Friday, September 14, 2012

Things I Know About Me: Me, fluently

Shapely thighs, strategically placed curves, definitively sexy lips; I love being me. All of the experiences, education, creativity, emotions, and relationships I have cultivated and collected over the years have shaped me in to a person I absolutely adore. I love me, I’m in love with me; but, I wouldn’t date me.

As much as I value time, I don’t seem to be able to make any for anyone else. I am a difficult person to get to know. It’s not just balancing three children, teaching at multiple colleges and writing that occupies my time. But it’s my selfish pursuit of ‘me’ time: time where I learn to be myself and what it is that makes me happy.

The more I consider dating again the more I struggle to answer the question: “what do you like to do in your free time?”

I don’t know when I lost the ability to think of myself as a separate entity with my own interests.

“Relax” the doctor advised.

I was relaxed. I was sitting in the office after racing, already late, to my appointment. I slid in to the parking lot, signed in at the desk, and waited—and waited.

“Lie down, close your eyes, and relax.”

I closed my eyes and thought about nothing. I tried to think of what people thought about when they thought about nothing. I counted clouds, then I counted words; words have a way of stringing themselves together and soon counting words or numbers slipped in to counting how long I was sitting in silence.

“How long do I have to relax?”

“Shhh…” she advised, the clicking of her laptop punctuating the silence.

My eyes closed, the room darkened, sounds muted, it paled in comparison to the feeling of spinning slowly then faster spiraling almost out of control.

She checked my blood pressure again. “Ok, don’t try to relax anymore” she laughed.

At some point I lost the ability to relax. Added to worrying about saving to meet upcoming Visa requirements and moving my children to the UK, I now have to worry about worrying.

I miss me.

I miss knowing myself so well that I don’t have to go to the doctor to find out I’m stressed or that I need to walk or be more active or ultimately, that I need to reacquaint myself with myself.

I’ve started in doses: arranging my kid-free music library. The next step is a restaurant of my own, a favorite meal, a favorite place.

I am falling in love with myself all over again. But I won’t date me, not until I know me better.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Scent of Innocence (Scenes from the Attic): Fiction

Scent of Innocence

            A breeze lingers before my window and on it the faint scent of innocence.  It’s a slow moving, salt laden breeze and oh, how I’ve missed it—the breeze, not the innocence.  I’ve been away from home for six months, long enough to forget how it makes my hair frizz; long enough to forget the slick feel it adds to everything it touches; long enough to forget a lot of things—but not to forgive them. Soon it will be time to get dressed in the black dress my grandmother picked out and out of respect, at least for her, I will wear.  She thinks it will give me the aura of mourning not reflected in my eyes: I, for one, doubt it.  I cannot mourn the death of a man I did not know in life.  Well that’s not true; I’ve mourned the deaths of innocents everywhere.  I’ve even mourned the loss of my own innocence, though I can’t remember it.  It’s not even true that I didn’t know him; I just didn’t know him as one might expect under the circumstances.  So I mean to say I won’t mourn this particular man at this particular time, particularly—and this my grandmother does not know—because I killed him, well almost. 

            So when I say I haven’t been home for six months, I mean I haven’t been in the home I was raised in for the past six months.  I have been in Atlantic City since then and because that was not a trip of leisure, I didn’t notice the breeze. I visited my father the last time I was here; even then knowing he would die but not that I would be the one to kill him.  A few weeks before my visit, I got a call from a colleague that someone was offering $75,000 to have my father killed and I wanted to know why.  Not why someone wanted him dead, but why anyone was contacting me about wanting him dead.  In the nature of my business it is common courtesy to contact an agent before trying to kill a member of their family.  Not only is it good business sense, its good common sense—I’m known to have a bit of a temper. But no one knew we were related. 

            Anyway, my plan was to confront him in his living room, imagining his surprise to see me, since I didn’t have a key. He would talk about his problems: how apparently he owed money to some people I knew, which in my experience isn’t why they wanted him dead. He would tell me he told them I was his daughter and that I would kill them if they touched him.  Turns out he knew from a friend of a friend about my career and thought namedropping would save him.  And it would have.  They were still in the planning stages and hadn’t ordered a hit; they were waiting to verify he knew me—which my visit would prove. I didn’t like being put in a position to help him and even as I slipped in through the living room window, I hadn’t decided I would.

            I knew right away something was different, not wrong but different.  In my line of work you know death when you meet it and it was staring me in the face and using my father’s eyes to do it.  Damn.  Now I’d have to find out who killed him and just how they planned to make it up to me.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

201 Grammercy Place: Making a House a Home Part III

As an adult I moved into a townhouse when I moved to Baltimore, it was where I lived. Then my family and I moved to another townhouse. We purchased a home just before my middle child was born. I like the house but it never quite felt like home. When my ex-husband first moved out, I still couldn’t connect this house with home. And now, as I look at what to pack and what to give away, I pass his clothes still hanging in my closet, bags of his jackets and shoes clutter corners. Not memories—those are gone—but actual items remain. Items take up far more room than memories do. The house doesn’t feel like a home but then again, no place does.

“No matter where life takes us, your home will always be with me,” I assure my daughter. “You will always have a home.”

I believe it—home is where your family is.

Now to start making this house feel like home; no matter how long we are going to be here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

201 Grammery Place: Making a House a Home Part II

It’s been almost twenty years since I stepped foot in my grandmother’s house; since it was there to step foot in to. Decades ago, in the name of imminent domain, the city of Atlantic City and its Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) “purchased” 201 Grammercy and the many old houses around it to “build houses” for future residents. The city gave my grandmother a fraction of her asking price which was a fraction of what the house was worth but with my mother out of the country and my sister and I building homes or preparing lots for future homes, there was no one but my grandmother to fight the city.

She lost.

For years, my grandmother was upset about selling the house. One day she seemed to have let go of the hurt and settled in to her home in Charleroi, PA: the home “Papa” built with his “own hands” back when Gran was a kid. Many years and many more renovations later, the house felt like her home.

They say in dreams houses represent our bodies.

