Monday, March 29, 2010

Anarchism = Extreme Democracy

On my math education blog* I just thought about calling myself an anarchist, and decided not to mention it. Why? Have I actually put myself in the closet? Well, I'm not sure, but I do know that most folks have no idea what the word means. It's kind of like if you said you were a lesbian in a conventional sort of gathering in the 50's. People would be puzzled and think you were a bit nutso.

In most people's minds, I think it goes like this: anarchist = bomb thrower = terrorist. Maybe I should make a pin, and a bumper sticker, etc, saying: Anarchism = Extreme Democracy.

Here's the definition of anarchism at
1. a doctrine urging the abolition of government or governmental restraint as the indispensable condition for full social and political liberty.
2. the methods or practices of anarchists, as the use of violence to undermine government.
Oh yeah, and anarchy, that means chaos, right? No... Let's look at the roots. an-arch-y. an is a negation. arch is in monarch, which means one ruler. So anarchy is no ruler. Hmm, that does not equal chaos in my mind... 

I think part of the p.r. problem for this idea (anarchy, anarchism, anarchist) is that it's defined in the negative. I think of it now as connected to my paganism. That's my spiritual direction (call it religion if you want, but it's different - there's no One Right Way), and anarchism is my philosophy of social organization (you can't really call it government, can you?). They go together because they're both about equality in some sense, about taking our direction from our inner moral compass.
Why is it a problem for a word to be defined in a negative sense? Well, anarchism is a hard concept for most people to wrap their heads around. The word should give them a picture, or a direction, or something more than 'not this'. Also I've read that, when you're training a dog, you need to use positive commands. If you say "don't jump!" mostly the dog just hears the jump part. Our subconscious works the same way.  If you're trying to change a habit, it's important to phrase your thoughts in the positive. (Instead of telling myself to stop biting my nails, I could try to visualize how great it would be to have good looking fingers.)

So I'll mention extreme democracy on the other blog, and I think that will send the message I'm trying to send better than 'anarchist' would.

*Math Mama Writes, which has had over 17,000 visitors. This blog is climbing over 500.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour

I wish I had known about this before today. It would be great to have a party, unplug everything a few minutes before 8:30, and then talk about the earth, play on the trampoline carefully in the dark, walk around the block together, come home and eat easy finger snacks. I'd like to do this monthly. It would be best to invite people who live close enough to walk. Hmm, maybe there's still time. I'll consult with my son when he wakes up.

Earth Hour only makes sense if it helps us change our lives. Before I took on single parenting, I rode my bike to get places. Each time I do that now, I remember how marvelous it feels to be on the bike, and to really see the neighborhoods I'm passing through. Can I think of some other way to use less energy and enrich my life? During our hour of less energy use today, may we each find one joyful way to simplify.

(My thanks to Professor Susurro for the heads up.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

African American Picture Books for Black History Month

Throughout Black History Month, I was trying to post a book review a day. It didn't quite work out that smoothly, but I reviewed over 30 books for the month. I'd also written a number of reviews before, in A Dozen African American Picture Books, that I've included in this list.

I put this list together when I saw that Professor Susurro had written a post about my series in her blog, Like a Whisper. She mentioned young adult fiction, which I've reviewed in another post, A Dozen Delectable African American Chapter Books. Maybe I can expand that list next year for Black History Month. If I know people are following me, I'll be able to be more diligent.

