Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mind Your Own Ass, Thank You Very Much!

I started working out yesterday. It is something I have been meaning to for me for a while. When I lived in Harlem I ran for a year with my daughter, 3 mornings a week to support her joining the track team . The itch to work out hit me yesterday. While I love taking a hoe to the dirt and singing a good old work song, a work out brings on just a bit more sweat. It's not like I have acres to plow. Although, at about 3 AM this morning turning over in bed, my thighs felt like lead, I felt like I had planted 40 acres without a mule. I am determined. A half an hour of using the stairs in the hallway and some good old fashioned race walking does the trick. I learned race walking from my mother-in-law, who at 56 still has a group of walkers every morning.

And speaking of getting in shape, I've been fixing up my site. I am adding lots of links. I'm trying to find as many women of color who are posting when I found this gem. The sweat hasn't dried yet from tonight's personal house party in which I stepped my "fat ass" to classic house tune, "Yolanda."

A sister can't get a break. Welfare Queens, Crack Ho's and now our ass is a problem too! May I suggest a reading of Janell Hobson's Venus in the Dark, 2005. Mind your own ass!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th of July

It’s night over Bedford-Stuyvesant and the sound fireworks sizzling are still in the air. I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who chose to set them. Perhaps for them it was just something you do on the 4th of July. The calendar in my bathroom greeted me this morning with this quote at the bottom of the page, “America the beautiful, who are you beautiful for?” The quote is from Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozal’s 1991 book about the crisis in New York City’s public schools. Those words disturbed me. This week my block was cluttered on trash day with the furniture of people who have moved out this week. I couldn’t help but think that the look of the furniture, old, stained couches and box springs with the wood frame showing, was an indication that all has not been well for those folks in a long time. All is not so beautiful, but yet we carry on.

Our 4th of July was pretty typical. We played music, set up a table in the gallery and prepared food. My husband set up the grill and barbecued the typical eats for our tenants, on the second floor and us. When I wasn’t fussing at him about the shots of fire in the air as he was prepping the grill, I was busy digging in dirt. I was making the soil ready for planting. For about two hours I was using a hoe to break the ground and then disengaging large stones and pebbles from the soil. I set them in a pile and eventually used them to boarder other plants that have taken root. There is a small bush of catnip and another plants whose name I can’t remember, but has the most beautiful leaves pink in the center of a dark green. It looks bright and happy. So far I have transplanted 3 plants and the only one that looks great is that one. Gardening has been a series of trial and disappointment. Yet, I am determined to plant. My great grandmother did it, my father does it still. I am carrying on that tradition of connecting with the earth, no matter where I live, no matter how small the plot of land.

It has been a battle of me against the squirrels. I started some plants indoors a few months back. My friend Sheela had given me a wonderful gift of gladiola bulbs and starter cups. I planted them and set them in the hallway where the light is perfect. The directions said for best results start indoors and then transplant outside. I was thrilled when in a few weeks they began to sprout. I decided to take them up to the roof and grow them there. I have this vision of growing plants on the roof as well as the backyard. My vision was short lived. One morning I went up to check on their progress and saw that the cartons were ripped apart, the bulbs dug out and tossed all about. The soil I had planted them in was everywhere. Some of the bulbs were on the other side of the roof. Upon further investigation, the bulbs had teeth marks in them and other bulbs were just gone. I was freaked out. Last week I watched from the window as a squirrel sat in a pot of pansies and dug them out. He was not disturbed, by my banging on the window. He just kept on working on that plant until he had pulled the whole thing out and left the green stem on the ground. One of my tenants suggested I grow chili peppers. That’ll fix ‘em.

On another note, a friend sent me this opinion piece by Keith Olbermann. Click on the title and you'll be linked to the article. I’ve changed my format with Blogger and am still working on the page set up. I so dug what he said. Check it out. Until next time, I’m here just trying to keep this small portion of the United States beautiful and sustainable.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Walking the Tight Rope

For weeks now, since getting accepted to graduate school, I have not been able to focus on writing. I am full of excitement that gets interrupted by great waves of guilt that come rushing in unexpectedly. I try to walk it off.