Gran died six years ago. I dream of her often. In most of my dreams we are back at 201; sometimes I’m slipping through the grass or running down the back stairs. In really good dreams I don’t even remember she’s dead. Sometimes I do. Still neither of us mentions the absence of life—we don’t need to.

The other day my daughter said she doesn’t feel like she has a home any more. With all of the preparing to move to a new home, our home stopped feeling like home.

She’s right. Though I have to admit it started before that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

On Kickstarter

Just over a month ago I launched my first Kickstarter project. While it was not financially successful, the experience taught me more than I thought it could.

I learned to ask for help early. After talking with my mother, she gave me lots of advice on how to get the public interested in my topic—if only I had talked to her more than three days before my project was due to expire.

After my project ended I learned even more.

My project is about reuniting families after the emancipation. Mothers searching for children they quite possibly will never find; children alone, scared and vulnerable searching for an idea of family that they have only seen through skewed vision; people searching for people they have never known: fragments of these stories bring tears to my eyes and they aren’t even written yet.

I believe in my project.

Kickstarter, though a platform where people and funding connect, is more than about gaining financial support for your project; it’s a way to inspire passion.

After my first project closed I gathered even more information and launched an amended version. This project is a bit more focused and detailed: I believe in it.

While launching my project, “Jealous is the Past,” I began reading other projects in search of projects to support. I found quite a few; some are really inspiring—one brought tears to my eyes. The magnitude of the project is—and I use this word infrequently—amazing. The project I’m talking about is “Chitown”: This project is about kids uniting over basketball—a common game in perhaps circumstances common to some uncommon to most.

This project inspires me to do more in my own community; to get involved where I see good things happen; and to initiate action where I see none. This project inspires me not to just support it financially, but to support it in words.

With all that I have learned and all that I have earned, whether I get the financial support I’m asking for, my time on Kickstarter has been a success. Success is all in how you define it. Finding a project that allowed me to feel, when I was only looking for one to support? I would say that’s a success no matter how I define it.

201 Grammercy Place: Making a House a Home Part I

Of all the places I have ever lived, my home remains 201 Grammercy Place in Atlantic City, New Jersey. 201 was one of four houses my grandmother owned. The house, now that I think of it, was much like its owner. The house was old enough to have history—though I never quite learned all of its past. Slick, grey stairs led up to the large, pale-pink and white guest house with a circular sun porch. Behind the doors, a foyer with stained glass windows and dark wood chairs with lion’s mouths adorning the arm rests greeted both guests and residents.

The house was full of contradictions.

The foyer faced the winding staircase, always shiny from polish; the dining room where guests devoured Gran’s cooking; and the living room—the room where my grandfather did most of his living. Dimly lit by a mini-crystal chandelier, the foyer hid, beneath rich, dark-paneled wood, the glass knob that led to the downstairs bathroom. The kitchen hid a staircase which led first to an area dubbed the pantry. The staircase was lined with dry goods as if to hide the presence of stairs leading upwards, directly to a wall. After the first time, the rice, sugar, flour, cookies, and other goodies effectively kept my interest from wondering too long at what was behind the wall—until now.

When I was 8 years old I was afraid of the ghost living in my grandmother’s attic.

There were lots of areas to be afraid of: the basement apartment, the cellar filled with objects I had never seen in use, the third floor with its phantomlike guests and their secret lives. But, few of these places, despite my worries of quietly judgmental ghosts were ever able to produce fear strong enough to keep my sister and me from loving Gran’s house. The house was filled with aromas: pine cleansers, sweet wood, frying fresh Blue fish, crispy bacon, Vick’s Salve and sulphur.

Certain smells will forever remind me of home.

Friday, August 17, 2012

BBQ Ice Cream Cake: A Recipe Contest I Can Enter

I cook. Yet, I am not a chef or a cook. I cook because my family and I eat. I’m fairly good at it—eating, not cooking. And yet, day in and day out I cook and so my family and I eat.

When I cook there are no mathematical equations, no formulas and no actual recipes.

I could enter a recipe contest, but I think judges frown on disclosures that read “do not attempt if you are living or would like to.” People tend to turn their noses up at recipes that list things like fire extinguishers and smoke alarms in the ingredients.

Growing up, my grandmother was a phenomenal cook: cooking is not hereditary. When I moved out on my own I was surprised to learn that I could not cook. Eating out was just fine—until I got pregnant, and hungrier. I began experimenting in the kitchen. That’s when I learned that there really were only a few things that didn’t taste better with cinnamon.

I cinnamonized everything.

Still, I can’t add cinnamon to a recipe since, you know, people expect other ingredients as well. Besides, I just may be directionally challenged. My one attempt at following a recipe for a Lemon Meringue Pie ended—just not well. The recipe was too complicated for me to follow. At some point the directions switched from making the meringue to making the filling. I switched as soon as I realized it. That was probably one or two ingredients too late. The smell of baked eggs permeated the house. I will leave it at that.

I may not know how to write a recipe, but I know how to eat and I know when a recipe is easy enough for me to follow. Not from reading it, but from following it.

And so, an idea is born: an interactive recipe contest that goes from paper to pan.

Ingredients: From Paper...

  • Recipe Writers
  • Cooks, all levels
  • Recipes, multiple categories
  • Kitchen, Professional grade
  • Actual Ingredients, depends on recipes attempted
  • Creativity
  • Food Tasters, Adventurous
  • Appetite
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Smoke Alarm
  • Cinnamon

...To Pan

  1. Team up with an organization like Living Social that offers a site to prepare the recipes.
  2. Encourage chefs, cooks, eaters, etc…to submit their best recipe in multiple categories.
  3. Have readers choose, nominate, support, and/or adopt a recipe that they are willing to prepare (cannot be the cook who submitted the recipe).
  4. Gather participants at a professional location similar to 918 F Street, a local community college kitchen or a local culinary school.
  5. Watch, shake and stir: volunteer cooks attempt to follow the recipes.
  6. Gather for group Tasting test.
  7. Select winner(s).
  8. Repeat steps as necessary.

Where ever can I find a Kitchen you ask?

