Category Archives: work

A place in the world

Yesterday I got the idea in my little head that it would be fun to be an online moderator for a new site I joined for mothers in my local area.  They have all kinds of forums that have eaten up more of my day than blogging lately.  One of the forums is called “Natural Living and Attachment Parenting” and they had an announcement about needing a moderator.  I emailed the woman in charge of the site, and she informed me that the position has been filled.

I may live a pretty straight and narrow life these days, but I’ve been known to hang out in alternative-land.

I was a vegetarian for about five years, and would still be now if it weren’t for all these carnivores I live with clamoring for charred flesh.

I lived without a car, using my bike and bike trailer or the bus for all my transportation, for 9 windy rainy wonderful years.

I’ve baked my own bread, fried my own tortillas, made my own clothes, costumes, quilts, cloth bags to carry groceries in, even went so far as to crochet some little bags to put veggies in so I didn’t have to use the plastic ones from the produce section.

I breastfed each of my kids for three years (it’s sad that this is considered alternative.)

I shared sleeping quarters with each kid for at least three years.

I homeschooled my first child until 8th grade, my second until 5th grade, and my third is now homeschooling “first grade.”

I had natural childbirth with midwives and lived dirt poor so I could stay home with my babies.

I’ve lived without tv, phone, bank account or credit cards, I even lived for a time in a house whose only heat was a woodstove, and then I lived for a few days in February without wood.  No better way to wax alternative than not to be able to feel your toes.

I shopped and worked at health food stores for years, trying out all the funky “new” foods that the rest of the world considers staple but Americans find so fascinating, like millet and tofu.

I recycled, reduced, and reused, including finding half-broken furniture and such and repairing it with materials bought at a thrift store or yard sale.

I’ve had an organic garden, composted, grew veggies, mulched with my lawn clippings.

I’ve used a clothesline, canned my own jam with blackberries I picked, crocheted my own afghans and cured illness with home remedies.

And I drank microbrews as long as I could afford to!

And that doesn’t even include all the weird things I’ve done in the name of following my bliss.

I got it into my head when I saw that announcement that I might have a place to share all this, to make my experience be useful to someone, to be needed.  I might have an incentive to stop my slow slide into the disposable convenience of mainstream complacency and regain some of the habits, skills and attitudes that made me feel so self-sufficient and conscientious.  

Of course, I can still post and comment in the forum.  The truth comes out that I just wanted a bit of spotlight, I wanted to alleviate a bit of my new-in-town floatiness by having a place I belong.  I feel way too  much disappointment for a fleeting idea that just came to me yesterday.

So I look at all the projects that I have neglected in the past couple of weeks, developing conversation classes, translation, studying to qualify as an interpreter, and I decide to attack them with renewed vigor.  

Here I go, clicking to put a check mark in the box next to “vigor” and pushing the “renew” button.

And here comes the inspiration…

Wait for it…



Filed under work

Class update

The two students who showed up were great, but unfortunately they were also at opposite ends of the language experience spectrum.  So I need to split them into two groups… two groups of one!

My problem is I’m a hard worker, a good idea generator, a good teacher, good at communicating in three languages, but I don’t know the first thing about advertising and I really don’t want to have to learn.

Sometimes I resent the fact that I am supposed to handle so many aspects of a situation instead of being able to focus on something.  

But I guess that’s what happens when you strike out on your own.  If you stay on the beaten path then you have some pre-established means of assistance to take care of some of the more mundane, less interesting aspects, like getting the word out.  But when you begin to forge an alternate route, you spend a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel.

So far, it is worth it to have the freedom and control to do it my own way.


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Language class

Tonight’s the big night.

I managed to get approval from the recreation center to use one of their classrooms, I worked up a good curriculum, and I have two people who say they will come, three if you count the rec center director who wants to sit in.

Not the resounding success I had hoped for, but ya gotta start somewhere.

I suspect that this particular class will go the way of the writing groups I have tried to start in the past, which is nowhere fast.

But I have come up with several positive points to dwell on so that I don’t get discouraged:

  • Scheduling this class, whether it flies or not, gave me the incentive to put together a few weeks worth of conversation class curriculum, something I have wanted to do for a couple of years but always stopped myself with the thought, why?  What particular group of students am I directing it at?  etc.  Planning this class has focussed me enough to get it done.
  • Perhaps I will impress the director with my class packet and my teaching style and he will list my class in the next rec center schedule, which may generate more students than my pitiful few fliers around town
  • I will have put the wheels in motion  (As Mary Poppins says, “Well begun is half done.”)  This includes having the incentive to buy a dry erase board with necessary accoutrements, ten-sided dice (for practicing numbers), and to make a picture file for use in demonstrating vocab/generating conversation.