1. Freedom On the Menu, by Carole Boston Weatherford
2. Pictures for Miss Josie, by Sandra Belton
3. The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom, by Emily Arnold McCully
4. Henry's Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine
5. Big Jabe, by Jerdine Nelson
6a. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson
6b. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold
6c. Under the Quilt of Night, by Deborah Hopkinson
6d. Show Way, by Jacqueline Woodson
6e. The Patchwork Quilt, by Valerie Flourney
7a.  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
7b. Bigmama's, by Donald Crews
8. Corduroy, by Don Freeman
9. Whistle for Willie, by Ezra Jack Keats
10. Joy, by Joyce Carol Thomas
11. Goodnight, Baby, by Cheryl Hudson
12. Baby Dance, by Ann Taylor
13. Billie and Belle, by Sarah Garland
14. Do Like Kyla, by Angela Johnson
15. Yo, Jo! by Rachel Isadora
16. Christopher Changes His Name, by Itah Sadu
17. Lily Brown's Paintings, by Angela Johnson
18. Regina's Big Mistake, Marissa Moss
19. The Car Washing Street, by Denise Lewis Patrick
20. Earth Mother, by Ellen Jackson
21. Coming On Home Soon, by Jacqueline Woodson
22. John Henry, by Julius Lester
23. A Million Fish ... More or Less, by Patricia McKissack
24. Flossie and the Fox, by Patricia McKissack
25. Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer
26. Z's Gift, by Neal Starkman
27. To Hell With Dying, by Alice Walker
28. From Miss Ida's Porch, by Sandra Belton
29. Ben's Trumpet, by Rachel Isadora
30a. Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman
30b. Boundless Grace, by Mary Hoffman
31. Nappy Hair, by Carolivia Herron
32. Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting

Here's one more bonus book. It's set in Africa, so I don't think of it as African American. When I get around to posting my list of books from diverse cultures, it will be in that list. Where Are You Going, Manyoni? by Catherine Stock, is a delightful story of a very long walk to school. The story is told mostly through the watercolor pictures of Manyoni's long walk through the African veld, near the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My son and the telephone

My son, who's 7 now, mostly will not talk on the phone. I think he's actually talked to someone on the phone about 5 times in his life. He just called me from school to ask if his friend could come over for a playdate.

This post is mainly for myself, so I'll have a record of this milestone.  :^)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dont' Forget Haiti

Mud Mothers
the children of haiti
are not mythological
we are starving
or eating salty cakes
made of clay
because in 1804 we felled
our former slave captors
the graceless losers sunk
vindictive yellow
teeth into our forests
what was green is now
dust & everyone knows
trees unleash oxygen
(another humble word
for life)
they took off
with our torn branches
beheaded our future
stuck our breath up on pikes
for all the world to see
we are a living dead example
of what happens to warriors who―
in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries―
dare to fight
for their own lives
during carnival
we could care less
about our bloated empty bellies
where there are voices
we are dancing
where there is vodou
we are horses
where there are drums
we are possessed
with joy & stubborn jamboree
but when the makeshift
trumpet player
runs out of rhythmic breath
the only sound left is guts
& we sigh
to remember
that food
& freedom
are not free
is haiti really free
if our babies die starving?
if we cannot write our names
read our rights keep
our leaders in their seats?
can we be free
really? if our mothers are mud? if dead
columbus keeps cursing us
& nothing changes
when we curse back
we are a proud resilient people
though we return to dust daily
salt gray clay with hot black tears
savor snot cakes
over suicide
we are hungry
creative people
sip bits of laughter
when we are thirsty
dance despite
this asthma
called debt
legendarily liberated
- Lenelle Moïse
Lenelle Moïse hailed “a masterful performer” by, is an award-winning “culturally hyphenated pomosexual” poet, playwright and performance artist. She creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts about Haitian-American identity and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, spirituality and resistance. In addition to featured performances in venues as diverse as the Louisiana Superdome, the United Nations General Assembly Hall and a number of theatres, bookstores, cafes and activist conferences, Lenelle regularly performs her acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show WOMB-WORDS, THIRSTING at colleges across the United States.
Moïse will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13, 2010, in Washington, DC. The festival will present readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, activism – four days of creative transformation as we imagine a way forward, hone our community and activist skills, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. For more information:
Please feel free to forward Split This Rock Poem-of-the-Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this email, including this request. Thanks!
This poem is reprinted from Split This Rock’s blog–where you can find other great poems and poetry news <>

Copied from Like a Whisper. Pass it forward.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BHM Wrap-up: 8 More Books

Well, I lost steam. I have no idea if anyone is reading these, so the daily thing didn't work. But I do want to finish up. Here are 8 more picture books we love, with Black main characters. And that makes one for each day of the month.