1. Ask friends to host recipe cooking parties.
2. Host the event at an organization that offers set up and break down; for example Living Social's 918 F Street.
3. Host events around the world at local culinary schools
4. Host events around the globe at local community colleges
5. Virtually anywhere: have cooks prepare the recipes live on cam and upload

My Culinary Masterpiece: BBQ Ice Cream Cake

More than one way to thaw out an ice cream cake

Literally Me: Words Move Me

Almost twenty years ago I moved to Baltimore—because of words.

I was tired of working five days a week, hanging out five to six nights a week, and feeling like I was standing still seven days a week. Words reminded me that I had goals and ambition to reach them; that my life off the page was not at all like I imagined it would be.

Everything I was reading, all of the books I rewrote in my head, ended in Baltimore—I should mention that these books were fiction.

Still, they led me to move from New Jersey to Maryland; almost twenty years later, words move me again.

I am in the process of relocating my family, of uprooting them, to move to the UK for two years while I pursue my PhD in Creative Writing at Lancaster University (UK). The pursuit of my PhD is on one hand quite a selfish one. There are no guarantees it will further my career or guarantee me a full-time faculty position. There are no guarantees my PhD will get my not-yet-written novel published.

In life, there are few guarantees. One is that I’m guaranteed to fail if I don’t try. Since when is failing an option?

Pursuing my degree across the pond, shows my children that education can take you wherever you want to go and to places you may not even imagine. My children, 6, 13, and 17, are excited, scared, intrigued, shocked. At times, so am I though; I’ve only now begun to admit it.

Moving to the UK requires research, creativity, and communication. I’m a selective communicator by nature. This move across the world is actually bringing me closer to my network of friends, colleagues. I am having conversations about the ability to get around Lancashire without a car; how to transfer my children to schools in the UK; how to find a voice over or writing job to add to my teaching and writing.

My questions, my journey require a combination of communication: phone calls, emails, letters and tweets, updates, and posts. I am communicating more today than I have ever.

I don't always communicate effectively. It isn't that I don't know how; it is that at times silence suits me, not the situation. Moving to the UK means asking for help. It means having questions and getting answers.
I can not afford selective communication. Well, not in the terms I use to define it--to define myself. Words, at times, have been seductive; aphrodisiacs to seduction which inevitably lead to goodbyes. I'm infatuated with endings.
And now, words once again move towards endings--but towards beginnings too. While I am not at all certain where the words will move me after the UK; I'm enjoying the story and the telling of it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Boy Power Too: I'm Raising Men Too

Girl power!

It’s everywhere I look.

Online, I can search for games that encourage my daughter to solve problems, think critically, explore anything and question everything. I can look for movies to inspire my daughter to live her dreams: to make things happen. Offline, I can pick up books about real girls doing real things—really amazing things. Academically, I can enroll my daughter in programs to remind her that engineering, math, sciences, the world is hers for the taking, or the making.

My daughter is beautiful, intelligent, creative, kind; she’s amazing. She can be anything she sets her mind to be. I tell her these things —I have been telling her these things since before she was born—yet, my daughter doesn’t believe everything I tell her. As a mother of a daughter I am fortunate that the world seems to support my efforts. And so the world (at least my corner of it) validates my words through programs, organizations, portals, and other venues.

But what about my boys?

While I don’t look to the world to validate my words, what is the world telling my sons? Are they to imply that the lack of boys’ programs means boys don’t need reminders to question limits of technology, of structures, of their very worlds and thoughts? Are they not to strive to be chemists, politicians, academics because there are few programs actively looking for them?

I know opportunities have not always existed for girls. Around the world, my country, my state, my county, my community—girls have not historically had the same opportunities as boys; many still don’t.

I don’t want the programs for girls to go away.

I also don’t want the world to forget that there are boys too. Not every boy looks to history, books, newspapers, the world and says “oh, he’s a doctor, I can be one too.”

Still, where are the books, games, shows, programs and organizations to remind my boys that they can be anything they can dream of being?

I’ve never been one to look to my world to define my limits: I wasn’t raised that way and so I won’t raise my children that way.

Still, by not supporting our sons we may be teaching them something we aren’t prepared for them to learn.

So, while I don’t look to the world to validate my efforts:

Dear world,

Please don’t forget my sons.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

If Daughters Came with Directions

I worry I don’t know how to parent a 15 year-old young woman.

I have been one. I have known some. But now that I’m raising one, it all seems different. 

When I was 15, I was in to boys—well, young men and their bourgeoning attentions. My friend—and since she’s a married, mother of three, I will not name her—and I strolled the Atlantic City boardwalk from one end to the other in attempts to capture their attention and hold it for as long as our fleeting moments of interest could allow.

My mother—I think—thought we were exercising. Seasons before she had accused my sister and me of being ‘boy crazy.’ 

I wasn’t yet.

By the time I could have been positively diagnosed as boy crazy, my mother was ready to move to Germany—alone.

Today, I parent a 15 year old with no road map, no directions, with nothing but common sense, love, and my memories of wanting to be mothered at 15 to guide me.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Help! I'm Scared of My Phone

Ok, so maybe scared is the wrong word. Hesitant, nervous, unsure, intimidated by…those might be a bit more accurate.

I ordered the Sprint Intercept sometime last week. I’ve had it now for two days and have yet to take everything out of the box. I will—soon.

A slim, shiny, Droid-capable, touch tone device, I should be excited to begin my next technological journey.

I’m not.

I got this phone by default, more aptly by the fault. I broke my Rant. To say I loved my old phone is to exaggerate. I liked it. Even now my mind—as non committal as ever—is replacing my technology. I like it—my Rant I mean. We shared moments of frustration, joy and adventure as I learned to navigate it as phones of its kind should be navigated: effortlessly (mostly).

I don’t remember this hesitation when I got my old-new phone.

I have come up with several excuses why I cannot or have not activated my Intercept. I was planning to go to the Sprint store to have them activate it so I can get my pictures and contacts moved to my new phone.

What? My pictures are stored online?


What about my hundreds of contacts?

Ok, now would be an excellent time to delete some of those uncontacted contacts.

I have run out of excuses.

