Saturday, April 30, 2005

More Than Meets the Eye

I haven't been here to blog for over a week. Things got very busy for me between my classes and just life in general. Here are a few of my recent issues with life:

Mother's Day
I have a mother and a mother-in-law. I was blessed to have two great grandmothers. So forgive me for not being excited about this holiday.

I love these women, but I hate what this holiday does to them. It turns women everywhere into prima donnas of the highest order. Sure, we should appreciate our mothers and everything that motherhood entails. Think about it, birthdays focus on the person who was born, not on the effort that it took to get us here. But is all of this--flowers, gifts, brunches, trips, jewelry, tiaras, etc--really necessary?

I am not a mother, so maybe that's why I get so annoyed when this time of year approaches. Am I jealous? I don't think so, but I guess we'll find out in a few years or so when I start to get little home-made cards from my future children. As they get older, will I expect more from them? Will I demand original poetry or dramatic readings? If I live long enough to become a grandmother, will my children try to impress me by forcing their children to compete against their cousins for my blessings?

Did you notice that I have mother-guilt-speak down already (if I live long enough...)

City Living
As long as I continue to be black, I will never understand why white people, especially those who live and work among us, still don't get it. Black people want respect, plain and simple. My neighborhood is in transition--it has always been racially diverse, but now we are experiencing a new form of class-based gentrification, so tensions are high.

I belong to the community listserv, and recent discussions indicate that things are going to be hot this summer. The white people (and I'm sorry, yes, you can tell who's who even over email) all support certain neighborhood projects: a skate park, a Yes! Organic market, a home goods store and a coffee shop. On quality of life issues, some of their complaints have a racial tinge such as who commits certain crimes and in turn, who gets targeted. Then one day, a woman posted a question about the intent of the listserv, whether it was for sharing information or for bitching. Then she suggested that everyone sounded like over-entitled white people, which to her mind made them all sound like typical gentrifiers. Boy, that hit some raw nerves, especialy since the poster was white.

Then, it became an endless stretch of bitchy emails back and forth among the same 13 people. A few others waded in to add a few logs on the fire, but then there were calls for an ouster, personal attacks, and then things just died down. People apparently got tired and decided to move on. A whole bunch of nothing!

As Time Goes By and other Anglomania
A month or so ago, I was at my parents' home and they got all excited about their BBC TV shows. I have watched a few of these shows occasionally, but now it is an obsession. My favorite is "As Time Goes By" which is a brilliantly funny comedy about a mature couple who reunite after 38 years apart. In addition, I sometimes have to watch "Are You Being Served" and "All Creatures Great and Small"--both of which I watched periodically as a child.

Along with my minor obsession with the British royals, one might think that I am a closet anglo-maniac. Well, I am part-Irish, so I'm entitled! I think its time for me to have some tea :)


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Not Enough Hours in the Day

This may be the most over-scheduled time of my life. I am taking this online class to learn the ins and outs of the web-enhanced platform used by my institution. They said "intensive" but they should have said completely overwhelming. They should have said that this class would be the equivalent of a part-time job. They should have said that one would need to drink plenty of coffee to get through all of this.

This is killing me.

Between the class I'm teaching and the class I'm taking, I don't know if I'm coming or going. Half of the time, I am treading water and the other half I am drowning.

I just printed out an additional 30 pages of articles that need to be read. I have an assignment for Wednesday, but I am not sure how to do it. And I still need to finish preparing for class tomorrow.

Oh, and I'm trying to get some writing gigs so that all of this work on this blog will be worth the effort and time. The great irony is that while I am writing a lot lately and I can see improvements, I still haven't sent anyone any info about this space.

Despite my sudden shyness, I'm feeling pretty good about myself again. Maybe it is the weather, because it was so beautiful outside today.

