I don’t watch movies the same way

I don’t watch movies the same way anymore.

My worldview has changed.

My reading list has changed.

I’ve changed.

I was taught patriarchy, rape culture, and white supremacy that was packaged as a quality education.

I turned off 15 Minutes. It was what I used to want in a movie. Action, good guys, bad guys. It stars some big-name actors.

The yellow card was thrown at the gratuitous violence against women. A man shows another man two photos of a murdered woman. She’s nearly naked. I assumed that was to get a PG-13 rating, but I checked and its rated R. Fine, a +1 for the fact that she wasn’t naked.

Regardless, it was clearly an appeal to prurient interests merged with the on-going graphic victimization of women in film. Yes, it’s a crime story and the viewer needs to know she was brutally raped and murdered. But it’s tired. I’m tired. Enough with the movies where a key plot point is a dead, naked, brutalized woman and a gaggle of men riding in on their white horses to save the day.

Next up was the red card moment.

There is a scene where a fire marshall portrayed by Edward Burns handcuffs a mugger portrayed by David Alan Grier to a tree and leaves him. He has more important things to do than following standard arrest procedures.

It’s a throwaway scene meant to be funny. Maybe David’s character handcuffed to a tree becomes integral to the plot in a future scene. I’ll never know. I stopped watching.

A year ago I probably would have laughed at it. Not now. Now I see a black man robbed of his dignity. For a laugh.

A black man. A police officer. A tree. Let me tell you how much white supremacy laughed…




Some Sing, Some Cry

Just before heading out of town on vacation I stopped by the library to pick up some audio books and 3DS games for the kids. It was a driving trip and we were facing 24 hours of car time. I’d just finished a 500+ page novel so was looking for a new book for me. I was hoping for a quick, light read. Nothing grabbed my attention in the new release section so I pulled up my Goodreads list and started working it.

As often happens I go through a series of books on my list only to find they are not available at my library or are checked out. It gets to be time-consuming which is why I usually go through the process at home. I like to be in and out of the library unless I’m planning to sit down and read. Eventually, I found a novel that was on my list and available for checkout. I head over to the shelf, see it, and hesitate. It’s thick.

Do I really want to tackle another 500+ page novel? I’m a slow reader. I get distracted. It seems overwhelming. I check out the synopsis on the inner flap and am intrigued. I decided to go for it. That was a good decision.

It has been over a month since I finished reading Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange and Ifa Bayeza. It was returned to the library and remains in my thoughts. Questions continue to invade my mind about the characters. I need to read this book again.

Some Sing, Some Cry is at times a difficult read. The story opens at the start of the Reconstruction with a matriarch, Bette, and her granddaughter, Dora. It spans the next two generations ending in the somewhat present day. The story is told through the eyes and experiences of the women in the family. Their experiences as daughters, as mothers, and as individuals. There are clear connections between the generations with events and behaviors that repeat.

I found the matriarch, Bette, the most interesting and the most secretive of the characters. Her passages are heavily coded and I feel I missed many of the pieces she shared. There is a rather large reveal in a later chapter that caught me completely unaware. She is the main reason I’m planning to read this book again in the future. I want to know more about her.

There is a missing generation in the story. The children Bette had while enslaved. I’m confident a second reading will reveal more of the cause of their absence to me as I catch more of the coded language. The fate of one of her children is directly revealed and it was not at all what I had assumed.

As I reflect on the book I think Bette and her children are a representation of the lost generational knowledge experienced by those who were enslaved. The story starts where familial choices start to be within their control. Dora, her granddaughter, suffers a similar violence as her grandmother, but she decides her path forward. It was not decided for her as it was for her grandmother.

Each ensuing generation exerts more independence of thought and choice. Some of the choices mirror prior generations. Colorism flows through and impacts each generation in sometimes unexpected ways. There is a dark-skinned daughter and a light-skinned daughter. Life does not offer them equal opportunity and their challenges are different. Each daughter struggles, but I felt that the light-skinned daughters had to reconcile expectation with reality in a way that the dark-skinned daughters did not have to address. There is a certain freedom of choice when there are no expectations, but it is not without cost.

