Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy 2011

I sent Christmas cards this year. To my friends who live far away. Don't quite know why. I felt the need to be in touch--felt somehow that my signature on a card: "Love, Kenny," and a sentence or two of "hello," was a way of saying to those whom I love that I love them. I also mailed a few gifts--things that also hold special meaning in particular relationships. I often buy things I like, and the person for whom I bought it doesn't come to me for months, sometimes years. My life is people; they are my riches, and I find myself going back, reaching back to those with whom I've lost contact--not heart contact, mind you, but that "hey, hiyadoin" contact. I need to reconnect. Remind them that my silence is just that. Nothing more.

I'm going to begin parting with some very special things. No, not in the way of my ever-dying foremothers. My great-grandmother was "near death" every, single one of her 96 years. My grandmother, her daughter, called her children together every few years to "divide her worldly goods" before her impending death, and even my beloved mother, God rest her sweet soul, had several occasions of impending death beginning at about age 45. So no, I'm of them but not like them in that way. Since I have no biological children, there are things that have meant so much to me--little things, meaningless in the financial sense, but these are gifts I want to give while I have the pleasure of watching someone I love smile with the understanding that it's a simple gift of love.

It was a lonely Christmas. I don't much like the holiday anyway, but I felt solitary, rudderless, acutely unattached. I was of course with my beloved partner and her family, but my family of origin--my mom and my brother--were so absent. No, the overwhelming feeling wasn't sadness; it was aloneness. I envy my friends who are grandmothers. I spent lots of time wishing I were a grandmother. More than anything, I want to be someone's grandmother. Not interested in motherhood at all, but I think a grandmother is the absolute best thing EVER.

No resolutions for 2011. I've got lots of stuff to work on each and every day. I'm gonna be the same me in 2011, and I suspect that most of what I resolve will, as in years past, well, you know. I look forward to retirement in 2011. Every day I feel a bit more free, unburdened. I look forward to doing new things. Maybe I'll be a grandmother or something. And I'll continue to find joy in the joys of others: an engagement ring, a trip to Argentina, a child's discovery, the dean's list, a wedding, a new drug for MS.

Perhaps I'll resolve my never-ending struggle with the divine. I feel the tug of the music, the cadences of the sermons the singing and the sway. Scripture comes to mind at the most inappropriate times, and those are times when nothing else seems to make as much sense anyway. Perhaps it's the pure poety: "God is our refuge and strength; an ever present help... Bless the Lord, oh my soul." Life was easier when I had no questions.

I look to 2011 with great optimism, great joy and a heart that overflows with love and gratitude for the life I've had the marvelous privilege of living. "Love without conditions; mercy unmeasured." Happy New Year y'all. May you receive your hearts' desires; weather all storms, and store all the peace and love you can hold. You'll need it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This is the first place that I've lived that my mother won't see. It occurred to me in the midst of the move. It's a shame too because I love this house more than any other, except perhaps the first one I ever owned. The move inspired lots of thinking about my mom. As we moved Bunny's inheritances from her mother: fine furniture with marble tops, heirloom sterling and dishes that are now worth thousands, I smiled when I caressed those trinkets that were my mother's: a smooth stone, a wooden cross, her glasses and bible, a few pieces of costume jewelry. These are my treasures, and though they're worth nothing in terms of monetary value, they're items that I cherish. All remind me of my mama, and I found myself often saying: "Look, this is MY mama's stuff, and it means as much or more to me than fine gold."

These sentiments express a vast difference between my partner and me. Though we both grew with middle-class values and highly educated parents, her family was also economically middle-class. Mine was far from that. Though I certainly didn't as a child and young woman, I now appreciate my early deprivation. I need less material stuff to be happy. I love a bargain and great sales. I have good taste, but I'm also a smart shopper. I'm satisfied with less. I need less to be happy. I live in a perpetual state of wonder. This tiny 100 year old house in this tiny snow-covered village has brought me immense pleasure and joy. Nothing special about it. It's certainly modest by most standards, and it would be considered by some, a step down from our last house. For me, it's a huge step up, and I'm thrilled. I'm in a sense of wonder about my life now. I never, ever dreamed that I'd be able to live the life I now live. There's absolutely no material thing in this world that I want. Nothing. I have everything I need, and I just can't believe it. I've exceeded my material imaginings, and I don't choose to manufacture more. This is why I can retire next year. Will I have a ton of income? Nope. I don't need a ton. My freedom and my life are far more important to me than money.

My mama, who, like my partner, had an extremely privileged upbringing, lamented the loss of status her entire life. She hated "being poor" and agonized over the loss of her "very wealthy" childhood and young adulthood for her entire life. Mama would say she "married down," and when my grandfather's brothers and others "acquired" all of his wealth, my grandmother, who never worked, acquired enough to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Her children, however, didn't get much from their father.

My parents struggled my entire life. We lived in various ratty parsonages on Daddy's miserable salaries. When Daddy died (I was 13), we were left with nothing. No insurance, no Social Security, and a pension of less than $50. per month. My mother hatred working and hatred poverty even more. She never adjusted to deprivation and lived daily with the past that had long vanished from her life. Even as she was dying, she spoke to the father whom she adored and who provided her with the best of everything money could buy. As Mama died, she assured her father that "I've been a good girl."

My mother's sadness eventually became mine. Even as a child, I never mourned the absence of things. I was sensitive to my mother's sorrow in that regard. I worked, earned money for what I needed and made myself satisfied. I never asked for that which she couldn't buy, and I never complained about what I didn't have. The Christmas before my father died, he wasn't able to give us any of the things we wanted. My brother got a baseball shirt, and I got a stuffed dog. My daddy cried. I hugged him and acted like that dog was the single best present I'd ever received in my life. What mattered then and now is that my daddy didn't hurt because of what he was unable to buy me. Deprivation made me care about the real stuff that had nothing to do with money, and that's the way I feel today. I'm so, so grateful for this life I have, and I'm so, so grateful that I know what to want.

I count my wealth in human relationships. I count my wealth in love, kindness, good wishes and concern. I count my wealth in good deeds I'm able to do. And despite all criticisms I receive, I count my wealth by the ways in which I can help others who need when they need. So yeah, if my "little sister" from Big Sisters ten years ago, "ain't got no money to pay her rent," I'll send it to her. And yeah, if one of my students needs books or a ticket home or clothes, I'll buy them. If somebody mama can't feed her child, then she can have my last dime. That's just the way it is cause I got food and clothes and shelter and everything I need and more than that. I don't need to save for a rainy day cause it may not rain, and I may not be around when it does. I live in the here and now. I'm here by the good will, kindness, generosity and love of other people. So there's just no need to tell me about how I "have no sense about money." I do have sense. It's a different kind of sense. Money is a gift to be shared. That's the way it works in my world.

And don't leave this post thinking "I'm blessed," or "God is smiling on me," or none of that nonsense. God ain't got no reason for blessing me more than any other human in this world. God ain't smiling on me and frowning on the homeless. God ain't blessing me and cursing those in need. This ain't God. It's circumstance--a coming together of various circumstances. Just sayin'. If God is God, she ain't operating like that. No way. No how. Later.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


My friend, Marianne, says "never say never or always." Okay, I won't, but I will say I hope I never, ever move again in my entire life. And yes, that means I'm prepared to live in Canton for however long forever is. By the time Mary is ready to retire, I'll be 70 (gasp!), and I can't imagine uprooting and starting over at that age. I'm adjusting to the idea that Canton is home. Canton is home. Canton is home.

I've mailed my official notification of my intention to retire one year from now. After I return from Semester at Sea, I'll be busy trying to find ways to make myself a life here after St. Lawrence. I'm beginning to broaden my horizons in the north country. My work with hospice is the most fulfilling work I do. I love the people there. I suspect I'll do some adjunct work if SLU will have me. I'm likely to miss teaching just enough to teach one course per term. That would be fun.

I'm very excited about my new house. I'm excited about moving back to the village. If I can get through the next few days without falling apart (moving does that to me), I expect to have a long and fruitful life for the rest of my life in Canton.

Moving in the snow. We seem to love doing things the hard way. Later.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


teach abroad for a semester
find a hobby
learn to love myself more
try vegetarianism
see a movie once a week
continue my work with Hospice
be a foster parent (infants only)
find reasons to walk and walk and walk
read more for pleasure rather than classes
entertain more--small gatherings of people i really love

i've moved through several stages. i've reached acceptance. i've come to refer to the very old new house as the "gingerbread house." it reminds me of houses i read about as a child. i never imagined that i'd find an old house beautiful, but this house is beautiful to me. magical. funny, since the move means downsizing. that, too, brings me great satisfaction. i'm drowning in excess, stuff, too much of too muchness. i don't deny the beauty of this now house, but i seek other kinds of beauty--the beauty of smaller spaces and neighbors. the very same sun shines on main street; the same snow falls. i look forward to my move and my "to dos."

i'm composing, also like little kids sometimes do, a "best friends in the north country" list. this is important because i need to remind myself and them of the love we share and the meaning of our relationship. i've been all too concerned about the others--occasional friends, conditional friends, " i'll be your friend if" friends. these have blurred my vision, prevented me from seeing clearly the ones who kept the vigil; the ones who came to me in moments of trauma and deep sadness; the ones who pray and the ones who don't; the ones upon whose shoulders i've wept; those with whom i roll on the floor with raucous laughter and speak my own language; those who have seen me braless and without my partials. i've released the pain of harsh words, criticisms, taking back campuses, false accusations, searches, failed plans and dreams. i concentrate on the abundance of love and blessings; the love lost and found: shannon, marietta, andy and andy, clay, maqueda, reed. "miss bass you taught me 27 years ago, and i love you still." these are glorious gifts. gems. jewels. sun.

there's nothing wrong with the drummer i hear or the dance i dance in response. it's mine, and i
love the sound of the beat. it sounds so different because i'm out of my element, my region, my cultural milieu. in another place and at another time, there are others who dance to my beat.

and so, today i write with gratitude for the love and understanding; for your expressions of joy even in my pain; for welcoming me back when i don't want to be; for congratulating her on making the "best decision." i thank you for sticking with and standing by. i thank you for telling me the truth as you see it. i thank you for not loving me less in spite of myself. you, my best north country friends, are, indeed, some of my best all times all places friends. and i thank you for that.

and so i begin again in a little, yellow gingerbread house on a busy street in a tiny town. like rapunzel (except i have no hair), i'll look out from the turret, smile, and wave hello to the busy world outside my window.

