Simple [Hu]Man

Sometimes I feel that I write these posts as advice I wish I had given my kids. You see, I had my first baby at age nineteen and my second at barely twenty-two. Looking back, I was so young and dumb, and my mother’s guilt would tell you, “I wish I had parented better.”

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

I don’t beat myself up over this anymore, but my former self was super hard on me. Now I let the past stay there, and I understand that all of my past lives have shaped me into my current self. I did the best I could at the time, I loved those babies hard, and I still love these adults fiercely.

I suppose all this draws me to the lyrics of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 “Simple Man.”

My mama told me when I was young
Said, sit beside me my only son [baby girl, too]
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this it'll help you some sunny day…

Oh, take your time, don't live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You'll find a woman [or a man] and you'll find love
And don't forget that there is a someone up above [SO IMPORTANT!!!]

And be a simple kind of [hu]man 
And be something you'll love and understand

Allow me to introduce the lovely Sierra Eagleson. I think she’s twenty-four. I feel her stripped down strength and believe you’ll love and understand.

Photo by MIRTO KON on Pexels.com

For Remake Monday today, I think I’ll try to keep it simple and love and understand and remember that troubles will pass.

That Crazy Thing

That crazy thing
I thought might happen
did not,
and that’s okay.
For 2020, I have enough.
Who needs extra
cray cray?
 
But the possibility
taught me,
in the way
possibilities do,
that you never know
until you try.
And so on to the next—
as opportunities arise.
 
Champions adjust—
my new mantra,
when things don’t go
my way.
And so I adjust—
my thoughts and plans,
my words and days.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis on the Shore

Have you ever read a book that you loved so much? Except there is almost no way to adequately explain. Like if you tried, people might think there’s something wrong with your brain. For me, that’s Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

Mind-bending, for sure.

Fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away to escape his father’s house and an Oedipal prophecy and to search for his long-lost mother and sister. His name isn’t Kafka, by the way. He travels incognito.

Kafka’s story alternates with a man named Nakata. After a childhood accident, this sixtyish-year-old simpleton lives on a government subsidy and communicates with cats, literally.

Add in fish and leeches raining from the sky, Johnnie Walker—collector of cat souls, Colonel Sanders—a seedy pimp, and some graphic sex scenes, and well, that’s Kafka on the Shore. It’s a surreal story within a story within a story, laden with purposeful references to pop culture and literature, music and history. No one is who they seem. Most detail serves a metaphorical purpose. Jewels of wisdom abound.

In my eyes, the novel is a guide to life.

  • Both Kafka and Nakata have companions who appear out of nowhere to help. How many times have you felt an insurmountable problem, only to realize that there is someone willing to help you? I know I have, over and over, and our connections with others are vital to life. Our truest, most intimate connections have the power to transform us. We have the power to choose those connections, or we can live lonely, miserable, dysfunctional lives. It’s that simple.
  • There’s a message here about a “persistent, inward-moving spirit” (329). I think that means that we flourish though self-reflection, knowing ourselves, and confronting our own souls. Yes, you can lie to everyone around you, but you’re only lying to yourself. It’s so easy to spot the faults of others, but what about your own? As much as your friends can help you, ultimately you must rely on yourself and what’s inside you for courage and honesty, motivation and strength. If you can overcome your own fear, bias, and anger, you will be the strongest person in the world.
  • There’s another message about maintaining a “pliant, youthful sort of curiosity” (329). What do you like? What interests you? Are you open to new things, new people, new ideas? Kids are naturally more curious, naturally more accepting of differences, naturally willing to try new things. As we age, we become more stubborn and consequently more stuck in our ways, but a childlike curiosity keeps life interesting. Our first inclination might tell us, I would hate a book like that, by a Japanese author, where absurd things happen. But all the absurdity serves a purpose if you take some time to consider it. As they say, never judge a book by its cover.

In the end, I don’t think it spoils anything to say, Kafka’s metamorphosis is complete, and he has all the tools to bloom and grow. Life teaches us all about transformation when we keep our hearts and minds open. And I don’t know about you, but I’m happy that I’m not my past self.

