Wednesday, June 29, 2011

40 Days and 40 Nights...sabbatical reflections

…That social media is not the boogey man
…That "status updates" can matter a lot
…That "status updates" cannot matter at all
…That tweeting ain't my thing
…That somebody somewhere is always listening
…That social media interaction, like everything else, can be overdone
…That politics really is entertainment
…That my generation was different but not better
…That writing on demand is a job
…That red wine can taste good– but I still have class if I prefer white
…That loves makes a home but nurturing makes a sanctuary
…That my grandparents were homesteaders
…That Martin Luther king broke bread with my momma
…How Aragon ended up with the Elves
…How to start a quilt
…That my abstract painting is too abstract to be artistic
…The cool pleasure of clay in my hands

…That time passes quickly
…That I still love basketball
…That I'm still bedazzled by the shining silver screen!
…That I love adventure-not as escape-but as life
…That my thumb's even greener than I thought
…The sweetness of not having to wait in line
…Late night moons
…Dancing til 2 AM
…To wear gloves in the dirt or unpleasant things may result
…That artists express as much as they create

…That the love of friends and family are our most precious gifts
…That I'm tougher than I thought
…That I get to control my stress
…How I want to work
…How I don't want to work
…That inspiration and strategy can encourage community
…That only sweat and patience transform community
…That now is the time to plan for later
…That I'm surrounded by a lot of good folks
That I couldn't recall as much because I was being asked to remember too much
…That water matters
…That the world keeps right on turning…
That good things come to those who wait

Monday, June 20, 2011

Turbulent Tides: Black Folks and Water

Like a monster wave, the realities of water quality and accessibility came rushing my way during my recent visit to Nicaragua. I couldn't avoid it. The lack of safe clean water threatens the health and livelihood of every man, woman and child there and in most "third world" countries: rotting teeth, bending bones, curling stomachs.  Its microbes transmit to food and clothing. In Nicaragua's most populous areas, it stymies economic growth by thwarting what should be viable industries such as fishing, farming and tourism. 
I know that the greater discomfort-and discovery- was mine. Nicaraguans have adapted to the water they have and what they can and can't do and expect.  But it was indeed a "Damascus moment" for me.
The relationship between African Americans and water is truly complicated.  We respect water but we don't "like" it; we know we need it yet we don't conserve it. For many, water is like a long-term partner who we take for granted: available, useful, expected, but not valued.  Don't take my word for it; ask any of us and we'll be able to name one or more of our family and friends who are afraid of water, don't really "like" water or can't swim.
In this blog I am expressing publically on what might be termed as "family "business – in this context, my family of fellow African Americans (black folks). Yet although a targeted message, I share it openly with my other families – of faith, of sisterhood, of love, of kindred spirit.  And I'd love to hear from you all.
As people of the Diaspora, African Americans hail from lands abundant with water -- a fact that would on the surface make this ambivalence unexpected. And while not an academician with research on this phenomena, I have an inkling of some of what may, deep in our psyche and soul, cause this schizophrenia.
African Americans understand that water represents livelihood and sustenance. We were and remain fishermen and women. We are voracious connoisseurs of the sea's fruits. We depend upon water to keep our bodies and lives clean and refreshed. And for the majority of African Americans of the Christian faith, we respect water as an important proxy for sacred rites of baptism and other religious ceremonies.
Yet for our people water has also represented pain and death. It was from across the water that traders came to practice the lucrative business of slaving. It was over water that African Americans were conveyed, bound, starving and brokenhearted, to begin lives in servitude. It was through treacherous waters we waded to escape armed men and angry dogs.  For others we hoisted water from streams and wells constantly, incessantly, to keep crops nourished, mansions spotless, animals satiated, strangers refreshed and meals prepared -- before exhaustingly repeating this cycle for ourselves.  Initially prohibited to swim for fear of escape and then by legalized segregation and institutional racism, it was in water that we lost many of our kin by downing.  The scars are psychological as well; even today many African American women –and some of our men -- fear water's disclosure of their hair's natural beauty because it is a beauty different from that which western society celebrates.   
It's time for an attitude adjustment.  We African Americans don't have to like water, but we do have to deliberately, intelligently start paying attention to it. For ourselves.  For our children. For our future.   .  Water is essential to our lives…to grow food…keep clean…provide power…control fire. Water helps to preserve our environment  and reduce energy ( which helps in reducing pollution and  fuel. Conserving water now means having water available in the future for recreational purposes, and minimizes the effects of water shortages.  Saving water saves money.
We don't have to become rabid environmentalists (less than 5% of donors and volunteers to environmental causes and organizations are African American), but we do have to understand the boundaries and needs of the earth we share and our responsibility to it.  As neighbors, we are called to be as active and deliberate in our conservation and care.
We don't have to jump into the deep end ourselves, but we have to be sure our children know how to swim (it is estimated that some 60% of African American children cannot swim). To relax. To enjoy. To save their lives.  I don't think I was alone when I viewed the images of the poor, African Americans stranded and killed during Katrina in wondering how many of them might have fared better if they were comfortable in water and could swim.
Of course there are many African Americans who appreciate water and other resources; who conserve and recycle and do many good things for the earth. There are many African Americans who love water and swim like fish. But it's way too few. I can swim and love playing in water. But now that I have lived the alternative, I know I must do more. I'm starting small – with how I brush my teeth, bathe, wash my clothes. Baby steps...starting first with my mind and my mouth—how I think and what I proclaim.
Because if more of us could begin to deliberately change our relationship with water – even if through our children -- then we can begin to value and preserve it. And I believe that this appreciation will grow and evolve…and possibly increase our sensibilities to even more of Mother Earth's provisions and needs.  
It's a love and hate affair -- and the hate threatens us all. 