I went to U Street to spend some time at an outdoor coffee place, which turned out to be Starbuck's. I should have gone to the coffee house in College Park as Rick had suggested. I don't care for Starbuck's, although if there was one in my neighborhood, I would probably go there on a regular basis. That is, until they got competition from a local small business owner or lesser known chain. I am against corporate coffee, but Starbuck's isn't a bad company, so every now and then I can support them. I just don't like their coffee (too strong and too addictive).

I am a bit loopy due to exhaustion. I just wrote a paragraph about Starbuck's coffee...I should give up now before I start on the evils of Wal-Mart. Ciao!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Plain English, please!

Note: This post was originally intended as an open letter but after some consideration, I decided to post it here. It may get re-drafted and sent to PFAW or a media outlet, so this is the original, self-editted version.

I’ve seen the “Save the Filibuster” commercial several times in recent days, and I must commend People For the American Way for their efforts in bringing this issue to the attention of the American people. The film footage of Jimmy Stewart is very effective, as is the statement by the firefighter.

However, this morning I also saw the counter-ad paid for by the Judicial Confirmation Network and I hate to admit that their ad is more effective. It does not use the word “filibuster” but it invokes the theme of obstructionism, which is probably a concept that more Americans understand. Sure, it was misleading, but it made its point.

It also highlighted a major problem—Progressives do not speak in plain English! Honestly, how many people know anything about the filibuster outside of Washington? If they remember anything of it from high school government class, they may remember that it was a tool of obstructionism used to prevent important legislation from consideration. Perhaps the most blatant example of this tactic was the filibuster staged in the 60s by former Senator Strom Thurmond to prevent action on the Civil Rights Bill.

Is this the procedure that we are trying to protect?

Or, are we trying to preserve the notion of checks in balances in our government? As the firefighter states so eloquently, Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress, control of the White House, and ostensibly control of the Supreme Court. So the real issue is not the filibuster; it is the potential for an abuse of power.

I understand the limitations of non-partisan political advertising, but Progressives will not swing public opinion in our direction if we continue to speak over the heads of the average American voter. This is the Al Gore and John Kerry problem all over again—we are too smart for our own good. I am not suggesting that the message needs to be watered down, but it does need to be more accessible. The Republicans convey their controversial positions through simple concepts presented in everyday language (even if they border on outright lies), whereas we produce complicated policy statements presented in wonk-speak. Is there any doubt why their method is more persuasive?

Thus, while the ad is very smart and clever, will anyone other than the True Believers be moved to support the cause? What we really want people to understand is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This message could be summed up in the image of one man—Rep. Tom DeLay. And no one would even have to write a script because he opens his mouth and indicts himself with his pomposity.

This is just my 2 cents. Progressives need to win this fight because Republican moral grand-standing on every issue has become downright hypocritical and offensive. I worry that we continue to make the same mistakes by underestimating the appeal of their populist message. I applaud the aggressiveness of your efforts, but it just needs more of the common touch.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

In My Skin

I'm getting used to being me. It has taken 31 years, but I'm finally starting to get it. It has been an uneasy process, but I guess it takes time to get to know yourself.

As I took a walk through my neighborhood this morning, I reflected on some of the changes I've made in my life these past few years. After I lost my job in 2002, I felt like a fish out of water, and since that time it has been a challenge in trying to reclaim some semblance of normalcy.

I haven't held a full-time job since that time, so money has been an issue. My part-time legal practice really doesn't bring in anything substantial, so I have been living off of my husband. This has created a lot of anxiety and tension in our relationship. I spend almost all of my time alone, with only brief interactions with the outside world. I have a few friends, but I really don't feel close to any of them.

It all sounds like a self-imposed exile from reality, like a retreat into my own little world.

