Sunday, November 22, 2015

Drown by Junot Diaz

After I finished reading Drown, I was completely overcome with emotions.

I truly believe that literature can be used to teach all of the skills that districts and states wants students to learn, but I also believe that literature can be used to teach empathy. Yes, empathy! And, empathy is what our country seems to need urgently!

This book is a collection of short stories about Dominican immigrants' struggle to acquire the “American Dream." Every short story is told from the perspective of a fictional character, Yunior, who is reflecting on his childhood.

When I first started reading this book, the sex sort of threw me off, but I kept on reading. However, that very last chapter actually made me fall completely in love with this book and have empathy for the struggle of immigrants to try and acquire the American dream, and yea I have been turning the idea of the American dream over and over in my mind lately.

We learn early on that Yunior’s father left his family and moved to the United States. Based on the short stories, it appeared that the father never came back. However, we learn, during the telling of the Dad’s story in the very last chapter, that the Dad did come back when Yunior was nine, and he moved his family to the United States. This last chapter helped me to understand some of the earlier stories and how Yunior and his family ended up in New Jersey. This last chapter also helped me to empathize with some people’s struggles of immigrating to the United States and trying to get a piece of the "American Pie." (Whatever that is?)

Reading this book, I thought a lot about Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. In the blog that I wrote about Catcher in the Rye, I vowed to never subject students to that book, but thank God for change, and I have sort of soften up on my stance.

Like Catcher in the Rye, Drown at first appears to be a bunch of random stories with little to no point. With Catcher, a person has to read the beginning very closely or the reader will realize at the very end that Holden, the main character, is telling the story from a mental institution. The first time that I read the book, I missed that he was in a mental institution, and after I finished it, I felt the need to go back and read it again with that fact in mind. Drown, like Catcher, appears to be just a bunch of random stories, but Diaz completely ties these stories together in the last chapter, and I feel compelled to read this book again with the ending in mind.

This is another one of those coming of age stories that we can add to the other coming of age stories already out there.

I enjoyed this book and will definitely reread it and suggest it to my students, and I am also suggesting it to you, My Dear Readers.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rethinking Shakespeare

I absolutely love to read and will read just about anything, and I mean anything. However, I have never, ever picked up a Shakespearean play and curled up on the couch to read it, EVER! I even invested in season tickets to the Shakespeare theatre one year, and I enjoyed every single play that was part of my season package, but I would never curl up on my couch to read a Shakespeare play, especially if it’s not written in modern day English.

Now, do I love Shakespeare's plays, I absolutely do. I love those universal themes and the fact that many of Shakespeare's quotes are referenced everywhere, and I pick up on them. However, I must admit that I know most of the quotes from seeing the plays, not from reading them.

For years, I loving taught Romeo and Juliet, modern language version of course, and no I have never asked my students to go and read it at home alone, because I know that I would not do it. We would read the play aloud, and I would explain what was going on, ask questions, and we would, together, analyze the many poetic devices that Shakespeare cleverly crafts into his writings. Based on the discussion and assessments, and not a whole bunch of multiple choice test, it was apparent that many of the students really enjoyed this play, got the themes and language, and would playfully quote “What’s in a name?” We would wrap that up and go on to something else.

Now, I bet there are many teachers, especially those teachers who feel like a book ain’t a good book if it wasn’t written by an old, dead White man, who teach Shakespeare's plays year after year, believing with their whole hearts, that rigor involves students reading Shakespeare's plays, on their own, annotating the entire Old English text, taking quizzes, and having very few discussions. I asked my students what happens when they are asked to read those great Shakespearean plays on their own, and many stated that this is when they stop reading and rely heavily on cliff notes to help them to painfully get through Shakespeare and hopefully read a text that is approachable.

I’ve been thinking about the student who may not have parents who can help him/her navigate through those Shakespearean plays and the reluctant reader, and yes many students are reluctant readers, who may miss the opportunity to fall in love with reading because of the fear of Shakespeare and his plays. Could we capture many of the reluctant readers with literature that is wonderfully written, reflect on the world in which we are living in today, teach some of those universal themes that some of us teachers love to teach, and help the students to think critically. And, the bonus is that many of the writers are actually living, and we can talk to them and listen to them talk about their books on YouTube videos.

