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.