"bless be the tie that binds..."

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Back on the schedule. Moving on. I can do this. I am fundamentally incapable of holding on to disappointment, sadness and anger. Just can't do it. I wish I could make a similar declaration about shame. I can't shake shame, and everything seems to come back to me as that ugly, awful feeling. I carry shame with me all the time.

Focus on the joy: Main Street, downsizing, 62 and full retirement benefits, Ireland, making myself get out more, great friends and good health and possibilities.

As is true with most trials, the real friends emerge and surface; the wheat separates from the chaff. No illusions and no losses. Reality check.

Peace out. And a good day to you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I think I must not "live right." That's what the grannies used to say. One of my friends told me to "let it be." That must be good advice. I miss my mother. She would have something sensible to tell me about this situation. She would understand and provide the appropriate soothing words to get me beyond this. I was so certain that we were leaving that I bought tickets to a show in Iowa for next April. I was so certain that I woke up every morning with a huge smile in my heart. The uncertainty about jobs and housing didn't bother me. I knew something good was gonna happen. I'm now convinced that I just don't live right. How much of one's all too brief life must be given in service to....? How long does one sacrifice dreams? When does one get permission to live the life that she deserves? Or maybe this IS the life that she deserves.

I will "let it be," but this is a deep, deep wound. It is a deep, deep blow to my spirit, my insides hurt. I am sadder than sad. It seems like I've been crying for years--dean's search, harassment accusation, TBOC, my mama.... I'm pretty tired. I need an attitude adjustment: expect nothing, don't dream, suck it up, go through the motions, pretend that you're just fine, smile always. "Don't worry, be happy." I may not ever speak of this again, but know this: it is ever in my head and my heart.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Before you tell me that happiness is within, let me tell you that I know that, but I also know that there are externals that contribute to happiness. Not many of us would be happy if we were homeless, for example. Yes, that's an extreme example, but I'd take on any person who argued that life's stuff doesn't matter. So here I am. Happy and not. My insides feel okay. If they didn't, I wouldn't be able to assert with such clarity what I need. I know what I need and why I need it. I need another job.

I'm apparently remaining in the north country, a reality that's tough to accept. Okay, but I still need a new job, and this place, like Iowa, isn't teeming with possibilities. I was the top candidate for two marvelous jobs in Iowa City--job descriptions that made me drool. The first was the director of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council. The official planner, greeter, winer and diner for all international visitors who came to Iowa City, and there are tons because of the UI Writer's Workshop. Salary: $35,000. The second was similarly attractive: Executive Director of UNIowa, the state branch of the United Nations. Fabulous job. Loved everything about the description. Salary: $28,000. And you know what? Had the Iowan in my home still wanted to go to Iowa, I would have taken one of the jobs in a heartbeat. But she had a change of heart. Problem? She likes her job.

The question is: What to do? I'm on unpaid leave next semester. Need it. I'm searching for satisfying work in the north country and trying to figure out my place here beyond SLU. I'm new to the Board of Directors of Hospice, and I LOVE the work. I love it. It's fulfilling and challenging and rewarding. Holding on and continuing with that makes me very happy. I've applied for a job for which I probably don't have a chance in hell, but, again, it's a great job--rewarding work. If that falls through then..............?

I'm very happy that we've sold our house. Yes, it's beautiful. Yes, the views are wonderful, and yes, I like it for someone else. I've never been able to stay here alone comfortably at night. When Mary's away, I'm afraid to stay here. It's dark and even though there are neighbors across the road, it's creepy. I have terrible nightmares in this house at night. I stare out at the darkness. When my mama came for what would be her last visit, she told me: "This is a beautiful place, but I wouldn't live here for anything. Too dark. Too creepy." I laughed, but I agreed, and mama wouldn't even sleep in bed alone here with us and the dogs in the house. Both my partner and I have often spoken of moving back to town. Sidewalks would be nice. Walking the dogs on sidewalks would be nice. Route 68 is not nice. I want smaller. Less yard to manage. Less and less of it all. I want to walk to the store, the P.O., the library, the farmer's market. That's a good thing. We're experienced movers if nothing else.

Even the best relationships are tough. I'm not sure I'd define this as compromise. It's a situation where someone HAS to give up something if we're to remain in the same house. That seems to be our priority, but it's hard to give up, "suck it up and deal." Looks like this is it. Maybe. All I can say is I'm disappointed and kinda sad, but, as per usual, I'll survive. Resilience is my strong suit. Later.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Lots going on in life right now, or, actually, maybe not much. Some who observe me believe that I'm slowly becoming certifiable. I continue to pack my worldly belongings and make arrangements for the move to Iowa with gusto! There would be no questions about my behavior if I had a job and a place to live. My practical partner and friends have given up on "bringing me to my senses." I've come down with a huge case of the power of positive thinking and the simple-minded belief that I'll get a job. Any evidence of that? Not at the moment, but I believe it will come. What, I ask, is my alternative? Do I give in and give up? "Accept reality"? Or do I just remain me--ever hopeful on some days; sobbing on others because I'm afraid I'm stuck. I prefer the hopeful idiot, and so I pack, rent trucks, buy airline tickets, look for huge storage places in Iowa. Mary's looking for a small house to rent in Canton for one semester. Maybe I'll be here as well, but I hope not. Oh, by the way, looking for a job is b-r-u-t-a-l. Wow! This is a painful but great experience for me. My professional life, in this sense, has been, as Grandma would say: "a flowery bed of ease." Time for me to know intimately what others go through, and hey, not a word about a PhD please. Worthless outside of the academy--just worthless (in the humanities at least). The best it gets you is a lot of quizzical looks and crazy questions about why you want a job. I shoulda been a nurse or something in medicine or perhaps even an IT person. Not an English teacher with a PhD. Nope. Nada.

I've had my first dreams about my mother since she died two years ago. I remember them vividly. I think it's her way of weighing in on this moving business. In the middle of the last dream, I went back to that brief time when she was here. July 16-September 16, 2008. I saw the face of every, single person who stood by me during that time. That core group that kept the vigil toward the end--read scripture, sang her favorite hymns, did whatever they could to comfort me. And then there were those who dropped by. Some cried; one person lotioned her dry, dying skin and spoke softly to her. There was a steady stream of people during those last days and final hours. I see some of them from time to time, but not often anymore. I don't spend much time on campus. But I hold all of them in my heart--every, single one. Funny, there are a couple with whom I had quite a professional disagreement last year. I suspect they would say that I didn't love them or that we are no longer friends. So not true. Well, maybe half not true. We may not be friends, but I'll love you always for what you did for me during that time. My vision of my friend sitting alone in Gunnison in his suit observing my hand in Mary's replays over and over. I carry mental snapshots of special people at an extraordinary moment in my lifetime--the most extraordinary moment in my lifetime. Sometimes I hear the words they spoke to me; other times I feel the touch. So I got mad love, big love, deep love and forever love for them all, and that love has nothing to do with anything in our professional lives. It's personal--as personal and intimate as any experience can be. Nothing trumps that. Just sayin'.

Okay, so now I'm going back to my mad woman self--packing my stuff to move to my no home in Iowa that I'll pay for with my no job. And guess what? It's all gonna be just fine.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I love the ways that our students have begun to use this phrase and other related ones: "Hateration," "Don't be hating on me." "You a hater." The concision of "don't hate" appeals to me. It's also very funny when used in most contexts. The phrase came to mind as an interpreter of some of my blog posts decided that I would either be perceived as "crazy" or a "hater" Both designations make me smile because I know and they know that nothing could be further from the truth. Though I understand why some "haters" would want to put me in those categories, nothing that I write is fueled by either mental illness (crazy) or hate. While much of it seems personal, particularly to those who see themselves in the blog, my observations are over a period of twenty years. I've seen what I see for twenty years; watched the same scenes unfold in the same ways at three different institutions and then some.

Rather than suggest some imbalance, why not engage me? Those "concerned" and "conscious" ones just need to "reach out." I'm more than happy to explain and engage. I hear comments via the grapevines, but no one ever wants to speak to me about my blogs. Well, at least not those who feel implicated. Just so you know: this blog ain't fueled by no hate. This blog is inspired by years of observation, exceptionality, tokenism, racism--personal and institutional, and great personal cost.

As a matter of fact, I owe you out there a debt of gratitude. You have precipitated my move toward freedom; you have encouraged me, in your own "innocent" ways to do what I should have done a long time ago. My heart is light; my burden is eased. I feel great joy and excitement about all the possibilities that are before me. And yes, I'm anxious and terrified. I've sold my home. We have no jobs. The economy is... well, you know. But this great mix of emotions is one huge promise of HOPE for a new life, a new beginning, a new job, new experiences. In other words, I am free. Who would "hate on" that? And this is my gift to myself as I look toward 61 next week. I give myself the right to take these risks in the quest for liberation. It's exhilarating.

Peace out, y'all. I'm going to Iowa City today to get me a JOB! "Don't hate."

Monday, September 13, 2010


I've many progressive, white, liberal friends, but they usually don't identify themselves as such. They just go about their business, living their lives, doing the things they do. And then there are the self-identified liberals--those who waste no opportunity to acquaint us with their latest and most pressing cause or issue and their jargon. These folks are always looking out for the underdog or less fortunate. They use terms like "disenfranchised," "essentialized," "underclass." I can always count on these liberals to have my best interest at heart, and I can also count on them to know, even more than I, what my best interest is. Either life experience or erudition gives them an incredible understanding, empathy, if you will, of all things pertaining to race and social justice. I owe these liberals so much. They helped me get to where I am today. They make promises they can't possibly keep. The "problem" of "diversity" is never solved because what, then, would they have to do? Whom, then, would they protect? Who would be their cause?

