Thursday, December 29, 2011


My brother died today. Well, he's actually been dead a day or two. The brain scan was flat--a straight line. Kent's body "lives" only via machines. They will be turned off later today. I loved this brother of mine. We share an abusive father and a middle name. Kent was there for me during the most difficult time of my younger life. No woman could have had a better brother. We met late in life. I was a teenager; he was grown. Our connection was immediate, deep and strong. The years and family drama often separated us for long periods of time, but we remained deeply connected at the heart and in the mind.

Last Saturday, he sent a one line email. "Having surgery on Tuesday. Wish me luck." It was such an unusual gesture that I called him a few days later. We laughed, talked about the surgery, and I reminded him that "only the good die young." He laughed again.

He was fine immediately after the surgery. Talked to his daughters. Tried to walk a bit. He was moving out of ICU into another room. Suddenly; without warning, he collapsed. And now we prepare for his services.

I didn't know that I'd be so sad. I've been consumed with goodbyes, partings and "bon voyages," but this is not a journey I expected. I've decided to leave before I take my extended leave to attend my brother's funeral. I feel no obligation. What I feel is the desire to participate in the formal ritual that celebrates his life. I feel the strongest desire to be with his daughters--my nieces whom I barely know and express my love for their father and for them. My nieces just lost their mother two months ago. Death is cruel. I want to hug his 90+ year old mother, who has now lost two of her three children, and thank her for sharing those children with me. I want to stand with our sister, who now faces life without the siblings with whom she grew.

Perhaps the good DO die young. Perhaps they do. Rest in peace, James Kent Jordan, III. Rest in peace my dearest brother. I am so very grateful to have known and loved you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I recognize the movement of time in ways that I haven't before. Time used to creep along--tick. tick. tick. Now, one godchild is a man with children of his own; another, seemingly born yesterday, is already nine years old. I see myself aging, but I feel like me. I'm not afraid of age; I rather enjoy the privileges of aging. Mostly what I feel each day is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life and for the lives of those who have touched me. There are people I love who would likely say otherwise. For example, I've fought (likely an understatement) with someone very dear to me for nearly ten years. We've fought about stuff, mostly politics and issues. We've fought about work stuff; we're annoyed by the reflections of ourselves that we see in the other. Retirement allows me to put down the armor and embrace my friend--tell her that all our hard times were the consequence of roles we played rather than our hearts. I'm grateful for family, QUEER FAMILY in particular. We've found a home, of sorts. We're male and female, straight and gay, young and not-so young. Some of us are actively grieving; others are grieving in other kinds of ways. Nevertheless, we laugh and love and eat and drink together. I'm grateful. It comes at a perfect time. Family lost; family gained.

I'm grateful for the clarity with regard to relationships. Grateful for the privilege of asking forgiveness and seeking forgiveness. Grateful for the clarity that allows me to understand when I have or might have been wrong; when I have wounded, intentionally or not. Apologizing isn't painful. Harboring ill will is. I'm grateful for the clarity that helps me understand that years and history are not necessarily a foundation upon which a steadfast and loving friendship is built; neither offers a solid basis for a relationship. Time is just that--time. It accounts for something, but it can't hold an improbable relationship together. I'm grateful that I can be comfortable with the reality that there are some people who just don't like me. Some are people with whom I've never had a conversation or disagreement. I'm grateful that I've determined which relationships are essential, and that I'm able to let others go. I'm grateful that I'm willing to fight for the relationships that really mean something to me.