Now, as for me and my classrooms, I am no longer teaching Shakespeare's plays, and it’s not that I do not value them, because I truly do. But, I want students to love reading as much as I do, I want them to have empathy for other people and cultures, I want to them to critically think about the world in which they live, and I just no longer know if Shakespeare and his plays are relevant for the child whom we teach today.

My people, holler.... I need to hear some other perspectives!

Rethinking Shakespeare!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cyclocross Season 2: Races 4 and 5..... Germantown and Rockburn Races 2015

So, this weekend I competed in two races: Germantown and Rockburn! (Read about Germantown 2014 and Rockburn 2014 by clicking on the links.)

The Germantown race was on Saturday, and it was great to be among fellow cyclocross racers. The atmosphere was fun, and I absolutely loved the course; lots of riding and not a lot of dismounting. The course was challenging as usual, but I felt great. Of course I got winded, but I kept on keeping on. I normally do not race in the forty-five plus field, but today, I decided to embrace my age and that felt good as well.

After the race, the female racers all gathered to talk about the course, hackle each other, and we went to see the results. There were 8 women in my field, and I was number 6. (Super excited that I did my best, and I was not last.)

I left the race feeling good!

The Rockburn race was on Sunday, and it was a tough, fun course: short steep hills, a long climb, dips, riding on the side of hills, and a sandpit which all added up to be a good CX course.

I rode with the forty-five plus women group again and had such a good time on the course. I wasn’t so concerned about if I was first or last; I was more concerned about doing my best and having fun, and I did both.

The race ended, and I could not wait for the results; I need to hurry home to change in order to make it to DC to hear Margo Jefferson talk about her new book Negroland.

Well, I have been checking for the results from the Rockburn race all day today, and they are not posted yet. Yep, I am not worried about where I placed, but I sure do want to know.

I will definitely be doing these two races for years to come....

Find a hobby, and become its slave.

Happy Monday!!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell is such an inspiring book. This book confirms one of the things that I believe with my whole heart: “To be significant, all you have to do is make a difference with others wherever you are, with whatever you have, day by day.”

John is not saying that we need to go out and try to get our names in the papers and all over the news. He is proposing that all we need to do is intentionally help others, and our lives will matter. AND, we don’t have to wait to live an intentional life; we can start living this kind of life right now, today... Just go out and intentionally do something for someone else.

I had the pleasure of recently meeting Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard educated lawyer who has been working relentlessly for people in this country whom we easily just throw away: the imprisoned.

Not sure about you, but until recently, I had never heard of Bryan, but he has been making a huge impact on the lives of people whom many of us may turn our backs on. "Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.” With a law degree from Harvard, he could represent more high profile people and companies. However, when I heard him speak, he told of how he would go into the poorest neighborhoods, and he challenged us to do the same.

Recently, he has been in the spotlight, and that spotlight is not only shining on him, but on the people whom we condemn and throw away everyday. (Living Intentionally is not just about us.) Bryan Stevenson has been intentionally helping the least amongst us, and I am sure his personal gains are tremendous. Now, whether he was on Oprah or not, this man is living an intentional life that matters. (Read about him here.)

In Intentional Living, John proposes some very basic steps that we may follow such as start with where we are, search until you find your why, put other people first, connect with like-minded and like-value people, live with a sense of anticipation, tell your story etc.

This is book is an easy read, and John gives lots of personal experiences that I totally respect. This is definitely one to add to your reading list if you want to add positively to your life!

Now, my reading is all over the place. Every book that I assign to my students, I read them again. So, now I am currently reading Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I have written one blog about Annie John and several about Song of Solomon and will more than likely not write about them again unless I am compelled to do so.

For my school bookclub, I am going to start reading Drown, by Junot Diaz, which is a collection of short stories that gives us a look at the life among immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

And for my bookclub with my sorority sisters, I will be rereading The Red Tent by Roger M. Young.