I've been criticized by the liberals for the relationships I have with conservatives: Republicans, members of the NRA, flagwavers, staunch and firm believers in a "conservative" interpretation of the Constitution and Christians, devout and otherwise. It should be no surprise that some "conservatives" are very dear to me. There is a deep and abiding bond between us that goes beyond political positions and persuasions. These are people who have loved and supported me. I can count on them, and they can count on me. We do not have to agree. To them, I am simply a person--not a representative, not diversity or even a minority. I'm me.

Self-proclaimed liberals often judge people by their politics rather than, as Shelby Steele would say, "the content of their character." This version of liberal can only hang out with like-minded folks who speak their language and support their causes. In my institution, one of the most effective "recruiters" of faculty of color is a "patriarchal, conservative, far-right, gun toting, hunting, Republican." In addition to effective recruiting, this "right wing nut" was the most effective "retainer" of faculty of color as well. Every, single person of color in the department is happy and content. There was no well-meaning, patronizing, rhetoric. No "lowering of standards" as a nod to "diversity." Just a good person whose genuine commitment is immediately transparent to a prospective colleague.

Liberals suffocate, patronize, affirmative actionize, determine, run, rule with the smug self-assurance that they are always absolutely right. They pity those of us who get in the way; they attempt to crush and denigrate those who get in their way. There is nothing worse to a self-proclaimed liberal than a "minority" who doesn't get with the program--a minority who opposes and exposes them--a minority who refuses to capitulate to their rigid requirements for membership in the club. They will find one who will. These liberals have no credibility if they have no "minority" among them.

I seen you before, Ms. Liberal, and like the emperor, you ain't got no clothes. Peace out.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Last night, a colleague and sometime friend looked directly into my eyes and said: "Yeah, I heard it. I don't believe it. Nobody does." The topic was the likelihood of my departure from SLU and the north country. It was an incredibly revealing moment. Although I've wanted to leave for at least 5 years, I don't think I've ever threatened to do so (or "cried wolf" as some would say). I read job ads and imagined myself doing all kinds of things, but I've never said: "This will be my last year at SLU." Now, I don't write because I expect anything from anyone, but the assumption that I couldn't possibly be telling the truth is a curious one. Why couldn't I be? Is it because the job and tenure are simply too good to "give up"? Is it because some overestimate the my feelings about the place? What would I possibly have to gain by fueling such a rumor? Negotiations? More money? Some attractive deal?

I'm amazed by my own conviction and commitment in this matter. I've had no misgivings or second thoughts. Nothing has given me pause--not the almost certain and significant decrease in salary or the probability of beginning a position about which I know nothing; not even leaving friends and "family" here whom I dearly love. Not one, single thing has caused a flicker of reconsideration.

The decision, or more likely the responses to it (even no response is a response) has taught me so much about my relationships here. My best friends aren't; one casual friend has emerged as a longstanding best friend whom I've unconsciously overlooked. The silences from friends are varied and various. There are pained silences (but not many), angry silences, "how could you" silences, "how dare you" silences, and "I don't give a damn" silences. I learn something from them all.

A student asked me last night if I would miss academe. He's a kid who thinks he wants to be an academic. I uttered an emphatic "no." He looked sad, and said "what about us?" Rather than feel the tremendous sense of obligation that I've felt for all these years, I simply and gently told him that no one is indispensable. There will be another; there are others who will do what I've done and more. Then, I reminded him that students, in my opinion, are not academe. I love all of my life as teacher, even to this very day. I love the ways students have touched my life--have given me life and such delight and joy. I love my students enough to leave them when I know that my passion and enthusiasm wane. Would I feel this way if my life in the profession had been less tumultuous? Perhaps not. But it has, and I do.

My computer documents are gone--the syllabi and course descriptions, the tenure file. I've given away 500 books, and the book shelves in my office are clear. I'm tossing mementos of years past that I've hauled from place to place. My file cabinet is clear save my teaching evaluations. They're the one "safety" feature that I hold onto "just in case." When I sign a contract, the evals, too, will go. I will leave the profession with my memories alone. They will sustain me.

The time has come, believe it or not, the time has come.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


So, I have finally been demoted. I've lost the title of HNIC. Lest you think I'm lamenting that fact, let me assure you that the demotion is welcome and entirely predictable. So why do I write? It's to further point out the ways in which racism works--the "innocent" and "unconscious" ways for which all involved would likely posit "good and noble" reasons. So here we are: a star emerges from the bowels of academe--one previously anxious, overburdened and mostly unto itself has taken center stage. The HNIC is everywhere--places its never been before--front and center, vocal, smiling and happy, loving life and living large. Not one bit of shame or self-consciousness. Previous enemies are now dearest friends. Oh joy! The social life of the HNIC soars. There are dinners and dates and gatherings of every sort. Ain't life grand? How do we explain the emergence of this up and coming figure? Where has it been? So here's the thing: The new HNIC is good. The new HNIC became an HNIC through the good graces of white folks--by popular demand. They helped, wrote, cajoled, guided, advised, and now, finally, they love, enjoy, fete and honor. They pat themselves on the back for a job well done. This HNIC, the chosen one, has all of the appropriate qualities: relatively quiet, makes no waves, no strong challenges to the system (except in its own particular interest), and more than anything else, it is grateful. The best possible Negro is a grateful Negro. The best possible HNIC is one that doesn't remind the good folks that racism is alive and well and working in its not so mysterious ways. In addition to gratitude, the new HNIC is "highly intelligent." It reads books. It is, or so I hear, very much like the learned white folks in both intellect and demeanor. Now I know some of y'all are gonna criticize me for being bitter and resentful; others are going to suggest that I read too much into "innocent" coincidences. Believe me when I tell you that I could have written the complete story before it began to unfold. Why? Cause while other folks were being learned, I was a Negro who studied white folks in the academy--white institutions, and the strange workings of "diversity." I've studied race in this country in theory and practice, and I been a keen observer for all these 20 years. I know there can only be one. The others will never matter in the way the HNIC matters. We just need one--just one. It gives me great joy and great pleasure to see the first act of this performance before I leave, and if you'd like to know how this show will end, I can tell you that too. For me, the title, HNIC, has offered years of pain and heartache and tokenism at its worst. You see, I was never chosen. My title was inevitable given my solitary position and tenure. It was a job I never wanted. Perhaps the reign of the next will be a more positive one. I hope so. I hope so.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Funny thing about leaving. You're gone before you're actually gone. People start thinking about you as yesterday, in the past, not current. There's something comforting in that--of being spoken of in the past tense, even when you're still alive. I'm noting, with interest, the responses to my impending departure: one is a deep sigh of relief, a gratitude for my silence. "She's finally shut up." Another response, the most puzzling of the bunch, is the anger: "How dare she?" There are those who think I've flipped. "Who, tell me, WHO gives up tenure and a great job in this economy?" I do. And despite my anxiety over the unknownness of it all, I feel better than I've felt in a long, long time--maybe for as long as I've been in the academy. I have no more obligations "to the race." I have no more obligations to "diversify the institution." I do not have to be spokesperson for faculty, staff and students of color. I get to be nobody, in the way, a has been. A teacher on the decline, nearing retirement, nuts. I find it incredibly satisfying to have forfeited my title as HNIC. Nobody cares what I say or if I say or.... A ton of burdens have fallen from my weary shoulders, and for once, I'm thinking about me, my life and the life of my partner. I've not had one moment of regret about this decision. I'm committed to giving my best to the students in my courses this semester, but I wonder if I have any best left in me. I apply for positions others can't imagine that I really want, but I want them. Executive assistant to a college president, entering the corporate world, working in a bookstore. All are possibilities that excite me. All represent a certain freedom from an all-consuming profession. I imagine the joy of reading bad novels. Having a day where I don't have to figure out what to do. What I want to do now is just have fun, enjoy my family and friends, enjoy my life to the fullest. I just want a job--just a job, even if it's one I don't like so well. Perhaps everything really does go full circle. Maybe I long for the childhood I never had--the time for play and frolic; the time for ME. I think, for the very first time in my life EVER, I'm making a choice for me, my life rather than for someone or something external to me. I'm going to continue chronicle this journey. Lots left for me to learn. At the moment, I'm flying high.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Toni Morrison is one of my favorite writers. I taught a course on Morrison years and years ago. A colleague audited the course, and as an extravagant end of semester gift, she gave me a complete set of all of the novels Morrison had written. The last Morrison novel that I read was JAZZ. Though I purchased the subsequent novels, I've not read one. There's a reason for that, and the reason is JAZZ. The literary crescendo from THE BLUEST EYE to BELOVED is stunning, and although BELOVED is not my favorite Morrison novel, it certainly deserves its place among American literary masterpieces. After I read BELOVED, I wondered what Morrison could possibly have left to say to her readers. How could she possibly write anything comparable to BELOVED and the splendid novels that she'd written prior to it? I read JAZZ, and I got a response to my question. Morrison couldn't outdo what she had already done. None of her subsequent novels have received the acclaim of the first four. Morrison likely needs to write; believes she has something more to say, and that's okay. However, I wish she had recognized the greatness that she'd achieved and simply understood that she had reached the top of the mountain, and her current work slowly creeps back down again. I've read enough chapters and passages to know that about the more recent novels.

