Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Book Review: The Invention of Wings

I picked up this Sue Monk Kidd novel because the back-of-the-book description was so compelling.  The novel is the story of Sarah Grimke, a 19th century abolitionist and feminist.  I have long admired Sarah Grimke, who, with her younger sister Angelina, became famous for their public presence amongst the most active social reformers of the 1830s.  Contemporaries of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Weld, Lucretia Mott, and others, the Grimke sisters were important leaders in both abolition and feminism.  Moreover, they were intellectual forces to be reckoned with at a time when women were largely seen as ornaments, not intellects.  Thanks to her careful command of the real history of abolition and feminism, Kidd tells their story exceptionally well.

Sarah Grimke was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1792 and she grew up in a prosperous slave-owning household.   As a child, Sarah began to question the injustice of slavery.  An obviously bright child, her father permitted her to read the same books as her brothers.  However, as she approached adolescence, her parents made clear that her world must be the circumspect existence of a privileged Southern woman of the 1800s.  She could not receive the same education as her brothers; her aspirations to a career in law were laughed at dismissed.  

Kidd weaves the known story of Sarah Grimke with imagined conversations and an internal dialogue that adds layers to Sarah’s story and makes splendid work of it.  The story is powerful on its own; Kidd’s prose makes it exceptional.  The novel is structured as a story about Sarah and a Grimke family slave named Hetty, who lived alongside Sarah and whose experiences form the core of Sarah’s abolitionist beliefs.  

The novel is told in first person in alternate chapters by Hetty and Sarah.  Kidd’s prose is lovely and in the opening page of the novel, when Hetty says of her mother, Charlotte, “Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy,”  I knew that this book was special.  Not two paragraphs in to the story and I was hooked.  The rest of the book measured up to that first page and it was a terrific read.  Beyond that, it had me thinking about the lives of women in the 1800s.

As I read The Invention of Wings I also watched the Masterpiece Theater story about the Bronte sisters, “To Walk Invisible.” Charlotte, Emily, and Anne lived around the same historical time as Sarah and Angelina Grimke and though the women lived an ocean apart, their worlds were similarly circumspect.  All of them were brilliant and capable and all lived at a time when such women were largely excluded from the public eye.  They may not have been rare, but because opportunities for women were so limited, they seem rare.  That these amazing women wrote anyway (and Sarah also spoke out at public events), says much about the power of the ideas swirling in their minds.  As I read about all three of the Grimke women and watched the Bronte sisters, I felt again how much is lost when women’s contributions are undervalued or downright excluded.  Though they lived more than 100 years ago, in the aftermath of the Trump election, the Grimke women and the Bronte sisters seem more important than ever.  These women were warned and yet they persisted.  In 2017, we should embrace the lesson of that experience.

Dogwood Sunday: Week 4

Last week’s profusion of dogwood flowers has begun to yield to tiny green leaves.  The tree is still lovely to behold and it joins pink and white dogwoods all over New Jersey in its celebration of Spring.

Day by day, the flowers are replaced by leaves and I am reminded that Spring is lovely because it’s so ephemeral.

Soon enough, Mother Nature will provide something new for me to enjoy.  And in the meantime, there are still dogwood flowers.

That’s happy!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Real Life Conversations with 7th Graders: Priorities edition

The backstory: One of my Assistant Principal responsibilities is to be a presence at school events.  Sometimes that means cheering on the cross country runners; on other days that means sitting with the Middle School choir during the Spring Choir Concert, as I did on Thursday evening.  The event is at an old chapel on campus at Rutgers University.  Our Middle School Choir sings and also watches as various Upper School Choirs perform.  The performance is one thing and in their starched white shirts and black skirts and pants they are both cute and nervous as they sing.  Afterward, when their portion of the concert is complete, they file back into the church pews on the side of the chapel.  Then the madness really begins.  They know they should sit still, keep quiet, and be a good audience but they find it nearly impossible to do so.  On Thursday, in addition to the more-than-occasional shush, I seized a few cell phones.  After the event, 7th grader A asked if he could have his phone back.  I invited him for a conversation.

Me:  Buddy, there were students perfuming as their families watched.  It’s rude to be on your phone.  What were you doing?

A (in earnest assurance):  I was checking the NFL draft to see who the Cleveland Browns got to pick.  

In my mind, I wanted to say, “You’re a 7th grader, not the fucking president of the Cleveland Browns.”  But I know this child and I especially know the concerns of 7th grade boys.  Chief among them are their sports teams.  I know that A is not the president of the Cleveland Browns but A, all of 4’7” of him, well, he isn’t quite so sure.  So rather than shout or offer the obvious, we ended our conversation in a different fashion.

