#RaisingBoys: Body Odor Busters

We are at the awkward age where body odor starts, he spelled terrible for a spell. Some it was my fault, I hate socks so I never made him wear them and we way over indulged on cheese and meat (read as: pepperoni pizzaand cheeseburgers were a way of life). We've come a long way in the past 1.3 years, here what worked:

Deodorants:

Homemade Mix of Baking Soda and Coconut Oil.

This homemade mixture worked better than anything that we found a labeled natural. I never tried anything with harsh chemicals but after finding this mix I didn't need too. Next time I made it I plan on using a few essential oils.

LUSH Aromaco

As close to homemade I could find that also works. I have also found that it lasts much longer than the one listed above. We have these as reserve in case I don't get around to making more and for the winter. I found my homemade mixture harder to keep from drying because of the heat in my old place but I also never adjusted the proportions to account for that. If you try, let me know how it worked. 

Soap

LUSH Sandstone  

This exfoliating soap is the best. I have him on a two step system. We both have dry skin and this soap has been a game changer. I find that we use LESS lotion. The routine is: First this exfoliating soap and then another cleansing soap. Both soaps by LUSH because I just love the company.  

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No Towel Dry! This was a key change because I noticed my son wasn't fully dry before he put on clothes. He was always in a rush, most time just to sit around and wait for whatever we were doing to happen. Listening to autobooks usually helps him slow down and improves his perspective of time. 

 

let me know if you try any of these or what works for you. 

Loud Proud and Wrong (?)

My son calls out-isms when he sees them. Sometimes he's wrong but insistent. At first, this worried me. He was so loud about it,"That's -ist!" Always sounded louder than anything else he said.

But, If you're always right you're not learning. I had to take my feelings out of it, all they were just in the way. Parenting has forced me to question why I'm embarrassed enough for me to do it automatically.

How I react to him being wrong will have a huge effect on his willingness to make mistakes.

When I think he is wrong ...

maybe he isn't wrong.

I ask him how he came to that conclusion.  

I don't know everything, and I need to respect his thought process enough to find out before I dismiss it as wrong.

I agree or disagree and explain why.   If he made any points that stood out to me, I point them out  

Usually, he considers what I had to say and responds but until he wants to keep the conversation going I drop it.  

It's not my job or my desire to force him to agree. We can disagree and still enjoy whatever was happening. Still respect each other so long as respect was given.

 

Race Relations over Tacos

We had our neighbor over for dinner. I made tacos. He brought pie and ice cream. My son has never made, friends with the neighbor and I have never had neighbors over for dinner. . We talked about race most of the night. As soon as the kids finished their food, they ran from the table, to hide in the corner with the iPad and that's when the conversation started. I could have guested this put I wasn't fully prepared.

More conversations like this are necessary, and they are gentle reminders of how much some white people are bothered. I wouldn't invite hardly any white people to come to my house and talk about race. That's stress I don't need in my life, but I do think it's important to understand where my son's friends parent's stand on such an important issue. I certainly don't make these types of discussions a practice, put parenting often takes you

Let's be clear about where you stand before our kids spend time together. If your child thinks Christopher Columbus discovered America my son would call bullshit. This oversight call into question what else you choose not to dismantle. I'm not giving the benefit of the doubt, that's basic and here's why  

Adolescence is four blinks away and he will be navigating the city alone, and I need those friends to have a basic understand of privilege and politics. I refuse for my son the become a casualty in someone else's journey; he has his whole life to navigate -isms. For now, we vet friends. I know my vetting will not completely shield him, but to me, that seems like all the more reason to try.

So far so good. #SundayDinner

 

The Key to Raising a Reader

At this point, I am sure my son is "a reader." He actively searches for books to read and recently we did a recap of the 26 books  he has read this year. I am not an expert, but I have learned a lot since we started our literacy journey.

When I set off on my mission, my son hated reading and utterly refused to do it. I read a lot of articles about how to encourage literacy most suggested reading to your child which I did find very helpful, and others suggested having a lot of books in your home which I also found helpful but watch out for library fines. After some thought, I think I have identified the critical step to raising a reader.

The Key: Show, Don't Tell

Read together time made all the difference when we made the transition to my son reading on his own. We spent time reading side by side. Being able to share the thrill of finding a new book in a local bookstore with my son caught his attention. Trips to the bookstore are adventures, reading is quality time.

I don't read books as much as I would like because of life, but I do make space in my schedule to read articles, poems, and short stories. I often find that when I settle in to read, so does he. So the key to getting your reluctant reader to read is to let him see you reading. Show, Don't Tell.