Still, the thought of being tied to this phone is somehow bothersome. Internet, video, camera, email, IM, secrets, they were all features I enjoyed on my—other—phone. So why this shimmering one peeking out of its cardboard cradle is now both intimidating and alluring is somewhat surprising.

Larger screen, touch tone keypad…

Is that it?

Am I so intoxicated by having a device of this magnitude respond to my touch? Hmm…maybe.

Now, as my broken Rant hangs on with one bar of energy left in its cool, cute little body, my new phone awaits to spring to life with one touch—mine.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Miracles of Medicine

Medicine always makes me feel better—especially when I don’t take it.

I have my Aunt Cliss—Great Aunt Cliss—to thank for that. Growing up we didn’t think she was so great. She didn’t seem to have patience for my sister or me. And so, we devised ways to annoy her. It was the 70’s; “Kill them with kindness” wasn’t popular yet.

For years my sister and I were convinced Aunt Cliss was a witch. Her long silver hair tightly wound in a bun or loosely hanging past her shoulders, her thin yet muscular body, the glasses she fretted over but seemed to be able to see perfectly fine without, her frequent unexplained long walks followed by a knack of returning at the wrong time, her disdain for everything ‘us’, and her medicines convinced us she was a witch.

Growing up, we spent a lot of time with our grandmother, and since she lived there, we spent a lot of time in the presence of Aunt Cliss.

If we were sick, Gran would make us wheat pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheese, and bacon. We would spend hours huddled under blankets reading, watching TV, laughing—when she was there.

When Gran was away at her apartment where she stayed during the week because of her job, there was Aunt Cliss.

As soon as one of us said we were sick—Aunt Cliss sprang in to action.

The clanging of cauldrons, shuffling of ingredients and boiling of water was quickly followed by the peeling of onions, rinsing of lemons, and pouring of syrups. Onions, lemon, corn syrup, honey and a pinch of what tasted then like spite but was probably humor: I will always remember it as a thick, bubbling, brown concoction with the sting of honey.
I’ve hated honey ever since.

She made her brew many times before she died in 1986. I only remember tasting it once. After that one spoonful I felt better—instantly. Today, when I’m sick I imagine the pungent aroma of onions and lemons and I feel better. A pound or so of peeled onions, scrubbed lemons, a jar of brown, thick, sweet liquid, a dash of humor and a vat of honey: A magical cure for imaginary ailments.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Relationship with Food

Over the last few years, my relationship with food has grown infinitely more intimate.
Growing up, food was power. Oil shaped alliances: My mother couldn’t cook, my grandmother could. Flour forged allegiances: my mother wanted to become a vegetarian, my grandmother’s fried chicken made it impossible for me to consider life without meat.
My childhood memories are a plethora of aromas: fried onions, fried chicken, smoldering greens, cinnamon.
Food was a weapon. Crunchy bacon and Ex-lax were weapons against anyone who didn’t love hard enough, long enough, enough.
One of the first times my sister and I prepared dinner for our grandparents, we seasoned a whole chicken—oregano, salt, season salt. We put it in the oven at 350°as soon as my grandmother pulled out from in front of her pink and white house in Atlantic City. We took it out one hour later when she arrived to our townhouse in Somers Point. Juice and blood oozed as knife pierced the raw flesh.
I don’t remember cooking anything for many years after that—though I of course continued eating.
Years passed. My mother left. I went to college. One semester later, I was home.
My early 20’s is a haze of late nights at clubs, cranberry juice and Vodka, beauty salons, malls, working and sex. My relationship with food was strained. I didn’t require much of it—it didn’t require much of me.
I ate, but didn’t cook. If before running out the door to go to work after 4 hours of sleep, I placed a frozen chicken, a blade of grass, and a cheese cracker on the table, I came home to a home-made dinner of fried chicken, greens, and macaroni and cheese.
I moved to Maryland. Life on my own did not at first awaken cooking skills. When it did, I discovered cinnamon. I baked cinnamon chicken, cinnamon pork chops, cinnamon fish. When my boyfriend moved in, he cooked, we ate. I didn’t truly start cooking until I got pregnant. Food became my weapon against Baltimore’s conspiracy to underfeed me.
Children, marriage, work, undergrad, writing, reading, loving, hating, affairs, graduate school, losing me, finding me: my thirties saw food as an ally, a distant friend, an accomplice—never a lover. You feed those you love. In my 30’s, when my then-husband stopped cooking, it signified the end of the marriage in a way his affairs had not. When we tried again to “make the marriage work” his food sat like a lump in my throat: I could not swallow food marinated in lies.
I stopped trying to eat his cooking. He stopped cooking. We divorced.
Today, I am nearly 40.
Like many of my relationships, my relationship with food is complex. Food tempts, teases, flirts, fulfills, indulges me. It fills me up and leaves me hungry. It does not complete or define me. It is not an extension of me or a reflection on me. I savor and sample. I try new foods. I do not eat twice what I do not like once.
May people I date savor memories of me as they might recall a delicacy: tender, flavorful, juicy, spicy. A coveted treat they would like to try again perhaps when I am again in season, available, ready.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Life in Narration

I realize it’s unnatural. This fascination I have with publishing my thoughts online as if people are less apt to find them has become an addiction of sorts.

I expect to be heard when I speak, to be listened to when I utter, to be read when I write. 

 But, when I blog…

I blame the power of publishing. This ability I have to indulge in textual espionage –exposing the secrets, thoughts, plots of others—goes exponentially beyond the power of words.

Who among my friends would expect me to write about the perpetual death of one of us? We are 38, 39. We are too young to die. And yet one of us insists on doing it.

This first line demands to be written, and so do the ones to come tumbling after it. It’s how I think—on the page. My life in narration.

How else does a friend calling at 2 in the morning to talk about her dying relationship as opposed to her dying body make sense to me?

Maybe it’s not supposed to.

Maybe I’m supposed to just listen. Listen without writing. Listen without blogging. Listen without understanding that we are 38, 39. We are too young to die. And yet, one of us insists on doing it.

