Thursday, March 15, 2012


When spring arrives, I sometimes get the $1.49 bunches of daffodils from Trader Joe's--just because.

Yesterday, I was in Safeway. It was late and I was tired. There was only one checkout line open. But I picked up one bunch of the 2/$3 daffodils, which are larger than the ones at Trader Joe's. I figured I'd give them a try.

The woman in front of me was annoying me with her loud cell phone talking, her paying with a check, and her not quite moving things along so I could get home.

In my saintly pose, I bore this "trial" as best I could. Suddenly she turned to me and said that those daffodils were amazing and that they bloomed so big. I smiled as I replied. My heart softened...even though I still wanted her to hurry up.

And she was right, late last night many of the flowers were closed, but by this morning they had bloomed quite large, even with minimal sunlight peeking through the blinds.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ask a Simple Question...(or a Day in the Life in My ESL class)

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I gave my Advanced Conversation ESL students what I thought would be a simple assignment, one that would give them some much-needed time listening to English and would also provide breezy conversation topics for class--

I simply said they should watch a TV show/movie or listen to a radio program in English and report back.

As usual, things that seem simple get complicated for various reasons and the conversations that resulted were useful but not exactly breezy. I debated about whether to get to the book and group work first but decided to go with reports first and group work later. Since some students were absent, I let the reports go on a little longer than usual and determined that the next report would be timed (this means students have to edit themselves and think about what matters most). All in all, English was practiced and new vocabulary was explained and that is the main objective.

Student #1: She and her daughter went to the Redbox to get Love, which she said is the sequel to Honey. When the opened the case, the movie inside was not Love, but a filmed version of a Tyler Perry play. The student enjoyed the movie very much and found it inspirational.

Student #2: Put her glasses on and jokingly referred to this action as "middle age crisis" as she looked at her notes. It seemed that outside of class she had argued with Student #3 about whether or not the assignment was to listen to/watch an interview. She watched a YouTube interview with author Mary Higgins Clark and seemed to be reading a transcript of the article verbatim. I gently interrupted to remind her that the assignment was to tell us her thoughts about what she had seen.

Student #3: Watched a movie she called, "Tina Turner." She told a bit about some of the movie's pleasant aspects, but when she started to discuss the abuse Ike Turner heaped upon Tina, Student #2 got upset. Meanwhile, Student #3, smiling, continued to tell the story, recounting what happened when Tina finally left Ike. She ended by singing a few seconds of "What's Love Got to Do with It."

The other students sat there aghast. Student #1 asked if this was based on a true story and later commented that Student #3 was "a romantic."

Student #4: Spoke with great enthusiasm about "Walking Dead," which he watch online. This prompted a brief discussion about the existence of zombies. There was also a lot of talk of blood and shootings and Muslim students seemed scandalized by the details of a woman who ends up impregnated by another man (her husband's best friend) because she thought her husband was dead (he wasn't).

Student #5: Had been constructing a paper airplane during one of the earlier presentations. When he began to speak, I saw that he had done this to use it as a prop to explain a detail related to his story. I say his story because, assignment be damned, he announced that he was going to talk about "real life." And talk about real life he did. In previous classes, he has revealed his work as an army engineer for a Latin American country. He told of how a helicopter pilot he worked with and considered a brother was shot in the head during skirmish at a border. He was on the ground getting missiles ready to be loaded onto the helicopter. In the six hours it took to finish their tasks and arrange for the pilot's body to be picked up, there wasn't time to really mourn him, but they did drape a flag over his body. in the end, someone realized the pilot was still breathing.

The other students had a lot of questions and it seems that skirmish was part of an armed conflict that originated in the 1940s and was reignited in the 1990s. Everyone wanted to know who won. I said in war, no one wins. Student #5 concluded that unlike what happened in the 1940s, this time his country won the conflict (with 30 casualties to the other country's 1000) but they lost in a diplomatic sense because there had been international pressure trying to get both sides to end the conflict much sooner. Student #2 said it was "lose-lose."

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Black List

While I was at the press preview for The Black List, I was so taken with it, I kind of forgot why I was there. When a publicist came over to ask me if I was a reporter, I almost said, "no." Since I am a freelance writer I don't think of myself as a reporter and in that moment I was so occupied with enjoying the exhibit, my occupation was an afterthought.

In that moment, I was looking at a photo of Patrick Robinson and admiring his 'fro.

It's a great exhibit and if you're in or around DC you should definitely see it.

See Insightful Photo Exhibit "The Black List" at the Nat'l Portrait Gallery
"While I attend a number of art exhibition previews and I am glad to do so, it is not often that I walk into the room and stop in my tracks. Seeing The National Portrait Gallery's exhibit “The Black List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders” caused me to do just this.

