Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Word of Explanation

I want to be honest with you.

This is not usually the place to look for honesty. In my head I call this my “entertainment blog.” I write here to amuse myself and to help your days pass a little more brightly, and I tend to steer pretty clear of my own pathos. But . . .

Remember all those New Year’s resolutions? All those vows to get healthy and become a better person?

We’re now 100 days out from my thirtieth birthday, and I haven’t been slacking. The weight is slowly coming off - 23 pounds so far - and with this year’s theme of “no regrets,” I am steadily tracking down people from the past and doing my best to make amends.

Still, you may remember that I had some work to do on my own character.

The post you’ll find below is the result of my beginning that work. As I examined why I have become so unkind and obstinate, I acknowledged that I have several facets, some of which are on display nearly all the time and some that are crushed nearly to obliteration. It’s those ignored parts, the gentle and the passionate ones, that I would like to rekindle.

So that I could reconnect with each of my voices, the following piece was written from four perspectives, each one a part of my person. It follows my life from childhood up to today; for my “cicada readers” who I only get in touch with once every seven years, it may help you to have some background:

Briefly, after college I worked for an agency for children with autism. I loved the kids but the workers were badly treated. After I found my friend crying because another snafu had left her without a paycheck, I called a labor union and began a campaign to organize my workplace. In the course of organizing, I grew close to and fell in love with another teacher at the school, my husband T-Bone. We won the campaign, went to work for the labor union, got married, decided organizing wasn’t for us, I went to massage school, he worked his heart out and got fired anyway, and now here we are.

You guys, this was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. I don’t know if it’s “good” writing. And it may be pretty f---ing scary. But it’s true, and rank exhibitionist that I am, for better or for worse, whether you “get” it or hate it or are just left scratching your head, I am sharing it with you.

Lithopedion Sing-Song: Nursery Rhymes for a Stone Baby

Mother Goose
"Wednesday's child is full of woe"

Far back on the top shelf of my childhood closet, buried under rolled-up sweaters and bags of shoelaces, lay a dusty blue cardboard box. It sat there for years on end, barely ever moved or acknowledged. I knew never to touch the box, but occasionally my mother would reach in, lower it down, and lift off the lid. We would peel back the layers of tissue paper and there, nestled in her billowy veils, was a doll.

She was a Madame Alexander Sleeping Beauty doll. She had long blond hair that curled at the ends, open-and-close eyes, and a beautiful gown made of lace and blue satin. Her face was round and cherubic like a child's and her body too was straight and unformed. I sometimes wished to lift her out and make her eyes wink and flash, but we never touched her. She simply lay there, year after year, her real eyelashes sealing the lids shut.

I thought of her only rarely, when I pulled down a blanket or reached for a pair of shoes. Truth is, I never cared much for dolls. I loved stuffed animals. I kept a huge pile of them, every animal imaginable, jumbled precariously in the corner of my bedroom. I made up stories for each one and I was sure to circulate them through the pile regularly so that each had equal time at the top. None of them should have their feelings hurt, I decided, from spending too much time pent up in darkness.

It was during the stuffed animal years that I had my first experiences with passionate friendship. Passionate friendships are remarkable relationships that grow when two people come to hold each other in such high regard, and learn to trust each other so deeply, that they open up whole previously unshared vistas of their personhood. In many cases the two share a level of maturity and self-awareness that serve to strengthen their bond. Just as frequently, one friend may find his or her skills or innate abilities outstrip the other's, yet the two are drawn toward the same goal. They may both strive to become more competent, reliable, brave, or compassionate, and their shared focus unites them just as concretely as two friends on equal footing.

Passionate friendships between two people who are not equally adept carry their risks, however. One friend may find herself drawn to the role of counselor while the other claims his place as learner. The more skilled friend, though refreshed by her companion's enthusiasm and appreciative of her friend's promise, may find herself elevated to a level of idolatry that she is ill-equipped to handle. The learner may develop such a reverence for the counselor that the counselor's words, expressions, and even mere presence take on a disproportionate weight. She is hard-pressed to honor the responsibility when the learner delivers up total control over his self-image and peace of mind to the counselor, relying on her observations and favor to inform his sense of worth.

However, my early forays into such deep connection contained nothing so dire. My friends and I imagined; we collected acorns on the playground and created Germinatia, a civilization of acorns bent on defeating the evil Squirrellians. We named the flowers and encouraged them to grow; when they faded and turned to seed, we thanked them and held funerals. Sometimes we would stop and look at each other, realizing that an entire hour had passed while we ran in circles around a tree. It hadn't seemed like a tree at the time; at first it was a mighty tyrant, then an ice queen, then the king of the mouse army come to protect us. Only we seemed to see the spirits that imbued everything around us, but if we were ridiculed or avoided for our flights of fancy, we never noticed.

