Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chris Rock Makes Up For the Misogyny of "Good Hair"

During an appearance of Jay Leno, Chris Rock expresses dismay over people's defense of Roman Polanski, reminding us that he raped a 13 year old girl and calling rape "barbaric."  His good sense here makes Good Hair that much more disappointing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism (or, Why Alison is Awesome)

I was supposed to be a part of the blog tour for Alison's latest book, Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism.  In fact, my post was due *weeks* ago. But swine flu and end of the semester craziness has slowed me down considerably.  But in this case, I think that's a good thing.  I've gotten to read the amazing reviews the book has been getting and have gotten to hear what other bloggers and zinesters have to say about the book.  All of these people have been talking about what they take from the book as feminists, as zinesters, as people interested in girl culture.  I'd like to talk about what I take from the book as an academic, as a person who makes her living talking and writing about contemporary culture.

For those unfamilar with zines or are familiar with zines and can't fathom why someone would write a whole book about them, here's a snippet from NYU Press's blurb about the book:

With names like The East Village Inky, Mend My Dress, Dear Stepdad, and I’m So Fucking Beautiful, zines created by girls and women over the past two decades make feminism’s third wave visible. These messy, photocopied do-it-yourself documents cover every imaginable subject matter and are loaded with handwriting, collage art, stickers, and glitter. Though they all reflect the personal style of the creators, they are also sites for constructing narratives, identities, and communities.
Full disclosure: Alison and I are in a writing group together and I got to read Girl Zines as it was coming together.  What I find exciting in this book and in Alison as a scholar is her refusal to look at these quirky, personal, often silly, and just as often brilliant and heartbreaking creations, as either resisting patriarchal capitalism or complicit in female oppression.  She early on threw out the resistant/complicit binary, reading this framework as limited and as limiting our ability to really engage the work these zines do in female communities.  Their very existence, the sheer number of zines and zinesters and the fact that girls will very often make their own zines as soon as they discover their existence, is enough to make them worth our attention.  What do we make of these "messy, photocopied do-it-yourself documents" and the girls who make them?  Alison's response is to talk to these girls, read their work, and take them seriously.  It seems such a simple answer, but it's not a position academics often take, especially when we're talking the cultural work of girls and women.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

They Call Me Back Door Santa

Even though I could listen to Christmas music every single day of the year (I will never tire of the E Street Band's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or the Temptations' "Silent Night".  I also cry every single time I see It's A Wonderful Life.  I should be embarassed by these facts, but I'm really not.), Brian insists that Christmas music may only be played from the day after Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas.  It's sore point in out marriage, but we'll probably survive. 

Now that the girls are 9 and 4, I'm having to be extra careful about the music we play.  Very little of Erykah Badu or Outkast is child-safe, for instance.  But you would think that during this month when I'm allowed to listen to as much Christmas music as I want, I'd be safe.  How can you go wrong with songs about Santa and reindeer and angels and Jesus?

Enter once of my very favorite Christmas songs, Clarence Carter's brilliant "Back Door Santa" (the clip is the Black Crowes' version, but still pretty decent).  While Brian's favorite Christmas song, Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas," is crazy depressing, "Back Door Santa" is *dirty.*  Here are some choice lyrics:

I ain't like old Saint Nick
He don't come but once year
I ain't like old Saint Nick
He don't come but once a year
I come running with my presents
Every time you call me dear
I can't listen to that with the girls in the car.  Can you imagine Cate, who loves music and picks up lyrics and melody amazingly fast, singing that at her preschool?  I will have to content myself with Donny Hathaway.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cornel West's Recipe for a Lasting Relationship

A colleague forwarded to me a scathing review of Cornel West's most recent book, a memoir called Brother West.  The review contained this choice paragraph from the book:
“The basic problem with my love relationships with women is that my standards are so high -- and they apply equally to both of us. I seek full-blast mutual intensity, fully fledged mutual acceptance, full-blown mutual flourishing, and fully felt peace and joy with each other. This requires a level of physical attraction, personal adoration, and moral admiration that is hard to find. And it shares a depth of trust and openness for a genuine soul-sharing with a mutual respect for a calling to each other and to others. Does such a woman exist for me? Only God knows and I eagerly await this divine unfolding. Like Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship in Emily Bronte’s remarkable novel Wuthering Heights or Franz Schubert’s tempestuous piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960) I will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky love that I crave!”
It's hard to believe he's been divorced four times, isn't it?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Some Musings on My Romance Research*

Through a combination of Amazon used book orders and transactions, I have been treated to a new romance novel in the mail every other day or so for the last couple of weeks.

Checking the mail has quickly become the highlight of my day.  How can you not enjoy opening an envelope and have that cover greet you?

Get Your Sexy On is from Kensington's Aphrodisia line and features on its back cover, like all books in that line, this notice:

This is a REALLY HOT book. (Sexually Explicit)

For me that warning screams "pick me up! pick me up!" but for others, it's a genuine warning.  Angela over at Save Black Romance posted today about her frustration that black sexuality is presented as sweet rather hot in Kimani Press books.  In the comments there is some discussion about whether this is a response to what black female readers want--sweet romance, perhaps, counters the stereotype of black people as oversexed--and whether this is a bad thing.  I do know that this Kensington warning would be enough to keep my mother away from this book.

Interesting also is the fact that this book is an interracial romance--black woman, white man--a very popular subgenre of the subgenre that is African American romance fiction.  But it's really hard to tell from that picture, isn't it?  And the synopsis on the back cover doesn't give anything away either.

The men crowd in and howl for more when Sin's on stage - she knows just how to work it, wrapping her lithe body around the pole to dan*ce down and dirty. But Sin doesn't see them, lost in a world of her own...until sexy private investigator 'Mac' Garret McAllister steps into the club.

In one night of erotic passion, the man turns her world upside down. Mac pays homage to her beautiful body with delicious, carnal ferocity. When the sun comes up, she cuts out. She can't let him get too close to her heart...But two years later, they reunite. Still on fire for her, Mac is ready to do whatever it takes to ensure his woman stays right where she belongs - in his arms and his bed. Forever this time.

Who are they trying to trick into reading this book?  Black women who only want black heroes?  Or white women who only want to read about white heroines?

*Please note:  I am sick.  I have a 101 fever.  I have been unable to sleep all day, so I've been romance novels.  It's research you see.  :)  It's possible the above post is a fever-induced ramble.  If so, I apologize.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Movie Review: Chris Rock's "Good Hair"

I saw Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair the other night.  It's been getting a lot of press, so I knew what to expect.  I wasn't surprised by the lack of complexity--Chris Rock isn't a particularly subtle comedian.  I wasn't surprised that, despite the lack of complexity, it was still a really entertaining movie.  The thing that did surprise me, though, was the film's deep, deep misogyny.

I think Rock is sincere when he says he's worried about his black daughters' self-esteem and is trying to understand how they learn that "good hair" is something other than what grows out of their head.  I believe him when he says this movie comes out of love of his daughters.  That's why the conclusion the movie comes to--that black women are vain, high-maintenance, income-draining creatures who must be tolerated, at best, or avoided, at worst--is so surprising.  Chris Rock doesn't seem to come to the conclusion (despite the film's concluding voice-over) that he has to surround his kids with more images of beautiful "natural" hair*, or that he should declare a weave-free zone on his set, or that black women's conception of beauty is way more complicated than can be gleaned from a weekend at the Bonner Bros. hair expo, or that there's nothing at all wrong with relaxing or weaving or braiding your hair.  No, Rock seems to conclude that his daughters will eventually, inevitably, become crazed black women addicted to the "creamy crack," looking for men to subsidize their $1000 weave habit. 