On the other hand, since I've had nothing but time on my hands, I have done a lot of self-evaluation. Or maybe it could be better described as self-loathing. Or wallowing in self-pity. Or navel-gazing. In any event, here is what I've found out about myself:
  1. I like to sleep late.
  2. I don't like to make the bed.
  3. I don't care to make breakfast for myself.
  4. I don't mind doing the laundry.
  5. I have to be in the mood to do dishes.
  6. I am not much of a house-keeper.
  7. I have to be in the mood to cook.
  8. I like to read the newspaper,but I don't like to watch the news.
  9. I don't like to open my mail unless it is something pleasant or unexpected.
  10. I can watch almost anything on TV.
  11. I like to linger in the aisles at the local Home Depot.
  12. Ditto for Target, IKEA, Loehman's, Filene's Basement and Marshall's.
  13. I hate going to the mall.
  14. I like riding the METRO, but I don't like the tourists on the METRO.
  15. I don't enjoy driving as much as I used to.
  16. I want to see the world.
  17. I think I'll make a decent teacher.
  18. I might make be good mother one day.
  19. I strive to be a better lawyer.
  20. I really don't talk to my brothers as often as I should.
  21. I wish I had a sister.
  22. I wish I could really talk to my mother about things.
  23. I wish that my grandmothers had lived longer, and I miss my grandfather and uncle.
  24. I am getting used to being taller than the average woman.
  25. I like my body and my birthmark, too.
  26. I prefer walking or dance to other forms of exercise.
  27. I have good intentions, but I don't follow through like I should.
  28. I am too hard on myself.
  29. I am not perfect, and neither is the man I married.
  30. I am grateful that we found each other.
  31. I love my parents, but I would hate to move back in with them.
  32. I am disorganized.
  33. I think my father is the most decent human being I know.
  34. I am afraid to die.
  35. I am striving to be a better Christian.
  36. I also believe in karma, reincarnation and in infinite possibilities.
  37. I like to challenge conventional wisdom.
  38. I think most people are idiots.
  39. I can't stand George W. Bush.
  40. Ditto for the Religious Self-Righteous, extremists, and others who lack self-control.
  41. I believe choice is a fundamental right.
  42. I forgive but I don't forget.
  43. I have strong opinions on a lot of topics.
  44. I wish people would really listen to what I have to say.
  45. I've received some lucky breaks in life.
  46. I have a short attention span.
  47. I cherish imagination and originality.
  48. I am a people-pleaser.
  49. I know my limitations.
  50. I am a work in progress.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The True Measure of Humanity

This morning before the sun rose, I woke up to watch the Pope's funeral. It is part of the morbid fascination I have with death, obituaries and funerals. I can't explain why, but it is just something that I've always done.

After I drifted off a few times, I finally stayed awake long enough to see the recessional. It was very moving. I don't think I missed that much when I dozed off, because I recall it was at the point when they were attempting to serve Communion to the entire city of Rome. I woke up and they were near the end of the service when everyone shakes hands in peace. I have no idea how long I snoozed, but this was the longest Catholic mass I've ever seen. It even rivaled the marathon masses at my father's church.

In direct contrast to the ceremony on Monday, this mass was definitely more diverse in terms of the people who got to participate. It is entirely possible that most of the people who would have been at Monday's ceremony were still travelling to Rome, but I was pleased to see a better reflection of the various people whose lives were touched by this Pope--not just old white men, but people from Catholic communities across the globe. It was truly a beautiful site to behold.

But, the world goes on, and as soon as the Pope's body had been carried back into the Basilica, the news media switched gears to gossip about Prince Charles' wedding tomorrow morning. Then there was news about Prince Ranier of Monaco, who died last week. Then there was more disturbing news in the Michael Jackson case, followed by more of the usual stories about crime, corruption, politics, war, and other human drama.

However, for a brief moment in time, there was peace in the world. Jewish rabbis, Muslim clerics, Orthodox priests, and scores of Protestants came together to honor the most prominent follower of Christ. We may all believe in different truths, and may be convinced that our version is correct, but based on what I witnessed today, there is only one truth about life--the ultimate testimony of our lives is not in what we believe, but in how we live those beliefs.

