In a Forest

26438595080_69ea7b95f7_o.jpg

There is a woman in my neighborhood living in a forest. The wisteria has wound and twisted around her picket fence.  Tall weeds surround her mailbox. Tulips, irises, azaleas, camellias, ivy, buttercups, clover. They cover and crawl on her grass, through her fence, between edges and cracks, between her thighs, an island forest of weeds and leaves. Last year’s dead and rotting tomato plants marked with stakes as a grave lay under canopies of elderberry, viburnum, and dogwood, left to flower and drop their petals in remembrance of the those who have passed before them.  Black dirt as an oil well pumping life out of her ground. A freedom rising. Then. Bitter, haughty neighbors prune and mulch and weed, treading their city codes and gossip as wild brambles choking nestlings.  Her suburban forest offends their precious lawns, scared of dandelions and onion grass, that bite and swallow perfection. She’s a black forest, tangled and wide, growing and showing a woman rooted in wild freedom from their hateful glances and codes that want to wax, and prune, and tie her to a stake.  Burning bushes speaking misery to their everlasting gloom for a woman who dances naked, burning incense, in her forest under the moon.

Advertisements

City Politics: Thousands of Little Trumps

For those of you who read my blog and aren’t from my city, I’m so sorry to bore you with our local politics. But, if you glean anything from my posts during our election season, let it be to GET INVOLVED in your own local politics. They are so very important. More important than our national politics. It’s what directly affects your daily life and the lives of those around you. Because in all seriousness, there are thousands of Trumps sitting on city councils across our country and they make very important and disastrous decisions for millions of Americans. And that’s not okay. 

Last night I attended a really cool event that was hosted by AltDaily, a local online news source, at O’Connor Brewery. All of the candidates running for city council were there and they each circulated around tables where residents and voters were sitting drinking beer to basically “speed date” us. They got to pitch their ideas and stump speeches and we got to ask them questions and voice our concerns. And did I mention that we all were drinking beer and made new friends in our city? It was awesome. As you can imagine, there were some candidates who were very uncomfortable in this setting. Beer? Constituents? Listening? Poor Barclay Winn.

First, it solidified who I will and definitely who I will NOT be voting for.   Sitting with the candidates and having conversations with them instead of listening to stump speeches helped me to see that 1. not many of them stand out as offering anything different and amazing in my super ward, and 2. some of them are absolutely clueless and balls-to-the-wall unqualified to be on city council.  That’s kind of important to know before I vote and I wish you all could have been there.

The most interesting moment of the evening happened when I approached one of the candidates running for mayor, Andy Protogyrou, and an incumbent council member, Angelia Graves. I had already drank a fantastic beer so I was feeling feisty and ready to talk about gardens and chickens and reasons why so many residents of Norfolk are disillusioned with our council, so maybe they saw me coming from a mile away. When I started talking they gave each other this knowing look, as if they communicated to each other, “Oh lawd, another one of these young people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Lets say some shit and get outta here.” And that just egged on my feistiness. When I told Protogyrou that I hadn’t made up my mind about who I would be voting for mayor, he said, “Do you read the Pilot? Did you read their coverage of the three candidates? Because if you did, then you’d be able to see that I’m the obvious right choice.” Oh, yes, please condescend to me, that will surely win my vote. When I voiced my concern over the money being spent downtown and at the beach and not many places in between, he got snarky about his success at Ward’s Corner, which was fantastically done, and how I wouldn’t have backyard chickens if it wasn’t for him and Graves. Oh how I love being condescended to over beer and speed dating. Please, speak more of your ass-hatery over me. But it really got good when I pointed out that Kenny Alexander has connections to Richmond and DC that entice me to vote for him. Protogyrou raised his voice and said, “That’s such a scare tactic. If Kenny has all of these connections to federal and state money, then why in the hell hasn’t he brought it here yet? Huh? Why in the hell hasn’t he brought it here? Ask him that!” And he and Angelia began to walk away from me.

