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.

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The Outline’s Role

Three days into NaNoWriMo yesterday, and I took a moment to see what the world wide web would provide when I asked about outlines for writing a novel. I encountered these three sites, which I have borrowed some elements of:

Today, I have learned of NaBloPoMo, shared with me by WordPress.

This is practice, by design.

for the next generation(s)

I received the following praise earlier today:

when I see you and Basa fighting the good fight.

It immediately made me appreciate the next generation. The next generation of people, not just the people who will follow me as successors in previous jobs or children, but of many other sorts. The people who will serve on boards and as volunteers in places that I have. The person who will till this soil in future years will be influenced by what attention or neglect I show this soil that I inhabit, for this brief window of time. The home that I reside in can be better or worse depending on my actions and treatment of the people and things around me.

I was raised with the adage of leave something better than you found it. Being alive in the final 22 years of the 20th Century, I was exposed to much of what had run amok in the behaviors and habits of western civilization. Attitudes and lifestyles that were stuck in a notion of separateness from all other beings, and divorced from the earth. My hunch is that Mother Earth never sought a divorce from humankind, so it was a one-sided choice (and this is where my metaphor expires). Yet it seems to me that the earth has this unconditional love and infinite patience to embrace us, whenever we come around to recognize that ours is a mutually beneficial arrangement. We are fundamentally different when we see this instead of pretending that we, humans, are better alone.

This attention of the investment of my actions, words and choices cannot be nourished through  consumerism. When I walk into a mall or browse a webpage catalog, my actions and choices on this day will not have some impact cascading into the future. In fact, the severe limit of shopping and buying is that it will more likely have an adverse impact on future generations than be an investment in the good, the well of future generations.

This consideration of future generations is another form of mindfulness.

Lanterns in the darkness

A friend described us as being “lanterns in the darkness.” A day later, I read the MLK quote:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Our two lanterns of love find their own way in what was once a land or sea of darkness. In the darkness, there was an abyss that delved far beyond a rabbit hole. I was freed from the trappings of logic, and encountered a greater freedom than I had ever known. A sense of freedom that was always there but required that I put down so much of what I had learned.

Instead, I have steadied myself in a place of slower life. Less frantic translates into more grounded, and better able to listen. To increasingly note when my attention wanders moments after active listening. I return to listening and being present just by noticing and letting go.

Talking story, from HI by AMB

all talking is stories, which contain:
– stories have a beginning, middle or end.
– what is the point or moral of a story?
– if you lose your way, pause + relocate [self]
– feel it through
– it may have things in common, with others, it is yours.
– be honest.

Saturday a.m.: appreciations for walking other paths

I appreciate the paths less taken by each of my parents. My mother, was the first in her family to get a BA. She had sought out adventure, the kind that travel fosters, since high school when she attempted to be an exchange student. Her travel bug metamorphised probably much earlier than that. While attending the state university in Boulder, one of the gigs she chose was to become a resident advisor. 

Through that RA, she made an acquaintance with my dad. One of the few stories that i can recall from what I have been told was how they were supposed to do a new student orientation. Well, when it came time to begin speaking with the students, he was silent and left much (if not all) of the talking to her. A pattern that has been evident for much of the four-plus decades that they have been together. 

The collegiality of RAs led to them getting to know one another, and eventually going on a date. I cannot fathom what it was like for mom, to date a black guy in the mid 1960s. They married in June of 1967, 12 months prior to RFK’s assassination in Los Angeles. 10 months prior to MLK’s assassination in Memphis. 

There are so many instances that I can glimpse how she is walking another, a different path. From having her own business in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Bringing silver jewelery from Taxco, Mexico and selling it around Denver. I have never asked how much she would make, but it was a creative outlet, exploration, and set of skills that mom built in the midst of raising four kids — who in 1980 ranged from 2-10. 

****

My father’s path of embodying a different type of maleness is what has been salient to me. To be a grown male in the latter half of the 20th Century, was a particular thing. Yet, (some of) my father’s uniqueness comes from not only being a man, but a Black man. Who was an oldest child. Having a father who had fought in the Korean War, and later taught at Tuskegee Institute. A father who was not only in the service and a veteran, but one of the Tuskegee Airmen. There are so many layers to my relationship with my father, and I can only fantasize (hypothesize, romanticize as well as idealize and be frustrated by) what my father’s relationship to his father was. My grandfather died a few years before I was born — I want to say three years prior, but I am not convinced. So, what I have known of him have been through stories, photographs, and family traditions, mannerisms and other subtleties that may be passed through genes as much as upbringing. 