I admit, this book might not be for everyone, but then again, maybe it is.

2020 Summer School Required Reading

Shout out to my friend Barbara over at ALTAIR 5G Theatre for bestowing upon me the Penable Award. Barbara wanted to know, “What’s your trick to regaining confidence in your life?” And this is it: intimate connections, using what I have inside (my heart, my brain, and my guts), and the childlike curiosity to keep on going because amazing things are still ahead.

(P.S. Barbara, salty, except I do love my wine, and about that song, here you go…)

 

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Source: Being Alive, ed Neil Astley, Bloodaxe, 2004

Meet Laura-Jane Barber

Laura-Jane was a Spanish teacher back in Plano, a Dallas suburb where I taught English for fourteen years. At our high school, her mailbox always topped mine in the teacher workroom. Barber. Byers. And although we worked on separate sides of the building, we often chatted while picking up our mail or making copies. We still chat via Facebook and now on WordPress, too, and I’ve found her words lingering in my head.

Hi, my name is Laura-Jane, and I am the most selfish person I know and maybe the most selfish person you know. Because I am so selfish, I can see the selfishness in others, and when I see it in others, it’s almost worse because then I’m reminded of things I’ve said or done because of my selfishness.

I see so many people ignoring the cry of our black brothers and sisters for selfish reasons. I have been guilty of it too in the past. I’ll give you an example from my life.

When Colin Kaepernick knelt for the National Anthem. I didn’t even try to hear why. I didn’t care to understand because I was so disrespected by it. The National Anthem makes me cry because I have a husband who has served on deployments in dangerous parts of the world 3 times since we’ve been together. On one, his vehicle was blown up, and his experiences have changed him and our family forever. I focused on that and didn’t even know why Colin Kaepernick knelt for the flag until this year. That’s right, I assumed it was something to do with race, but I didn’t even know the specifics. Go ahead and judge me. I deserve it.

I was so focused on what his act appeared to say to me that I didn’t even care to find out why he actually did it. And if you know me at all, you probably also know I can be quite stubborn when I feel I’m right.

I was so selfish and self-righteous over the National Anthem. Over a song. A symbol. And you know what I found here in my circle in Texas—a lot of people who agreed. So I was able to sit in my pride and self-righteousness with support all around. No one told me, “LJ, maybe you’re making this about you when it’s actually not.” Okay, maybe one or two on Facebook commented that on a post, and I probably ripped them to shreds with my “righteous anger.”

Today, I roll my eyes at 2016 LJ. I want to go back and shake her. I WAS WRONG. I am shouting it because I sure shouted back then in my selfishness. I WAS WRONG. I didn’t know that statistics show that police brutality against blacks is significantly higher than towards whites. If you don’t know this and go researching, be sure to pay attention to the breakdown of race in our country. If you look at numbers, there will be less listed for blacks, but whites are something like 70% of our population vs. 15% black. That is vital information to understand the numbers accurately.

I was in denial about the racism that still exists in my beautiful country. I LOVE THE USA! Anyone who knows me knows I have both USA pride and Texas pride. Sharing all of this is not me trying to destroy America (PS, I don’t identify with either party), it’s me trying to make America a place where all people have the same privilege that I do as a white person. I love this land so much.

I share this because…click here to finish reading.

Meet Jessica Cobbs

Ten years ago, Jessica was my student. Now she’s an actress and a model using her voice and calling for change.

I don’t say much because I like to stay in silence. I’ve been told many times—your nickname should be MIA or ghost but when I need to speak I will and I will state all facts because I’ve watched for years, studied for so long, and witnessed first hand!

7 years old (Louisiana) – my teacher talked about me to my face, called me stupid, said I would never be anything.

9 years old (Virginia) – walking home from school a group of kids on the back of a pick up truck threw bottles at my feet and yelled, “dance monkey dance.” I ran home (thank God for my father’s speed) but yet they yelled, “run little ni*** run”… I never told my mother but I cried for days from bad dreams.

