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.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Black Things I Love #8: The Cosby Show

When I was in college (1991-1996, the heyday of neo-black nationalism), it was de rigeur to be deeply suspicious of The Cosby Show. The family was too unrealistic, the argument, trying too hard to prove to white America that black folks were just like everybody else, too eager to ignore the realities of black life. I wasn't a nationalist, but I sympathized with others' frustrations with the show. The life of the Cosbys certainly looked nothing like my black life.

Watching the show now, with my own black family, is a very different experience. My life still doesn't look like the Cosbys', though it is significantly closer than when I was in college, but I can appreciate what Bill Cosby was trying to do. It's nice to be able to turn on a black show that isn't about blackness. I like that the Cosbys were matter-of-factly black, without apology or explanation. I like that it's show that, while not representing my life experiences, nevertheless represents my experience of my blackness.

And here's what else I like: the completely angst-free portrayal of a two-income household. I love that Claire Huxtable being a mother and wife and lawyer was treated as no big thing--just another part of being a grown up. Does the show completely gloss over the fact that having a successful career and five (!) kids is significantly harder than they make it look? Sure. But again, without apology or explanation, they gave us a woman who mothered her children well, had a career she loved and was good at it, and who had a husband who clearly adored her. Claire Huxtable was too busy living her fabulous life to navel-gaze about having it all. Where can we find that on television now?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Black Things I Love #7: The Electric Slide

I know I 've missed a couple of days. I've had some tooth trauma and a field trip with Frances's school, but I'm back.

First a Frances story: Her class took a field trip to Drayton Hall to learn about the Civil War. At one point, a guide was telling them about the 54th Massachusetts and how the men in that regiment said they would refuse their pay until they were paid equal to white soldiers. My daughter, sitting in the front row of course, says loud enough for everyone to hear, "I guess they never got paid then."
Today's black thing I love is the electric slide. Every wedding reception, graduation party, Saturday BBQ in the park, etc. will, at some point, see a large group of people doing the electric slide. I even remember doing the electric slide on the sidewalk during Mardi Gras as a marching band marched past playing Cameo's "Word Up." It's a fun dance, easy to do, and incredibly egalitarian--young and old, men and women, tragically hip and profoundly uncool, everybody can do it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Black Things I Love #6: Al Green

I've often thought I'd like to write a book about my grandmothers.

My father's mother, Dorothy Mae, aka Dot, was a loud, funny, crude woman who loved Atlanta Braves baseball, fishing, and cold beer. She lived in a big house with a man I only ever knew as Mr. Happy. (I also thought he was a white man until I was in graduate school. I probably would have thought my grandmother was a white woman had I not known she was my grandmother.) She used chamber pots because she didn't trust indoor plumbing and kept a compost heap so she could use the worms for fishing. She bought my sister and I an Atari game system when they first came out and she fed us pineapple juice and toast whenever we slept at her house. We used to love going there.

My mother's mother, Tina, is not loud or crude. She very much believes one needs to behave with a certain amount of decorum in the world. Yet, she is also a woman who wants to be cremated and have her ashes scattered beneath the floorboards of a nightclub she frequented until it burned down. I was thinking about her last night as I watched Justin Timberlake (who comes pretty close to being a black thing I love) sing "Let's Stay Together" with Al Green at last night's Grammys. My earliest memory of Al Green is living in my grandmother's house, before my parents were married, and of spending weekends there after they were married, and hearing my grandmother play Al Green records on Sunday morning. This was a woman who grew up in a traditionally black "holy ghost" church (as we called when I was little) and who married a devout Catholic. There was an awful lot of church in her life. She responded to it by listening to Al Green sing "Love and Happiness" on Sunday morning. My mother says she always played a James Cleveland record first, but I only remember the Al Green.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Al Green at the Grammys.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Black Things I Love #5: Black Panther

Today's edition of Black Things I Love is brought to you byBrian, aka Afrogeek Dad.