In the case of Pope John Paul II, we may have witnessed another example of human greatness, which we've seen before in the lives of countless others. Although this pope's moment has passed, maybe his life will inspire more of us to live in authenticity--not in perfection as that characteristic does not exist in humanity, but in the truth that a person's life can be flawed, complex, and can still have a tremendous impact on the world.

See how God is in everything?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Again, I am Insane

I am a chronic over-scheduler. This is a very bad habit. I cannot be in three places at once.

However, tomorrow morning, I am scheduled to do just that. Actually, it is more accurate to say that tomorrow I need to be several places and I am just not that well organized a person to get it all done without being late or negligent in some way. Yet, at least twice a month, I do this to myself.

For example, take Saturday. I have an alumnae event in the morning, and then dance rehearsal in the late afternoon. Not too much activity, but on Saturdays, I am also supposed to be in Jazzercise class. As of today, I decided that I am not going back to Jazzercise, even though I have a bit of time left in my free month. It is just a little too much for me at this point in my life.

On Friday, Nikki had wanted me to go with her to New York City. I gave a conditional 'yes', but it seems that I will have to change that answer to a definite no. I still have to file some stuff out in Upper Marlboro, which will probably not be ready until Friday morning. Even if it is ready to go tomorrow, I will be out for most of the day, so I have to wait until Friday anyway. And then, I have things to do for Founders' Day on Saturday.

I hate to bail out at the last minute, but I can't do everything, even if I want to. I am teaching a class, taking an online class, president of an organization, in dance class three times a week, running a part-time legal practice, trying to be a writer, and also trying to remain sane. It is too much all at the same time.

Then, my husband gets a call from his sister that is scaring the hell out of him, even though he won't admit it. His mother is sick, and he feels partially responsible because we went to NYC last weekend both sick with the flu. His was almost over, but mine was on full blast. We went because my schedule prevented us from going up sooner, but in hindsight, we probably should have stayed here in DC. It was too quick of a weekend and I spent 3/4 of it in bed. Miraculously, I got better on Sunday night and drove the entire trip back.

I am a little worried too, but I believe that her illness has less to do with our flu and more to do with the drastic weather changes. It was 70+ degrees outside today, but tomorrow we expect rain, which means a drop in temperature. This is part of the reason why we got sick last week.

Then I had to spend time in my online class this evening, and so far I hate it. I started off on the wrong foot by turning in my first assignment a day late. What else is new? It is the story of my life...late to bed, late to rise, run around all day, and always behind.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Progression of Faith

The Pope died on Saturday. Our global death watch is over. He is no longer suffering with the pain of his various ailments. May he rest in peace.

Today, I watched a ceremony during which the Pope's body was borne from the papal apartments to the altar at the Basilica where it will lie in state until the funeral on Friday. It was an amazing site and I was moved by all of the pageantry of the moment. I was also struck by the irony of the images. While the Catholic Church is a global religion that claims 1 billion members, the enduring image in all of this ceremony is that of a white church, despite the fact that many of the newer converts are people of color. As the cardinals plan to meet in the next few weeks to decide on a new Pope, I certainly hope they do something to change that impression.

As the original church of Christ, every Christian faith tradition emanates from Catholicism--it is the essence of Christianity. It is the Catholic Church that created and perpetuated Christian theology and imagery. If Christianity is to remain relevant in this third millineum following the death of Christ, then it is imperative that the Church be the model of inclusiveness and diversity.

The problem is that while Christianity and the Catholic Church represent images of white holiness, the majority of the world consists of people of color. The historic renderings of Christ, His Apostles, and the early church reinforce this notion of a white Creator and a white man's heaven after death. In direct contrast, there is Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world. There are no images of Allah (because it is sinful to depict His image), and people of color represent the predominant image of the faithful Muslim pilgrim. It naturally follows that more people worldwide are attracted to a faith where people of all races and ethnicities are welcome.