There are few people more different in manner, temperament and way of being in the world than my partner and me. Bunny and I spend our days in endless spats over the most ridiculous things you can imagine: "Why did you leave your book on that table." "Why don't you stop ordering me around?" Blah, blah, blah. Oh yeah, it's real stuff. We were middle-aged when we met; we fell into a relationship kicking and screaming; I was severely bruised from an abusive relationship, and she endured a year or so of absolute craziness with me. She's controlling as hell; I refuse to be controlled. I don't share enough information with her before I make a decision; I've diagnosed her OCD. We're both "set in our ways." I've actually been leaving and getting my own place for the past 16 years. I've never made good on that promise. I travel; she doesn't. I'm loud; she's not. I live out loud; she's relatively private. I'm a people person; she rarely remembers a human's name. So why? Every, single morning when I awaken, and every, single evening when I go to sleep, I am absolutely certain that she loves me. She's loyal, steadfast, and she LIKES me. We're friends. Best friends. I need her. I adore her. I can't imagine my life without her, even though I'm still going to leave and go get my own place today and tomorrow and the day after that.

It's daunting to imagine leaving her for 4 months while I travel abroad. It's the one sadness with regard to this trip I'm about to take. My time with her is so precious; I don't want to waste or squander a minute of it, but we need to do the things that broaden our worlds, that feed our spirits and our souls. Our love will carry us through this brief separation, and I'll return with stories to share and appreciation for her understanding of my desire to do this. She's the best. Lord, she works my nerves, but I've got a universe of love for her and a heart full of gratitude for all she is and does for me. I'll miss her so much; the longing has already begun. I lay awake and listen to her breathe and want to change my mind about the trip. Too late. I have to believe that everything is going to be all right.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I feel strangely drawn to old traditions, even those I think I've rejected. I'm happy. I AM HAPPY. And that's all inclusive. Yes, there are always sadnesses and sufferings; that's the stuff of life, but, for me, happiness isn't a life without sadness or suffering. That's dead, actually. Happiness is learning to live in such a way that the realities of living don't slay us. We get up and begin again. We smile and we hope. I love being alive. I can't think of anything I want; there's nothing I need. My problems are those of my friends--persons dear to me who suffer from illness or tensions in relationships or loss of loved ones. In some cases, I can literally feel their pain; in others, I can't. But this isn't the point. When I face those situations and occasions over which I have no control, I've found myself turning to (and I can hardly write the word) prayer.

Now here's a disclaimer. I know the word conjures up all kinds of religious images. I can hear folks say I'm getting old (true that) and scared of dying (not quite yet). I feel sheepish about it and still unsure about what it all means. I tried to pray when my mother was dying. Maybe I did pray, but I didn't ask whomever or whatever I prayed to extend her life much as I would love to have her here right now. I have two friends who are quite ill. One believes in something (Something?); the other claims no religious beliefs. Though I've been away from organized religon for many years, I wonder what folks do when they face that thing, that HUGE and unfathomable thing that no human can help or soothe or solve. I wonder.

A dear friend gave me a book on prayer. "writing to GOD" is subtitled "40 Days of Praying with my Pen." She knows me well. Knows that I'm thinking about praying--what it is and what it means and why I'm thinking about it--and she knows I love to write what I want; when I want. I've only opened the book once, but I'm acutely conscious of its presence on my shelf. I confess that I ordered another book on prayer. It's a prayer journal. It's stuffed safely in my trip bag. I'd decided that I'd begin writing at the beginning of the new year. I've changed my mind. I go to sleep and awaken thinking about praying and hearing the prayers of the good "sisters" in my church tradition. I've also thought often about St. Paul, who, as many know, really gets on my nerves. Some of the words attributed to Paul poke and prod. At the moment, and for several days, I'm stuck on "pray without ceasing." What the hell does that mean?

I'm determined to figure out what's nagging me, disturbing my peace and peace of mind. Adding to rather than subtracting from my joy. I've repaired some relationships, asked forgiveness in others, set things right even if the settin' was rejected. I've done what I need to do. EXCEPT there's this idea of praying without ceasing to a god/God/Gods/gods/divinity I don't know if I know or where to find it because I can assure you it ain't likely in no church no where that I know.