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Revelations of a Reluctant Gardener

Like many, I regard beautiful gardens as works of art. My comfort with the earth was incubated early on: at the age of six, I plowed the dirt to fill 36-ounce Maxwell House cans with worms for my grandparents' fishing forays; at 5¢ per can it kept me well stocked in candy!  When I wasn't terrorizing worms or picking produce from their "backyard" (a 3-acre field) I labored at home, side by side with my mother, and witnessed the earthen beauty that could come from hard work and constant attention.  Although secretly thrilled when friends, neighbors and passersby provided compliments, I groused the whole time, never suspecting that I was being subliminally seduced by nature's captivating ecosystem.  
Truth be told, I've always been a reluctant gardener and, despite my history, have had inconsistent relationships with the soil that I have called my own. There are legitimate reasons for this, including concrete-filled urban settings; hostile, unforgiving soil and demanding jobs and travel schedules.  Yet in the past few years, I increasingly find myself on my knees, up to my elbows, wresting with my terrain to produce flora and more recently food.  And I don't know why!
Let me be honest. I do not find gardening therapeutic. I perspire plenty enough without placing myself in Atlanta's brutal summer heat. I've got a tricky back. I don't particularly like dirt under my nails, and I shiver at bugs and yes, even worms (oh the things we will do for money!).  I'm blessed to be in a region still very green and to have the resources to have visited landscapes near and far.
So I've searched my soul to figure out what now makes me so eager and excited about the hard work, joy and pain, and never-ending expense that gardening entails…what it is that keeps me in the dirt.  
Why do I dig?
·         I dig for the beauty…aesthetic delight for my sense and sensibilities. So much of this world is ugly but I have never been so desolate, so taxed, so removed that the touch or smell or feel of a flower cannot elevate me.
·         I dig for the practice…one seed, one bud, one plant at a time; I love the action of moving through it, coaxing and coaching new life and new possibilities. I even like it when I don't do so well, and must frustratingly clip, move or pull up what isn't working. Its ongoing, its real, its active.
·         I dig for the outcome…the colors, the textures, the smells. As one who does not consistently prioritize the end over the means -- believing there are times that the intent is paramount or that it is in the means that the prize is to be found -- in my yard, I'm going for the gold.
·         I dig to exert myself…for the toil that produces my sweat and tanned skin, strong arms and sore muscles. My professional life is very much a cognitive space of planning, meeting, talking, thinking, and writing. In gardening, I use my brawn and the pain I feel the next day are satisfying, building muscles that I don't use consistently.  Even more, my earthen produce is personal and tangible in a way that my professional product is not.
·         I dig for my mother and my grandmother…that their legacy continue in me. In a life and time very different from theirs, I honor this thread, affirming our kinship as solidly as our shared DNA, features and peculiar ways
·         I dig to learn…about so many things like how the sun moves and water flows; about insects, squirrels and birds; about light and shade.  Knowledge I would never gain if I didn't need to. Trivia that not only enables my produce, but interests me and rounds me and even softens me.
·         I dig to gain nuance…understanding when to be gentle and when to be tough.  Mastering the difference between a pinch, a cut and a prune; between tilling and raking; what's too much and what's too little; when to wait. Subtleties that manifest in my decisions and relationships.
My garden is still very much a work in progress, but at least now I get it.  And maybe the next time I'm in Home Depot with the "real" gardeners -- going into full panic at the overflow in my cart and the commitment I am making -- I won't feel so great a perpetrator after all. Maybe I'll smile, understanding why I do what I do, and confident that I will yield just what I need.