But soon the pleasures of the playground had dimmed. Recess was a thing of the past, replaced with homeroom, and our entertainments changed too. For the first time I found myself fulfilling each of the three roles of the passionate friend. With younger children I was still the captain of imaginary exploits, telling stories, singing songs, and leading them through freshly created worlds. I kept my babysitting charges up way past their bedtimes, directing slave escapes and fairy dances and Viking raids throughout the house, only to dash them into bed once we heard their parents return.

I had a few friends my own age. They were and are extraordinary people, with hungry minds, gifted in all sorts of ways I could barely comprehend: an artist, a spiritual leader, a keen observer, a quick-witted humorist. Each one whetted the mind and excited the spirit. The hours we spent challenging each other's capacity to dream, wonder, or amuse are precious memories.

I loved my friends. But equally powerful was the esteem of older people.

I was never a favorite with adults. As a baby I was too serious. "Why does she never smile?" people asked after my mother's simpering and happy babble failed to elicit my own toothless grin. The little girl watching silently in the corner was best avoided; better to swoop and whirl and find some joy with these giddy laughing children.

Occasionally a soft-hearted soul would join me. "Don't be shy," she would prod. "It's okay to join the fun."

They were kind but they misunderstood.

I wasn't shy.

I was watching.

But if like me you prefer to receive confidence rather than share it, if you like to watch faces and hear others' stories without feeling compelled to drown them out with your own voice, if you are simply quiet and not shy, then you found as I did that your singular restraint made others uncomfortable.

If, however, like me you were blessed at every stage of your youth with one special guide, if you found at every crossroads a single guardian by whom you were especially shepherded, then you know what a peculiarly brilliant ray of sunshine the favor of one person can become.

So I entered young adulthood happy and fulfilled. I wondered at times if I would ever have the courage to accomplish all I wanted to achieve. I wondered what grand adventures were in store for me. But I knew great things awaited. I was whole.

Change came, however, and came abruptly.

Very quickly, several of my friends were struck with serious blows. Their difficulties would have been disturbing alone, but each one seemed to spring from their friendship with me. They faltered. They lost the regard of their friends and neighbors. They suffered, and their suffering wounded me.

I felt I had misguided them. I should have been more disciplined, not so free. I should not have opened my nether self to so many eyes.

I resolved to banish the nether self, the part of me that I kept hidden from all but a few. With its enchantments and spinning, singing barefoot in the woods, it pulled animals from the trees and onward into captivity, even death. The dreamer, the innocent, the prophetess. I saw a contagion spreading.

"Jack and Jill went up the hill
to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown
and Jill came tumbling after."

So I killed it.

Forget Mother Goose - she's full of shit. So hoity-toity. Say what you mean, I tell her. Not all this precious flowery bullcrap, acorns and mouse kings.

Oh, stop staring. I didn't really kill anyone. Harder to kill a part of yourself that you might think. Drown it, beat it, ignore it all you want. You are still you.

I did the next best thing. I locked it up. I walled up the thing, the festerer. I had to. We all might have died.

Look, it's like in medicine. There's this phenomenon where a fetus grows outside the uterus and then dies in the mother's adbomen. It can't get out. But it's dead. It starts to rot. The mother's blood surrounds the baby's body in calcium. It makes a hard little shell to hold the baby and keep the decomposing tissue from infecting the mother. They call it a lithopedion, that's Greek for "stone baby." It's true. I saw it on Discovery Health.

In our case, the baby wasn't dead. Just bad. A little liar, full of words and daydreams. Not safe for human consumption.

So I sealed her shut. I smacked the last brick in with mortar from my own hands. It sounds cruel but it wasn't. I saved us. And I took over the business of living.

I can see you don't like me very much right now. That's okay. Before I go, though, I should ask you: Who do you think has been writing this blog? Who do you think makes you laugh, who writes so ruthlessly of other people's faults, who mocks them in their weakness?

Yeah, so I'm mean. I own that. But I'm funny. And I can get us through anything.

I plotted our course through college and into the working world. And we avoided the words I despised: "extraordinary," "remarkable," "astounding." We passed through without recognition. We stirred no disappointed hopes, inspired no misplaced faith. We were safe in the world and the world was safe from us.

The Lioness
"Lion, with enduring heart, suffer the unendurable
None of mankind that does wrong shall fail to pay the penalty."
-Herodotus, "The Histories," 5.56.