And now to me. I've been a teacher for the past thirty years. I've spent all of my professional life in or near the classroom. I've been a terrible teacher, and I've been a superb teacher. Many of my best teaching years have been in college classrooms. I've remained an excited and enthusiastic teacher despite my battles and woundings in the academy. I've have always known that the academy and I were not, as we say, a "good fit," but my passion for teaching; my love for my students, my excitement about classroom interactions; the sheer joy that teaching gave me made the suffering (and I mean suffering) bearable. That is no more. For the first time in my life, I dread the beginning of a new school year. Though I have emotional tugs toward the classroom, and I can't imagine life without students in it, I know that it is time to go. I have started to creep back down the mountain, and that it not the place where I want to end my life as teacher. The passion is gone; the enthusiasm is gone. I love teaching, and I love it enough to leave it before I don't love it anymore. Although I'd like to merge my attitude toward teaching with my feelings about my workplace, I think that's not quite the case. As far as the workplace is concerned, I've weathered too many storms. Many would argue that the storms are of my own making, but they were storms nonetheless. I'm weary of institutional politics, institutional racism, and while I know I'll most certainly find them in any organization with which I'm affiliated, I need a new and different variety. The academic versions have burned me up, exhausted me to the point of no return. It's time to leave SLU. It's time to leave while I'm still able to conjure up a fond memory or two. It's time to leave the profession. It's time to leave teaching while I still believe in its power and importance. It's time to leave the profession while I still love it; while thinking about leaving it makes me cry and feel sad and lost. Why not stay? I've read the declining evaluations. I feel my waning desire to read the books, grade the papers, stand before them and teach what I teach. I'm impatient with them. I'm weary. I hope this will be my final semester. It's definitely my final year at SLU.

You got to know when it's time to go. We all know people, celebrities, athletes, colleagues and friends, who have held on too long--those who reached their peak and refused to recognize or acknowledge their decline. You got to know when it's time to go despite the assurances that you're okay or you've got a lot to give. YOU got to know when it's time to go.

And so, I venture out on faith. I've interviewed for a job. Waiting to hear. Terrified. Afraid of failing, but also excited and thrilled about the possibility of learning new things and exploring new worlds. There's comfort in the familiar. The future is uncertain, but it looks bright and positive. And when I imagine what I'm leaving with great sorrow, I imagine what lies ahead and I smile. Hail and farewell to my students past. Hail and farewell to my colleagues and friends. Hail and farewell to "Writin' Black from the Academy." You got to know when it's time to go.

Thank you, kind readers, for your time and attention. Thanks for your comments and criticisms. Thanks for making my words matter. May peace be with you. Margaret

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Okay. Biracial has replaced the pejorative "mulatto." Both terms indicate, in this blog, that a person has one black parent and one white parent. Multiracial needs its own blog. Over the years, increasing numbers of students with various shades of brown skin have loudly proclaimed: "I'm not black; I'm biracial." I usually ask them to explain what they mean. The explanations are as varied as the humans. Most say something like: "I can't choose between my (usually) black father and my (usually) white mother," or I'm "honoring both my heritages." Okay, I get that. Kinda. Well, I actually don't. Let me just give you my initial reaction when I hear someone tell me this: Okay, you're obviously not white. We see that. So you need to tell us that you're not black? Isn't an "American Negr0" multiracial by definition? So why does your need to tell me that you're not black feel like a rejection of me? If we can see that you're not white, what drives you to tell us that you're not black?

I've heard all of the possible responses, but I need to hear them over and over again cause every, single time some brown person tells me that he's biracial, it causes me pain and I feel resentful. Okay, so this is old stuff, southern stuff, the stuff of black folks who rejected their families, escaped Jim Crow, and faded into whiteness cause they could. It's about my father, whose mother was whiter than white, and neither he nor any of his siblings wanted to claim that whiteness. They knew what whiteness and white folks had done to their mother when she married their father, and none of them wanted any part of that whiteness. It wasn't a reason to feel proud.

One of the explanations I usually hear is that the rigid racial categories were designed by white folks. Rejecting those categories, in the minds of many, represents some kind of resistance or progress. Okay, got it, but here's my problem: I don't see a whole lotta white folks rejecting whiteness. Most of my white students, friends, colleagues identify as white, so if whiteness ain't going nowhere, why must blackness? Why must black folks fade into some vague racial otherness that STILL represents "not white"? As long as white is white and privilege and power and dominance, I'm black. Period. Neither my grandma nor those white ancestors change that identity. None of those white ancestors saved me from the back of the bus. My "high yellow shit color," as my friends and family often observe, ain't saved me from one indignity associated with being black in this country. So no, I need not claim that whiteness that obviously resides in me. Old wounds and realities? Of course, but I, like you, am the sum total of my life experiences.

Each day, I continue to learn about generational divides, and perhaps this is one. I suspect geography comes to bear on this issue as well. Having said this, however, one of my friends, a young man who is also a southerner, is a biracial black man. In other words, he has one black parent and one white, but he identifies himself and seems to take pride in the fact of his blackness. So what makes him different? Why is it important for him to embrace blackness?

I grew up in a culture and a world where being black for so many people was reason for shame and despair. I think this is still true. For example, many black folks loathe dark skin and very kinky hair. Straight versus "nappy" hair remains an issue among black women; many of whom believe that straight hair, permed hair is "good" hair. The 70s cured many of us of that need to straighten, to claim white ancestry, to be white like. Once Debbie Begab (a Jewish classmate from Silver Spring, bless her heart) washed and cut my hair (it looked a mess), my days with the straightening comb and perms were over. And even now, I fight with younger black women about "doing something about my hair."

I have encountered first, second and even third generation black students who refuse to call themselves African Americans or black Americans. Some even refuse to acknowledge that they are black. Those with African parents refer to themselves as African. What the hell is that all about? Those black Americans of Caribbean ancestry often still refer to themselves as Caribbean or West Indian. Often, they refer to nationality rather than ethnicity. Black Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are notorious for identifying solely by nationality. On several occasions, I've pointed out this reality. If you are born in the United States, you're likely an American. If you're born black in the U.S., you're likely black or African American--not African or Caribbean. So here's the point, and this explains the title of this blog. To be an African American or Black American or American Negro is, among folks of African descent, the worst kinda black you can be, and this isn't conjecture. I've done enough informal interviewing on the topic to be absolutely certain of this. The reasons are both simple and complex. The simple reason is the pervasive perceptions of black Americans with which we are all familiar: shiftless, lazy, welfare,dumb, unemployed, babymakers, criminals, drug addicts. Black folks round the world absorb these images and perceptions and often believe them. Many live in or near urban communities and "witness" the "truth" of these descriptions. Who the hell would want to be associated with all that negative stuff? The more complex reasons pertain to the ways of white folks. They reinforce that desire to distance by their own categories. There are good black folks (who usually aren't American) and then there are "the blacks." For example, here's how it plays out on campus--mine and others. We have, for example, African students, Caribbean students and "the blacks." Though all of us are indeed, black, "the blacks" are the least "academically oriented." Meaning black folks from the U.S. are either not as smart as the other black folks or don't take academic work as seriously. The most recent descriptors of black Americans are: victims, whiners, stuck in time, underachievers, overly concerned about fashion, rappers, ignorant, crude, low class and GHETTO.

So, I suppose my fierce allegiance to my American blackness, is also a defense against the persistent ways in which my folks, black Americans, are dissed and dumped on by other black folks and white folks and even ourselves. I'm comfortable in my skin. Proud of its heritage, and though I, too, understand the reasons and sometimes feel the desire to distance, I feel strongly that black people, my folks, need to survive in this ever growing murky pool of bi, multi, not whiteness. I'm acutely aware of my history, and I simply can't and won't reject that by honoring whiteness, no matter what part of me is that, particularly if any part of that whiteness is a result of the rape of my great grandmothers.

I have so much more to say on this issue, and it inevitably leads to President Obama, of course, and one long blog on how he came to be where he is today. An admission of my ambivalence about him and why is a blog or two away. Suffice it to say that only two black men EVER had any chance of being POTUS: Obama is one; Colin Powell is the other, and this ain't no coincidence. No way. No how. Later.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


The telephone is not my friend. There are few things that I dislike more than talking on the telephone. This fact represents a radical shift in behavior. I spent my early adulthood attached to a telephone receiver. I enjoyed conversations and could talk for hours. Now, more often than not, I want to ignore a ringing phone, and that includes a cell phone. Yes, I own a cell phone, but I rarely use it for talking, and, for the most part, I don't know where it is. A cell phone is for travel-- a way to always be in touch. A cell phone allows me to travel freely without having to call family to give city, hotel, etc. I can always be reached. A cell phone is for email, Facebook and texting.

My telephobia has caused no small amount of concern among some of my friends who love to "reach out and touch." I hear "you never call me" from those who are fond of phoning. I'm great with email, but some friends determine that email is "impersonal." That makes no sense to me. I enjoy writing (note, the blog) and expressing myself in the way that email or writing letters encourages. Email, and the newer texting, make communication almost as immediate as speaking by phone.

One friend declares that it's impossible to maintain a long distance relationship without phoning. She's furious with me--unaccepting of my reluctance or refusal to call. Mind you, she's long winded, and that means I'll be on the phone for at least an hour. Many of my friends have similar inclinations for talking long and often.

There are too many opportunities for instant conversation to be tied to a telephone, and that's not necessarily a good thing. I miss the old long distance call. These are the calls to which I looked forward. They would be few and far between. Why? Cause they cost money. The cost prohibited the frequency and the conversation time, but I remember the joy of hearing from that loved one who lived in a different city or state. "It's a long distance call!" The household would come running to speak a minute or two with Grandma or Cousin Joe. That was fun. This constant, instant is not. It makes "reaching out and touching" routine and sometimes boring. I can talk to anyone almost anywhere in the world at any time. I've seen computer centers in tiny towns and rural villages all over the world.

I see the phone, more often than not, as a device for emergencies. While I can bear a pleasant chat for 5-10 minutes, anything longer drives me nuts. I'll find some good reason to stop talking. If I saw you yesterday, what could I possibly have to discuss by phone 24 hours later?

