Friday, December 7, 2007

dear&jenn--happy holidays

Yeah, my daughter was so spoiled. She sits again in the cozy lap of my great grandmother. They (the grands and my auntie)always dressed her like...Holly or in this case like peppermint. And what baby needs red tights before turning one year old? I wish her pigtails were showing--they too were appropriately decorated.

The blue theme was all my aunt's doing, from years past. The house still looks exactly like that now. It's difficult to picture her personality and the decor in her house--so different. Everything is blue and there are ducks every where.

Anyhoo, I'm going to be off for an extended holiday vacation, one of the greatest perks in teaching at a college. I won't post until after the holidays so have a great one, lots and lots of drinks, good food, laughter, warmth and family fun. I will enjoy our sassy weather here in Tejas as we will go from 80s to 50s in a day--yeah, Texas is like that. Seasons just aren't distinguishable. Thanksgiving was the same: we went from beautiful upper seventies to 40s and sleet; it didn't stick.

In any event, Cheers!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

still lov'n gordon

Hair, I don't see what all the fuss is about.

Somedays I feel like Gordon's girl. My hair has its own personality and its own being; I think there's even an extra soul in there somewhere. I stopped trying to control it in 2000. I just let it go. It's wild, puffed, confident, annoying, de borrego, perky and self-centered. There are still traces of blond at the edges, especially around my forehead and it even survived being accidentally set on fire when my younger brother and I were playing in the mirror with lit candles. My mother had just only washed it so it was out, spread, high and big. On Baylor Street. The coils in it are unbelievably tight in micro curls and there is nothing perfect about it except its attitude. It is unpredictable and loves attention from others, not me. I refuse to look at it but once a day and sometimes, never. It never lies even though it has a trillion crosses. The rubberband strains and most often pops because the gather is too thick, too much. In the mornings after a shower, a wash--my hair is overwhelming. I don't believe I will ever try to fix it or tame it or control it again.

It's a force not to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

one day of no whining

This Thursday, I plan to stop whining about my dirty carpet, our costly van, the fact that I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in 3 years or a new bra in 5, our expensive home improvement projects, our maxed out Home Depot credit card, the fact that we don’t have a computer or the internet at home, my students’ life stories that require so much energy and attention (aside from teaching), the upcoming elections, discrimination and ethnic profiling, my dried out sliver nail polish, an upcoming doctor’s appointment, gas prices, a corner with Gerardo's woodworking magazines strewn about, his dremmel saw in the kitchen, my daughter’s and dad’s absence, and some other stuff that I complain about or whine about daily. Maya Angelou says it’s not good to whine because a brute is always lurking to take advantage. But that’s not what sparks my one day of no whining.

If you don’t have a strong stomach, don’t look at the following photos. If you’ve already looked, I’m sorry, but after seeing this pics taken in Africa, I decided that for one day, Thursday, I need to stop and be thankful, grateful so much, for so little much.

a buzzard waits for a sick child to die
a child searches for food from the anus of a cow
a young boy bathes in urine

Is this really Africa today?

The photos are borrowed from

Friday, November 16, 2007

letting go or ... not

We all cling to the past, some parts of it I suppose, and only if we haven’t been bruised so that it’s impossible to look back.

I wallow in the past and often find it incredibly difficult to shake. I hold on to paper, old grocery receipts from the Davis Co-op, ticket stubs to Morrison or Angelou lectures, or that one stub: a Shirley Horn appearance at Yoshi’s, my daughter’s Pre-K report cards, her junior high awards, a photograph of my Dad’s last footsteps in Cayman Island sands my step-mom gave me, my grandmother’s handwritten letters to my daughter and me after our Texas departure to California, the inlay wooden jewelry box from Germany my sister gave me, the wooden tea tray with intimate, sophisticated inlay mother of pearl and vintage Asian coin from Taiwan, the thin solid rose gold band my great grandmother gave me so so long ago, the wooden carved stacked elephants my adopted father made during extended jail time, the tiny glass lady bugs Lori gave me, the unconditional love and godson Tracy gives me, and the Mother’s day cards my daughter gave me on her birthday because she claimed that’s when I really became a mother (still don’t know how she came up with that one – at 7), but some things we must let go. For me it was my run down 11 year old Birkenstocks, old Mac lipstick tubes, an old cooking skillet that was greased with time (my grandmother would say: now it's nice and ‘seasoned’), ripped paperbacks with missing flaps (the pages became more of a distraction than a draw in), a floral pastel sundress because my stomach is fatter and finally, so is my backside (I will miss that dress because I didn’t have to wear a bra), and all of my dated, old plastic Hallmark ornaments. Gone! Gone!