I feel like I’m missing so much of the nuance of what I read. This has been a difficult review to write because of that. I’ve never read a book that has made me think so much about the characters and what I learned about them. I want to return to that space and see the connections that I missed the first time. Usually, I’ll read a book again simply because I enjoyed it. This time I need to read the book again because I want to better understand the characters.

The door to lost expectations

Yesterday did not go according to plan. It’s left me… just… hurt.

I do my best to be an upbeat person and I just keep plugging away until I find something that works. I take breaks and come back with renewed focus and energy. Each time thinking this will be the change that works.

I don’t know that I have that in me anymore. My current reality feels a whole lot like my future reality. And I don’t know how to change that.

Yesterday I bought a new door. A door filled with a string of compromises. The original plan was to replace the door when I remodeled my kitchen. I had gotten quotes from three contractors. The quotes were higher than expected so I held off for a few months to save up a little extra money for the inevitable cost overruns that happen when you gut a kitchen. I nearly had enough extra money saved when I was laid off.

I took the layoff in stride. I’d find a job and it would pay close to or as much as I was making before. That was 14 months ago.

As the months ticked by I had more time to think about my kitchen. I could save some money on the remodel by gutting the kitchen myself with some help from family. It’s only 9 cabinets. Demo costs saved.

My brother in law mentioned that I didn’t have to go down to the subfloor to replace the floor. I could just remove the top layer and replace that. More money saved.

There isn’t enough space where I want to move the refrigerator for a standard cabinet. I decided I didn’t need a custom cabinet and could use shelves to achieve what I needed in that space. More money saved.

I figured out a plan to remodel the kitchen in stages. The cabinets and countertops would be a big project, but the rest could be done as I had the money available. Appliances, backsplash, floor, new lighting and a back door added as money allowed. Every few months another part of the kitchen would get completed.

About that back door. The house was in foreclosure when I bought it 5 years ago and someone had broken in through the back door. The frame was split and starting to pull away from the house. There was no deadbolt because that part of the door and frame were beyond repair. The door knob was functional, but couldn’t be tightened because of damage there too.

I tolerated it for 4 years because I had this plan. This plan to remodel my kitchen. A plan I was so close to executing I had started to pick out the exact products I wanted. Closing in on the vision in my head of a completed kitchen and the first big thing on my house list complete. An expectation dashed by my layoff.

A few months ago I had some friends over for a get-together. It was a beautiful day and people were in and out of my back door. Well, they were until the door locked. No one locked it. It was just locked. I went to figure out what was going on and the door knob snapped off in my hand.

Ok. No biggie. I have a door knob that I bought for the garage but never installed. I’ll just install it here. Except I can’t. The door is so damaged that none of the screws will stay screwed in. I leave it be to deal with another day and rejoin the party.

The next day I take a close look at the door. There is no way to install the new door knob and not have the same issue. There just isn’t enough wood left to properly mount a door knob. I roll up a dish towel and shove it in the hole to keep the bugs out until I get a new door.

I start door shopping. Touring all the home improvement stores, checking out options and pricing. I research online what I should consider in my northern climate when buying a door. I research whether I need a storm door and my options if I just want a screen door.

New plan. A fiberglass door is a lower cost option than steel and a better weather option than wood. I don’t need to get a storm door because fiberglass doors do a better job of sealing than wood doors. That means I can just get a screen door. It also means that I can hold off on buying the screen door until the spring. I picked out a model I liked and headed to the store to make it happen.

Making it happen starts with door measurements. The store sent a contractor out to measure my door and I went in yesterday to order the door. The door was priced at $250 for any of their standard door frame sizes. That’s where things went wrong. I don’t have a standard sized door frame. I need a custom door frame. Custom means money. Lots of money.

