lights, camera, cocoas

This is not so much a post as it is a plea. 🙂 I think it may be time to expand the format a bit! I’ve been thinking of ways to incorporate our writings into a screenplay, possibly even one centered around a live reading. It could be a great way to promote the blog and generate more buzz. I thought by introducing it here first we could even let our readers weigh in. Without overdoing it . . . too much reading would make for a dry film . . . if we had to choose one post from each writer to construct a representative narrative what would we choose? Could this be our first CocoaMama’s play date? Also. how could we incorporate some reader responses too?

Backing Up The Back Up

Those of us who are computer savvy know that there are traditional ways of saving data (File -> Save) , advanced ways of saving data (File -> Save As) and new media ways of backing up the data (drag and drop on to external, email to yourself, dropbox.com, etc.) How many of us have the same advanced contingency plans for our parenting?

It has occurred to me that I had more of a parenting safety net when I was deferring parenthood then now that I have three children. I don’t know how many Cocoa Mamas are still on the condom AND birth control AND rhythm method plan but I remember, well, the rigid discipline of that engagement. It was a way of backing up the back up plan, that just no longer rests with my leisurely approach to motherhood.

One related secret confession is that I do not have any life insurance for myself or my children. What does it mean that my five person family has no “death plan.” Having faced, on the ground, the logistical nightmare of trying to bury my little cousin without income or insurance last year was a vivid, yet stalled, rude awakening in this regard. I may be a little too chill. I have no real set “plan” for how I am governing my children’s lives. We are winging it big time.

Tonight I thought, again, about the quite possibly urgent need to engage my oldest, in particular, in extra-curriculars. (He is finally taking piano once a week). I think about parents who spend most of their non-working hours strategically placing their children in competitive athletics, music or some other socializing force. I often see parents who are acting more out of self-interest in doing so. The stereotypical “at home” mother who is “living through her children,” is one generic example of this. However, even the structured arrangement of your child’s free time can be a way to back up their back-up plan, helping to create a “future” for them that is both economically viable and otherwise personally fulfilling.

In my marriage, as a related side note, I am the one who is most inattentive to the pursuit of home ownership. I know, theoretically, it is a way to increase wealth and create a “fail safe,” but I am not what you would call a motivated buyer.

My fear, as a mom, is that one day my world will get so completely turned on its head that all the love, patience and “dreams” I contribute; will fail to matter because I have let them down in some bare bones, irreconcilable way.

Short of a Y2K paranoia, I am seriously starting to wonder if my parenting/partnering is tightroping without a net.

My Youngest Son Is My Boyfriend . . .


I can just imagine him now, eagerly anticipating my arrival home. As soon as he noticed I was there, talking to the gentleman I thought was my Valentine, he raced to the steps with a big smile and warm greeting. I thought nothing of it at first, after all he is always so attentive, and pleasant hellos are just a part of his normal repertoire. In fact, I should have been shocked that he did not leap into my arms and offer me a great big ‘ol hug. Instead, I remembered that I was still sound asleep when he left out with my husband this morning, and I spent those next few moments wishing him and his brother a “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Locke, my youngest son, replied with a simple request for me to reach “his bag” that was at the top of our bookshelf.

At first I told him no, thinking that he was trying to negotiate some after-hours candy. It was approximately 9:30PM when I arrived home (ON VALENTINE’s DAY), but I had spent all day at work working on a grant that had to be postmarked by today. He insisted and I caved and I grabbed the bag down from the shelf. “HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY MOM,” he yelled with an extremely proud smile as he dug in the bag and pulled out this card. I swear, at only three years old this kid has a heart that would charm a snake.

I know I’m not allowed to pick favorites and I swear I don’t have one but the differences between him and all the rest of the people in my family are like night and day. If this were my oldest son, my first family member :), he would have taken the disheveled, torn, card out of his bookbag, thrown it in my lap and walked away. If this were my husband, my second family member, he would have handed it to me in silence and waited to give me a gentle (somewhat weak), 🙂 hug. If this were my daughter, the fourth and latest addition,  I have a feeling she would have given me a smug look of diva charisma and concern, like: “I’m sorry, you’re home, and you don’t appear to be holding my present?”

