The Internet, an adventure of books

Over the last 18 years, the Internet has been a boon for my reading. I still choose paperback and hardbacks, and I increasingly choose books from the public library rather than abebooks.com. I have made buying a book from an independent bookstore a simple act of selecting a sweet gift for a friend. (And, no, I don’t buy books from amazon.com as it cannibalizes the industries of writing.)

This morning, I had a fascinating 25 minutes as I sought the name of a young adult science fiction book that I read a couple of years ago. I could remember the name of one of the supporting characters, Dikeagou, because his name is a familiar and repeated name in our home. But, the book’s title escaped me. And so teh internet searches began (mind you through duckduckgo.com where they don’t track and store your searches like they do over at “do no evil” google).

It took multiple searches, and a few marvelous stops along the way that are sure to stoke my reading this winter are:

Oh, and the book I was looking for is listed on that third blog, 8 YA Books. It is The Shadow Speaker written by Nnedi Okorafor-mbachu, who lives and teaches in Chicago. Published in 2010.

Emanating from the, contained or unrelenting, masculine

From the Introduction of King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, published in 1990 by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette:

Patriarchy is an attack on masculinity inits fullness as well as femininity in its fullness. Those caught up in the structures and dynamics of patriarchy seek to dominate not only women but men as well. Patriarchy is based on fear — he boy’s fear, the immature masculine’s fear — of women, to be sure, but also fear of men. Boys fear women. They also fear real men.

The patriarchal male does not welcome the full masculine development of his sons or his male subordinates any more than he welcomes the full development of his daughters, or his female employees.

How often we are envied, hated, and attacked in direct and passive-aggressive ways even as we seek to unfold who we really are in all our beauty, maturity, creativity, and generativity! The more beautiful, competent, and creative we become, the more we seem to invite the hostility of our superiors, or even of our peers. What we are really being attacked by is the immaturity in human beings who are terrified of our advances on the road to ward masculine or feminine fullness of being.

Patriarchy expresses what we call Boy psychology. It is not an expression of mature masculine potentials in their essence, in the fullness of their being. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. Introduction, xvii.

And from Fire in the Belly, by Sam Keen:

The historical challenge for modern men is clear — to discover a peaceful form of virility and to create an ecological commonwealth, to become fierce gentlemen.

How we can accomplish these monumental changes is unclear. As modern men we have little experience to guide us in the task of becoming earth-stewards and husbandmen. We do not yet know how to take the fierce warrior energies, the drive to conquest and control, the men have honed for centuries, and turn them toward the creation of a more hopeful and careful future. We do not yet know how to restrain our technological compulsion, limit economic growth, or keep population within an ecological balance. We do not yet know how to act purposively and rationally on the natural world in a kindly way. We have not yet developed technological wisdom, technological discipline, technological stewardship. Ecological destruction is not the result of science and technology, but of social decisions that allow scientific and technological institutions to grow in undisciplined ways. We do not yet know how to distinguish progress from growth, development from frantic activity. We have not yet found the courage to calculate the true profit and loss to all species that results form trade, business, and industry. We have not yet created a form of government in which the nonhuman constituency of the land are given an equal voice in decision that determine the fate of all members of the commonwealth of living beings.

Tending to unfinished business rather than bucket lists

I’ve had death and how our collective culture revolves around, relates to and treats death for the last month since my cousin died. I heard of his death in a car accident at midday on a Thursday.

Within a few days, I heard mention of Bucket Lists at least three times. And multiple other times in recent weeks. My emotions over the last month swam far, deep and wide. I have been quite irritated when I hear about “bucket lists” because a tone of jovial, fun-filled, and this-is-cool accompanies it. Much of my irritation is due to the material or experiential aspect of most things that populate these lists — hot air balloons, travel, bungee cord jumping. It feels like yet another instance where we are supposed to wear happy faces and feel great, even though most of our feelings about death and transition are not happiness nor greatness.