 

 

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My Five Must Have Intentional Educator Resources

1. A complete daily schedule:

My son's schedule starts at 7 am and ends at 10 pm at the latest. According to the schedule, he should be in bed by 8 pm. Every part of his day is accounted for. Sounds extreme I know but here is the thing. The schedule is a map when we get lost we consult it. Most days the plan falls apart by 2 pm. It used to be before noon. We are both getting better at keeping it. We are both getting better at consulting thought out the day. The first week was tough, I had to let go of the idea that we would magically be able to keep the schedule entirely but the longer we stick with it, the better it works.

2.  Chalk.com

This website is fantastic for helping me organize my resources and lessons. I always see those blog posts by homeschoolers who have the entire year planned and printed. That not me at all. I have no idea where my son will be in a month. Chalk helps me create overarching plans and fill in lessons as we go. There is also space for me to insert videos and links directly into my lessons with means I can cut down on the paper clutter in my space.

3. Subscriptions

I know there are a million and a half of those subscription boxes, I am not sure most of them are worth it, but I have found a few that we LOVE.

  • JAM: We are currently doing Invent Your Own Machines. We tried the Minecraft one, but it didn't work out for us. We are going to do the Drawing Bootcamp next. You can try it for free for 14 days I think.
  • Tinker Crate: We have been getting these since we moved to the city, three years ago. The crates are high quality and engaging. They are so serious about the science; they include something cause a Tinkerzine that expands and explains whatever the concept was. There are also additional experiments so that the lesson extends beyond the main lesson. If you decide to try it use my code, this isn't an ad; it's just the standard thing that gives us both $10 off the box which is half the regular price.
  • ASK Magazine: A children's science magazine for ages 6-9. Each issue was incredibly informative and the funny. I remember the issue that introduced 3D prosthetic limbs the most vividly.  Since blerd is turning nine,  we are moving on to MUSE which is for 9 - 14. 

4. Podcasts/Audible

Brains On! Podcast: A science podcast for kids that worth its weight it gold, easy listening for commuting or lazy days.

Stories Podcast: My son will not shower unless he can listen to stories podcast. This podcast is as good as TV to him.

We also have an Audible subscription, he is the story lover, but lately, I have been getting into it too. Last month, we listened to all of the Harry Potter Books just in time for the 20th anniversary.

5. A Journal

Checking in has been essential for moving forward. I haven't been able to find a book specifically designed for tracking homeschooling that I like but just writing in my journal has been helpful. Having just one journal makes it easier to see patterns in his behavior and mine.  

 

 

Playing the Gravity Games.  

Playing the Gravity Games.  

Working on the first challenge in the JAM course.  

Working on the first challenge in the JAM course.  

The schedule, taped to my son's wall.  

The schedule, taped to my son's wall.  

The first road block on the way back to my mother's compound.

Did I come from a white man's pen. Am I ink, is that why I shine? Am I a figment of blue eyed imagination, something magical to be conjured

a subject to be pondered or fonduled. Is it that I have no past before your pen?  

No. Me? I know I was writing before you came. My words curving elegantly on the smoke raising dead things from the ash.

Nothing with a seed dies for long.

A people with a past have a future. 

Me, i know, melanin no be ink.  

Abeg.  

The 26th Book

Last week my son passed the half way point of his 50 book challenge. The 26th book was One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. This book is recommended for ages 9–12. It has a Lexile of 750L.

The book is historical fiction taking three young girl across the country to Oakland in 1968 to visit their estranged mother. The book tackles feminist issues, finding you path, forgiveness and family. The book also shows the positive aspects of the Black Panther Party as well as members being arrested. There is a strong theme of community within the black community that can't be ignored.

The mother in the novel, does not cook and discourages the girls from doing so. There is a strong sense that she refuses to be a mule, tied down to domestic chores. She is a poet and an activist. She isn't a bad mother but she makes it clear that she struggles with how to mother and points to her own relationship with her mother and the source of her turmoil. Being a motherless daughter certainly creates its own discontent and it is a theme that is rarely discussed, especially in kids literature.

I picked this book partially because of how A-typical the mother is. My son considers sexism deeply, he points it out in other and in himself. He has checked me several times and I am grateful he is not letting it get into his vocabulary. He is, however, still a kid and he has high expectations of mothers and I wonder if they are fair. I relate in many ways to the mother in the story and it makes me consider that makes a mother "good." A mother's love is natural but western representations of motherhood are a learned behavior.

Check out the latest episode of Conversations with BlerdHero to hear him talk about his opinion on the 26 books he has read this year.

 

 

Preparing for Coming of Age: 5 tasks by 12

This year my son turns 9, half way to adulthood. This birthday is more significant than any before it, except the first one. I am officially preparing to send him off into the world. Traditionally coming of age ceremonies happen around age 12 but you don't just wake up on your 12th birthday and head to the ceremony. Preparation begins before that, sometimes well before that so that when the time comes you care ready to complete the challenges laid in front of you.