But my boyfriend, Locke, waited in pure delight as I dramatically performed the words of his lovely poem. 🙂 He squeezed me so tight and gave me kisses like he always does. I know I am gushing, but this may be the best Valentine’s Day performance I have ever received. Older men take note from my three year old heartbreaker. He’s going to make a great man for someone someday.

CocoaMamas, what/who made you smile today?

the personal is political

– on the occasion of attending my first Donna Brazile talk and moments before composing tomorrow’s lecture on Sade

In 1988, at the tender age of 9, I campaigned for Jesse Jackson’s Democratic Nomination. My brothers and I, 11 and 7 themselves, went door-to-door in Perth Amboy, New Jersey registering people to vote, and chiefly, amusing the hell out of them. If pre-pubescent little black kids are not enough to convince you to fulfill your civic duty, I don’t know what will.

My son, twenty years later, voted for Barack Obama on nick.com. I must admit that no matter how special I thought it was when Mekhi declared,  “Mom, don’t you think Barack Obama looks like me!”, in the ’08 season, I still have my reservations about our often conservative first gentleman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight, Donna Brazile stated that the reason she does not want to run for political office is like the reason why she doesn’t want to be married, because it requires staying in one place. And she likes to be, “on the go!” Though I traditionally do not believe in qualifying oppressions I can’t help but think if I had to choose between working in the white house or working as a house wife, WHICH I, OF COURSE, DO NOT!!!!, give me the suburban soccer mom, every day of the week.

It is so painfully obvious that I am from this country, not only because I am here, with my black family, simultaneously at war and in line with our nation’s political agenda. So many of us, even those not from this country, participate in this American narrative. My children however like to pretend they are from some other place. My oldest in particular has no clue he is “African-American.” I like to blame this on his educational environments and his penchant for White televisual media. In one of his four public schools there was a banner that read, “this is America; everyone reads!,” and in his most recent they celebrated “diversity,” with the book (and participating feast) “Everybody Cooks Rice.” For the latter he brought in rice pudding which I had to convince him was his great-great-grandmother’s dish.

Today, I am feeling particularly angry about not only the post-racial politics of today’s presidential aura, I am also frequently miffed at the government control over our bodies and families. The first time I almost wrote off Barack Obama was following his problematic “Father’s Day” speech in Chicago. Now, with the inability to promote national legislation legalizing gay marriage, the still-inadequate health insurance and the lack of access to safe abortions and contraception, etc., I am wondering where all my Cocoamamas stand. Granted we chose a right to have at least one child. However; I know that does not “safely” box us into right hetero-normative agendas?

 

 

failure to launch

While media has recently been inundated with narratives of successful, educated, professional black women who are unmarried/unpartnered, I feel like I have experienced some what of a “witnessing” of this reality vicariously through many of my close friends. These are women whom I have always admired, and in some rare instances even resented. They have “the life;” no familial burdens/responsibilities, better salaries, freedom to travel and move about the planet, etc. I have come to adopt a courteous silence about this however.

Last night my very good friend told me that she had cut it off with her boyfriend. I was saddened for her. I knew full well that she was dreading the prospect of starting over and I honestly thought that the ex was a great guy. I think she does too; their timing is just “off.”

When this is a white situational comedy or Hollywood Blockbuster it is easy to shrug this off. It seems white women negotiate enough privilege in life where I honestly don’t “feel bad,” when they are thirty plus and living as bachelorettes. I also think I’m progressive enough not to want to force-feed a hetero-normative mandate onto any one of my single sisters. I do however see clear limits to my feminism, and their’s, at junctures where the nuclear fantasy is not quite panning out for them. They want IT “ALL” and so I want it for them, by extension.

I’m wondering what all our CocoaMamas think about the concept of “failure to launch?” While it is meant to describe bachelor males who are stuck in an infantile state of promiscuity, commitment “issues,” and self-endulgence, I can’t help thinking in this instance that it’s all my single girls that are unwed and all of my husband’s friends are either married or in committed relationships. Are my hot, single, fit, educated, professional black girlfriends failing to launch???