The humanity of black women, the humanity of Rock's daughters, is completely absent from this film.  That's disappointing.

*And what is "natural"?  I have two girls with very different hair textures, black cousins with straight hair, soft wavy hair, red hair, as well as coarse and kinky hair.  I have an uncle who used to wash his fine, curly hair with laundry detergent to achieve the "natural" look..  "Natural" doesn't always mean Angela Davis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Boys Worry About These Things Too

Today a male student asked me just how many outside-of-work hours I spend grading papers.  He looked really concerned.  The question seemed to come out of the blue.  I probably did look miserable and exhausted as I graded a pile of essays while students took mid-terms, but still, it was an unexpected question. 

As it turns out, the student wasn't asking about me at all.  He's about to graduate and is engaged to a girl who is currently student teaching.  Apparently, she is prepping and grading all the time.  What he really wanted to know was is it possible to do the kind of work I do and still have time for all the other stuff in life, like spouses and kids and non-work related fun.

I told him what I usually tell students, usually female students, when this question comes up--balancing a career I love and family I adore is really hard work.  It takes a lot of deliberate planning to make sure all the demands on my time are being met, more or less, adequately, but, at the end of the day, it's a good life.  A hectic, often disorganized life, but I good one.  I stress that I have in Brian a partner equally committed to our family, someone who takes a great deal of pleasure in being a husband and father, and someone who is incredibly supportive of me and my work.  The work/life balance is a lot easier when all the adults in the relationship are equally dedicated to the balancing act.

It's a conversation I have regularly with students, but it was the first time I've had it with a male student.  He seemed to be at the beginning of the process of thinking through these issues, but it nonetheless made me happy to think his fiancee wouldn't have to think about these questions on her own.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Teaching Comics--Man of Steel by John Byrne

I'll say upfront that my pairing of Dark Knight Returns with Man of Steel may not have been the wisest choice.  If I had it to do over again (and I probably will), I'd teach Marvel's Civil War instead, or just forego surperheroes all together because they are really hard to do in a class when you're also trying to look at all of the other groovy things that happen in comics.  We could easily spend 15 weeks the appeal of superheroes in our society, on the difference between DC and Marvel heroes, on the difference between decidely good guys like Spider-man and not at all good guys (yet still heroic) guys like Deadpool, on whether the X-Men are metaphors for race or sexuality, on whether Wolverine's claws could slice through Superman's skin. Instead we spent only two and half weeks on superheroes and the rest of the time we'll look at memoirs and non-fiction narratives/journalism and race.  That meant choosing superhero books that were representative, but could also stand alone.

All that said, I also chose Man of Steel, precisely because it stands in sharp contrast to DKR and because it is a direct result of the same impulse that gives us DKR--namely, a desire of DC's part to re-boot marquee characters.  I thought the contrast would make for interesting class discussion.  I was wrong.  So so wrong.

The students, collectively, almost unanimously, *hated* Man of Steel.  They hated its lack of irony, they hated the unambiguous line drawn between good guys and bad guys, they hated Clark Kent's/Superman's old-fashioned manners and way of being in the world.  It was a disaster.  Where Bruce Wayne was adored for being so wracked with guilt and grief about his parents' deaths that he is driven to a psychopathic vendetta across the city, causing himself great physical and pyschological damage, Clark Kent was mocked for doing the right thing simply because it was right and he could.  He was simply too unbelievable for my students. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Afrogeek Kids Book Recs

Every time I think about possible regular features for this blog, "Book Updates" always makes the short list.  I imagine regular posts about what I'm reading, with witty commentary that shows off well my really expensive literary education.

Alas, I spend most of my time reading for class (which means skimming books I've read dozens of times before or reading student writing), reading for work (right now, lots of, mostly, random articles and essays on romance novels), or reading to children (we're making our way through the Lemony Snicket books, which I am finding deeply disturbing).

The girls, however, are reading up a storm lately.  Frances, our nine-year old 4th grader, is reading NERDS.  Here's the Amazon description:

Combining all the excitement of international espionage and all the awkwardness of elementary school, NERDS, featuring a group of unpopular students who run a spy network from inside their school, hits the mark. With the help of cutting-edge science, their nerdy qualities are enhanced and transformed into incredible abilities! They battle the Hyena, a former junior beauty pageant contestant turned assassin, and an array of James Bond–style villains, each with an evil plan more diabolical and more ridiculous than the last.

The hysterical giggles from her room go on well past bedtime when's she reading this book.

Cate, our three-year old pre-schooler, in the last month has started reading independently.  Her favorite thing to read lately, besides anything with My Little Pony on it, is Once Upon a Time, The End (Asleep in 60 Seconds).  It's Amazon description:

Here's a fresh approach to fractured fairy tales: take one small child's insatiable demand for "just one more story" and add a sleepy parent's wish to get the bedtime ritual over with as quickly as possible. The result is this collection of eight condensed folktales. For example, Goldilocks and the Bears begins, "There were some bears;/It doesn't really matter how many./There was a bunch./Let's get to the point" and ends, "When the bears came back,/They found her asleep./She woke up, screamed, and ran home/So she could sleep in her own bed./Just like you."  The sometimes sly, sometimes outrageous, sometimes simply silly humor will go over the heads of most preschoolers, but it's right on target for their older siblings (and tired parents, of course)

That last part isn't true of our pre-schooler.  Cate seems to take great delight in the father's insistence that his kid go to sleep.  She's also really enjoying Thelonious Monster's Ski-High Fly Pie.

The tune for I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly is likely to echo in children's minds as they listen to the words of Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly Pie, in which an earnest monster chef intends to swallow hundreds and thousands of succulent flies. After obtaining some helpful hints from a spider via e-mail, Thelonius creates a sticky crust, gathers flies, attaches them to the crust, and invites eleventeen ravenous monsters for dessert. The resulting creation is a thing of beauty: the flies hum, they sparkle, they play orchestral music. And, alas, they fly away. Thelonius has forgotten to bake the pie, and off it goes.

The picture of the flies flying off with a gooey pie stuck to all their little feet apparently never fails to be funny.
One day soon I'll get to finish Sag Harbor, or Asterios Polyp, or Devil in the White City.  But not today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Remembering Dr. Pat

Dr. Patricia Rickels was the director of the Honors Program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (where I was an undergraduate). She wore mumuus to work everyday because she came to the conclusion sometime in the 1970s that deciding what to wear every day got in the way of more important decisions. She was the much-rumored inspiration for Myrna Minkoff, the windmill-tilting, Negro-loving minx in John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces (much rumored among the faculty at UL who knew Toole from LSU and UL). She befriended and worked on behalf of black people in the South at a time when nice white women never dreamed of such things--Dr. Pat thought being a nice white woman was wildly overrated.

Almost all of my good memories of UL are Dr. Pat related. She co-taught my favorite class, an honors seminar called Culture of Man. The library was our textbook and the course content was whatever caught our fancy. We went to plays and festivals, on road trips to Houston and New Orleans, all of free of charge, all made possible through some generous donation Dr. Pat bullied someone into giving. (I suspect she funded a lot of our class activities herself). I spent many an afternoon in the honors program offices, eating the endless free popcorn and hanging Mardi Gras beads on Baloo, the real, life-sized stuffed bear that, inexplicably, lived in those offices.

Dr. Pat was my advisor, as she was for all honors students who were English majors. She invented a minor for me (interdisciplinary humanities) because I couldn't decide between French and philosophy and history. She convinced me to stay in college an extra semester so that I could finish the requirements for an honors baccalaureate degree. "You would be the first black woman to to do it," she would say to me *every single time* she saw me, for months. "Somebody has to be the first. Why shouldn't it be you?"