I have been thinking about this birthday since he was five. Tucking ideas in the back on my mind for how I might set up his process. We have lost many of these traditional customs, but they burn in my mind as indispensable. Nine begins his journey to 12, the first milestone. Here is what I have worked out, these are the things I want him to have accomplished by 12:

1. Choose a cause

We need people the champion change across a variety of issues. We have set off on our journey exploring all the different places he can spend his energy working towards change. At 12, I expect him to pick one and focus on it. That does not mean he can't care about other causes or be involved, just that time is limited, and one dedicated person can often do more than ten halfhearted people. There are some causes that exceptions, like feminism and global warming, but would consider those more ways of being in the world than say fighting to end the use of capital punishment.

2. Earn income

He gets an allowance. It is paid two days a month, the 15th and last day of the month. Does that sound familiar? He does not get paid for doing chores or his school work, and those things are not optional. He is paid based on how well he completes his work, efficiency, innovation, resourcefulness, creativity are all rewarded. The system is slightly complicated, but it works well for us. This isn't the income I am talking about tho. This is just practice for whatever he decides will be the best way for him to start generating income. Between his 10th and 11th birthday he has to start a business.

3. Save 300 dollars

Poor money management skills have landed me in quite the mess, and I know I am not alone. We live in a world designed to help us spend. 300 dollars isn't much to save in 4 years, but I wanted to be sure that he could reach it and hopefully quickly so we can adjust. Savings goals that are too big can feel discouraging, at least for me. I have also been researching how to expose young people to the psychological tricks used to encourage spending so he can be aware and not fall prey.

4. Host an event

Being the host teaches you a lot about planning and people. Taking on the role of designing an event, from food to a guest list, from the budget to the activities, is the modern day equivalent of walking on walking on coals. This is going to hurt a little, but the frustration will be worth it. I am sure he will learn things I can not even begin to guess, but I hope he takes away the importance of being there for people and the power of being able to create space.

5. Find a craft or two

This is similar to the first item on the list; I am not saying to has to pick one craft and close his eyes to everything else. He does need to put in the hours towards perfecting a craft so that he can watch his evolution. So far those crafts are ceramics, guitar, and coding. It's important to be that one of the final works be something that he creates with his own hands, that is a particular magic.

I made these up based on the child that I have and the character I want him to have. Life is fluid, so if you know of any interesting coming of age practices, please share. I would love to take a look.

 

 

Igbo Kwenu?

I was born in Nigeria almost thirty years ago and I'm not sure what that means. I grew up in a house where the adults spoke Igbo to each other at that was it.  

I grew up in a house that prioritized European classical over highlife. We eat rice and stew every Sunday. I loath garri and always have. Only pounded yam with my egusi abeg. It's not that my childhood home rejected Igbo culture. Far from it. 

When I was younger I thought they were withholding knowledge from me. Making a conscious effort to disconnect me but what if they didn't and still don't know. 

My parents always mentioned going to British boarding schools, they have all sorts of classical training and "refinement" to show for it but as someone that has rejected traditional schooling for my own child, it is easier to see how they themselves were disconnected and reconfigured in their own land. 

Igbo was my first language and I sometimes feel I can't speak my mind because I have lost the words. There is a real disconnect between my brain and my tongue, they do not speak the same language. What all is lost in the journey is what I roamed so chaoticly to find.  

I used to live for Nigerian parties growing up, the music, the Malta, the suya, the boys. I remember the first time I saw my mother dancing at a party. So many brown bodies moving in unison, everyone is a distinct pattern to help you identify their people. Everyone would know we where in the same family. My chest swelled. 

The year before high school we stopped going to Igbo parties and my little bit of my connection was lost. My age mates where moving on without me. I didn't complain much because I never quite got the hang off what I was supposed to be doing.  I was day dreaming when they said we should come and collect social skills. 

I joined the African associaltion in college but it wasn't the same. It's nice to spend time with Other Africans but that doesn't necessarily get you closer to understanding yourself or I should say it only takes you so far.  It sometimes made me feel further away, listening to my peers speak their own languages made me long to learn my own again. I have tried at a few points in life with little progress. 

Igbo Kwenu! A meditation before my move to the city and a consistent mood my first 5 months. I have made pretty significant progress since looking to build a community of igbos but the journey has been bitter sweet. More questions than answers like all great quests. That's how I know I'm on the right track. What I want is pre-colonial Igbo; that's the igboland strongest in my memory.  

I'll keep you posted. 

✖️✊🏿✖️✊🏿

 

 

 

 

Sites, Sounds, Lessons from Mana

Chicago - I headed to Mana Contemporary for their last open house. Grateful for the time alone. Eight year old boys do not always make the best company.

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Her studio was a juxtaposition of the best and worst of contemporary life.  I am starting with Barbara Hashimoto because I love clementines and I still have one more bag of junk mail to shred.