I was raised a Christian. I am not a Catholic, although I could have become a Catholic. I chose to become a Baptist instead (nowadays, I am not really a Baptist anymore either). I just believe that images are so powerful as to inform the decisions people make about their faith. I can admit that one of the main reasons why I chose to become a Baptist was because I assumed it was a black religion.

I was educated in the Catholic schools during a time when black Catholics were just beginning to be noticed. At our parish school, the priest allowed us to form a gospel choir. At the parish where my father now serves as a deacon, there is a huge black Jesus painted on the wall overlooking the altar. And like the black Protestant churches, the black Catholic parishes were well-known for holding rocking church services. But none of these developments convinced me that the Catholic church was a welcoming place because it was in Catholic school that I first experienced overt and uncompromising racism (at the hands of holier-than-thou white nuns).

So this is why the Church has a serious image problem. If most of its recent converts hail from Latin America, Asia and Africa, then the future of the Church is on those continents, not in America and certainly not in Europe. One way to secure that future is to select a Pope of color.

I appreciated Pope John Paul II and his ecumenical ministry to the global village. I believe that it was his outreach to all people that made him so beloved a figure across all religious traditions. As I get older and search for more meaning in life, I believe that the Pope's example of compassion to all of humanity is a better expression of faith than the narrow traditions I left behind in my previous churches. His example has informed my journey of faith, as I strive to be more like Jesus. I don't disparage Islam, Judiasm or other world religions--all of us are children of God and if the most prominent Christian on earth can accept the idea of diversity in faith, then so can the rest of us. He embodied the very essence of being Christ-like.

This is the legacy the Pope left the world and his Church. I hope those who are still here were paying attention.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Love and Baseball

I was not born to play sports. I'm a girl--a girly girl, so I took dance. I don't run, I don't catch balls very well, and I never even made the cheerleading sqauds. As the eldest child in an era when girls were not encouraged to pursue sports, I didn't. I had younger brothers who would do that. To this day, I am one of the least athletic people I know.

In spite of being such a girly girl, I enjoy watching sports. My household was dominated by men, so we watched plenty of basketball and football on television. We liked baseball too, but the games were too slow for television. Since DC did not have a baseball team back then, we rarely watched games on TV anyway. The closest team was in Baltimore, and while Orioles' games could be accessed on one of the fuzzy affiliate channels from that city, my father sometimes took us all the way out to Baltimore's Memorial Stadium to see them play.

These were not common excursions, because it was a long ride to Baltimore and the Orioles were never that good, yet those trips were special. Baseball evokes this sense of nostalgia because it is a game all about memories. I actually remember my experiences at baseball games (like the Orioles Opening Day two years ago when it was bone-chilling cold and snowing in April). Every team has a glorious past or some famous player who "changed the way we watch the game," a phrase that I've heard uttered a million times. This is a game stuck in another era--nothing is as good as the game that was played back in ____ (fill in the blank). Its most dedicated fans are older than 50.

So, baseball season is here again, and I look forward to another year of baseball memories. Maybe it is because of Ken Burns and his epic documentary ten years ago. Maybe its because basketball and football have become too distracting both on and off the court. Maybe it is a function of getting older...

Actually, it is probably because I married an avid baseball fan from New York City. He watches games on television (which, in my opinion, is the same as watching paint dry or a game of golf). He plays softball during the summers. And we make those same trips to Baltimore, but more often because the Orioles play the Yankees and each season we must make at least 5 of these "pilgrimages".

Last fall when Major League Baseball was making its decision to move the Montreal Expos here, I swear Rick lit a few candles in hopes that the team would move here. When we got word of the decision, he had already signed up for season tickets. Later, when politics threatened to kill the deal, he emailed his disapproval to the entire city council and has vowed not to vote for any candidate that opposed his position.