The Black Panther. Marvel Comics. King of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. And super kick-ass, bad-ass, super-confident 1960s hero with no need to stick-it-to-the-man. No blaxploitation here. Just a good, well-rounded image of blackness in comics that young readers could read and not feel ashamed of. He wasn't the first black character in comics, but he was the first never to be drawn as a caricature, never to be written speaking false ghetto-ese. He was never a sidekick to or a spin-off of a white character. He didn't get his powers by being someone else's lab assistant. He didn't get his powers in prison. [Note from Conseula: Brian here is bad-mouthing Luke Cage, which I really don't appreciate.] His multiple levels of super-asskickery come only from years of intense training and discipline backed by the science and religion of his own culture. I *heart* the Black fucking Panther.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Black Things I Love #4: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tonight the whole family went to the College of Charleston's Observatory open house. Five telescopes were set got to see the Moon, Venus, the Orion Nebula and lots of other cool stars I'm not going to remember. This outing inspires today's black thing I love: astrophysicist extraordinaire Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Every time I see him on television, he makes me start all over again as a physicist (despite my appalling lack of any real mathematical ability). After his last appearance of the Daily Show, for about a week, I harbored great fantasies about inviting him for a guest lecture at the College. I had the dinner all planned out in my head. Then I found out how much his speaking fee is and realized that dinner will remain a fantasy. He's still pretty awesome, though.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Black Things I Love #3: Lucille Clifton's Homage to My Hips

To say that I weigh more now than I did when I was in college is a laughable understatement. That's me in the picture above. I'm probably 20 or 21 there (though I look 12; how much bigger could my head have gotten?) Since then I've had two kids and embarked on a fairly sedentary career. I used to run. Throughout grad school I was almost always enrolled in a dance class. Brian and I used to hike when we lived in Washington. (We went hiking for our honeymoon on the lovely Whidbey Island.) But life takes its toll and it seems to have taken its greatest toll on my hips.

Now many is the day when I'm perfectly fine with the body I travel the world in. But on those days that I'm not, I pull out this poem and I feel a little better.

homage to my hips
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Somewhere Pecola Breedlove is Crying

I feel inspired by Black Snob's post this morning, On Black Girls, Beauty, and Barbie Dolls. Go read it. You'll be moved, I promise. It was prompted by recent news that advertisers, in response to the popularity and adorable-ness of Sasha and Malia Obama, or the WeeMichelles as they are called over at Michelle Obama Watch, want cute little brown girls for their campaigns and that modeling agencies are scrambling to meet the demand. One agency rep offered this explanation for their lack of diversity:

Marlene Wallach, president of Wilhelmina Kids & Teens, says the First Daughters are tough subjects to match. “It’s a very specific age and a very specific ethnicity, so there aren’t that many girls that would necessarily fit the bill.”

WTF? One doesn't even know where to begin with is. Should we first point out there really isn't anything exotic at all about the "specific ethnicity" of Sasha and Malia? Are there any black people whose family has been here for more than a generation who aren't some crazy mixture of African and European blood? Should we point out that beautiful black girlhood looks like Malia and Sasha but also like Kyla Pratt and Keke Palmer and Willow Smith? Or do we simply point out that this woman clearly has never actually seen little black girls?

In the age of the Obama, when so many things seem possible, this is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night. That people won't see my beautiful black girls, or that people will see them but will read their existence as some sort of aberration. I don't want my girls to be invisible or rare birds. I just want them to be.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Black Things I Love #2: Gumbo

"On a cold winter's day, gumbo is communion for the body."--Brian

I'm sure some food historian out there my take issue with defining gumbo as "black," but as I'm from Louisiana and have never actually eaten gumbo (and I've eaten a lot of gumbo) prepared by someone other than a black woman, I'm going to call it black.

At home there are three questions that matter when meeting someone new: Who's your mama? Are you Catholic? And can you make a roux? While the first two are self-explantory, the third is nonetheless crucial. Roux (pronounced "roo") is the basis of any good gumbo (or etouffee for that matter) and getting it just right--cooking up butter and flour so that it turns a delicious caramel brown, without burning it, is considered an art.

In New Orleans, Brian's home, you can have okra gumbo or seafood gumbo or chicken and sausage gumbo. In Lafayette, where I'm from, we put all of that in the same pot (clearly the superior way to eat gumbo, though Brian doesn't let me cook it this way). If you meet anyone who is putting tomatoes or any other vegetable that isn't celery, onions, or bell pepper (the holy trinity of Cajun/Creole cooking), you know that person is making their gumbo all wrong.

Here's a last quote from Brian: "Make sure you put a little bit of cayenne pepper on top of your serving so that the gumbo lingers with you throughout the day, like any good sensual experience." (Actually what Brian said was quite a bit dirtier than that, but I've cleaned it up for you.)