In Coming On Home Soon, by Jacqueline Woodson, Ada Ruth's mama is going away to Chicago to find work, "They're hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war." After Mama leaves, Grandma holds Ada Ruth when she cries. While they wait for Mama to come on home, a kitten comes around. Grandma says, "You know we can't keep it." But they do. Grandma and Ada Ruth make it through a rough winter, and eventually Mama does come on home.

We have two different books about John Henry. The one we like best is by Julius Lester, with pictures by Jerry Pinkney. In a wonderful introduction, we're told that John Henry may, or may not, have been a real person. The legends around him grew and grew, and in this story, he grows as big as a man within a few days of being born. Soon he goes to work building the railroad. One day John Henry and a steam drill have a contest... (If you don't know the song, google it.)

Want another tall tale? Patricia McKissack's, A Million Fish ... More or Less, about the weird things that happen in the Bayou Clapateaux, is one of our favorites. Papa-Daddy and Elder Abbajon come rowing by while Hugh Thomas is trying to catch some fish, and remind him of some of their adventures in the bayou. After they leave, he catches a million fish (more or less), and then has his own strange encounters with the creatures of the bayou.

In Flossie and the Fox, also by Patricia McKissack, Big Mama asks Flossie to take some eggs over to Miz Viola at the McCutchin place, but tells her to watch out for the fox. Flossie does as she's told, and when the fox comes round, she outsmarts him somethin' fierce!

Liza Lou is good at outsmarting trouble too, in Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp, by Mercer Mayer. She outsmarts a haunt (with a confederate cap on), a witch, a gobblygook, and a devil, all while running errands for her mama.

Two years ago, my son had to deal with someone he loves dying, so we started reading lots of books about death. One of them, Z's Gift, by Neal Starkman, is about a boy who helps his mom and classmates realize that their teacher who has AIDS is not contagious. He makes her passing a little easier, and she offers him a gift after she's gone.

Alice Walker has written the most amazing children's book, To Hell With Dying, a true story about her childhood neighbor, Mr. Sweet. Over and over, he'd be at death's door, and Alice's father would say, "To hell with dying. These children want Mr. Sweet!" And she and her brothers and sisters
... would come crowding around the bed and throw themselves on the covers, and whoever was the smallest at the time would kiss him all over his wrinkled brown face and begin to tickle him so that he would laugh all down in his stomach...
 Although Mr. Sweet was alcoholic, he was a good playmate, and they were determined to bring him back.
It did not occur to us that we were doing anything special; we had not learned that death was final when it did come.
While Alice was in college, she got a telegram asking her to hurry home, Mr. Sweet was dying. She made it in time, but this time there was no bringing him back. He was really gone. Such a tender story! And such an affirmation that "I did not need to be perfect to be loved. No one does." Mmm...

I started out the month with a civil rights book, and I'll end it that way, too. In From Miss Ida's Porch, Sandra Belton offers a fantastic introduction to the issues, and a warm affirmation of community.
There's a very best time of day on Church Street. My street. It begins when the sky and my feelings match, both kind of rosy around the edges.
Most of the best times ... just about all of us end up at Miss Ida's. Sitting on her porch. ... the biggest reason we all end up there is that Miss Ida's porch is a telling place.
The kids don't believe it's possible that Lena Horne stayed at Miz Jackson's place. The adults tell them why famous people did stay at their houses. Mr. Fisher says:
Nowhere else for them to stay! Couldn't stay in hotels. Hotels didn't allow no black guests! Famous or not. When our folk came to town to give a speech, put on a show, or whatever they came to do, we had to be the ones to give 'em a bed.
Then he gets to tell his story about the time Duke Ellington stayed at the boarding house he lived at. Shoo Kate follows with her story of the time she got to see Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, because Anderson's concert at Constitution Hall had been canceled - the hall owners would not allow a black performer to sing there. Lots more stories in the book, told in just the right way.

Happy reading!