She died peacefully in her home last week, having retired after 50 years of service at UL. She was a shameless flirt, an unapologetic liberal, an inspirational teacher, and a friend. Brian and I will miss her very much.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teaching Comics Update

After a rock start (rockiness which, I allow, was primarily in my head), my comic book course is swimming along. I knew it would all be okay the day when one student asserted, and several more agreed, that because comics have pictures you don't have to interpret them as much as you would, say, a Shakespeare play. (Ah, Shakespeare, the perennial go-to guy whenever the argument for the ornerous-nous of close reading needs to be made.) I knew then, whatever deficiencies I might have in comic scholarship (again, I'll grant those deficiencies are probably mostly imagined) I more than make up for in my ability to read a text well. Plus, I like to think that I've also gotten pretty good at helping students learn to read well.

The first book we read was Eisner's Contract With God and the conversation, over two class periods, was *amazing.* There was actual debate among students about the meaning of the repitition of of the streelight lamp imagery throughout the four stories, discussion of Einser's formal control as evidenced in his varied use of panel size and placement, a weighty discussion about the possibility/impossibility of a contract with God--it was great.

We've moved on now to superheroes. Before reading Dark Knight Returns we read a selection from Peter Coogan's Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre in which he argues that a superhero is defined by his/her selfless, prosocial, never-ending mission; superpowers or superior abilities that set him/her apart from ordinary humans; and a secret identity that is separate from and in contrast to their supehero identity and an iconic costume that is emblematic of that identity. Finally, such a person appears in superhero stories. If such a person appears in another genre, like horror, they are not superheroes.

In this excerpt he gave a very detailed argument for why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a superhero. Apparently those are fighting words. Several students made very impassioned arguments for Buffy's superhero status, with a few votes thrown in for Sam and Dean, the brothers on Supernatural. The result was a lively discussion about genre, the importance, or lack thereof, of genre distinctions, the difference between superheros and antiheroes, and whether a Norse god (namely, Thor) really cares enough about humanity to have a prosocial mission.

Tomorrow is our first day with Dark Knight. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Disney Buys Marvel--Good for Girls?

Disney has purchased Marvel and Bitch magazine is pondering the effect of this purchase on girls. I am too. Like my students I want to know what this purchase means for grittier Marvel fare like (like Deadpool and Punisher) and like some comics scholars I'm pondering the challenges and opportunties that come from being a part of a large (to say the least) corporation like Disney. But as the mother of two girls who consume a lot of Disney media (the obsession with the Jonas Brothers grows daily; "Squirrels in My Pants" is on constant YouTube loop), I do wonder what this might mean for them.

People seem to want to make a stark divide between girls' and boys' entertainment and read this purchase as Disney's way of regaining market share with boys, market share they've given up by focusing on girls' enterntainment like Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. But what do we do with a girl who likes both Hannah Montana and superheroes? What if Disney, because they're already so tapped into the girl market, recognizes the possibility that girls can like fairies and princesses and rock stars with double lives at the exact same time as they like Spider-man and Ms. Marvel and Elektra?

Obviously I don't think Disney is going to become a bastion of progressive feminism any time soon, and I fully recognize that it is a corporation that exists to sell my children stuff, but I'm also not convinced that the stuff it sells my kid is all bad or problematic. (Which calls to mind thoughts on The Frog Princess, which I will share another day.) This is all to say I think there's great potential in this Marvel/Disney merger, potential that Disney, because it may ultimately serve their bottom line, may very well tap into.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thirty-six is the Year of Pretty

One of the things I realized on sabbatical (because while from the outside it looked like I didn't actually take a break, my sabbatical was in fact incredibly restful and provided ample opportunity for reflection) is that one of the reasons I felt like such a drudge is that I often looked like a drudge. Now, many will probably disagree (Brian continues to make all the right noises about how cute I always am, just as a good husband should), but that's hardly the point. I felt dumpy and really not-cute. So I got a kicky haircut that I really like and decided that 36 (my current age) is the year of pretty, which basically means getting dressed in the morning as if other people can actually see me.

The result? Since I've been back at work full-time (a week now), people continue to remark on my new look--my hair is cute, my earrings are adorable, I look nice generally. I usually respond with a smile and say, "Thank you. 36 is the year of pretty." What I'm actually thinking is, "What kind of hell did I look like before?" or "It's going to be really sad when I go back to being too tired to comb my hair in the morning."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Is Not My First Day on the Mommy Job...

...and yet, this morning found me on the playground of Cate's preschool *weeping.* I told Brian he would just have to quit school and go back home to taking care of her full time. We had to sit in the observation room until I was composed enough to be able to go to class.

Frances is in fourth grade and this is Cate's second year of preschool, so I've got a few first days of school under my belt. The weepiness this morning was quite unexpected and I am at a loss to explain it, though it does seem to go along with my general irrational emotional responses to all things Cate-related (that's a post for another day).

Cate, in typical Cate fashion, was completely unconcerned with my tears. As soon as she saw her teacher and she ran and gave her a hug and then turned around, hugged my leg, said a quick dismissive "bye," and walked away. Which really didn't help matters at all.

Here's hoping I get through tomorrow without feeling like an emotional mess.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Teaching the Comic Book

Let me start off by saying the while I generally do for living what I trained in graduate school to do (I am, in fact, a college professor and a literary critic), there are many aspects of my job I never imagined in grad school. I never imagined that I'd be director of an African American Studies program (that was never really on my list of career goals), yet here I am. I fancy myself a scholar of the African American novel, yet I've yet to publish on the African American novel--a book of Octavia Butler's interviews, a book on the critical reception of Baldwin, an article on an intellectual crisis during the Harlem Renaissance, another on a comic book, but nothing on the African American novel.

And this semester I find myself, for the second time, teaching a course on the graphic novel. Today was the first day of class and I woke up in a panic feeling wildly unqualified to teach a course about comic books. Sure, I'm on the comics sholars listserv and have been absorbing comics theory and criticism for the last three or so years. Yes, I've been reading all the articles on comics I can find in journals and books. Yes, I read tons and tons of comic books. But still...I'm a scholar of the African American novel! To top it all off, because the course is big (40+ people), I'm teaching in one of our lecture rooms. There's a stage! I taught on a stage today, which totally exacerbated my anxieties about people looking at me while I'm teaching. (Yes, I know people are looking at me. I like to pretend they aren't though, which is rather difficult when you're standing on a stage.) So I'm standing on a stage, using Powerpoint (which, as a general rule, I detest), and feeling sick to my stomach because I feel like a big geeky fraud, when this exchange happens:

Very intense female student, clearly a lover of comics: Is there any reason why we aren't reading Maus?

Me, thinking, oh no I've been found out: Well, since even people who don't read comics, and I assume that most of the people in this class don't read comics, have been introduced to Maus in high school or some other arena, I thought we'd read other things together. I think it would be a better use of our time to look at things people haven't read before.

Girl: And people haven't read Dark Knight Returns?

Me, thinking I hear a hostile tone, but actually that's probably just in my head: Well, in my experience, even big fans of Batman and Superman haven't actually read a Batman or Superman comic. Of the many times I've taught DKR in various courses, I've run into very few students who have actually read it.

Girl: Well okay.

At this point the interrogation is over, though there were other questions about why there are no Marvel books on the syllabus and why I've never been to Comic-Con and whether their friend can draw their mini-comic. It was a very stressful 75 minutes.