Learning About Learning

My son is failing algebra. As an English major I can’t help him. Well, not in the way I would expect to be able to help him. I would love to be able to open the book, flip to the page and see not the answers, but how to solve the problems.

But Algebra 2 does not make any sense to me.

Because my son goes to a Title I school in Baltimore County, they offer students who need help free tutoring services in Math and Reading. The system allows parents the freedom to choose from an array of tutors claiming a number of specialties that in my experience so far, they just may not have.

I first contacted Title I a few months ago; at the tutoring fair they handed me a booklet filled with data, information and resources; and the freedom and responsibility to choose the best provider.

The information is good, relevant, but something in this system is broken and I know broken when I see it because I have broken many things—and I’ve fixed a few too.

My first choice was Gap Busters. They looked good on paper and in person when I met them at the fair. If only they had called back. My son was set up for their services but they never contacted me.

A week later I chose C2 Education. The representative was also nice, friendly and at the fair—I should mention that most of the providers did not attend the fair. While C2 Education offers help for children struggling with standard math, they cannot seem to educate children in Algebra 2. Optimistically, they thought giving the tutor pamphlets would refresh her memory and help my son.

It did neither.

And so we went to A to Z tutoring. Now, I could call them A to F because my son is still failing. But, since he was already failing before he was set up with them and because he is failing not because they did help but because they didn’t, I won’t play with their name.

The representative/supervisor again seemed nice. My son does not need tutoring in how to be nice. On the phone I was told a tutor would contact me between “today and tomorrow.” That was a few tomorrows ago.

I waited Monday, then Tuesday; on Wednesday I left a voice message.

Three tutors later and my son is still failing Algebra 2. My son is learning a lot through this experience. He’s learning that you have to be your own advocate and that sometimes systems fall apart.

So, what do I do? I call; I complain; I write about it. And then I find a tutor who will help my son learn Algebra 2. And what do I learn? I guess it’s time to learn Algebra 2 and time to fix the system.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Stay Single--when you want to be

As of one week ago, I was selectively single. Today, I’m still single.  I’m just more convinced that I’m ready to seriously consider being in a relationship—or at least ready to commit to he idea of getting to know people I would seriously consider being in a relationship with.
That wasn’t always the case.
After my divorce I decided I needed some time to just be: Be a mom; be myself; be alone. During this time I rediscovered things I like to do; music I like to listen to; things I want to experience. I rediscovered myself not within any of the number of roles that define slices of my life—but me when my roles are off.
To society being single is a cause.
Eventually I expect to see walks, telethons and drives to eradicate the state of being single.  Friends, family, coworkers worry about singles; I’m not sure why. Reveling in my singularity I’m statistically more likely to be happier, to live longer, and to smile more—at least more than I did during the declining years of marriage—than if I were in a relationship for which I was not ready.
And they—relationships I mean—seemed to be everywhere.
When I was young “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?” usually resulted in my having conversations I did not want to have. “Can I have your number?”  resulted in my dodging phone calls or in giving the number to some phantom residence.
Rejection always seemed kinder when I wasn’t around to do it.
Today, these questions are met with “no, thank you” or “no”: I don’t indulge in conversations I don’t wish to have: another benefit of divorce and maturity.
Remaining single in 2012 is not as easy as it looks. Here are a few tips—not a few easy tips; not a few nice tips—just a few tips.
1.      Just say no: friends, family, coworkers and strangers will try to set you up on dates with people they presumably care about. If you aren’t ready for a relationship, why say yes? Say no early and often. Saying no after asking what he does for a living, how he looks, and why he is available only make it appear that you are weighing the option and he’s coming up short.
2.      Develop confidence in your own skin: spending time with men you have absolutely no interest in dating is one of the fastest confidence builders.  First, love yourself and the skin you’re in.  If you need to make changes for you to love the way you look—do that. Then, spend time in places where you least expect to find someone you would go for.  Warning: love doesn’t typically adhere to plans or timelines, so just because you aren’t looking for it, doesn’t mean it’s not looking for you.  Still, when you are not ready for a relationship and if the wrong person comes along, you’ll be able to strike up conversations, etc…without the possibility of anything more lasting forming.

When I wanted to be in a relationship but wasn’t quite sure, I spent time looking in a place I was least likely to find one. I met a lot of interesting people, but I didn’t seriously consider them.  I admit, this probably wasted a lot of people’s time, but I never pretended to be more ready than I was.  I didn’t string any one along—intentionally. Still, spending time there only made me more sure of what I want when I want it. It also helped me appreciate things like: the importance of telling people no; the value of my time; the value of other people’s time and the art of beginning and ending a conversation.

3.      Immerse yourself in life: find the thing you are truly passionate about and start doing them.  Join or cobble together clubs and groups that are doing what you like to do.  More time doing leaves less time to get to know anyone.
Warning: while you are out living life and doing what you love—you may find yourself meeting and getting to know people you identify with; people you want to know more—people you can consider friends. Some of my best dates have been with friends…Having friends in your life who share the same interests when you aren’t ready for a relationship means you won’t jump into a relationship just to have someone to go to readings with you.  It also means when you are ready for a relationship, you know where to find people who share your interests.

Ok, so it turns out there is no clear cut formula, no magic, no list of tips that will make life less messy.  The only advice is make a choice.

If you aren’t ready to date: don’t.

And if you are, when you find yourself ready to make room for someone else—jump in with both arms open wide.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

I don’t look down when I walk.

I look in front of me, around me, sometimes behind me, but I don’t look down when I walk. Probably, this says a lot about me: where I’m going, how I got there.

Last week I was helping a friend move—if we are still calling it that.

“You have to be careful about this,” I said, looking at the 6 inch (in my guess) black corkscrew nail sticking out from the floor.

This should have been my first clue. Even with my glasses on, I don’t see well enough to have known it was a six-inch black, corkscrew nail.

My concern was that my friend would walk out onto her balcony without shoes and step on the nail.

So, it turns out, the nail was not in the floor but was in the screen.

I found this out when I walked through it.
When I look down, I don’t see where I’m going, I see how I’m getting there. Maybe that’s why I don’t do it. In life, I often over analyze the steps it takes to get from where I am to where I want to be.

