Sunday, May 30, 2010

Moving? Get ready for the stress!

Given the economic state of our union, I am sure the number of people who have to move has been high. Whether you are moving from your house, condo, or apartment to a house (yours or your parents), condo, apartment, the process causes pain in the most uncomfortable places; like your arms, knees, neck, back, and a few others.

Of course, there are a number of sources and industries designed to help you move. Moving yourself? There are realtors who will help you find your new digs (if you are not just moving home); online packing lists; places to rent packing goods (the boxes for packing your glassware really are great) and trucks that can even tow your car; moving companies who will pack, load and deliver your possessions, relieving you of the stress of the move.

So why is moving still so stressful, no matter what sources/services you use? If you have children, you already know why! Yet, even if you are moving yourself, or you and a partner, the stress can be unbelievable. First there is the task of DECIDING where you are going, if that is not already determined. Then the next DECISION is what kind of place you are looking for. Okay, let’s say that’s done. You have to look at your budget and DECIDE how you are going to move – packing and traveling on your own or using a company. What if you have to DECIDE whether or not you need help moving? (The use of friends has been known to ruin any and all friendships.) The next DECISION is what you can/want/don’t want to pack – a decision that can be complicated by DECIDING to downgrade. Inevitably this leads to DECIDING how you want to pack your possessions. (I’ll always remember how I had not made provisions for my plants and my aloe vera ended up in the corner of our open truck – right where the wind would tear it apart.) Let’s not forget the unpacking process, especially if you are going long distance and those friends are no longer available to you.

No doubt you can see where I’m going with this. You might have already realized I am in the middle of moving. I have not even mentioned the DECISIONS about notifying your apartment agency, cutting off your electric/water/cable/telephone, sending in your change of address notices, contacting various agencies (medical, magazines, employment or unemployment, book clubs, credit cards who you better let know before they freeze your account because there are charges coming from places you have never been before), when to empty your refrigerator and how, what to do with your canned goods, what to bring on your trip like your computers and, uh, weapons, bringing goods to charitable organizations, not to mention notifying other family members. I’m sure I have missed a few more DECISIONS you have to make.

The stress comes from the sheer number of decisions you must make. And I have no solutions for you, except to try to make these decisions as soon as possible. If you are like me, I set up my own spreadsheet, establish completions dates and how to number boxes, and then realize that nothing goes according to my timetable. I hope you have better luck than me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

To the Women of My Family

To My Sister, My Daughters, my Nieces, my Grand-Nieces and Cousins and all of my other female relatives:

I have tried to figure out to say something to you. I have never known how to say it. The fact that I did not know how to say it was complicated by the fact that it took me so long to realize what I wanted to say to all of you. It has to do with pride and learning to feel and have pride, like Dorothy Dandrige. Her pride and self-esteem were threatened when she tried to achieve her goal. So much so that she had to leave her country of origin.  But I believe she had pride and self-esteem because she grew up with it, despite the times and the resulting tribulations for women of color.

Unfortunately, Mother never made me proud: of who I was, who I am, and who I would become. She didn’t have the ability to understand that her strength would eventually become the strength of her daughters. She really was a power house, but always minimized what a black woman could do. Ah, but she could dress! I have such fine memories of her when she really decked herself out: her hair done up like no not one, black dress that hugged her curves, Chanel No. 5 wharfing around her; a necklace drawing attention to her ample bosom, and heels making her taller than Daddy – but he never minded.

But the idea of education as the way to make your way in the world, as told by my father, resulted in trials and tribulations he could never have even fathomed. He always saw us as the most beautiful women in the world. He didn’t seem to understand that we were not the best, the most beautiful, the absolute epitome of womanhood! We all must admit that Daddy had his lapses and dalliances, but he saw all of his sisters, daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and all of the women in his family as the best.

Today, I watched a show that would never had been possible when I was a teen. It was called “My Black is Beautiful”, shown on BET. It was all about black women realizing that no matter their size, their features, their dress, they were all beautiful. It was only a half hour and I wanted more! I can’t tell you how this made me feel. As I get older, I have continued to have a real need to feel lovely, beautiful and desirable. So I went to their Web site and found a elegant manifesto. To my family of women, whoever and wherever you are, I hope you will find something in this.

