Monday, July 6, 2015

Literary Scholars and Historians!

Dr. Graham Hodges: our passionate leader

“I have always said fiction writers have a lot of ground to cover if we want to catch up with the scholars.”      Dolen Perkins-Valdez author of Wench and Balm.

So, we had a first session today to discuss abolitionism and The Underground Railroad. It was a very interactive lecture led by our fearless, passionate leader, Dr. Graham Hodges.

We discussed the idea of The Underground Railroad being non-governmental help for slaves; how Harriet Tubman risked her own life, by crossing the Mason-Dixon line, to help people to get to freedom; how The Underground Movement was the first integrated Civil Rights Movement; how The Underground Railroad does not have to viewed as a political event but can viewed as a movement etc.

For almost every topic that Dr. Hodges mentioned, I could think of a novel that matched the scenario. When Dr. Hodges mentioned abolitionist being viewed as fanatical, I thought of The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. When he talked about maroon groups, groups who isolated themselves and were self-governed, I thought of “The Seven Days” from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. When he spoke of the life of slaves after the end of The Civil War, I thought of Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. 

I have great confidence in most fiction writers especially when it comes to historical fiction, and many times I will do my own research to verify many of the things that I read in novels. However, sitting in this room with mostly historians, I started to wonder if there is a place in the history conversation for literary scholars. 

I held back from interjecting literary examples to support or dispute the lecture. However, even though my examples are fictional and loosely based on history, I thought about the idea of using novels to give students examples of historical events. I know that historians tend to love hard, cold facts, and literary scholars tend to love flowery truth. However, I don’t see why the two ideas can not merge in order to enhance the teaching of history and literature. 

After the lecture, I asked many of the historians if they thought that there was a place in the historical conversation for literature and many thought that there were. Many of the historians even commented on the fact that they also thought of movies or novels that they have read as Dr. Graham was giving his lecture. 

So, I posed the question to Dr. Hodges, and I used the example of James McBride making John Brown appear fanatical in the wonderfully written The Good Lord Bird. Dr Hodges chuckled and stated that he like that book, and he also believes that there is a place for literary discussions among historians.

Hearing this from Dr. Hodges gave me a little comfort in the belief that I can interject literature in the discussion, but I am not sure that I will actually do it. I know that literature and history compliment each other in schools, but I am still not convinced that the interjection is appropriate in highly scholarly conversations like the ones that we are having during this seminar.

I may try a little interjection, or I may not...

My People, Weigh In!

Happy Monday.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Home for Three Weeks.....

Ralph Bunche House: My Home for three weeks!

I made it to Hamilton, NY, and I am staying in the Ralph Bunche house....

For those who do not know, Ralph Bunche was an U.S. diplomat, a key member of the United Nations for more than two decades, and the first African American winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1950 for his successful negotiation of an Arab-Israeli truce in Palestine the previous year.

Ralph Bunche (1903-1971)

Abolitionism, The Underground Railroad, The Ralph Bunche House, other teachers, a professor, summer, no responsibilities.... PERFECTION!!!

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Dolen and Me!

Dolen Perkins-Valdez can sho’ nuff tell a story.....

I read her debut novel Wench, and just let me tell you, I can talk about Wench all day long. Every time that I am with people and books come up, I have to mention Wench. 

So, I met Dolen a few weeks back, and of course I had to tell her about my love for Wench. I hope that Dolen did not think I was completely crazy, because first of all, I could not believe that I was actually talking to her, and I had to try to contain my joy. Then, I couldn’t stop myself from talking about her and her book and this literary movement that she and some other women of color are spearheading.

These women of color are writing about love and Black folks with such care and dignity and it is causing much excitement much like the excitement that Zora Neale Hurston must have caused when she wrote about that passionate, respectful, feel-good love between Janie and Teacake in Their Eyes Were Watching God.... strong female characters who love and are loved back.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that Balm, Til the Well Runs Dry, Land of Love Drowning, or Their Eyes Were Watching God or any of those other novels written by women of color are just about love. Yes, they are love stories, and soooo much more.

Balm is set right after The Civil War, and we meet Madge who has magically hands, Sadie who can speak to the dead, and Hemp who is an ex-slave who is frantically searching for his wife.

With this novel, one of the themes that Dolen deals with is the theme of “letting go of that shit that’s holding you back,” as stated by Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon. All three characters had to deal with their past in order to fly. And, once they made peace with the past, everything was all right...

However, the love part of this story really spoke to my heart. I won’t share much about that part, but know that when I got to the end of part one, I started crying uncontrollable while I was sitting in Whole Foods... Yep, I cried, and cried, and cried!

And my emotional outbreaks leads me to talk about Dolen’s writing style.....

Dolen uses well crafted storytelling in order to tell every major and a few minor characters' stories. I felt like I knew these characters, and when one character used her entire body to take away another character’s pain, this evoked emotions that I did not know I had, and I cried, and cried, and cried. I could feel his pain, and I could feel the other character’s desire to help him with the one thing that she  knew that he needed, her body.

Near the end of the novel Dolen states “The sisters had preached self-reliance, but the real thing was community.” This theme also resonated through the entire novel, and Dolen cleverly drove home the point that people need other people. I just loved the sense of community that’s all over this book.