Historically, the term “blacklist” referred to a group of people marginalized and denied work or social approval. "The Black List" was created out of the inspiration to change the meaning of the term to become that of a roll call of distinction."

Photo of Angela Davis - Timothy Greenfield-Sanders/www.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Toilet Paper Masks

I went to a press preview for a new National Portrait Gallery exhibit on Gertrude Stein. It was interesting and as always, I like getting an advanced look at an exhibit and hearing curators give background...but what really fascinated me was a Life magazine ad that was next to story by Stein.

It was an ad for a Scott Tissue emergency mask that was "used only once and is instantly disposable." It was illustrated with pictures, one of a father bending over a newborn alongside the doctor and one of a mother leaning over a baby. The lower halves of both parents' faces were covered with the "tissue mask" and there were written instructions for how one could use sheets of toilet tissue, secured with a safety pin, as a mask to prevent the spread of germs.

Was this really a serious attempt to market an alternative use for toilet paper? I don't know. That was a different time.

Given what I learned about Gertrude Stein and of her high opinion of her own genius, she might be dismayed that I took this much time to ponder a toilet paper mask instead of concentrating on her writing on the opposite page. Then again, she might not care at all.

Friday, September 09, 2011

How Do You Define "Open Forum?"

As is my custom, I write pieces on other blogs and then use my own blog to give a "behind-the-scenes" look at what else was going on while I was writing the piece or at the event. Is that wrong? I don't think so. Everything doesn't fit everywhere. There is a time, a place and a blog for everything...and this was precisely the loud debate that was raging while I was trying to take in
Thought-Provoking Art at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

Security staff gathered in the hallway outside the main exhibit room at the museum argued over what kind of comments should be made to supervisors and whether or not open forums were the right place for these comments. The very notion that an argument about who can and should say what and when they should say it would be going on as I viewed the art of a very expressive artist was just too tantalizing to ignore. However, as it wore on, I grew tired of it. Their loud discussion interfered with my enjoyment of the art. I'm all about free speech, freedom of expression and whatnot, but sometimes employees of a place should choose to make their expression quieter or table it for another time. (Though I know this is hard to do when one is all fired up.)

Upon entering, I heard "You're asking me to censor myself. I am not going to be responsible for someone carrying a story on."

"What I'm saying is there is a time and place for everything."

It seemed that there were several issues: the idea that people can overhear things and how responsible you are for what they my mishear and how to make comments to a supervisor.

The first speaker threw down the gauntlet and asked, "How do you define open forum?"

One man was up against several colleagues and he was not backing down. "All fights are to the death. That's my attitude."

"Every fight is not a battle. You have to pick and choose you battles," one of his opponents replied.

"The world needed MLK and Booker T. They both got things done...but who got the most done--the fighter."

For my part, I wanted to tell them to be quiet, and in the 20 minutes or so I spent there, voices were raised and the circular discussion seemed to have no exit point. The desk-gladiator did care that the lions were circling; he was gonna keep swinging until the very end. I don't demand absolute silence, but they were too loud and if museums consider their patrons to be customers, then customers don't need to be exposed to inside politics in that fashion. But this happens everywhere--at stores, restaurants, wherever you go staff argues publicly about the inner workings of a place and you get to hear all about it.

I had arrived tired and wanted the transcendental experience of art to revive me a little. I left just as tired. It was my choice to leave without addressing them directly. Though I left loudly, rolling my eyes and sighing audibly with annoyance in their direction, I guess by the desk-gladiator's rules, I lost the fight. But every fight is not a battle and as always, I left with a story.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Going Postal: There May Not Always Be Work at the Post Office

This morning I woke to the news that the U.S. Postal Service is warning Congress that it may shutdown before the year is over.

I recently ended up at the National Postal Museum as I was trying to get to the Great Migration exhibit at Union Station next door. In a blog for I wrote:
"I had been to this museum once before, years ago when I first arrived in DC and then I thought nothing of it…but now being in a postal museum seems prescient--will a national postal service one day be a thing of the past?"

This was just last week and I'm sure my thoughts were influenced by having read "What we'll lose if we lose the post office" in The Washington Post. Throughout the museum, I saw pictures reminding me that the postal service employed many African Americans, even when other places wouldn't. It wasn't necessarily smooth sailing because employment did not mean there was no discrimination, but still, employment at the post office helped lift families out of poverty.

The ripple effect of the end of postal service would be huge. For years there was talk of cutting Saturday service and there was an outcry against it. I don't know that this would have prevented all of its fiscal woes, but some cuts and being willing to do with less in some capacity may have kept things from getting to this point.