That should make my path more logical, my choices more coherent, my successes more certain. Sometimes, it does. Other times, analyzing the steps keeps me from taking them. Often, when I’ve tried, watching my feet causes me to stumble or slow my pace. I get where I’m going eventually, but mainly only once I look up.

As of today, the screen door is still laying beside, not on its track.

I don’t look down when I walk.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Things I Tolerate

A banana.
That’s really all my 3 year old wants. 
A banana—right now.
So, we pull into the 7-11 on Lombard and Broadway in search of a banana.  While I am no 7-11 Connoisseur, I have visited more than a few 7-11’s over the past 37 years, though only recently for fruit.  As a last-minute meal planner and mother of three, I make frequent trips to the grocery store, where I usually buy fresh fruit along with things I either do or do not need at the time.  In fact, during my son’s banana melt down, I have four yellow bananas fresh from the groves of Giant Supermarket slowly ripening on the top of my microwave.
Despite the patented 7-11 layout, it takes a moment to orient myself once inside.  There, near the counter, where they seem to be in most 7-11’s, is the largest basket of brown bananas I have ever seen.  I wonder if he’ll eat plantains, I think.  Though the sign clearly reads bananas, the brown-spotted, banana shaped, not-quite-thick-enough-to be-considered plantains, are not bananas.  Those that aren’t brown-freckled are completely brown.  All are soft, some quite mushy, none quite edible.
My 9 year-old-son helps me find the least offensive of the over-ripe offering. Finally, with a brown-streaked banana in hand, I prepare to pay fresh-fruit prices for second-rate fruit.  Would they try to pawn off bad fruit at the 7-11 near my home in Woodlawn?  No.  At the large, brightly-lit 7-11 downtown?  No.  At the 7-11’s I have frequented in and around Catonsville, Glen Burnie and elsewhere?
“Yes.” the cashier says.
Her ‘yes’ is in response to my presence.  I am supposed to translate that into the ‘can I help you?’  I expected to hear.
I ignore the incensed beating of my heart, the outraged rushing of my blood, the maddened urgings of common sense.
“Are these supposed to look like this?”  I ask.
“I don’t know what they are supposed to look like,” the cashier answers.
            Rudeness, over-ripe fruit, asinine cashiers, I know people suffer these inconveniences every day. 
There are injustices I tolerate.  For whatever reason, brown-freckled bananas are not one of them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Launching a Revamped Kickstarter Project

Now that I've learned a few things from my first attempt at Kickstarter, I'm ready to give it another try.

Please visit my Kickstarter project and let me know what you think, thanks.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Don't Forget the Milk

“Tell me you love me.”

Lie to me, she heard.

“I have loved you.”

She was fluent in compromise. It was how she managed to live with him without living with him; without growing or going in the same direction at the same time.

Jeremy didn’t often notice.

“What happened to us?”

You! Abigail wanted to scream.  Instead she slowly sipped her coffee, thick with sugar, syrupy with Crème. Sips allowed Abigail time to edit her words. Only two more weeks until she was back home with her husband—the man she hoped to love again. Abigail had fallen in and out of love many times —just never with the same person. She hoped; they both hoped—just for different things.

“In two weeks I’ll be leaving for Iraq. When I come back things will be different.”

“I think you’re right,” Abigail agreed, smiling and sipping and editing her words.

The Thing About 40

Before turning 40, I heard a lot about how liberating 40 is. How 40 would bring even more confidence and opportunities. Turning 40 would be like becoming myself—like I did in my 20’s, my 30’s—all over again. It would begin a time to re-rediscover me.

I’m 40 and I’m doing things I never thought I would do. 

Of all of the many things I do now—and the one I can actually talk about—is asking for money to pursue a project that I believe can change lives.  If nothing else my research will allow me to tell stories—it’s what I do—stories that may answer questions of how people connect; how people build families; how people rebuild themselves.

I am applying for and to grants, scholarships, fellowships and every other type of funding in between; I am doing what my grandmother said never to do: asking for money.

And now I have launched my own Kickstarter project; I have prepared a proposal shamelessly asking for funding to help me tell the stories of mothers searching for children; the stories of what happened after the Emancipation; the stories still unfolding today.

And, I’ve put it online for virtually everyone to see.

Confidence to have a dream and dedication to pursuing it; come to think of it, my grandmother would be proud after all.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rediscovering my Hair Style

My daughter is a beautiful young woman with thick, dark brown hair; wine colored, almond shaped eyes; creamy, full cheeks and hundreds of other attributes, talents and gifts. When the hair on her head is long, thin and shiny she believes me when I tell her she is beautiful.  When her hair is her natural length, either natural or relaxed, she does not.

It isn’t that she only feels beautiful when her hair is beautiful; she worries that she is only beautiful when her hair is longer.

I wish I could convince her otherwise.

My words are not those that will convince her, probably because I have and sometimes still do feel the same way about myself. When my hair is braided it frames my face and falls to my shoulders, the faint swish of braids makes me move differently and sometimes even feel differently. Braids, more precisely the hair, makes me feel more beautiful—for awhile.

As a child I had short thick hair. I can remember trudging behind my sister through the streets of Atlantic City as we went to my grandmother’s friend: a hair dresser.  Before, when I was more naïve, I used to enjoy the walk. Entering her house was similar to a trip to the museum. Thick plastic covered already hard furniture; multi-colored baubles adorned every surface; what wasn’t slick with plastic was covered in color. Color followed her. Thick lipstick stained the hairdresser’s teeth. She didn’t seem to notice.  That was fine, I guess. Something about her wigs should have told my grandmother she didn’t really do hair—my grandmother didn’t seem to notice. 

When I was a kid I had an idea of what styles would make me look glamorous. Either the hairdresser didn’t agree, or she couldn’t do them. No matter what my sister and I asked for the results were the same: dreadful.

I learned not to ask. I learned not to think in terms of hair style.

It would be years before I would even realize it was gone—let alone determine to find it again.

