Sunday, March 26, 2006

Falling for the Flu

At a literary reading, I paused to think when the speaker said something about outside events reflecting inside struggles, and as the evening progressed, I wondered if he knew just how meaningful those words were.

Diran Adebayo gave a reading at George Washington University and began by saying he was a little "flu-y", but it didn't really seem to be a problem. At least not at first. He talked about and around his writing and read a lengthy passage from his first novel.

At one point he stopped and asked for a chair and then added water to that request. Or maybe it was the other way around. After the second request, he bowed his head and his forehead glistened with sweat.

Slowly, but quickly, he crumpled, fell into the lectern, and then collasped onto the floor. He didn't hit the floor hard, but at the very end his head bounced like a gentle rubber ball. His hands twisted inward and they shook. Then they stopped. His eyes were closed.

He looked like a corpse.

The audience was stunned. It was terrifying. No one could have reached him in time to prevent the fall. A university professor who was in the front row had gone to get the requested chair. If he hadn't, he may have been able to catch the man before he fell.

Things really do change in an instant. The author reading from his work became a corpse-like being on the floor and then just as quickly, the corpse became a man who said he was fine. He insisted on continuing the reading, refusing to even sit in a chair. One woman in the audience said we'd all feel better if he did, but to no avail. (Later, as he continued the reading, he exhibited a manic energy that belied the collapse we had witnessed earlier.)

Someone called campus services, and to the author's annoyance they insisted that he get checked out. The audience murmured about the fact that a man whose head has just ping-ponged on the floor now had to climb stairs and go to where campus medical services could check him out. Why couldn't they come to him?

Just this week I have been listening to the audio version of Wickett's Remedy, a book that centers on Boston and the effects of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. This was back when the flu was referred to by its full name, influnenza. Influenza is serious business; a grown-up version of the flu. Watching in horror as someone who claimed to have a touch of the flu fainted, reminded me of this. I could go on and mention that dreaded flu that we hear so much about, but I won't.

The girl sitting next to me wore Ugg-like boots and had a styrofoam carton that I had presumed held something like french fries. When she opened it, I saw that it actually held edamame.

We were all a little shell-shocked. Unguarded, she said something about him being a "big, black man". (He was on the tallish side, rather thin, and not at all big.)
She was talking more to herself that to me and I think she uttered this phrase to indicate her disbelief that this type of thing could happen to such a a person.
I decided not to challenge this particular view, nor the years of stereotypes that lay underneath it.

She went on to talk about how he had visited her class earlier in the day, and she chirped about what a great writer he was.

A Brit with Nigerian heritage,he spoke of how black authors always have to deal with race and how he tries to get away from that. Later during the Q&A (fainting or not, the man was not leaving before he finished) someone asked about the seeming contradiction between his saying that it is not right that black authors always have to deal with race and the fact that his writing deals so much with that very topic.

Being no stranger to the SBW (Strong Black Woman) syndrome, I know what it is to insist that you are alright. Although his insistence may have had more to do with some macho pride than race. Whatever it was, those of us who stayed remained nervous throughout the rest of the program, still shaken by what we saw.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Just Say No

Back in the 80s when Nancy Reagan came out with that "Just Say No" campaign, people laughed and lampooned the idea that all it takes is a "no".

But even now pop pscychology will tell you to simply say "No, I cannot.", "No thank you.", and "No, I am not available." in a clear, firm voice. Just say no and do not offer any explanations or excuses, they say. People will respect that, they say.

Just who are these people exactly? Sure, if you say no to a free newspaper as you are coming out of the subway, someone may respect that.

But if it is someone with whom you have a more than slight acquaintance, they are not having it. I am sure I have done my fair share of cajoling myself.

A "no" is usually followed by reasonings, accusations, and all-expense-paid guilt trips.

So if I have told you no recently, then yes this is for you.
Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Countdown to Impact

A friend called me while driving into DC from Richmond, and asked what was up with our speed limits because the numbers on the signs keep changing.

She could have been talking about those signs where your speed is broadcasted as you drive past, but from her description and location, I knew that she was not talking about those.

I realized that she was referring to the countdown signs for pedestrians.

"You don't have those in Richmond?" I asked.

"No," she said. It sounded a little like an accusation.

"Welcome to life in the big city," I replied.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sweet Irony

Someone left a message on my answering machine saying they'd lost my number, and that is why they hadn't called before, but that they wanted to talk to me about XYZ...

The message ended with the person saying, "Okay, so my number is...oh, well, you have my number. Bye."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Riddle

For once I was actually early in getting to a town council meeting that I had to cover for a local newspaper, and lo and behold, I was able to see a musical performance.

The mayor stood at the microphone to say how pleased he was to have 8th grade members of a school orchestra there to perform for Black History Month. As I sat in anticipation, I thought for certain that they would play a song by a black composer or a song that has somehow been recognized as being related to Black History. But they didn't. They did, however, play a lovely Ukranian folk song.

The kids were very excited to be performing and their teacher/conductor seemed like a very caring educator. But you know I had to sit there and puzzle over what it all had to do with Black History Month. (Skip to the end if you want the answer.)

There were black kids in the group, along with white, Asian, and Latino kids. Was that it? The kids were from a school that is in an area where a lot of black people live...that could have been it. I thought their teacher was African American, until he spoke, and then I knew he was Latino.

Do you give up yet?
Answer: In reality, as far as I could see there was no obvious link between the performance and Black History Month. The month was coming to a close, and the mayor had asked someone he knew to help put together some kind of program for Black History Month. At first that seems a little half-hearted, but in listening to his comments, I could see what lay beneath. He mentioned how the town had a new mayor and a new council and that this was the first time that they'd had something for Black History Month. So basically there was a new climate in the government of this tiny Maryland town that was open to acknowledging Black History Month in a tangible way. Even if it took a Ukranian folk song to do it.