The door with the store’s Labor Day custom order discount came to $1,200. I still needed to pay for installation. We priced out two other options to see if a different manufacturer or the store brand would be less expensive. Nope.

I can’t avoid buying a door. I need a new door. A dish towel is not a viable option for the winter. It’s disconcerting that I’m using it as a viable option for now.

The sales person is really great. He plays with the different options to get the price down. The price drops little by little and we get it down to $600. The biggest saving comes with some work for me. The door and frame will be primed, but not painted. I’ll have to do that myself. That saves me around $300 on the door. Time and a gallon of paint will eat into that savings slightly.

Installation and disposal of the existing door adds another $400 to the price. What I had hoped would cost around $500-600 is actually $1,000. Plus door knobs. Plus paint.

I had budgeted for $500. I bit the bullet and bought the door. I just won’t spend that $500 in October and I’ll be even.

Except drain in the utility sink in the basement is leaking. The plan was to let it leak until October and then hire a plumber to check it out. It’s only a few weeks and it only leaks when I do laundry. I decide to ignore this for now and worry about it another day.

I go home to an email about Boy Scouts. The kick off meeting is in a few weeks and last year the dues were $200. I don’t have $200. I was already over budget this month before I bought $1,000 back door.

I go to my daughter’s Jr. High Parent Night. Every year the 6th-grade class does something called Outdoor Ed. It’s a three-day outdoor camp where they learn team work and challenge themselves. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this opportunity. Tonight I learn that the opportunity costs a little over $200 and is due this month.

My day went from $0 to $1,400 in the blink of an eye.

I was done in. I cried in my car on the way home from Parent Night. I dried my tears in the driveway, went in the house and acted like everything was ok.

It’s not.

Today I am broken.

And I don’t know how to fix it.

Surviving July

July has been a month. And then some.

It was supposed to be the month where I wrote every day. Maybe moved two short story ideas from rough draft to final copy. A focus on the memoir entries. Maybe a few reflections on current events to fill in the gaps. Writing. Every day.

Great plan.

And then the rains came.

A torrential downpour that flooded my basement the day before leaving on a vacation. I spent the day moving everything to the dry part of the basement, wet vacuuming up the water, mopping the place down with bleach and setting up the dehumidifier to run non-stop while I was away on vacation. Still had to pack and be ready for an 8-hour drive the next day.

Ready, set, off for vacation.

The plan was to write in my notebook while on vacation. The goal wasn’t 1,000 words a day for those days, but just to write. That didn’t happen. That was not a realistic goal. Two full days of driving to get to our destination, one full day spent with our family quickly followed by another two days of driving. When exactly was I going to write?

No problem. Will pick up the writing when I get home and get back on task.

I felt it starting the last day while driving home. That scratchy throat that means nothing good is coming. We made it home. Exhausted. Woke up the next morning and *IT* had arrived.

The plague.

Some people get a little sick. Not me. I commit. I was taking one of those -D drugs that you have to sign for at the pharmacy. Didn’t help. Spent most of the next 5 days in bed sleeping or out of bed feeling miserable. Writing? What’s that?

Monday was the first day I felt better. I went and did some stuff and was ready for bed by 6. It still lingers today, but it is more allergy-like than illness-like.

My daily writing goal for July is history. All I can do at this point is pick up where I left off and continue on. So that’s what I’m going to do.



Camp Break

I’m taking a couple days off from my memoir writing project. We have a busy day today and tomorrow and I’m finding that my writing flows better when I’m not trying to squeeze it into a set amount of time. 

Camp NaNoWriMo has given me some focus. The memoir entries I’m writing are meant for my kids. Some will be shared with them now and some later as they get older. I started this because I only know bits and pieces of my parents and grandparents stories. We share events. I want to share impacts. 

One thing that surprised me over the past three days is how much I want my mother and my siblings to write about the events thus far. I’m not sure I have the confidence to share with them some of what I have written. I will see how I feel at the end of the writing project. Perhaps imagining their perspectives is where my memoir becomes a novel. 