I know it sounds like I’m being negative in my assumption that this particular class won’t go anywhere, but I have a list for that too:

  • I feel more comfortable assuming the worst, and being pleasantly surprised when things don’t completely suck
  • It feels more emotionally responsible to see this as the first small step/attempt and not set myself up for crushing disappointment by thinking, “This is it!  It’s this or nothing!”
  • I feel like evaluating things realistically is the only way to figure out how to succeed, to know what is working, to change the things that don’t work

None of it feels like work to me.  When I come up with activities, worksheets, dialogues, conversation starters, etc. I do not feel the effort required but am carried away by my enthusiasm and interest.  I find myself looking forward to this kind of work.  In fact I have to be careful to remind myself that it is important, because I tend to put it off too long the way I would set aside reading a book or watching a tv show or any other form of entertainment that must wait indefinitely because I have to cook and clean and mind the kids.  That’s how much I enjoy planning a class.  If that isn’t the ultimate in nerddom, I’m not sure what is.

So we shall see what comes of it this evening.  If there is anything of interest to report, I will write a post about it tomorrow.  Otherwise, I will write a post whenever I get to step two!


Filed under work

An update from outside the box

I realize that starting a business is technically NOT considered operating outside the box.  Probably more like creating another box, really.  My box is going to have to fit somewhere inside of or at least next to other boxes already in existence.

But I’ve never had a box before.  I feel like a toddler who, upon opening an awesome new present, only wants to play with the box.  Mostly because there isn’t much inside my box right now, there’s pretty much only the cardboard walls and a couple of flaps to twiddle with at this point.

What happened was, I went to the local rec center to propose a Spanish conversation class, and the director loved the idea.  He gave me an instructor application which I brought home and proceeded to fill out.

Turns out I need a license from the city.  

So okay, I look up “business privilege license” on the web (“privilege:” presumably they don’t want you to forget that earning a living is not a right) and get to the appropriate form which I download and print.  I dutifully begin to fill in the blanks on that form.

Turns out I need something called a “Federal Tax ID,” which I again look up online and am directed to the IRS site on which one may get an “Employer Identification Number,” which is essentially starting a new business and getting the little number that you will put on your tax return.

The really cool part about all this is that it was fun.  I’m learning that I know when I’m on the right track when my enthusiasm mounts rather than dwindles as I encounter twists in the road.  Instead of sobbing hysterically and wailing “Why meeeeee?” in my most pathetic voice, which is my M.O. when ambushed by red tape, I was getting jazzed.  My own business, huh?  Pick out a name, pick out some goals, allow your inspiration to coalesce around a box, inside which you can put your brilliant ideas, then your efforts, and maybe someday your accomplishments?

Yeah, alright.  Let’s do it.

It’s still only in the embryonic stage.  If I showed you the ultrasound it wouldn’t even look like a box, it would just be a lump in the form of a tax identification number stuck to a dream.

But someday maybe it will be a lovely strong box, oak, perhaps stained a warm brown in homage to the cups of coffee that inspired it, with forest green trim, and it will have little ribbons connecting outward to tutoring clients and language classes, to translation jobs and writing projects, and it will be bubbling happily with words.

That’s the plan, anyhow.

I’ll keep you posted.


Filed under work

Pursuing happiness

Like with a harpoon.  Or a high-powered rifle.

It is a basic American right but we misread it with alarming regularity.  We translate “pursuit” as “sit on the couch and wait for it to be advertised.”

I was raised by great parents, don’t get me wrong, but ambition and go-getting were never part of my lesson plan.  My parents were amazing when it came to including me in projects that they themselves were working on.  My Mom let me stick pins into her tomato pin cushion as she took them out of the pant leg she was hemming.  My Dad always made sure I was on hand to fetch a tool for him, and I prided myself on knowing what a vice grips was.

But if I wanted to take on something by myself… forget it.  Key phrases I distinctly remember as responses to my project ideas: Mom: “Maybe someday…”or “Well, I don’t think so.”  My Dad was a veritable font of encouragement, greeting my attempts at pretty much anything, from laundry to baking, with: “Does your mother know you’re doing this?” and, my favorite, “You’re just going to screw that up.”