On the other hand, I first learned about Unfinished Business two years ago when I opened a first book by Elisabeth KublerRoss, which was either The Tunnel and the Light or On Death and Dying. Ahh, the joys of reading and the power that new ideas, when remembered, can have on altering my own life. Since first reading Kubler-Ross, Unfinished Business has become a counterpoint, or an antidote, to the Bucket List.

Unfinished business, according to a summary of how Kubler Ross described it to a six year old with a dying sister, is:

anything that you haven’t done, because this is your last chance to say or do anything you want to do, so that you don’t have to worry about it afterwards when it is too late.

Forgiveness. Love. Freedom. Permission. These are the simple and fundamental things in life. For some odd reasons (including attempts to control and manipulate others) we have a tendency to make life much more complex and messy than these staples.

_______

Unfinished business is affirmed by reading this list of the five biggest regrets (biggest wishes, in other words) of people approaching death, which was compiled by a palliative care nurse. The five biggest regrets/wishes are:

  1. wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected.
  2. wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. wish I’d let myself be happier.

Courage. Live truly. Play. Express feelings. Touch. Happiness.

C.L.T.P.E.F.T.H. is a word game worthy of befriending the 5 As of David Richo: acceptance, affection, allowance, appreciation, attention.

_____

At this moment in my life, I am attending to finishing my business in this life by:

  • appreciating and celebrating people sooner, on the same day or as soon as possible
  • not holding onto grudges with family, friends, coworkers or strangers
  • eating well, sleeping when and as much as I can,
  • writing more and more by honoring the urge when it arises
  • telling my parents, siblings, more females and males that I love them
  • sharing the ways that love looks
  • letting go of the need to have someone say “I love you, too” after I tell them of my love.
  • responding “thank you” (rather than “I love you, too”) when someone tells me that they love me
  • eating chocolate and baking cookies or bread more often
  • accessing compassion (for others and myself) quickly
  • slowing down
  • recognizing that the only person’s who’s accolades and approval to concern myself with is me

Omnipresent Identity

omnipresent: present everywhere at the same time. 

I have walked much of my 34 years in this life seeing myself, and the world, through the lens of race. My particular racial identity being mixed, mulatto, a half-breed of Black, white. There is a sprinkling of Native American blood in there, too — but I don’t live in a culture where we bother with one-sixteenths. There was a elementary school phase where i was name-called an Oreo; by a handful of white classmates (in an overwhelmingly white school). 2005 was the first time that I began to put my identity in terms of class. In June of that year, I had an epiphany that my white mother came from a working-class, white family. That was the first time that I had uttered that phrase. Seven years later, I am confident that ‘working-class, white family’ is a phrase that my mother will not use for the rest of her life.

I have entered into identity’s abyss in recent years. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, one of my two surviving grandparents passed. Dick Uhlenhopp had been in hospice for a month or so. Prior to that he had lived independently and on his own since Grandma Shirley died in October of 1987. Aside from my paternal/maternal great-grandmother, Buddy Jackson, my branch of the Jones/Uhlenhopp family trees had been spared death for the 21 years spanning from 1987 until 2008. What was different, in 2008, was that I was nearly 30 when Grandpa Dick passed. And I had been poking around family history, and asking quesionst hat had never occurred to me before, or topics that I had quietly agreed to remain silent about, as my siblings and others had. But with Grandpa’s death, I began to see how deeply identity goes. How many layers of an infinte onion, identity is.

Identity has become a doorway into personality, opinions, values, vantage and feelings.

I remember an exercise in college, where we were asked to compose a list of 20 or so identities for ourselves. Then we narrowed the list down to 5 by eliminating 15. Then we were told to whittle five down to one. In a room full of students of color, most of us had been selected for our leadership in student of color groups. Most of us settled with a singular identity emanating from our racial origins of Blackness, Latino/a lineage, API, immigrant or Native ancestry. That is, all of us saw ourselves as people of color. Except Sherman.