What I do know is that praying doesn't have to be on knees, uttering stock words and phrases to something. It ain't begging for a miracle in my life or anyone else's. If I do have a prayer it is to let me be content in whatever state I find myself (yeah, I think that's Paul again). It ain't "Jesus don't let me suffer," but rather "whoever or whatever you are, please let me learn how to suffer with grace and dignity and gratitude for the wonder and joy I have known. " No, I don't believe that "what don't kill you will make you stronger." I didn't need all of the pain that I've suffered. I don't believe that I've learned anything from some of that pain. It was just pure unadulterated evil perpetrated, and we've all seen more than enough of that. What I do know is that we learn to survive by surviving; we understand our strength often during our moments of great weakness.

Happiness is not a destination. We don't just arrive at happy and take up residence. Happy doesn't mean that all is perfect in my world. Happy doesn't mean that my life can't change quicker than I can type the next letter. Maybe prayer is an ultimate expression of gratitude for whatever your happy is. For each day I am drenched in gratitude--unspeakable gratitude for being loved by entities known and unknown.

Bless be the tie that binds.........

Thursday, December 8, 2011


After 25 years, I think I'm beginning to feel like a person again-- a real human being. Not a representative or a symbol; not a token or a "diverse" person or "multicultural." I'm not fighting any battles, championing any causes, mentoring "colored people" from various places and at various stages of their student, faculty or staff careers. I don't have to speak for the untenured or for students who have been leveled by the unexpected ravages of racism, sexism or homophobia. I just get to be me, Margaret, whoever that is. I've worn this mantle so long that I'm not quite sure who I am without it. What I do know is that it's been a long time since I've felt so free; even longer since I've had the opportunity to refrain from speaking or entering the fray. That's what my impending retirement has given me. I get to keep the best part of my job--teaching and students--and leave the rest behind.

As I go through each day, I feel the load lighten. I lose the baggage of unkind people and unpleasant relationships. I lose the leeches, who suck the blood and life, and once they've used you up, they move on. I lose those who take and refuse to give in return. I've gained a beautiful "queer family" that envelops me with love and laughter and caring--men and women who simply enjoy being together, preparing and eating food, loving life. There are days that I feel like Saul, scales falling from my eyes; seeing--really seeing for the first time. I'm finally creating a life here--one that bears little resemblance to what I've experienced for the 11 years I've been here this time.

I'm about to leave for a great adventure--a 4 month voyage on a floating campus. I'm so excited; I'm so scared. I'll miss my family desparately. My partner, Mrs. B., in particular. We've never been apart for longer than 3 weeks, but this is something I need to do. The sea restores and cleanses; it rejuvenates the soul and the spirit. This adventure requires a blog of its own.

Friday, November 4, 2011


If I stay here long enough, I swear I'll be convinced that I'm stone nuts. I may be, but the critical piece is that I'm not yet convinced. I attended a lecture today entitled "Beyond Forgiveness." It's a topic in which I have great interest not only because I need and seek forgiveness, but also because I need to forgive. In other words, I remain in a perpetual state of humanness. The philosopher posited that we have moved beyond what he called a traditional notion of forgiveness that is/was based in religion (mainly Christianity). Old forgiveness required interaction between "sin" and the divine. Beyond forgiveness removes the "sin" and the divine. Forgiveness becomes a function self-help or self-healing. The talk was challenging, and I'm not doing it justice, but I'm tied to traditional forgiveness, contrition, repentance. If this is religious (and I don't believe it is), then that's okay.

I've lost several "friends" during the past two years, or perhaps I'll say I've lost people with whom I used to interact from time to time. At least one of my closest friends suggests that my way of being in the world alienates people. I'm too harsh, honest to a fault, intense. I do, however, bring that same intensity to love and friendship, and I'm as hard on me as I am anyone else.

I wish I could figure out who people want me to be. Rare is the occasion when I simply insert myself into the lives and affairs of others. Under most circumstances, I'm invited in via conversation and confidence. I listen and usually try to help. When I'm involved, I'm there--in deep, working hard to slog through the mire with my friends. I never seem to cross the line when I'm giving my time or my money or my service. I've never had anyone disassociate because I've given too much. Nope. It's when I speak to something that seems, in my world, to be immoral or unethical or just wrong. There's the rub. Rare is the occasion when you can look a person in her eye and offer a negative criticism--then you're harsh, hard, cranky, crabby.