Here is my blog post about my museum visit: A Visit to the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

PHOTO: African American postmen loading bags of mail into U.S. mail trucks (1960s)
Warren K. Lefler, photographer/ Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Monday, September 05, 2011

Chasing Julius Caesar

I really persevered to get into the Shakespeare Free For All this year. I didn't make it until the last day and the website was so bogged down, that pages wouldn't load so I could enter the online lottery for tickets. I called to register for the lottery via phone, but I wasn't selected. I kinda gave up, but when I check Facebook on my phone after church, I saw that on their Facebook page the theater was telling people to show up for "standby" passes.

Instead of being in line for hours ahead of the regular giveaway, I got a standby pass, sat down for 1/2 an hour and then got in line to see if I'd make it into the show. I thought of calling it a day because 73 seemed like a high number. I heard a man who was 102 on his cell phone talking about how confident he was that he'd get in and I told myself it'd be better to wait.
So I made it in and I'm glad I waited. I'd never seen Julius Caesar (though I think I read it in high school) and since I really like Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies, a free performance was a great way to test out a historical play. Here is what stood out for me:

-->The rhythm of the speech when Cassius tells Brutus that the there is no reason why the name of Caesar should be "sounded" more than Brutus (Act 1, Scene 2) reminded me of the "a rose by any other name"speech in Romeo and Juliet. They are talking about very different things of course, but the questioning nature of it made me think of Juliet.

-->The audience laughed when Caska said "it was Greek to me" and I wondered if audiences in Shakespeare's day would have had the same reaction. The line wasn't really played for laughs, but the recognition of that phrase was amusing in a way that other familiar phrases ("dogs of war" "Friends, Romans, Countrymen) were not.

-->The idea Brutus has for the conspirators to run out into the streets with bloody hands and daggers and crying "Peace! Liberty! Freedom!" to allay any fears the people might have after Caesar is assassinated (Act 3 Scene 1) seemed appalling to me…but then I thought of modern political maneuvers that fit into that mold. It is more graphic to run in the streets with blood on your hands but washing your hands first before you cry peace doesn't make it better.

-->Speaking of blood…this production was very bloody, but that is the point of the story. Seeing murder onstage and knowing they are using fake blood capsules doesn't make it less unsettling. People all around (including me at times) were on the edge of their seats.

-->The "Friends, Romans" phrase and "Et tu, Brute" are the parts of the play that I hear most often in popular culture so I was caught unaware by the masterful manipulation of Mark Antony. The woman next to me and I discussed it at intermission. He was cold.

-->Mark Antony's speech and the way he had the people on puppet strings, plus tragedy that befell a man in the wrong place at the wrong time who had the same name as one of the conspirators made me think about Brutus speech about "a tide in the affairs of men."

Full of hubris, Caesar got killed, but he overshadowed Rome and its people for years to come. He isn't even alive past intermission in the play and he has been long gone, but we still talk about him because he worked to ensure that his legacy would live on.

-->With all the blood and political intrigue, I'm surprised Julius Caesar is not modernized more often. The production I saw was quite riveting.

On a lighter note, Caska was played by Geoffrey Owens, who also played Elvin on The Cosby Show. And before now, I'd only seen bits of Julius Caesar acted out on The Cosby Show.

Theo and Cockroach rap version of Mark Antony's speech

Visiting professors and Grandpa Huxtable recite passages of Julius Caesar for the family

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Great Migration: In which I teach a sweet old lady how to use Google

The Great Migration-a period of time when African-Americans left the South for the North (and West) in the hopes of better lives-is something I obsess about a little. I was at Union Station looking for the Great Migration exhibit that I read about and couldn't seem to find it. When I asked someone who worked there, she said it wasn't there and that people had been asking her about it for over a week. That seemed strange to me…things are misreported all the time, but the article I had read had been so specific.

So I went over the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum so I could still get my exhibit-on. In one of those "I just have to try" moments, I asked the woman at the front desk if she knew anything about the exhibit that was supposed to be at Union Station. She didn't. But she offered to look it up for me online.

As it turns out she was offering to look it up within the Smithsonian website that was the homepage on her computer. She seemed to be a very sweet old lady. For a moment, I thought I'd just let her look it up there, not find it because this exhibit had nothing to do with the Smithsonian, and then I'd be on my way…

But rather than stand there and wait and be polite while she painstakingly and slowly tried to type in the info ("How do you spell migration?" she asked.), I told her to type the words into the Google search bar.

By the time we got to the original article, I had shown her how to search for things on Google (typing in 'Great Migration' only would yield all kinds of unrelated info, but typing in "Great Migration Union Station DC' actually lead to an article about the exhibit), and how to scroll down to see more than a few results.