There was one guy who picked ‘friend’ as his one identity. He chose it over all others. I remember sitting near him, perplexed. Unable to fathom how a guy borne of two Chinese immigrants in Canada could see himself first as a “friend.” See himself only as a friend, especially when I saw his black hair, eyeglasses, toothy and nerdy smile wrapped in the skin and features that I had learned was Asian. I had even known that he was majoring in Economics, was raised in Saskatchewan, finished high school in Hong Kong, and had siblings. But at the time, all that I could distill Sherman down to was race.

How things have changed over a decade. I sense identity, multiple identities, everywhere (I suppose that I did with Sherman, too. But I placed a value on one identity over all others). I like to taste identity in the air, as if it is nectar of a flower or the smoke of a fire or from industrial pollution. Identity is that readily available. Identity is omnipresent. I listen to stories similarly to how a serious fan logs a baseball scoreboard. Identity has become a multi-faceted, nth-dimension in each of our souls and characters. Race and class are simply veneer for deeper stories, lives and identities that are buried within. I have come to see identity as including:

  • siblings: number of siblings, and place in sibling order (or an only)?
  • gender:
  • place of birth:
  • hometown: (do you consider this the same as the previous answer? that is indicative of something else)
  • place of current home:
  • closeness to mother/father/grandma/grandpa: relationship, distaste, struggles
  • favorite subject in elementary school: math, spelling, recess, science, p.e.
  • you get a high school diploma, GED or college degree:
  • more street-smarts, more book-smarts, or some of both?
  • math or literature: or as i like to say now-a-days, do you speak more fluently in numbers or letters?
    … aka, MS Word or Excel?
  • major or subject studied:
  • type of work:
  • reader: of fiction, current events, (even that distinct subpopulation passionate about) sci fi
  • paying rent or a mortgage, or multiple mortgages?
  • favorite author:
  • favorite vegetable:
  • favorite meal: breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Embracing more of our identities is vital in order to weave together stories that encapsulate more of the lives each of us has lived. I am unsatisfied with race alone, because as my father has pointed out, he finished high school in an integrated high school in West Virginia rather than attend a segregated school in Tuskegee. It wasn’t even his choice, but his parents sent him to live with family in Charleston, WV.

Back in 2005, I began to sense the nuance of identity by exploring the distinctions between each of my parents. My white mother has certainly had race privilege her entire life. Yet, I have come to appreciate how she lacked many of the class privileges that my father was raised with. Since then, I have explained it simply as “my mother had the race privilege while my father grew up with the class privilege.” The vestiges of my mom being the first in her family to get a four-year degree are alive today. In ways that I choose not to ask my extended family about, but alive, nonetheless.

Taking class identity and blending it with race identity has been an awakening experience. Class, is such an avoided topic, that what that means needs explanation. Middle class for me has been a father who’s entire career was as a white collar employee with the federal government. A father who had union representation, was trained as a lawyer, and has had comprehensive health insurance for as long as I can remember since i got my first physical the summer after kindergarten. I got a physical as a six-year old because the family was headed to Kenya. A gaggle of dependents and a diplomat for the US Embassy in Nairobi.

So I add:

  • health insurance coverage: any or out-of-pocket?
    … PPO, HMO, Medicare or Medicaid?
    … that you have on your own, or are a dependent on someone else’s?

I have honed how i tell my 1984 story, too. After years of telling the chronological story of living in six countries, four states in the country, three continents over 15 years, I now say how I finished kindergarten in Denver and began the first grade in Nairobi.

****

Last year, I was asked: Who are your ancestors?

Such potency in four words. There is a fits-and-starts fascination with history in this culture. For the most part, a historical amnesia when it comes to the history of families. How many people can tell where all four of their grandparents were born, grew up, and lived? How many of us readily know the years that our four grandparents were born, and died?