10 or 11 years old (Tennessee) – my teacher called me the n** word, wouldn’t let me use the restroom, and put F’s on my papers without even looking at it.

15 years old (Texas) – A kid at school said I can pass/be cool with both bc I’m “paper bag brown” so I can sit at both tables. He said if I was a few shades darker I couldn’t sit with them bc then I would be targeted and they would see me as the rest…in his eyes “trouble makers.”

22 years old (working a flight in nyc): “you’re pretty for a black girl. I’m sure your ancestors were some of us bc your hair is wayyy too pretty and you’re way too educated to be just a black. Are you sure you’re black sweetheart? I just never seen one like you.”

The list goes on from different places around the world!! But I can honestly say I’ve met the most beautiful amazing God given people in ALL races! We all are one. We all bleed the same red blood. WE ALL ARE HUMANS!! My life matters just like the next and for those who think mine or my brothers and sisters do not, I will pray for your souls. Everyone be careful and stay prayed up. Our time is coming and it’s closer than we think.

We all bleed the same red blood.

Jessica Cobbs, May 31, 2020

Still I Rise

by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still like dust, I'll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
"Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

A Day in the Classroom

Back in the fall, I had the privilege to spend twelve weeks as a long-term sub for a good friend and former teaching peer while she took her maternity leave. In English II, our students studied culture, exploring their own backgrounds and heritage before reading Robert Lake’s essay, “An Indian Father’s Plea.” It’s not a piece that students love, but it serves as a study of persuasive writing and a segue into some important conversations about cultural conflicts.

Lake, AKA Medicine Grizzlybear and Bobby Lake-Thom, is a member of the Seneca, Karuk, and Cherokee Indian tribes. He is a native healer and university professor who writes his son’s kindergarten teacher a compelling letter about the systemic racism his five-year-old son Wind-Wolf has faced during his short time in public school. The teacher wants to call Lake’s son Wind, insisting that Wolf must be his middle name, and the other students laugh at him. The teacher also labels him a “slow learner,” yet in Wind-Wolf’s home experience he is learning several Indian languages.

Wind Wolf does make a new friend at school, but when he invites the child to his house, the friend’s mother responds, “It is OK if you have to play with him at school, but we don’t allow those kind of people in our house!” Another little white girl who is his friend at school always tells him, “I like you, Wind-Wolf, because you are a good Indian.”

This is a non-fiction piece. Wind-Wolf is five, and he doesn’t want to go to school. His father advocates on his behalf. Sometimes we all need advocates in our corner.

After reading the essay together and jumping through the hoops of the curriculum, I asked students to put their heads on their desks and close their eyes and answer a yes or no question by raising their hands. The question, I borrowed from Ms. Ranmal, my Canadian/South Asian/Muslim/first-year-teacher/friend next door: Does white privilege exist? I tallied the results.

Two of my three sophomore classes were equally divided by race. In those classes, the black and brown students voted yes, and most white students voted no. The students wanted their voices heard, and they went on to have eloquent, civil dialogue to support their opinions based on their own life experiences. My last sophomore class had a white majority. The one-sided conversation fell flat. Instead we watched Bryan Stevenson’s Ted Talk, “We Need to Talk about an Injustice.”

Overall, the student discourse on the topic of race was the best I had witnessed in my twenty years of classroom teaching (Thank you, Ms. Ranmal!), and students left feeling empowered that day. Do I need to say this makes me sad? Sad, not only to hear so many stories of discrimination, but also because of my own missed opportunities to intentionally structure these conversations into lesson plans for the past twenty years. The interchange is imperative from K-12. Our educational system can do better.

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In the days ahead, I’ll be featuring voices other than mine here on the blog. Thank you for listening and learning along with me.

Ready or Not

Not long ago I saw this movie—Ready or Not, and I can’t get it off of my mind.

