3-21: “Every Child Is a Gift”

Our children are special gifts…Every child brings something unique to her [his] family.  –Lovina Johnson

Being a parent is tough. I’m convinced that being a mom is tougher. We carry everything our children are in our hearts—the good, the bad, and everything between. It takes an insane amount of patience to step back and allow them to become, an extreme amount of self-training to work against our natural tendency to mold them into our ideal of perfect little beings who refine all the imperfections in us.

As moms we look forward (with bittersweetness) to our children’s increasing independence as they grow up and away from us and into their own adulthood.

Because of a brief exchange I had with a “special needs mom,” as she describes herself, I’ve been thinking about what this means for parents of “differently abled” children–children who are always set against strict societal definitions of normal and perfect and genius. How do these moms feel when societal standards are “out of reach” or “impossible” or “unattainable” for their children? When independence is a long, long way from now, if at all?

One of my dearest friends, Lovina, reminded me through a YouTube video that today is World Down Syndrome Day, and she answered “in brief” the question.

It warmed my heart to hear her share the story about her beautiful daughter Nya. One of my favorite people in the whole world was my mom’s youngest sister, Patricia. Trish, as we called her, had Down Syndrome. She lived to the age of 42 though she was not expected to even reach double digits. She was one of the sweetest souls and I vividly remember childhood and adulthood moments with her.

Today, I’m thinking about Trish and Nya. Today, I’m thinking about Lovina and all the moms and dads who learn that though their kid is not perfectly “crafted” by the world’s standards, they are beautifully perfect in their own skin.

To learn more about Down Syndrome and find out what’s going on around the world today, follow the links below:

I appreciate Lovina’s words–every child is a precious gift. Celebrate that today.

Holly Art!

The first cards for Liberate Your Art 2018 go out this week, and I am beside myself with excitement as I wait for the cards to find me. Thankfully, my artist friends have kept me satisfied while I wait. One such person is Holly who sent two envelopes of goodness to me over the last few weeks.

Holly joined the “Let’s Celebrate Pooh” swap I hosted in the Cup and Chaucer group on  swap-bot. We won’t tell anyone, but after seeing the beautiful art on her blog, I was slightly disappointed that the swap “randomizer” did not assign her as my “receive from” partner.  But the swap gods were with me anyway. Not only did my assigned partner send me a super cute Pooh bookmark but Holly sent a precious Pooh envelope–even though I wasn’t her partner! Is that cool or what?

Here’s the handmade bookmark from my assigned partner,  which now “marks” the page in one of my journals.

Pooh Bookmark, Made by Moominbrooke

Wanna see what Holly sent?

Pooh, a Tree, and the Bees, Bookmark, Handmade by Holly M.

As you can see–an adorable Pooh bookmark, complete with bees and her impeccable lettering. The envelope was equally adorable, embellished with Pooh stamps and “bees” washi tape.

Recycled, Pooh-Inspired Security Envelope, Holly M.

The swap gods were kind to me again when Holly and I were the only two in a “Celebrate Dr. Seuss” swap in the Cup and Chaucer group.

She sent a letter typed on a vintage typewriter, a “faithfully copied” Cat in the Hat themed note card, envelope, and a bunch of adorable Dr. Seuss themed mailing labels. Perfect for mailing letters to kiddos and other Seuss fans.

Here’s the card:

“The Cat in the Hat,” Faithfully Copied by Holly M.

And the envelope with one of the labels affixed [ignore the smudges from my scanner]:

Envelope by Holly M.

Holly made the card for me to share, but hmm….I’m not sure I’m willing to part with it [yet]. It needs to spend some time on my inspiration wall. Maybe, I’ll fill the envelope with Seuss stickers and send it into the world. I think that’s fair. Don’t  you?

If you get a moment, take a stroll over to Holly’s ThreeSixFiveArt blog where Holly posts (almost) daily about her “random little pieces of art.” Her discipline is inspiring.

One of my artist-professor friends told me that with time and practice anyone can become an artist, that art is a skill that anyone can master. I’m taking him at his word, so when my life feels less chaotic and more like my own, I’m going to enroll in art classes.

