Wednesday, October 12, 2011

English, yea I can write it.

I was a good writer. Yesterday. Today I suck. And using "Yesterday" is a sentence fragment. Did you know that? Even if it completely communicates my thoughts, it is not allowed in scholarly writing. Shit. Oops. Of course you know that it is a sentence fragment. The rules I have been using for writing (or not using) were by choice. I thought I knew the rules so then I would know how to break them. But it I don't and the way I write is not good enough for scholarly writing.

I had this vision of revolutionizing the world of scholarly writing. I was going to write the way I spoke. Present complex ideas and theories in an uncomplicated language of the people. The proletariat. But that is not the case with scholarly writing. You will be laughed at by your peers and you will not be taken seriously in well-read circles. Your writing will not be appropriately obtuse (ding ding SAT word!). And who in their right mind from the non-academic community would want to read a paper comparing and contrasting Elizabeth Alexander's poem Absence to August Wilson's play Gem of the Ocean? You would need to be familiar with the poem and the play to get the paper. So, I am finally starting to get why academic, nay, scholarly work is written in such complicated language because non-academic people are not going to read it!

I had a great professor in high school (I refer to her as "Professor" because she had a PhD in Medieval literature from Princeton. She deserved that title even though I called her K.P., in class!), she taught Dante's Divine ComedyHandmaids Tale and The Bible. All in one semester. She made me love Dante. Her incredibly descriptive accounts of what happened in hell made it accesible to all of us with only a sophomore high school English under our belts; even those of us who had attended rigorous elementary and middle schools.(now that was a bad sentence!). I wanted to write the way she spoke. To inspire people to read the Divine Comedy. To be taken in by the stories of lying, sexual misconduct and patricide as well as killing any neighbors who came by your house! Wow! That book would be a best seller. And then I read her book on The Divine Comedy and I fell asleep while reading it. It was her dissertation from Princeton. Dry. I wanted to throw pitchers of water on it. Or better yet just put it in the tub and let water consume it.

How could it be that this vibrant and amazing teacher could write something so boring? It didn't make sense to me. Not until years later when I had to write my college thesis. One member of my committee had also been my English Professor. She taught Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare. I loved the way she taught and as a matter of fact she got her PhD from Princeton the same year K.P. did. They were friends. And my college professor was so incredibly vibrant in class. She described Chaucer with such passion that you wanted to perfect middle English! Then I made a huge mistake. I read her dissertation. Again, nod'sville. How was this possible?! She made me want to run away with Virgil! And to adore Dante. To this day The Divine Comedy is one of my favorite collections of books and The Inferno in the top three of my favorite books. However, this professor who had encouraged me to write the way I spoke told me that I missed summa cum laude on my thesis because I had "dropped the ball" on the use of language. It wasn't scholarly enough. The entire faculty was not going to stand up and then genuflect when I walked in at graduation (which is what they did with summa cum laude graduates. Okay not the genuflect part). And I wasn't going to get a nifty medal. Damn, Damn Damn! How did I know there was a difference in how I spoke and how I wrote?

Then I got it. There is a huge difference between scholarly writing, how one teaches, and how one writes for non-academic audiences. Scholarly writers don't really give a damn if the proletariat can understand their writing. It wasn't written for them. It was written for the academic community. And they expect, nay, demand that the writing be as complicated as possible so it shows how learned you are. I get it. And I also get that that last part wasn't fair to academics.

And now I have to learn how to write like an academic if I want my work to be taken seriously in certain circles. Ahh, am I up to learning those rules now, at my age. Well, it seems I have no choice if I am to be a scholar. There is a silver lining, however, learning to write academically does not mean I cannot also write for the masses. I can do both. Learning the rules of scholarly writing means I can break them in my blogs and other commercial venues. I can use it in my speech when I teach (oh, rhymn that is a no no!). And I can make things vibrant and inspiring for my students. Don't worry I will not bore you with my scholarly writings here. I will save that for another audience.

Be well,

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What did you say?