It was a great exchange--I got info on the exact location of the exhibit and got to hear her reminisce about how she remembered her mother talking to her the experience of migrating to the North. She learned about the exhibit next door at Union Station and did her first search on Google.

As for the exhibit itself, there was not a lot to it. It was sponsored by Amtrak and set up near one of the gates people use when they board trains. Really, it was some very large banners that were informative, but not worth a special trip. The Great Migration lasted for decades, waxing and waning at different points from 1915 to 1970, but they confined to a much shorter time period.

And now of course, we have the reverse Great Migration, which is no less interesting than the Great Migration and something in which I have taken part. I'm not in the deep South, but I have left (what I consider to be) the North. In a discussion with my North Carolina cousins, they declared DC to still be North. That's fine. I just remember my father telling me that an old deacon at my church back home in Buffalo could not understand why young people wanted to move to Georgia. His attitude was that he left and was certainly not going back. I feel the same way about Buffalo, so if I have children who trek up there in a future where that make sense, I'd wonder at them too.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Clybourne Park, a twist on A Raisin in the Sun

Last year, I intended to see Clybourne Park at Woolly Mammoth and didn't get around to it. Since then it won a Pulitzer, so that plus all of the buzz from last year means that the line wrapped around the inside of the building more than once at the one pay-what-you-can performance they held. They only had standing room tix left and I was feet away from the counter when the declared the show to be sold out. So, I bit the bullet and bought a ticket.

I wrote about the play for Clybourne Park, a twist on A Raisin in the Sun

The playwright (who is also an actor) says he wrote the play, in part because he was really into the play as a kid, and that he never got to play Karl Lindner (who I think is the play's only white male character). I understand wanting to see yourself represented in a while I watched it, I identified with the maid in the first act (since she is the only black woman in the play). She placates because she has to.

And then in the second act, the corresponding black female character, who is not a maid, can't get a word in edgewise. I was understanding her frustration until she egged on another character's foolish wish to tell a racist joke. Then she told an insulting joke herself and I didn't get her motivation. She was frustrated when she was continually disregarded, but nothing she had done seemed to lend itself to her stoking the fires of the verbal brawl that ensued after the joke was told.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (or Opening Doors)

The title of this post has now become such a cliche that I wonder if it hasn't lost all of its meaning. I use it here because the experience I am about to relate is not earth-shattering...and not because I really mean it.

As I was writing a blog post to discuss a few ways to celebrate Women's History Month and I was thinking about how today is International Women's Day and all, I remembered some rude teenage boys I encountered earlier in the do we get all of out grand proclamations and celebrations to trickle down to the average Joe?

I was entering a high school where I volunteer and when I got to the door a young man opened it and walked past me. The young man behind him held the door open and scolded his friend. As I thanked the more chivalrous of the two, the first said with no small amount of scorn, "She can open it for herself."

Yes, yes I can.

Happy International Women's Day to those who open doors for themselves and to those opened doors for others to walk through.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oedipus el Rey

I just wrote a post on Oedipus el Rey, a play I recently saw, at my blog. I thought the play was amazing and that makes me all academic. The good think about blogging is that I can write a mini-paper about something I find intriguing without having to really write one that is 20 pages or so and get graded.

Oedipus el Rey is a Chicano update of Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King), the ancient Greek play by Sophocles. In the Greek play, Oedipus is the son of a king who is adopted by the king of a nearby kingdom. In Oedipus el Rey, Oedipus is the son of a gang leader who keeps talking about how he wants to be a king. The tragic end is the same...but the Greek Oedipus does not doubt that he is of royal birth, while in the update, the Chicano Oedipus keeps saying he wants to be a king. He is looking for the recognition and respect that so many young men look for outside of themselves and attempt to "take" by violent means.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Josiah Henson: "I graduated from the University of Adversity."

The words above are said to have been Henson's response when the Archbishop of Cantebury, impressed with his bearing and speech, asked him what university he attended. (Sadly, people still feel that an "articulate" black person is a thing of wonder today.)

I wrote about the Josiah Henson Special Park for because there were giving free tours every Saturday during Black History Month. After writing about the tours, I decided to actually take the tour myself.

The park is site of where Josiah Henson spent most of his life while he was a slave in Maryland. The house has been altered but bones of the original structure are still there.

While the house isn't a shack, it also isn't a grand manor.One thing I was struck by was the tour guide's observation that 'if this was the main house,
can you imagine what how the slaves lived. Seeing the house reminded me that those notions of anti-bellum grandeur fostered by movies like Gone with the Wind are not necessarily accurate.