So I used this upbringing as my excuse for being a passive slouch in my 20’s.  That’s what the 20’s are for, really, blaming your screwed up life on your parents and popping open another cold one to replace the baby bottle you wish you were still sucking on.

Then, with any luck, you turn 30.  Or maybe you have kids.  Either way, you realize it’s time to grow up.  You realize that, considering the messed up state of government, traffic and the universe, your parents didn’t do half bad.  It finally dawns on you that, hey, what you do every minute of every day has as great an impact on the world as what they did.  You realize that someday, someone is liable to blame everything, from the president’s idiocy to the drought to their own bruised self-esteem, on yours truly.

Time to make it count.

Lately, being a stay at home mom and thusly contributing precisely jack to our family’s economy, I have been wishing that I could work outside the 9 to 5 box, get a few off-the-beaten-path gigs going, like say a couple of tutoring clients or a translation assignment, maybe a freelance essay published, just a few things that will allow me to continue the priceless work I do taking care of my family and home while covering a couple of bills.

I’ve been hiding in the shadows with my list of ideas, feeling shy and unconfident.  And suddenly ridiculous.  These jobs ain’t gonna drag themselves out of the woodwork.  

What else is this life for but shooting for the moon?  What else does being a grown-up mean but taking the full blame and credit for how I spend my life energy, which is the only currency we truly have with which to purchase satisfaction?

Who am I if I am not pushing my boundaries, trying to grow out of those unhelpful characteristics which I developed, for whatever reason that now no longer matters, when I was just a pup?  I will never know who I am and what I can do if I don’t move forward, fueled by the visions, however improbable, that infuse me with enthusiasm when I chance to glance their way.

A secret: happiness IS the pursuit.  

Getting there, if we ever do, would just be icing.


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Noisy Chores

My chores each have a different pitch to their whine: that incessant complaint that each makes to get my attention and ruin any chance I have of doing something enjoyable until I’ve attended to the work at hand.

An unmade bed makes a soft noise, sounds kind of like, “I want to look priiiiiteeeee.”  Most days I just reply, “Hey, take a look, if I can’t be bothered with my own face then there’s no hope for you.”  Then the bed changes its tune.  Starts whispering, “Naaaaaap!” So I oblige.  Can’t be overly cruel to the furniture.

A full laundry basket makes a low moan almost completely below my radar, kind of a “Helloooooo” as though from a mole lost down a hole.  The mole isn’t really bothered about being lost down the hole, since it’s in its own territory, but it still would like some attention.  Clothes must like being roughed up a bit.

I can’t hear dust.  The thickness of the general household coating must result in the dust voices canceling each other out, a situation I highly recommend.

The dishes, on the other hand, have a high squeal.  I can’t even go near the kitchen without being assaulted.  It’s kind of an ear-piercing “EEEEEeeeuuuww!  EEEEeeeuuuww!”  Approaching this task requires that I steel my nerves in the same way I imagine an EMT might have to force themselves to save someone who had killed the EMT’s dog.  

If you haven’t guessed, I DESPISE the dishes.  I would rather clean the toilet… in a gas station bathroom.  I would rather clean out the fridge… in a frat house.  I would rather organize the garage of the worst pack rat in the world.  But please don’t make me do the dishes.  My goal in life is to learn to scream louder than they do and maybe scare them off.

I still feel guilty about a recent trade I made with  my 12 year old.  He was whining about having to mow the lawn, a chore which I absolutely LOVE, so I threw out the idea, jokingly of course, because who would be foolish enough to even consider such an idea, that we switch: I would do his weekly mowing if he took on another night of dishes.  He accepted without hesitation.

I must stand up for him and say that he is a very smart and wonderful kid, but he has apparently lost his mind.  I am very concerned.  We have gone through a whole week of this arrangement and he appears content with it!  I came in after mowing, glowing with the experience of sun and fresh air, and then stood proudly at the front window where my handiwork was laid out in public, to be admired by all of humanity, and I said to him, “You REALLY don’t  like mowing?”  I was giving him another chance, see.  I’m not completely heartless.