Tomorrow I'm teaching comp and Intro to African American lit, both courses I could teach in my sleep at this point. But all I can think about is how not to make a fool of myself the next time I'm in the graphic novel course.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Breastfeeding Revisited

At the risk of courting the ire that accompanied my last breastfeeding post (if you want to get a whole bunch of hateful, angry comments on your blog, just suggest that breastfeeding may not be all it's cracked up to be), I'm linking to this *great* piece by Hannah Rosin in the April 2009 issue of The Atlantic. I found the piece through a discussion on She Writes about taboo subjects in writing about motherhood and someone suggested that we aren't allowed to talk about how the notion that breastfeeding is the cure-all for whatever ails you is kind of bullshit.

Here's the intro to the piece. Go read it.

In certain overachieving circles, breast-feeding is no longer a choice—it’s a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Yet the actual health benefits of breast-feeding are surprisingly thin, far thinner than most popular literature indicates. Is breast-feeding right for every family? Or is it this generation’s vacuum cleaner—an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Black Writers Rock

Two noteworthy posts in the world of black publishing today.

First, Carleen Brice over at White Readers Meet Black Writers has a new store open at Cafe Press with really cool t-shirts, mugs, and bags. Claudia calls Brice a latter-day Georgia Douglas Johnson, and I tend to agree.

Also, Verb Noire, an independent publisher dedicated to, among other things, publishing stories by and about people of color, has a new call for submissions. They're looking for retellings of fairy tales and folk stories that feature people of color or that come from non-Eurocentric traditions. Check them out.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Questions Plaguing Me This Morning

1. Where does one buy a boy's tie for a 9 year old girl that is both fashionable and school appropriate?

2. Does being vegan really mean giving up butter and cheese? That seems like torture. (Especially after seeing Julie and Julia last night with Alison and watching people having near orgasmic reactions to butter.*)

3. Why isn't erotica aimed at black female audiences better written? I applaud Zane for trying to fulfill each and every erotic literature wish black women seem to have, but man, does she need a good editor.

*As in our last trip to our local arty movie theater, Alison and I scanned the crowd to see if I were indeed, again, as usual, the only black person in the room. In fact, we spotted one other black woman, someone Alison knew. Which, I think, says, something about Alison.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

Those who know me know that our battles with Cate, our youngest, over drawing on the walls are numerous and frequent. No trick or reward or punishment or lecture or tears works. She draws on the walls (I say "draws"--she actually draws, colors, scribbles, stamps, places stickers, glues paper...) every chance she gets. (Here I am reminded of something she said in the doctor's office after drawing picture of herself and making sure to include a knot in her hair: "I knot my hair. Anywhere. Anytime." With a devilish grin she said this.) So Brian and I have given in (despite our strongly held parenting belief that given clear boundaries and ample opportunity for self-expression, children will not draw on the walls--clearly Cate was sent to us to poke holes in all of our strongly helf parenting beliefs) and lined her room with drawing paper. The picture above is Cate just after Brian finished the first part of her wall. She immediately grabbed a marker, jumped on her bed and started scribbling. "I'm making crazy art," she said. "When I'm done, it will make you smile." The hat came later because artists where hats. If you look to the left, you can see evidence of the wall art the paper is now covering up.

And here is a picture of the finished project. Cate is just out of frame, knotting her hair. We found her in bed that night looking at all she drew (pictures of all us, superheroes taking the bus home, a turtle, a meat bug, among other things) and trying to cover up the fact that, in addition to drawing on her new wall, she had also drawn all over legs, ears, and scalp. "I wanted to be fancy," she said. And so, having, hopefully, conquered one problem, we embark on another.

Fun with Zane at My Local Library

I think I've blogged here before about my new research project. I'm writing about contemporary black popular/market fiction--those books that are in face out displays at the bookstore during AA history month. The ones about baby mama drama and urban angst and freaky threesomes. I've been reading a ton of this stuff all summer and have finally come to Zane's work.

In typical academic fashion, when I decided it was time to read Zane's work, I decided it was time to read *all* of Zane's work. As her particular brand of erotica isn't exactly the kind of thing carried by my university library, I turned to the public library. I requested all the Zane books in the system and had them delievered to my local branch. Last Friday, I go the library and check out Twent-Six Princesses for Cate and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for Frances. At the desk, the librarian says I have four books on hold and brings me the ones pictured above. There was awkward silence as the librarian looked at me, then my children, then back at the smutty books I was checking out. I tried to be adult and rise above the embarassment I was feeling, but wound up just scooping up the books and rushing out the library.

We are in that library all the time. All the librarians there know my children by name. There are three more Zane books (with equally provocative covers, I'm sure) waiting for me to pick up. Can I say to them, "This is research. Really." I think I'll have to send Brian.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Want My !@#$% Fruit Roll-Up

This morning, Cate woke us up at 7am to request a fruit-roll up. We told her she couldn't have one and should have some real breakfast instead. She insisted, we resisted, until finally she banged her little fists on the bed and yelled, "I want a fucking fruit roll-up." We immediately sent her to her room for a time out and to think about why you shouldn't use bad language; and when she was gone, Brian gave me the "You know, this is all your fault" look.

It's probably true. Frances is a bit of a puritan when it comes to cursing and other bad habits, so she never repeats the myriad curses that come out of my mouth. but Cate--cate loves to curse, almost as much as I do. And I do love it. Actually "love" doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how much I enjoy saying "fuck" in any and all situations. It's one of the most satisfying things I do, actually.

But clearly, we can't have Cate telling her pre-school teacher, "I want my fucking fingerpaints," so something needs to be done. But as I've given up sleeping in, buying new shoes whenever I want, vacations alone with my husband, Saturday mornings spent reading (instead of watching soccer games and playing ponies), it seems really wrong that I should give up the pleasures of a good curse word.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson

Here are some random reactions to MJ's death from Casa Afrogeek:

--Frances asking, in quick succession while watching the news footage, "Isn't Michael Jackson supposed to be black?" "What's wrong with his nose?" "How can he spin on his toes like that?"

--Brian and I felt incredibly old when (1) upon hearing he was only fifty when he died, Brian, fast approaching fifty himself, said sadly, "He was so young" and (2) when the video for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" came on and I got up in the middle of the floor and forced my children to dance with me, just like the old folks used to do to me whenever Al Green was on the radio.

--My mother and sister and I spent all night on the phone singing MJ tunes to each other ("Heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the enitire human race...") because we apparently are characters on a sitcom

--Cate has discovered a new favorite song to shake her butt to, "Smooth Criminal"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Poem for Mothers

by Elizabeth Alexander

I love all the mom bodies at this beach,
the tummies, the one-piece bathing suits,
the bosoms that slope, the wide nice bottoms,
thigh flesh shirred as gentle wind shirrs a pond.