I so look forward to boarding that big ship in a few weeks (yes, weeks). I need a change. I need new critical eyes and ears. I need to feel as though I'm starting fresh and clean; trying myself out on another bunch of people; doing a reality check. I have equal doses of excitement and fear. I can't bear the thought of being away from my sweetie for such a long time, but I do so want to go on this voyage.

This is what I've learned this week:

Ethnicity trumps longstanding friendships, showers, babies, loyalty, and years of listening to someone's sorrows and woes.

My gut is never wrong. If it says something ain't right, it ain't. I should always listen to it.

People don't always stop speaking because they're angry; sometimes it's because they know you've told the truth; sometimes it's shame.

Some people are mean, nasty, spiteful, hateful, gossiping liars--even those who have accepted your love and generosity, and sometimes KARMA doesn't work.

Some people are just stupid. If I notice that I'm not on your FACEBOOK page, I'll likely NOT just assume that you have a personal issue with me. What I'll do is ask this question: "Why am I no longer your friend on FB"? FACEBOOK isn't life. It's FB.

Connected to the preceding discovery is the ever-growing desire to deactivate and unfriend yet again. Many of my friends are losing interest in FB. I may be hooked, however. I do know that FB is worse than email for serious communication.

As the time for my official relationship to SLU as a tenured faculty member draws to a close, I've not had one hint of misgiving. Now is the time--the right time. I even attended a faculty meeting for the first time in nearly two years. Didn't do a thing for me. Nada.

I wish I were going to be here for Andy's wedding. Don't know why I want to be there so much. Just do.

Concentrating on failed relationships is like focusing on the 3 terrible teaching evaluations in a bunch of 70. It's not the eval itself that's troubling; it's the sense of failure. Relationships require tending, care, water and sun, lots and lots of questions and conversations, deep personal investment in another's being. But relationships take more than one person to keep them going strong.

There are other things that I've learned this week, but I need to sleep.

"Love without conditions; mercy unmeasured."

Friday, September 9, 2011


My biological father was a man with no redeeming qualities. I mean it. I met him when I was 15 and fascinated with the idea of having a father again. My beloved stepfather, whom I grew up believing to be my father, died when I was 13. Although the lie about my paternal origins came out when I was 10, my love for Daniel Bass, my daddy, was so deep and so strong that I thought I'd never recover from the revelation. Even when death tragically took Daddy from me, I refused to entertain the possibility of a replacement--even a biological one. Neediness and deprivation got the best of me, and by 15, I wanted the love and promise that my father offered. In four short years of sporadic contact, a gift here and there, and no financial support, I wished I'd never met the man. He was a man without an ethical impulse, without a conscience, without any sense of what it means to love. He was cruel to his spouse, the children of his legal marriage, and even his very young grandchildren. For those of us who were his "bastards," the degrees of deception, unkindness and meanness are unspeakable. He is my shining example of depravity.

I have, from time to time, wondered about my "siblings." I know the two remaining children of the marriage. I also know of 4 other bastard children. All are considerably younger than I. I met one of them when he was 2 and I was 19. Without a word of introduction, I looked at that child's face and knew he was my brother. I saw my face in his. I remember their mother as kind and caring, and, like my mother, absolutely clueless about the man whom she was "going to marry." Twelve years and 3 children later, he bought her house (with his children in it) in a foreclosure sale, and that sweet woman found herself and those 4 children (1 of whom was an infant) homeless and on a fast train down south to her parents. The children grew; the mother never recovered from the deception, the shock, the shame and the cruelty.