But he remained firm.  A day later when he was doing the dishes, I expected to hear the customary wailing and gnashing of teeth that I myself always emit when faced with such horror.  I came tiptoeing into the kitchen, arms shielding my head from plates that might be flying from his rage, bracing for the inevitable outcry of a tortured soul, and he turned to me and said, “Hey Mom.  You okay?”

Am I a bad person for allowing this arrangement to continue?  What am I going to do if Child Protective Services finds out how badly I’ve tricked my own offspring?  

You’ll have to excuse me… my radar is picking up a dirty diaper in the vicinity.  If you’ve never heard it, you really don’t want to know what noise THAT makes, but it is definitely NOT to be ignored.


Filed under work


I finally hung on the wall of my bedroom the diploma I earned from the University of Oregon: a BA in French and Spanish.  

Sometimes we just need a little mental boost, and I regret to say that, though I prefer valiant deeds of glory, sometimes it can come from a piece of paper.

On another wall of the bedroom is the framed first page of an article I had published last year in the Lake Magazine, a little rag put out by the po-dunk newspaper my husband was working for at the time.  Part of me wants to believe that this personal connection was the only reason my piece got accepted, but then the other part of me (who I like better and better as the years go by) tells this self-defeating part, “Who cares?  Why do you have to wreck everything? Shut up!”

Accompanying the article, which is on the subject of Halloween, is a photo I took of my daughter who is wearing a Tigger costume I made several years ago for my son.  What a shot in the arm that framed page is!  An article I wrote, displaying a photo I took, of a costume I made, worn by a lovely girl who I also made!  Framed and hung by my husband, who takes much better care of my mental state than I do.

I decided I shouldn’t leave it all to him, and so to counter my current state of aimless and lethargic bottoming-out, I thought I should hang another reminder that I HAVE done SOMETHING with my life, even if all I can seem to manage lately is to fold the laundry and to make sure the kids eat a vegetable now and again.

The balance between humility and pride is such a precarious position to maintain, and I am constantly learning how to better walk that path.  For me it always comes down to, how can we strive for perfection while acknowledging that we are never going to arrive?  How can we better ourselves constantly while at the same time giving ourselves credit when we genuinely have done the best we can, even though it won’t ever be “The Best”?

I’ve decided to try surrounding myself with a few more reminders that I AM striving, that I HAVE succeeded and that there is definitely hope that I can fulfill tasks I set for myself in the future.  Maybe that’s an alternate purpose to a diploma, not just to prove to the outside world that we have achieved something, but to remind the inside world, the one in our head, that we did indeed get to where we were going.  One of the bumperstickers of life.


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As we settle into our new town and my husband gets into the groove of his new job, I find the world opening up to me.  I am aware of how lucky I am to have so many possibilities for the future, at the same time as I feel the same desperate longing to have a purpose in society.  I know that my primary focus must be my children and my family, because this is the path I’ve chosen and the one that makes me happy.  However, as I’ve discussed in several blogs before this, our society does not see fit to give my husband and I the financial means to sustain ourselves on one income.  I have complained about this devaluing of the family and the work of homemakers before, so I will skip it now.

So in addition to my favorite occupation, which includes tasks I find very fulfilling such as cooking, sewing, homeschooling and gardening, I must generate some form of cash.  

I want to teach.  I am looking into online degree programs, but they all require student teaching or a full-time position in the second year.  At that point I would have to put my little girl in second grade and put my 2 year old little boy in day care.  I am not ready for that.

But I am getting old!  I am also a person who likes focus, who thrives on commitment to a project followed by steady work towards a goal, which involves having a goal and being able to choose a focus.  I have always been interested in so many things.  I couldn’t choose between French and Spanish and so double majored.  Weeding through my book collection when we move is torturous because I want to read books on so many subjects.  Homeschooling is so wonderful to me because I am quite willing to follow my child on any tangent that may occur to them to investigate; all subjects are all fascinating to me.

Can I establish some kind of “career” and generate some kind of income on a path outside the box?  Should I suck it up, pursue a 9 to 5 and leave my children in the care of someone else?  I can see myself as a Jill of all trades, having a few tutoring clients and publishing a freelance article now and again, perhaps subbing on occasion for a language teacher or even offering some other service that I haven’t even thought of yet.

The world is wide open before me.  I hope I can sit still in this place for a bit, listen carefully and find the path that I am meant to walk.


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Can you afford offspring?

Not tickets to see the band.  I mean the small, loud, often times stinky creatures that make life so fulfilling.  Mine, at any rate.

