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…)

 

Let Freedom Ring!

It was 1976. The United States bicentennial celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. A colossal family road trip, from the Oklahoma panhandle to the East Coast, and an unforgettable history lesson. I was six.

The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing 27 colonial grievances against King George III and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. with Carl Albert, Speaker of the House, and a friend of my dad from Oklahoma.
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My brother and I in our bicentennial overalls crack me up, D.C.
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The Liberty Bell at Independence Hall, Philadelphia

In the city of brotherly love, the Declaration and U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted at Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bell remains, crack and all. The symbolic inscription reads: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land unto All the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). All means all.

One of my all-time favorite photos of Dad and Lady Liberty.

We rode the ferry to Ellis Island and ascended the steps within the Statue of Liberty all the way into her crown. The torch was closed, but the harbor remained open, welcoming the world’s homeless, freedom seekers. At the pedestal, there is a bronze plaque inscribed with the Emma Lazarus poem: 

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Picturesque Patriotism at Home

My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

God Bless America and Happy Fourth of July wherever you are! 

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 Kionna Walker LeMalle

Kionna is my close friend, my classmate, a fellow educator, a motivational speaker, a mother and a writer, like me. She calls me her “soul sister,” and I love her with my whole heart. We are the same in so many ways—except for the color of our skin and our experiences based on race.

“I’ve been quiet about the Ahmaud Arbery case, not because it doesn’t move me but because it almost breaks me. You see, I have four brothers, three sons, and a husband — and ALL of them can share stories of mistreatment because of their race, even my youngest. My husband who is a local pastor has been held at gun point more times than most who know him (except for other black men) can imagine. I suppose one time would be too much. But there have been multiple incidents, including one which my then toddler sons had to witness. We live in this reality though we do not always speak about it out loud.

“I was retwisting my hair a few days ago, and sitting there still and quiet with my household at rest, I found myself crying for Ahmaud. This was the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I cried tears of pain and anger that yet another black mother would not see her son on Mother’s Day for no fault of his own. And it isn’t that unjust murder doesn’t ever happen to others, it is that it so often happens to ours. If you are not raising a black boy, married to a black man, or living in our brown skin, you may not fully get this. That doesn’t make you a bad person. There are things you will never understand. But please stop the rhetoric that turns an innocent black man into a criminal after his death: the rhetoric that says he is aggressive because he tried to defend himself, the rhetoric that turns the self-defense case upside down and makes the murderers justified for defending themselves against an unarmed black man.

“Someone will be angry with me when they read this, and it will likely be someone I love and care for deeply. I know because I read your posts sometimes in silence and pain. Some of you have no idea how much you hurt me with your words, but I lay in bed and pray that the God in me and the God in you, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, will keep bringing us together until the point at which all of us truly value life—all life—as much as our own and our own kind. Kind. It’s a strange word, a word that offends me deeply. We are human—all of us, are we not? And I pray for my husband and my sons and the strength to continue to raise and support them in this world that we live in that vacillates between love and hate in extremes I cannot understand. Ahmaud Arbery could have been any of my sons, and what would you say then? My heart goes out to yet another family who didn’t have a chance to say good-bye and who has to relive the sin of their son’s, nephew’s, brother’s, uncle’s death over and over again while the powers that be try to make a case against yet another voiceless, lifeless black man.”

We are human—all of us, are we not?

Kionna Walker LeMalle, May 14, 2020

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.

Meet Dawna-Diamond Tyson

Diamond was my student in English II Pre-AP about seven years ago. In December 2019, she graduated with a bachelor of science in criminal justice around the same time that she posted the following on Facebook. In recent weeks I’ve remembered her words time and again with a heavy heart.

At this hour… I am reminiscing on growing up. And my heart goes out to the people that are my age that experienced heavy bullying, and those that are younger than me attempting to deal with bullying. Growing up, I remember being told a countless number of times that I was “too dark.” I had a guy in elementary school tell me that I was so dark that there would never be a shade of makeup for my complexion, and he too was of my ethnicity and with a similar complexion. I remember being called an “ugly monkey,” by a white child in middle school because I didn’t know how to control my emotions and I thought that I was “in true like with him.” I remember being called “nothing but a slave,” by a kid that was bi-racial, after watching the movie Roots in class. At least once a week the kid would call me a slave name from the movie. I remember being bullied by a large amount of girls because I didn’t dress the same as them…

As a backstory…

This summer I had the opportunity to work with and speak amongst very prestigious and empowered young women in the NEW Leadership Texas Program. And within the week that I was honored to be in their presence, we learned that we all struggled, but we arrived and we are going to continue to arrive and make a positive impact on the world…

Back to the prior issue…

Eventually I grew up. I have said things out of insecurity and I built a barrier around me for so long because I didn’t want to get hurt… But… Eventually I realized that I had to find the real me and I had to remove all of the labels on my skin that had been plastered and rotting for years. I listened to my parents and grew up. I found out who I was, and what I was worth. And I’m still growing. To any kid or to any parent that has a child struggling with a bully, be there for them. Love them, and don’t let an insecure child strongly affect the mental state of you or a child. Support and love is really everything. Remember that you are loved.