This past weekend, I asked Gera, how he would transport the gravel needed to lay for a deck he is building. After several attempts to first recall how to say “wheelbarrow,” he finally said something not even close. I went ahead and said it for him because it just wasn’t working, sort of like when I attempt to say “refrigerator” or “zhacarracate” in Spanish or when I tell him in the night “volteate porque estas roncando”--turn over because you are snoring.

“No, yeah, I got one, Honey.” He tells me about the wheelbarrow. He pulls it around to show me because I must have looked like I didn't believe him. I didn't. When I see his wheelbarrow, it is whop-sided, rusted, one wheel is larger than the other and to top it all off, it squeaks louder than the kid goats next door. It was time to have the “It’s time to let it go” talk.

I haven't been able to convince him, but I might be able to talk him into using it as a yard flower pot way way way way in the back of our yard.

Monday, November 12, 2007

but i love him!

Well, geez…but nope, I’m not taking it personal. So my first rejection letter for Bottom Rail came back to me with promising comments, but no thanks in the end. I think I am supposed to be disappointed, but like cutting those dreads, I’m feeling rather more than neutral. I sort of expected this because I really didn’t fine tooth comb my ms—neither did I bless its intent, purpose, theme, which I’m still trying to figure out. I have people who do this writing stuff and yet, no one has told me how to find the significance and compose a damn good query. In fact, my query was so long that I could have easily written one more chapter to the book and I guess I’m not supposed to do that….have an extensive explanation for the work. It’s suppose to “speak for itself.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all. Oddly, I’m having fun spending hardly any time just on this one process alone and this way, I don’t have to think about a second work. The question is: Am I really a writer? I think so, but this other part to it, the selling it, the pitching it, the Pr-ing it is rather a difficult animal to choke, and I haven’t even really begun to push it out the door. Can I imagine if I put a lot of effort into it? I’m trying. Sort of.

Anyway, another slip for me and my hopes to become a great, famous writer is Stephen King’s September article in the The New York Times Sunday Book Review.


He wrote: “…I read scores of stories that felt not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers.”

Which of these apply to me? Well let’s start with not quite openly glorious and maybe there’s a tad of guardedness. I’m working on all this: when I find time. Then I read on and found a little more umpf: “Talent can’t help itself; it roars along in fair weather or foul, not sparing the fireworks. It gets emotional. It struts its stuff.” But the true heartbreak is his statement that he doesn’t want “some fraidy-cat’s writing school imitation of Faulkner, or some stream-of-consciousness about what Bob Dylan once called ‘the true meaning of a pear’.” Should I cry…? Because I do Faulkner and I do stream-of-consciousness in my own way. Feels good and at times rather sticky.

I can’t even imagine a life without Faulkner, but I guess I should come to the realization that I might have to change. Sort of.

And what's the difference between "strutting" and "self-importance"--as far as writing is concerned? Help!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

auntie quote--auntie image

On material possessions:

"Shit now! You ain't never seen no damn U-Haul following in behind a hearse, have ya? When yo ass is gone, that's it. You can't take none of that shit wit,cha! You got me now?"

Friday, November 2, 2007

slants and gravity

From my "Andreea" files. Exploring her home, Romania, here are two more gorgeous pics from such a talented young woman. My favorite is the nook and cranny little abode, but the colors in the tile structured roof top are to die for, a captivating mix.

Friday, October 26, 2007

and yet

a black woman smile

This clip was sent to me by my dear friend, Lori. I was quite taken away by the words, the poem. And sometimes it seems that people would rather forget...but if truth could be tangible, it would be equivalent to the aggressive nature of weeds. The video also sparked interest and look back, again, to the women in my family.

Here is a newspaper article printed up (click on the pic to read it) about my great great grandmother, Lavada Toy LaRue Thompson (the 1st generation of our six), who at the time was 105 years old and who also, much of the time refused to smile. She's holding her last birthday cake and looks rather angry, but its mere pride.

Even in a previous photo of her at 97 years old, what appears to be a smile is only effort not to. Her hairstyle for the most part was always the same. This was her only favorite sitting place, even when I was a young girl. The chair evolved, but the curtains...well...they never changed.

Unlike this maternal matriarch, my great grandmother was caught many times smiling, unlike me and my mother, she loved people. My grandmother, who had two gold teeth--one at the top--one at the bottom, smiled often, particularly after a third can of Pearl beer. Later it was Schaffers.

It is difficult to make a black woman smile, but there are so many of us who do so because life is really rather good. Aside.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


At the end of a tutoring session, one of my students and I were talking about her swearing in at the Naturalization office and how excited she is to become a U. S. Citizen.