As I wish desperately that I had some vocation I could dedicate my life to, a nagging but tiny voice says, “Um, pardon me but don’t you love being a Mama?  Don’t you find joy in every aspect of traditional homemaking, from cooking to gardening to organizing?  Isn’t is possible that this is your calling?”

Then of course the rational voice, the part that relies solely on reason, intelligence, logic, the one that has gotten me out of all manner of fixes in the past, the one that usually takes over projects, after my muse has flitted off to something new and exciting, and ensures that they turn out well, this thinking part of my persona retorts with something like, “Hello, you can’t afford to stay home.  Duh.”  (Although it certainly says it more intelligently, throwing out a couple numbers and inserting “thusly” at the correct moment.  I am currently using my feeling self to translate.)

I really and truly do understand the intellectual argument, but every once in a while I just gotta ask, WHAT THE HELL?

How did we get to this point?  Can you imagine a society evolving to the point where the basis of civilization, i.e. continuing the species and cultivating the space wherein it is nurtured, is a hobby or luxury that must be earned by abandoning said space and species and joining an assembly line or squatting in an office cubicle?  

I would never say that everyone should be a parent or that every household needs a full time homemaker.  Some people are obviously so evolved that they can ignore our fundamental animal purpose and have moved on to more lofty purposes.  Acquisition of wealth and power, I guess.  Maybe writing the great American novel.  I honestly have nothing but respect for these decisions.  

But when they turn to me and say, “And you shouldn’t have children either unless you are willing to leave them in daycare or unless you are independently wealthy or unless your partner can land an amazingly well paying job.  Otherwise, you are a lazy loser trying to mooch off of me.”

Why should a poor person not be allowed to choose parenting as a vocation?  Am I the only one who finds this absurd?  

I think the question “Can you afford offspring?” implies that a person’s financial situation is completely a choice.  You COULD have enough money if you weren’t so lazy.  You could earn the right to have kids be your hobby if you worked hard enough.  As though no one ever got stuck, against their will, unable to find work, or unable to find work that pays a living wage.  As though poverty were always simply a bad lifestyle choice (which it certainly is, in some circumstances.  Sniffing glue and ending up living in a dumpster comes to mind).

And if poverty isn’t purely a choice, if there is any element of luck or destiny to it, then the question “Do you have enough money to be a parent?” and our attitude of moral incorrectness that is directed towards poor parents are just cruel.  We are saying that, for reasons beyond your control, you are living in poverty, and therefore you are not allowed to have descendants.  That the continuation of someone’s genetic code, the enjoyment of having rugrats and the pursuit of the support of children in one’s old age are activities that only the financially lucky deserve to engage in.

Does any of this make sense, or have I gone off the deep end?  Is my rational self forgetting to remind me of some key logical step that makes our current view of parenting completely reasonable?  


Filed under society, work

The Recession from the Trenches

The months after a layoff, waiting to be hired by a new employer, knowing you must relocate in order to continue the pursuit of a certain career, feels a lot like the end of a pregnancy.

As time passes, you wait, you know that something has to happen soon, you try to imagine which day will be The Big Day, when your water breaks/the phone rings, and it all begins.  You try to imagine the face and personality of your new baby/town, and what the new dynamic will be like.

Of course, it is my husband and not me that is on the job hunt at the present moment, but I must also live in daily wonderment of what the future holds.

Watching the news these days is not helpful; hearing of how badly the economy is sinking into an abyss might be analogous to a hypothetical situation like hearing of how maternity wards accept fewer and fewer women in labor.  Although, of course, with pregnancy, it must end one way or another, naturally or by inducing or even c-section.  A stint of unemployment might hypothetically continue on forever… and so the light at the end of the tunnel can be imagined to be very dim indeed.

When we are adults we are supposed to be a responsible and contributing member of a community.  To feel unneeded, unwanted, unessential to the project at hand is a horrible feeling.  The desire to sink roots, to sink my teeth into a situation and give it everything I have, is overwhelming.  But we will leave soon, so I must dam up my inspiration, my life energy, stay grounded as best I can when there is no ground beneath my feet.  Stay ready.

And this, too, is like the end of a pregnancy, when you’ve done all you can to prepare for the birth: organized your household, focused your mind, braced yourself emotionally.  You hold your breath, waiting.  You tense up, waiting.  You don’t know how you can possibly be more ready.  You spend every day shoring up the readiness which is daily eroded by being alive.