IMDb describes the film as “a horror-comedy and social satire that comically exaggerates the anxieties attendant with marrying into a wealthy family and mocks the insular nature of such families, so obsessed with their wealth that they’ve become disconnected from the real world.” Hmmm. Just thinking about the meaning of the word insular and the idea of being disconnected from the real world.

hide and seek

After a beautiful wedding at the Le Domas family estate, Alex reveals a family tradition to his unsuspecting bride Grace. She must hide in the mansion while her in-laws not only seek but also hunt her down with weapons galore. I don’t mention the movie as a must see. Quite frankly, it’s a bloodbath with one unforgettable line:

“You’ll almost do anything if your family says it’s okay.”

And the Winner Is…

Drumroll please.

Me!

Back in April when I rose to the challenge of blogging twenty-six posts from A to Z, I received a couple of awards from bloggers who showed up almost daily to read my work. I’m sure that Bridget and Eliza have more to do than read my blog every day, but there they were, tapping that little blue star and leaving me nice little notes. However, not only did they support me by reading, they passed my name and website along to others. One thing I’ve noticed about this blogging world is the kindness of others. I’ve met so many people who stop to straighten my crown and leave sunshine in their wakes.

Bridget A. Thomas is a Christian author who turns her dreams over to God, lets him work it out, and inspires others to do the same. She nominated me for the Fix Her Crown Award. It’s an award for women who lend a helping hand to other women whose crowns seem too heavy, who appreciate the sister who dares to be her own glorious self, who raise strong young women, who smile at the sister journeying alone and walk beside her for a time, who stand with the sister whose crown has been knocked off her head time after time, and who shine as their own beautifully unique selves. Thank you, Bridget! I’m completely humbled by that description!!

Eliza is a twenty-something blogger-friend who reminds me of my daughter and most often writes about gratitude and mental health. Her posts spread glitter, love, and light, and I always appreciate her perspective. She nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award and grouped me with others she called inspirational, calming, and gorgeous for taking time to read and respond to her posts. Eliza, you’re a doll! How could I not rise to the challenge of paying it forward?

As for me, I’m going on three years of catapulting my ideas into the blogosphere, but I still remember what it was like in the beginning to have like three followers and no idea how to find other good blogs. [Stage left. Enter the awards.] The awards, no matter which one, are all about promoting other bloggers’ blogs and helping them be part of the community. In no way would I want to add pressure for someone to respond, so I’m not posting any rules to follow or questions to answer, just non-gender-specific blogs that I love and haven’t had the opportunity to mention until now. By the way, it’s so hard to narrow down my list, and because I received two nominations for two awards, I’m combining the love into two brand-new awards. Drumroll please. And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for—the winners of the Somebody Loves Your Blog Award:

  • All Things Thriller indulges Pamela Lowe Saldana’s love of film, music, and literature. A DJ by profession, she draws inspiration from her west Texas roots and true crimes.
  • ALTAIR 5G Theatre: During this quarantine time when I’ve overextended my capacity for television and even reading, I look to my French friend’s site for virtual culture: orchestra, opera, tango, street dancing, just to name a few.
  • The Art of Becoming a Wildflower: Jerry Snider has a gift for telling the simplest of stories that make me laugh out loud and think for a while. His children’s book Buddy Bloom Wildflower follows the life of a lost seed who only wants to become a flower.
  • Fear-and-Hope.com is the newbiest (is that a word?) blog on my list. Meet my cousin. She is a 42-year veteran teacher who dedicates her life to students with social, emotional, behavioral, and academic weaknesses. God bless her, and please give her a follow!
  • Cheryl Oreglia at Living in the Gap cracks me up every time. She blogs on the joys of being a Grammie and the bliss of marriage. One of my favorite recent posts is Grow Dammit.
  • KA (Allan) Gould at PhotoblographyToo is a retired Canadian just living his best life, through photography, gardening, cycling, skiing, and traveling. Just this year, I’ve traveled with him to Banff National Park, Vancouver, and Ireland.
  • London Life with Liz, as the site title suggests, covers all-things-London from literature to pop culture, history to politics, and so much more. I don’t know if Liz has ever taught school, but I always walk away from her posts having learned something fascinating.
  • Priscilla Bettis has led the life of an engineering physicist and a swim team coach, and she aspires to be a horror novelist. One of my favorite posts is her beautiful tribute R.I.P. Daddy.
  • The Thought Badger hails from the UK, marries photography with the written word and shows how our experiences with animals have the power to make thoughts happen.

