Opening My Political Heart

“I know a place, ain’t nobody cryin’…I’ll take you there…” and take us there you promised. I find it hard to believe that the magic of the 2008 campaign was for naught; a politician’s line to get the goods – votes. I watched you mesmerize the world with word, deed and smile. Your story is the stuff of dreams; a black man in the White House. The more there are of those who object to your home, the stronger our society becomes because these nay-sayers; birthers, the radically religious and the bitterly bigoted are seen for what they are – weak threads in our American quilt. You are responsible for this strength. Our elections too, hold in relief the inner workings of a system that is far from broken – like a car with a straight jacket in place of seatbelts. The car runs fine but it is a car where the driver is promised not to be hurt as long as he doesn’t veer from course. It is what I tell friends who hold their heads at the continued sameness of our political system. I am constantly reiterating the good: health care, stimulus and the pride carried on the shoulders of all my African-American students – especially male students. You have tightened the belts around many baggy-panted adolescents who want respect for something more than engendering fear.

This car, at times careening out of control, drives you to questionable places – like to the national coffers for money for wars on foreign soils seeming to ignore the war here – the war for jobs, education, food. Again, I am reminded of the straightjacket – and the image of you at home unable to move, victimized by by-partisan politics is disturbing.

What do I want? I want to get to that “place” before my death, before I am moved to look up Canadian relatives. I want to tell others to trust in our president – the man not the politician straight-jacketed in a car running on greed and avarice. I want not to see the perpetrators of our economic decline elevated to positions of honor. You cannot honor those who cherish only the momentary coin-of-the-realm. I’ve seen your lesson-plans, you know all of this but (I want so badly to believe) it’s the car with the modified seatbelt that makes you, at times, so different than the man so many voted for. I want to get back to the magic wrought by the inauguration day photo of thousands walking peacefully through the DC tunnels to bear witness to history – hundreds of thousands of private moments without incident: Our political Woodstock.

I remain hopeful. The interstices of my heart are filling, as I write this, with the gooey, sticky substance that, often mocked, does its share to bind us in forward motion. Part of me wants to believe your next term will be lived, impediments off, with you finally free to continue steering the national vehicle in the direction of people and planet-saving policies.

I trust. I hope. And I’ve lived long enough to know – I am not alone


I unfriended a Facebook cohort this morning. While this isn’t the most shocking news in a world where innocence continues to be betrayed and love is torn asunder by bombs, words and deeds, it does speak to the continued battle of the sexes.

It all started when my no-longer-Facebook friend displayed, on his FB page, pictures of questionable taste. One picture featured a very beautiful young woman posing, bent over, in a thong that covered only her frontal nether parts leaving a perfectly well rounded view of everything else. Another picture consisted of an equally beautiful young woman who could, without question, make millions for the wonder-bra manufacturers. I read a comment under the photos from this man’s cousin, suggesting these pictures not be left on his FB page as her daughters (referenced as his nieces) may come across this “porn” and, for her, that would not be acceptable. I commented agreeing with his “cuz” and, although I did not pass judgment as to the “porn” value of the pictures, I did say these young women looked as if they were recent Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Hooters. (Hey, what’s life without humor – or hooters for that matter?) Apparently, I struck a nerve. I awoke this morning to a terse response to my comment. Basically, I was told that if I did not like the contents of his FB page I did not have to go there. “Fair enough,” I thought. But I could not resist a return volley asking, “And you friended me – why?”

So, why is this a battle of genders? It is a battle because I don’t think I’ll ever ‘get’ men. I’m often told men are fairly simple to understand and that women are the more complicated of the genders. True, a man told me this, but I refuse to believe that men can be controlled, apparently completely, by the random placement of what may be simple adipose tissue. I find it astounding – the power given over to the perfect female shell. If this is the case, then a more perfect campaign has never been waged as the one that makes women believe we are the weaker of the genders and that this is a man’s world – propaganda supported by the earnings gap according to gender. This campaign didn’t begin yesterday either. I’ve often questioned the minimal female voice in the Bible. There is Mary but she appears to serve as a woman of impossible virtue to which we are expected to aspire. Just as troublesome is the fact that the writing of this New Testament began more that 50 years after the death of Christ and is accepted as the word of God – as written by men. “Written by men” should give me a clue as to why the female voice is minimized or ‘manimized.’