Pick up one of these books, and Join me!!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cyclocross Season #2: Races #2 and 3...Biketoberfest and Ed Sander's Memorial Races 2015

Before I tell you about my races, I must tell you where I am emotional which will help you to understand my racing state of mind...

Friday, I had a meeting with my mentor and friend, and the moment that I sat down, I went into the ugly cry. You know the kind of cry where you can’t control your breathing. Yep, that kind of cry. He allowed me to cry and talk out all of my emotions and then we got down to business. (I was not sad; I just needed a safe place to cry.)

On Saturday, before my race, I finally got the chance to do a little research on this writer whom one of my dear friends wanted me to check out, Bryan Stevenson. Well, I read all about him and even had time to listen to his TEDTalk. My people, I sat in Wholefoods and uncontrollably cried; this TEDTalk touched me to the core, and I cried and cried just about all the way to my race.

I got to my race, Biketoberfest, and pre-rode the course which was one of the most hilly CX courses that I have ever been on. After one lap of just pre-riding, I was pooped, but I was still going to give this race a try. Why not right? (I was feeling happy and energized.)

There were eight ladies in my category, and we took off when the start bell sounded. I felt great, I was taking the turns, riding with ease the few down hills, and even mastering the climbs. However, I got to one steep climb and jumped off my bike to run it. Let me tell you, running those hills was even more tiring than riding them. But, I really didn’t have a choice since I definitely couldn’t ride them.

After the second lap, I wanted to cry.. I mean my heart was racing uncontrollably and my legs were absolutely, completely done, but I was determined to finish this race. The third and final lap was brutal.... running and riding those hills just wasn’t for the faint at heart.

When I crossed the finish line, I felt like my lungs were on fire and my poor legs. I checked the race results and sure enough I finished, but I was last....

Let me tell you about the self-doubt that I was having.... I texted a friend to tell him that I felt defeated and maybe should stop racing. He asked if I tried my best, and I did. He went on to say “So, why would you stop racing?"(Happy for friends who don’t feed into my emotional craziness.)

Anyway, I went home after the race, got in the bed feeling a little down, but I decided to try racing again the next day.

I had no idea until I got outside that it was raining this morning. Now, many people who race cyclocross have no trouble with rain and many prefer to ride in rain, but not me so much.

On the way to the race, I had another crying spell, not sure what sparked it, but I allowed myself to cry...

I got to the race site early, Ed Sander's Memorial Race, and pre-rode the course in the rain. And, it was muddy with a few steep down hills that would have been rideable if they were not muddy, but in the mud, I would definitely have to run those steep down hills, and you know what, I just didn’t feel like it. I totally skipped those parts on the pre-ride. The rest of the course was fine but scary in a few places. However, after riding that course, I decided that I would not race but would take my butt home, and I did just that, all the while doubting if CX is for me.

However, I got home and the sun came out, and it was nice and warm, and there was no way that I could pass up the opportunity to practice CX skills on a beautiful fall day, and I did just that.

Beautiful fall day in Virginia!

I was riding up hills, down hills, dismounting and remounting over and over again... My happiness level went to the sky!

One of my co-workers has been doing very well in CX this season, and while I was outside, I decided to give him a call to talk about CX. He assured me that steep down hills in the mud and running those hills give him the blues as well, and he reassured me that I needed to keep riding them, and I will get better. I hung up with him and rode my bike with passion.

Now let’s talk about those crying spells.. Nope, I am not sad at all; I just needed to cry! I’ve learned to allow myself to feel whatever I am feeling and to never, ever trust my emotions; they are fickled!!!

Needless to say, I will continue to CX race, I am ready for tomorrow, looking forward to my safe haven, Tuskegee’s homecoming, and I am hoping that my crying spells are over...

What a weekend... Enjoy your week, My People!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Destiny: Step Into Your Purpose by T. D. Jakes

Well, you know that I could go on and on and on about T.D. Jakes' book Instincts: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive, and I feel the same way about Destiny: Step into Your Purpose.