After our conversation about her, she then asked me with a grave countenance, "So, Renee, how long did it take you to get your papers?"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

the little bit

Living between generations was like living by the moon---only. My great grandmother, Eather Staten was 92 years old when she died in---2003. She had stubbornly waited for me to fly home from California. She lived alone up to the day and kept an immaculate, cozy home. It is a home I was accustomed to as a baby, as a teen, as a mother, as a woman. However, my daughter ruled all when she was born and naturally stole my great grandmother’s heart from the time of conception until her very early death. Here they sit together at my great grand’s home lost in gifts and in an earlier time at my grandmother’s sugar.

Eather Staten, 2nd generation, 1911-2003
My Love, 6th generation, 1982-1996

Monday, October 8, 2007

doing language

I was sitting.

It’s Sunday, 90 degrees, October and a soothing warm rain holds back in the South, threatening to shower my purple heart, rose moss, a wild succulent plant, and variegated Halston. The steel colored elephant ears peak with three healthy leaves and a newer one makes its translucent spine aware. They must have tropic-like weather to survive. The clouds form a limitless smear of gray and blue and hang impossibly low, not as humid, but low like when you see them on a drive through the hills, through Hollister to get to Monterey...Dunes. Clouds always seem so far away in California until you make a drive like that. Here, in Texas, when the climate is moody and erratic, they are always within reach.

But I was contemplating language and the various benefits cultures have, the marvelous innate nature of not code, but upbringing and tradition. I have a fruitful, diverse group of students at the community college where I instruct—in Texas—a place where when I was sprouting like my new elephant ear leaf, I was limited to territory and broken dialect. To me English is not a beautiful language; it has become lost in necessity--it is outdone and all too common and its evolution rather dumb. However, in teaching my ESL students, I have learned another perspective, English is not merely the only verbal means to communicate, to survive, but it is something like an old rough, secret smile, a playful but grave dance.

Take these lines from Light in August: "She aint come from nowhere close ... She’s hitting that lick like she’s been at it for a right smart while and had a right smart piece to go yet.”


“Only a negro can tell when a mule is asleep or awake.”

How in the world could I explain to a Vietnamese, Mexican, Albanian, Hungarian, Portuguese, or African student what “hitting that lick,” or “right smart” or “right smart piece to go yet” means as a strand of English language so personal--so regional--so preserved? Even some native Americans might have a time, initially, translating Faulkner. I would have written "Hit'in".

In my profession, you must find away just as my Halston grows almost between the other flowers. Students drop the “s” and treat “th” as “d”—(which leads to the old reality that our own home grown people tend to “dis” naturally).

My great Auntie recently again reminded me of the sharpness of the English language that yet thrives. She was telling me about a recent trip to Oklahoma. She travels with her usual group of retired ladies—the eldest is 87, the youngest 82. All but one is not sold on technology and continues to use her glasses to see, to play, to read, to dictate her slot machines--instead of undergoing laser surgery. She also drove them to the casino this last time and my Auntie told me she can’t see to “damn good.” I said, "She can't?" She fired back in a voice that's just as boisterous as her color, “Girl, Bennie can’t see two white elephants fucking at midnight.”

My Aunt has never read Hemingway, but she’s probably kin to Faulkner—up the line, and only if the French LaRues had something to say. I could not evade this noticeable image, beyond my Aunt’s comical nature. Could we miss two blond, fleshy elephants gettin it on, at night, midnight? Can't use this as an example of anything...for students of course. English is a clever, pretentious habitual blab. And then a student will draw me back in with an anguish: chicken and kitchen, thought thorough though through throughout taught---these I can manage, these nuances I can explain.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

surrounded by artists

It's no secret my life has been surrounded by artists: a brother, a grandfather, even a father and a step-mom. And yes, my other half, Gerardo, is yet - too - an artist. He created this beautiful piece -- Enrique Inglesias that just pops off one of our walls. When we first moved into our home, intially, I placed it in different spaces but finally settled on an area following our living room. It is incredible to look at up close, stare at. It's also quite the size: measuring about 42"h and 30"w. This was a shot we took of it, wasn't the best set up but it worked at that time. Gera also sketched my best friend, Tracy--from a beautiful black and white photo I took of her years ago.

Sometimes especially, when I am busy, minding my own business, I catch him: lead in hand, accounting my face.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

snatching night

My favorite time to live is in the night. This could be because I work during the day and night seems to be the only time I snatch to imagine, to think, to write. But dangerously--even while driving, my mind will wander off to the unintentional. I question the unknown, then attempt to imagine an answer:

What does a black man do, what does he look like when he grieves? Why would a daughter protect an abusive mother?

