Monday, April 29, 2013

The Books Win Again

It is very hard for me to believe books will go the way of the dinosaurs.

This past weekend was the annual Greater St. Louis Book Fair, held in the parking lot of Macy's in the West County Mall.  This year, like other years, people lined up, skating in and out of the black rubber lanes, waiting for the opening of the event.  Like other years, people had the option of paying on Thursday to enter that evening for a chance to view the rare and collectible volumes.

It was a bibliophiles dream!  There were tables and tables, rows and row or books, and people of all sizes, shapes, colors, ages, income, education, and employment levels snaking in and out of the rows of books.  To a person, they all carried a bag, pushed a shopping cart, some with suitcases, others with storage tubs, all carefully examining the volumes before them, picking them up, turning them over, opening to pages, standing and reading.

This annual event in Des Peres is matched with a few other annual events that all make me think the mind will be just fine in St. Louis.

Kirkwood Public Library rented out old retail space and set up their book sale, pretty much in the same fashion, although, without the shopping carts.  Their event was warm, inside, well light, and filled with volumes the library was selling to make room for more books.

Webster Groves Public Library also did the same thing, although, I never made it that far, just ran out of time.

The annual Robotics Convention was also in St. Louis. The Americas Center and the Edward Jones Dome was swarming with funny hats, caps, safety goggles, and pins galore as the elementary-to-high school students hustled from challenge-to-challenge in this Olympiad-of-the-Mind.  There was a mini United Nations in the scholarship and expo area with nations as far from St. Louis as India, Chile, Australia, England, and New Zealand sharing a bit of their culture amidst the universal love of those colorful building blocks.

St. Louis was a buzz of creative thought and mental stimulation this weekend.  We took in as much as we could, filling up a tub of books on the $5 and 1/2 price days of the book fairs, after I had already curated several wonderful finds on Friday.  This was too good to not go back for another day.  My husband and daughters each greedily scooped up their favorites, like a kid in a candy store.  We spent the entire day in the warmth of books as the outside temperature kept deciding if it was winter or spring and the clouds kept deciding if it was going to be a drip drop or torrential downpour.

The day ended for us at home with books spread out on the sitting room floor.  Our home is already filled with volumes literally on all three levels and in every room (yes, even the bathroom has a cache of reading materials for those who like to spend time on the throne).  We read in our home, sometimes two or three books at a time.

I smiled as I watched the girls decide which they wanted to read first and remembered my husband tucking away in a corner of The Chess Club to read while the girls were engaged in intellectual battle during the Kirkwood Chess Tournament.

Weekends like this one we just had are why my daughters read well above grade level, why they are so well spoken and thoughtful, intellectually curious, and eager to absorb information.  Weekends like this past one are confirmation to me that while my Kindle Fire is a handy little took that I check when I am out or when I do not want to take my laptop with me, it is still the touch and feel of a real book that will continue to thrive.

Books, all shapes and sizes, the trade paper and hardbacks, the colorful children's books and the delightful YA tomes all stand to let us know that there are plenty of people around who love to turn the pages.  Amazon may appear to be the giant, but it is the real book that wins.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Those Constant Things

Some things are and will always be the constants in my life, the things I know will be there when I want them to and will be the way I need them to be.

I am taking a few classes on, a chance to renew the liberal arts in me and make my heart explore the deep things of the soul.  Now, I am terribly behind in a couple of classes, I signed up for them before I decided to toss my hat in the ring for the school board election.  I've been spending the past three weeks recuperating from the relenting schedule, the emotional turmoil, and the complete upheaval of life that putting yourself on the public stage entails.

So it is in my recovery and renewal that I inevitably turned to the contacts in my life.  Those things that are assured to be just what my soul needed and my spirit craved.  Beyond a conversation with God and a moment with my family, it is my relationship with books and coffee where I experience the divine.

Maybe it is the writer in me, maybe it is the creative muse that yearns to break free of the chains that confine me to a routine of pickups, dinner, and laundry.  Perhaps it is that longing that had me seek out Coursera in the first place, that moment to think about existence and life, not to put another product on a shelf like my M.B.A., but to contemplate the existence of us, our purpose and being.

As the weeks have turned and it is yet another Friday and I am contemplating basketball games for my daughters and chess matches, church, and moments giving to others, it is when I look down at a pile of curated books and a cup of Ethiopian coffee that I am reassured of those constants in my life.

It may seem irrational, to those who do not know the power of ink on black, to spend one's last dime on a used book, but to me, it seems perfectly logical, to connect back to my authentic self and allow time to be quiet, to sit in my home alone, to keep the TV off, to stare at the trees, and to spend a moment with my constant friends.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rain Trickling Meaning

It is raining...again!