There are women who see this manimization of their gender and, have for years, pulled the curtain back to reveal the Wizard so-to-speak. Who are these women? You may know them as feminists, dykes, ball-breakers etc, – all pejorative terms used by men. Certainly not all men use these expressions but enough of them do to make these terms part of the lexicon of gender discussion. These women are scorned in private because no man wants to come face to face with a real woman who knows; real men eat quiche, cook, shop for groceries and care for their offspring. There are men who don’t want to meet a woman real enough to say that she wants him to have a big heart. Yes, it is true, size really does matter.

Teachers: Why We Are Scorned

I came late to the profession having worked 10 years in private industry prior to moving from Los Angeles to western New York. It took me 15 years of teaching high school to reach my old Los Angeles pay scale. Needless to say I was speechless (a good thing too) when a troublesome young man screamed at me that I was only “teaching for the money.” Well, yes. I had to admit, I needed to pay my bills – at least for the recently acquired masters degree. Below, I offer my anecdotal research on the subject of scorn for unions and teaching.

Yes, there are some things that need to be changed in the way the union does its business but losing collective bargaining rights is not one of them. Teachers are, for the most part, a passive lot. The old plea of “just let me close my door and teach” are valid. And many administrators have ignored that plea at their own peril. I’m not saying every teacher is excellent – excellence takes time and it is the excellent administrator who sees to it that the teacher is equipped well enough to close that door and teach. This means an administrator needs to be steeped in curriculum. A junior administrator, in an effort to intimidate, came into my classroom one morning and silently took notes. It happened only once. My making him a part of our lesson may have had something to do with his decision not to return. Had I been an unprotected young teacher I’m sure I would have been intimidated knowing that this potential bully (famous for his abuse of the language and the thought process in general) had power over my future. I thank the union for that protection.

One reason we teachers are scorned is that we have no nomenclature behind which to hide. Scientists, lawyers and doctors have the language of their professions to keep a disgruntled public at bay. We teachers are encouraged to use plain-speak so as not to offend our clientele, and I agree. Throwing around terms specific to the abstract theory of education is intimidating and off-putting and does very little to further the aim of educating our young. So, with our plainspoken approach we give the illusion that education is easy because… well, everyone has been to school – right?

We are considered babysitters because that is what is expected of us. One snow day, school was cancelled due to extreme cold – five degrees with a wind-chill factor of negative 15. I was halfway to school when the announcement came over the radio. I stopped to get a cup of coffee. Standing in line I was treated to the displeasure of a woman in front of me buying milk, “These teachers don’t know what a hassle it is for the parents when there’s a snow day and we’re left with a house full of kids.” As a parent and taxpayer, she had a right to her grief. As a parent and taxpayer, I too, had a right to mine. I sipped my coffee in my car before deciding to do what most babysitters do not do – go to my room, close the door and grade the 45 essays on my desk.

After 22 years of teaching all students from ‘at risk’ to honors, I retired (reaching a pay grade of $58,000) with reduced benefits. Teaching three more years would have netted me full benefits and a future without a part-time job as a community college adjunct. But three years was much too long to continue in a building where questions were considered threats, professionalism was mocked and classroom teachers were not supported by administrators or even trusted to have a phone on their desks. As for the public and those politicians who view education as that “soft unprotected target,” scorn us if you like but, if you can read and comprehend what I say here, don’t forget to thank a teacher.

Oh Spring

You bear the basket
Filled with blooms
And hope
Ignorant of calendar
And knees
Some days the gait
Is quick
Others (today) it is
Slow and mute
No sun trumpets
No sighs of desire
Filling your vessel
Only the clamor
Of blooms and hope;
Stirred (not shaken) memories of
Double X and Y

Speaking of God or gods

All gods who receive homage are cruel.
All gods dispense suffering without reason.
Otherwise they would not be worshipped.
Through indiscriminate suffering
men know fear and
fear is the most divine emotion.
It is the stones for altars
and the beginning of wisdom.
Half gods are worshipped
in wine and flowers.
Real gods require blood.

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Atmospheric Heart

This morning I sit in my office a few degrees away from the snow and cold that has closed (yet again) most campuses in this southern New York county. I know now that my job is just another reason (read excuse) not to write. By the time I put together my lectures on great African-American writers I am spent – like an old coin that should have been taken out of circulation a long time ago. I ask myself what do I have to offer that could improve the process and enjoyment of fiction? Yes, everyone has a story but most of the themes have been told. Where’s my twist, my variation on a theme – any theme?

William Wordsworth once said, “Fill your paper with breathings from your heart.” I don’t believe Wordsworth considered a heart made shallow with longing for the temporal rather than the spiritual. This shallowness thwarts the aim of fiction’s ambition which (according to most) is to understand people and what lies at the center of the human heart. It’s as if I’ve been to the center of my own heart and found – nothing.