Tomorrow, we will attend the first game at RFK Stadium. For him, it probably isn't that big a deal because it is an exhibition game and not Opening Day. For me, this is a big deal because it will remind me of an Easter Sunday game at RFK years ago when the Orioles were kind enough to make the trip to DC. To many of the older people in the crowd that day, there was the nostalgia of the days when DC had a team. To the kids, it was just a fun day at the ballpark. We had never been to a professional baseball game in our city.

I'm going to become one of those old coots who recalls baseball games like memories from my own life. I'll tell my children about the game tomorrow, even if it is just an exhibition game and I have no clue who the players are for our team. And with Baltimore still just a ride away, I can draw from two sets of memories. I think I love this game...

Friday, April 01, 2005

My Shameless Deathwatch

I'm guilty of participating in the media's latest deathwatch for the Pope. I was watching "Divorce Court" this afternoon, when they broke in to inform the viewers that the Pope was near death. I watched for about 15 minutes, during which the news reporters on Fox "updated" the story several times, including the announcement that the Pope had slipped into a coma (which may or may not be true).

I am ashamed of myself. Not at all surprised, but ashamed nevertheless.

Death should be a private passage. Pope John Paul II should be able to make this transition without the world's eye on his every breath. All of us are guilty of waiting. But all of us want to know how God's messenger here in Earth makes his transition.

Only, he hasn't passed away yet. A full eight hours after Fox 5 News cut into Judge Mablean with the breaking story of his looming health crises and imminent death, the Pope is still in the land of the living. This is a bit like watching paint dry.

I am curious for a lot of reasons. After all, this is the Pope. He is a beacon of global decency. He is a true monarch appointed by God here on Earth. Add to that, he is the only Pope I've known in my lifetime. But in all of this, he is so human and frail. He's been shot, he's broken a hip, he has osteoporosis and a bunch of other ailments, yet he's still here.

Like my grandmother, the Pope has Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder. From what I read today, it doesn't kill you any faster than anything else, but because my grandmother had it, I have paid closer attention to his deterioration. Grandma H died in 1988, and looking back and comparing her situation to that of the Pope, I can clearly remember her last few days.

Conventional wisdom at the time was that she was aware of her impending death but she didn't tell us. At her funeral, a least three people remarked on the sereness of her face and the calm, peaceful manner she presented in her last days. Unfortunately, no one in my family had any idea, until the home care nurse got a call that Grandma had gone into cardiac arrest. To her credit, the nurse told them to do whatever they could to save her and somewhere along the line, my mother found out and reiterated those instructions, but it was not meant to be. Grandma H died on her 79th birthday.

Today, my husband has perched a small wallet-sized photo of her in the frame of a poster we have displayed in the dining room. He finds comfort in her presence in our home. I can't disagree with his assessment--I too find comfort in her image. I also find a small bit of comfort in the image of his deceased father, whose faded photo is on display in the upstairs hallway. I can't explain why, but our dead relatives seem to be watching over us.

I have no idea what happens when it is all over, but in some strange way, I feel that a person's presence never really leaves--their life only changes planes of existence. Of course, I have no way of proving this, knowing this, and I honestly have no reason to believe any of this. But maybe it makes all of us feel better to think that life continues on in some way.

And it is clear that God plays a prominent role in the transition process. The Pope is still alive, in spite of heart and kidney failure! While we are all obsessed waiting for his moment of death, God is here to show us a lesson about life--that we are never in control. No matter what we do or don't do, death occurs on its own time, in its own way.

Take the case of Terri Schiavo. I read that she received her last communion on Easter Sunday (she was also Catholic), and that was to be the only food or drink that she would receive in her last days. Yet, she survived an additional three days in a very Christ-like fashion. Despite the fact that we all knew the inevitable was on its way, it happened only when she was ready for her transition. The same thing will likely happen with the Pope.

And, the same thing will happen to all of us. Until then, have peaceful journey on the road of life.