Disorientation to Awe

When I found out that Nelson Mandela didn’t write the, “Our deepest fear…” quote, my mind was blown. I pecked at my keyboard, clicked my mouse, going site to site trying to find evidence that Mandela indeed said these wise words. Like a seven year old watching the mall Santa take off his white wig and beard, I gaped at my computer with wide eyes and a frozen heart. I just found out that Santa Claus is not real.deepest_fear_marianne_willi

I feel foolish. Bamboozled.

How did I not know the real author of my favorite quote? I am a writer, a seeker, a wonderer, an intellectual, a critical thinker, a checker of words…how can this be?

I’ve read this quote in books printed by traditional commercial publishers, and attributed to Nelson Mandela. A more daunting question is what other popular quotes are erroneously attributed?

I have been using this quote for fifteen years. This quote has been posted in my work space for a decade. I’ve given birth to three children and repeated these words to them. I loved when the movies like Akeela and the Bee and Coach Carter used the quote on screen. The quote was supposed to have been written by a world famous South African sage and yet it was written by a middle-aged white female spiritualist. I respect Marianne Williamson’s work. I enjoyed her newest release Tears to Triumph, a useful guide for people who need to do inner work or understand emotional tolls.

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But knowing the truth about the quote is forcing me to re-orientate myself to the words and their true meaning. They still mean the same thing yet they have a different essence now. They are not words from a world weary, historically oppressed and well-known South African activist.

They are words formed in the mind of a privileged white female with remarkable spiritual insight. My dream of having understood the depth of a great man has been fractured. Even though Mandela did not say it, I am glad someone did; even if that someone is his polar opposite, writer Marianne Williamson.

Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Marianne Williamson and Lynn Woolsey

Unearthing this truth is leading me toward a better understanding of humanity. Things are messy with us. Although some muddy the water for sport, most humans just simply misunderstand, misjudge, overhear, and just take a guess. The reason society’s fist is so tight around the ideas of ‘proof’ and ‘science’ is because of our tendency to believe inconsistencies, false motives and outright lies. Science and Proof seem to guard us from the horrors of mistakes and deception. But as much as science demystifies, it also generates more questions than it can ever answer. Science knows it’s in over its head. Snafus will happen. So I can be assured that many more will come into my life but I hope that they will all be attributed to the correct source.

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“Your numbers look great”: non-human solutions to very human problems

working-lifeWhen the twins were in kindergarten they were separated between two classes across the hallway from each other. Victoria’s teacher was a soft spoken, cardigan wearing woman with great patience and tenderness. Vanessa’s teacher was a loud, hostile, bitter old lady with no patience for little kids or the learning process. As the school year wore on, Victoria would come home happy, holding up a finger painting she’d done and talking about how she couldn’t wait for school again tomorrow. Vanessa would come home with her head bowed, somber and clingy asking if she can stay home and never return to that mean place again.

I thought Vanessa was simply having trouble adjusting; after all, some kids don’t take to socialization as well as others. But then the phone calls from Mrs. Bitter started to come in. Daily, I would get a call from a gruff, inpatient voice telling me how my daughter was hiding under her desk and refusing to come out or crying in a corner and cannot be swayed to move. Another time she called and said that Vanessa just wouldn’t stop crying, so Vanessa was separated from the group until she stopped being disruptive.

I finally had a meeting with the school and here is what they told me: “Mrs. Bitter can be a disciplinarian, but her numbers are through the roof; she forces her students to do the work by any means necessary, yes, she can seem a little harsh but she gets the job done.”

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The school cared not that my daughter was frightened out of her wits by this overbearing, unnecessarily harsh woman. Mrs. Bitter yelled at the children without cause and humiliated them by calling them names and getting the other children to join in. I knew this from witnessing it myself when I came into the class to monitor Vanessa’s behavior. Mrs. Bitter was horribly impatient and totally unqualified to be a kindergarten teacher – she had no patience for the job. But out of fear and harsh punishment, her students had the highest academic performance rate in the entire school.

After months of being a confused first time parents, my husband and I finally told the school that we wanted our daughter taken out of that class immediately. Yes, Mrs. Bitter squeezed out high tests scores but she also crunched the spirits of tiny kindergarteners and that was not okay. The school loved this lady because her numbers were great, never mind that she abused the students.

 

I find this mindset prevalent in America. The most successful are the most abusive. This mindset has to stop. Abuse is not okay, even if it gets the job done. The job can be done with compassion, levelheadedness, grace with respect for humanity. The twin with the nice patient teacher did just as well as the twin with the mean impatient one, so why are we rewarding destructive pathways to success?

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Our web-based lives further perpetuate this idea that cruelty as a strategy to produce perfection is okay. Increasingly our lives are maintained by algorithms, these complex applications choose our meals, mates, books, toys, fashion, schedules, careers, doctors, diagnoses, and prescriptions.

Technology is helpful and does create the feeling of ease and efficiency, hence my ability to post to this very blog right now. But computerized technology sends the message to its users that they can be as mechanically efficient both on line and off line. Educational systems are built entirely around the idea that pupils perform at the same scientifically established level. Exams transform human students into data elements that either successfully or unsuccessfully navigate algorithms.

We utilize computerized tools to demonstrate performance but the data is only half of the story. At work my performance is based on how well I navigate complex algorithms, not giving any thought to my humanity. If my report was done with accuracy, I’m good; no one cares that my grandma died, a colleague stole my idea, and I just found out that I have a serious medical condition. Human emotion is in play forever and always, yet our technological world turns a blind eye to the things that truly matter offline.