Four of the six siblings have come into my life during the past 4 months. It's my fault. I opened one door, and three others opened within minutes. The ones who didn't know our father want to know what I know; the one who grew up with him wants to talk about our lives; there is one who dislikes gay people (she loves Jesus, of course): the youngest one is sad, lonely, the outcast. All are involved in various kinds of drama, and I've seen our father even in my brief conversations with them--the meanness, the lack of compassion and empathy, the inability to forgive. "We're family," they say, and that's a notion I'm unwilling to accept. We're biologically related, but it takes more than that to be family. The negotiations proceed: Who can see whom? Who speaks to whom? Who wants to meet? Who's not interested? Although I'll admit that the biological tug and my curiosity are strong, everything in my head tells me to run like hell. What I wish for is that romanticized notion of loving siblings, reunions and gatherings. I already know it's too late for that. They are fractured, dysfunctional, and there is so little evidence of love among them.

I can only be me. I'm already begging forgiveness from people I don't know for wrongs I'm not sure I committed. "You don't need me," I say, and they don't. "You don't love me," I say, and they can't. I don't want to spend my time making a relationship with people with whom I have nothing in common but a sperm donor. I don't want to remember our father. I don't want to recount my experiences with him. I don't want to hear another giggle when I tell one of them what he did to me. I don't want to ignore or pretend or make it pretty or make him anything other than the despicable man he was. And so my decision is to simply let go. They have all found each other. I made that possible. That is my gift to them. My gift to me is the gift of peace--of gratitude for the family that I found at 15, for my partner, my real and true friends, for my pups and kitty.

I wish those with whom I share that biological connection all good luck and good fortune. I hope they find all they seek. This is not a road I will walk again. Doris and Colleen walked me through that darkness. I won't go back again. Not now. Not ever.

Monday, August 22, 2011


And to this very present day, I have a visceral response to a white woman with a southern accent. It puts me on alert, makes me immediately suspicious and mistrustful. We rehearsed the lessons and rules of the system daily, and especially with my brother. The southern white woman--any white woman, actually, represented the threat of death to any black boy or man. One scream, one lie, one misinterpretation could be the cause of his death. Emmett Till didn't know the rules.

That sweet, sugar-coated smile and that slow drawl were dangerous weapons. We learned to beware, be cautious, do anything they asked and say absolutely nothing. Head down.

You may argue that I've been wandering in worlds of whiteness for my entire adult life. I should "get over myself." That was a very long time ago. I feel certain, however, that I am who I am and have achieved what I've achieved because I've kept every slave, every victim of Jim Crow at the forefront of my life and vision. I owe. I owe. And while the past doesn't oppress me or restrict me, it does make me acutely conscious of my gratitude to women just like those in that film--the mothers who pawned a found ring to send her twins to college. I owe.


Jim Crow was not cute or funny or pleasant. There's nothing about Jim Crow that will make you laugh if you lived through it. There was no comic relief or poetic license. Jim Crow was all too real, and despite the "fiction" and whatever "good intentions" the filmmaker had, seeing those "colored only" signs, hearing the disrespectful and degrading words "The Help" endured was painful. Living Jim Crow made the world an inexplicable place. How could I be human and not? "Why did that boy spit on me? Mama, why can't I play at the playground with the other children?" I watched both my parents weep as they tried to make sense of nonsense and hatred and vulgarity to my brother and me. It was and is not funny.

I stood in the theater on yesterday. I was moved to stand. I somehow wanted the audience to know I was there. I was the sole person of color--no African American in a very full theater. I felt shame. I, and I speak here only for myself, should not have supported what that film intended to do: Racism, sexism, Jim Crow and all its horrors were balanced with doses of rescue, salvation and laughter. Anyone who lived Jim Crow would know that Minnie would not have DARED knock on Miss Hilly's FRONT door, much less admit that she'd made a pie from her own shit. That one act could have caused Minnie's death and/or the deaths of those closest to her. What nonsense. What utter nonsense.

I didn't cry. I groaned. I shook my head, closed my eyes and remembered every, single indignity I, my parents, friends and family suffered under Jim Crow. No one white woman, no matter how well-intended or literary, could save us from that horror. There were consequences for being a "nigger-lover" like Skeeter. Mississippi, people. Mississippi.