 I have a much lengthier answer than I did seven years ago because I have slowed down to ask. To explore, and to inquire with family members over the phone, and email messages as well as in person. The stories are too vast and invaluable to not ask now. There is a great risk in waiting until I will see my last living grandparent.

the vibratory power of words

reading “The Game of Life and How to Play It,” originally written by Florence Scovel Shinn in 1925. A few excerpts are:

“to play successfully the game of life, we must train the imaging faculty.”
“the imagination has been called ‘The Scissors of The Mind,’ and is ever cutting, cutting, day by day, the pictures man sees out there, and sooner or later meets his own creations in his outer world.” (4)

“Owing to the vibratory power of words, whatever man voices, he begins to attract…. The metaphysician knows that all disease has a mental correspondence, and in order to heal the body one must first ‘heal the soul.'”
(24-25)

“A person knowing the power of the word, becomes very careful of his conversation. He has only to watch the reaction of his words to know that they do ‘not return void.’ Through his spoken word, man is continually making laws for himself.” (21)

Definitions:
old-fashioned chat: an hour of five hundred to a thousand destructive words, the principal topics being loss, lack, failure, and sickness.
new-fashioned chat: talk of what we want, to heal, bless and prosper.

subconscious: is simply power, like steam or electricity. does what it is directed to do. with no power of induction.
conscious: the mortal or carnal mind.
superconscious: the god mind within each human. The realm of perfect ideas.

There is a perfect picture of this in the superconscious mind. It is usually flashes across the conscious as an unattainable ideal — ‘something too good to be true.’ in reality it is human’s true destiny (or destination) flashed to him from the Infinite Intelligence which is within one’s self.” (5)

having a taste for raw onions / onions as life

Ah yes. From the book that i finished earlier this week:

Remember what the old man said? His faec brimmed with laughtere as he turned to you and answered in a serious manner. ‘The secret is raw onions. I eat raw onions and I survive.’

And then, over your head, his eyes met mine and we understood each other. What he told you that day is the secret of life itself. One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things. We, you and I, and our people shall live because there are only a few among us who do not love raw onions.”

– The General. in The Wandering Falcon, by Jamil Ahmad (2011).

tell a story: of your life in two pages

I was born may 1978. My skin had a green hue to it under the lights of the hositpal’s maternity ward. Or so my two brothers thought, probably their own comic book projections. They called me the Hulk, in my mom’s presence, the first birth she had given where she had not taken any drugs – or shot to the spinal column. That was a big regret or surprise to her, because my head was many orders larger than the two others that passed through her birth canal. In addition to my 2 brothers, I have 1 sister who was also awaiting my arrival. My dad, supposedly, was awaiting a 2nd daughter, who he hoped to name Stephanie. He got me, instead.

So, I’m the last born. The final seed. In the early years, my status as the fourth of four meant that I was a spoiled baby, in the eyes of my 3 elders. My sister is 18 months older, one brother is 5 years older, and the other is 8 years older. We were the four-hued siblings, mulattoes born in the mile high city during the ‘70s. As, I’ve learned in the last decade, one of many outposts in fly-over country.

We jettisoned from 5280 early in my life. Kindergarten was in Denver, with 1st grade beginning in Nairboi, Kenya. After 10 years as an employment/discrimination lawyer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, my dad joined the foreign service. Big lifestyle change in mid-career, as Reagan’s re-election campaign was ratcheting up. At that time, the State Department was the least diverse agency in all of the federal government. So issues of inclusion, access and race-at-work is in my genes. That was unbeknownst to me until a year ago. Guatemala followed Kenya. Virginia after that. Swaziland came after Kenya. Back in the U.S., I have lived in NM, CO, MN, NY and WA over the last 17 years.

Nearly one-half of my life has been back in the US, with the first half of my life lived was in Colorado and then as the son of a diplomat. Dad was trained as a lawyer, Mom was trained as a schoolteacher. Until she had my brother. Her passion for teaching shifted to PTAs, as my dad’s work was enough for them to raise a family. They bought a house in 1971 for $24K, which was one-fourth (or one-sixth) of my dad’s income at the time. They still own the same home, 40 years later.