My next hair styles were developed by people who had little interest in the end results. Their friendships already tested in other areas, these friends of my grandmother or friends of my mother didn’t feel pressured to perform hair miracles. And so they didn’t. My short hair got even shorter. They weren’t taking care of it. I wasn’t taking care of it.

My last childhood hair memory was at a hair school. The technician assigned to do my hair needed her instructor to show her just how to do my hair. The instructor laughed at the task, or at something she was thinking, or at their adult conversation. It doesn’t, as an adult, matter what they were laughing at.  At ten, they were laughing at me.

I never went back.

Over the years I mainly allowed hairstylists to style my hair. I literally put my identity in their hands. Sometimes I was impressed, other times not so much.

Three decades and three children after my first visits to the hair salon, I still don’t have my hair style. Braided, relaxed, weaved, I haven’t given much thought to the style more to the effect.

Sliding in to salon chairs became more of a task.

“What do you want done?” they would ask.

“Something cute,” I replied vaguely.

For five years or so my neighbor did my hair.

“How do you want me to style it?”

“Something that says I’m 35 and sexy.”

A few hours later I would be sexier. Sometimes, a bit too sexy.

Today my hair is braided. It’s time to take them out.

It’s also time to develop a hair style. For the past few weeks I have been considering: a wrap; a bob; something short, healthy, and confident. I am considering styles that frame my face and highlight my cheek bones.

Each day I get closer to picturing hair styles; my styles. No matter which I decide on, my sense of hair style is coming back—one strand at a time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Inheritance (Fiction)

     I am terribly close to breaking another one of my constitutions and reading her mind.  I have shockingly few constitutions intact which is one of the reasons I am holding childishly on to this one.  It will be her fault when I do it; just like it was the first time, when I was nine years old.  We were sitting around the table one night, a typical family dinner, when I asked her an innocent question about my father.  In that swift unguarded moment, her face contorted with pain and fear.  In my confusion I read her mind and learned she was ever so slightly afraid of me.  Of course I changed the subject, silently vowing to never read the mind of another.  Over the years I’ve amended that rash decision.  It has been whittled down from never reading any one’s mind; to never reading the mind of a family member; and finally to never reading her mind again.  She is the last obstacle to my using my talents freely.

      I try to appear patient as she rambles on about her youth.  There is a point to this, I must remind myself.  My mother had called me fairly in hysterics, begging me to come home.  Foolishly I jumped in my car and sped to close the distance between us.  I had done this threes time in the less than three months since I had moved to Maryland.  It had to be the last.  I was not worried about getting a speeding ticket; I’ve never gotten one though I rarely drive any where near the speed limit.  The miles were taking a toll on my sanity.  My patience was wearing rather thin with this woman who had given birth to me.  Each time she called, she had herself convinced she would finally tell me her big, shocking news.  The news that would rock my very foundation.  She would utter the words that would knock me down a few pegs; off of the pedestal the world had apparently placed me on.  Perhaps, she silently wished, it would take some of the air out of my ego.  I had not gleaned this information from reading her mind, rather her actions.  I knew despite her love for me, she still lived in fear of me.  Of my rejection, of my acceptance.  Who knows?  I have never been that certain of her sanity.  The thought makes me smile.

     “You’re not even listening to me,” Mother pouts.

     “Have you said any thing?”  This banter could go on for hours if I let it.  I fear I may end up doing her bodily harm.  I had taken an unscheduled extended vacation from the magazine where I am an advice columnist.  My editor almost had a heart attack until I gave her my back-up advice letters.  Of course the letters seeking advice were also written by me, but she didn’t need to know that. I gave myself excellent advice and took some too.  I advised myself to take a vacation.  By now I would have thought I knew a bit about taking advice, mainly when to take it and when not to.  Yes, I should have taken a vacation but under no circumstances should I have come to my mother.

     The last time I came here ended badly.  My mother had come close to peeling off the final layers of her dramatic display when she decided she just could not do it.  I reared up to my full 5’7” towering above her.  Even if she had not been sitting, I would have towered over her, she’s only 5’1; but it was more intense with her sitting. I could almost feel her fear and this time, I liked it.  Standing before her I slowly sank to my knees in front of her and whispered, “You will take your news to your grave.”  Then I left.

     I knew better.  I could not have stopped the words from leaving my lips along with the menace that accompanied them, but I knew better than to disrespect my own mother.  By the time I got back to Maryland I called her and all was forgiven.  A part of me wanted to make her forget the incident, but I chose to let her keep it.

     I am honestly not certain of the extent of my abilities but I have confidence in them, in the end that’s what matters.  Ever since I can remember, things have always turned out as I expected; if not better.  I had an ideal childhood.  I breezed through high school and college with a 3.5 grade point average, achieved with minimal effort.  I was as popular as I wanted to be and have had as much success as I have desired.  I am 32 years old, beautiful, accomplished and single.  That in itself takes miraculous power to achieve.  I have had my share of relationships at varying levels of commitment.  To sum up my dating experiences: I have never cheated on any one, emotionally. 

     That’s another thing that scares my mother.  She is afraid that I will find Mr. Right and afraid that I won’t.  Even she is not sure which scares her the most.  I think she is worried that I will meet someone with abilities like mine and together we will create a monster.  To admit that, would be to admit that I am a monster; and what mother wants to think that of her only child?

     There is no limit to what I think I can do.  Partially that is my mother’s fault.  When I was growing up she never failed to tell me: “There’s nothing you can’t do, baby.” 

     Well, I believe it.  I know I can read minds; I can tell when people are sick by that smell they emit; I can visualize what people will look like when they are older; I can make at least small animals do what I want-though I rarely attempt this on humans; and I can move objects with my mind.  If such a place existed I would go somewhere to learn how to maximize my abilities.  It has been rather fun watching them develop on their own.  I have tried to use them for good; with only a few notable incidents where I failed on that account.

     Just as I feel my resolve slipping, the very air around my mother changes.  It’s her attitude really.  Her eyes are more focused, her demeanor is intent.  Good gracious!  I do believe she is about to tell me.

     “I must tell you, Steven is not your father.”