I want to know why, in this tiny predominantly white, working class town, the theater was full of silver-haired and middle-aged white folks. And oh, they cried. I stood and listened as they filed out of the theater moved by what they had seen: "Oh, that was such a great film." Though I suspect I understand the motivation, I'll refrain from giving you my take on that.

I'll stop short of criticizing the beautiful, black actors who played the primary roles. Then, as now, work for black women of a certain age, skin color and body type is limited, especially in the glamor of show business. Those women had tough jobs, and they gave whatever dignity and respect to the film that it had. As to the book, I'm a teacher. I'm going to read it because my students are reading it. I need to be able to speak to them honestly about it. The shelves are clean in northern New York. I couldn't find a copy of THE HELP to purchase. Didn't want to anyway. I rarely find Toni Morrison or Hurston or Naylor on the shelves of these bookstores. These are black women who tell black women's stories. Their stories don't feel so good. Their stories are "hostile," defensive" and "angry." Why can't we just all love each other and forget the painful past?

I have written elsewhere about the probability of love between blacks and whites during slavery and Jim Crow. Humans are capable of love under the most extreme conditions. I imagine many black women genuinely loved the children for whom they cared, and I'm sure the children loved them. It was, however, a peculiar kind of love. It allowed white children to do what no black child could do, and that was to call an adult (someone old enough to me your mama) by her first name. That was, in southern black culture, a sign of respect for one's elders. Black women didn't receive that respect from their white charges. Was that love? Was that a love that accepted and understood inequality and oppression? I just don't know.

I'm a Mississippian; my mother was born and bred in Mississippi. Much of my family resides there still. THE HELP hurts. There isn't enough laughter in the universe to ease the horror of that time. More on this. Still thinking. And still sorting it out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I miss God, and I'm not even sure I understand what that means. What it doesn't mean is evangelizing, proselytizing or joining some mainstream (or not) organized religious denomination or group. It doesn't mean that I miss something male or female or anything that is remotely like me. What I miss is being in the company of people of faith, and I don't know who they are. I think I mean people who believe in something that isn't human. People who believe in something other than or in addition to science. I'm not suggesting that people of faith don't do the things that other humans do, but perhaps there is a collective consciousness of our collective shortcomings. Maybe there is a willingness to be always working toward being better people. Or perhaps it's just a longing for people who speak a familiar language even in the midst of our various and sundry theological arguments and positions. I want to understand why my friend, who calls herself a lapsed Catholic atheist, wants the Roman Catholic "Rite of Christian Burial" when she dies. When I ask her why, she can't tell me. Whatever that is-that desire that seems to make no rational sense--is the same desire I have. While I don't know what I want, I know what I don't want: religious fundamentalism, rigid rules and dos and don'ts; people who tell others what to believe. Ironically, I don't want a community that has no collective belief or consciousness. I only know that I miss God or Allah or Buddha or Jehovah or whatever that thing is that fulfills me, reaches in those deep places of mine and speaks a language that no human speaks.

I want to speak of those things that I don't understand. I want to meditate or even pray, in the broadest sense of the term. I want to be with humans who have limits--those whose consciousness of something larger guides their interactions with other humans. Perhaps it tempers their anger or envy, jealousy or words. I seek a community where there's no room for ego or arrogance or showing off. My focus is the now--not the hereafter. Whatever a spiritual community is, that's the community I seek. It must offer peace, an absence of judgment or criticism, if only for the moments that we are in community. Two friends and I gathered to read and speak of meaningful things. It felt almost like community. The time was brief, but maybe...

My longing continues; it's become a necessity. I search and search to no avail. It's not a church or a service or a meeting. I want a community committed to social justice; one that doesn't give a damn about amassing money and other material things; a community committed to active eradication of pain and suffering while being acutely aware that eradication is highly unlikely; a community that actively engages in criticism of itself, its values and mores; a community that never forgets its own flawed humanity--one that gathers to read poetry or prose and speak of meaningful things. A community that makes time, however briefly, to reflect on something other than the mundane. We must be certain of mutual love, respect and trust--that is community.