So many sensible haircuts and ponytails!
These bodies show they have grown babies, then
nourished them, woken to their cries, fretted
at their fevers. Biceps have lifted and toted

the babies now printed on their mothers.
“If you lined up a hundred vaginas,
I could tell you which ones have borne children,”
the midwife says. In the secret place or

in sunlight at the beach, our bodies say
This is who we are, no, This is what
we have done and continue to do.
We labor in love. We do it. We mother.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Katrina Tourism

Here at Afrogeek Mom and Dad, we don't talk about Hurricane Katrina much, despite the facts that Brian is from the 9th Ward, that his mother and sister lost their 9th Ward homes in the storm and have been unable to return to New Orleans, that Brian's is a typical New Orleans family in that they all lived in New Orleans for generations (some never leaving the city limits) and now that is all gone forever, with family scattered around the country. We don't talk about it much here because it hurts, really really hurts, still, after almost four years, despite the fact that we weren't in New Orleans when the storm hit. It hurts because of the devastation the storm caused in Brian's family, but also because the city that we know and love will never be the same again. Corporate greed, national apathy, and morbid curiousity are conspiring to turn New Orleans into a Disney-version of itself. It's heartbreaking. Over at The Bottom of Heaven, Frieda links to a video made by N.O. natives about the tourism industry that's grown up around the storm. Check it out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No One Calls Han Solo A Bitch

I am buried under a mountain of deadlines (one of them for a reader of this blog--I promise I'm working on it) and preparing to go out of town with the children and teaching. Busy doesn't even begin to describe these last few weeks. Yet, I have managed to watch Fanboys. As if George Lucas sensed my growing obsession with the new Trek universe (I bought an Uhura action figure yesterday--she's going to live on my desk at work), Fanboys is released on DVD to remind me of my first love. For all of you who are obsessed with all things Lucas, who can recite entire scenes of the original trilogy from memory, who camped out or stood in line for hours or drove to the next town over (like Brian and I did) because you had to see Phantom Menace first thing in the morning, then Fanboys is for you. Go rent it right now. For the rest of you, if the idea of a cancer-stricken guy and his pals driving across country to break into Skywalker Ranch to see a rough cut of Phantom Menace before it's released sounds like good a time, then you'll enjoy this movie too. But probably not as much.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My book has an ISBN #!

Look what I just saw: HEE!

That is so so cool.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Random Thoughts From Boston

1. Darius Rucker was on my flight from Charleston to Atlanta. He is foxier in person than you expect.

2. Elizabeth Alexander, who gave an amazing reading that was both a celebration of poetry and a an assertion of the importance of academics to poetry, wore the most unexpected, sexiest 4-inch stiletto heels. They were incongruous with her cute, baby doll face.

3. The intellectual earnestness of graduate students is unparalleled.

4. I am no longer a junior scholar. Not only that, but on more than one occasion, when people saw my name on my name tag, they said, "Oh! I know you from [Afrogeek Mom and Dad or the Comics-Scholars list, or my school website]." I found that a little disconcerting.

5. There was an anime convention in town, so it was not uncommon to see Sailor Moon and Captain Jack sitting at Au Bon Pain enjoying muffin together.

6. Hotels are the very best invention ever.

7. The Starbucks banana bread recipe is not the same all over the country. In Boston, banana bread comes with some kind of weird icing and is light anf fluffy. That's just wrong. Someone should write a letter.

8. The best meal I had was in a restuarant in the airport. I had a heavenly dish with crab cakes and grilled scallops and shrimp. I may have dreams about that meal.

I'm home now, with a ton of work to catch up om. All in all, it was a lovely trip.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Drive-by Post

Hey All!

I have been woefully absent from ths space. (I know, same old song...)I started back teaching last week at the exact same moment as I caught some creeping crawling death from the three year old. I have been alternating between grading and lying on my sofa, curled up waiting to die. And now, I'm off to Boston for the American Literature Association conference where I will present on race and American superhero comics for a bunch of people who have probably not seen an actual comic book in ages. (Though, to be fair, I read tons of comic books and am also a college prof--maybe all the academic geek-y types will come out of the woodwork for my presentation). Plus, Elizabeth Alexander will be there!

Here are some updates:

Work--The page proofs for my Octavia Butler book came yesterday. Woohoo! One step closer to being an actual book on in an actual store.

Books--I finished the Pride and Prejudice zombie book. It was an enjoyable read, but really had only one joke to tell. I'm dying to read Colson Whitehead's latest. I may finish the Twilight series.

Movies and TV--I've been mainlining episodes of Supernatural on DVD. I know what you're thinking--"Conseula, aren't you terrified of zombies and ghosts and demons?" Yes, I am, and watch a lot of the show through my fingers. As creepy as it is, though, it is also really funny and heartbreaking and I love it. I also saw Star Trek again. Spock and Uhura are my current happy place.

I'm off to teach now. See you when I get back from Boston.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek is Made of Win!

In rare instance of the universe arranging itself so that Brian and I could see not one, but *two* movies in one week without having to pay a babysitter, we managed to see both Wolverine and Star Trek. And while I enjoyed Wolverine a great deal (Hugh Jackman is amazing, and sexy as hell, as Wolverine and that guy whol played Gambit wasn't bad either), Star Trek rocked my socks. Brian and I are both Trek fans (though I've never seen an episode of the original series) and were super-excited to see this. (side note: Brian proposed to me after we saw the first Next Generation movie, so Trek has a special place in our hearts.) It was satisfying both for people who know Trek and got all the inside jokes (don't listen to the haters who are saying the film monkeys with canon; the movie does fool with canon, but in crazy delightful ways that make my fangirl heart really happy) and for people who've never seen anything Trek related before now.

I don't want to give anything away (so, if like me, you hate any kind of spoilers, stop reading now), but my very favorite part of the movie is the fact, despite the marketing campaign's suggestion otherwise, Uhura is not, in fact, the ultimate prize for the alpha white male. Kirk doesn't win her as a reward for his aggression and general disregard for the rules. Something much better than that happens. But you'll just have to see it to find out what that is.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Were-lions Make Me Blush*

Brian and I were in Barnes & Noble yesterday doing a little pseudo-research for a project I'm just beginning. As Brian often helps black women find the kinds of contemporary commercial fiction they are most interested in, I asked him to point out some of the titles that seemed the most popular. This resulted in me standing in B&N, reading the back cover summaries of books, giggling and blushing. Why didn't anyone tell me how *dirty* contemporary romance fiction is? The *summaries* had me blushing like a schoolgirl. I can hardly imagine what's actually in these books.

*There was one book in the romance section, not featuring black characters, about a romance novelist who tries to overcome her fear of cats by making the male protagonist in her latest book a were-lion. Without warning the character comes off the page as an actual flesh and blood being and she becomes involved with him. I opened the book to a random page and was greeted by the dirtiest, kinkiest sex scene. I squealed and dropped the book because I'm, apparently, 12.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kick, Push...and Coast

Our new car has a great new sound system and the girls are getting their money's worth from it. Their latest favorite song is "Kick, Push" by Lupe Fiasco (check him out in the video). When I say favorite, I mean we listen to it incessantly in the car. In the morning, when we are in the car for approximately 10 minutes on the way to school, that means we listen to it about 2.5 times. But on Saturdays, when soccer games and birthday parties and grocery shopping and library trips and play dates keep us in the car off and on all day, I hear this song about 12,693 times. Brian and I are conspiring to get them to like something new (though the sound of the three year old singing the chorus in the backseat is kind of cute).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call Week #4--Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

This week's roll call asks us to write about a Asian, South Asian, or Asian American writer we like. I'd like to recommend a comic book (or graphic novel, if you like) called Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. I'd read some good reviews of it here and there and saw it on the shelf at my local comic book shop (where I had gone to purchase the latest issues of Tiny Titans and New Avengers), so I picked it up. It was amazing.

The basic story revolves around Ben, his girlfriend and his lesbian best friend. Ben (and his girlfriend and his best friend) is Asian American and may or may not have a serious white girl fetish. The story follows a typical narrative arc of self-deluded protagonist finding some clarity by the story's end, but what I really enjoyed about this book was Tomine's ability, through the art, to get me to *feel* Ben's cluelessness, his desperate need to keep himself in the dark. Tomine has a wonderful ability to convey awkward silence in this book. And as I am endlessly fascinated by works of fiction that portray the way race is actually lived in America (it matters when it matters, it doesn't when it doesn't, as I tell my students) while also being about something completely unrelated to race (in this case, how soul-sucking New York City can be, how soul-sucking self-delusion can be), this book rocked my socks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Afrogeek Bookshelf

I thought my sabbatical would be full of lazy days spent reading whatever my heart desired. Instead, I've mostly been writing (which should not at all be read as a complaint) and reading things related to that writing. All that said, here's an update on what I have been reading:

I love Pride and Prejudice. Love it love it in a crazily cliche girly way. I am also terrified of zombies. Don't give me your logical "zombies aren't realy" arguments. Zombies are scary. Imagine my surprise, then, when I started Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and found myself utterly charmed by it. It's exactly what it sounds like: zombies in the P&P universe. Elizabeth and her sisters are Shaolin trained fighters of the "unmentionables" and Darcy is pretty handy with a blade and rifle himself. The plot and setting of the story is exactly the same as the original, only with more zombie goodness. I haven't finished it yet, but I'm enjoying it so far.