There is something about the rain that makes one want to just snuggle up under some covers, sip a latte, and read a good book, watch an old movie, sleep, sleep, sleep.

Today is no exception, it is Thursday, what happens on Thursday?

Piles of research sitting on floor beside the laptop begging to be read, photos begging to be analyzed, articles begging to be written, and the only motivation right now is a warm latte and a good book - that will be reviewed, of course, but a good book and covers.

Then, stopping to look outside, one is reminded of the power of the dynamic of words, the power to utter a phrase and change the conversation, alter the narrative.

Such is this moment, on this rainy day when the narrative is being altered about the race, ethnicity, and identity of the Boston Massacre bomber.

Sometimes, in the rush for justice and in the insatiable social media, tweet, blog, right now news stream, they get it wrong and they did just that yesterday.  Then in the rush to get it right, to seek revenge, people unleash their wrath upon the wrong person, just because they happen to look like "those" people who do "those" things.

The rain slows things down, gives humanity the chance to review, can't exactly ride bikes or even sit on the balcony and sip a latte.  The rain can be cleansing and renewing, just like the hope that time will renew and cleanse the country of the wrath that has choked the life out of common decency.

Gentle and soothing hope like the rain can renew and restore the human in the common man, only if one stops long enough to contemplate what the trickle in the trees really mean.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teardrops and Rain

Rain can be cleansing and refreshing, replenishing to the soil and the earth, preventing droughts, and renewing the land.

Today, the rain and the gray clouds are like teardrops on the pavement.

Boston did not have to happen. The lives lost did not have to happen.  A little 8 year old boy did not have to die, his little 6 year old sister maimed for life, his mother fighting life threatening illnesses.

Teardrops are falling.

I tried hard not to listen to the news yesterday and even this morning as more and more reports are coming in.  It is unsettling, unknowing, and uncertain - the feelings that tower over us all in the light of another tragedy.

One often wants to just ask "why?" when this happens, when anything that is beyond our comprehension devastates lives.  We are still healing from a tragic loss four months ago and now another one is set on the national stage.

A good friend of mine is a Muslim woman and she fears the questioning that will happen to anyone with a Muslim face or name, Fox news already calling for the death of Muslims because of Boston.  We chatted and reassured each other of the good in man.

Again, why?

I know it will be a while before the bomber is identified, the FBI has a daunting task upon them.  Those of us who were old enough to remember Atlanta know the feeling of the waiting for answers.  I was in my early twenties back in 1986.

The terrorists, domestic (like the kid with Newtown) or international (like 9/11) all act to unsettle people, to create fear in the hearts of many, and to utterly change the normal lives.  The people that die are collateral damage to them for the longer lasting psychological damage they inflict.  We are still feeling the effects of 9/11 and the never-ending-war, armed forces with injuries worse than Vietnam, and a nation that practically stripes in the airport.

To cause the heart to constrict, the brow to fret, the temples to bead - all acts of a gripping fear - is what the individuals who do these things want. They are narcissistic and crave the attention their event causes, even if their names are spoken in death (like the Newtown shooter), they receive the thing they want the most.

As the rain continues to pound down on my balcony and I shudder in the resulting chill, I also stand resolved with the people of Boston and the world runners that this will not change our outlook on man, on the decency in all of us, that despite the cowardice of an anonymous villain  the mighty strength of us all will tower over them.  We are a force of good and love and sunlight, even in the midst of tears and pain.

Raindrops can wash away the dirt, the old, and shine what remains, this is what will happen with Boston, with us all, teardrops and rain.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Straight-No Chaser, Tired of the Nonsense, No-Filter Monday

I dubbed this No-Filter Monday because I was really tired of being PC about everything.

So, let me get this straight, in church (went yesterday) you all want to say the man is in charge and women should submit - even if the man is a screw-up who jacks up everything.

Then the media from left to right portrays black women as whores, sluts, mammys, or mad black women who are only worth $0.64 for every $1.00 a white man makes (thank you Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry for giving it straight on Sunday).

And today is Tax Day so a bunch of white (yes, white), rich men in Congress and their uber wealthy buddies have their money hidden in tax accounts in the Caymen Islands or in trust fund accounts for Buffy and Miffy, but the average Joe or Jane is being sued by the IRS because of a missed $22 in gas credits for working at home.

Then to top the whole thing off, the student loan interest is capitalized again and again because you are not making any substantial money to pay the stupid thing because you were laid off and while you may work, not enough to pay it, but they capitalize the interest and threaten your future job opportunities because they have you in a strangle hold

And to top that off you have a knucklehead who thinks he can call you everything but a child of God and still think you should be cool because, hey, they are the great whatever.

