Playing Catch-Up: Running Circles Round Myself

a circle closes, tight and smooth —
a seamless join.
leaves no
of storms, struggles,
the between. leaves

I have found that, when I’m in a place where everyone is speaking a language I don’t know, if I stop trying, stop working at understanding what’s going on, I often magically begin to understand what people are talking about. I can’t respond, of course. I don’t, after all, speak the language, but I can follow the general idea of the conversation. I’ve had this happen with both Russian and Hungarian. I’m sure this has something to do with body language, with tone and inflection, with eye contact. Who knows? But the fact remains that understanding dawns when I stop trying to force it.

Yes, of course this is about my work with the Zeno.* A few nights ago I had decided that I’d met my match with this form, that I just couldn’t figure out another one. That was silly, of course, but that’s what I thought. So I wasn’t even going to bother trying. Then Monday night on my way home, the poem above pretty much fell into my head, nearly whole. I won’t pretend that the poem means anything, that it says something or taps into a feeling I’m having. It just is the poem that happened. A poem that happened of its own accord, randomly. Not good. Certainly not great. But anatomically correct.

And then I tried to post it and fell asleep. (My utter exhaustion continues.)

But the strange ease with which that poem made itself made me think maybe it was the same as my experience with Russian and Hungarian, maybe I’d reached some critical turning point in my Zeno writing. Yeah, not so much. On my way home last night, a poem started falling together in my head and then stuttered to a halt at line six. Feh. I forced an ending that didn’t feel right, and as I sat there staring at it … I fell asleep.

This window opens fully, wide.
A gentle nudge.
It wants
Wants a soft hand,
An easy reach,
Not too

So no magical linguistic crossing-over for me with the Zeno, but I keep at it. As for my inability to stay awake long enough to get anything published, I don’t know. Maybe if I sleep away my day on Saturday I’ll catch up with myself. Oh, and maybe if I start eating dinner every night instead of just the nights when I happen to remember …

* The poetic form I’m working with this month is the Zeno: syllable counts = 8/4/2/1/4/2/1/4/2/1, rhyme pattern = a/b/c/d/e/f/d/g/h/d.

What I’m really hungry for in this game …

SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve neither read nor seen The Hunger Games, and you plan to do either, stop reading here.

TENDER SENSIBILITIES ALERT: If you would rather avoid reading hate speech, stop reading here.

LONG, ANGRY RANT ALERT: If you would rather avoid another of my pissed-off screeds, stop reading here.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This isn’t going to be a long discussion about the book or the movie.  I need to comment about the crazy-ass nonsense going on around these here internets as concerns the casting of certain roles in this movie and the stupidity of certain viewers.

Here’s what I mean:¹

(You can click on the images to see them larger, I know some are hard to read … and they’re still hard to read even after you can see what they say.)

I was clued into all of this Monday by Fox, who sent me some of the screen shots from Hunger Games Tweets … leading me back to last November’s excellent post on Racialicious … and then I found the Jezebel article … and yesterday there was the Feministing article … and there are plenty of other pieces, besides.²

As with yesterday’s post, I may be disgusted, but I shouldn’t be surprised, right?  Oh, but I am totally surprised.  T-O-T-A-L-L-Y.

While Cinna isn’t really described in too much detail at all, Thresh and Rue are very clearly described as having “dark brown skin.”  Dark.  Brown.  Games author Suzanne Collins has stated clearly that both are African American.  Why are people surprised to find them cast as African American in the movie?  Of course, if they were just surprised, that would be a sign of some really not careful reading of the novel, but it wouldn’t hurt my heart.  Their reaction to discovering the blackness of these characters, however, makes them beyond the limit of my much-vaunted patience:

And yes, of course someone had to go here:

Yes.  There.

The assumption that “cute,” “innocent,” “frail,” and “pure” all have to mean “white” isn’t new, of course.  But these posts are still shocking to me. 

And, too, can we just establish once and for all: any time people say, “Call me racist, but …”  they are basically calling themselves a racist.  Any time people say, “Not to be racist, but …” it’s pretty certain they’re about to say something that absolutely is meant to be racist.  Any time people say, “I don’t know if this is racist, but …” it’s a good bet that what they’re about to say is, in fact, racist … and nine times out of ten they are fully aware of that fact.

The response to the casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was equally troubling:

(Sorry, still working out the kinks with this “photo gallery” business.  Click on the pics and they’ll enlarge.)

So this idea that a black Cinna couldn’t possibly be “sweet” or “loving” or “calm” or “quiet” is so frustrating as to make me not want to be any of those things, and to not be them all upside these fools’ heads.  Seriously?  Oh, he’s black, so he can’t possibly be a sweet guy?  Really?  Of course that would all fit perfectly with the earlier “of course” comment that labels Thresh as a “black gangster.”  And, too, many of the commenters (see the Racialicious article for more of that fun) seem to think only a gay man could be the right Cinna, that straight men aren’t capable of being calm, sweet, quiet and loving.  There also seems to be some question as to whether a black man can play a gay man.  And what’s with these “eww!” responses?  You see a black person and you respond the same way you would if you’d stepped in dog mess?  I am so tired.