I miss God or gods or deities or meditation or community. "Deep calls unto deep... Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret."


The early bird doesn't always get the worm, even if it really tries. There are occasions when some late sleeper happens to awaken at just the right time. It sees the worm upon which that early bird has its eye, and simply swoops on that worm and enjoys the work of the still-hungry early bird. It's not fair. The early bird deserved that worm. It worked for it. It earned it. The only bird that cares about this injustice is the early bird who lost the worm.

"Don't you care about your legacy? Doesn't it matter that folks think you're loud, abrasive and far too outspoken?" There was a room full of people of color in a place that had fewer than 5 many years ago. No one has worked harder to make that room possible. Does it matter that no one cares? A little. Does it matter that the sleeping birds, the good birds, the quiet and acquiescent birds; the birds that just sleep; the birds that never chirp or get up early, are the birds who get the worms? A little. Few birds get what they deserve.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Edouard Glissant died yesterday, and I, somehow, think everybody ought to know what that means; what the world has lost. No learned person in the francophone world would claim such ignorance. Edouard's brilliance, activism, poetry and prose; Edouard's scholarship and teaching have left profound and enduring contributions, impressions and influences. Edouard was, and will long remain the Caribbean's foremost Renaissance man. And yes, the Caribbean. Though he lived in Paris, I can still hear him announcing in that rich, heavily accented voice: "I am a West Indian." He was. Born and bred in Martinique, Edouard carried the place in his heart always. He loved the Caribbean--the warmth of the place and the people.

I was a graduate student when I met Edouard and his wife, beautiful Sylvie. We became fast friends. We laughed often. Shared meals and stories. I lived in Edouard and Sylvie's home in Baton Rouge. We were family. When I walked into the room for my dissertation defense, there sat Edouard, grinning. We'd left the same house that morning, but he neglected to tell me that James, my disseratation director, invited him to my defense. After the defense, Edouard revealed that he'd read my disseration and decided that I, indeed, had a "very smart."

I love him. He was a great man, a highly visible figure, sought after by students, colleagues and journalists. Edouard, more than anything, was a great man with a good heart--humble, loving, caring and kind. He was generous with his time, intellect and all material possessions. Edouard knew what mattered in this life.

Many years have passed since Edouard, Sylvie and I have shared the same physical space, but they, Olivier and Mathieu are always in my heart. There has never been a better man than Edouard Glissant. Never. I honor him, and I cherish every moment I was in his presence. Edouard's life was a gift to me and to many. I loved him in life, and I love him in death. Sweet rest, my brother. Sweet rest. Je t'aime.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Many of you will chuckle when I suggest that I have a "practical" side. Not a word one often uses to describe me. My practical side has not served me well. So what triggered this reflection? I proposed a course to a colleague in the Education Department. It's a course I've wanted to teach for years: "Inner City Blues." At the end of the proposal, I explain to my colleague why I, an English teacher, want to teach a course in his department. It's complicated.

I've wanted to be a teacher since high school. I've known that I'd pursue a Ph.D. since I was a little girl. Even before I understood exactly what it was, this "doctor of 'losophy," as my great-grandmother called it, was a source of pride in my extended family. Granny could barely read, but her son, R.D., was a graduate of Cornell. He had a Ph.D. I wanted one because I wanted my family to be as proud of me as we were of R.D.