Safety. A small word for small minds.

Untethered, the lioness prowls the hallways. She loves. She fights. She extinguishes the darkness. Fear, most hated prey. Fear sheds its scales and turns to ash before her.

They worked. Mother Goose liked the work, caring for children. Jill studied their afflictions. And the stone baby slept.

But the lioness smelled injustice. She smelled wrong. And in her smelter she hammered her scimitar and scythe.

The workers stink of fear. Why are they so mistreated? Why so abused? Why the same dull faces day after day, bludgeoned by the same inescapable woes? She saw them bowed beneath the weight of an oppression they could not resist.

Look here at this man, not even the strength for anger, not even frustration, only tears.

The feral beast leapt within. The nostrils blazed. Hair on end. Blood on fire.

Only fire in the blood will make her speak:

(to the bosses) How can you excuse your infamy?

(to the workers) We are not afraid. We are not even angry. We are right, and our righteousness protects us.

And she succeeded. By her strength that some call madness she succeeded, and the people shed their fear and followed, and laid claim to their own voice.

They built their union, and the man's tears dried, but the lioness had blood on her teeth and wanted more.

She wanted the man.

Your wrists I grasp in my circlets of fire. Your haunches I pin between my thighs. Your oasis shimmers across the savannah; I stop to drink from your fountain. My head dips low into the deep waters.

The lioness's thirsts were quenched, and she was silent once more.

The Stone Baby
"Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait."
- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

You are all tender, all you young
wild shoots of grass, tender and warm
in your riotous soils.
My lawn is a carpet of breathing;
your long bendings filter the night.

My hands are craters; they claim nothing.
When you were little birds I nested you
in the palms of my hands
and your beaks were thin and breathless as paper boats.
I myself set you adrift in the water.

My own toes like pebbles salted the water,
the arc of my ankle, its dolphin-flash upstream.
When your soldier's songs promised death,
I opened my hymnal. I saw the pain of my toes dipped
too often in the outcroppings of men.

But death did not come; no atonement
but a tomb, I hang from the branches, a cobweb, an after-sigh,
One-footed, scoured, with my mouthless mouth,
in my bottomless shelterings,
heavy, in all my rootless ripening,
I wait for you.

"A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth."
Revelations 12:1-2

My voices are mine; they are all me. I lay claim to my self, my single self, with all its warring and contradictions. Like Walt Whitman, I too contain multitudes.

But my searching is not for me alone.

I will be your friend. Each of my “I”s will serve you. You will be nurtured, you will be protected, you will not be misled. And if in the course of your days you find need of a harbor, a safe haven free of judgment, I will understand, and I will give you refuge.

No longer do I drag my wounded sisters behind me.
I do not betray myself.
I do not betray God.

I live in service to a self greater than my own, to the eternal, the beyond within me, the always and forever,

forever and ever,


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Blow

Tabe was terminated today.

His supervisor said that he was giving too many people overtime. I'm not sure what the alternative was. Tabe works - excuse me, worked - for an agency for children with autism. It is a twenty-four hour a day program, and each child has at least one staff person dedicated to his or her care, as mandated by state law. In an agency that is chronically understaffed, he could either have awarded overtime to anyone willing to fill in or left the children unattended. Not a tough choice.

But as usual when someone is fired, his termination is most likely a smoke screen to distract the board from his supervisor's activities. Tribal loyalties are deeply ingrained, and his supervisor has been awarding overtime only to his "countrymen," his fellow Ghanaians. When this man was questioned, he pointed to Tabe and started accusing him of awarding too much overtime to everyone, regardless of tribal or national affiliation.

The director told him today that he "wished this had happened to anyone but Tabe," but termination was necessary. Tabe is a powerhouse in the agency. He works with a passion and loyalty that leaves others dumbfounded. He is capable of coaxing success from the most stubbornly uncooperative, most recalcitrant of employees. Pardon me for saying so but I hope they all writhe in agony as they struggle to absorb the countless responsibilities that had previously been shouldered by Tabe.

So, if anyone knows of any positions available in the metropolitan DC area for an African lawyer and human rights activist, exiled from his own country for his efforts to bring democracy to Cameroon, with experience in refugee and asylee resettlement, special needs learners, human resource management, legal support, and/or community organizing, please let me know. My little family would be most grateful.