Living abroad, I had functional Spanish, and elementary SiSwati. In hindsight, Swahili would have been curious, but it was my first place abroad and I was 6. In a place where getting accustomed to a new country was plenty. From one country to the next, good grades translated. I excelled in numbers and math, while I blumbered in English, literature and grammar. I have a fond memory of spelling, that was my forte in grade school. My mom inquired about writing assignments from my sister and me. At a certain point in elementary school, I only brought math homework, assignments and test home for updates. There were report cards at the end of a school period. But, I learned at an early age to cloak my writing to myself. The critique was more than I could stomach. So went to great lengths to avoid it.

For a few years, math was eclipsed by geography. I struggled with art, being artistic, and being creative. For some time early in high school, I was so scared that I resented art class. A few moves around, did place me in a setting to get to work on the yearbook by the time I was in high school. One year led to the next, and I was one of 3 yearbook editors. It was a wholly different medium, of published matter that captivated me. In exchange for a kick-ass cover illustration, we promoted a contest for a free yearbook for the best design. To my knowledge, we received a single submission. It was all that we needed. On a black cover, white dots from a white-out blotter to illustrate the sky, moon, letters and a castle tower.

That same year, I embarked into the first t-shirt making endeavor I was a part of. Again, we threw the conventional wisdom, the parameters and norms that had defined others and confined me. Instead, we put text and images on the chest and back. And deviated from the white/off-white backgrounds. I still have that tan colored shirt with orange illustrations. A long sleeve in dark brown, with the same orange were color combinations that awakened my peers.

I sustained my studies when still in high school. As dating and girls began to enter my life, I found that student groups gave me an outlet beyond the classroom intelligentsia. I had heard the duality of book-smarts and/or street-smarts for years. Along with life, certain subjects began to wane. It may have been the reading and writing components, as I still enjoyed the social aspects of learning together.

My relationship with books has evolved. I struggled with Shakespeare constantly. Literature blossomed late, relatively late. I had been a reader of non-fiction for so long. Although, reading Borges, Garcia Marquez and Richard Rive. Years later, I wonder if Rive was a foreboding to Chris Abani. Over the last decade, I have read a handful – yes, 5 – of books that have fundamentally altered my worldview and outlook on life: Botany of Desire, Spontaneous Healing, Fire on the Prairie, Kindred, and When the Past is Present. Just this week, I learned that Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in 12 weeks. As she left an intense relationship in NY for the Caribbean.

One way that the internet has impacted my life, is by making me more literary and finding more tools, and supports to nurture my voracious appetite for words and reading. If Cupid had a bookworm arrow, it missed me until I was out of college. My palatte opened up once I was no longer commanded to read. And directed what to read, irrespective of how dry or ho-hum it was.

I use the internet to read more about authors, their lives and the environments that affected them. I use my cell phone to note book titles and a list of authors that arise in conversations, on a whim, or in passing. My list has grown to more than 120 books. And the public library is one of the beloved public institutions. I have numerous library cards, three in my current possession. As an adult, I take the time (sometimes frequently, other times rarely) to visit the library for so long that I can wander through the stacks. It is a form of synchronicity and trusting the universe, long before I had read such phrases that apply directly to experiences that I have lived, known and breathed.

At this juncture of my life, my relationship with money is at the fore. As is my relationship with masculinity. After two and a half decades of leaving those stones unturned, I visit them often. Probably daily. I no longer want to perpetuate cultural norms that act oblivious to such powerful social forces.

I have less fear now of writing. Of debt. Of the unknown, the unpredictable, and the unseen. Less fear of unemployment. Less fear of myself, and my limitations. I delight in those.