More Sister Writers of the Harlem Renaissance: Johnson, Larsen, and Bonner

I am a little torn about today’s “Focus on Black” post. I want to continue sharing the wonderful cards in the Sisters of the Harlem Renaissance collection, but each woman deserves much fuller treatment than I’m providing here. As I’m typing I’m reminding myself that this is my blog (aka a breakaway from the heady stuff) and not one of my courses. As much as I love the authors and texts I teach, if my blog begins to feel like a course, I might not find blogging so attractive.

Now that I’ve convinced myself…I’m back today with three more sister writers.

Georgia Douglas Johnson ( ca. 1877?-1966)

Georgia Douglas Johnson gained recognition as a poet of “The Genteel School” of writers prior to the Harlem Renaissance. Because some of her major works were published during this historic period, some historians saw her as “definitely of it, but equally definitely not in it.” She did have, however, an impact on the literati of the New Negro Movement through her “Saturday Soirees,” which she hosted regularly at her home on “S” Street in northwest Washington, DC. Born in Atlanta, she was educated at Atlanta University and at Oberlin College [in Ohio]. She moved to Washington, D.C. when her husband, Henry Lincoln Johnson, was appointed recorder of deeds by President Taft in 1909. The Johnsons immediately gravitated toward literary, political, and human rights activities along the East Coast. The abundant and kaleidoscopic nature of Georgia Douglas Johnson’s creativity is apparent in her books of poetry, her plays, and in her first love, her music. Johnson’s works appeared in books and journals from 1905 until her death.  –Winona L. Fletcher

See some of Johnson’s work here: Georgia Douglas Johnson.

Note: There is some inconsistency regarding the year Douglas was born. The Sisters collection reports 1886; other sources report ca. 1877 or 1880. Since her graduation year from Atlanta University was either 1893 or 1896, it is doubtful she was born in 1886 at the age of 7 or 10.

Nella Larsen (1891-1964)

Nella Larsen is one of three known Black women novelists of the Harlem Renaissance. The daughter of a Danish mother and Black West Indian father, Larsen attended Fisk University, the University of Copenhagen, the Lincoln Hospital Training School for Nurses, and the New York Public Library Training School. Her first novel, Quicksand (1928), follows Helga Crane from the South to the North, to Denmark, and back to the South. It includes themes of biracial parentage, sexuality, and class. Her second novel, Passing (1929), adds to these themes the difficulty of relationships between women, and the ability of light-skinned Blacks to “pass” for white. Both novels contain grains of autobiography; both mock superficial “race uplift” projects. Larsen’s projected third novel, for which she won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1930, was never completed, perhaps because she was accused of plagiarizing her short story “Sanctuary,” which appeared in Forum (1930). She denied the accusation, but did not publish under her name afterward. She worked as a nurse from 1941 until her death.  –Jeannie Phoenix Laurel and Erlene Stetson

To read more about Larsen’s life, see the New York Time’s Overlooked Obituary;  Black History Now; and the Gale Group’s Biography in Context.

Marita Bonner (1899-1971)

Marita Bonner was born in Boston, attended local schools, and graduated from Radcliffe College in 1922. One of this century’s most versatile authors, Bonner published essays, dramas, short stories, and serial fiction in Opportunity and The Crisis, and won awards for both literary and musical compositions. Her collected works were posthumously published as Frye Street and Environs (1988). Although Bonner knew and worked with editors and authors of the Harlem Renaissance, she never lived in New York. She lived instead in three other cities important to African-American literary production in the early twentieth century: Boston, where she spent her childhood; Washington, D.C., where she worked for eight years and was a member of Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “S” St. Salon; and above all Chicago, where she settled with her husband William Almy Occomy in 1930. Bonner’s innovative fiction about Chicago set a model for other writers, including Richard Wright, to follow.   –Joyce Flynn

For more on Marita Bonner, see Harvard’s extensive digital archives of the Marita Bonner Papers.