Definitely not filtering today, then to find out some knucklehead wants to ban abortion again, ban birth control, shame the teen mother (thank you New York Subway for the wonderful posters), and kill everything at all about you (woman) having any ownership of your personhood, mad, mad, mad.

This is totally a fed up rant about all things in the public sphere, and, if that wasn't enough, the nut jobs in Congress want more guns while the warmest weekend of the year ends up with 30 dead in Chicago and some major nut job goes to Boston to massacre during the marathon.

And we are just supposed to sip our lattes and think everything is ok.

No, sorry, not ok, not okay to sit in church on Sunday and sing but not talk about real issues that people are dealing with, how about some real networking and connections and not a pie-in-the-sky message? How about the street protests (Occupy Everything) to rant and rave and scream at the top of our lungs that this mess is too much to sit and quietly take.

They destroyed the country because a black man was elected and then when he was reelected, still sit like a baby with poopy pants and whine (yes, talking about Paul Ryan and his pasty face, what happened to Gen X again?)

Probably not enough caffeine in my system today or tired of being polite, but sometimes, those of us with the voice to speak and write just need to say, "the s..t is about to hit the fan."

Period, dropping mic, getting a latte.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pondering Thoughts: Election Recuperation

Sipping a homemade caramel-coconut milk latte, looking out the balcony windows, watching the gentle breeze in the trees, tiny buds swaying, I'm sitting here, looking out at the future and pondering the past few months, wondering if it was worth it.

I recuperated at home the past couple of days, I really didn't realize how physically exhausted I'd become over the past few weeks of the election.  The week of the election we went to Chicago so even then, I was on a fast pace.  When I finally sat down, I realized I had a lot to process.

Someone complimented me on the way I ran my campaign, dubbing me the "thinking man's candidate" and someone else said they really respected me for running in a community like Kirkwood.  The accolades meant a lot to me because it was a hard race, very hard, one I am still processing.

Like anyone who lives in a community and wants the best outcome for their children, I tuned into the election, to what all the candidates had to say, I was a voter as well as a candidate.  I am concerned about the failure of our school district to hire diverse teachers, their failure to create a positive environment where all children are accepted, and their continued reliance upon the popularity contest-perpetual high school-old boys and old girls network.

Some of the things I am musing about are the enormous achievement gap between the black and white kids, especially the kids from Meacham Park, the boys especially, who have a gaping hole in their learning.  These are not the kids from the city who have been reduced down to 4% of the school population, no these are the home grown, from here, Kirkwood kids who live in Meacham Park and have attended Kirkwood schools since kindergarten.

Something is wrong in the soup.

I tried to shed light on the issues of educational disparity and that having teachers with cultural competency and administration with a commitment would make a difference.  Robinson Elementary, the school where my daughters attends, has some of the district's worse performance scores of a segment of its black population.  Are there black teachers at Robinson? No.

What about at Nipher Middle School, the next step for these kids, the home school for the majority of the MP kids.  Yes, they have a retiring black art teacher and one black female science teacher who only some of the kids will get.  What they do have is a black BJC (not Kirkwood employee) social worker who is there to keep order and be the muscle for the majority white school and all white female administration.  Like Robinson, the school is led by white females with minimal cultural competency. The principal at Robinson is at least using the terms of white privilege but I am not sure if there is a commitment of success throughout the school or the district.

Now, as I mentioned in my campaign, before my campaign, and after my campaign, I hold parents accountable and students responsible for their behavior.  The teachers only have them for a part of the day.  Parents are absolutely responsible for preparing their children to learn, that means providing them with a full and nutritious breakfast, a good nights sleep,and the materials needed for success.

Someone once told me that they did not have what I had.

I am a work-at-home writer and a marketing strategist between projects.  I do not have money dripping off my balcony trees and our family lives on a tight budget.  I am blessed that my husband's profession does provide my girls with opportunities to take private music lessons and to travel, but under no circumstances are we wealthy.  We are just very committed and educated parents who make our children's education a priority over superficial material items.

The library is free, something else I point out to parents.  Kirkwood has an excellent children's and teen's section with librarians who truly care about the children.  They carry a variety of books, have computers and now e-readers available.  My girls are often the only black kids there.  Oak Bend is another library that feeds into our community and there are more blacks there and more black (though questionable) books offered.  Reading is the number one thing parents can do to help boost their child's academic performance.