Me:  I get it, but checking your phone while students perform is rude.  You need to be a good audience and keep your fingers crossed that things go well for the Browns.

7th grade is often the the most difficult part of adolescence, a churning sea of anxiety and frustration.  Voices and bodies are rapidly changing (or they aren’t and that’s a burden of a different sort), emotions swing wildly, and insensitivity abounds.  My job is to be the steady anchor on this ship of fools, to be compassionate and empathetic, and to kindly direct them as we sail through it together.  Lucky for me, there are plenty of opportunities to laugh and smile as we navigate the storms.  As for the Cleveland Browns, well, A is on the job.  They should be just fine.  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

On Morning Light

I am an early riser and when school is in session I am typically out of the shower and headed downstairs for coffee by 5:45 in the morning.  For much of the school year I spent the start of my day in inky darkness.  But come April, the steady lengthening days ensure light in the early morning and my first cup of coffee is served with a sunrise.  These days are often crammed with busy activities.  The surface of my desk has been long lost to me; my to-do list is ridiculously long.  But each morning, I watch for that first glimpse of the sun and the day feels new.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Hometown

I am a regular reader of Cup of Jo and this post about hometowns got me thinking about my hometown, Clovis, California.  I left Clovis for college in 1985 (!) and though I came back for a few summers, I never lived there full time again.  I visit most years and now I have fond feelings about Clovis.  The Cup of Post got me thinking about the things I miss about my hometown and so I present, in no particular order, the things I miss about Clovis:

1.  Swimming pools.  We had one growing up and thanks to the summer heat, many other people also have pools.  From an airplane, the pools are so plentiful that it looks like everyone has a tiny postage stamp of blue in their backyard.  

2.  The many months of flip flop weather.  See pools, above…

3.  Mexican food in delicious abundance.

4.  My sister, who lives and works in our hometown, always makes me laugh, and is one of the strongest women I know.  I would love to hang out with her on a Friday night after a long work week.  

5.  My parents, who love their town.

6.  The green “Clovis Gateway to the Sierras” sign that hangs in the downtown.  I always enjoy a glimpse when I visit.

Thinking about what I miss from my hometown has me thinking about the things I liked in other places I’ve lived and that’s been a pleasing stroll down memory lane.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday: Week Nine

Tulips are blooming this week and the hostas have begun their dramatic unfurl.  We’re at the point of Spring where nearly all the trees have at least a haze of green and there is something new to enjoy every day.  It’s hard not to enjoy such days and I am taking the time to enjoy every bit of the lovely that comes my way.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dogwood Sunday: Week 3

Once a few of the dogwood flowers opened up, the warm week that followed sealed the deal and my tree is now in full and splendid bloom.

It’s a lovely sight when I come downstairs each morning.  Dogwood flowers are abundant and it’s hard to avoid a smile when Spring celebrates like this.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Iced Tea Season has Arrived

I love tea.  In the Fall and Winter, I drink mug after mug of hot tea when I am home.  Come warm weather, I fancy iced tea and I get down my blue spongewear pitcher and then I start making the house wine of my home  I boil the water and steep half a pitcher full with three teabags.  After 15 minutes, I fill the pitcher with ice and then I am in business.  On a hot afternoon, I can drink a whole pitcher by myself.  I’ve had this Overcast pottery pitcher since the early 1990s when I lived in Tennessee; over the years I’ve surely poured thousands of glasses of tea from my pitcher.

That’s happy!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Enchanted April Blooms

In addition to the delicate flowers on the peach tree, there are other blooms to be found in my backyard.  Among the hostas, there are some elegant pink tulips.

The trellised clematis is on its way to something splendid.

The apple and pear trees have flowers in advance of produce.

Spring blooms seem to appear overnight and with each day there is more color to enjoy.  

That's happy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Jersey Peach

In 2013, I planted this peach tree in memory of our Miss Amy.  It’s called a Redhead Peach Tree and as Amy was a red head, it seemed fitting.  She wasn’t a fan of peaches, but she loved all things New Jersey and so she was our Jersey peach.

It’s been 4 years since I planted the tree and as it does each spring, the splendid blooms have begun.  It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 4 years since Amy left this earth.  When I watch JT play a sport, I always think of her.  She never missed a little league game and I’d dearly love to have her company at a wrestling match or cross country race.  She’d cheer our boy on (and surely offer some pointed thoughts about how a bunch of lesbians now have to watch wrestling) and we’d laugh and ponder how fast JT has grown up.

Amy was the sort of friend who said yes to even the most hare-brained scheme, who loved with abandon, and always laughed.  I miss her mightily.  Today, I’ll look at my lovely peach tree and will remember the power of her life and love.  I’ll be grateful for the blessing of having her in my world, even if it was for far-too-short a time.