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Barbara used junk mail as her medium, filling a large room with four months of junk mail. Her work shows how overwhelming junk mail, bill and debt really are. Congrats it's not all in your head. Before I headed to Mana, I asked my friend to borrow his shredder so I could attack my pile of mail, three bags at the time. I actually packed a box of junk mail and old bills when I moved to Chicago two years ago. 

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Mail makes me panic, paper makes me uneasy. Even catalogs all of piles and threatens to bury you. I am one of the many turning to minimalism to work dig my way out of the pile of shit that consumes us.  I avoid mail which only means it piles up. Here is a woman taking charge, during piles of credit card solicitations and ads into art. Seeing shredded junk mail used like this was deeply symbolic for me. Seeing it erased. The idea that it could exist in such a serene space without disrupting the energy adding to the creative process rather than just causing paralysis. Two bags of shredding happened as a result of this studio visit. I considered throwing it about my apartment but I settled on watching the video again instead. 

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The juxtaposition of these three balls, the stages of turning junk mail into bronze and this box made of credit card solicitations entitled, In the Red. A video from this series shows mounds and mounds of shredded paper, enough to fill a large room. Slightly stressful to watch tho.

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Let frustration fuel creativity. Burn it away.

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The Transition to Power Series by On The Real Film explores artist reactions to the last presidential election. This series is a great place to start if you want to pull the string on your feeling surrounding the election. This entire presidency is one long sustained trigger for many people including those who are not traditionally marginalized and are therefore enjoying the privilege of being new to the shock of unstable ground. Things are shifting rapidly and the question is will we be mindful enough to lead a revolution that changes the paradigm rather than keeping our exciting power structures and just flipping who benefits. That is not a real revolution.

I am moving and packed away the notebook containing my initial thoughts about the three videos I watched during my visit which is probably for the best. I left, I was writing too many things in my notebook and didn't have time to think between films. I have not processed fully the gravity of the words spoken and the pace was too rapid. If you want to watch, I recommend starting here or here.

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photo from here

photo from here

I would have moved into this space if possible, it was crisp but not sterile. Inviting but not too comfortable. The kinds of place you go when you want to work towards your legacy, submerge yourself in a topic or take great Instagram pictures. Everyone loves large picture frames and hardcover books. The way the spine screams to welcome you. I always imagine it like an old friend calling out "GURL" when we meet up after some time apart. The beginning of a long conversation.  

 
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Do you know about Moishe Mana? Moishe’s Moving? With that Cormac started teaching. I had already received a warm welcome and gained some insight into the realities of being a musician from his dad. He let me know he quit the business as soon as he found out he would be a father. He wanted to be home. He looked the age of man from the time when men stayed far away from home even if the came back every night. A trailblazer, he was the one playing the piano in the music that filled the studio. Cormac told everyone who came in the room to listen out for his father. According to his father Cormac has always had impeccable taste, "he has an eye for these things."  The two were quite a pair and then there were three. Three generations sharing space. Gentle banter about events I wasn't present for but grazed against my entrence.

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Family magnifies all other success.

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I was beaming when I stood in front of his open studio door. I actually wasn't sure I could go in. I was green and wide eyed, probably for the duration of my time at Mana and especially for this first studio visit. As soon as a I saw his space I knew I needed to create images and write. This was just too good. Rory wrote copy for Leo Burrett before he moved on to his next great life. We talked about how he doesn't consider anything but the art he wants to create. He creates constantly and openly. The work is infections, delightful and another word but it escapes me. Something foreign that captures a feeling but doesn't translate. the feeling when your stuff is moved in but unpacked and your alone in your dorm after you first arrive for college freshman year. Imagine that as one word // I accidentally said, "I'm nervous" to which he replied, "Be brave." // He encouraged me to call myself an artist, a writer. Which I did in every other studio. In retrospect this was the perfect place to start my journey on that day.

You can live many great lives in one lifetime [say what you are or someone else will define you].

All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

Parenting is Advocacy

People don't mention much about motherhood I suspect because the challenge is always changing, so it's hard to say. The most shocking realization has been how much advocating I would have to do.

The advocacy started the moment I went into labor. I didn't know much, but I knew I didn't want an epidural. Luck for me the doctor was all for my decision, and I didn't have to push. Then I didn't have breastmilk, they offered me donor milk but, otherwise, I would have needed to request. So far so good, but it went down hill fast.

An advocacy resource I found helpful. Here is another one you might like.

Nine years in I think there are three main parts to advocacy:

1. Gathering Information

Knowledge is the bases of all advocacy. You have to know what you want, and a lot of times that means researching all the options yourself. I went into labor having no clue about water births or doulas, in retrospect, I wish I were informed enough to pursue a home birth with a doula. People aren't always that forthcoming, or they just assume you know all your options and your making a decision. Knowing the laws in your state and nationally around a given topic aid always ideal but obviously not possible. There is a lot to know at any one given time, some are predictable, like school and childcare, other are unpredictable like medical emergencies. I went into labor knowing virtually nothing, but labor happens no matter what. Breastfeeding, not so much. I knew even less about breastfeeding than I did about birth. I had no idea that having a premature child would mean not having a supply. It doesn't always happen that way, but it did in my case. I had no clue about donor milk so thank God the nurse offered it. I wish I could say I learned the importance of research but it took till school for me to take research seriously.  