For those who use telephone time as a measure of love, well, I'm sorry about that. I would hope that other aspects of our relationship would assure you of my love for you. If not, just tell me what I can do--just don't let it be calling you on the telephone please.

My mother, of course, was an exception to this telephobia. I would talk as long as she wanted to talk. My mom, however, loved the computer, and she became a great and avid emailer. When she came to Canton to die, she was the only resident in United Helpers who insisted upon having a computer in her room. The computers in the community rooms just wouldn't do. She needed her email and her internet in her own space. Hers is a number I'd love to dial--a voice I'd give all worldly goods to hear just once more.

My "chosen mother," who gratefully still survives, is another exception. I'll talk to my Vera as long as she wants to talk. Though even she complains that I don't call her enough, I continue to try. She's actually one of my best friends, and she's 82. I can make all kinds of concessions for her. She also makes me laugh a lot.

Mary and I share similar dispositions on this issue. She's worse than I. Yes, it's possible. In the early stages of our relationship, I would call her. Not a good idea. I don't think we've talked 3 hours by phone in 14 years, and that includes all the times we've been separated. Our phone conversations are usually limited to basics: "You okay? Good day today? Do anything special? How are the animals? I miss you. I love you. Come home soon."

So, phone loving friends, please don't equate love with phoning. There are those most dear to me with whom I rarely have a telephone conversation. We are, however, always in touch--just a letter, email or text away. And Facebook has opened yet another world of communication to us.
Enough already. Gotta go. My phone is ringing! Later.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I used to wonder why I'd often heard the idea that weddings and funerals evoke similar emotions and family drama. Now I understand what they meant. I've just spent five days engaged in the wedding festivities of one of two of my "adopted" daughters. She was beautiful, all smiles, clearly riding the crest of a wave. The ceremony was also beautiful, tasteful and ever so sweet. So why do I feel such a sense of melancholy? What's the problem? Nothing much has changed. The couple has lived together for years. I love them both. I feel a sense of loss, but I can't figure what I've lost. Anyway, there remains a deep sense of unrest in me. Something's gnawing at my gut, and I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps I'm jealous, or maybe I feel that she's moving away from me and toward a new family. I just don't know, but what I do know is that I don't like what I feel. No way. No how. And if anyone out there gets it, give me a shout. I'd like to lose this feeling as soon as possible. Perhaps it's just that change is hard, even tiny change. I just don't know.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

FADIN' ...........

Despite all claims to the contrary, some degree of assimilation is unavoidable. Here are 10 sure ways in which I am fading:

1. I wear Birkenstocks, a "sandal" that is nearly unrecognizable to my relatives and friends, and particularly those who live below the Mason-Dixon Line.

2. I wear Birkenstocks and socks--worse than just wearing Birkenstocks.

3. My dogs sleep on my bed.

4. I no longer shop for "dress clothes." No point.

5. I do not attend church.

6. I no longer pray before meals.

7. I order from "Eddie Bauer," "Land's End," and "L.L. Bean."

8. I no longer use a "washrag." (This one has special meaning for Susan and me).

9. I am completely unaware of the latest styles in fashion.

10. The only shopping that I do is via the U.S. Mail

The End

Monday, June 21, 2010


Shadows......the death of someone dear; a close friend who faces serious surgery and hadn't a clue that she was ill; silences; a life and spirit in transition. I've been thinking about my relationship to money, and at least twice last week, a friend asked directly: "What do you get from giving?" I chuckled, but I decided to consider the question seriously. Family and others have often questioned why I give so much--literally. Particularly when I have often come up short when I need or desire. I sat and attempted to calculate a rough estimate of the dollars that I had donated or given away just in a 5 year period--thousands, literally thousands of dollars--mostly dollars that I didn't have and still don't. So I've decided to ponder the why of it, particularly as I'm moving to a stage where I'm taking account of what life (if I indeed live) during retirement will be. In other words, I'm taking money seriously for the first time ever. Well, sorta. Once you hire a financial planner, then you've pretty much got to deal with finances--like it or not.

This is what I know: I don't give because I expect something in return. I don't give to make people like me. I don't give so that others will think I'm a "good person." Most of my giving happens discretely. These reasons explain why I don't, but they don't answer why I do. Or, more important, why giving is often expected of me. I suspect most folks who are unfamiliar with academe think professors make "a lot of money." NOT! Perhaps others just assume that certain types of people just have it. Those who are childless, for example. Ain't necessarily so. There are all kinds of obligations and responsibilities that require as much or more than children.

Although I'm in the initial stages of really sorting this out, it seems to me that at least part of the giving relates directly to my Christian upbringing, though I'm not sure I would define myself as such now. I do believe that whatever we have must be shared with those who have less than we. I'm a sucker for a hard luck story because I've had so many of my own. I've been the recipient of so much generosity. I feel compelled to do for others what has been done for me. Few things give me great joy or pleasure than to help another person in some small way. But what about those who don't need? What about the stuff that I do for those who are far more financially solvent than I? This is the giving that I don't get.

Perhaps I don't believe in the value of money, or maybe I think about it in the wrong way. For example, the only time money has mattered is when I didn't have any. In the old days when I couldn't pay all my bills or lived from paycheck to paycheck, I was obsessed with money--and even then, I gave money away. As I write it becomes clear to me that the basic question is why I'm willing to deprive myself in order to give to someone else. Now that's complicated. Haven't pondered long enough to come to any conclusion, but it seems to lie at the heart of my lifelong battle with giving too much and having too little or depriving myself to make someone else happy.

What I'm beginning to realize is that people don't mind taking from one who is willing to give. So let me put this in another way: I'm beginning to feel that I've allowed myself to be used and taken advantage of. For example, there are those who have reaped the consistent benefits of my generosity (or foolishness) and never once attempted to do anything for me. And I don't mean giving me money. Anything-- a meal, a phone call, a trinket of some sort. Or a word: "You've done something nice for me." Perhaps a thank you note?

In retrospect, I am learning that for every shameless giver, there is a shameless taker, and takers will continue to take for as long as givers give. As I've thought about a giving life, I'm annoyed, maybe angry at those who have taken because they could rather than because they were in need. The guy who borrows $500. and goes on a lavish vacation two weeks later.

I've declared that I'm going to cultivate some healthy selfishness, and while I'm learning, I'm gonna keep on thinking about my motivations. While I don't imagine that I'll change completely, I think I'll be much more discriminating in the years to come. People who love you will not let you give until you hurt. That's the first lesson that I've learned in two short days. I'm sure there's more to come.....

All in all, I marvel at my life. I have every, single thing that I need. Everything. I stand in awe of that reality. There is no material thing that I want. Not one thing. Sometimes I wish I wanted something just because... I guess that's why I don't understand the rich. What does Bill Gates DO with that money? Or Oprah? And please don't tell me about their philanthropic ventures; they still have enough left to buy the universe. Why do they need all that money? Why do they keep making money? What is left to buy? Why not just give it all away after you've bought all there is to buy and spent all there is to spend and left huge sums to children and family? I just don't get it 'cause my friend still died and the other is having surgery tomorrow, and all the money in the world won't change the aspects of life that really matter.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


How much does happiness cost? How much is too much to pay for peace of mind? Does it always pay to be "practical"? When is a decision the "right decision"? How much does one sacrifice short term for a better life long term? Transitions are tough. Change, even positive change, is difficult and stressful. The combination of change and uncertainty often seems unbearable.

This is what I know: The time for change has come. It's past time. I am certain of this, and that's absolutely all I know at the moment. One day last week I asked for my praying friends to pray and my positive thinking friends to do that as well. Since that time, and I'm really not kidding, some amazing things have happened. Good things have come in unexpected packages, but each gift comes with a particular set of challenges and "what ifs." It's all out of my hands now. What I've got to do is just wait, listen, wait, listen. I cannot order the universe or orchestrate the unknown. I am unsure, anxious, doubting, excited, terrified of the unknown.

I need patience. I need calm. I need to let things unfold as they will. I need the assurance that if and when the time for decisions comes, the decision that we make will be for the good.

Safety costs. The price of safety is often high. How does one choose between safety and happiness? One of my friends told me that tenure and a good salary are the "golden handcuffs." I get that. But golden or not, handcuffs are still handcuffs. They restrict my freedom. And this, more than any of my questions, answers all of my questions. I cannot put a price on freedom. I have compromised my freedom for safety. I have compromised my peace of mind for money and safety. Yes, I may be too old to move toward the light; too old to take certain kinds of risks; too old to begin again, but I believe that life offers all kinds of possibilities that we pass by because we want to be safe and certain. I wait and hope..........Faith: "the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen."

Thursday, June 10, 2010


My father, the Reverend Daniel Webster Bass, is largely responsible for me being me. When Danny and I were children in Jacksonville, Florida, Daddy would demand that we not follow the "rules" of our culture. For example, we were not permitted to pledge allegiance to the flag because Daddy said the pledge was a lie. "There is no liberty and justice for all in this country. Do Negroes have liberty? We will not lie." He told us to drink out of "white" water foundations, and he took us to the "white" library for story hour. When the librarian asked suggested that we go to the Wilder Park Branch Library (the "colored" library), my dad refused: "I have brought my children to THIS library, and we will attend the story hour." He demanded that we break one of the sacred rules of the South. Children always said yes, ma'am and yes sir to adults, but not us. Nope. Daddy said: "You will call no person ma'am or sir." And this: "No one can tell you that you may not go to the bathroom. If you ask your teacher, and she says no; if you really HAVE to go, you must simply leave the room." When we reminded our father that we were getting beaten (literally) and punished for our breaking of the rules, he held us tightly and told us that we could not live a lie; we could not follow an unjust rule just because it was a rule. And so, we suffered, and we were called names by teachers and students. Our childhood was harder because of our father's positions, but we saw him suffer as well. He did what he asked us to do. Daddy was our example. He also did other things. Our home was open to all manner of strangers--folks who had no homes or food. Daddy would give his last to help someone. He was one of the best humans I've ever known, and though I later learned that he was not my biological father, I never, ever doubted his love for me. Though I lost him very early in life, my father remains one of my all time heroes and examples.