Well then. That’s certainly a good question, but it lost him my vote. I have done a lot of reading and researching and speaking to the candidates, Kenny being one of them as well, and not once was I so demeaned and condescended to before speaking to Protogyrou. I do think that there is an entitlement and elitism that many of our council members suffer from. And that is not good. Protogyrou and Graves suggested that Alexander only won the state senate because he relied on and pandered to the black vote and didn’t have to work for it, and suggested that that is what he’s doing in Norfolk. I have to tell ya, acting like voters, especially black voters, are not smart is not okay. Angelia Graves depends HEAVILY on the black vote being in super ward 7. Are her constituents not smart for voting her in? I certainly wouldn’t vote for her. And Protogyrou? Well, I do not believe he should be our mayor. I believe that Kenny Alexander has the demeanor, the ideas and outside influence that our city needs. I also believe that this good-old-boy council needs to be broken up. Fresh blood needs to be brought in. I’m not suggesting that Protogyrou and Graves are likened to Trump. I am suggesting, however, that we need to be mindful of city politics and how there are very elitist, entitled, and racist people in power all across our country.

So, with that, let me leave you with my endorsements. I will be voting for Andria McClellan for city council in super ward 6 and Kenny Alexander for Mayor. And if you live in super ward 7, please consider voting for Billy Cook. He was the stand out candidate for city council.  He is running to replace Angela Graves and boy does our council need it.

 

 

a broody hen

26271708780_66af1ba142_o.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

tonight

i saw
me

for the first time

standing
in the grass
bare foot, as
cool air
sank
low
to the
earth

a shining
girl

feeding chicks
peeping
for water
for scratch
for a
mother

tender hands
cradling birds
laying
hens
pulling hay

a small
bird girl a
broody hen
feathers puffed
dust bathing
and singing

i saw
me
for the first time
tonight

 

 

 

An Elder’s Wife

I have a story to tell you about my husband and my church.  Two pieces of my life that I hold very dear to my heart but who often have edges and angles that cross and cut me, as loved ones often do. Sometime last year while we were weeding in our garden or cooking in our kitchen, the Spirit took it upon himself, or herself, or itself, or any other pronoun that language uses to confine God, to nominate Jason as an elder in our church. I don’t think that the Spirit actually filled out the necessary paperwork, but somehow Jason’s name ended up in a divine sorting hat that called him forward as an elder; a hat that magically seems to only call men to these divine offices. We both hemmed and hawed for awhile trying to decide what he should do, but we both concluded that it would be a good opportunity for us to learn some things about our faith. He’d just have to bring home what he was learning and let me pour over it myself since I wasn’t invited to attend the class. I was focused on getting into a doctorate program, anyways. That’s what we were moving towards: my career and education. Spaces that include women in leadership. Well, at least some of the time anyways. After all of my hard work was rejected and I was sent away from the ivory tower, not unlike the Israelite exodus just without the raining bread, Jason stared at me like a deer in the headlights. I guess this meant that he would be taking the test to become an elder in our church after all. Because when you pray for clarity, the Spirit doesn’t play.

With note cards and mnemonic devises, Jason has been studying covenants and catechisms, dates and doctrines, theology and gospel, so that at the end of this week he can take a few tests, be interrogated about his heresy and submit to the authority and beliefs of our denomination in service to the church, gloria patri, forever and ever, amen.

