Monday, July 29, 2013

Campus Life in Lancaster, UK: The Weather

“It may rain,” the weather man announced, “but it may be sunny.”

I’m not the only one maintaining a curious distance from commitment.

I’m told the weather in Lancaster is unpredictable or predictably rainy with unpredictable patches of sunlight. Before moving here I attempted to track the weather to get a sense of what to pack and what to leave behind. Year round the forecast was set to grey. I thought it was a glitch.

When I arrived I was told no, it was not a glitch; the skies are often cloudy to accommodate the moderate doses of rain scattered across the region.

“Don’t expect to see much of the sun,” one cab driver warned.

“If you get two sunny days in a row, that’s summer; don’t waste it” someone suggested.

These past two weeks the days have been delightfully sunny and crispy, hot. On cool evenings breezes skip through the window and race through the house like naughty neighbors. On hot evenings the air is dormant: a dismal houseguest who has overstayed its welcome.

This morning the rumbling started far away growing louder and closer by the second. I rushed to the window. You can’t see thunder. It was my first time hearing thunder since I arrived in the UK and I expected to see a low -flying plane trailing across the sky.
Instead, I saw thunder.

Clouds fat with rain, air thick with promise; it was surely thunder.

A few minutes later sensuous baritones again rippled through the air; how I love a good storm.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Improvising: Student Life on a Budget

I have been looking for substitutes to supplement my natural sweetness when my natural sweetness is not enough to sustain me through the day. I’m sweet in doses: scoops, teaspoons, pinches.  Not naturally—not entirely.

I’ve tried making my own flavored creamer. The cream was a placebo: the right color, little effect. I’m rarely able to trick myself twice.

I tried syrup laced coffee beans with milk and sugar: syrup and mere sugar wear off far too quickly.

Last week I paid 30 for coffee creamer: I had reached a new low. It wasn’t particularly good or rich or sweet.  It was, however, enough to make me reconsider ordering powdered French Vanilla coffee creamer which tastes like flecks of something I really want: rich, thick, French Vanilla non-powdered coffee creamer.

Last night I slipped spoonfuls of Raspberry Pavilo ice cream into a cup of hot coffee.  I stirred and watched the dark coffee devour the thick, pink globs. Out of habit I added a spoon or two of sugar and waited. The concoction turned familiar, creamy beige.

It looks fat.

It probably is.

It was rich, creamy and irrepressibly raspberry. It was quite nearly divine. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writing Life: Over Reactions: Am I Addicted to Research?

“Let me get this straight,” I began. I was overreacting. I knew it when I felt the tingling of blood rushing into my fingertips as I dialed the number.

“I’m just going to put you on hold and a specialist will be able to help you,” the representative had said.

I admit my lack of coffee and my recent addiction to research have left me closer to the edge than usual. I’m researching reuniting the African American/Black American family after the Emancipation.  The research is often painful—the stories of children being stolen from their parents; of parents divided from babies they would never hold again; and of people stripped of everything except hope—the utter despair between the facts and within each story is painful.

“You’re asking me to hold again although I’ve just told you I was on hold twice for twenty minutes each without any one coming to the phone?”

“Umm…yes, the best way to get the issue resolved is…”

“Is for me to hold in the hopes that this time someone will answer?”

And so I knew when I called to straighten a problem out for my child that I was overreacting.  There was a time when as a black woman I wouldn’t have been able to speak up to protect my child; a time when no matter how someone hurt my child the only protection I could have offered was silence. Perhaps that’s why now I feel so strongly about doing protecting my children that I will protect them from things they don’t need my protection from.

“…No; for me to transfer you to a specialist; they will definitely answer.”
“Do you transfer differently?”
“Is the way you transfer different from the way the other two, the representatives who transferred me until no one answered, transferred their calls?”

She was a customer service agent who came in between my daughter and what she wanted

The research made me do it would not likely stand up in court any more than it stands up off the page.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Staying Connected in the Wireless Age

            “Don’t you miss your family?”
            “I’ve brought them with me; how can I miss them?”
            “We didn’t bring everybody,” my youngest clarifies.
            He’s right. I’ve managed to bring everyone I’ve given birth to with me to the UK.  Everyone else is everywhere else. If I’m being honest, I’m a pretty good (and modest) mother but I’m not the best daughter, sister, or aunt that I feel like I should be.
            At some point early in development, I went wrong. There’s probably no clear defining point—no day I can declare changed me from warm, nurturing and available to more aloof and distant.  And if there was, could I change it? While I can’t change the events I try to change my behaviors.  I schedule emails, texts and phone calls to family and friends so I don’t lose touch.  I try to make communication appear natural almost effortless.
Yet when I say “I’ll call you back,” most people know I won’t.
A few months ago I began writing letters to my oldest nephew. He has always been special to me but after I moved to Maryland I became farther away both mentally and physically.  After I became a mother, I became too absorbed in my immediate family to reach out to him.  On nights when he needed reassurance that he mattered to other people besides his mother, I was too locked in to the role of trying to be two parents to my children to realize I was also needed elsewhere. I’m trying to make up for that now.
So I write him letters that look far better in my imagination than they do on the page. I still have the notion that letters should be hand written and my handwriting for lack of a kinder word is horrid. It doesn’t take me longer to craft letters than it looks like it does. Whether I try to compose it patiently or in a rush, the words slur on the page in a whirl of peaks and crevices.  My letters are mostly illegible.
“Why don’t you type it?” My daughter suggested after glancing over my shoulder at the page of blots and angles.
Finally I gave in and typed it. I printed the letter, slid it in to an envelope and sent it sailing across the world.  It could not have felt more impersonal.  It doesn’t matter what the letter says; I’m detached from the words because a typed letter doesn’t convey the same attention a handwritten one does and I don’t want my nephew to feel he isn’t worth my fingers cramped and arched over slivers of paper painfully and carefully composing a handwritten letter.