I am endlessly fascinated by discussions of black intellectuals not only because of the work that I do, but also because I am a black intellectual. Houston Baker's provocative title, Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era, immediately caught my eye when it was first published, but I'm only now getting a chance to read it. He posits MLK as the quintessential black public intellectual and measures the likes of Michael ERic Dyson, John McWhorter, Cornel West, and Shelby Steele against that standard. You can imagine how they fare. Baker is a great combination of agile thinker, engaging, playful writer, and snarktastic wit. His book, aside from being both painfully smart and delightfully catty, is also a great resource for those interested in the concept of race man/woman. This book is changing the way I'll teach King/Dubois/Baldwin in the future.

And finally, I am re-reading Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. I'm writing about this book for a project completely unrelated to my book on Baldwin. I haven't re-read it since graduate school. The Baldwin book (or the Bal-damn book, as my husband as taken to calling it) has made it really hard to remember what I love about Baldwin, his work has been such a huge weight on my shoulders for so long. But this novel is a good reminder. If you haven't read it--the story of 14 year old John Grimes' religious conversion as well as the story of the adults who in his life (and that is such a inadequate description of this book about religion and blackness and racism and urbanity and the difficulty of becoming a whole human being capable of love)--you should rush right out and get it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

If You're Gonna Suck, Suck Out Loud*

I am, by nature, a shy person and creature of habit. I am happiest when left to read a book in a corner by myself (or with my husband or children). This fact comes as a surprise to people who have met me recently, since I've become a full-time working adult. I tend to hold my own in conversation and do well in new situations and in front of groups (though secretly I am a great big ball of anxiety because I suck at small talk and hate the knowledge that people are actually looking at me). My transition from a shy person to someone who pretends not to be shy happened after I got married and had children. Brian is a naturally gregarious person who loves to be the center of attention and is genuinely interested in other people. Traveling through life with Brian means having to get used to talking to all sorts of people. When we had Frances it became immediately apparent that she, like her father, loved being in the world and loved being with other people. Not wanting to inhibit her natural curiousity and fearlessness, I found myself pretending to be perfectly comfortable with engaging in conversation with parents and kids we didn't know, venturing down paths we'd never going down before, and generally doing things just because they were new. I tried to model the behavior I wanted to see in Frances, despite how much I would have rathered just go home and read a book.

Which brings us to last Saturday when Frances and a friend and I went to the Avery Research Center for a demonstration of blues harmonica and African drumming. All of the participants were given a harmonica and taught a few basic notes. And then we were all supposed to jam together. Renard Harris, the harmonica instructor, would point to each of us in turn and we would play or sing or drum or do whatever. This is exactly the sort of thing I spend my entire existence avoiding. But there I was with Frances and her friend, both of them looking terrified at the thought of being called on, and there was only one thing to do. Whenever Renard pointed at me, which he did several times, I blew on my harmonica or sang with enthusiasm, as if my stomach wasn't a big knot of anxiety.

In the end I think both girls had a really good time. Frances has been playing her harmonica almost non-stop since Saturday (she's writing blues songs in her notebook and listening to old Chess blues--every once in a while we hear her from her room saying, "Amen brother, Amen" while listening to Muddy Waters or Bo Diddley). I kind of hope, though, that I don't have to play harmonica or sing again any time soon.

*When Renard tried singing in a band for the first time and gave a really timid, lame performance, his friend gave him this piece of sage advice.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Poetry is the human voice

I blame Claudia and Rich for getting me hooked on this blog meme. For this week’s C.O.R.A. Diversity Roll Call, participants are asked to post and discuss a poem by a woman of color.

1)Post a poem by a woman of color. Your choice must be a poet who has written in the last forty years. Do your best to avoid the most anthologized, popular poets unless poetry is new territory for you. In that case, check out why the popular poets are well loved.

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?

This is a poem called "Ars Poetica 100: I Believe" by Elizabeth Alexander. Yeah, she's famous now because of Obama's inauguration, but a few months ago she was merely a successful, if a bit obscure, academic poet.

2)Tell us why you like the poem you chose. Don’t worry about the technical aspects of writing poetry, devices or forms. Give us your reader’s response. How does it make you feel or what does it make you think about? What questions does it raise for you?

I generally like "Ars Poetica" poems (even when they're not called "Ars Poetica," like Amiri Baraka's "Black Art"--"Poems are bullshit unless they are/ teeth or trees lemons piled/ on a step.") and this one resonated with me immediately. I love the urgency and the passion of it, as the speaker desperately tries to communicate something fundamental to her students. I love that there is a sense that, despite her best efforts, she's hasn't quite gotten her point across. She knows that they haven't heard her, but she's going to keep trying ("here I hear myself loudest"). I feel like that a lot in class.

3)If you are a poetry reader and you can recommend a contemporary woman poet of color, who do you recommend and why? I would really love to hear about emerging or lesser known poets. Introduce us to poets from around the world.

Ai is a poet who is grungy and bluesy and kind of depressing actually, but always a really provocative read.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Of Splash Awards and Podcasts

I have been enjoying an incredibly lazy spring break with my daughter. She's 8 and teeters wildly between needing to be in my constant presence, pratically attached to my side and wanting nothing at all to do with me. So this week was just a lot of hanging out and riding out the pre-hormonal storm. And while that was going on, two lovely things happened:

First, Claudia over at The Bottom of Heaven "splashed" us with an award for our "bewitching" blog. This is especially nice since TBoH is an addictive blog full of the kind of cleverness, intelligence and consistency (!) I aspire to.

An second, Djuanna at divafictionbytes interviewed me for her podcast series. We talked about what it means to be a black female college prof in a place like Charleston, about what books I want my girls to read, and what gadgets I can't live without (hint: I'm a horrible Luddite), among other things. It's posted here. Check it out, but don't tell me if you think I sound too dorky.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Afrogeek Mom Goes to the Spa

There has been a lot of silence around these parts lately. My only excuse is that life sometimes really just sucks. The latest suckiness in our lives resulted in us having to buy a new car. Now, while riding around in a car in which everything works as it should when it should doesn't suck, having to pay for it kind of does. Alas.

Today, though, I ventured out in to the truly awful weather to a local day spa to get a facial. Here is what happens when you get a facial: you are led into a room where the aesthetician instructs you to put a drape-y garment around the top part of your body; she asks about your skin problems and skin care regiment (my response: "uh, I wash my face with soap and use suncreen in the summer"--this was not the right answer) and then shines a very bright light in your face to check things out. Upon looking at my face under this very bright light, the aesthetician says, "Ill have to do some extractions today. Don't worry. Everyone has them."

My immediate reaction is, "oh, you've seen the blackheads on my nose. You'll get rid of them. Yay! You probably have some special spa scrub or mask or strip or something. More yay!" Fifteen minutes into the facial, though, I hear her say, "Tell me if you feel too much pressure." I think she means she will be pressing hard on my face as she applies the magical spa blackhead-removing potion. Oh no. The pressure comes from her literally *squeezing*, with her *fingers*, the blackheads out of my nose. Isn't that crazy?