I've received lots and lots of private support for the sentiments I've expressed regarding the "involuntary separations." I appreciate that support, but I wonder why it's private and not public? I'm obviously referring here to faculty support; others are vulnerable. What's at stake? If you support the positions privately, why not publicly? I ask because you must know that I've received harsh criticisms from administrators and their minions. Can you imagine how it would help (and I'm not only referring to me here) if all the voices joined together? Is it popularity? Losses? Fear? All? I'm less inclined to feel good about the "private" support because it really doesn't help the cause. I just don't get it. Or maybe I do. We want people to like us. We want to be one of the gang. We don't want to be the nut or the complainer or the person who stands apart. No one wants to be alone and lonely. I don't want to either, but I simply don't know how to be anyone but me. In other words, this is my life. I want all the things that other humans want, but there are certain compromises that I refuse to make for the sake of popularity or friendship. And ultimately, real friendship doesn't depend on one's passions or commitments.

I'm living in a world of increasing silence--the silences of those who just want me to shut up and disappear; the silences of "friends" who are angry or wounded or upset, and retreat into angry and passive silence rather than engaging and speaking. In other words, my world in the north country continues to shrink. I ponder the losses. At another time, I would have wept, pursued those who expressed their anger by not speaking or simply pretending that we never had a relationship. Now, however, my spirit won't let me pursue them any longer. I know what it means to love and to forgive and to apologize, but I can't ask forgiveness unless I know what I've done. If you choose to let me go without word or warning or explanation, then I will accept that. Ultimately, if the relationship meant anything, it would be worth saving, so, despite my questions, I will bid a silent farewell to those "friends." The numbers continue to rise.

When I began this piece, I thought I was going to say that I would just give up. Remove my blog. Be quiet. Concern myself with my own life and that of my family. Forget everyone else. Stop making people angry and uncomfortable. Stop worrying about those who have written to tell me that I don't know anything or I'm an asshole or I have an axe to grind or I'm a nut. All of this may be true, but I have to live in a way that I can live with myself. Majority opinion doesn't make it the right opinion. The way it is isn't always the way it should be. So I take it back before I say it. I'm just gonna keep on keeping on even if my north country world shrinks to one, but it won't shrink to one. I've got 4-5 folks who are like family to me. No, they don't always agree. We sometimes have knock down drag out fights, but at the end of the day, we express our love and caring. So rather than listen and concentrate on those who leave, I'm going to spend my energy on those who remain in friendship and love. And I'm gonna just keep on speaking as the spirit moves me. May peace be with you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I have written about fat in a previously published article. Funny thing about fat. Most people only want to speak of it disparagingly, and perhaps that's appropriate. I'm not really sure. What I do know is that fat is far more than a personal matter. It's as political as any thing in my world, and furthermore, it is the one aspect of one's person on which others feel completely free to speak their minds. That speaking is almost never kind or positive. Folks hate being called racist or sexist, but no one minds being a "fatist" or a fat phobe. Why do folks tell people that they are lazy slobs, helpless overeaters, dangerously unhealthy? Why are they able to laugh and point at fat people without shame or censorship? It's a mystery to me. Really.

I have been fat for most of my life. I was a fat child. I am a fat woman. I'm not sure I would know it, however, if folks weren't talking about fat all the time. For example, when I look at myself in the mirror, I see me. It's not until I see myself on a photo that I actually realize how fat I am. I'm always amazed. I think I could live with my fat were it not for the constant discussions of fat. Contemporary women are obsessed with body weight, and particularly white women. The conversations are all day every day, and especially at mealtimes. I know dozens of women who hate themselves because they're fat. Most of them are smaller than I. I'm stunned by the present definitions of what fat is and who's fat.

I don't hate myself. I actually don't hate my body. I continue to learn that I'm supposed to hate my body. Heaven forbid that I actually believe myself to be beautiful. Imagine how women look at me when I refer to myself as gorgeous! The evidence for the relationship between obesity and poor health is convincing, and I wonder why I'm still fat. Here's what I've come up with thus far:

Former deprivation is one reason for my fat. While I haven't worked this out completely, it seems clear that there's a relationship between past longing (and sometimes hunger) and the present ability to enjoy whatever foods I want to eat. In other words, I can eat what I want when I want. The deprivation factor kicks in as soon as I even think about plans that restrict me or make particular food groups "off limits." Even if it's stuff I don't want, I simply don't want to be told that I can't have it. Deprivation and memories of deprivation run deep. It's not insignificant that when I got my first real job and paycheck, I went directly to the grocery store. I spent hours looking at all the stuff I'd never tasted. I must have eaten porterhouse, filet mignon, and t-bone steaks everyday for a year. I'd never known such delights. I don't think I've moved very far from that person now. It takes a long time to believe that the well will not dry. Now the deprivation is of a different sort. The food from my world is now taboo. BAD. Unhealthy. And even if it weren't, ain't none of it up here anyway. So I feel deprived of "home" food, or the food that reminds me of home and family.

I think resistance plays a small part in my continuing fat as well. I HATE the ways in which people treat fat people. The thin or reasonably pound person who goes on constantly about how much she needs to lose. She's the person that I'm supposed to want to be. I hate the ways in which that external world shames fat people either into retreating into food or hating themselves or spending hundreds of dollars on various diet plans. I hate the ways in which women, even feminists, have fallen into the trap that suggests that beauty is impossible for fat women. I hate the fact that no one believes that a fat woman can really think she's beautiful.

But the medical establishment has frightened me. I'm afraid of killing myself. My fat has become like smoking used to be. I don't mind it, but I hate the prejudice against it. I hate what it does to my body. I don't want to shorten my life. I love life, and I want to live as long as I can. I've got a problem cause it's far easier to give up smoking than it is to give up food. Everybody's eating all the time. Food is everywhere. That voice that tells me that I can't is the voice I'm bound to defy. I can. I can because I can because I want. Please don't tell me I can't.

A couple of days ago, I called out the "fat brigade" on Facebook--asked someone to help and advise. Not one "like" or comment. Nada. Were folks embarrassed? Am I not supposed to talk about my fat? It's not exactly a secret, right?

So I'm gonna do something, but I don't want any pats on the back or "good jobs." I don't want anyone to tell me how much better I look now.......cause what I want you to know is that I think I'm pretty damned HOT at 60 and fat. What I do (and if I do) ain't about your praise or admiration or respect. If all those good feelings are simply tied to my physical body, then no thank you. What I want to do is add years to my life, so that I, in whatever state I find myself, can continue to be the gorgeous creature that I am. So y'all deal wid it..........

Friday, May 21, 2010


There's a list of 50 (?) things students "must do" before they leave this university. One of them is to climb 46 Adirondack Mountain Peaks. Those who complete the task (and there are not many) receive the title. They're "46ers." I've never climbed a literal mountain in my life, but I'd argue that I deserve the title as well. My time at this university has been like climbing one high mountain after the other. Long, hard climbs. The descents were worse. I never climbed down the peaks. Sometimes I slipped, but sometimes I was pushed. Descents were painful, wounding. No broken bones, but what a broken heart! Each time, even though I thought I wouldn't, I recovered. Battle scars healed after a bit. Slights and betrayals forgiven. Ready to move ahead and get to work.

This time it's different. The events of this last semester ruined my relationship to this place. I lost respect for it. The funny thing is that absolutely nothing happened to me. Perhaps my response is cumulative, and spring semester just pushed me over the edge of that last peak. The ethical and moral questions, the degradations, manipulations and humiliations of the semester were just inconceivable to me. So the consequence is (not that it matters) that, for the very first time, I have lost all regard for the institution. All regard. I've considered leaving this place hundreds of times. I've applied for other jobs in other places, but each time I considered leaving, I wondered if I could. I'd remember the best moments of my time here and announce: "This is my place." I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere in my adult life. I have worked here longer than I have worked any where in my life. My mother died here. I've been loyal, and there are times when I have loved this place. Now, I feel nothing, empty. I'm not angry or upset. I'm not wounded or hurt. My life is actually easier now that I hold no administrative responsibility. But the depth of the injustice is just too much for me to accept. Furthermore, I'm deeply disappointed in the players.

Detached is the word. From the place, and from many of the people. Detached. The remarkable aspect of it all is that the events and outcomes freed me. I can pass the torch. Stop carrying the load. Be me and breathe. I throw off the shackles of tokenism and move forward. But I've got to do it elsewhere. Here isn't the place. Truth be told, I just don't want to be here anymore.

And so, I look toward the future. Another job and maybe even another place. And I'm ready to go right now--this very minute. I've done my time. 20 years hard labor. Parole sounds better and better each day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


On June 2, 2010 (today), some of my colleagues suffered an "involuntary separation" from the university. In other words, they will be fired. One of my dear friends earns the whopping salary of $24,000. She's been here 3 times the number of years I have. I am, of course, untouchable in this situation. As one of my faculty colleagues suggested, I've earned the "right" of having a "job for life." I have tenure. I have pondered this situation for many months now, and I just can't make it right. And yes, I know many people have suffered tremendous losses during this recession. This, however, is personal. This institution tells my staff colleagues that they do not matter as much as I; their jobs are less valuable and less essential to the institutional operation.

My good "Christian" friends will tell me that God has "smiled on me." I'm "protected by the grace of God." That really makes no sense. No reason, as I have said before, for God to smile on me unless, of course, it also believes in the system of tenure and promotion. Other friends won't care; others will tell me that this is the way in which the world works. My heart hurts. I'm sorry. I hate a system that allows and sustains this kind of inequity. And that brings me to politics and political leanings--religious upbringing and values as well, but those are far too complicated to explain here (though I tried in an earlier post).