I have been released somewhat from the dull stretch of being in a classroom all day, with no windows. I was moved a month ago to a new location in Chelsea to teach three days a week. This is the sweetest thing since my acceptance letter. Eversince I started working this gig, I spend days and sometimes weeks without seeing the blue sky of midday. My boss enforced my half an hour lunch break to fit the schedule of the students. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have a real lunch hour. When class ends, I walk to the main office near Lincoln Center. It is glorious. I can walk from 25th street to 61st in an hour. I stride down 9th Ave through Hell’s Kitchen feeling nostalgic because the area is one of the few remaining sections of New York City that still looks somewhat similar to what is was in the Eighties when I first arrived. I bounce along in my blue high top Keds, a pair of blue Dixies and a t-shirt. I have started to skip the dress code lately. A collared shirt and slacks feels like a barrier between me and the newly assigned participants.

They are a complex bunch. I have had two sessions with all three of my new groups, and I know it is early, but in adult education time is not on anyone’s side. Some of the students have been with the organization almost 4 months. They will be timing out of their 6-month work assignments by the end of June. It is frustrating. Today I discovered that one of my students is not even interested in being in the class because she doesn’t like school and never has. I asked her why she signed up for the session. She told me that she felt like she had no choice. She was reluctant to explain. I was curious. She needed health insurance. I was puzzled.

She had a job as a home health aide. She was laid off for lack of a medical form. The medical was not completed because she didn’t have health insurance. In order to get health insurance, she had to apply for Public Assistance, which makes her eligible for Medicaid. To remain qualified for Medicaid, one has to comply with all of the conditions of P.A. including accepting a job assignment. Accepting the job assignment means having to deal with a counselor
Who assist with all sorts of options for “training” some of it whether you want it or not. Not accepting means being dropped from the program and the possibility of losing housing subsidies, food stamps, health insurance among other government assisted resources.

What am I to do with people who are not even close to testing into classes preparing for the GED Exam? I spend days demonstrating and having students create sentences that include subjects and verbs. I teach students how to use the dictionary. For many, they don’t understand that the dictionary is a tool to be used in writing. Few like writing and don’t see its purpose past the essay on the equivalency exam.

It is taxing to get folks comfortable with one another to have a discussion. I keep saying writing starts with speaking. If you can’t have a conversation how can you write? Writing is a conversation that you put on paper. I worry about them. Many of the people I serve will always be on the periphery of the conversation. I wonder whose fault that is.

But while I wring my hands getting students interested in articles, take part in discussion about them, demonstrate where to put the decimal point and memorizing time tables, I remind myself that that the details of their lives may be more pressing than first thought.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


When I started this blog, my profile included the words “ Help a sister, make her journalistic dreams come true.” Dreaming, hard work and persistence really work. I started blogging in 2005 with the intention of having a place to post stories in hopes that it could be a tool in which to get published, make connections with other writers and be apart of the blogosphere conversation. CUNY Graduate School of Journalism thinks I have the right stuff and have invited me to join the second class of the school which opened its doors in September 2006. The first class is half way through the program.

I received the news on the way to the Women, Action & Media conference held at MIT by the Center for New Words. I’m still high on the premium fuel pumped in by the tremendously informative, spiritual and networking event that it was. Can't wait to blog more about it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Question

Without being longwinded, let me just say the exam was challenging but nothing that I didn't expect. I had to do the news analysis and news writing drill in the first 70 minutes. I was timed. My word count for the news writing drill was about 10 words over. I was stopped as I was trying to edit. I got through the experience. I was prepared as well as I could have been.

What I was surprised by was the interview. I felt like I couldn’t and didn’t represent who I was or why I really wanted to do this.

I am disappointed with some of the questions that I was asked. I really didn't expect to be asked questions like, (and I am paraphrasing), “How would I manage a 50 to 60 hour week of graduate school with a family?” I responded that I work in a teaching environment in which a supervisor can come into my room and decide I am not going to be teaching this class anymore, hand letters of transfers to my students, and by the end of the day give me a stack of folders with new ones.