The whole time this is going on, I'm thinking, "Wow. Brian would do this for free at home." On the other hand, that it needed doing suggests that we aren't actually going to do it at home. And my face is lovely now (I even have on lip gloss, which feels really foreign on my mouth but looks kinda foxy), so I guess it was money well spent.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Literary Obama

I'm guest-blogging over at Literary Obama. I reviewed Amazing Spider-Man #583 (also known as the Obama comic). Check out the review and check out the blog, which chronicles literary works by and about our 44th president.

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Independent Publisher: Verb Noire

I came across this today, a new start-up hoping to make a difference in sf/fantasy. There mission:

To celebrate the works of talented, underrepresented authors and deliver them to a readership that demands more.

What does that mean? That if you're a talented writer with an awesome, original story about a POC girl/guy/transgendered character, there is a place for you. And that if you're a sci-fi/fantasy fan who has grown tired of the constant whitewashing of these genres, there is a place for you, too.

Now that isn't to say that we will accept ANY ol' manuscript as long as it features a POC protagonist, because we will NOT. What we're looking for is quality, soul and PASSION, something that will resonate with readers for years to come.

"Everyone has a story." These words are the driving force behind this project, because we believe that EVERYONE has at least one good story in them, and that story demands to be shared with the world.

Today they made an addition to their call for submissions:

In other Verb Noire news we've decided that we need your best young adult and independent reader submissions. This decision is in no way motivated by the complaints of my 9 year old son about Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings knockoffs or my teenage nieces griping about Gossip Girl knockoffs. Well it is, but don't tell them that or I'll never hear the end of it. Don't be afraid to be different. It doesn't have to be vampires, werewolves, witches, wizards, or about rich spoiled teens. In fact I'd prefer it if you avoid those tropes unless you're doing something totally new with them. Don't be afraid to create new tropes or utilize ones that have no European connections. We're doing something totally new here, so don't be afraid to branch out and do something totally new in your writing.

As Brian and I complain all the time about the lack of books with little brown girls as protagonists (books that are *not* about slavery or Harriet Tubman or jazz), we are excited about the possibility of Verb Noire.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Film Review: I'm Through With White Girls

Conseula: I first read about this film about a year ago. It's an independent film directed by a black woman, produced by another black woman, about an afrogeek guy who dates white women. I figured there was no way I'd ever get to see this film, living as I do in Charleston. Imagine my surprise then when I happened upon the DVD in the video store the other day. I knew immediately Brian and I would be watching this on date night.

Brief plot synopsis: Jay Brooks decides that the problems in his relationships stem from the fact that he only dates white girls. He embarks on Operation Brown Sugar to find his black soul mate. And then he meets Catherine.

Brian: I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The afrogeek part of me identified with the character of Jay -- his being a comic book, er, graphic novel artist, and his quirkiness, but I wasn't exactly a fan of his fear of commitment, and his lack of concern for the women that he dumped. Like most male characters in romantic comedies, he had to go through the fire in order to become the self-actualized person who could commit to a relationship with a woman who could truly be his soulmate.

As for Catherine, I immediately fell in love with her. Like my wife, she was pretty, smart, artistic and quirky. What was there not to like?

Conseula: Aside from the fact that some of the black supporting characters played like caricatures (to me at least) and the special features behind-the-scenes footage suggested the filmmakers took themselves a little too seriously (this film won't really make you re-think anything about race), this movie was still adorably sweet and funny and honest. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Octavia Butler Graphic Novel

When Brian and I heard Watchmen would be made into a movie (a movie we haevn't seen yet and won't see until Tuesday, so keep your spoilers to yourself, people), we were an equal mix of giddy joy and dread. I'm having the same reaction to this news (courtesy of Rich over at Glyphs) that Beacon is planning to adapt Octavia Butler's novel Kindred as a graphic novel. My first reaction is "woohoo!" Any new Octavia Butler material is always a good thing and the news that the executor of her estate wants to adapt all her work means their could be new work for years to come. My second thought, though, is that of all her work, Kindred is the least likely to yield an interesting graphic novel. Maybe I'm biased because it's my least favorite of her books. But an adaptation needs to be more than a simple transcription and that means the story needs some depth and complexity. There needs to be more story to tell. I'm not sure that's the case with Kindred. The Parable series and the Xenogenesis series seem to me better candidates for this kind of adaptation.

Friday, March 06, 2009

More Happiest Toddler on the Block

I realize that I didn't fully explain the fast-food rule. I don't have the book sitting in front of me, but I'll give it try anyway.

Basically Karp argues that you talk to an upset toddler (or any upset person, of whatever age) as if it were a fast-food exchange. When you are the the drive-thru and order a #3 with extra pickles, the guy inside repeats your order back to make sure he's got it right before telling you what the total is. He doesn't speak until he's sure you're done speaking and that he's heard you correctly.

So, in the case of your toddler (or mine), when the kid is upset, instead of saying "It's okay, it's okay" while they are hysterical, repeat back to them what they are saying (in toddler-ese). They get to speak first because they are upset. You should also hit their "sweet spot," mirroring back their emotions, maybe ratcheted down a notch or two. So be sad when your little one is sad, be angry or scared when they are. Your little one, if this works right, recognizes that you hear them and empathize and then they calm down enough to hear what you have to say. When it's your turn to speak, you can remind them of the rule they just broke or distract or give them an alternative or whatever else you need to do diffuse the situtation. In Cate's case, sometimes just calming down is enough to diffuse the situation. Karp reminds us that these are the kind of interactions we have with our toddlers when they are excited. He gives the example of a kid who climbs to the top of the slide by herself for the first time. We let her express her enthusiasm first and we mirror that enthusiasm, in toddler-ese ("You climbed up! All the way! Yay!") before we then take our turn ("I'm so proud of you.")

A typical exchange here goes something like this:

Cate (hysterically crying because Frances won't let her stand in front of the sink to brush her teeth): I want to brush my teeth! I want to brush my teeth! Frances is breaking my feelings!

Me (getting down to her level): What's wrong Cate?

Cate: I was brushing and Frances won't let me. I want to brush my teeth. Frances is mean. She broke my feelings.

Me (with a sad voice): You want to brush your teeth?

Cate: Yes.

Me: Catie sad? Sad sad Catie?

Cate: Hmm hmm.

Me: Why don't we wait to for Frances to finish and then we can take our turn.

Cate: Okay.

On other mornings, there would be hysterical tears and yelling the whole time we're getting ready as I try to explain to Cate that she can just wait her turn or get her to brush her teeth in the other bathroom. Now, it's brief exchange in which I get her to calm down and we move on.

We're about a week into our campaign to get Cate to act like human child and not wild animal and it's going well. We are now adding in some of Karp's time-in suggestions and those are going well to.

Again, in my pre-Cate life I the very idea of reading a book to figure out how to raise your kid was just plain silly and wrong-headed. And, again, I'm not sure these tricks would have worked with Frances (Frances *hated* baby talk and responded, still does, best when you talked to her reasonably and truthfully), but this book is really helping with Cate.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Afrogeek Mom Recommends: Happiest Toddler on the Block

Our three year old has the nickname "Barbarian." She is like some rare exotic forest creature come to live with us, one who has some curiosity about our human customs, but really no intention at all of adopting our ways. We are at a complete loss about what to do to civilize this creature, which is how we wound up spending our last date night in a bookstore looking through advice books about child-rearing.