Henson, who is an ancestor of Matthew Henson and Tariji P. Henson, was the man whose autobiography (The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself) Harriet Beecher Stowe used as inspiration when she wrote Uncle
Tom's Cabin.
Although some historic sites that pertain to Henson's life were once referred to as "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the Special Park in Montgomery County, outside of DC was renamed.

Henson's autobiography got little attention until after Stowe wrote her book and he objected to being characterized as Uncle Tom while he was alive. While Henson did not like being considered to be one and the same as Stowe's famous character "Uncle Tom," he did not blame Stowe; instead he used the association to his advantage. He met Stowe and she wrote an introduction to an updated edition of his book. Since the term "Uncle Tom" has become more of an insult since he died, he surely would not want to be thought of that way.

He has a remarkable story--a child of slaves who saw his parents treated very cruelly and was for a time sold away from his mother; an excellent business manager who became so trusted by his master, he managed the farm and the slaves; an honest man who did not allow himself or his charges to escape when they had the chance (and later regretted it); a preacher who was enterprising enough to earn money to buy his freedom; a hardworking slave who turned rebel when he realized he had been cheated and was to be sold after years of loyalty; a brave man who escaped to Canada with his family, founded a community for free blacks and later risked his life to help bring others to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad; a compassionate man who used what he knew to help the widow of the master who cheated him to get a pension.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blind Spots

After reading an article on The Root about research that concluded that Black women are "socially invisible," my mind started working overtime. The article referenced a Psychology Today piece-Are Black Women Invisible?

I thought about those times when I felt invisible-whether it was because someone had mistaken me for another black woman. Where I work, two other black women have short hair--one is taller than me and has natural close to her scalp and the other is shorter and has a perm--and I've been confused for both.

Then I also remembered the times when I confused non-black people for each other because I couldn't distinguish between them. For example, I meant no harm when I was teaching and confused students who looked similar.

There is being invisible as in not being in someone's line of sight...and there is being invisible as feeling undervalued. It's complicated because those articles touch on both kinds of invisibility. At times I've felt invisible because I spoke up in a group, only to have what I said be ignored. If and when I insisted on being heard, the message I sometimes received (verbal or otherwise) was that I was being intrusive.

We could all be more mindful of each other.

I went to an African dance class last week and not once, but twice, a large
black woman walked over to where I was and practically stood in the same space I was occupying as if I wasn't there. In this class, we dance in lines and if you come in late, you have to find a space. I couldn't understand how the first woman somehow did not see me quite present there and began to dance in the space where I was when there were other spaces without people in them. And when a different woman did the same thing, I was even more perplexed.

But then, I went to a completely different African dance class at a completely different fitness center...

I walked in while people were warming up and they turned to look at me, as people do when someone they don't know walks into a room. I joined the warm-up and a rather large woman who was in a line in front of me stopped warming up, turned around, pointed to me and said:

"What are you doing here? You're fit."

I can say that in that moment I was certainly not invisible or overlooked and no one was going to invade my personal space.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Five Books That Resonated with Me This Year

Every year I look at the best books of the year lists and see that I have read very few of the books on those lists. Oh well. 2010 was a good reading year for me, as they all are if you are really into books. I got a new gig that involved a bit of a commute, so this year I found that I had an increased appreciation for audio books since they kept me going as I went to and from work.

Rather than go through other people's lists or ponder what books of this year were truly "worthy," I decided to give myself a few seconds to think of the books that really resonated with me this year. I came up with four, although I would have preferred to have a top five. After I opened the blog panel, found some clip art and started to write, one more popped into my head.

My Five Favorite Reading/Listening Experiences of 2010

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

The Giver by Lois Lowry


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Cleavage Isn't Really the Problem...

So between Grover spoofing the Old Spice Guy and the precious I Love My Hair video that is making the rounds, I’ve been watching a lot of Sesame Street clips lately…and I just got around to watching the oh so controversial Katy Perry guest spot on Sesame Street that didn’t air because of the objections over the sight of her cleavage, visible via her see-through bustier-type top.

I know exactly why there were objections to her outfit, but to me the content of the clip is what needs to be examined. I imagine that her song Hot N Cold was adapted using Elmo mainly to teach opposites (up/down, in/out, fast/slow, stop/go) with Elmo acting these out while Katy Perry chases him around. But since Sesame Street also has lessons about social interaction, I wondered what kids were supposed to learn about friendship from this flaky version of Elmo. He told her to meet him to play dress-up…and then he runs away and she sings, "Used to laugh while we played/Now you just run away."