When I first started reading this book, I was thinking that this is common sense, but I continued to read, and this book started to speak to my heart.

T.D. Jakes is proposing that we all have a purpose for being on this earth, and we can or can not follow our instincts and go with our destiny; it’s totally up to us.

“Destiny is much bigger than us.”

T.D. Jakes challenges us to look back on our lives and think about connections that we have made that we were not necessarily looking for; we were prepared, the time was right, and things just seem to miraculous happen. Like when I was not thinking about buying a house, but I met a lender in a bar, and the rest is history. Or, when I finished graduate school and was stressed because I did not have a job and school was about to start, and I met a man at a picnic who led me to my first inner city teaching job. Our destiny is right before us; all we have to do is answer.

However, Jakes goes on to say that the pull to destiny is strong for some people, and we must realize that even though we are being pulled toward destiny, it may not happen quickly, the road may not be easy to get there, and once we get there “nobody told me that the road would be easy,” but we must remember to stay focused.

This books reconfirms that some people won’t understand, and so what. You may think that you are not ready, and God will supply all of your needs. You may be ready to make a move now, but we are on God’s time.

Not sure about you, but when I feel a pull to move in a different direction, I want it to happen right now. But, this book confirms that we must trust the process and trust God and know that out “Destiny is so much bigger than us.”

Jakes ask “Do you have the courage to take the chains off your brain?”

I left this book feeling liberated in knowing that “Destiny is calling me. I am on the cusp of change. More is calling to me. I am not selfish. I am not ungrateful. I am not greedy. There really is more! I can not stay where I am without feeling discontent. No matter where I am in the pursuit of destiny, I am ready, ready ready to elevate my mind to the higher calling of Destiny.” (p.195)

Read this book, and Get Ready!

I am still examining my life and will start to read Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters by John C. Maxwell!

Knowledge is Power!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cyclocross Season #2: DCCX Race #1 (Almost)

So, this was the weekend for the much anticipated DCCX races...

It’s one of my favorite races, because they are held on the beautiful grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in the Nation’s Capital, there are lots of vendors including coffee and beer, and it attracts a huge, friendly crowd, and tons of racers.

I got up early and started doing my affirmations: “Ride my own race!” “Courage is feeling the fear and moving through it.” “I may not be the strongest, certainly not the fastest, but I’ll be d#@$ if I don’t try my best.”

I got to the race early to register and to talk to many of the other racers whom I have not seen since last racing season, like Ashlea. Do you remember me telling you last season about Ashlea who would breastfeed her infant and jump on her bike and race? Well, Ashlea is back this year, the baby is fifteen months old, and Ashlea is kicking butt. I was extremely happy to see Ashlae at the starting line. (Read about Ashlae here.)

This year, this race added a new feature called the flyover. The flyover is this steep ramp that is terrifying just to see. I went to the race site on Friday to try and pre-ride that flyover, but the race promoters were not having that. So, without being able to pre-ride the flyover to assure myself that I could do it, I tried desperately to not focus on the fear, but that flyover.....However, I was determined to not let the fear get the best of me, and I decided to take a deep breath and ride that flyover.

The whistle was blown, and we took off. I felt much stronger and more confident than I felt last year, and I rode my bike. However, when I got to that flyover, there had been a serious accident, and my race was postponed for a little while. Well, after that accident, I was completely not in the racing mood and therefore did not go back to the starting line, BUT I rode that course between every race and had tons of fun.

I felt good about my decision to not start the race again, and I also felt great riding that tough course over and over again just for fun. My favorite cycling photographer, Ben Kristy, even snapped an awesome picture of me as I happily rode that course.

Next week I am going to race both Saturday and Sunday, and I can’t wait!!! I can not even began to tell you the joy that CX adds to my life, and that joy spills over into other parts of my life.

My people, I am strongly encouraging you to find something that is good for your soul and body, that brings you complete joy, that is not dependent upon other people, and do it with your whole heart. As stated by Ray Lewis: “Passion is Free."

Find a hobby and become its slave!!!!

Happy Sunday, My People....

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