There were some voices of reason (rock on, George Takei) and humor to be heard in all the loud stupidity, however:

More interesting and ugly in all of this uproar are the posts that deal with the deaths of Rue and Thresh.  Cases in point:

We are this desensitized to the deaths of black people?  I’m not really asking that question.  I can see the answer to it just about every day in the paper.  Still, it amazed me to see kids write these things.  Rue’s death didn’t have weight because of Rue’s color but because of who she was as a person, who she was to Katniss.  Ok, Jashper Paras, I’m more than happy to call you a racist if seeing Rue played by a (sweet-faced, adorable) black girl made her death less sad to you.  This is really where we are?  Really?

And finally, we get to my own issues with casting.  I knew Rue and Thresh were black.  I thought Amandla Stenberg did a great job with the part.  I thought she was mis-cast, however.  Rue and Thresh are both supposed to be dark-skinned.  Dayo Okeniyi is dark-skinned, Amandla Stenberg isn’t.  I can’t imagine the horrific tweets we’d have seen if a girl as dark as Okeniyi had been cast as Rue.  But the decision to lighten Rue was my one real complaint about casting for the movie.  Please don’t try to tell me there probably weren’t any dark-skinned actresses interested in the part.  There are so many lovely young dark-skinned girls acting, many of whom could have played Rue.  I’m saying nothing against Stenberg.  Only pointing the spotlight at the fact that the choice to cast Rue light-skinned is just as wrong-headed as the people who wanted to cast her white.  I wanted to see a dark brown face, a deeply brown child play this meaningful role in this film.  Amandla Stenberg, as I said, did a wonderful job.  How could I not love a girl who, on screen, reminded me of my niece?  But hers wasn’t the face I wanted to be falling in love with.  I wanted to see a child as dark as Dayo Okeniyi, a beautiful, elfin black girl to pull my heart strings and call to the mocking jays.  Instead, Hollywood did what Hollywood is almost always wont to do: lightened up, told me once again that dark-skinned black girls aren’t cute, aren’t sweet, aren’t innocent, aren’t lovable.

What I was really hungry for in this game was a break from the same crap I see all the time.  I’m still hungry.

¹ All but three screen shots pulled from Hunger Games Tweets, an amazing compendium of the many unfathomably stupid things people are posting about the casting for Rue, Thresh and Cinna, sprinkled with — thank God — a little sense and sensibility from people who a) actually bothered to read the book, or b) care more about the quality of the portrayal on film than the skin color of the actor playing the role.  The three Cinna comments were taken from <a href=”The Strange Ca

Breaking My Silence

So before Seagram’s got me all upset, it had been nearly two months since my last post.  And I hadn’t been doing too much posting before that long break, either.  What’s that about, you ask.  Truly, I’m not entirely sure.  Or, rather, I’m not sure which factor carried the most weight.

I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis for the last year.  Once I stopped teaching, I had a hard time figuring out what my blog was supposed to be.  It wasn’t all teaching all the time before last December, but my teaching definitely informed who I was here.  I was afraid that, without having my students’ fabulous stories and all the things I learned from them, my blog would become the place for me to rant about racism, sexism and my wholly uninteresting pet peeves … and if you look over my posts from the last year, that’s mostly what you’ll see.  I was so busy trying to figure out who and what I was if I wasn’t “teacher lady,” I stopped writing entirely.

Add to that the self-imposed gag-order on writing about the work I left teaching to do.  It’s still true that I don’t want to talk too specifically about my work because doing so will give up the last little bit of anonymity I like to kid myself that I have here.  But, like teaching, my work is so much of what I’m doing.  It’s the reason I was in Detroit last month, the reason I’m having a whole other, off-blog kind of identity crisis right now … and yet I still feel I can’t write about it.  I know that anyone who reads here can easily figure out who I am.  There are so many dots to connect that lead right to me, and yet I still hold back.

In two months, this blog will be four years old, and I’m questioning whether I should just shut it down and move on.  I don’t think I want to shut down, but I’m still feeling stuck.  Certainly it’s true that there will always be things that annoy the crap out of me, and I’ll always be ready to rant about them, but I’m really not looking to just be pissed off online all the time.  So what am I left with?

I could tell you that today, in honor of their election into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and because of the nice memory the song always calls up for me), I had the Beastie Boys’ She’s Crafty playing on a loop on my iPod.  And I could tell you that I know Fox must be pleased that Guns-n-Roses was voted in — in their first year of eligibility, no less.  And you might wonder: Guns-n-Roses?  And I’d say: yes, they’ve been Fox’s guilty pleasure the whole of their 25 years.