In my next Sisters post, I’ll wrap up the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Until then…

“Beware the Ides of March”

It has been clear to me for some time that my students didn’t read what I read in high school, so it was little surprise to me that students in my Shakespeare course had no idea what I was talking about when I walked into class this morning warning, “Beware the ides of March.” I’m not teaching Julius Caesar this semester, but I couldn’t let the “ides of March” go by without acknowledging the play that made the line “famous.”

I read Julius Caesar in junior high with Mr. Elliott, an amazing English teacher. As he demonstrated in his booming voice how we should read/act out the play, he drew us into the text and into the lives and motivations of the characters.

I haven’t reviewed the high school literature curriculum lately, but I’m pretty sure students are no longer required to read what I “had” to read–eons ago. I imagine English teachers today have serious challenges providing a curriculum that embraces the traditional “canon” of dead white men and the more inclusive contemporary “canon” to a generation that cut its teeth on e-readers and hyperlinks.

Anyway, in honor of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, and my 9th grade English teacher, I’m dropping by not with a warning but with a poem about the unpredictable mid-March weather that makes us all “watch our backs.”

I shot the “foggy day” photo outside our home in New Orleans March 15, 2012–the “Ides of March” six years ago. If the poem is difficult to read on the photo, it appears below:

The Ides of March by Marcella Remund

The seer was right to warn us,
beware the ides of March.
It’s a dangerous time, peering
through iced windows at the jeweled
tease of crocus and daffodil.
We’ve weathered another season
of deep-freeze, locked up tight
in muscle and mind.  We’re tired
of winter’s grey and gritty leftovers.
But this is no time to get careless,
toss a floorboard heater through
the beveled glass and go out,
where spring flashes her flannel petticoat
embroidered in pinks and greens,
leaves us gaping, breathless,
in air still cold as a knife blade,
stripping off the down.

The author, Marcella Remund, is also an English professor. I wonder if her students came to her familiar with the phrase–“Beware the ides of March.”

Would You Like Pie with Your Pi-ku?

“Pie Rows,” 1961. Wayne Theibaud, American. [Postcard originally posted on Pics and Post 10/02/2012].

Three point one four one
five nine two six five three five
eight nine and so on  –“Pi-ku” from NCTM Illuminations

When I picked up my son from school today, he excitedly reported  the “Pi Day” activities in his class and told me about the tiny lemon pie tucked inside his lunch bag. So in honor of my kiddo’s excitement over π , I’m dropping in today to share a “pi-ku” with a side of pie–or a side of “pi-ku” with a healthy serving of pie.

Happy Pi Day!

Live, Love, and Write Good Sentences

Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photo by Hans Beacham

I want to live, to love and say it well in good sentences.  –Sylvia Plath

I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. Oh, no, I must order life in sonnets and sestinas and provide a verbal reflector for my 60-watt lighted head.   –Sylvia Plath

Postcard Note: The postcard, featuring Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, came from Gina B (aka Bianca), my pen friend/literary twin in Germany. I received the postcard a day or two after talking with one of my students about her senior thesis. I’d suggested to her that she include Sylvia Plath in her discussion about Anne Sexton’s poetry. Coincidence? More than that, of course.

Earth Has No Sorrow…

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy-seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Today marks five years since we lost my little sister, and I miss her every single day. I can’t see the color pink without thinking about her. Certain cadences in my speech and the intoning of particular expressions make my words catch in my throat because I think I hear her voice coming from my body. As I think about her life, our conversations about dreams and goals, I realize we sang the same song but to a different tune.

I tried to keep myself busy today because I know where my thoughts “live” on March 11. I tried to stuff the grief into a neat box inside my heart, when what I wanted to do and what I needed to do was to pull away from the rest of the world and cry myself tearless.

Just last night, I finished a letter to a dear friend regarding the recent brutal loss of her own sister, administering medicine that I must take. Grief doesn’t come in a neat package with step-by-step, day-by-day instructions. Grief is a process that can’t be staged, coached, cultivated, or rushed.

And we must allow ourselves to go through it–no matter how long it takes–with apologies to no one, not even ourselves.