Everyone faces rejection and all kids have times when they don’t want to play, but the skit seemed like a bizarre kiddie He’s Just Not That Into You…what with Katy Perry showing up for a dress-up playdate wearing what looks like bridal headgear and being all disappointed in Elmo, but then chasing him even after he acts like he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

And then, true to form, Elmo tells “Miss Katie” that he was playing…he was playing tag…and she just didn’t get it. Because if there is one thing kids need to learn, it’s that if you’re gonna be friends, there will be a time when you just aren’t on the same wavelength and that some of us forget to communicate when the game has changed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Smile Loud Enough for Them to Hear

When I read a piece called Nobody's Smilin' from Clutch Magazine about how annoying it is to have men you don't know demand that you smile, I thought it was on point. And since the usual "black women shouldn't look so mean" stuff gets hashed out in the article's comments, I won't bother going into all that. But yes, a common refrain that is thrown at a woman who won't smile on demand is 'life isn't that bad.'

While life certainly isn't bad, it is annoying to be yelled at or told to smile or expected to stop and converse with/entertain people you have no interest in talking to so that they can get an ego boost. And yes, a smile traditionally means friendliness an approachability, but sometimes "there's daggers in (wo)men's smiles." Even the most upbeat people don't walk around grinning all the time and still may want to be left alone when they do.

So today I was in very long line at Trader Joe's after I'd indulged in a cupcake that made me rather full, and *gasp* I was not smiling despite the wonderfulness of having a car and money for cupcakes and TJ's food. I was however, lost in thought, when someone behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around but quickly realized that the man behind me wanted me to move out of the way so he could get the attention of the man in front of me.

The shoulder-tapper could not speak, but he used gestures and sign language to indicate that the man in front of me should pick up one of the 29 cent chocolate bars conveniently located on a low shelf for people waiting in long lines.

The man in front me was able to speak so he responded out loud and picked up a chocolate bar.

Then the man behind me tapped me on the shoulder again to gesture to me that I should smile.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Q&A Got a Little Crazy

Last week I wrote a lovely little blog post (Center for American Progress examines How to Keep the Fuel of Creation and Innovation Burning) for my blog at and in trying to keep it short and sweet, I left out some of the juicier bits...

Things got testy during the Q&A. In the post on, I mentioned how someone in the audience took one of the panelists to task for what he viewed as an inconsistency (talking about creativity and speaking out against internet piracy.

What I didn't mention was a woman who asked about what could be done to stop creativity from being stifled in 'go along to get along' corporate America. I was looking forward to the response from the panelists and was rather surprised when they shot the woman down. They completely disagreed with her assessment and cited personal examples of why this simply was not so. According to them there was plenty of creativity in corporate America and corporate America (or at least the movie studio one panelist mentioned) is open to it.

Um...what? They seemed to be more than a little removed from average American life...corporate America is exactly as the woman described and even if they don't deal with this on a daily basis, haven't they at least watched The Office?

Then, after the panelists displayed how they were out of touch, it was time for an audience member to do so. The panel and the moderator were very put off by a frustrated woman who asked 'if any black people would be able to ask a question'? Because she interjected so strongly as they were choosing some other person to ask a question, she was given the floor. As is often the case, she had been trying to get their attention and got more and more frustrated as other were chosen...but I didn't think it was because she was black.

Once again the focus was on corporations...the woman went on a little rant. The moderator, who had been extremely ruffled that race had been thrown into the mix in such a startling (and unfair) way, tried to smooth things over, asking if she had an actual question. The woman then asked a question that no one could answer: When will corporations be more fair?

The panelists shook their heads and one muttered, "I think she just wanted to be speak."

He was right and it was unfortunate that she let her frustration build to the point where she was ineffective because people were dismayed at the method she used to gain their attention.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cake Boss

In having one of those wonderful conversations you can only have with a four year old, the idea of making a pretend cake was on the table...but even though my niece proposed making the cake, she had no intention of being the one to do it-

Niece-let: You do it. I can't make a pretend cake; I'm not the boss.

Me: You're not the boss, but you just tell everyone what to do?

Niece-let: Yes.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Am a Patron of the A.R.T.S.

...the A.R.T.S. being the Addict Relationship Theatre Series as performed by my neighor's renters.

This time, one of their occasional shouting matches took place in the wee hours of the morning. Things quieted down after I banged on the floor with a floor lamp, but I was unable to get back to sleep. *sigh*

Monday, August 16, 2010

Before and After

I agreed to get a makeover, thinking that it would be a fun thing to do, not imagining that I'd find it more uncomfortable than fun. And being the slightly rebellious-type that I am, I should have known that makeovers are not for me.