To all of us on the edge of a major life change… peace, good health, and a serious dose of positive vibration.


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Life is just business…

Troy Williamson missed a game last week to take care of his grandmother’s funeral, not just a distant relative but someone who helped raise him. The Vikings were fine with his leaving, but docked his pay for that week ($25,000, according to ESPN this morning).

Another piece of the puzzle that is professional sports. “They make too much money.” “They should be perfect role models.” “They miss births, deaths, weddings.” When they sign their contracts, do they sign away normal personhood? In exchange for fabulous wealth and celebrity, do they give up any rights to maintain connection with the real world? Is approval of this system a form of revenge, exacted in bitter jealousy that they get to do what we have only dreamed of?

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The Buck

Good morning boys and girls!

As part of our continuing series investigating wildlife at the Greasy Spoon, today Professor e is going to teach us about an elusive creature known as The Buck. All too often The Buck lives a solitary life, found on a dirty table once occupied by stingy, over-demanding diners who leave the helpless Buck to face the Wrath of the Waitstaff alone.

Sometimes found in groups of four or more, these herds are commonly referred to as A Decent Tip.

The Buck is distantly related to the Fiver, a rare breed known to cause many waitstaff to break out in a satisfied smile.

An even more remote relation, commonly called the Ten Spot, is presently on the Endangered Species list. An enounter with the Ten-Spot causes a chronic condition known as Guaranteed Good Service.

While the Buck is generally regarded as harmless to humans, as well as being near useless, it has been known to be occasionally booby-trapped with a sticky glob of Somethingorother on its back, so Table Bussers are encouraged to handle them with caution.

Also, Professor e strongly advises that Waitstaff resist the temptation to hurl a pot of hot coffee after the chintzy customer who escaped with the rest of the lonely Buck’s herd.

She reminds you that there will be ample opportunity to inflict revengefully poor service should the offending party ever return to the scene of the tragedy.

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Before being seated…

[This is a piece I wrote a few years ago when I was waiting tables and needed to let off some steam…]

Customer Service Contract
In the true American spirit of litigation and red tape, we have developed the following service agreement to serve you better!
Please take a moment to sign this and return it to the hostess.

I, the undersigned, do solemnly swear to adhere by the following rules and regulations:

Item #1 — I agree that I am not the only person in the universe. I agree that there are other customers in this restaurant who want attention as much as I do.
(ATTENTION: If you regularly tip more than 20%, you may disregard the previous condition and consider yourself the only person in the universe.)

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A Passion for Words

Though my interest is often piqued by all kinds of subjects, my biggest passion is for words. I’ve always enjoyed writing in many genres, although I have come to hate the literarily analytical essay, in the same way as if I had forced myself for years to eat chocolate at times when I had no inspiration to do so, and was prevented from eating chocolate when I craved it, I would certainly have come to despise chocolate.

Here is where I come to the heart of what “unschooling” means to me: learning that becomes effortless because it is borne on a wave of curiosity and desire.

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Honoring a great man

In June of this year Sembène Ousmane, my favorite director, who is also one of my favorite writers, passed away. He made it to age 84, so it is not too much of a surprise at that point, but I am very sad nevertheless, in a selfish way, because he was so brilliant that I was hoping he would put out more films before the world was deprived of his genius. He was making films up to the end, his last being “Moolaadé” in 2004.

I am so convinced of his importance to the world that I showed as many of his movies as I could get away with when I taught French at the UO. He wasn’t part of the official program, but since his characters often spoke French (although he also used Woolof, a language indigenous to his native Senegal) I decided to take any lull in the given curriculum to expose my students to his important works. Plus, since part of the curriculum was “French culture and history,” I felt it was essential to expose some of the effects of French colonialism in Africa.

He is generally referred to as the father of African cinema. This is vital, when you think of how much culture is transmitted through film. In fact, this is why he originally decided to focus on directing, after he had taught himself to be a novelist and had written many popular and important books — because so many Africans were illiterate, or at least could not read French, that he realized how many more people could access his ideas on the big screen. 

And his ideas are powerful. You could watch his movies purely for entertainment value, since the characters are so intriguing, his storylines so engaging, and the visual details so simple but profoundly important. But if you start to look deeper, you will find serious political critique of colonial and postcolonial power and situations that apply to much of Africa and its relations with the colonial authorities as well as progressive commentary on social conditions and cultural developments. He does it without preaching or finger-pointing, just a laying out of the situation through the medium of story, scene, symbol and character.