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Social media is thought to produce a layer of humanity for us but it is really insufficient. Our social media profiles are heavily curated advertisements of ourselves. There is really no humanity in our social media. There is really nothing authentically social about it. We post our stances, arguments, and position on issues but we are not really socializing. We are gathering data and arranging pseudo committees to further digitize our lives. I hear that some authentic friendships are made through social media and this is encouraging. Some people really do get married as a result of meeting online. However, speak to these people and they will likely tell you that their relationship was “set up” or “initialized” online but it blossomed offline. Therefore, our online activity serve as a tool to be used to live our lives not to be lived through

 

Bottom line: your numbers, on paper, on social media, on spreadsheets, on data reports, can look awesome, but you as a human being can be doing horribly. It is everyone job to continually remind each other that our “numbers” don’t represent us fully. It is fine to use data as guide but data will never replace humanity.

Identity

 

thesearchThe most painful part of being a Black American is the fact that our history stops at slavery. Many African-Americans know nothing beyond that their people were once slaves. We don’t know our African tribal languages or rituals. Our ancestors were so terrorized by slavery that survival was the only imperative. Documenting their past wasn’t high on the agenda of a black American slave. So the past went undocumented and soon unspoken of and then completely lost.
Because of this stoppage, this unknown component, it is so easy for us to develop low self-esteem. Jewish people can hold on to a time before and after Hitler. They have a lineage to reach back to and know that they functioned with pride prior to being dehumanized by the Nazi regime.
Black American’s have tried to reach over the sea to the African continent and use African traditions as a foundation for a declaration that even before slavery we proudly existed and thrived.
I am Black American female and my ancestors, no doubt, were taken from somewhere from the shores of the African Continent. Where, exactly? I have no idea.

soul soup: a poem

writing

When I am not writing
I am not thinking
Not breathing
Not pushing out
Invisibility
That thrives within
That corrodes my insides
That eats
away
At my lungs
My brain
My heart
When I am not writing
I am not me.

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Sometimes the writer in me pushes through exciting me with a rush of – what, euphoria? Intoxication?…I’m not sure but whatever the spirit, it fills me, moves me, tickles me with its tender fingers making me feel like I can somehow turn my passion for words into a product, a living thing that sustains me.writing450

Most wannabe authors dream of publication and I’m no different. But I’ve read enough to know that publishing is first and foremost a business and like all businesses, money is the main and ultimate goal. You must write what sells.

Whatever compels readers to swipe their cards or whip out their cash is what publishing houses want us to produce. Every how-to site and book advises authors to research prospective publishers and “see what they publish” and they advise us to see if we “fit” into the mission statement of the firm that has their books marketed to the people who they know will buy.random-penguin_2380018b

Look through all the conformist advice and see what you must be in order to traditionally publish: this is theme of the unpublished. Yet, when you really notice…when you “see” and comprehend that many of the greatest most moving books are the ones composed without conformist pressure to make money (or so I believe).

Perhaps I’m naïve, or maybe I’m just another bitter writer in a sea of writers pinning to “make it”. Either way, I’ve come to know that I don’t want to approach writing in the same manner I approach job hunting, because essentially that’s what publisher shopping is, when one researches the company and beefs up the resume to fill the need.top-publishers-2010-01-01-0012

I am good at formula following. I can cling to a template and plug in numbers. I can compose within established guidelines and pass an audit with ease. I can mirror a concept or tweak a rationale. I can spin a story and put out whatever is necessary; that’s what I do every day at work.

But for now, writing is an escape; a magical titillating conjugal visit done purely for the joy of it.

poem: a writer

 

Behind my motherly exterior, I am a writer.

Cafe

Somewhere in there

A writer

plunking away in a café

Describing the flow of the wind

The glow of a smile

The tingle of a touch

The frantic, manic

Screams of happy children

Charged with youth

Energy

Of calcium rich bones

And

Adrenaline filled veins

Somewhere in there

A writer

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My skin is black upon me; my bones are burned with heat…

Job 30:30

When you are a black and female and over twenty nine you sort of know where you stand in American society.  You understand you’re that your grace and beauty and femininity are well hidden behind the guise of youth and fashion and the lightness lie.

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You hate to always bring things back to tedious race relations as if you only see yourself from the counterpoint of others. You must learn, and you will, to view yourself from your own perspective.  

You learn not only the paradoxical nature of your social position, but the contradictory nature of life itself.  Humanity is darkness and light, in and out, up and down.  Life is made up of the two’s and we must all find a way to honor our darkness while embracing our light.

I am dark and succulent and soft and feminine.  Many slave girls have endured the evil eyes, the downward looks, and the fake indifference.   I have succeeded them and have been thought of as exotic and foreign, forbidden, untapped.  Too many like me have suffered sneaky hands in the dark touching, feeling the thrill of our foreignness, groping our flesh feeling its free, its open, its secret, its available for use.  The “otherness” of the black female makes it erotic, and weird, and odd.  The black female is a museum and they all touch the treasures inside because no one has put up a “DO NOT TOUCH” sign.

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The black female screams, and fights, and yelps, and rolls her neck for her own protection because there are no signs, no warnings, no armies standing in to fight her battles.

We live in “post-racial” America where black women are more fiercely ignored; still in the shadows, some on platforms dancing around poles still being secretly groped, they think willingly yet they remain enslaved by their perceived circumstance.

We soon find our humanity.  We caress thick hardback books and learn about astronomy and psychology and politics.  We learn that none of that race/stereotype/categorical stuff matters when we are in the troves of solving a linear equation.

What does my gender and skin matter when I am constructing archetechtial blueprint?  My work means both everything and nothing.

Oppressors accuse of “playing the race card” as if it is a game. It is not a game.  We must not shame the decedents for exploring the past hurt that has trickled into new generations.  Let them grieve.

We must face the fear to truly vanquish it.

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We must also remember that we can promote love by showing love.  We must demand humanity by showing it.