My people, I LOVED EVERY WORD OF THIS NOVEL, and you MUST read it soon......

This is a sho’ nuff good one!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Six Days of Workouts...

Today, I completed my last workout with Berhane, The Greatest Trainer in the World, for a month....

I have been working out with The Greatest Trainer in the World, Berhane, for over four years, and I  have never gone an entire month without working out with Berhane. Yes, I have gone on vacations and so has he, but I have never not worked out with him for four straight weeks in the past four years, and I am a little nervous about this.

I know that my diet helps me to stay slim, and that exercise basically keeps me fit and tone. However, knowing this, I am still concerned about what will happen to my body if I do not lift weights for an entire month. Of course, I am taking my bike and will continue to do cardio, but I know that lifting weights is just as important as doing cardio when it comes to keeping my weight down and my body healthy.

So, I asked Berhane if I run the risk of losing muscle if I do not do weights for a month, and he assured me that I would not, but he stated that I would definitely be weaker if I do not do weights.

Now, not sure about you, but I love being strong. I also love the energy boost that I get from lifting, and I love that after I am done with lifting, my body continues to 'burn baby burn.’

Now Berhane believes that his clients should always be thinking about their health, and yesterday he sent me six days of workouts that I should do while I am away.. Yes, six days of workouts.

At first, I thought, this guy is crazy... I am concerned about my exercise routine, but I was just going to monitor my weight through my diet, ride my bike, and focus on regaining the strength that I may lose when I returned home.

But, Oh no.... Berhane sent these workouts, and if you know me at all, I am going to do as many of these workouts as my schedule will allow.

My People, My trainer is the best trainer in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD, but six days of workouts while I’m away REALLY?

I guess I can cast my health concerns away, and do those damn workouts!

As I was leaving my workout today, Berhane seriously stated: “Do those workouts while you are away; I don’t want you to come back out of shape and overweight.”

I just have to love this guy!

Consider surrounding yourself with people who always expect the best of you and from you...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones. Here is the article that accompanies the above picture.

I am teaching a nine day, three hour class where I am basically teaching students learning strategies to be successful in advanced classes.

One of the main strategies that I am teaching is critical thinking, and I am using literature to do that. Over the past eight days we have analyzed poems and short shorties to practice this very important skill.

One of my favorite short stories that I love to use to teach critical thinking skills is "The First Day" by Edward T. Jones.

Jones is a DC native, who is "The New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton.” (

His short story "The First Day" is about a little girl, who lives in DC, and she is getting ready for her very first day of school. Her mother goes out of her way to make sure that the first day of school is special, and we eventually learn that she wants her daughter to have a better life than she had. We also learn that the little girl eventually “learns to be ashamed of her mother” when she finds out on her very first day of school that her mother can not read. The story is beautifully written, and Jones, with great care, gives an avenue to discuss things such as social class, parents love for their children, devotion, etc.

I did a quick search on Edward P. Jones, and quite a few articles came up. I read quite a few of them, but the one that struck me the most was this very telling article from the Washington Post that I just can not stop thinking about. Read it here. 

When I first read the article, I felt quite sad. Here is this accomplished writer who has earned millions for his gift, and he has "no bed (he sleeps on a pallet), no bookshelves, no couch, nor much to sit on other than a kitchen chair. He does not have a car, a driver's license or any mechanized means of transport, not even a bicycle. He has no cellphone, no DVD player, and his Internet connection is sporadic. Though he loves movies and trash daytime television -- in particular, those judge shows -- he has only a 10-year-old, 13-inch TV and has never had cable. He has never been to a sporting event. He has no deep romantic attachments. He says his closest friend has been Lil Coyne, an elderly woman who for 20 years lived down the hall from him in an apartment building in Alexandria. She died this summer at age 90." 

I have thought about how many of us are shaped by our childhood experiences, and for many of us those childhood experiences continue to creep into our lives. It appears that Jones had a tumultuous childhood. His family moved around eighteen times in eighteen years, and he sort of blocked himself from meaningful relationships, maybe because in his own words "when you move 18 times in 18 years, you learn that the world is forever shifting; you can't be certain of anything... But once you leave your apartment, once you leave your home, then you can't predict anything. It's not your world; you can't control it."

However, I thought, what if Jones would tell himself another story, could his life be different?

What if he told himself that yes, we moved around eighteen times in eighteen years, and my illiterate mother did the best that she could, but I have made millions, and I deserve to sleep in a bed, and I can create stability for myself? What if he told himself that yes, the world is not predictable, and I can not control it, and I will give up trying to control it, and just enjoy it?

What if he told himself that all people are not bad, and God uses people to help us? Or what if he heard, like I heard and believed when Reverend T.D. Jakes stated that “it is impossible to be fruitful alone?” What if he told himself that I have no friends from childhood, but I can establish great relationships with people who will love me and care for me deeply? What if he told himself that I can create a different life than the one that was handed to me?

According to the article, Jones was invited to "Jamaica to discuss his books, and he was told the event would be at a hillside resort. I don't know that I like cliffs," he explained to me, without irony, "and I thought if I was up there, I might just get blown off the side."