2. Using Your Voice/ Standing Your Ground

I was going to have to speak up for what I thought was best all the time. I put my son in daycare at seven weeks the earliest possible date because I didn't see another option but I also just made assumptions about what my options were. Something I regret deeply. His first two daycares were terrible. At about nine weeks, I paid a surprise visit to his daycare after I called before heading into class and realized the number was disconnected. Needless to say, I skipped that class and headed across town only to find a woman I had never met before alone with all the kids. She assured me that she was working on her certifications. I am not sure what else she said I picked my son up and never looked back.
 
The next daycare had much better conditions regarding code compliance, but I found myself with a filthy child and the end of each day. Sometimes with a days worth of spit up and snot caked on his face and neck. An aunt had assured me that if I sent him there clean, they would know I was a "serious" parent. Not so. At least not for me. At one point I walked into the infant room, and his provider was on her laptop. I had walked to the middle of the room and picked up my son before she noticed. I knew I needed to do something but without other options causing an issue at the daycare not matter the scale didn't seem like a good idea. I researched my options and found a voucher that would subsidize childcare for me as a student then talked to anyone who would listen until I got him a spot at one of the best daycares in the city, on paper at least. That daycare turned out to be quite elitist and racist but the facility was sparkling and they actually, engaged the kids. Heaven after the experience I had previously. These experience also let me know early how important choice is. As a young low-income single mom I rarely had good choices. The bulk of my advocacy for pushing my way to more choices.

3. Persisting

The advocacy never stops. It's exhausting at times. Big schools systems and limited resources. Reading food labels, hunting down natural remedies. Finding the right speech pathologist. Whatever path your journey some battles will take longer than others. This is the part I am still getting used too. It's the most tiring and, depending on the situation, utterly terrifying. It stretches you, makes you taller and braver. If you let it, it can make you more tender. The remember laying my head next to my son's tiny toddler lap and letting the tears stream down as I explained we would be moving to daycare number four, I was going to beg the owner of a small home daycare a few friends of mine went to the next day. The final and perfect place but I didn't know that then I wasn't even sure it would work. I cried until we both fell asleep. The next day we got up and headed straight for the daycare.


This cycle has been a constant and I suspect it will continue well into teenage years.

Thunder forecasted for Thursday

My dad goes in to surgery Thursday morning. This is easily the hardest parenting period I have ever been in and I'm in the mist of looking for a new apartment. It's Tuesday night and I'm completely spent after a day that refused to get better. Flat bike tire. Miles of walking. Bugs. Deadphone. Empty bus pass. Everything.

I want to get up tomorrow and work. I want to sit in front of my computer uninterrupted and get things done. I need to cross things off my to-do list and feel the rush of being a productive employee. I know that sounds crazy but working makes me feel better when everything is falling about. I love my job and I want to transition it into a career, a niche, be one of those women that has specialized and fine tuned her shit to perfection. I want to be workplace black excellence.

Working is a chance to learn, to get some small wins under my belt. My chance to earn my pay and my play so I can return to the demands of life feeling accomplished. Career aspirations and motherhood are a hard balance. What does devotion to career look like as a single mother? There is no one here to fill in the gaps that would leave.

I remember reading Lean In and feeling totally inspired. I didn't expect Sandberg to have anything that authentically spoke to my experience because how could she? It couldn't believe how transparent she was about imposter syndrome or things like putting her kids to sleep in their school clothes to make the morning easier. Those things still stick with me because they are so relateable. For me leaning in was about fiercely wanting career and not letting motherhood discourage me.

Leaning in meant letting go of all my fears around being a career woman and a good mother and trusting myself. Having a healthy perceptive and fighting for my chance. Years later I am stilling figuring out the angle of my lean but I'm getting more and more comfortable being honest with myself about the heights I would like to reach while also embracing how prominently staying close to my child plays in my aspirations. 

Since Sandberg, lost her husband she has been doing a lot of reconsidering of the Lean In premise. I appreciate her advocacy. I think it is important to remember that it is the systems we have in place that would make it nearly impossible for a woman to reach her heights had she had a child much earlier in life. She would be the same brilliant woman after all. The world would have missed out or better yet refused the acknowledge. The article in Forbes about her new book on building resilience during/after hard times talks about how resilience is a muscle, it must be built. This analogy seemed strange to me. Not because it isn't true but it's just weird. I wonder about the little ways some people build resilience daily, wonder if she recognizes her battles as a woman in tech as building resilience or if there is some cognitive dissonance. I doubt I will ever get the opportunity to ask her but I find this project just as inspiring and relevant as the first one. Check out the website she created to go along with the book. There are wonderful stories and resources.