Close

The other day my father-in-law (never-before-used term) and I shared a little secret regarding how private my husband is. We were neither menacing or overly critical at the moment we were just candid as we casually arrived at the same conclusion about my husband’s inability to open up with us. I have to admit, I am frustrated by the reality that I do not have a truly intimate relationship with Jaron, my partner. At the same time that I relish the ability we have to unite around common interests, the ease at which we “flow” around our household, and how we manage both a new co-professional and familial relationship, I wish that there were ways in which we could communicate better, more deeply and more often.

It’s quite crazy to me how with children this bond is generally taken for granted. I do not have to massage, manufacture or labor over my relationship with my children. They are “natural” fits. Or at the very least, a mother and child are socialized (in many cases) into a bond that is predicated upon the former nurturing the latter. In return, we get an unconditional love that is (in many cases) “easy,” and genuinely fulfilling.

Unlike with my children, I feel like there are times in which my husband and I are not “family,” a word that was lovingly thrown around at my in-laws as a way of making me feel welcome and at home, in a space where of course we only infrequently visit, or else they would not have to remind me that we’re “family.”

All I mean by this is that I have to work much harder to create a sense of intimacy with Jaron than I do with most others.

I am a teacher and I truly believe that there is a solution to every problem. I also subscribe to the good-old-fashion-inner-city-public-school teacher ethos of “rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty” with a problem. What do all the Cocoa Mamas out there do to get “close” to a partner, particularly black male partners who are arguably the most “guarded” men there are?

When Women Write . . .

When women write there are a number of walls that surround them. It calls into question not only the established science of geometry but also all the aesthetic parameters and creative possibilities of architecture. Because women live in so many rooms at once, including their homes, their jobs, their schools and their very bodies, the interconnectedness of these spaces defies necessarily separate designations.

I once lived in a room in Philadelphia, a one-bedroom apartment, with my son, my former fiancé, my books, my bed, and all of the odor and noise and silence of inner city high rises. I didn’t know it then but I very much lived inside my body, with everything I did, and thought I was, sort of layered on top of it like winter clothes. This is including the room.

I was raped in that room, lying, forced down, on a bed with no sheet, with my jeans ripped open and a torn Princeton Day School sweatshirt. I met him when I was just a baby. He was five years older then me and I had only just graduated from high school. He forced a pillow down over my face. Our son was screaming in the middle of the dining room. I remember him holding our son upside down by one ankle. I remember praying.

Yvonne Vera remembers,

“I learned to write when I was almost six and at the same time also discovered the magic of my body as a writing surface . . . Using the edges of my fingernails or pieces of dry grass broken from my grandmother’s broom I would start to write on my legs. Here we wrote near the bone and spread the words all the way to the ankles. We wrote deep into the skin where the words could not escape. Here, the skin was thirsty, it seemed, and we liked it.”

Although Vera insits elsewhere in this same article that the “best writing” is “ungendered,” I would argue that her own early experience with writing, outlined in the passage above, is dependent upon her arriving into girlhood and her discovery of her feminine form. Just as she learned as a girl to write her own history on her body, black women map their lives, single and collective, onto their body through writing and other forms of artistic expression. Film, is one of these forms, that is interconnected with writing and the body, particularly in the case of black feminist works. The black female body is a template for ideas, hidden and exposed, documented in diverse mediums.

Remembering writing, as Vera demonstrates, is an exercise intimately tied to the body. It involves imagining the body of the writer, and this is how race, gender and class become imposed on writing, as well as digesting writing inside your own form. I remember the writing of James Baldwin first; the forcefulness of The Fire Next Time, compounded with the eloquence of perfectly flawless lines and logic wrought from the body of an intensely marginalized, courageous man. I remember Krik? Krak!, the collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat that I found in a high school book fair, right before she became my second-favorite writer. I re-mem[ber] Beloved and Toni Morrison, the kind of academic I want to be, like Lorene Cary and Toni Cade Bambara. I remember these writings/writers in a roll call that reflects our shared cultural heritage. This is in fact how I write.