When the time came, at 35, I decided to go back to school. There was a dilemma: Education or English? University professoring was NOT the goal. I intended to return to public school teaching, possibly move to becoming a principal or even a superintendent. That was the plan. Yes, I loved literature and reading, but I needed the credentials to continue my work in public schools. A well-meaning benefactor and mentor, herself a professor a Stanford, reminded me, in an uncomfortable kinda way that "there are more Black people with degrees in education than in the humanities." Though I knew that, there was something in Shirley's tone that bothered me--a note of caution or even a warning. Ironic because she taught in the ed school while maintaining "an appointment" in English. So I applied to 5 schools--all Ivy. Felt certain I'd get into 3 of 5. Applied to 4 programs in English; 1 in education: Harvard. It worked out exactly as I thought it would: Penn, yes; Brown, yes; Hopkins, no; Stanford, no; Harvard, yes. Harvard worked hard. Money. Calls from grad students. It's what I wanted to do, but there was the nagging fear and Shirley's words: "Get the degree in English. You can take courses for whatever certifications you want. Get the degree in English." My practical side answered and answered again when, out of the blue, an offer of a full fellowship came from the English Dept. at LSU, an institution to which I'd hadn't even applied. 4 years. Full ride: tuition, fees, no TA duties and a check. English and LSU it was.

It took me all of 15 minutes to realize that practical is just that--practical. No one was reading literature in English classes. It was all theory all the time. Hated it then. Hate it now. I wanted to engage in "real world" conversations about issues that affected "real people." I wanted to read policy and make policy and be in the schools. Practical gave me Derrida, Barthes, Hegel, hermeneutics. "Help me, Jesus." My classmates were chattering in the language of theory, gushing and carrying on with exhibitions of erudition. I sat, sulked and wondered where the hell practical had taken me.

It took me all of 15 minutes to realize that I didn't want to do what my professors did. In short, there was no way I wanted to be a professor. No friggin' way. I wasn't interested in literary studies or literary scholarship. I didn't want to write about books or theory. I wanted to be in the field teaching teachers, teaching students, working on issues in public education. My mentors and professors, all male and all white, guffawed when I told them that I wanted to go back to public school teaching. James asked how I could "waste" the time, study and energy it took to get a Ph.D. by returning to public schools. How could I, among his best students, betray him by going back to public school teaching? I was 40. I knew myself, and I knew what I wanted to do. The appeal to the practical me: "Who wouldn't want to be a university professor?" was strong, and then there was the issue of gratitude and making them proud. So when the offer to be the head of English at the brand new Mississippi School for the Arts came, I declined even though I knew I shouldn't have. I believed the guys knew better than I. After all, I had never been a professor. I was missing an opportunity of a lifetime.

I gave up. Began to apply to colleges and universities, and again, even in this, I didn't follow the dictates of my own heart and mind. If I HAD to be a professor, I knew I wanted to teach at a small, liberal arts college. I knew that. But, once again, I let the practical advice from those who "knew best" change my course. "Research 1. That's it. No little no name school in the middle of nowhere. You represent LSU wherever you go, and you're one of our outstanding grads." That's how I ended up at Vanderbilt. Kicking and screaming. Knowing all the while that it wasn't where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do or, or, or.........

I have given my life to teaching. It's what I do. It's my passion and my vocation. That, however, is the only aspect of my professional life that I claim as mine. I've done other things, but I've always been in the classroom. I've kept that commitment to myself, and I think I've done some good from time to time. What I express now is not regret. No point in that, but this remembering gives meaning to the meaning of that proposal I sent to my colleague last week. That brief course description is the expression of my professional desires for the past 25 years. It is a proposal for a course for aspiring teachers; it is a proposal for a course on current issues in urban education. That course proposal is the expression of the work I've always wanted to do. It represents the freedom to follow my own heart and mind, and the commitment to live the rest of my life in ways that seem right to me rather than to please, make proud, be proud, change perceptions, break stereotypes (or not) and be practical. The proposal to Jim acknowledges that some deferred dreams can be reality.

What others see as impulsivity, desperation or foolhardiness is rarely that. I think carefully about most decisions I make. I'm much more reluctant to accept well-meaning or even considered advice about the direction of my own life, and I refuse to believe that anyone knows me better than I know me or knows what's best for me. It's living the life that Margaret wants to live and doing lots of stuff that I've put on hold for many, many years. I'm so excited about life every, single day. I now trust myself. I'm an authority on me, and it feels great!