Monday, October 27, 2008


"When the poet Jean Toomer walked through the South in the early twenties, he discovered a curious thing: black women whose spirituality was so intense, so deep, so unconscious, that they were themselves unaware of the richness they held. They stumbled blindly through their lives: creatures so abused and mutilated in body, so dimmed and confused by pain, that they considered themselves unworthy even of hope. In the selfless abstractions their bodies became to the men who used them, they became more than 'sexual objects,' more even than mere women: they became "Saints." Instead of being perceived as whole persons, their bodies became shrines: what was thought to be their minds became temples suitable for worship. These crazy Saints stared out at the world, wildly, like lunatics--or quietly, like suicides; and the 'God' that was in their gaze was as mute as a great stone." ~ Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens

Why have I started this entry with this particular quote? I am a white woman. And when I say, "But I know of this because I've been there, done that," I am told that a white woman cannot understand the plight of the black woman. I am told that no matter what I have experienced in my lifetime, it is nowhere near what women of color have experienced. If this is so, then why do these words of Alice Walker hold such meaning for me? Enough meaning to affect the story I am writing?

There is this competitive thing among all human creatures. Everyone wants to be top dog. But there are only so many top dog slots. And I recall a thing or two that my mother used to say when I was a kid. "The one who talks the loudest gets the furthest." Who said, "Walk softly and carry a big stick"? "There's always someone else worse off than you, if you think about it long enough." Who said, "You think too much"? "(S)He who laughs last laughs longest and loudest." Who said, "It ain't over til the fat lady sings"?

Disability. If you have a disability and inform the university of it, they will see that you get what you need to have equal opportunity to the same education as everyone else. But, who wants to broadcast their disabilities? If you can't hear, mostly it must be because you're getting old(er). If you're older everyone looks at you and smiles as if to say, "It's admirable that, at your age, you are going to school. But, what are you going to do with it?" "I don't mean to say you're old, but..." If you are too small, too overweight, too anything, you are bullied by other people who are more perfect...well, closer to the ideal human being. If you are over age 37 you can't get a job with the U.S. government because you are "too old." If you are a threat to someone, you are blackballed. If your skin isn't the right color...if you are female...if you are impoverished...

The women in my family who preceded me were deeply spiritual, relying heavily on their faith to endure the hardships that came to them. My great-grandmother spoke about her mother who had "married beneath her station," so her father disowned her. And didn't I read just a few days ago that English aristocrats who didn't want someone to be in their vicinity would pay passage for the offender(s) to the U.S. Louisa and her husband, John, within a month of their marriage, found themselves on the ship, The Atlantic, in New York harbor. They came into the U.S. through Castle Garden, NY, which predates Ellis Island. They made their way to Pittsburgh, Pa. where he secured a job as a bookkeeper. Three years later Louisa was so homesick they packed up their two daughters and their belongings and returned to England. But something unpleasant happened, and the couple, another three years later, returned to Pittsburgh. Great-grandmother said her mama died of a broken heart, even if the death certificate says "enteritis."

When their father was struck by a train and killed in 1891, the children were taken in by various families. Great-grandmother was the second eldest. She was smart and did well in school. So well that the family who took her in were intimidated enough to stop her going to school. She worked cleaning house and working in the fields until she married. Her husband, at least in their older years, was an alcoholic from whom she was rescued by her daughter and son-in-law, my grandparents. My grandfather died at age 48 in 1945. My step-grandfather battered my grandmother. My mother married my father. There were issues--marital and health--between and for each of them. There have been issues--marital, financial--for DH and me. And these things have affected our children, as well.

Everyone lives during hardship at some time in their lives. I'm not sure sidestepping hardship is a good thing because it's the hardships that you endure, from which you rise from the ashes like the phoenix, and come out stronger, wiser and a better person. At least, that's what I have found. Everyone has at least one bully in their lifetimes. Well, that's what I have found in my experiences. Please understand, I am not making a blanket statement, a one-size-fits-all statement that applies to every situation. I can speak only from where I am.

Nobody has burned a cross in my front yard ever. But how many times did I walk around the bend in the road from school and find four or five bullies pinning my little brother to the ground and beating his head against the macadam street? And when I started high school, that jock from the in-crowd...if he saw me 50 times a day went out of his way to humiliate me in front of everyone in the hall--and the hall always seemed to be packed--50 times a day. And I found myself taking alternative routes so he wouldn't see me and start running me down. And the teachers didn't stop that bullying. How many times did someone at church remark that my family "wasn't regular" because we weren't at church every time the doors opened and piety means being at church every time those doors open. Oh. That would be machiavellian thought because Machiavelli wrote that nobody knows who we are on the inside. We are known by how we are on the outside. Which conflicts with something else my mother said, "Don't judge a book by its cover."

I am not saying that women of color haven't been treated horribly. I'm saying that because I'm white does not mean I don't understand hurt, discrimination and cruelty. And I guess my writing is going to reflect that.

William Shakespeare, like all writers, wrote about what he knew. We can't help but do that. It's how we manipulate our experiences to a style that doesn't tattle on the people in our lives, but does have appeal to the masses because they can relate to those things writers write about. So it is little wonder why fledgling writers wet behind the ears are advised, "Write what you know."