The truth is, some women position themselves to be able to make demands that increase their time with their family without scarifying their work. Usually that means having children once your career is already established.  The workplace is artificially designed to be destructive to families. There can absolutely by more synergy between what families need and what employers need. You can have it all, maybe not at the same time but in close proximity. 

 

 

Missed Connections

"What do we want from our mothers when we are children? Complete submission. Oh, it's very nice and rational and respectable to say that a woman has every right to her life, to her ambitions, to her needs and so on. That's what I've always demanded myself, but as a child, no. The truth is it's a war of attrition. Rationality doesn't come into it, not one bit. What you want from your mother is that she once and for all admit that she is your mother and only your mother and that battle with the rest of life is over."      Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Thelma Golden came to Chicago, and I missed it because I was deep in mothering. Deep in the fatigue of thinking about somebody else hard because you are not them and you are trying to decide what is best for them. I have missed several events this week because of the juggle, the mental acrobatics. It's not always like this, but sometimes it is. simple and clumsy. You can have it all but not at the same time. I long for the days when in ways I couldn't see clearly that my days were my own. When a child's protest was loud cries, not a silent disappointment. Toddlers scream, but tweens don't forget. Days when his developmental needs didn't rub against my social/professional needs like sandpaper.

I did not always feel like I was missing out. The spaces I feel are professional. Creative. Motherhood rubs at you like sandpaper, brushing of layers of dead skin in places and leaving you raw and exposed in others. Better than you started. More tender. Eroded. Rounded. Smooth but uneven.

I missed this opportunity and others because of motherhood, and it does frustrate me. In an alternate universe, I may have missed them for another reason, and that would have frustrated me too. In this universe it was motherhood. I know there can be more synergy but doing it all takes all of me so who will enjoy the spoils. Alright, so that is a little dramatic. There are some weeks where I do manage to do everything we both wanted and need; they are always followed by one full day in bed. Sometimes this trade is worth is and sometimes it's not. The trade off sometimes reduces me to tears, momentarily.

As I approach 30, my concerns are not about aging or relationship status but these missed opportunities to grow myself as an individual.  The quote from Swing Time is accurate, so I missed the event, laying in bed for "read together" time, listening, being still and together. Surrendering to the demands of motherhood at least for the moment. 

Blue Black: Moonlight, Mastry + Lightbending

I feel fairly confident a cultural revolution around body acceptance/love for Nigerian women, in general, won't come anytime soon. Nigeria isn't the only country with this issue, and it's not limited to groups of people with universally dark skin, we have all seen Asian women walking around with umbrellas on sunny summer days.

When I was growing up, I remember watching a news report about the lost boys of Sudan, then running into one working at O'hare. My mother pointed him out, but he didn't need an introduction, I had been staring at him long before she noticed him. He was a human giraffe covered in black panther skin. I couldn't decide if I liked how he looked. The white and red in his eyes made him look extraterrestrial, other-worldly. His skin consumed light; I could see it trying to escape, pooling and contouring at the rim of his skin. Otherworldly has never been a substitute for ugly in my mind, butI still wasn't sure what to make of him. That night I lay in bed wondering if I looked like him and why I couldn't decide if I liked it.

Looking back on the colorism that tints universal beauty standards and most African homes, I totally understand why I felt the way I did, but my initial characterization of dark skin itself has stuck with me. I spent years avoiding pictures because of the way my skin ate light. I spent the same amount of time in the grass watching how sunlight interacted with the tiny worlds I had created. Worlds where I was the light bending giraffe.

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The current Black Renaissance has resurfaced my childhood fascination with how dark skin bends light. Like every real Renaissance, art is at the center of revolution.

Lynette Yiadom Boakye discussed how she studied lights interaction with objects and how to capture that in her art. Cauleen Smith shared her quest to master capturing dark skin in film. At dinner a few weeks later, a friend brought up how Atlanta successfully captures dark skin. I had gone to the advanced screening of Moonlight with high expectations, not only for the plot but how dark skin would be represented, that is what stood out to me the most about the trainer.  I asked Tarell Alvin McCraney about the meaning of the movie title, but I already had my mind made up about its meaning. The same as when I first saw the Sudanese man. Moonlight has plenty of emotional to explore, but the bending and consumption of light can't be ignored.

The allusiveness of the capturing dark skin in art is my new fascination; it affirms the magnificence of melanin for me. I can be sure there is nothing grotesque about what it does to light.

Witnessing Mastry by Kerry James Marshall cemented that. He treats darkness as something worth studying and honestly portrays its depth, something fashion magazine spreads never provided me. In Mastery blackness in and of itself is explored not used as a means or contrast to whiteness like most fashion magazine layouts. I would say the same thing about Moonlight. In Mastry and Moonlight darkness does not erase complexity, it heightens it. Both works demand that you look deeper.