On the pages of their writings, or “bodies of work”, I find my own. “Word!” “I don’t know if it’s that deep!” “So he does believe in God, he just believes that God is White and that is why Blacks have been given the shit end of the stick.” “My point exactly!” “Can I write like this someday?””If I ever write something major to be published I am going to use “she” as my pronoun throughout.” “memory.” “history.” “history + memory.”

My earliest memories of writing are set in my elementary school librarian’s castle, a maze of wooden bookshelves with a rectangle of desks and chairs in the middle, adjacent to an office, covered in frogs. I remember writing “L.E.V.E.R.E.T.T.,” while reciting it in a singsong, over and over at the front desk; so proud to be the early reader and expert speller Mrs. Leverett pegged me to be. I remember Frog and Toad and Little Miss Bossy, and that my current investment in teaching, first, before any other occupation, has everything to do with a history of exemplary educators, fully committed to seeing me reach my full potential, starting with Mrs. Leverett.

In and between these memories is the realization that writing, even more so than speaking, for black women, gets at that intricate dance that black women do in order to negotiate their private and public selves. If silence, as Katherine Dunham, has noted, is a necessary component for achieving a total self, then my work has to both speak and listen, and in this sense it is not only a platform, but also a conversation. “We need to be able to be quiet too.”

Being silent as a writer is enabling, and here is where my other self, as a documentary video and photography artist enters in. The experience of standing in rooms, behind the camera, opening up the opportunity for subjects to share their own voices is a valuable experience for a writer/educator. I see this as my opportunity to be totally silent, to pull myself out of the room and into my body in order so that others can speak, uninhibited.

I do not know why the experience of witnessing is similar to the one that both myself and others have lived through during rape, but I know it must have something to do with this paradoxical need that black women have for being silent and finding a voice.

Survivor, Salamishah Tillet, recalls in NO! that during her rape,

“[She] became emotionally numb. [She] withdrew from the experience. [She] didn’t want to be there, and [she] didn’t scream. [She] didn’t know how to scream. [She] was just there, kind of numb, dead, watching it happen to [her].”

I prayed during my rape because I was afraid of being killed. I thought that if I was silent I could not make him any angrier. I probably thought that to a certain degree my mouth had gotten me “into that trouble in the first place.” I was silent because if I stayed alive then I could make sure my son stayed alive also. I was silent because I feared that this might be the night that he decided to silence us all for good.

Writing this, right now, means that I have learned as a black woman to voice myself, even when no one is listening because while our voice should not ever have to be confined to the body or walls we have surrounding us, we have to know that we can speak there too, always.

fu!k Tyler Perry . . .

When I snuck and watched the film Friday (though I had previously sworn off any more TP movies), I sat thinking that you go see a for colored girls for all the collaborative, disciplined work of the black female actresses. You also go to see what can be considered the radical reality of having a black female playwright’s work be adapted for the Big Screen. It is this type of work that encourages these women, undoubtedly, to set aside their own critiques of TP, and of the overwhelmingly masculinst culture of Hollywood, and contribute to the only commercial feminist film production so far this millenium. There is no perfect feminism! Even if Shange had directed the work herself for a commercial audience she would have undoubtedly been plagued by some measure of heteronormativity (remember there are no alternative sexualities explicitly engaged in the play). She also may not have invoked any semblance of Diaspora (beyond the, arguably, Africanist religious practices of Alice/White in the film). She may; moreover, have likewise represented the fractured, discordant trajectories of black, brown, Ghanaian, Nigerian, refugee, African-American, Afro-American, hoodrat, babymama, buppie, butch . . . “colored” girls in a convenient, “framed” (as in frame story) social network, as if we all live in Harlem, by way of some African-American migration story, in a brownstone, or are seperated from a Harlem brownstone by one degree of separation at the most.

On the low, despite any warranted judgements of TP’s systematic Black Church narratives in all other films, I would like to suggest that Mr. Perry excercised a somewhat subversive move in the film. Piggybacking on Ntosake Shange’s assertion that “god” is a “her” (to be loved “fiercely”), I was struck by TP’s willingness to present all of the women together on the roof at the end, except Alice/White. He essentially ostracized the only outwardly religious character in the film.