And then we’d all say: so what?

Yeah, exactly.  In any case, Seagrams forced an end to my silence.  We’ll see what happens.

Um … yeah.

Yes, I’ve been gone a LONG time.  I’ll address that in a moment.  Right now, there’s this:

Really?  Really?

Found this through Curly Nikki who sent me to the Hot Hip Hop Detroit link.¹

I spent a week in Detroit at the beginning of the month.  The relationship between Detroit and its non-white residents is something I have a lot of thoughts about.  Little did I know that Seagram’s offering me the chance to buy my gin with a du-rag needed to be one of those things.

Oh, Seagram’s.  Oh poor, misguided, unambiguously racist Seagram’s.  Apparently this gin is “Urban Elegance” … that’s what I learned by checking out the Seagram’s Gin Live site.  And, as we all know by now and as the ads on the Seagram’s site confirm, “urban” is a way of saying “black.”  Yeah.  Should I comment on their “Gin & Juice” line of pre-mixed drinks?  You know, the eight-mix collection with names that are almost all notably violent or aggressive (Red Fury, anyone?  How about a Blue Beast or some Purple Rage?).  Should I comment on the 2011 model calendar with eleven months of scantily clad black women and one Asian woman, each associated with a drink (at least they didn’t make the Asian woman pose for “Singapore Bling” or “Raspberry Twisted Kamikaze” … I guess that shows something)?

And of course, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission has under its fingernails the dirt of approving this ad campaign.  Really, people?

Ok, so I’m not actually surprised.  In my neighborhood, I am bombarded with offensive ads all the time.  The most offensive of these are usually for alcohol.²  But this giveaway still amazes me.  And it amazes me for a reason that has nothing to do with how disgusted I am.  My disgust is a given.  Let’s think about this from the Seagram’s side of things.  You’re creating an ad campaign for your big fancy client, Seagram’s Gin.  You know they have a whole “Urban Elegance” thing going on … and you think a du-rag has anything to do with elegance?  Do you?  And clearly there’s a crazy-pants, drinks-too-much-of-the-gin staffer at Seagram’s who shares that ridiculous notion.  There is nothing remotely “elegant” about a du-rag, people.   Just know this.  Know it.³

Let’s get back to my righteous indignation.  You know what would be true urban elegance?  If all the “urban” people Seagram’s thinks they’re targeting with this giveaway turned their backs on this crap and shopped for Tanqueray or Beefeater instead.  So much classier than me pouting in a corner (in my du-rag).

¹  Though, I could have found it in plenty of other places. For example: The Milwaukee Drum (and yes, I’d love to get that “Uppity Negro” t-shirt from the sidebar).
²  How happy was I when a Sean Coombs Ciroc ad replaced the awful Captain Morgan billboard I used to have to pass every morning?  I may not be a Diddy fan, but I much prefer his ad to the image of a black woman looking drugged and unfocused as she sprawls on the ground in a bikini, her skin dripping oil.  Every morning for about six months.  Feh.
³  And, while it sounds as though I have all kinds of bad feelings about du-rags, this is really not the case.  I am, in truth, wearing one right now, protecting my curls so I can be all cute tomorrow.  I’m just saying there’s a time and a place for a du-rag, and when I’m stepping out and thinking I’m all the ish, there is narry a du-rag in sight.

Reading Is Fundamental … ish

The A train yesterday.  Morning rush.  Crowded.  Lots of readers.  Seeing so many people reading when I’m out and about makes me happy.

But then I look at the page displayed on the Nook of the woman next to me.  Clearly from a chapter that must be called, “Disgusting Stereotypes about Haitians and How We Will Perpetuate Them.”  Its central premise seems to be that Haitians are worshipers of evil and that their pagan Voodoo ways are the cause of all their problems.

Seriously?  I read along with her for a few pages to see if maybe there will appear a magic line like: “Oh, these are the kinds of small-minded, hurtful things that small-minded hurtful people say about Haitians.”  No such luck.

But the woman across from me is reading Water for Elephants.  Yes, yes, she’s reading a new printing that has Robert Pattinson on the cover and that pisses me off, but still.  It’s a great book even with the lame “Now a major motion picture!” cover.

The woman next to her is reading Minding God’s Business.  I have no idea what this book is, but the title makes me smile.  Like you’re eavesdropping on God, or butting into divine conversations out of which you should definitely be keeping.  Silly.

I look around: kid reading Catching Fire, man reading Deathly Hallows, another with a graphic novel, a slew of spines I can’t see, a whole bunch of people deep in a newspaper.  Half a dozen Kindles, a few more Nooks, a handful of iPads.