This piece I saw on Son of Baldwin's fb page but now can't find (boo) brought to my attention the potential for blackness without darkness as the norm in society; The article talked about the preference for blackness without dark skinned bodies. I tried to imagine aworld without walking light-bends, our bodies once again confined to museums and books of curiosities.

All Images from our visit to see Mastry at the Museum of Contemporary Art In Chicago

tend

i woke up to myself, scrubbed off the gloss

and revealed the shine.

turned my face to the sun

and planted my heart in fertile ground.

nourished by salt water and time. i have made

these lands my home. I am home.

the first place he ever lived.  fertile ground

the source of life sustaining meals.

 

bare witness.

it's on you

                                            Your parents will get over it.

They will get over it.

                They will get over it.

if you pierce your nose and maybe your nipples, for good measure
if you decide you love the art and starve
if you have the baby and promise to finish school
if you kiss girls and let your nail polish chip
if date that person anyway and live to regret it
same for if you marry them
if you tape things to the wall and eat straight out of the delivery container

           when you stand up straight and know who you are

they will get over it


get over it
it's
over

Reflecting on What The Body Knows

You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day.
— Maame, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

More Information about Barak Ade Soleil

The space was hollow and small. glass doors on one end, wooden doors on the other. behind our seats, a row of windows overlooked large spotlights, the source of the other worldly light.  We were standing on the stage but we didn't know then we where a part of the performance. We would be moved in every sense of the word. On paper the performance was about exploring the interaction of race and disability thru dance. I am not sure that description does the depth of the work justice. I saw it as an essay in three parts.  

Part I :

He pushed thru the curtains without announcement. He didn't to ask for silence,  his silence demanded it. From the beginning his movements demanded so much from the audience. They reminded me of the yoga poses I hate to press myself into. Uncomfortable and peculiar but opening spaces within you that would otherwise go unexplored. The sounds of discomfort was part of the dance. The sound forced the discomfort back into your own body. He grunted and moaned, resurrecting the familiar ache of depression.

The Body Knows the Mind is in Control.

We confronted the sound of discomfort but also defiance. The frantic nature of determination when your mind and body are both enemy and ally.

ade Soleil pushed us to see him beyond the discomfort of movement, the story did not begin or end there. We watched him dripping in gold, slow winding in the familiar ecstasy of freedom. Bare chested and looking you straight in your soul, he dared you to look away. He forced each of us to confront what ever it was you felt watching him come thru like the dance hall queen completely owning his body and his sensuality. Edgeless and feeling triumphant, I couldn't have been prepared for the final chapter of part one.

I still don't know exactly what to make of the closing. It didn't understand why. What happened. I wish I could say it didn't invoke another familiar feeling. If you have ever stripped yourself bare you may understand it too. Some people see you as a full person others use it to dehumanize you. I felt like I was looking at that dehumanization, he pressed it into us. He made us think he needed us to hand feed him, made us feel sorry for him, for ourselves. I silently begged not to be chosen, felt frustrated by the variety of responses of those who were. No one spoke but everyone communicated. Shifting, avoiding eye contact, delighting in the feeding, contorted faces, "reading" the program, every movement communicated something. All different all telling.  He was watching us, we were performing too. He danced a complex set of emotions, unraveled a complex humanity and focused us to reconsider ourselves and our way of relating, rationalizing, hiding.


Part II

Jerron began his performance from the opposite side. The glass doors. Standing tall and straight. He marched in with wide steps hitting the floor hard. Each boom shacking the foundation of our expectations. My son whispered, "he doesn't have a disability."  I contemplated what my silence on disabilities had thought my child as I watched Jerron work to get his hand in his pocket, considered the beauty in the movement.  It wasn't swift or effortless and that's what made it such a beautiful part of the performance. Disability usually comes up on an as needed bases, to explain why accommodations are needed or to prevent my child from saying anything insensitive or looking too hard.

The Body Knows that if Used Carefully it Can Control the Mind of Another.

Jerron's performance took up a tremendous amount of space. His movements where large and his interactions with the audience were genial, in sharp contrast ade Soleil's solo performance. The privilege of taking up space, to move around as much as you like meant he stood directly in front of me but did not see me. He was in a world all his own. A world in plain sight I had never taken the time notice but have no access too. My approach was wrong, I had taught my child to see but ignore a type of difference.


Part III

The spotlights cast multiple shadows of varying density for each dancer. Amplifying there movements. What does movement cost us? Watching both men drip sweat, pushing , pulling, and twisting. The two men shared a stage. There movements were about relationship. Each performer relying on the other for support. Engaging the floor and wall as part of the dance. Their proximity to each other's bodies struck me a particularly bold, two black men are rarely seen in this way. They are not allowed to be so free they love their mirror image. They are not allowed to hold their sons so tight for so long. We allow them sexuality but never intimacy.