You know, it’s funny. I have this weird reputation in my church for being a liberal feminist, almost like the leader of an underground hideout for women who want to express these inner conflicts inside of them. I have no idea where they got this idea.  It’s not uncommon for a woman to come up to me in church and say, “so I hear that you’re… [their eyes carefully search around] a liberal. A… feminist. That you’d be someone that I can come and talk to.” My eyes furrow in confusion and I look around to make sure that they’re talking to me and not some other liberal christian feminist and I respond with something like, sure?  But now that my husband could be an elder, that would make me an elder’s wife and with it will come all of the signifiers and preconceived notions of what that means. Things that I don’t want and will actively reject. But all of a sudden this reputation that has clung to me makes me feel exposed and very much in a way like Anne Hutchinson, and I don’t want that, either. I reject the idea that the church and the gospel should not cross me, because it very much should. It should and does cross all of us. My beliefs about gender, sexuality, poverty, politics, creativity, culture, etc, are always crossed by the gospel. Always. I’m always scratching my head and questioning myself and the gospel. How can I love Jesus so much, and yet find myself constantly at odds with him and his law? Constantly questioning and attempting to reconcile myself and my beliefs to him and to his church? I have no answers. Not really. I just know that the gospel is supposed to cross us. And if it doesn’t, then we’re not doing it right. And that’s why I get so confused when women come to me at church as if I have some sort of underground railroad towards feminism. The gospel crosses me. The same way it should and does cross those who protect patriarchy and conservatism.

My last blog post, the one where I dropped the F-Bomb right at the very end, made me very self conscious. I thought about how I could be the wife of an elder in my church and how that makes me and my husband and our family look. I know it made several of you uncomfortable, both in the church and in the academy. I very much wanted to go back and change it or delete it. But I didn’t. I’m in a very strange place where I’m trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to be doing and how I’m supposed to be acting since I didn’t get accepted into a doctoral program. It’s like I’ve lost this big part of myself and I don’t know how to act or what to even say. I’m trying to figure out what it means to be an elder’s wife. What it means to not be in academia. What I should do if I’m considering not teaching anymore. And on and on. But, I can’t hide myself and I can’t attach my identity to those around me, be it my husband, my church, or academia. That’s crushing. I guess I just have to keep looking at the Spirit and asking, “why not me?” Why can’t I go to doctoral school? Why can’t I be an elder? Why must I be here and not over there? And hope that the Spirit answers.

 

Dear Professor

25757923980_f0f54dbcaa_o

Winking wild the terrible confusion
of wanting to be something bigger
than I am. I am wonderful. But I am
small. And I am broke. I am paid
poverty wages to teach literature in a
phallic tower that is supposed to make
me feel important enough, worthy enough,
smart enough to stand in front of students
who have no idea that it’s all a ruse.
I was given 2 hours of professional development
2 years ago in the form of a powerpoint slide
that showed me how I maybe might want to
teach a few things to college students who
won’t want to be there and the university
doesn’t care what I teach as long as I stand there.
Or not. I could do it at home in my pajamas
in front of a screen and lure my students to
Maya Angelou as if I’m a sexual predator on
Dateline. It’s all a trick, a game, a lie, a scam
to get you to pay thousands and thousands until you
are in your 60’s while your instructors qualify for
food stamps but barely qualify to teach.
Your degrees are all worth shit not because so many
have them, but because of who has taught them.
And that someone is me. An adjunct. A fake.
A devalued, underpaid, overworked, unqualified,
teacher at a university who pretends she’s more
important than she is but is as important as the university
makes her. And I just might say fuck you and quit.

Norfolk Public School Board Race: I am Supporting Carter Smith

26268050190_b760d9f6b8_o.jpg

It is no secret that Norfolk Public Schools have a bad reputation. When my spouse and I bought our first home in Colonial Place in 2012, it was the first concern on our list: where in the world would we send our children to school? To be fair, most of the schools’ reputation comes from hearsay; from parents and residents who haven’t stepped foot in one of Norfolk’s schools in decades, if ever. But, rumors are powerful.  They are keeping parents from sending their children to Norfolk’s schools and they hurt our city’s economy by deterring new residents from moving here. Our schools need to attract people to our great city, not deter and scare them away. My husband and I heard rumors that ranged from there being gangs at Granby Elementary, to fears of not receiving a good enough of an education, or getting a good teacher, or being in a classroom that’s far too big.  Our imaginations ran wild and we pictured our little children going off to a mini prison and joining a chain gang. Like I said before, rumors are powerful.