I’m starting small. Memoir entries. A few short story ideas. I don’t yet feel like I have a novel to write. My plan is to work on my short stories offline today and tomorrow. Flush out the key scenes and then start to build the rest. I haven’t written a short story since high school so I did some research about writing. I’m drawn to the concept of three, but neither of my story ideas have that. I’m hoping I can incorporate it into at least one of them. Need some more noodling to get there. 

There was a knock at the door. On the other side was a man. Scruffy. Dirty. Wearing a large backpack. Unclean.

I clung to the babysitter in fear. She asked who it was.

“It’s my father.”

This is my first physical memory of my father. I remember the fear. Unlike my siblings, I have no memories of the physical violence my mother endured at his hands. Yet this memory speaks to what I don’t remember. Why was I so afraid if I didn’t remember?

My mother talked openly to us about the abuse she suffered. Not the details, but the fact that it occurred. She attributed it to his mental health and drug abuse. I’ve always been aware of the fact, but have no memories of the violence. Yet I was afraid of him.

Other memories of him don’t involve fear. They are glimpses of activities and places. Riding in a convertible. Waiting in the car while my mom went to his hotel room to talk to him. I don’t know if these memories took place over more than that one visit to Milwaukee.

We visited him at least once in Pennsylvania. I remember playing with his band equipment in my maternal grandmother’s basement. This was after my mother had remarried. My step-father was not on the trip with us.

Limited memories of a father I never really knew. That trip to Pennsylvania was the last time I saw him alive. He sent a birthday check once. He called a couple times. The last call was disturbing and my only real glimpse of the darkness.

He called from Hawaii. He told me he was living there and dating a married woman. I felt a deep sadness for him. A grown unhappy man struggling with his demons. Sharing those demons with a child he didn’t know. Looking back I wonder if he was drunk when he called.

My last attempt to contact him was when I was graduating from high school. I sent him an invitation through my paternal grandmother. I didn’t know where he was living. Please come see me graduate from high school. He never responded.

Many years later, after he died, I learned that my half sister was born that day. A half-sister I only knew about because my brother went to our paternal grandmother’s funeral a few years after I graduated.

Somewhere along the way, I forgave him. He was as good a man as he could manage. I wish he sought the therapy he needed and maybe he did. Sometimes I wish he had kept in contact with us and sometimes I don’t. Mostly I feel like it was probably for the best that he wasn’t there.

His absence allowed us to bond with our step-father in a way that may not have been possible had he remained in our lives. We grew up in a stable home with loving parents. I can’t envision a scenario where he is involved in our lives and there is stability.

There are unhealthy parts of me that are a result of him. My first serious boyfriend was an alcoholic. I walked away when I figured that out. There is a level of paranoia about drinking that escalates when I’m dating someone. I’m not sure I will get to a place where that doesn’t happen. I’m not sure I want to.

I’ve never done drugs. Not even pot. And I couldn’t date someone who does. Drugs have always seemed like a riskier proposition than alcohol. No drug addict ever intended to be one. They just wanted to try pot or cocaine or heroin or whatever their drug of choice happens to be. Every addict starts out by “just trying”.

I keep it with me. I’m a child of an addict. I’m at a higher risk for addiction. I’ve avoided drug and alcohol addiction. I have not avoided the addictive behavior. I recognize that.

The fear of my father is forever linked to my first physical memory of him. Fear of becoming him has shaped me. Fear of loving someone like him has shaped me.

I forgave him. I accept my fears and will continue to carry them with me. Forgiven, but not forgotten.

My Memories are Lies

We moved to Milwaukee, WI, in 1974. The Milwaukee Public School System implemented an integration plan in the fall of 1976 when I was starting first grade.

I don’t recall much of first grade. We were renting an apartment and I walked to the local school. It was only a few blocks away.