This post is primarily for those of you who have children. And those of you who do not, go ahead and post a response if you have any thoughts. RANT WARNING! So those of you not in the mood for that kind of thing can just skip this post. I am sure I will be back soon with something else!

Girls. What is it about being a mother and raising a girl that is so difficult? The boys are challenging, yes they are. But they are challenging in a different way. They want to kill each other most days and work that out through jumping on each other and chasing each other around the house wielding toys as potential weapons! This I can handle. This I know how to deal with. But girls.

I have to be honest, I am not the best of mothers when it comes to dealing with my daughter. There is something about the mother/daughter relationship that is different, easy to figure out on the surface but once you dig deeper, so hard to manage and to contain your frustration. I remember having the same beef with my mother. She just didn't understand. She wasn't listening to me. She is mean and quite frankly not in touch with what I am going through. Yea, I was one of those girls. And so I try to remember what my frustrations were as a daughter and use that to interact with my daughter, and you know what: It's not working!

Some of this is probably because this type of interaction is being interpreted by someone young, emotional and confused. We all were. And part of it is that I see in her every little thing that annoys me about myself. A mirror of my shortcomings. And that is an uncomfortable place to be. It hits every nerve in my body and I see myself outside myself acting like a crazy person. Unable to get a hold of my emotions. But the thing that drives me the most crazy is the mouth.

Talking back, mumbling under your breath, telling me - outloud - that I am mean and the ever popular: "Just forget it!" Well I can't just forget it. I was just slandered. I was just told that I didn't say something when I KNOW I did. I was being called a liar. And oh, my potentially calm mother instincts turn into a crazy, screaming banshee. Yes, I do scream. I try not to but it's almost as if I am outside of my body looking down at this out of control person and I am yelling at HER to stop screaming but she is screaming so loudly she can't hear me. It is that disconcerting and upsetting to me.

And I can hear all of you now, "It's not about you, Keisha!" And I know this. I know this. And I cannot get a grip sometimes. Believe me I am better than I used to be. I am better than the post I wrote a year or so ago. But I am not better enough. I have done the deep breathing and the time out for myself. I have counted as high as 100 to regain my composure. And when I am tired and frustrated, I cannot manage to go that place of serenity. To my "Woooo Saaaa" place.

There is no need to placate me or tell me that it is part of being a mother because I get all that. And I really want to do some kind of socialogical study on why it is that mothers and daughters are like this. I mean really understand it. It feels like something we can overcome, that we can break the cycle. Much like when your ancestors were alcoholics and so you decide to not drink. There is an emotional and physical response that maybe we can analyze and end, right? Oh please tell me that there is. And some women have perfectly healthy relationships with their mothers. I have a much better one with my mom now than I ever did and part of that was having my own children and learning how difficult it is to raise little people.

And I love my daughter. I adore her and think she is the coolest kid ever. I think she is talented beyond measure, creative, her own person and compassionate. And I don't like her very much. And when the two of us are in the same room for too long it turns into a battle. Like this morning when I told her she could not wear leggings with a ton of holes in them to school. You would think I was Joan Crawford in "Mommy Dearest!" The crying and the wailing. The talking back - which is really what set me off. So that my constant phrase with her is: "What did you say?"

There is a perceived sense of defiance on her part, a disrespect and an echo of me at 10, 11, 12. It's got to be in the DNA and its got to be rooted out. So, this is my dilemna this morning. And sitting down and writing this post has helped me calm down and think of all of this differently. And in the moment that clarity is so hard to find. And this is the nature of raising girls, some say. But I would like to defy nature.

My latest mantra - On Children ~ Kahlil Gibran
(performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock)
Your children
Are not your children
They are the sons and the daughters of life's longing for itself
They come through you but they are not from you
And though they are with you they belong, not to you.

You can give them your love but not your thoughts
They have their own thoughts
You can house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow, which you cannot visit
Not even in your dreams
You can strive to be like them but you cannot make them just like you...

Be well.