I wish I had included the following:
My work doesn’t stop when I leave the job I get paid for.
I go home and do laundry. I sort, pre-wash, and carry 5 bags down two flights of steps and pack everything in the car. I fold everything and bring it home. I'm finished by 11 PM. There are many times when my husband does it, but I don’t wish to take advantage of him because he often likes to do laundry and grocery shopping. He likes to do it all on the same day. I think that’s too much. He is then exhausted, but cares more about us having clean clothes and food than his leisure. We share. Sometimes I get leisure, sometimes he does.

I go home to cooking dinner. My husband and I take turns.
Sometimes I cook extra meals on weekends to save time.

When I go home, waiting for me is a 5-year-old who needs to do his homework, to be read to, and listened to as he reads. He needs a bath. Well sometimes we don’t make it to bath time. He’s at the stage when he can charm me out of the bath and have a shower in the morning. This is draining. Sometimes it is difficult to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, get showered and then wake him at 5:30. Somehow he doesn’t have a problem doing this on Saturday mornings.

I pack lunches and snacks. Being a short order cook is trying if I wake up late. Sometimes that happens.

I have a teenager who will be starting high school in the fall. She is on the career path already. With her high school selected, registration completed, and summer academic program chosen, she is also applying for an internship in a lawyer’s office. Somebody had to fill out the paperwork, take her to the appointments and open houses. I was often that person. Thanks to her dad who took care of a few of those appointments and her wonderful teacher who continuously challenges her and presents opportunities to her.

This is the short list. It doesn’t include the cleaning of the urine around the toilet from the little boy. It doesn’t include parenting, which sometimes takes the form of long discussions with the teenager about some crap she did or didn’t do that week and coming up with a consequence for her actions. It doesn’t include the inner workings of the marriage.

As of today, if I get in, I will be extremely grateful. If I don’t, I will be okay. This life I live is nothing compared to some of the women who lived and are living.

Was anyone asking Harriet Tubman, “How are you going to go back and forth to the South to free slaves including your parents, siblings and free the slaves at Combahee Ferry?

“When are you going to have the time to spy for the North, fight for women’s rights, have two marriages in one life time, purchase land, found a home for African American
aged and infirmed?”

“Where in the world Harriet are you going to find time to lead military operations?”

I wished I had told the interviewer this: There are lots of women who do jobs that they have to do, don't want to do and must do everyday. I am one of them. I have decided that I want a job that I love to do. I can attend The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, because I believe I am capable of the task. “Why journalism? Why now? I was asked. I have already given myself permission whatever your decision. This school is just one point of entry among many.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I wake up ready to meet the challenge of my day.
My to do list:

1. Entrance exam at 10:30 AM.
2. Buy a new suit.
3. Prepare dinner.
4. Poetry Reading at LaMaMa’s.

I sew another hole closed in my son’s jeans, pack lunches and wave good-bye to the family.

Everything was going smoothly:
I leisurely eat a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt and peppermint tea. I take a hot bath to relax. I start thinking about the test. I am poor at relaxing on this morning. I am thinking about the four sections of the test. They include grammar, news analysis, 20 items to identify (people or events) and a news writing drill. I start second guessing myself. I’ve spent time scanning news sites online and newspapers stacked in my office, creating index cards with current events of people and places. Getting out of the bath, I decide to look up the Eliot Spitzer’s Health-care plan.

As the clock moves towards 9 AM, I begin to gather my bag, wallet, and keys. I can’t find my keys. I realize I haven’t put them on the hook where I usually keep them. I also realize I haven’t left the house
since, Friday night. They are found in the pocket of the coat I had on.
I stop in the living room for tissues. I shove them in my bag, close the door and head down the steps. At the front door, I am reaching in my pocket for my keys. I don’t have my keys. Maybe I put them down when I got those tissues. I didn’t want to have to use my gloves (again) to wipe my nose. I don’t have allergies but somehow it always begins to leak, as I stand on the windy platform waiting for the J train. I run back up two flights of steps. The door is locked. I search for the keys again. I empty the bag. I try the door again. I am locked out. I am screwed.