It’s possible I read too much into things.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Night Out: Graduate Fair

At varying times over the past 18 years that I've been a mom, my purses—regardless of size—have  held extra tissues, bottles, diapers, wipes, fruit snacks, Poptarts, candy, apples, soda, apple sauce and crayons.  The older my children get the more space I claim of my own.  My purse now holds lipstick, lip liner, lip gloss, pens, gum, an eye glass case and the occasional Lego.

It’s hard to feel sexy when you have a coconut in your purse.

Yet just this past weekend I slipped an entire coconut into my purse because my 8 year old won a coconut and he couldn’t hold the coconut while playing games at the fair and I couldn’t hold the coconut while eating a strawberry ice cream cone.  Long after we left the fair the coconut lay nestled in my bag beneath napkins and scraps of paper, notes and coins.

After getting my children settled in for the evening I went back to the fair for the adult portion of the event. I drank a carbonated raspberry, apple concoction that I’m pretty sure was sparkling water and sat on a bench in the front row: a prime seat to view a band I wouldn’t have otherwise seen singing songs from the 80s and 90s that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

"I'm going back to the grad fair," I told my oldest son.


I didn't have a reason: I just wanted to go. If I'm not with my family I don't really go out a lot. My social life now is a lot different than it was 20 years ago.  I don't miss it. Still, a measure of my sanity involves the realization that I need to do more for myself. My social life cannot consist merely of workshops, conferences and seminars.

"Because she needs a man," my daughter answered.

I wasn't going to the fair with illusions of meeting a guy. I was going so I could spend time with my friends; listen to music and ideally dance.

It wasn't until the morning after when I emptied my purse of slivers of paper, used napkins and empty gum wrappers that I remembered the coconut as I watched it hit the floor with a thud and a roll. I had no idea what to do with it; I can’t open it but I can’t seem to throw it away.

Sweet, milky memories of my first night out in a long time lay trapped within its thick, hairy skin. I hope that’s not a metaphor for my dating life.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Campus Life: Living and studying at Lancaster University (UK)

The bass started at precisely 7 o’clock. The DJ music was good and offered a mix for the older crowd and the younger crowd; neither crowd would arrive for hours after the event started.  Some of the worst bands went on early in the evening: most of the guests missed them. By the time the better sounding bands came on, the bulk of the crowd had arrived—most of them too drunk to appreciate their timing.

Bass vibrated off of closed windows and echoed throughout the quad bouncing off of bricks, buildings and closed doors before wafting up to the fifth floor. With the windows closed it was loud and not yet obnoxious. 

I was appreciating the event from the comfort of my flat above; my windows stayed closed for most of the night and until early morning. 

At 3 o'clock, not 2:59 or 3:01, the music--mid-song it seemed--stopped. The crowd that had moments before been chanting, singing, and yelling almost in unision,  murmured in a whirl of confused, incoherent babbling. Within seconds they organized a chant: "one more song; one more song; one more song."

Even from above I could hear the answer which came in clicks of cases, shuffles of wires, and flicks of switches: No.

Convinced, the crowd dispersed echoing a rendition of John Denver's Country Roads Take Me Home.

By 3:15,save the lone random unanswered call, the morning was silent; until 3:20 when the birds began to sing.

Diary of a Creative Writing PhD Student or the Chronicles of a Single Mom (and PhD student)

When I was a kid I wanted to be a psychologist, a writer and a wealthy adult (from doing I don’t know what).  My first job, picking blueberries, was a far journey from any of my possible career paths but three decades later I can say picking blueberries helped me get where I am today.

Today I am a writer but that’s not all I am. I am a writer, a professor (assistant and adjunct) and I’m launching a new endeavor as a screenwriter.

Over the years I've had many roles including telemarketer for about 6 months and a rapper for about 6 days.  Like most people I've juggled more than one role at a time while working to pay bills and paying bills so I could work. No matter what job I had I was clear about wanting a career: I’m no stranger to dreams.

Still these last few months have unsettled me slightly.

Now that I’m pursuing a PhD and surrounded by possibilities and opportunities, what do I want to do when I’m finished? I want to write.  Over the past six months I've toyed with various careers that would allow me time to write in my “spare” time but would not allow me to write full time: murder mystery bed and breakfast owner, copywriter, TV production company owner; all of them have an allure—the ability to fulfill one or more needs.  The need to leave a business for my children to step in to as well as a business that could allow them to eat is quite alluring but not necessarily rewarding.

Whatever I do I want to do well. If I don't choose wisely, that means potentially investing a lot of time into an endeavor I only partially want.

And so, I choose to write and to teach; some years I will write more than I teach and others will reach equilibrium though I do not seek one. What I write will be fiction, nonfiction, short stories, novels, scriptwriting; I’m not limited by time, opportunity or imagination.

Words can only propel me forward; words won’t hold me back.

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. ...