A few more forms of my father’s intersectionality include black/male, oldest child/with a developmentally disabled sister, only boy/with two sisters. Over the past decade, I have attributed meaning to who my father is, trying to lump my notions — of identity, experience, values — onto a skeletal structure of what I conceptualize his early life having been. I am more conscious of the gender make-up in my dad’s family, and in my own, because he embodies such a unique form of masculinity for me. 

In my 20s, i was flabbergasted, sometimes irate, with his inability to express, to divulge, to share. As a kid, he taught all of us the mantra, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.” (that reads with far too many negatives than my lawyer-father would utter. if my memory serves me correctly) Those notions kind of worked in elementary school and as a teenager, but in adulthood I sought more perspective from him and everyone else in my family on what was coursing through his veins, his soul, his heart and mind. In my 20s, I fought the reality of what was, rather than embrace things for how they were. And those struggles have played some part in things being different today than they would be if I had not banged on the door of his feelings that he did not give voice to. A lot has changed in the eIght years since my mom told me how the only times my father would express his feelings were when he was sloshed. 

 

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.

Why open space?

Open space is a way to break up the mundane, old ways of conferences. Just as we are realizing that rote memorization does not work in the classroom, and education needs to be shaken up. Our meetings and multi-day conferences need strong winds of new ideas and currents of new ways.

We do not need to leave the cool, non-traditional, people-powered ways to the techies in San Francisco, either. In fact, for the sake of our selves, our souls and our future, we need to harness our collective strengths. Open space (or Open Space Technology, as it can also be called. OST for short.) is one compelling way to do so.

Open space is not only about the topics that get discussed. The experience of open space is equally important. The experience of making choices and self-authorizing. The experiences of realizing that other people are co-creating ideas, having exchanges and addressing their own needs at the same time. In fact, others are doing so At. This. Very. Moment.

Open space is like communication. Just as 70% of communication is non-verbal, leaving 30% to be verbal. 70% of open space’s potency is how it feels, and 30% is what is said in the array of small groups.

Open space honors that we do not all learn in the same way. Open space embraces that we are all on different pages. Our being in different places is embraced, rather than viewed as being detrimental. It is actually, seeing a group of people as each one of us in a group is. Oftentimes, some people are ready to discuss some specific tangent, while others are seeking basic definitions and understanding of what is happening. Open space allows for the introductory and in-depth or tangential to happen at the same time. The people get to choose which one suits them.

During the recent BIN conference, I introduced open space technology as a version of “montessori for adults.” Go do what you want, as you want, with whomever else wants to do it. Or as they say in the Montessori camp, “go learn on your own, while being guided by a teacher.” Guiding happens, just with us guiding ourselves rather than relying on some typical teacher/facilitator.

****

I have attended too many gatherings and conferences where the energy of a group can swiftly change. The warmth, curiosity of the first-day-and-a-half pivots. Suddenly, people can begin to see that the multi-day funfest is has an endpoint. Questions arise: how do i carry this on next week when I am back at school/work/my home/my desk? How will the importance of this moment be sustained? Who is going to follow through on all that been talked about, identified, proposed and what i have heard?

Open space can be a pressure valve to let off some of the steam that expands in a contained space. Instead of trying to control it, open space provides a blank canvass for people to doodle, paint and illustrate. Old controlling tendencies get mired in question of what: what are we gonna paint? what are we using, watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal? what is going on this canvass?

Instead, open space can be a canvass to the nth power. There can be as many canvasses as there are people who are ready to paint. Canvasses for whatever people identify a need for, and then commit to take it upon themselves to utilize. (if no one goes to discuss the place that open space identifies, then it quickly ceases)

Instead of saying, “oh no, we only have x number of slots,” open space enables, equips and empowers. People can say:
– You want a canvass to do what?
– Great. Go find some space and put a call out to everyone else so they know what you are up to.

The primary constraint in open space is our minds. By that, I mean the limits of what our human minds can fathom when we categorize, define and differentiate. Open space is a wiki for meetings and conferences. Some people can discuss topics and issues while others can figure out the building blocks of logistics, principles, leadership, communications. This is some of what happened when we devolved in Atlanta.