I notice that Diamond never called the bullying racism. But it is. Instead I heard her say…

Support and love is really everything.

Dawna-Diamond Tyson
December 7, 2019

Z is for Zen

What is Zen? According to the Zen Studies Society, Zen is “vast and boundless, far more than the rational mind can grasp. Just breathe in with full awareness. Taste the breath. Appreciate it fully. Now breathe out, slowly, with equal appreciation. Give it all away; hold onto nothing. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each time we inhale and exhale. To do so with conscious awareness, on a regular basis, is the transformative practice we call Zen.”

Recently I stumbled upon an Oprah Winfrey “Super Soul Sunday” episode with Thich Nhat Hanh, a legendary author, peace activist, and Zen Buddhist Monk. Between current Netflix binges, I urge you to take twenty minutes for his powerful message on listening with compassion and transforming relationships.

https://youtu.be/NJ9UtuWfs3U

Insightful and deep, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of four little conversational mantras that make a big difference:

Mantra #1: Darling, I’m here for you.

Mantra #2: Darling, I know you are there.

Mantra #3: Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I’m here for you.

Mantra #4: Darling, I suffer. I’m trying my best to practice. Please help me.

The lotus grows out of the mud, Darling.

Y is for Y’all

First off, I didn’t grow up in Oklahoma saying, “Y’all.” I grew up saying, “You guys!” Y’all is very Texan. Correct me if you are from another state that says, “Y’all.” However, as I’ve lived in Texas for twenty-six years, I now find myself saying “Ya’ll,” (occasionally) especially when I need more than one person’s attention or when frustrations follow.

I wanted to write about YouTube today because YouTube starts with Y. I listen to music through my headphones everyday for an hour or so while I walk in the mornings and then often in the evenings accompanied by wine and Kody. Life goes on with music and YouTube.

Then a couple of days ago as I wrote W is for Walk on the Wild Side, my laptop crashed, as in, my hard drive crashed. I felt like a complete idiot for not backing up my work—my writing for school this semester is possibly gone. Life almost did not go on. Thank God for my iPhone! But do you know who is a computer genius? Kody. Thank God for Kody! He has ordered my new hard drive and will install, Y’all!

I hate to even whine with the world-wide economic downturn, and I hate to add gloom to the current doom. I’m straddling the line of guilt and gratitude for housing and income, for food and cars, and for our needs being met. We have the means for a solution to the laptop problem. It’s possible that I have lost some of my work, but I’ve lost things before, and life moves on.

Anyway, I’m not sure what I would’ve said about YouTube except for that I find balance in the music just as I find balance in writing and walking.

Speaking of walks, I like to start at a brisk pace to get the ol’ heart rate up. Over the course of an hour, my music slows down along with my feet, and the tunes become progressively girlier. If you happen to be following, you might even hear me singing or notice the occasional melodramatic hand gesture as my feet hit the pavement. Anyone care for my playlist?

“New Breed” by James BKS featuring Q-Tip, Idris Elba, and Little Simz

https://youtu.be/5Pc7TJZUx8o

“Lose Control” by Meduza, Becky Hill, and Goodboys

https://youtu.be/b7kxtIGaNpw

“Hideaway” by Kiesza

https://youtu.be/Vnoz5uBEWOA

“All About that Bass” by Postmodern Julebox

https://youtu.be/aLnZ1NQm2uk

“Crazy” by Angela Ricci

https://youtu.be/f2jgdsHzDf4

“Hit the Road Jack” by Becca Krueger

https://youtu.be/OfUDsHtSv88

And the cool thing about YouTube is how it takes your requests and follows them with other songs you might like. Sometimes our evenings are hip-hoppier or more alternative or more Americana folk. Sometimes Kody chooses and then I choose, and we go back and forth like that. It’s called balance, Y’all.

This is my second to last A-Z blogging challenge post. Let’s Z what I can conjure up for tomorrow. The rest can be found here in case Y’all want more:

A is for Apple and B is for Boozer and C is for Champagne and Chanel No. 5 and D is for Dad and E is for Epiphany and F is for Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope and G is for Great _______ and H is for Hatbox and Honeysuckle and I for an I and J is for Jesus and K is for Kody and L is for the Lovely Lauren and M is for the Marvelous Misti and a Dirty Martini and N is for the Numbers and O is for the Oversized Owl and P—Prayer and My Grandmother’s Pearls and R is for Ripples Colliding and S is for Siblings and T is for the Tomlinsons and U is for Untamed and V is for Violoncello, Voices, and a Vision and W is for Walk on the Wild Side and X is for That Time I Xeroxed My Face

W is for Walk on the Wild Side

Crystal came to Houston for a stay,

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Walked around a bayou known as Brays,

Snapped photos with her phone along the way,

Squirrels and birds and dogs stopped her to say,

They said, hey babe, talk a walk on the wild side.

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

This post inspired by Lou Reed and A Tribe Called Quest also inspires my morning walk. Can I kick it?

Yes, you can! Have a great week, Everyone!