Let me back up a bit and tell you a little something about kid #1. She certainly had her share barbarian tendencies. (I remember distinctly deciding when she was three and in the seemingly constant throes of temper tantrums that I was never having another kid.) But, all things considered, she was infinitely easier. We did a modified version of attachment parenting with her: we fed on demand, we had a family bed for three years, we held her has much as possible, we gave her as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. All of that seemed really natural to us and, frankly, worked brilliantly. When she started to walk and crawl we removed all breakable and dangerous objects from the low shelves and replaced them with her toys and books. She had (mostly) free reign of our apartment because we felt that it was her space as much as ours. We believed very strongly that little people, like big people, want to be treated with respect and dignity. So we explained rules to her instead of just handing down edicts. We set reasonable boundaries with reasonable consequences for stepping outside of them. Again, this all worked brilliantly. Our first kid is naturally a thinker and a rule follower--she likes things explained to her, in detail; she needs to know the whole plan before you execute it; she hates baby talk. We think she's turned out great. We felt we were great parents.

Then the universe sent us kid #2. None of our parenting tricks worked. As an infant, she was most content when left alone. She didn't want to be held or cuddled. She didn't want us to sing or coo. She wanted us to meet her needs and go away. When she learned how to walk she started trying to meet her needs herself, often going to the refrigerator or pantry to try to get her own juice or snack. She doesn't seem to care at all about rules. She is a big drama queen (one of her first phrases was "That's so tragic.") and an even bigger bully (she, at 3, thinks nothing of kicking or throwing something at her 8 year old sister). In short, we have a kid we don't know how to parent. So we went looking to a book.

Harvey Karp's assertion that toddlers (1-4 year olds) are like cavemen is exactly the kind of thing that would have had me rolling my eyes with my first kid. But, wow, is it an accurate description of kid #2.

We've been trying two of his techniques, the Fast-Food Rule and Toddler-ese. Again, if I had read this book 5 years ago, I would have scoffed. The idea of talking in "toddler-ese" and hitting my kid's emotional "sweet spot" when she's having tantrum would have read to me like complete pseudo-psychological nonsense. (We always refused to participate in the first kid's tantrums. We waited for her to return to a state of reasonable calm.) Truthfully, it read kind of like that now. Until I tried it.

Cate, since she's been potty-trained, wakes up once or twice a night to go to the bathroom. Only, she's so sleepy she doesn't quite realize she needs to go and gets really angry when you try to make her go. It's been a nightly fight for about a month now. Out of frustration I tried the fast-food rule and toddler-ese. Instead of saying, "Cate, you need to go to the bathroom. Let's go to the bathroom so you can go back to bed," in a sleepy voice that imitated her sleepy state, I said, "Sleepy? Sleepy? Catie sleepy?" She gave her little eyes a rub and shook her head. I said, again, in a sleepy voice, "So tired. I know. Let's potty and snuggle back in bed." Another nod. She went to the bathroom with no problem and went right back to sleep. No tears. No tantrums. No yelling. Amazing.

I was really skeptical of this book (And self-help books generally) and I'm not convinced it would have worked for the first kid, but I have to say, it seems to be doing the trick. She isn't civilized yet, but there seems to be hope.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Night Random-ness

Random #1
The new television ads for Slumdog Millionaire are touting it as the most moving love story of the season. There a great shots of kisses and long, soulful looks against a soundtrack of almost riotous Bollywood music. Now, I have no problem with the characterization of this movie as a love story because it certainly is that. But it's also, in many ways, for large stretches of the movie, a deeply disturbing movie. It's about a guy's love for a girl and about his run on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; but it is also about orphan brothers from the slums of Mumbai and the things they need to do and are forced to do to survive. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the movie (I actually loved it). I'm just saying these new commercials are a bit dishonest.

Random #2
What kind sick, twisted universe do we live in that gives your child a 102 degree fever at 3am that then drops to 100 by 7am and 98 by the time you get to the pediatrician's drop-in hours at 8am? What the hell is that?

Speaking of hell--is there any more hellish place that drop-in hours on a Friday morning? Exhausted parents (because we've been up all night) with grumpy, germy kids all trying to get seen by the doctor before the weekend. We love our pediatrician and have no complaints at all about the care we get. But the 90 minutes we sat before we got to see the doctor (all to find out Frances *doesn't* have strep throat, just some random virus) even had me a little testy.

Random #3
I'm reading Order of the Phoenix with Frances. This is her first time through it (when we tried to read it aloud to her when it first came out, she told us it was too scary and, therefore, inappropriate for poppets; she said the same thing about Revenge of the Sith and still refuses to see it; this is heartbreaking to her father and I, but I digress) and my third time. Two things strike this time around. First, there is no way I would let my kid go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a crazily scary and dangerous place. I suppose parents don't really know what's going on because Umbridge is monitoring all lines of communication and isn't letting out any bad news, but still. How many times does Voldemort have to attack Harry in or around Hogwarts before parents say enough?

Second, if Frances wrote fan fiction, she'd write great Mary Sue stories about her adventures with Fred and George Weasley and Lee Jordan. I used to, along with my best friend from middle school, write Mary Sue fic about our adventures with Bon Jovi and Whitesnake.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Mardi Gras!

I started to list Mardi Gras as a black thing that I love, but since it's actually a Catholic thing and not a black thing, it doesn't really qualify.

[This is Brian. She's not from New Orleans, so she doesn' t know about the foul debauchery that takes place at Congo Square (the corner of Rampart and Claiborne). There's nothing remotely Catholic about that!]

True, I have never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Nice Catholic girls from Southwest Louisiana were not allowed to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (or any reason really) for fear that we would be turned into drunken sluts as soon as we crossed the city limits. (Though, to be fair, it is considered conventional wisdom at home that only tourists flash their tits for beads. Native girls know someone might see you and tell your mother, and you can't have that.) No, all of my Mardi Gras celebrations were spent in Lafayette, LA. You could take your kids and your grandmother and eat and drink and be merry for five days straight before you fasted and contemplated the sacrifice of Jesus for 40 days.

We are really missing Mardi Gras today.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Rec: Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin

Okay, I clearly suck at writing every day. But I'm here today, so let's get going.

I've just finished reading Jump at the Sun by Kim McLarin. It's hard to describe what this book is about because it's about so many things really, but at its root it's about maternal ambivalence. The protagonist, Grace, is a black women who has recently located to the suburbs of Boston with her husband and two daugthers. She is a sociologist who did not earn tenure at Duke and who is presently staying at home with her children. The book opens with her desperate realization that the unprotected sex she had with her husband could very well lead to baby #3 and that's the last thing she wants. The story then becomes her own articulation of her ambivalence and desperation, interwoven with the stories of her mother and grandmother, two women who made very different choices about the way they mothered.

This book was riveting and disturbing. At one point Grace is having a day that is very familiar to me--her children are unexpectedly out of school and are demanding to be entertained every minute of the day. She is at her wit's end, tired of their bickering, bored out of her mind with Candyland, and desperately needing a break. I've been there. I daresay there isn't a mother who hasn't been there. Grace's response to this though, contemplating leaving them (even going so far as to send them into the house and stand on the front porch rationalizing just walking away), freaked me out. I had to put the book away for a few days before I could continue.

What I ultimately loved about this book is how human and flawed Grace is. There is seemingly nothing at all wrong with her life (big house, bills paid, healthy beautiful kids, loving husband), yet still she is unhappy. That made her unhappiness more believable to me because it was real. Sometimes you just don't know what the problem is. McLarin isn't trying to tell me that suburbia is evil or that motherhood is soul-sucking or that black women are the mules of the world (though all those things might be true). She gives me a brief window into the mind of a woman who has tons of questions but very few answers and that, for me, made the book a worthwhile read.