Now, as I also discussed, there is an economic and racial element to how education is funded and that this plays directly into the attitude of some teachers.  Chicago is closing 54 schools - in black areas, St. Louis is closing schools, Kirkwood ended their longstanding relationship with the VICC program, and black students are sitting in sub-par classrooms while the nation has priviledged kids like the girl who used her connections to the WSJ to write an article whining about why they are not in the Ivy Leagues.  It is not equal and it is a concern.

What can be done about it all?  My husband insists the Common Core Standard will help urban students and force their teachers to dig deeper, raise the bar, and level the playing field for kids who are in schools without an iPad Mini in every hand.

There has to be a partnership and a commitment to all the students and not just those in the West County suburbs whose family have the privilege of paying for a $500,000+ home.

Is a school administrator making close to $300,000 the answer to the educational disparity?  Is white washing the district the answer? Is ignoring the taxpayers who do not want renovations to Lyons stadium at the expense of ACT scores the answer? What will it take to put the focus on the actual students -regardless of their race, income, and zip code - who sit in the classrooms and stop demonizing the teacher who are working hard, the parents who are working hard, and the students who are working hard to achieve success. What will it take?

So, I am sitting here in my home office, musing over my third cup of coffee with the homemade caramel, looking out at the trees, catching up on my academic reading and writing, knowing that it does matter, it did make a difference and I will keep making my daughter practice her multiplication tables.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Aftermath

It has been almost a week since the election.

I lost, never expected to win.  I made it an election and I got people to talk about the issues, that is important to me.

The aftermath will be interesting.  I realized that either people want the popular, but not-very-bright, because to have something more substantive forces them to think, to confront their prejudices, and to examine their motives.

It is the same in every aspect of life.  Power and control are twins that keep coming up in everything related to the public sphere.

I realized it in the general election, even more so in our local election, and simply in the every day happenings at the local elementary school - people like to be 'in charge' in some way and will do whatever, say whatever to keep their little fiefdom.


Perhaps it is a bit of the narcissist in them, in us.  Like the addict who always insists that it is someone else who is "distracting" them and they "just can't do this anymore" when people around them just want to live in peace and they want their recovery to be the center of all discussion.

They like the power but not the work, the control, but not the relationship.

The aftermath will be interesting.  I know it will take more than a few bought marks-on-the-box to make people realize their best interests are not always served with the status quo.

I am glad I raised the dialogue, had the broad discussion, and held true to my purpose.  I will keep sounding the clarion call and will keep speaking out about the things I see as wrong.  Like the addict in a twelve-step program who refuses to apologize to those they hurt, true freedom will not happen until a collective "head-in-the-sand" has been admitted and we all wake up from our stupor.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I am Proud of Me

The exhilarating joy of life and learning.

This is the day after the election and for the first time in about four months, I am not planning a speech, researching notes, writing a post, or anything related to the school district.

Pretty happy right now.

No, I did not win the election, congratulations to the winners, but did win a new friend, brought issues to light, made it a campaign, and kept my race clean.  Pretty happy right now about that.

We are traveling this weekend to rest and regroup and will be returning to get caught up on four months of missed laundry, writing, and studying.

I learned a lot and am very proud of myself for running, especially since I am not from here and live in our version of Peyton Place, at times.  I am very happy.

My girls hugged me this morning and said, "yeah, we get our mom back."  My husband was a silent support last night as we waited for results while enjoying appetizers at Cicero's.  I thanked him for his support because I could not do it without my family's backing.

One of my supporters told me they are waiting to read about this in a book, perhaps, maybe.  It is a story to tell.

For now, I am simply proud that I ran.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Emotional Monday

April 1st has been an emotional day for me every since my son was born.

Today, on this Monday, I am definitely a bit emotional, thoughtful, thankful, and hopeful.

My first born, my beautiful boy, came into this world to a young, naive, mother who barely knew anything.  My tall, skinny frame held him inside, my late father teasing me that they were going to have to "tie a wheelbarrow around you" because from the back I never looked pregnant.  I can close my eyes now and see the rush to the hospital, the nurse who was mad she couldn't "prep" me (glad they do not do all that stuff anymore!), and the doctors barely ready to catch the boy who was definitely coming before the car could be parked.

I loved him from before the moment I held his chubby body and and looked into those squinty eyes and apple cheeks.  His head was covered in hair that eventually curled softly and his color "came in" as we say with black babies - a really soft shade of tan.  Those cheeks stayed chubby.

Cory LaMont Brent, was and always will be my heart.  I love him so much and miss him more than I ever have the words to write.  But, I know, now, and even then, that my late mother cradled him, that my late father nurtured him, and that the great cloud of witnesses and ancestors are all together in the Heavenlies.

My beloved first born, mama adores you.  Kisses to heaven, happy birthday to my angel baby!