I do not need to have the life of the generation before me. Yet, I was glad to realize it back then and be open to it going forward. Monumental changes made for a tumultuous 2010. 2011 was an era of rebirth, renewal and redirection.

Death has been lingering, maybe since Buddy’s passing in January 1997. The first death of a family member since Gma Shirley had died 9 or 10 years earlier. Death at 18 in the states felt very different than it had at 8 outside. It felt isolating, confusing and fracturing in Guatemala. There had been ridiculing, shaming and enough punishment that the one time I recall crying over Shirley’s death was inside the warmth of my fleece jacket one day during lunch. It was overcast overhead, seated on some bleachers overlooking a soccer field, and I shut the world out in order to cry inside my red pullover.

synchronicity: in hope, anger, books, twitter

wow. this is the kind of shit that makes me glad to ask questions.
and therefore, ask more questions.

i feel like i’ve acessed a treasure trove of links. data and stories. data and stories.
dude, there’s no judgement, i have profound combo of feelings: amazement, delight, respect.

in part synchronicity, in part magic. i say synchronicity for a few reasons:
1. the Marshall Ganz article in Sojourners magazine is brilliant, laden with deep learnings. thus, will require slow digestion, and repetition in reading it.
in fact, i was just requesting Marshall Ganz’ newest book, Why David Sometimes Wins, off of paperbackswap.com earlier today. i’ve had 3 books requested from me in the last 24 hours. and someday, hopefully i will get those credits translating into Ganz‘ recent book, When David Sometimes Win, or the books by bad-ass farmer in southern Virginia, Joel Salatin.

2. also, i was just thinking of needin to locate that Malcolm Gladwell article. though it sounds like there are severe misgivings in the points he argues, it serves a tremendous purpose. as a writer, he puts his thoughts down on paper and into magazines that reach an audience of millions. inevitably, such an article — as a moment in time — offers a hook, or door ajar, to discuss concepts of society, technology, what moves and motivates people, and justice. and forces us to have to consider the story that we tell, the point that we are trying to make. by incorporating the new data that he puts forth. or determining that there is no merit in giving verbiage by responding to a Gladwellesque social thinker/critic.

3. and then, synchronicity. cuz in getting to glance at your links on pyramids of engagement, and that alchemyofchange response. which now that i’ve read it, is saying something similar to what i’ve said. in fewer paragraphs. and using  less pretty words.

Tracing slavery

Baltimore, Philly and Greensboro just aint the same after reading Octavia Butler’s science fiction on time traveling into slavery. Kindred — first published in 1997. First picked up by me in mid-August 2010.

I’ve trampled over history this summer of 2010. Looked at leaves swaying along the interstate south of Philadelphia. Seen Black youth, Black families and Black communities with new eyes. New eyes cast having read about the slave trade, migration routes, escape routes, and movement of commerce.

I sat in a branch of the Durham Public Library, pulling books edited by Ishmael Reed and Member of the Club, a collection of articles written by Lawrence Otis Graham. Slavery doesn’t look the same now that it sits on the other side of the wall. A wall capable of taking my arm off, as it did to Dana/Edana in Kindred.

Atrocities of commerce. Or was it genocide borne of commerce, in visiting Colorado’s Camp Amache and Sand Creek Massacre. According to the War Department, Amache was called the Granada War Relocation Center.

All this, for a mulatto in miscegenation nation.

Books with stillness and connectedness

Jeez, books are magic.
On the train, I’ve just opened to a page in Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchell) that reads:
“the feeling of deep connectedness, of knowing exactly what to do, beyond any conscious intention. You submerge yourself beneath the words, in a very still place, and you listen intently.”
Mitchell is describing the trance he was in in crafting the pages that preceded the epilogue.

Maybe such deep connectedness was this morning between 8:15 and 9:25. It was so on the beachhead, too. And on the porch last night. in the park stargazing with Aaron and raspy friends.

Doors upon doors and doors. Abyss. Isolation and unity/ in paradox/ together.