Even in the mist of such heavy emotion finding peace in the base and the bounce. I loved the abrupt change to club music, watching both men bouncing to the base. Feeding off each others energy reminding me to get out my feelings and enjoy the moment. I needed those breaks. Music that is all too often hyper masculine and problematic but so #unapologeticallyblack it still creates a common ground.

The Body Knows the Power of the Mind is Not Absolute.

There was much more to the performance than I am able to capture. As a parent I can't help but wonder what was going thru my sons mind and he watched with furrowed brows. I do know that conversation the dance inspired between us was much needed and one of the longest we have had in a while. I decided I wouldn't attempt to explain the dance. Really how could I pretend to know what the artist was thinking. What emotions he wanted the call forward? Maybe my explanation would spoil his insight. Instead we talked about the power of the mind, the need to consider the complexity of each persons identity and the need to be honest with yourself about your own complexity.

 

With Jerron

With Jerron

Margins to Frontiers: New Paradigms of #BlackMagic

I had the pleasure of attending the New Paradigms panel discussion with Thelma Golden, Glenn Ligon, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, and Cauleen Smith on October 20th at the Art Institute of Chicago. Thelma Golden was a wonderful moderator. She drew her questions for ever dimension of this space time continuum them cast them like a spell drawing out pounds of marinated taught for our greedy consumption. It seemed as tho she could walk on the plane of thought pointing out nuances in the landscape we may have missed. Other times her questions provided a needed boundary for more targeted exploration.

The thing that still stands out to me was the discussion of what is means to be a black artist right now. It seems there is a critical mass of black art and artist. There is no longer a need/urgency for comparing black artists to white artists or framing the work in the context of the white gaze. It reminded me of an article I recently read in the Harvard Business Review about "New Power."

"New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it."

Her mention of margins and centers, which happens to be the title of a very personally influential book by bell hooks,  made me wonder if she would identify her source of power as "new." She is absolutely a disrupter in the field and I THINK forged in the fires of black feminist taught and critical race theory so her response to the first question by a gentleman about the "feeling of outsiderness' is something I will be mulling over for some time. Let me start by saying that every artist rejected the notion of being an outsider. Which, I think, relates to the very strong shared sentiment that there is a critical mass of black artists," we have our own" so to speak. Here my mind wonders about Solange, the success of her new album and the surge of collective black action in support of black makers.

So the question that sticks in my mind is "outside of what?" Thelma Golden flipped the visuals to what is in the margin and what is in the center. She said "we now know that we where at the edge and everything was moving in that direction." The edge, then would be the forefront.  Time has proved her and her contemporaries right. Those thoughts that had been marinating since the 80s and 90s are now highly prized for intellectual consumption by audiences of varying densities of melanin.  

Charles hanging out with his book before the discussion started.

Charles hanging out with his book before the discussion started.

I think Lynette Yiadom Boakye response was the most soothing. For her, being an artist is about feelings of outsiderness. Artists tend to think themselves outside of something, whatever that something is. There is a deep preoccupation with inward thinking and a tendency towards introversion that is common in artists. An artists "something" then in a matter of scale and for this particular panel race relations/anxiety between white and black was the incorrect scale. A blanket of steaming complex black narratives. I think each arists response to what was critical influence for them revealed a bit about what they feel outside off and the rhythm that moves them.

I wanted to sit in my seat and watch everyone leave, their bodies would serves as the credits for a film a can never see again but I ran out, rushing Charles to be bathroom and worrying about how I would navigate the reception. I waited outside the bathroom stall contemplating my own outsider feelings. Outside of artist circles of any kind, outside of the Chicago academic circles, outside of black middle-class status. Outside of anything that seemed relevant in this space. I clumsily walked thru the reception putting to anemic wedges of pita on an absurdly large plate before finding us a quite corner to sit it. I tried to recap with my son who reminded me that he spent the entire time reading his book. We left shortly after. I felt desperate looking at the faces as they passed searching for an indication that they my be open to a conversation with a stranger. Troubling work in such a bright open space.

 

Glenn Ligon
A Small Band, 2015
Neon and paint
74 3/4 x 797 1/2 inches
(189.9 x 2025.7 cm)

Image from LUHRING AUGUSTINE

I want to talk endlessly about Glenn Ligon in this post but I am going to save it because i learned that he is currently installing this piece at the Stony Island Arts Bank! The Rebuild Foundation has already started advertising Ligon's presence in the space and I am really looking forward to attending and writing about the piece and the artist then. Stay Tuned.

LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, Citrine by the Ounce, 2014, oil on canvas, 21 7/8 x 17 13/16 inches, 23 10/16 x 19 9/16 inches (framed), LYB14.006, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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