I am certain that I don't subscribe to capitalism. I don't think any of my historical heroes did or would have. I believe that all governments are corrupt. I abhor the fact of socioeconomic injustice. I don't believe that there must be a lower class. I don't believe that it's just or moral for some people to have millions of dollars while others don't have food to eat. I don't believe that I am more valuable or worthy than another person because of my education. I don't believe that I deserve more rights and privileges than any other human being. I would like to imagine a world without competition--one in which all people made roughly the same wages; all people had universal health care; no one was hungry. I would like for all people to enjoy the benefits and pleasures of citizenship.

I'm not against "big government" as I think the term is often defined. Yes, I believe the government should provide for its citizens: jobs, education, clean water and food, health care. Yes, I believe that the government is responsible for upholding the laws of the land. Despite Rand Paul's comments of late, I'm VERY glad that the government ended Jim Crow. And no, I don't believe that private business owners in the USA have the right to exclude citizens on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. No gents' clubs, racist and anti-Semitic country clubs. I don't mind paying big taxes for social welfare--the good of the whole. As a matter of fact, I think it's my moral obligation to do so.

My friend, one who came here because I wooed her with a "wonderful opportunity," lost her job today. It's really the second time she's gotten the shaft. The first was with the elimination of the job for which she came. Once that job was eliminated, she kindly agreed to accept another. Some weeks ago, she was assured she wouldn't lose her job. Much to her surprise, the call came early this morning. And what am I to say? Sorry? Too bad? Oh, this is the way the world works? Maybe it is, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I suspect an integral part of aging is looking at young people and making generalizations about them. We idealize the "good old days" and talk about the "way it was when we were kids." Okay, I'm guilty. I love children, but I love them far less than I used to. Despite all the ways in which I can look back on my childhood and take stock of inadequate parenting, I'm particularly critical of parenting in contemporary, middle-class America. Though I don't have children, I certainly see enough children and young adults to make some observations. The first is that most parents shouldn't be parents. I wonder about the motivation for replication. In other words, the why of the compulsion for biological reproduction? I have a dear friend who has two daughters, both adopted. I was stunned many years ago when she, perfectly able to carry and bear children, decided that she neither wanted to be pregnant nor to have a biological child. She figured there are hundreds of thousands of children in the world who need homes, and thus, there was no reason for pregnancy. I kinda thought she was nuts, but I realize that I'm nuts. What she did makes perfect sense to me now. She is a parent--as much a parent as any other parent I know, and two kids who were in an orphanage now have loving parents.

Lots of people have children because they need them. There is a way in which being a parent fulfills a primal need to love and be loved, to feel special, bonded and complete. Parenting ranks among the most idealized occupations ever, and I don't think many folks sit down and look at themselves critically before deciding to have a child. How many people really ponder, prior to having a baby, their fitness for parenting; their reasons for parenting? How many folks take parenting classes or go to counseling to figure out their suitability for parenting? So this is what we get in far too many cases: Parents who are completely unable to separate themselves from their children; parents who suffocate their children with their own neediness; parents who refuse to let their children develop their own sense of self; parents who believe that discipline and good manners somehow harm children's "self-esteem." Parents who are "helicopters." Parents who try to shield their children from the inevitable vagaries of living life in this world. So how do you instill or encourage self-esteem when you don't have it? And how do young people who have always been sheltered learn to live in the world? Sometimes you gotta skin your knee. It's gonna bleed. You may not have a band-aid in the house, but you're likely to survive.

My students often tell me that their parents, particularly their mother, are their best friends. I find that concerning and not quite the way they ought to be characterizing the relationship between parent and child. Boundaries are fuzzy. Kids are confused. And as the intensive, middle-class, child-centered parents continue to parent, the rates of depression, mental illness and other maladies among children and youth soar. In general, I ponder the consequences of growing up believing that you are the center of the universe, the entire universe. What are the consequences of material excess? What are the consequences of a relative lack of discipline? And I'm absolutely against spanking or hitting children, but even toddlers know when their behavior is unacceptable. Who hasn't seen the sly glance of a toddler who knows she's doing something of which her parents don't approve? Is "time out" now also too damaging to the fragile self-esteem of kids?

I would not have been a good parent. I know that now. I didn't know that when I thought I wanted to have two children. I didn't have good models and many parents didn't. I loved my parents, my mother in particular, dearly, but my mother wasn't able to teach me how to be a good mother. I know that I thought I needed a child to fill the various voids in me. I know I would have tried to compensate for all of the ways in which I felt myself to be both emotionally and materially deprived. I'm too judgmental to be a parent. At the time I would have been parent to a young child, I would have been so completely emotionally inadequate that I would have failed miserably at parenting. The good news is that many children survive inadequate parenting, emotionally crippled parents. The bad news is that many children don't.

And then there are the parents, mothers in particular, feminists who are immediately transformed into mothers--just mothers. Defined by mothering. Defined by motherhood. Acquiring, in a moment's notice, the authority to take on the most incredibly awesome responsibility in the universe. The toughest job in the world gets the least training and attention. Parenting is something we just do. Make a baby; be a parent. SNAP!

Perhaps I adore infants because they haven't yet become... I love the feel and smell of them; the way they sleep, and the cooing sounds. I take it back. I love children; I mostly don't like parents. Some unsolicited advice:

Your child is not the center of MY universe. I don't want to witness the incredible numbers of rude behaviors that you find cute and charming. And yeah, I'm kinda shocked when they shout at you, spit on you, hit you, call you a liar, scream just because they can or, worse yet, because they're unhappy with you. I'm shocked when they make unreasonable demands to which you capitulate. I'm shocked by the ways in which parents indulge inappropriate behaviors and change plans because Jojo is misbehaving.

I know some folks who are exceptional parents--not many, but some. They love their children fiercely, but they have not let their children consume them. There is a healthy disinterest (not the best word, but I can't think of another). An undisciplined child is an unhappy child, and a child that no one wants to be around, except you, of course.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


It's a nagging and recurring fear, a remnant of some time I can't remember but do. It's a remembering of a moment in another's life, but I can't shake it. I don't get it. We keep an open home 'cause it's kinda outside of town. Seems far, but it's not. We can see Gunnison's steeple. It's darker than dark at night, and when I stand at my kitchen window, I, for reasons that I simply can't fathom, think about the physician who was killed while standing at his kitchen window in the dark of night. Killed, according to the killer, because he performed abortions. I wonder what that has to do with my life and my fear. I think perhaps the incident reminds me of my own particular discomfort in this place, and this may be the manifestation of that long ago life in Mississippi.

This part of the world often looks and feels like the rural South. Pick-up trucks with guns, hunters, chewing tobacco. There are no drawls, but there are the shared sentiments. A couple of weeks ago, one of my students reported that her sports team was at a local restaurant in Madrid. She and her friends were stunned as a local noted that he saw "a nigger driving around." The man expressed his discomfort and alerted his fellow citizens. This is where we live. Athough it often appears that we are wrapped in the comfort of middle-class progressive politics, we are not. It is that man I see at my window; that man scares me with his possibilities and potential. He reminds me of that not so long ago letter: "Dear Mrs. Bass, You are a nigger ape from Africa...You are trying to turn St. Lawrence into a nigger school......." The rest, the prayer he (and I believe it is a he) prayed is too frightening to quote. Maybe the connection between this person and the killer is the sentiment, the mindless hatred of another human being just because.

There is the relative absence of black people that scares me. We're conspicuous, lacking anonymity, known. I'm a "troublemaker." Too vocal. Too black. And why don't I just go back to where I came from if I don't like it up here? That's not the point. If this were Mississippi or any other town in the rural South, I would not live here. An all white town in the rural South is that way because it wants to be. It has to work hard to achieve that goal in the South, and it ain't no place I wanna be. That reality and that remembering and the sentiment expressed in that letter fuels my "unreasonable" fear of standing in front of my kitchen window in the dark, dark night.

When I expressed my feelings to a couple "friends" a while back, they simply looked at me. It's so easy to ignore another's pain and fear. It's so easy to suggest that one is "irrational" or, worse yet, "paranoid." My grandfather was almost killed by the KKK. My cousin, a school principal in the newly integrated Mississippi, kept a rifle in the corner of his living room AND a pistol in the drawer of his office at school. Cross burned in the yard. Threats. The present reality is that racial hate groups are growing in this country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks this stuff. I've got to stop reading its publications. Perhaps I'll feel less like a target and more like a "regular" person.

So when I scream about radical factions in the nation or the ways in which the "teaparties" inflame and incite hatred or rail against the waves of right-wing conservatism, it ain't solely about politics. It's about fear for my personal safety and well-being, and, again, I use "my" to represent the individual and the collective. Is the fear a reflection of my generation? My experiences? My relative isolation? Is it simply the result of living under a microscope in a fishbowl? Do I long for a life without scrutiny in that racial/ethnic kinda way? I just don't know, but I do know that living here is hard. And it gets harder. I miss and long for deep connection and even more than that, deep understanding. I miss relationships that are not professional. Conversations that have nothing to do with SLU or the closing of the P&C. I long for those people who don't give a damn about PhDs or my last article or tenure or being full professor. People who live in a world where none of this matters. I long for a place with choices, and where walking into a room or restaurant won't draw curious and sometimes hostile stares. There are such places--places where I can stand in front of my kitchen window and fear less because I'm not the sole black person who lives on this road or in this town. I don't want to go to a basement in the Hermon Public Library to see my doctor. I don't want to "break new ground" or be "the first." Anonymity. Just one in a bunch. I do not want to grow old here. I want the freedom to stand at my window and not think. I want to be free to enjoy my happiness without the burden of recognition. Free to be me without fear..........