***

A year ago, I first introduced open space to another group. When defining it, I had to explain that it is not Free Time. Instead, it was a time for people:

  1. to go do what they need to do,
  2. to go where they needed to go,
  3. in order to take care of themselves.

That meant napping for some, and snacking for others. For me, i sat on a rocking chair on a large porch at the Benezet House of the Penn Center in St Helena, South Carolina. FOr most of the people present, it was a chance to jump in the car, ride 10 minutes to the beach where they took their shoes off, rolled their pant legs up, and strolled in the waves along the beach. They were doing what they needed to take care of themselves. They were right where tehy needed to be. And they got to do the things that we were all there to do: tell our stories, exchange ideas and experiences, compare notes.

As a little kid in me would say, it was so important that we got to do it outside, too. Afterwards, when i asked some people what their favorite part of our previous 2.5 days had been, they said it was their time on the beach.

***

That is some of what open space can allow for. What began as one person’s idea spread. It went from one car-full of people. To another. To a third. Just like that an idea found a group of people ready to spring into action. These ideas and such moments are all around us. The question is whether we can see them.

Rather than attempt to control them — control the ideas, control the moments, control the people — open space is one way to embrace ideas, moments and people.

Armchair Elder

I saw her seated to the far right of the third row. Who was this white-haired woman glaring at me as I strolled down the aisle. I asked to enter the third row, seated just next to this elderly woman, with my mind using a single verb to describe her as she glared at me. I took my seat on my Southwest flight home. I had a story coursing through my head howt his white woman was fixated on my brown skin. As it turned out, she happened to be a curious, storytelling, fellow traveler.

It began when she asked me how the buckle of her seat belt worked. I learned two further data points within minutes, which were this was an 85 year old woman who was on an airplane for the second time in her life. The previous flight was two weeks earlier when she’d flown to RDU from MDW. Meanwhile, I have been on planes regularly. My first flights began at age six (nearly three decades earlier than the octogenarian seated to my left). One of the few questions that she asked me was if my other airplane rides were bumpier than our shared springtime flight from North Carolina to Illinois. I told her that, yes, they could get bumpy.

We shared an armrest, and she shared countless stories. For the next 80 minutes, I had a history tutorial courtesy of Mrs. Marilois Anderson of Morocco, Indiana.

Marilois lives in a duplex. She was a nurse until age 60 in a tiny Indiana town across the stateline from Chicago. At four, her parents moved from southern Indiana to Morocco, as her father got work for the telephone company. Her mother worked for Ma Bell, too, working the switchboard from their home. One time, Marilois placed the mouthpiece in her mouth, getting an electric shock that made the line go dead. Her father had been to war, too. He was a medic and driver. My young mind was curious about which war it had been. It was one of oodles of questions that I can not know a definite answer to.

Mrs. Anderson’s maiden name is Carter. She married in her early 20s, and had three children – one of whom lived in North Carolina, the nudge she needed to get on an airplane in her mid-80s. I got a glimpse of memory, the mind’s work, and the moment-by-moment nature of life when I asked her husband’s name. In the long pausing presence, I noted that she was unable to recall the name of a partner who died six years ago. She pulled her wallet out for a second time out from one of her two handbags. Her eyes searched for an ID with his name on it. Not on the credit card, nothing on her Medicare card. Then she did find a membership card for the World War II Memorial. Her eyes scanned the colors and images, and I read the name aloud: Mrs. Milton Anderson. I had a great uncle named Milt, too. My uncle Milt had fought in some war decades before I was born. For the 20-some years of overlap, I heard few stories of his service and his life.

Thanks to history, my ancestors and their stories, there were so many reasons that made Marilois’ memories of Morocco so familiar to me. She even said to me how she wanted me to meet her son, Jack, when I come through Morocco.

Multiple times during our flight, Ms. Anderson said that the airplane felt like we were “just sitting here.” It was magic when she peered out from her window seat. She remarked at how incredible it was that we were flying at 30,000 feet. When the floor of the clouds opened, she said, “I can see something.” I got a glimpse of how curiosity and adventure can live on. Can live in us. In her bike rides, her love of the public library, where the librarians of Newton County let her borrow knowing that some day, Mrs. Anderson, won’t bring her two books back.

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).