After a few bouts of problems at a private pre-k with my oldest son here in Norfolk, we decided that we would at least make an appointment and visit Granby before he started kindergarten. The then Vice Principal, Kathryn M. Verhappen, who is now the school’s principal, spent an entire hour with just me and my spouse giving us a tour of the school. We walked down the cheerful hallways lined with construction paper art and the imaginations of children. She explained their newly earned, and hard fought, accreditation. She explained their demographics, their programs, their PTA, their staffing, their classroom size, their curriculum, and dispelled every rumor that the parents in our neighborhood ever told us. And we were shocked.

We immediately applied for our youngest to attend their pre-k program and enrolled our oldest into their kindergarten. We have been happier there than we ever could have imagined. Our now first grade son is struggling with reading and writing, but to be clear, it has less to do with the school and more to do with the out of control testing culture that has permeated from No Child Left Behind, which is leaving my child behind. But my children are happy at Granby. They love their teachers. They love their friends. They love riding the bus. They aren’t in a gang. They haven’t been beaten up.

However, I very much realize that this is not the case at every school in Norfolk. I realize that there is a huge discrepancy between the funds, resources and attention that various schools in our city receive. I realize that violence is a very real problem and danger at a number of our schools. That is where we must pay attention from where these rumors are coming. I attended the Lafayette-Winona civic league meeting last night to hear the candidates who are running for city council, school board, and mayor. The questions that dominated the meeting were questions of violence and crime in our city and in our schools. It is a very real problem that affects us and our children and what keeps our city from attracting families needed to boost our economy and attend our schools.

It is in the school board race where this issue is the most contentious.  Carter Smith is running against the city council appointed incumbent, Dr. Noelle Gabriel, and questions of safety and administrative transparency mark their opposition. Smith heavily advocates that the school board and administrators need to provide more support to teachers and principals when it comes to discipline and enforcing policy in the schools. He believes that it is the safety of our schools that prevents parents from sending their children to the schools to which they are zoned, which includes Dr. Gabriel who sends her children to Larchmont instead of their zoned Willard. And he is advocating for more transparency and accountability of our administrators who far too often do not support our teachers’ efforts to discipline students and provide adequate professional development.

As a parent who sends her children to Norfolk Public Schools, I am supporting Carter Smith for school board. There are far too many questions that are left unanswered by Dr. Gabrielle in terms of budget and accountability, and from my experience hearing her speak, she seems to be quite a bit out of touch with the concerns of Norfolk parents and residents. A parent questioned her proclaimed success of the Academy of Discovery at Lakewood, the newly renovated school that houses grades 3-8 and fosters a project based pedagogy for its students. It’s innovative. It’s meeting the spectrum of educational needs of its students. And it overwhelmingly points to the disparity of access that far too many students in our district face. When pressed about questions of dividing the haves and have-nots in Lafayette-Winona, with the crumbling Willard Elementary school a stones throw away from Lakewood, Dr. Gabrielle had no concrete and adequate answers, all while seeing the disparity and choosing to not send her children to Willard instead of advocating for it. She actually shifted blame to the previous superintendent and other board members while simultaneously touting  her leadership skills. The answer is clear that her place on the school board has come to an end and she is no longer an effective leader and voice on our school board.

Carter Smith is offering provocative answers to problems with our school system, problems that Dr. Gabrielle last night said are overreaching scare tactics, to keep our schools safe, attract parents and their children to our schools system, demand accountability and transparency from our administrators and advocate for the children and the schools who are often left out from the resources and attention that they rightly deserve. I’m voting for Carter Smith on May 3rd and I hope that you will join me.

 

The one who feeds the plants

26321750401_50267da86c_o

From where I sit on this dark soil surrounded by seeds
and sprouts, I feed the plants.
Hands dirty and tired from weeding and tying
twine around poles for beans to grab and twist up towards
the sky, I sit and I wait. I watch. Burning sun scorching tender leaves
begging for shade where they cannot grow, they cry
to me and I water, unsure why the earth is so cruel. Spinning around
an unforgiving sun that lights a sky of gas and dust all made by
thirsty, burning plants, pulling life out of the earth to grow upwards
away. Take me with you.