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I have consistently and persistently been neither friend nor fan of Oprah. I know this is a heretical statement in the minds of many women, in particular. My language is appropriate because many women, and fewer men, believe that Oprah is a goddess. She's so "in touch" with her feelings. Oprah is "so honest" and "generous." Just think of all the money and gifts she gives away. I'm watching her show as I write. I haven't viewed for a long time. Today's discussion is an old one for Oprah. The topic is weight, and Oprah has had yet another "epiphany" about weight. I can't count how many epiphanies Oprah has had about her weight since she's been a celebrity. As to the giving, what's the big deal? Do you know how much money Oprah has? She ranks among the wealthiest people in the entire world. The schools she builds; she cars and gifts she gives are simply drops of pennies in her huge bucket of money. Oprah often speaks irresponsibly. When she suggests that something is "wrong" with people who are poor or suffering; her "power of positive thinking" has devastating effects on the people who actually believe that stuff. In truth, Oprah's money could do a lot more than it does. The culture suffers from Oprah saturation. She chooses the books we read; Oprah sanctions our choices for President of the United States. She's the woman in the know. But what does Oprah know, and how does she know it? dear. Credentials. Oprah makes people millionaires: Oz, Dr. Phil are two great examples. And, of course, there is best friend Gayle, who, by the way, is not a lesbian. Neither is Oprah. Oprah didn't begin this way. She began honestly. Her shows were honest; they increasingly became more sensational, and now she's turned to actually believing she is who so many of us think she is. Oprah has become an industry; she's a picture on the cover of the magazine that bears her name. I know I'm in a minority, but I'm so glad that God told Oprah to retire from her television program. That direct communication from God releases many American women from Oprah's psychoanalysis and Oprah's guilt-tripping. Perhaps women will learn that Oprah will not lead them from bondage. As I sit and watch Oprah weep because she has "gained the weight again," I realize that it must be tough to be Oprah. We expect perfection from our gods, and from time to time, Oprah fails. She's brilliant enough, however, to make her failings not simply failings, but shining examples for us all. Her conclusion today is that her "thin" self deserves the love and praise and accolades, and that speaking of her "fat" is her shaming self. With all her money and fame and connections, Oprah is a very, very sad woman who has capitalized on the sadness and insecurities of others who are just like her. I've had enough. Another women has been "moved" to tears because she "hates herself" because "I'm fat." What a world! Is there anything Oprah doesn't know? Is there any area in which Oprah has no expertise? She's a hoax, a sham, and the joke's on you. I say farewell and good riddance to Oprah.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


In Iowa this weekend for a special occasion. It's a symposium in honor of a dear friend and former colleague, Huston Diehl. She's a gem. Rare. Uncommon in so many ways, another example of the woman I want to be. Huston has a rare and virulent cancer with which she has lived for many years. In this, too, Huston lives always with dignity and grace. We've celebrated Huston's scholarship and pedagogy; her person. We, in our inadequate ways, told her what her life means to us. It was a collective lovefest for an incredible and brilliant person, teacher and scholar. I had the privilege of talking about her memoir, Dream Not of Other Worlds. It's an account of a 21 year old, white, middle-class Huston who lands her first teaching job at a segregated school in Louisa County, West Virginia. Read it. It will touch your soul. One of the speakers talked about successfully teaching Dream Not of Other Worlds in a college first year program. I'm going to give it a try. If you remember how I began this blog--ranting about "liberal" white women, in particular, Huston's memoir offers a glimpse of a white woman of a different sort. Committed, dedicated, searching, honest, HUMAN. Unapologetic, but remarkably and uncannily "knowing" with regard to race, human nature, social justice. Acutely and intuitively able to "get it" without self-congratulation. Able to see the big picture. Prophetic in vision and voice. She has touched my life in ways that she will never know, and I'm honored to have been a part of this occasion. Dream Not of Other Worlds................Huston Diehl, much respect and much love always.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


When Mama died, not so very long ago, writing was the last thing I wanted to do. The depth of my sadness overwhelmed me, and in desperation to find solace and an expression of my grief, these words came to me:

I want to don sackcloth and ashes, run down coal-hot cobblestone streets
with bare feet—stoic and without a whimper. I want to watch eyebrows rise when I silently tear my sackcloth, wishing all the while for a wardrobe change.

I want to look like the old church sisters, who wore their finest black spun-cotton stockings and freshly pressed black dress suit, complete with jacket and straight skirt or the long black dress with starched white collar and long sleeves. I wouldn’t forget the shoes, severe and laced, heels lifting the mourner just slightly off the ground. These were the recognizable signs of mourning—the visible signs of pain and loss.
When Mama died I needed a sign or symbol that set me apart from everyone else. I once thought of wearing a sign: “Did you know my mother died?” Seemed far more relevant than asking what Jesus would do.

Monday, May 3, 2010


A generalization, but not really. My folks do love Jesus, or so they say. Now before you get started, let me offer my credentials. I come from a family of preachers--two grandfathers, a brother, an uncle, and my mother was, among other things, a hospital chaplain. I grew up in the Black Church. No, I am not Baptist. I grew up in the Christian, formerly Colored, Methodist Episcopal Church. The Black Church represents home to me in a way that nothing else does. I hear the sounds, the low moans of the sisters and brothers as we begin the "wurrship." The music: anthems, spirituals, Dr. Watts, lining, call and response. The formulaic prayers: "Giving honor to God who is the Head of my life..." The swaying in the pews. First Sunday communion.I love the women in all their finery, big hats--dressing up for God, paying respects to "the Lord,'s House." Watch Night. Testimonies. Shouting. Church suppers. Easter "pieces." There are ways in which the Black Church is the only home I know, and there is a HUGE hole in me because I live in a place where that experience, as I know it, is simply not possible.

Having said that, I'm not sure I'd be able to attend a church if one were here. The theology is often troubling, conservative, painful. Literal interpretations of scripture, as if such a thing is possible, often makes for strange bedfellows. Right wing fundamentalist white "Christians," and black "bible believing" Christians have a lot in common. All believe the bible is "divinely inspired." (As an aside, I believe my blog is also "divinely inspired."). All quote scripture when they want to point out the ways in which other people are "wrong." Homosexuality is a big sin, as is abortion. Other more common sins (those which Christians commit with great regularity) are tolerated. Lying, for example. Envy, jealousy, little acts of cheating. Innocuous sins. Those sins "normal" people commit. As if scripture don't suggest that sin is sin--no big or little, just sin. If the bible is divinely inspired, then how do you interpret words from the "divine"?

What troubles me most is the reduction of the complexity of that entity we call GOD. We've made God a cliche:

"He don't put no more on us than we can bear"
"The Lord makes a way out of no way"
"Well, it's God's will."

How y'all know? How can you make God comprehensible to the human mind? If we speak and think of God as an entity that functions exactly as humans do, why do we need it? What's the point? If God is some big white dude somewhere in the atmosphere that's decided who's gonna die at 10:51 p.m. or who's gonna be struck with some dread disease or what war we're gonna fight, or worse yet, who is "the enemy," why I need that? If it seeks retribution just like we do, why do we need it? If it judges harshly and punishes, what's the point?

I make no claims to being a Christian. I don't know what I am, but I do know that I live by a set of principles that demands that I recognize my flaws and faults first; that allows me to embrace those who, like me, are remarkably imperfect and struggling to find a way. I believe that loving others, even those who try me or hate me, is one of the things that I feel compelled to do. I know that I think about the ways in which my life of excess and consumerism is just wrong; that I have way more stuff than I need. I do not believe that I deserve this life. I do not believe that I am here because of "the grace of God," for I believe that if God has grace, there is no reason that it is mine and not the homeless person's or the hungry child's or the immigrant who dies fleeing poverty and in search of a better life. I do not believe that God would create borders, claim that only certain humans are allowed to live in certain parts of the big world it created. If God is God, it ain't smiling on me. Y'all might be, but it ain't. "God's grace" if it exists would be available to every living thing. Humans distribute goods because of "merit." We believe people "deserve" what they have. I do not.

In my opinion, and I mean no disrespect, I see the greatest reflection of love, God's love, if you will, in my dogs. I don't believe that humans are capable of unconditional love. No matter how we try, all human love comes with conditions. The love of my animals does not. They do not judge me. They make incredible expressions of caring. They let me be me. They demand no reciprocity. They don't care where I live or what I do or who I love. Even an abused animal will love its abuser. This is pure love, and it expresses itself without a word. No human. No human is capable of this. It's the "lesser" animals--those without "reason," who, in my humble opinion, have that infinite capacity that escapes and eludes me.

I do admire Jesus, and I suspect many Christians would be better Christians if they studied that life; got a red letter edition of the bible and read the words that Jesus said. Read his biography. The fact of the matter is that what we call Christianity is, more often than not, old testament theology. It's full of vengeance, eyes for eyes, retribution. Heavenly rewards and hell fires and punishments. Abomination. Y'all can have that. I don't want no part of it. I got work to do. Got to fix myself.

I'll take my chances. I'll continue to search and seek. If God is love, then I'll continue to try to understand and comprehend the incomprehensible. I will not, however, subscribe to any theology that includes hatred or "damnation." Any theology that suggests that I've earned some special place in "God's eyes." Any theology that suggests that I am "saved" and others are doomed. Any theology that suggests that God has "smiled on me" and frowns on others. Any theology that suggests that I'm a chess piece on the big board of life--that God is the chess master, moving me and you around at will. No. Nada. That's way too simple for me.

Whatever I am, I hold it in my consciousness nearly every waking hour. I struggle always to be the best human I can be. I fail, and I grieve because I know I fall short time after time after time.
I will never comprehend what this thing called God is, but I do know that most of what I hear it is, it ain't. Perhaps I've made a small step toward something. I have an infinite capacity for forgiveness. Oh yeah, I get mad, bluster, cuss, clown, declare that "I'm done," but I'm never done with anyone. Never done. If you think I dislike you, approach me. Tell me you need something. Ask me for a favor, and see what happens. I've forgiven suicide, incest, abuse, false accusations, character assassination. I've forgiven racism and Jim Crow. Sexism and homophobia. And even when I think I've talked myself into being "done," there's always an occasion that tests that resolve. I'm never done.

Best book title ever? Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. Later.