The trouble began when I didn't want to be bothered with foundation. I'd used the cleansing cream, the facial mask, the moisturizer, the lip exfoliant and the lip cream with no complaints. But I didn't want to apply any foundation--an utterance that brought all kinds of murmurs and consternation. I was a marked woman--one who did not go with the flow.

Under pressure, I agreed to the tinted moisturizer and I felt that the room of fully made up beauty consultants breathed a sigh of relief.

After I was tinted and others were foundation-ed, we were told to go take our "Before" photos. Before photos? Wouldn't the "Before" have been when I walked in...before the cleansing cream, the facial mask, the moisturizer, the lip exfoliant, lip cream and tinted moisturizer? Hmmmm....

After that I submitted to being made over. The make-up artist was puzzled at my less than flawless appearance, but it all made sense when I explained that I had opted for tinted moisturizer and not foundation. She dusted and powdered efficiently. I worried about losing an eyeball when she applied eyeliner, but I survived. At the start she'd asked if I wore makeup regularly because if not, she'd use a lighter touch, since I'd be unaccustomed to seeing myself with a lot of makeup. Honesty, even the lighter touch was too much for me. I was sent to check myself out in the mirror and did ask for more lip color. but overall I was not excited.

All gathered "oohed" and "ahhed" over everyone once they were made over. But one woman felt that I needed a special pep talk. She looked me right in the eyes to tell me how beautiful I was and that she wanted me to believe it too.

Now I know how the game is I did not expect anyone to tell me that I was beautiful without makeup because the point is to either sell makeup or convince "guests" to become beauty consultants themselves. But I was pleased with my looks "Before" and not at all thrilled with my look "After" despite everyone else's amazement at how beautiful I'd suddenly become with the aid of their beauty products.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's What You Say AND How You Say It

In thinking about the whole 'Dr. Laura Says the N-word'controversy, I am reminded of how much intent matters. So rather than get into a discussion of who can and cannot say the N-word, it is more productive to remember that no one wants to be disrespected, especially not in their own home. The N-word ignites controversy because of its history, but any words can be spoken with sufficient venom and the object of those words will know that they were said to harm and not help.

And where was the woman's husband in all of this. While Dr. Laura, she of the perfectly-tuned funny bone, told the woman she shouldn't enter an interracial marriage unless she had a sense of humor, I'd say you don't want to be married to someone you cannot rely on to take your part when neighbors/relatives seek to make you uncomfortable.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Claudette Colvin: Unheralded Civil Rights Activist

I just finished reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice. Colvin was a teenager who would not give up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery, Alabama bus nine months before Rosa Parks did. Colvin was roughly handled by the police and arrested.

What made her do it? After learning about her constitutional rights in school, Colvin was fired up. As a teen, she didn't understand how adults could continue to live with the kind of treatment black Montgomery bus riders experienced. The spark she lit did set the eventual bus boycott in motion, but Colvin herself was for the most part unappreciated. Black civil rights leaders didn't feel she was an appropriate representative. Over the years, her story and participation in the court case that led to the end of bus segregation in Montgomery has been overlooked.

Since this book was written for young readers, its main theme is about a teenager who spoke out and made a difference, although she was overlooked. One reviewer notes that even though it does not shy away from saying Colvin was left out, the book treads carefully when it comes to Dr. King and Rosa Parks, two of the big names in the Civil Rights movement.

Even if the book has a limited scope, so many details that get left out of the abbreviated version of the story of the Montgomery bus boycott really enrich my understanding of history: things like the way Colvin was ostracized for taking action, even more so when she adopted a natural hairstyle and later had a child out of wedlock; the transportation system set up to as an alternative (with used cars bought with donations and people turning over their car keys so their neighbors could get where they needed to go); and the white woman who wrote a letter to the editor in support of the boycott who was threatened, ostracized and killed herself a year later.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm on the List

While I was up much later than I should have been cruising the internet superhighway, I clicked on a link to a blog post to find that I was actually mentioned in that blog post.

It is with great pleasure that I announce my inclusion in Spleeness's Funny Twitter Updates, vol.2.

Friday, July 23, 2010

We, The Pizza

Everywhere I turn there is a temptation to challenge my quest to make sure that my shrinking clothes don't get any tighter. Tonight's opponent: We, The Pizza.

Yeah, sure the newest restaurant venture from that guy who was on one of those chef shows that I never saw, is all about oneness and equality...and yeah, I went by there, thus I set myself up, so it wasn't exactly a fair fight.

I'd heard that there was supposed to be a soft opening yesterday, so after postponing plans with a friend, I thought I'd stop by, grab a slice and go home. When I got there, people were outside eating pizza and the door was locked. But those who were eating were kind enough to tell me and a few others who were puzzled that Chef Spike (Mendelsohn, of Top Chef fame) was opening the door to let people in a few at a time and that everything--pizza, pop and beer was FREE. That was all I needed to hear.