Now, he assumed that he does not like cliffs, but he really did not know. What if he actually traveled to Jamaica to give those cliffs a try, and he actually enhanced his life by falling madly in love with cliffs? Or maybe he would hate those cliffs, but at least he could say that I tried them, and I hated them. Also, he thought that maybe he “would be blown off the side.” I wonder what made him think that something so tragic would happen to him?

I wonder if he is allowing FEAR to control him??

So, I guess I am thinking a lot about the stories that we tell ourselves, and if we told ourselves different stories, could we live different lives...

Life is unpredictable, and I guess that we can see unpredictability as scary or exciting, and I guess the way that we view unpredictability could determine how we live our lives....

Edward B. Jones is a very intriguing man to say the least and has given me much to think about!

Here is my review of Edward P. Jones’ All Aunt Hagar’s Children.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cycling Update!

Cycling Buddies

This road racing season I have done a mere four races, and I was not pleased with my results at all. I absolutely love racing, but I was not sure what I needed to do to “get in the game.”

I’ve pondered over and over getting a cycling coach, and I talked to several other female racers who have coaches, and I narrowed my search down to one coach who came highly recommended.

I reached out to him, I got a good feeling about him, we talked about pricing, and the rest is history. I have been working with this coach for about two months, and I absolutely love being coached.

Now, most of the coaching is done virtually. Yep, virtually! (Don’t you just love technology??) 

The coach signed me up for a site called Training Peaks. He puts the workouts in training peaks, I go and do the workouts, he analyze the data, and gives me more workouts. I normally do six days a week of cycling workouts, and I get them done by any means necessary. If it’s raining lightly, I go outside and do my workouts. If it is raining heavily, I put my bike on my indoor trainer and do my workouts.

What I love about being coached is the structure and routine. Yes, I am a structure, routine person. I know what I am going to do each time that I get on my bike, and I go out and do the workouts with a glad heart. Yes, most are intense and hard, and sometimes I even feel like I want to throw up. However, I never complain, because I remember going out to ride and feeing frustrated about not knowing what to do to get to the next level. But now, I have a plan, and I work it.

Greatness is not accidental!

Now, the coach is not making me do these workouts. Nope, he’s not. I am intrinsically motivated to do them, because I want to become a stronger, faster, more efficient rider, and I need to trust the training or stop being coached.

Work gets me to the next level, and I enjoy doing it!

My people, I want to enjoy cycling and racing. When I show up for a ride and racing I want to ride efficiently and to the top of my potential, because that makes me feel strong, and when I feel strong the joy that I feel is indescribable.

On many days I see my personal trainer and ride my bike on the same day. I have also been reading daily, teaching a three hour class, enjoying outdoor concerts, hanging out with friends, going to the pool, going to public forums, writing blogs, and thoroughly enjoying this life that I Thank God for Daily.

Being coached has enhanced my life in more ways than I could have ever imaged, and I grateful to God for this journey...

Cycling is well with my soul.

If you see me on the road, eat my dust! (I had to laugh at this myself!)

Find a hobby and Become Its Slave......

Happy Saturday, My People!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Border War by Stanley Harrold

Reading about the extent that people went through in order to maintain slavery, and reading about the lengths that people went through to end slavery was both disturbing and liberating. It was disturbing that many people did not see humans who were turned into slaves as human and wanted to use them to economically prosper the country and liberating because it is good to know that there was so much fuss about humans who were turned into slaves.

"Harrold defines the border as nineteenth-century contemporaries did, encompassing Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in what he calls the “Border South,” and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa in what he terms the “Lower North” (p. xi). He describes the borderland more generally as a site where “contrasting economic, political, and cultural forces compete, interact, and clash. They are most volatile when residents on each side of the border may easily pass to the other” (p. 2). Contrary to Michael Holt’s assertion that controversies over the peculiar institution had not led to violence, this book focuses on the violent clashes that occurred in this region. The border struggle may not have reached the proportion of full-scale, organized warfare, but it was a protracted quarrel arising from the tension between free and slave societies existing in close quarters.” (

I absolutely love John Brown, and after I read James McBride's historically fiction novel The Good Lord Bird I fell more in love with John Brown. It was surprising to read in Border War that John Brown and his raid at Harper's Ferry escalated already heighten tension over slavery and basically put the fire under the movement toward the beginning of The Civil War. And, at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861 The Civil War began... HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!

This is a book that reads more like a textbook, and it took quite awhile to get through it. Not that it was not a good read, but it was dense with information, and my brain was forced to actively engage the entire time.

In the times that we are living in with much ado about the Confederate flag, it may be helpful to read books like Border War to understand the history of the Confederate flag and be able to put it in its proper context.

The more that I read about what led up to The Civil War, the more excited I get, and I CAN’T WAIT to spend three weeks discussing, learning, and exploring Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad... with other teachers and the great Dr. Graham Hodges.

Tonight, I am going to start reading Heart Beating for Liberty: Women Abolitionist in the Old Northwest by Stacey M. Robertson.

Happy Summer, My People!
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