I go downstairs hoping one of the neighbors/tenants is home. If someone could just lock the front door behind me, I’d feel okay with leaving. No one is home.

And Then Not So Smoothly:
Going back upstairs, I sit on the steps. I call my husband. I leave a message. He calls back twenty-minutes later. He is very understanding and full of solutions. I am upset and full of defeat.
Leave the house from the basement, he says.
Go across the street to the ATM and take a cab to the school, he says.
Call the admissions director and explain what happened, he says. “People make mistakes.”

I am crazed.

I don’t have her phone number. It’s on my laptop.
It is late. It is now 9:45 am. I was supposed to be there at 10 o’clock. The test starts at 10:30 am.

He tells me he is coming home. I am glad I had breakfast because I broke my routine and didn’t pack any lunch or snacks for myself. Traveling light. Had I packed my bag first, (like I usually do) this wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps I can take the test tomorrow night when my interview is scheduled.

I write while I wait. I listen to my iPod. I journal in my black and white notebook about how angry I am with myself. I begin to question my abilities. Perhaps my organization skills are not up to the challenges of graduate school. I remember my email with the admissions director. Didn’t she say that because the Saturday appointment was changed, that she could arrange a time that worked for me? I am feeling a bit of hope. But not for long.

I have to use the bathroom. I pace up and down trying to distract my-
self with my “Song Sister’s” play lists, which includes Mary J. Blige, Cree Summer, Joan Jett and CeCe Peniston. By the time Cece is midway into “Keep on Walk’in,” I’m walking up and down a lot faster than she is singing.

My husband calls. I tell him my dilemma. He is sorry. He is full, of suggestions. I could go down to the basement and get some kind of container. I already tried that. The portion of the basement that has anything of use is locked. He is sorry. He tells me he is in on Houston St. and is heading for the Williamsburg Bridge. I can’t talk anymore.

I head up to the roof. It is my last resort. There’s lots of snow up there. I look around. I wonder if the public school a block away can see me on my roof. I am wearing a bright orange sweater. I squat leaning over the ledge that connects my roof to the building next to me.
At that moment I am no better than the dogs that leave yellow stains in the snow. What an irritation. I am annoyed with myself, but relieved.

By the time my husband arrives, in his apron full of clay from the art class he is teaching, I have done a full inspection of the third floor hallway. We need to fill a crack with some of that foam that keeps out the mice and bugs. He gives me a juicy kiss. I have been rescued.

The Development of Events in The Opposite Way:
There is another ironic twist to the end of this story.
As I pour over our original emails, I notice that the Saturday exam was originally for 10:30, but that the Monday session was for 11 AM and not at 10 AM as I had thought.

I email the admissions director pour over my dilemma. She is sympathetic.

I can take the test on Wednesday evening right after my interview.

I have a cup of tea and head out to buy my suit.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Walking In Ida B. Wells Barnett's Footsteps

Ida B Wells Barnett- anti-lynching crusader,women's rights advocate,
editor of the Freespeech and Headlight newpaper and journalist.

Disappearing Acts:
Whenever I have had these long breaks between postings I always feel some sort of explanation is due.
I have perhaps 2 maybe 3 friends who look at this blog. They are the one’s that send emails like:
“Where are you Warrior Pen?"
'Why haven’t you been posting?”
“Hey, what’s going with your blog?”
“What’s going on with you?”

At the moment, my life is a delicious slice of chocolate cake. I want to savor it until the last bite! I have been working on two essays for two different anthologies. I have been journaling in my black and white notebook. I am preparing for my first poetry reading in a long time. And the big thing is, I am a candidate for CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. I have been invited into the second round. I was invited to take the entrance exam and sit for an interview.