I was tired and hungry, so I didn't think to take any photos and all I have is that lame clip art pizza slice. Some people took photos with Chef Spike, but that didn't interest me.

I tried the Sicilian and the Roasted Potato Pancetta, along with freshly made "I Love You Long Time Lemon Lime" soda that had real fruit slices and basil in it. When I asked for mint, the soda jerk (who was quite friendly) explained that this one called for basil and then went on to tell me about how great it was that they made the sodas right there and they could make all kinds of unique flavors (so why'd he nix my mint?!) That aside, he did a great job practicing his fresh-made soda sales pitch on me, even making mention of Spike's other restaurant (Good Stuff Eatery).

Metal pizza pans in varying sizes adorned the one of the walls, along with stylized photos, including one of a DC soup kitchen.

On my way out I thanked Chef Spike himself and he asked if I'd liked it. I told him the Roasted Potato Pancetta was amazing, but that the Sicilian was not so great. He said they didn't have any Sicilian. I described and then pointed to it. That jogged his memory. He explained that he thought the round pies were perfect, but that the other ones he hadn't quite mastered and that Sicilian is an art in itself. He didn't even seem boastful in his claim about the round pies and seemed genuinely frustrated about the Sicilian. Being an artisan of any kind does require at least a dash of perfectionism.

"You're doing better than me," I said.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bathroom Humor (an episode in which I channel Seinfeld)

Now I'm not really into bathroom humor. I don't like to talk about the bathroom and I like talking in the bathroom even less...

So I went to the bathroom at work today and put a ring I was wearing in the pocket of my blazer. I made some wrong move though because it flew out of pocket onto the the stall next to me.

I could see that it was right next to another woman's foot.

I froze for a few seconds. My instinct to grab it seemed wrong because I know I wouldn't react kindly to a seeing hand appearing from the next stall. And as I said, I don't want to talk in the bathroom either. And it didn't seem smart to try to wait until I exited my stall and she exited hers.

Then I told myself snap out of it. This wasn't an episode of Seinfeld. I spoke and we both laughed and laughed. She pushed the ring my way so I could pick it up.

And when it was all over, I saw that it was the big boss, who fortunately has a sense of humor.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Parting Words or Fare Thee Well

The other day at work I heard a man at work on the phone grilling his teenage son about his plans for the day--whether or not the son was wearing the father's clothes and what time he was leaving to go somewhere. "Dear old dad" signed off of the conversation with the words, "Be smart."

When I was a child, my mother's parting words to me as I was on my way out the door were almost always, "Be good."

I found it interesting that a man would tell his son to "Be smart." However, I don't want to be overly simplistic about gender differences, and say that of course a man would tell a male child to be smart and a woman would tell a female child to be good. After all, I don't know anything about this man or his son.

My real take-away (and I do not blame my mother for this) is that there have been many times when I would have been smarter if I hadn't been so concerned with being good.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Overheard at the Office: Affectionate Insults

"When people come to my desk, they sing."

"Could it be that they're singing so you don't have the opportunity to speak?"

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

I Can Bring Home the Bacon...

Not too long ago a fellow blogger who lives in Congress Heights said she was not returning to our local Giant because it was just too much. I responded that this was too bad, but I did understand. As much as I want to put money into the neighborhood, I don't always shop there. Still, it is good to live near a supermarket because if I need something I don't have to go too far to get it.

Yesterday, I was tired and with a high of 100 or so, I didn't want to go too far. I had some time off and wanted to try a new recipe that require bacon that I did not have. So I ventured out and the drama began in the parking lot.

Two men dressed as women were causing a commotion and of course didn't care. One had on a bustier and one had on a bra. While they conversed loudly about something that only they understood, people in the parking stared and talk about them aloud. Near the door a woman loudly lamented that one of the men had such smooth, pretty skin, saying how unfair it was.

Inside I was greeted by a chewed up chicken bone in one aisle and spills in other aisles that had been left, but frames with caution cones. As I waited in line, a man knocked over something else and yelled loudly , "Clean up on aisle nine."

When I got back to the parking lot a rep for some obscure mayoral candidate had set up shop right in front of my car. It wasn't until I got in and turned on the engine that he and the man he was speaking to decided to move.

But, hey, I had my bacon.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The African Presence in Mexico Exhibit Leaves the Smithsonian on July 4

The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum has a great exhibit on the African presence in Mexico and it is leaving July 4. So if you're nearby, go check it out.

Even if you are not nearby, you can take the Shuttle Anacostia to get to the museum and to the Fredrick Douglass National Historical site.