     “What?”  I know she has misunderstood my outburst.  My mother seems to think she has shocked me.  I am at once angry and disappointed.  This is no news to me.  I had discovered this ages ago by reading the minds of various relatives.  I’ve always known this.  I am angry that she thinks my love for him will diminish.  I have always been fiercely protective of my father—as he will always be known to me.  Her treatment of him has been the cause of more than one argument between her and I.  She is constantly degrading him for having been a mail carrier for over twenty years.  He is the only constant in her life and she is precariously close to losing it.  One thing that keeps me from sending a tiny bolt of electricity, if indeed I can even control such a thing, to her heart is that my father truly loves her.  In all of her selfish, bitter ways, he finds comfort.  It’s almost sickening.

     This is one of those times I feel I can not stand to be in the same room with this woman.  As if time with her is time away from something, anything else.  Yet there are times I can think of nothing more than the comfort and love she has given me through out the years.  If not for her I would not be this woman I am I remind myself.  If only she would get that smug look off of her face.

     “Mother, I already know this.  One of your drunken sisters told me years ago.”  Ahh, that’s done it.

     “There is more you need to know.  It’s about your real father.  No one else knows this and I would not tell you if it were not urgent.  When I was younger, some of my friends and I took a trip.  You know, we had just graduated from college, the world was at our feet, but since money wasn’t, we took one of those cruises to no where.  One of my friends started sort of seeing a crew member and convinced him to let us borrow one of the U-boats.  We wanted to explore a little island not too far from where the ship had anchored.  He agreed to come with us.  The island was beautiful, yet stifling.  The smells were intense, the air thick.  It felt as if everything was breathing.

     Don’t look at me like that, we all felt it.  Anyway, some how I got separated from the group.  I was lost and more than a little afraid.  After walking for what felt like hours, I came upon a house.  Wonderfully built, fairly modern, forgive the real estate agent in me,” she smiled, “ I was moved to go inside the house.  I felt like Goldilocks.  When the door opened to my touch, I knew I should get out of there fast.  But I didn’t. I went inside and let the door close behind me.  The foyer was dusty and dark.  I groped around the rooms, sometimes on hands and knees, trying to make heads or tails of the house.  It was larger than it looked from the outside.  Although it was clearly abandoned, it had a warmth to it, as if it had not been long abandoned.  After wandering around the house for almost an hour, I flipped on a light switch-- don’t ask me why I didn’t do that before--and to my surprise; the lights came on.

     The dust disappeared and before my eyes the form of a man appeared.  He was the most attractive man I had ever seen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Death Sells (fiction from the attic--sort of)

Dear Editor:

  As the editor-in-chief of Nemesis, the leading source of obituaries in the Washington/Baltimore area, I would like to share one of the secrets of my success: death sells.  Almost every day death is reported in newspapers worldwide in one form or another.  While most expected in the obituary section, it can be reported in the crime, local, entertainment or in almost any section from the front page to the last.  The media coverage a death receives and the placement of the notice depend on the way a person lives or dies.  Your actions in life literally affect your place in history.  In your newspaper, those whose lives or deaths touch the most people appear to get the largest coverage, while others receive minimal space in which their lives are condensed. 

On February 4th, 2005 the online version of the Baltimore Sun announced the death of activist, actor Ossie Davis in an article published by Associated Press writer Hillel Italie. On that day they also announced the death of Elizabeth T. Braden, homemaker and secretary.  Both notices reported the information people expect the obituary to include: the person’s name, age and cause of death, major accomplishments and information about the survivors.   The differences were in the presentation and amount of information in the piece and the placement of the articles.  Davis’ death was a memorial; Braden’s a death notice. Each life deserves to be celebrated, memorialized, each death treated as a loss to the community.

Ossie Davis’ obituary appeared on the main page of the Baltimore Sun website.  In an emotional, informative article, Hillel Italie memorialized Ossie Davis’ life and death.  According to the three-page obituary, at the age of 87 Davis was a writer, actor, director, producer, activist, husband, father and grandfather.   He and his wife of over 50 years had received honors and awards for their work together in the media industry.  His obituary was personalized with quotes from a former cast member, a photo gallery and in-depth information about his role as activist and actor.  This tribute included a poll for readers to vote for their favorite Ossie Davis movie. 

Elizabeth T. Braden’s life was no more and no less significant than that of Ossie Davis’.  According to her obituary, by the age of 91 Braden had been a daughter, wife, mother, secretary, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend and neighbor.  Her obituary says she was married for 68 years and had six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.  According to the Sun, the Baltimore area resident died of a brain tumor in the assisted-living home where she lived.   Braden’s Baltimore Sun obituary has reduced her 91 years of life, relationships, obstacles, joys and sorrows into 20 lines.

Both Baltimore Sun articles painted sketches of the lives of the deceased; as obituaries they fulfilled their roles as assigned by the media.   The attention given to both Braden and Davis may be what is expected for someone with their varying degrees of contribution to society.  If that is so, there is something wrong with the way we measure contribution.  This problem does not merely exist in the Baltimore Sun. 

Fred Barbash and Wil Haygood wrote Ossie Davis’ obituary for the Washington Post.  Describing him as “still handsome and elegantit was a colorful tribute to his life.  Their four-page article was filled with information about Davis’ personal achievements; statements from his family, friends and colleagues and commentary on his activism efforts. While there were no pictures or polls, his obituary painted a picture of a vibrant man, someone you would be honored to have known personally.

Elizabeth Braden’s death was not reported in the Washington Post.

At Nemesis we pride ourselves on our ability to make news happen and to report it objectively.  Each Nemesis obituary is a memorial and we take an active role in each obituary we report. Unlike other reporters, we take the time to investigate each aspect of the subject’s life before we kill them. In this way, we report the facts, photos and the person’s last words, thus painting a vivid picture of them in life and in death.


Yvonne Battle-Felton, Editor-in-chief, Nemesis

P.S.  Pick up the next issue of Nemesis; you never know which edition will feature you.

Backstory: Reflections on this Month's Theme for Stories at the Storey

Meeting deadlines is as soothing to me as a creamy cup of flavoured coffee. Checking a project off of my mental to-do list settles me. ...