 From the color of my skin, to the texture of my hair, to the length of my strands, 
to the breadth of my smile
To the stride of my gait, to the span of my arms, to the depth of my bosom, to the curve
of my hips, to the glow of my skin...
 My Black is Beautiful.
It cannot be denied. It will not be contained. And only I will define it.
For when I look in my mirror, my very soul cries out,
My Black is Beautiful.
And so today, I speak it out loud, unabashedly, I declare it anew.
My Black is Beautiful.
Whether celebrated, imitated, exploited or denigrated. Whether natural from inside
or skillfully applied.
My Black is Beautiful.
To my daughters, my sisters, my nieces, my cousins, my colleagues and my friends,
I speak for us all when I say again,
My Black is Beautiful

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oh, Lena!

The recent death of Lena Horne hits me hard. My uncle was an acoustic bass man and played behind “Miss Horne” several times. It was still the time when black musicians who got gigs in white clubs had to enter through the back door. People loved the performances but the musicians were still discriminated against by club owners and managers. I’m watching a re-cap of her interview with Ed Bradley on CBS “Sunday Morning” and feeling so sad about her life. Being put in movies where they wanted her to appear more colored; keeping her marriage to a white Jew secret for three years, although the marriage lasted 24 years; finally being able to sing the songs she was famous for only after she became old enough to perform independent, cabaret-style performances of her choosing.

My mother and father used to attend the after-hours musical extravagances of black musicians; those times after they had finished at the white clubs and just got together to play the music they like to play. My Uncle Peter would tell them where the action was. I was still a child and they would take me with them. As each singer would get up, I would be transferred from lap to lap. I remember Carmen McCrae and Pearl Bailey. And I remember how bony the lap and breasts of Lena Horne were.

But I also remember that rich, full voice. The sultry movements (okay, I didn’t know they were sultry then, but it only takes a quick look at her movies and performances to know the truth) and the passion so evident in her voice.

I’m gonna miss you, Lena. You are part of my past. A remembrance of the love of my mother, father and Uncle Peter. And the true meaning of being a black woman when that wasn’t cool.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What Happens When You Ban Books?

Before my daughter went to Azerbaijan, she came to visit me. As soon as she saw me, she pinned a button on my coat that she was sporting on her own: “I Read Banned Books”. Then she said, “Mom, I recently looked at the list of banned books and realized I had read them all because of you. Thanks.”
 As a librarian and a dedicated believer in the First Amendment, I was happy and pleased. And then, I began to think about what it meant to have my children read books that others thought were damaging. What if I was wrong? What if reading those books had damaged them in some way?

A review of the list of banned books created by the American Library Association and cataloged by Wikipedia ( relieved me of my worries. How could have deprived them of reading Hemingway, Orwell, Twain, Blume, Angelou, Faulkner, Morrison, Golding, Lawrence, Baldwin, Walker, Cormier, Steinbeck, and Mitchell? A favorite book for the girls was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – they bought copies for all of their friends as Christmas presents.

If I had not insured they read these books, we would not have had discussions about utopias and dystopias, child abuse, superiority, self-esteem, survival, anti-Semitism, religion, spiritually, and of course sex. At the age of nine, I bought the girls What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madras, only to discover it had been banned from a high school library in Alaska! That was our first discussion about banned books.

In high school, I took entire advanced placement questions on Hemingway and Faulkner. I found Walker’s and Baldwin’s books giving me a taste of the black society I did not know. Maya Angelou and Richard Wright brought me to tears, letting me develop my feeling of empathy.

I worked for a public library in central Oregon at one point. The Harry Potter books were published while I was there and I sent them to my grandson. My [step] daughter called me, excited because her son was finally reading. The county I lived in, however, had the first lawsuit asking for Harry Potter to be banned from the public schools. Meanwhile, the seniors asked me to organize a discussion group where they could discuss why such a book would be banned.

One day, while I was working circulation, a woman with a son about nine years old, asked if she could attend the discussion group. I urged her to please come. She told me that she might not be wanted because it was her husband who had filed the lawsuit for banning. What I remember most was the frown on her face and the light in her son’s eyes. She did not attend the meeting.

For me, when you do not let your children read banned books, you lose opportunities to help them grow. You engage in an unconstitutional practice. You act out of fear. And those are something of which I could not have deprived my children – or myself.