Back Tracking:
Just after starting my job with the city, I applied for graduate school (See October 17, 2006 posting). It was after one of those encounters with my supervisors that forced me to really examine my situation. I have loved teaching for a long time but working in an atmosphere in which education takes a back seat to job placement, is not the same. I have also been spoiled; teaching in places where I know I can push students to their fullest. As an Adult Education Instructor in a job placement environment, it is stifling and depressing. I have very little time with the only other two instructors to plan a real solid curriculum and share lesson plans. While I love working with many of my students, I often feel like I am applying band-aids to wounds that need stitches.

I have wanted to talk about applying to graduate school here, but felt it was too weird since my blog was part of my school application. Writing a blog about applying, while knowing the admissions director would view it, seemed a little too narcissistic.

It’s not that seeking a master’s degree has never occurred to me. I had a lot to consider. We have only been in our house for a year. How am I going to help pay the mortgage? My daughter is entering her first year of high school. Thank my lucky stars that she is studious and was awarded scholarships to her two top choices. I still want to be available to her. I worry about balancing the demands of the course work, having a community of support for what I am doing and the needs of my family.

On a typical day I complete much of what I need to do on the way to and from work. I have been writing on the train. That’s how I do everything these days. I fill out permission slips and read the school newsletters while holding onto a pole. I have read 7 books since January all while commuting. If only there were a washer, dryer and folding tables on the subway. Think of the possibilities.

So after that horrible day at work, I went to one of those perspective meetings. I felt nervous. I listened to other students in the room talk about their existing careers in media. A few people were already working for magazines. There was even a couple from Florida had been writing for newspapers in Latin America. It was the kind of scene in which I felt everybody in the room already knew more than I did.

Like Filing Your Own Taxes:
I took the information packet home and began to work on the online application right away. It was a good thing. It seemed like a never-ending process that would surely beat me. There were many evenings of plugging information into a window only to discover that much of it had to be resubmitted because time had run out for the session. Is there a language for this sort of computer-internet aggravation!

I bought a book to study for the GRE. Thirty bucks of nothing but stress. I found that I am horrible at memorizing lots of vocabulary words for the sake of a test. I also did much of this on the train. On other nights I sat at my desk taking those practice test and scoring miserably. Oh and by the way, the CD-Rom
doesn’t work on an Apple PowerBook G4.

I took the GRE Exam a few days after Christmas. It was a circus. Not the exam, but the flurry of activity in my house. It was everything from fixing heating and plumbing, to handling a flurry of mice (a building across the street was being renovated), to family members visiting because they were on vacation. I cursed myself for scheduling the exam during a holiday time but when is a good time to take a test you are afraid of? I needed to have the test taken by the application deadline.

The night before, I sat for three hours practicing writing responses to analytical questions in 30 and 45-minute intervals. I hoped that my ability to prepare others for the General Equivalency Diplomacy test would be to my advantage.

As the January 2 deadline approached, I watched the snail-mail and email waiting for recommendations that I had requested from a number of trusted friends and colleagues. They came from smart, wonderful women that I had worked with in a variety of ways. One of these friends accompanied me to the post office on the day that I submitted the signature page of the online application.

Snow Day:
There are two sections on the exam. They include, news writing drill, news analysis, grammar and currents events. I wished the world would stop spinning and hoped no other last minute scandal would pop up.

At a baby shower for a coworker I hardly know, I tried not to think about the index cards in my bag. I had created my own list of every thing I could think of in recent news. Here’s a sample of my list: D. Klye Sampson, Ban Ki-Moon, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sudan, Wangari Maathai and General Kevin C. Kiley.

After the baby shower, I went to a family dinner at my son’s school. It was a nice diversion. The school cafeteria was packed. You can’t keep a New Yorker away even in a snow storm. The food was great. A chorus of 1st through 6th graders sang Bill Wither's “A Lovely Day.”

When I got home last night, I received an email stating the Saturday exam would be cancelled and held on Monday instead. It was just like being in the 6th grade. A snow day! It was just what I needed. One more day to figure out how to write news analysis.