Abandonment or Surrender

Did she abandon us or surrender to God’s will for her life, our lives? Is my sister taking off after our mother or Jesus? Is there another possibility? After all, Shakespeare had the deposed and exiled Duke Senior in As You Like It avow:

Sweet are the uses of adversity which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

If, as the quote continues, there is good in everything then, as with a childhood interrupted there must also be good in the racism we encountered as we arrived in the Bronx circa 1965, the height of the civil rights movement. I’ve figured out at least in part how each must be true. But how do I convey this to others a generation or more removed? This is the challenge for tonight’s panel presentation.


This year, though I wasn’t able to see more than one film on the list, I decided to attend the Oscar Night here as a charitable contribution to Variety, a group creating opportunities for children with special needs. One friend came with and we ate more than our share of the concessions but less than the scrip that came with each ticket. My sister and one friend text or called to see if I had attended as announced. The friend asked what I thought about the absence of gratitude to God in acceptance speeches. My only thought on the subject thus far is that Hollywood has given the masses wonderful opportunities to talk about God through the years and for this I will be eternally grateful.

Cashmere Clouds

At a dinner party at a colleague’s home this evening, and after dessert while kicking around titles for a course in immigrant literature I’ll be offering this summer, our host used words that shot steel through my back. Spoken by StaceyAnn Chin and others, and not intended to do harm, they would not stop searing through me. I will not repeat them here, but I asked for erasing words when the tears allowed. Liberating laughter and cashmere clouds were offered. They did the trick.

“If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

My only concern is that the new friend who uttered them not think me unfit somehow. Instant release is the only way I can carry the load of knowing such words impose.

Freewriting Benefits Beyond Writing

Yesterday, students said freewriting:

  • helps relieve stress
  • helps me think more quickly in high pressure situations
  • allows you to learn a lot about yourself
  • allows you to choose your opinions
  • provides me with that special friend to talk to
  • reveals areas for improvement
  • inspires deeper thinking

That’ll do, won’t it.

For my part, I freewrote:

Freewriting has enabled me to see just how much a part of the problem I am. It has made visible the invisible tentacles of the oppression in my mind and life, thinking and behavior. I can truly say that taking charge of my thinking through freewriting has shown me where I have volunteered to be the victim and where I have chosen to overcome the circumstances and challenges life places before me. It has helped me to be happy for no reason as Marci Shimoff says in her book of that title. It has given me whatever control is available for this journey through life that we share. It has reinforced the centrality of my locus of control and made me the architect of each day and moment because it has made me aware of just how willing I am to be accountable for my responses to a situation and that, my Fellow Americans, is as good as it gets

Applause Shouldn’t Matter

Yet, when I walked into the classroom this morning and students erupted into hoots and hollers of welcome, I felt as if I’d done something right with at least this M/W section of ENG 098. Later on, after we’d completed a sample of the table on achieving their career goals, the student who volunteered to serve as Oracle for the week (this individual takes notes during class and posts them online for absentees et al.) slipped to the front of the room and into the seat I’d just abandoned. She copied notes from the board as I asked the class in how many of their other classes would sharing the space reserved for the professor be possible. When it came time for their quiz on paragraphing using PREP (point, reason, example, point – the public speaking tool I picked up years ago at a United Way Speaker’s Bureau training), I wrote the following:

Creating a democratic classroom requires the teacher to create a vacuum for students to fill. Once students fill the vacuum behavior changes and accountability increases. Student A moved to my seat to take notes in her role as Oracle. This is evidence that I have created the vacuum necessary for democratic education.

During yesterday’s PREP quiz on freewriting, my PREP was:

Freewriting is a tool anyone can use to improve their thinking and actions. Freewriting is a self-directed training ground. The person doing the daily writing practice chooses the topics and then analyzes their own work to make changes as needed. Taking charge of the practice and improvement improves accountability in both thinking and action.

The practice two-minute PREP in each class was on the topic of the grade each wanted to obtain in this class and what each was willing to do to obtain it. My PREP reads as follows:

I want a five (the highest score on the PT evaluation form). To get a five at year’s end I will have to make myself understood. I will have to slow down and get each learning style engaged. I can get a five if I include every kind of mind as I teach.

Of course, the quiz had been announced in the revised assignment schedule I posted while keeping watch over Auntie’s recovery in Jamaica. Of course I knew not everyone had checked online to see what might be there in my week-long absence, so I allayed possible fears by reassuring them that had they been completing the weekly freewriting analysis they would be as prepared as possible.

In today’s class I decided how to grade these micro quizzes. Forty points would be awarded for use of complete sentences – those containing a subject, predicate, capitalization and punctuation. Another 4o points would be earned for having four sentences in correct PREP order. The remaining 20 points, what separates, in my opinion, students going through the motions from students in it to win it, would be earned for voice, evidence of an authentic perspective, effort at word choice or intentional sentence variety.

I settled on this method when asking students to peer edit the practice quiz. The scores from one class were as follows: 1-55, 2-60, 2-65, 4-70, 4-75, 3 80, and 1-85. That makes for 12 of 17 passing the quiz on how to write a coherent two-minute paragraph. A fail rate of but 29% in Week 5 is nice work if you can get it. I’ll take it!

After a Week Away

I returned to the classroom. One student in each class asked if I were feeling better. I thanked each for his concern and said something about Auntie’s condition. The VP of Student Affairs passed by while I was having a late lunch. We chat a few moments about the upcoming Civil Rights symposium and the elders we have been privileged to know, or know about. I sat for a long while with the AA in my department shooting the breeze and confessing how little patience we each have for television and quitters. It’s pointless for me to attempt anything between say 2:30 and 5 p.m. All systems shut down and a nap would be in everyone’s best interests. Like the Calabash 10th anniversary volume says, So Much Things to Say….

But what I’ll leave you to consider is this: How many things could you accomplish in two hours and 15 minutes? We went to Cardenas Grocery Store, the 99 cents Store and stopped at Little Ceasar’s. It wasn’t until we entered Sunflower Market to get meat, olive oil and peanuts that T-Mobile finally picked up their end of the phone and advised that my trouble sending text messages and email from my handset was due to an outage in my area. Few people would be proud to say they hold a world’s record for waiting on hold. I’d be one of them. For shame.