Yes, there are ways in which Alice/White’s character did not represent traditional notions of Black Christianity in the play, particularly when she poured, “bacon grease,” as the woman sitting nearest to me in the theatre deciphered it to be, on to her daughter to pray over her. Yet, she was too holy to attend her daughter’s graduation party because they were playing the devil’s music. She also spent her days inundating Harlem residents with leaflets dutifully inviting them to her church. In her film poster, she literally totes the Bible. She is this new “colored” woman (there is no lady in white in the play) that TP deliberately includes to ultimately exclude.

Perhaps, after his “investment” in Precious, TP really is moving away from conservative Christian portrayals.

Tanji would like to apologize for purposely, and painfully, avoiding reading her colleague, LaToya’s post until today. Ironically, she was trying to avoid being “influenced” prior to her own screening of the film.

“on the go” mom/”stay-at-home” dad

My husband is awesome! In a few hours I will board a flight for my first job talk. It’s just a quick trip; I’ll be back by Wednesday afternoon. However, as always, I could not have done this without my right-hand-man. Together, for the last year and a half, we have manufactured a completely non-traditional, “traditional” (read hetero-normative and nuclear) family. He left corporate America when I left for my “dream job” “in-between” job, a postdoc at my alma mater. He also took on the enormous task of caring for our two children under three during the day last year, though the older of those two is now in pre-school. He also supervises homework completion for our oldest son, which can sometimes feel like a full-time job by itself. I am home more than the typical working mom, as I only go into the office an average of about three times a week. However, he bears the heavy load. He is also the better cook, so he cooks, and he dared me to do laundry the other day, that’s how infrequently I do it.

We live in a larger traditional world and I know that our unconventional ways must be making a few silent waves out there in the universe. Though no one has explicitly told us yet that what we’re doing is too out-the-box, I know that the situation as is might leave one wondering about his macho and my . . . . ?domineering?

The other day he told me in the politest way possible that he can not wait until I’m settled (meaning in a tenure-track Assistant Professorship with firm roots planted in a particular location) so that he can pursue his own dreams. I was moved by this. There are ways in which my entire family, and my husband and oldest son in particular, have been left “hanging” by my own intellectual and career pursuits. This has affected my son especially, because he has been my “roll dawg” since Junior year of college. There are ways in which we have all benefited, myself the most, from me putting me first.

I wonder how many men would be willing to sacrifice pursuing their goals for the goals of their partner and/or children?

My Son is Autistic

My daughter may be as well. I feel like when you have children you operate on a hope ethos that it stronger than the one we empowered in Election season 2008. I see my husband’s hope eclipsing any of his concerns about his daughter’s health. I feel like I have to be hopeful, again, for his sake.

My eldest son is not my husband’s biological child. Therefore, he was not around to watch my son miss the same “milestones” my daughter is now missing. For me, the resemblance is uncanny. I remember this all too well. The other day my son asked me something that I have already forgotten. I remember my answer to him was, “dude I have three children, I don’t remember facts like that.” Whatever it was it was something genuinely trivial. I DO remember however that when he was my daughters age, he wasn’t talking either and he had the same difficulty repeating sounds and had the same stranger anxiety, etc.

When my son was a little older than my daughter, I wanted to have him evaluated. I filled out the Parent evaluations, sent them in, and took the Teacher evaluation to his day care. Ms. Marie, who was positively enamored by my son, thought I was crazy! Thought there was no way anything was “wrong” with him and therefore she changed my mind. Or should I say, she prolonged my hope. As my little black boy child grew he always had one thing in his favor. He is NEVER a disciplinary problem in school. He has mastered the art of staying below the radar and in overcrowded, inner city public schools black boys who are not making waves, make the grade. Adding fuel to the hope you already have, teachers will tell you, “well you know boys . . . ,” and/or “give him time. . . ”

I hope that my children, despite whatever difficulties they may face along the way, grow to live healthy lives overall. I pray that they feel encouraged to surpass any obstacle and generally encourage them to meet and exceed the expectations of others, as well as themselves. I know that a parent’s life is not easy and as always, I HOPE I am doing the right thing.