

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"To Boldly Go." PPR_Scribe

"To Boldly Go." PPR_Scribe

…so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
and i’ll show you a hungry person
~Nikki Giovanni, “Poem for a Lady Whose Voice I Like”

March 4, 2009

Paradise Hoped For

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The isolation, the separateness, is always a part of any utopia. And it was my meditation, if you will, and interrogation of the whole idea of paradise, the safe place, the place full of bounty, where no one can harm you. But, in addition to that, it’s based on the notion of exclusivity. All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.

~Toni Morrison, Online NewsHour interview, Mar. 9, 1998

"Enter the Garden." PPR_Scribe

"Enter the Garden." PPR_Scribe

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