Blog Award

Geez, it seems my list could go on and on, but it wouldn’t be a true award show without thanking a few more authors who have been so kind to support me here on WordPress as well as on Twitter (even though my Twitter game lacks). And now for the Outstanding Supporter Awards: Jean Lee (young adult fantasy, fierce heroines, and storytelling strategy), Melissa Henderson (children’s books and Christian themes), Mark Bierman (action and adventure, fiction and non),  Alaedin Fazel, (psychology, philosophy, family, and culture) and Freya Pickard (poetry, epic fantasies, and tales of passion). Thank you all, sincerely.

Outstanding Supporter

What have I learned in three years about growing a blog? Well, just like a garden, growth requires nurturing. Back in April I saw that if I build it, they will come, and if I build relationships (reading other blogs and interacting), they will stay. Interesting how relationships work that way. This April I had more traffic to my site than in my entire first full year of blogging, and that’s because I posted 26 times in April 2020 and 29 times in all of 2018. Now for me, posting almost every day is like a no-income job. I need more balance between my everyday and online lives. But can I post more than twice a month? Yes. Twice a month was my personal commitment back in the beginning, September of 2017 when I taught full-time, lived in a hotel for ten months, and oversaw a home re-build. In the month of May 2020, I posted six times, and that felt pretty natural and doable. Have I grown as a writer? I think so. And guess what? May was my second most successful blogging month ever.

120 posts later, I’ve been practicing, and I feel like a winner today. The blogging rewards are rich, and the awards are awesome, too. Thank you, Bridget! Thank you, Eliza! Thank you, dear reader, for visiting my blog, supporting me, and checking out a few of my friends!

That Time I Quit Drinking Coffee

It was May 1, 2020. I had returned from my morning walk. I took off my sweaty clothes, turned on the shower, and stepped naked on to the scale. I was down five pounds to my pre-Covid-19 weight. You might think I would be thrilled. The problem was I had been tracking my steps on my phone during April and came across my weight from August of 2019. Ten months ago, after seven months of consistent boxing and kickboxing, I weighed thirteen pounds lighter. In August, I gave up the boxing gym.

In May, I decided to give up coffee.

Here’s the thing. I normally do not drink coffee every morning, but Kody does. He drinks his coffee in the office, but—since he’s working from home, coffee has become part of our morning routine. He drinks his black. I drink mine blonde. You know—with cream. And honey. It’s decadent.

After my shower last Friday, I made myself a large glass of iced tea. Unsweetened. I was parched. The tea quenched. This is good, I thought. I can do this.

Saturday rolled around. I rolled out of bed and went for my walk. On arrival home and through my front door, I smelled the aroma of good coffee, medium roast Texas pecan, 100% Arabica from our local HEB. I thought, Maybe I can make an exception, just on the weekends. This time, we were out of cream. I opted for vanilla almond milk. Even lighter, I thought. And then that little devil on my shoulder whispered, “What the heck—it’s the weekend. Indulge.” I added a shot of bourbon.

Sunday was similar. Except no walk and no almond milk. Instead I Googled Chase Oaks Church on my phone, connected my device to the television for the April 26th sermon “When Life Seems Out of Control,” and sipped my coffee. Black. With Bourbon. Dear Lord, please don’t judge. We are amid a pandemic.

Monday rolled around. I walked again. I re-entered my home. Damn that coffee. After a weekend expedition for groceries, I had cream once more. I give up. I’m keeping up my walks—thirty minutes a day is my minimum. If it’s cool enough, forty-five minutes to an hour. Fewer carbs. More self-control. That’s my plan.

And so I quit drinking coffee—for a day. A pandemic calls for comforts, I decided. I’m okay with changing my mind.

I look forward to A 2nd Cup, 1111 E. 11th Street, Houston, Texas.