My memories of integration are from second grade. By then my mother bought a house in a different neighborhood and I changed schools. We lived two blocks from a school, but our street was part of the integration plan. My brother, sister and I walked to a school that was about 10 blocks away. Greenfield Elementary School.

There were kids bussed into Greenfield Elementary School. As I child I assumed they were the integration kids – the black ones. That may not have been the full reality. I didn’t know the racial makeup of the neighborhood. Mine was all white. I have no memories of playing with black friends outside of school. There were no play dates. I played with the kids on my block.

When I would relate the experience to people one of the details that I shared was that I was one of only 4 or 5 white kids in the class. I’m not what caused that distortion. I have memories of playing Superman with one other white kid. All my other playground memories are of running around and playing tag with the black kids. My classroom memories are similar.

The most shocking thing that happened that year was when one of the boys swore at the teacher. They left the room and she washed his mouth out with soap. That’s what we were told anyway.

I have no negative memories of integration. I didn’t like the long walk to school knowing there was a school two blocks away from where we lived. I knew the school was integrated, but I had attended kindergarten and 1st grade with black kids so that wasn’t new to me. Children are aware of societal stressors no matter how much parents try to shield them. I knew the school was integrated and I knew it had a negative connotation. Negative just wasn’t my experience.

My mother put together photo albums for each us after my grandmother died. It had class pictures from my 1st and 2nd-grade classes. The pictures surprised me. They did not align with my memories. My memories contained a lie.

In my 1st-grade picture, there are a few black and brown children in my class. The teacher was black. I don’t have any specific memories of that school other than I used to take a long bus ride home from the sitter’s house. I don’t even remember how I got to the sitter’s house.

Research provided the historical timing of integration in the Milwaukee Public School System. I was not aware of integration in 1st grade. My memories in 2nd grade are connected to the walking distance, but I don’t think that is a complete picture. I don’t think that alone would have created the distortion in my memories.

Kids pick up things even when we don’t intend them to know. The information is incomplete because we don’t talk to them directly and answer their questions. They are left to fill in the details according to the patterns they observe.

I knew integration was bad because that’s the sense the adults around me gave me. There had to be a lot of anxiety associated with it. People don’t like change and will fight it when it is forced on them. Lack of control breeds anxiety and fear. Children can sense that and internalize it.

Racism and white supremacy created the need for integration. Black residents weren’t able to buy or rent outside of certain areas of the city. School districts were drawn along those same lines. It is a common theme in cities throughout the north. Systemic segregation without Jim Crow is still segregation. White people did that and that’s racism.

Every time I hear someone say they are not racist I hear a lie. A lie just like in my memories. It’s a distortion of the truth. Not calling another human being the n-word and being friends with a black person are not a “get out of racism free” cards.

I’m racist. I can’t avoid the network of privileges that are afforded to me. That network is built on white supremacy. We are all a part of a system that continues to perpetuate false narratives using coded language based on racist ideals.

Owning racism is different from acting deliberately racist toward another human being. I work to be aware of the ways in which white supremacy is perpetuated. I work to be vocal in situations where it arises. I have begun to recognize in new ways how I perpetuate it. I frequently fail and am silent. I’m learning to find a voice here in my writing. Preparation is key to confronting racism and white supremacy in the moment.

Effective change comes not just from a desire to change. Change is an action. Learning is required and provides the tools needed to bring a feeling of control back to the situation. I cannot control racism and white supremacy. What I can do is learn better skills to identify and address situations in the moment. I cannot control whether I change someone’s perspective, but I can give them another perspective in the hopes that they understand.

Where I have the biggest sphere of influence is with my children. I don’t want them to be at the midpoint of their lives and reaching this place. I want them at this place when they first become adults. I want their journey to go further and have a greater impact than mine.

I don’t know that I believe in the mountaintop. It seems to be a mythical goal to me. I’m choosing to focus on the journey and picking a path with the destination in mind.