Shrimp Plant--attracts Hummingbirds :-)!!

Veggies-tomatoes, peppers, cumcumbers and strawberries

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is It Something I Said?

During my sabbatical I have been exploring the world of social media, seeking to determine its implications for my life and my work.  Late to the "dock", I realize that the ship has sailed: social media has already inalterably changed the way we think, act and communicate. However, I am equally certain that social media is and will remain an evolving, ambiguous, multifaceted medium, its efficacy and enduring impact on society undetermined for a long time to come.
That is how I imagine it should be. Unheralded, phenomenal, world changing stuff doesn't happen overnight with precision and clarity. Take the sewing machine, one of which I used for the first time in 40 years during my recent quilting class at Atlanta's Callonwalde Fine Arts Center.  When invented, the sewing machine was hailed as a technological innovation of epic proportion and impact, but not for the reasons asserted at the time: quickness, accuracy, and application for mass production. Its greatest impact wasn't realized until much, much later: as the first equipment produced for and marketed to women, it revealed a new cohort of consumers.  Gee, today we even buy cars. 
Yet we have already witnessed the many, many cool things social media can do and there is arising a bevy of consumer, academic, practitioner "experts" who analyze its present and hypothesize its future. I've had dozens of conversations about the topic and last week, in San Francisco-a region known for its entrepreneurial residents and technological inclinations-I had many more.  For this week's post, I decided this week to share some of the more pithy and impactful comments of others in the hope that they inspire and/or intrigue you as they did me.
"The actual process of community organizing has remained the same. However, social media provides platforms that expand access and engagement to help organize- virtual meeting space with the premise that this will expand interest in community issues.  The key question is the goal; more action via the virtual realm or personally? And how does it add up?" James Head, Senior Vice President, San Francisco Foundation
"When determining the most appropriate social media tools, recognize that each has its strengths, which should complement your strengths. However social media is not a substitute for the hard work of relationship building". Albert Ruesga, President, Greater New Orleans Community Foundation
"The more you want to connect, the more you have to share". Megan Swett, Director of Information Technology, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
(Because of social media)…"We now live in an 'everyone is smarter than anyone world'".  Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Editor, Nonprofit Management 101; Former Executive Director, Craigslist Foundation
"You must determine up front how much or little of yourself you are willing to share, because what you do share must be the real you, authentic and unedited ". Donna Wise, Principal, Wise Marketing Strategies
"African Americans have never had a large representation or voice and we continue to lose ground. Social media isn't going to do a thing about that." Renee Hayes, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, San Francisco
"You can blend your work and personal worlds-because those who love you understand."  " Open, transparent and agile is the way for future nonprofits."  Beth Kanter, CEO, Zoetica; Author, Beth's Blog; Co-author, The Networked Nonprofit
""The global Diaspora's discourse occurs wherever the Diaspora lives- therefore we must erase the divide between physical space by creating virtual communities. Museums can be that portal."  Grace C. Stanislaus, Executive Director, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco
"I am already a public figure with little privacy in my life, especially when I most need it. I don't want to add another access point." Nicole Taylor, President, East Bay Community Foundation.
"Social media is (can be) a radical disruption of power."  Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO,– Moderator
"Social media is an opportunity to build offline action with online tools." May Boeve, Director for Partnerships and Policy and Co-founder,
The answer to social media's influence on the future lays in our collective  intelligence, imagination and courage.  I'm just glad to finally be in on the experiment.