Now, get busy. Write what YOU know. Somewhere. In a notebook, journal or diary. In a blog. In a piece of fiction that you will submit. Write what you know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Eight weeks and counting

Has anyone visited my blog? I can't blame them if they are not. When was my last entry? It isn't really AD/HD, though it may appear that I can't stay focused on one thing long enough to finish the tasks. It's something called "Overload." And I have no one to blame but myself. School. Family. Home. Parents. Children. Grandchildren. Job. Studying. Writing.

What are my priorities, you ask? I just listed them, though not by order of importance. Actually, that order can change at the drop of a hat! Or at the changes in the household, as when all the children are independent most of the time but still manage to have needs at vital moments in the rest of the Big Picture.

But this is a writing blog. So, OK. Let me write a bit about what I'm trying to accomplish and why. First, I am publicist for a counseling agency, and have been for nearly nine years. Can it really be over nine years since I left the newspaper??? At the very least, I have a weekly article to write. I also am an English major trying to wrap up my senior year and graduate by May. That means an African-American literature class and an upper level Shakespeare class and five hours a week of novel addition to the Spanish class. Seems like there should be plenty of time for writing that novel, doesn't it?

Well, then, why am I procrastinating? Because I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work the prof expects for the Shakespeare class. Someone NOT taking the class looked at the essay writing assignment and said, "This sounds like a thesis!" Well, that's what I thought, but who am I? So, I will use four of Shakespeare's plays to discuss "power," Machiavellianism and the kings about whom Shakespeare wrote. I did pull out something called "History's Timeline" and I got a book entitled "Origins of English History." The paper will get done...and studying for the quiz we will take Thursday night...over, I am not sure what.

Then there's the African-American lit class. I had not thought about there being such a genre until last semester's U.S. Literature, 1865-1945 class. Langston Hughes wrote about lynching. This was a man who lived in my lifetime, and lynching was still happening in 1974--the year my first child was born! In the late 20th century!!! How could this possibly be in the modern world? But just today I saw a book online about slavery today and what we can do to stop it. Exploitation of people in foreign countries or exploitation of Americans? Because aren't we being, at the very least, discriminated against in the employment market? And someone made a very good point last night: In World War II the factories were turned into plants to manufacture war needs. But there are no factories here to do this now. Where is our war manufacturing work at? Some foreign country that works for pennies against our dollars? Is our own government for the people by the people shipping that work overseas because it's cheaper there? What are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to live on? Or is this a way to get Americans to take low-paying jobs...Maybe I give the government leadership too much credit for manipulation.

Goodness! Sounds like a rebel has taken over my laptop. In light of everything that is happening around the world, I am concerned for the wellbeing of my world, my community, my family. And I keep telling myself that the sun will still rise again tomorrow as it has done for eons. Life will still keep keeping on, even if the economy is belly-up and, well, let's face it. In my world recession is spelled D-E-P-R-E-S-S-I-O-N. Let's fess up to it instead of building a house of cards. The first step is admitting the problem. It gets easier with each step after that, right?

OK. Let me walk away from that. African-American Literature has a way of making a body sit up and take notice. It forces everyone, regardless of color or any other difference, to stop and look at their own belief systems, their own values systems. I can say to myself, "Self, you know it doesn't matter what color a person's skin is. You know Mama would still beat on you if you were disrespectful to anyone of any color." I can say to myself, "Color doesn't define intelligence." But in all honesty, I can remember a time when Affirmative Action came along. Equal Opportunity Employment. And I thought then, what if that meant my husband--who might be more qualified for the job--wouldn't get it because there were obligations to hire minorities who might or might not be qualified. But the feds insisted they had to be hired anyway. They deserve the jobs, but my family has the same right. If it IS a right.

OK. I'm slipping away from my focus again, it appears. Except that writers write about the things they observe in their lifetime. Shakespeare did that. He didn't care whether he was accurate about history or not, said our prof. He wrote about the issues in his lifetime, but he put those stories into times long past. Shakespeare wrote during the reigns of Elizabeth I of England and her successor, James I of England (James VI of Scotland). And Elizabeth was qoted as saying that she was Richard III. Or was it II?

So I have this novel to write over this semester and next. And I'm lost. I am completely lost! How could I have let go the thread of the novel I was so sure I knew I was going to write? Is it because it is not my passion? When I said, "I liked So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba. It spoke to me and I will write MY story in a similar manner," what was I thinking? Why did I feel that way? Who were the characters that came to mind?

Should I be honest at this point? I am not writing true to the characters. I'm trying to force it to be what is "right" and "acceptable." But the characters want their story told the way it is.

I remember a long-ago friend. When we first met I thought she was obnoxious and loud. In fact, I was kind to her but I didn't really want to have a friendship with her. But I got to know her and found her to be a compassionate, considerate human being, a wonderful sense of humor. I enjoyed the hours we spent together talking, laughing. She and her son were at our house frequently.

But then some truths came to light. And THAT is the story that begs to be told. But how will people interpret it? Will it be acceptable? How can I MAKE it acceptable? Or CAN I? The story has to be written as it is, as the characters dictate because it is THEIR story, THEIR lives, not mine.

Does this make sense to anyone but me?