If I could recommend only one film (and once you see it, you will want more) I recommend “La Noire de…” (known as “Black Girl” in English), his first feature-length film which also won him awards and recognition. It is a simple and entertaining story but one which I am still reflecting on to realize all the nuances of meaning he might have included. (I have asked a lot of people what they think the mask represents, and they all answer something that is distinct from but equally insightful to all the other answers I have received or thought of myself. It is magic!) 

I think my second favorite is “Camp de Thiaroye,” which I have seen in several classes but cannot find a copy of anywhere, but hopefully someone will put it out on DVD and distribute it soon. It is based on history as well as his personal experience as a “Tirailleur Senegalais,” being the story of a group of soldiers from Senegal who fight in WW2 for France, who then proceeds to screw them over. Extremely powerful and important movie.

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point; he was a brilliant artist and a major contributor to African literature and cinema. Anyone who hopes to have any clue to African postcolonialism needs to study his work. Any small part I can play in spreading the word of his amazing legacy would make me feel like I had helped honor him for his revolutionary contribution to the world.


Filed under film, Politics, work

A new experiment with an old profession

Not the “oldest” profession, of course. Why is prostitution considered the oldest profession? Because motherhood and homemaking are not considered a profession. They are givens, unpaid and disrespected, something one has to do because they love their family members too much to neglect them. I am currently in the middle of Life Experiment #2, attempting for the second time to walk the path of mother and homemaker without an outside “real job”, balancing the needs of six people, one of which is my own self soul, who periodically begins to whine and pine for some attention and spoiling.

It is always interesting to me the attitude of the social workers, whose assistance I have always had the misfortune to require (but the fortune of being able to attain). On the one hand they don’t want you to abandon your children under a dumpster, so they talk up the joys and wonder of motherhood, handing out an entire trees worth of pamphlets telling you how to coo at them and immunize the hell out of them. Out of the other side of their mouths they will ask you, don’t you want to be sterilized now, and demand to know what birth control you will be using, and don’t you think you’ve played at this game long enough. Far from being acknowledged as the biological objective of our entire existence, which I agree can and should be circumvented if an individual does not desire to participate, parenthood is in our modern world a hobby, and if you can’t afford it because there are no jobs with living wages available in our capitalist system, then you should just sterilize yourself and go back to flipping burgers.

Even more interesting is going out with the baby, and having people ask me if it’s my first, and then seeing their eyes go buggy when I say, “No, my fourth.” Four? Why in God’s name would anyone want four? Can’t you control yourself? But they don’t say anything out loud, maybe because we are in the polite South, they just smile, move slowly away in case it is contagious. But to answer the unspoken questions, what else is there that is even half as fulfilling as parenthood? (I fully realize and accept that some people could come up with a long list of things, and I appreciate the diversity of our individual experience.) To see them learn something new, to see them swim deep in their imaginations, to hear the wise words they use to describe the world, to see their satisfaction at a new achievement, to see their amazement to observe something I have come to take for granted. An addictive hobby, I must say, but one that requires every ounce of passion and dedication, and then we still don’t do a perfect job. I am doomed to screw it up and be despised by each of them from the onset of teenagehood until approximately age 25 when they begin to realize that they are adults and have the power and responsibility to do as they will with their own lives, despite any of my mistakes. Hopefully they will realize that their mother did the best she could, and they will do even better.

Maybe that is the point, the desire to move into the future in the only way possible, recreating your own flesh, which you infuse with your own knowledge, dreams and ideas, to which the new individual adds and subtracts with their own unique imagination and drive until the connection with their parental origin is only the tiniest umbilical thread, impossible to sever. We like to pretend in this modern world that we are alone in the universe, but behind each one of us is a huge crowd of ancestors, a legacy of individuals, now mostly faceless and nameless, who spent a good portion of their life energy ensuring the survival of the next generation. Picture your favorite deceased grandparent and imagine how much they are pulling for you in this world, then multiply that infinitely back through time. What if the momentum of these centuries of striving to succeed could be claimed and harnessed, and we could do great things with this wind at our backs?

And if I stop wanking poetic for a minute and just admit the truth, these four kids are the four coolest people I’ve ever met. Why wouldn’t I want to make hanging out with them my job?

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Filed under kids, Life, work