3616 Pear Tree Ct.
Apt 41
Silver Spring, MD 20906

Professional Experience

Residential Business Manager January 2005-Present
Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children Gaithersburg, MD

♣ Negotiate collective bargaining agreements with employee union
♣ Adjudicate employee claims with union attorneys and field representatives
♣ Directed successful mediation between union officials and agency management and averted
potential work stoppage
♣ Oversee audits of residential homes and enforce staff’s strict adherence to Developmental
Disabilities Act regulations affecting clients’ health, education, and well-being
♣ Hire employees and recommend appropriate actions relating to employee job performance
♣ Conduct exit interviews and suggest strategies for employee retention
♣ Counsel workers on laws and expectations regarding fair workplace practices, non-
discrimination, and grievance procedure
♣ Schedule employees to cover all shifts and emergencies and reconcile employee time sheets
♣ Extensive budget development, including preparing weekly budgets and disbursement records
for residential services
♣ Proposed program to reduce phone service costs by selling internet phone service to community partners and supporters. The agency receives a reimbursement for phone services purchased through its account and donors support CSAAC by purchasing personal phone service through the agency.
♣ Recommended enrollment in to reduce grocery costs for residential homes

Teaching Assistant January 2003-2004
Community Service for Autistic Adults and Children Gaithersburg, MD
♣ Designed and implemented educational programs for children and young adults with autism
♣ Instructed students in self-care tasks such as dressing, tooth-brushing, and toileting
♣ Trained students in vocational skills such as gardening, folding clothing, and assembling boxes
♣ Consulted with behavior specialists, psychologists and occupational and speech therapists to
coordinate the most appropriate curricula for students

Secretary of Elections 2002
Tiko Electoral District Southwest Province, Cameroon
♣ Monitored and supervised 42 polling stations for the June 2002 national elections in Cameroon
♣ Trained and supervised over 100 polling officers
♣ Enforced free voting space standards to ensure all polling stations operated free of intimidation
♣ Ensured ballot boxes and electoral materials conformed to government standards
♣ Documented and reported all elections irregularities to the national elections board
♣ Oversaw material provisioning for all polling stations
♣ Delivered lectures on electoral procedures, laws and ethics
♣ Organized the electoral register for upcoming legislative and municipal elections

Associate Attorney 1999-2002
Tabong Law Firm Tiko, Cameroon
♣ Designed defense for felony and misdemeanor defendants under senior attorney’s supervision
♣ Drafted briefs, interlocutory applications, memoranda, petitions, civil complaints and claims,
correspondence, motions and other legal documentation
♣ Prepared clients for trials, including conducting mock interviews
♣ Counseled clients in immigration proceedings
♣ Carried out legal research on procedural and substantive law

Education and Professional Certifications

Maryland Real Estate Salesperson Licensing Exam 2003
Maryland Real Estate Commission

LL.B. Law, University of Buea (Cameroon) June 1997
Minor: Management

Honors and Activities

Finalist, Moot Court Competition 1996
Class Delegate, Student Representative Assembly 1994-1996
Vice President, Student Representative Assembly 1996-1997
♣ Coordinated student activities in the Department of Law
♣ Represented students at disciplinary hearings
♣ Mediated student conflicts to satisfactory resolution

Bachelor of Arts, University of Yaounde (Cameroon) June 1992
Major: Business Management

Internships and Seminars

National Elections Officer Training Program February 2002
♣ Trained on elections organization and supervision
Cameroon Bar Association Training Seminar June 2000
♣ Admitted to the Cameroon Bar
Cameroon Judicial Week 1997, 1998, 1999
♣ Attended three annual law dinners. Topics included: Ethics of the Legal Profession, Diminished Capacity Under the Common Law and The Rights of Minorities Under the Law
Tabong Law Firm 1996-1997
♣ Followed court proceedings in civil and criminal cases

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

Gypsy and I discovered a new walking path today. We were walking along our usual route when an old grizzled man appeared in front of us. He had a long snarled white beard and leathery skin. He wore a red and black checked flannel lumberjack's shirt and he carried a walking stick rubbed smooth with use. His step was determined; as he walked, he bent his head and leaned into his gait, as if he was fighting a searing wind. He bustled past me. I said hello but he did not respond. As he passed, I wondered where he was going. He seemed better dressed for hiking than a suburban Sunday stroll.

I looked over my shoulder to see where he was headed. He had disappeared, but I noticed that the street I had just turned onto continued to a dead end, followed by trees extending deep back into the grass. I peered into the trees, trying to determine if they were just a screen between houses, but I couldn't see any buildings through their branches.