I love-love-love to see people reading.  And I really am working on getting past my “You’re reading that?” snobbery (though I still can’t get behind a book that blames the people of a country for their misfortunes because of a string of lies about a religion).  I’m happy to see all these readers.  Happy, encouraged, affirmed.

Until she gets on.  Gorgeous, tiny Latina, closed and angry face.  She squeezes into a seat between two bigger women and pulls out a book: Why Men Love Bitches.  I want to be kidding.  I do.  I’m not.  The page she opens to is a rule (number 63? 68?) that says we need to keep men guessing and confused by not being available, that this behavior will drive them into our arms.  Oh.  Right.  So it’s not an “explaining how men work” book but a “how you can be the kind of bitch men will love” book?  Swell.

I try to console myself with my old stand-by: “Hey, at least she’s reading something,” but it doesn’t work.  Keeps getting drowned out by, “You’re reading that?”  Feh.

I am huggable.

Apparently.  I don’t know why it is or what it’s about, but it’s clearly true.  Twice in as many days, a man I find appealing who is patently off limits has made a point of hugging me.  Yesterday, I kind of got it.  That man and I had spent a little time together, knew each other some.  Today’s man is a different story.  I’d met him before but in a very formal setting, no note-passing, gossiping, secret -sharing, or joke-telling as with the first man.  But still the full-on-embrace of a real hug.

I don’t mind, actually.  I was perfectly happy to hug both of these men, and not because I find them attractive.  I like hugging, and they both have the kind of personalities that made it clear they would be real huggers — not the kind of people who give those anemic, may-as-well-just-wave-at-each-other air hugs.  And, too, I like them, feel comfortable with them, feel I can trust them.

But it’s not just these men.  Students, co-workers, a creepy program director at my old job …

And that’s the problem.  I’m glad the people I want to hug want to hug me, but I will be honest and say that I definitely don’t want to hug everyone.  This isn’t as silly a problem as it may sound.  It wasn’t at all amusing at my old job when that program director would come looking for me and ask if he could give me a hug.  It was something other than silly when a man I hired (same job) began to hug and kiss me at the start of each work day, against my explicitly expressed wishes.

My friend Grace once told me the rampant embracing was my own fault because I am “huggable.”  Am I?  I don’t know, but the evidence would seem to support Grace’s assessment.  It makes sense, of course.  I have a cushy body.  Who wouldn’t like to lean for a moment into something as warm, soft and giving as this body?¹  Still, “this body” is my body, and sometimes it’s just really strange to have people touching me.  I’m not sure I want to lose my “huggableness” entirely, but I do wish I could learn a way to turn it off at will.


I didn’t want to sully my “Affirmations” post with negative talk and bad poetry, hence the second post in a night.

If the speech I wrote about was one of the high points of my day, one of the low points was the strange, corporate trainer-man who did some training/motivational speaking to open the day.  The fact that he swore within three minutes of starting his “act” turned me right off.  Not because I’m so delicate and prudish, but because it really showed his lack of understanding (and lack of caring enough to take the time to understand) who his audience was and that we weren’t the kind of group that needed him to curse at us to get his point across.  He turned me off enough that I wrote today’s poem about him.

Behind my heart, my brain races in
reminding: “You have to listen
to the words he says. Don’t react
to his annoying, brusque presence.”
And my heart knows that that makes sense.
but my heart’s slow, likes grace and tact.
This man’s words could have real value.
I need to try to take a cue —
ignore the feel of being smacked.

¹  Well, fortunately, there are plenty of people who have no desire to hug me.   Otherwise, I’d have to keep indoors.  Or hire a body guard!

Officially an Old Old Maid …

Overheard at the table next to mine at dinner:

“A few years ago, I wouldn’t even have considered going on a blind date like this.”

(Yes, she is saying this to the man she is on the blind date with.  He says nothing — wise man.)

“But now that I’m older, I can see the value.  I mean, I wouldn’t want to hit 30 and still be out there looking, you know?”

Uh, yeah.

I need to bite my tongue on all the things I want to say right now about this twenty-something child worrying about being single at thirty.  After all, if I’d had her mindset 20 years ago, I might be many years married today, scraping together college tuition payments for my passle o’ children.  You know, or something.


But what this snippet of overheard conversation made me realize was that I had almost completely forgotten about my own dating oddyssey!  All that time and effort … and one quick trip to Jamaica pretty much erases the whole thing from my memory.  Interesting. I’ll have to think about what that’s telling me.

In the mean time, I’ll get busy polishing my pointy-toed button shoes and wrestling my hair into a snood so that I can more completely look the part of Spinster Aunt.  Excuse me while I go find a nice, oversized pair of rhinestone-studded cat’s eye glasses …

And you? You can see the rest of today’s slices over at Two Writing Teachers!