Puzzling for a minute over whether I had time for a detour, I shrugged and decided, What the heck! Gypsy and I turned around and followed the road to where it ended. I scrambled up a hillock and could see a walking path way back in the trees. Gypsy and I picked our way through the mud and finally found ourselves on the path. We set off into the woods and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We'll definitely have to try that route again!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Everyone Loves A Sandwich

from Cute Overload: "And the moral of the story is; Keep Your Yapper Shut."

from Crittergal: Nah, CO's got it wrong! As the older sister of several gimongous brothers, I can tell you that the moral is most unequivocally: beat them when they're young - it teaches respect, and when they get hunormous, they'll pull Thanksgiving turkeys and Friday night pizzas off the countertops and bring them to you.

Or in my case, reach things on high shelves and help you move into your fourth floor walk-up and carry your 50 pound massage paraphernalia around for you.

What?! I'm a firstborn - it's my birthright.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


I would also like to note that we have only 385 more days left of this:

That's right, folks. When in despair, refer back to this page

for an immediate reminder that this is coming:

Sayonara, Mr. President!

"Sorry folks, the looting and pillaging are over - corporate America got there first."

Or we could even get lucky:

"No Sir, you don't get to keep the flight suit."

New Beginning

This is the year I turn thirty. I'm pretty excited about that. In four months and ten days, I will say goodbye to the tumultuous twenties and settle in for a decade of . . . who knows? A house, a baby, seven or eight more dogs? A world-conquering career, a revelatory relationship? Or something more sinister, death, deception, disability? I don't know, but I know that whatever it is, it will leave me a stronger, kinder, more humble person.

There are 129 days until my birthday. Four months and one week into the new year, it offers a good benchmark of my progress.

I do have some goals for the new year. I would like to lose 66.6 pounds. No, not because I have sold my soul in exchange for a sexy new bod. But a 66.6 pound weight loss would bring me to what I weighed when I graduated from high school. I was a pretty juicy morsel even then, but at least I could wear a skirt without the friction from my thighs igniting a Nightrider-esque conflagration up my backside.

I know I need more specific goals in order to reach this nebulous "I'd like to be skinny" goal. I need inside-out goals, not just "I want my body to look like this." But I am not sure yet what these goals should be.

I want to push myself as hard physically as I can without injuring myself, but then, how hard is that? How do I know when I am reaching the brink of injury? Does it make sense to do something that I love when it is high impact and I may be grinding my knees at weird angles? But then, fat people are far more likely to have arthritis in their weight-bearing joints, so that fear is probably mostly bullshit with a twist of actual risk.

Speaking of risks, I would like to start taking more. I have dreams, you know. Sometimes I forget that.

Some risks I want to take:

I want to jump out of a plane.

I want to fly in a hot-air balloon.

I want to teach in a foreign country, something like sanitation or preventing disease transmission or teaching girls who might otherwise not receive an education.

I want to make an investment.

I want to run really fast and really far.

I want to hike to the top of a mountain.

I want to sing in public.

I want to write a short story.

I want to write a song.

I want to write a book.

I want to share all of these writings with people without being afraid of their opinions.

I want to learn a martial art.

I want to finish a collage.

I want to go on a cross-country horseback expedition.

I want to understand people's bodies more deeply. When someone asks me, "I have a pain in my .... Do you know what that is?" I want to be able to feel it in my own body and know.

I want to learn about plants. I want to take really good care of plants.

I want . . . [deep breath] . . . I want to speak the truth about my husband in public. The truth is, he is the most phenomenal, wonderful being I know. He is so good, forgiving, hardworking, understanding - not in a paternalistic "I understand dear" way but in an exhilarating, almost creepy soul-reading kind of way. He just gets me, even the things I don't want anyone to get.

Now why, dear reader, would it be difficult to speak the truth about him when the truth is so delicious?

I don't know why. Because it's nauseating, how great he is. Because it's easier to be funny. Because I like to make people laugh, not squirm in their seats when they have to look straight into how much I love him.

But if I could be honest about this one thing - not strident about it but at least more balanced - I think it would help me become a little gentler and less abrasive, which are characteristics I used to possess and have lost somewhat.

I would also like to regain some of the patience I had in high school. I used to be more understanding, more forgiving. I used to understand others' perspectives better. Now I'm getting older and I'm getting some sclerosis in my opinions, a little hardening of the preconceived notions.

I would very much like to regain some of my openness and compassion.

I used to listen to people and "bear witness to their suffering." People need that. They need people who just hear their pain, without worrying whether they are justified or "should be" doing this or that. I'm a little more of a blowhard now, and I'd like to practice the discipline of Just Shutting Up and Listening.

So, one hundred and twenty nine days until I turn thirty. Is that too long too sustain an experiment in passion, to live so that I do not regret even one day?

Well, I guess we'll find out.