Here is--what I hope--a treat for my family and friends: my blog viewers. It feels great to allow others to see what I have spoken about for so many years--well--since 2001. These are two small excerpts from chapters in my novel Bottom Rail. Shawna, this is an old surprise for you, only small portions of what you read a while back. There is still much editing to be done, but thanks so much to you, again, for your feedback. The “wcs”—the question marks—the “you can find a better way to express this” and the accolade-stars in the margins next to certain lines you found beautiful.

novel excerpts

I’ll keep all posted on response letters.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

blueberries & churches

Two more beautiful pictures photographed by Andreea. The first is a picture of her grandmother's hands. She picks wild blueberries that grow in a Romanian forest--certain soil and sun exposure. They grow in the same area for many generations and are the most popular fruit in the mountain region where her grandmother lives. Many people walk for miles and miles to get to them, but only the locals know where to go for immediate access. Many of my non-native American students are quick to tell me that American foods: cilantro, onion, pears, tomato, pineapple, papaya, and guava do not have the same taste as their native fruits and vegs. Andreea assured me that blueberries are "10 times better than the ones you have here; they are darker and the flavour is much more intense. Most people use them because they are very healthy and as medicine for different things." She says everyone takes them if they can find them and locals take extra to sell to a center in the village where people send them to other countries.

The two churches across the way from each other paints a highly unusual scene---the epitome of what juxtaposition means. Or, as Andreea titles the picture: parallelism. One is Catholic, the other is Orthodox (from left to right). The Orthodox church is called the Catedrala Reintregirii. The churches are in Alba Iulia, Transylvania -- Ardeal, Romania. The pictures were taken from Andreea's childhood bedroom. Her parents continue to live in the house. At times, during our conversations, I can feel her nostalgia for home. She's one of my favorite photographers. What a view!

Friday, September 21, 2007

love what ya do

When Gera told me that one of his clients wanted a new set of cabinets for the---entire---kitchen, I fell silent. And again, we were off to HD for more scratch, plain, flat boards and boards and boards of virgin wood. I could only picture cabinets pre-built, ready-made, like packaged seasoned meat, or salad. Easy. Just open, just install. But no, the couple really wanted to have the cabinets custom made! Handles (handmade from stainless steel bars, cut and sized), hinges, drawers, draw rollers (I don’t really know what they are called). Door edges were later designed with a special bit as these were the trial pics. It took him one month, not including installation, staining... The husband is a tile expert so he did the countertops. This project was extreme, and oh so challenging (for me to observe of course).

....and I complain about having to choose adjectives carefully....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

my real job

So this semester is so busy. Today, I tutored students writing essays on
The Old Man and the Sea: What lit elements contribute to theme?
The Storm: How does the element--setting build the theme?
A&P Why does Sammy quit his job?
A Rose for Emily—“I don’t get this story”—nearly every student whines…
How to write a classification essay:
Nurses: LVNs, RNs, and N. Practitioners
They are classified by their salaries, education, and duties.
Campers: partyers, family vacationers, nature lovers. Parallelism is important.
One student came in with an assignment to write a descriptive essay. She picked “attitude”---I suggested she pick something tangible and go for sensory details. Save the attitude essay for definition. It’s done.
Subjects must agree with verbs
Pronoun reference---be specific
Pronoun antecedent agreement
Assignment: Pick 3 items that represent your past, present and future? Best essay from a student: High heels. When she was five she remembers a girl who was poor, but who always wore nice high heels shoes and hung out at the university—she called her the “university girl”. Skittles because they represent the USA where unlike her native country there are many different cultures and colors. And a candle, because she wants to burn bright in her future and have people around her.
Random capitalization is just wrong
Best characters to analyze: Emily, Martha Hale, Mrs. Wright, Olaf and Mrs. Mallard
My last student for the day spent the entire session venting about the semi-colon

Honestly, I think I am just experiencing post-draft fatigue.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

my only enemy

Throughout this week my enemy---ragweed---has beaten me down.

Ragweed: Comes during the heat and humidity of Texas weather. We’ve had some long, warm rains that fought back my airborne nemesis, but this week, I’m the loser. Ragweed blooms in September and thrives in rural areas, especially like mine. Never mind we are often greeted with the fresh smells of horse dung, wake up to the lusty crows of roosters, who at times, crow in the evening and well into the night. Non-stop. The cows are friendly, the goats and kids are random. But anyway, ragweed---its the pollen seedlets that blow around in the air or cling stagnantly to the damp still.

Yesterday, I peered out the glass door at Gera as he pulled the lawnmower to the edge of the yard. He frowned at me and said, “Vente paca, mami, pero no puedes, verdad? Lo siento!” I have had to retreat and avoid breathing the usual sticky, hot air I love so much. I'm fond of sweat! But now, I'm in. My eyes are puffy, they shed tears and the linings swell. My nose is stuffy at times, then clear, then stuffy again, then water-like drips suddenly run out. I scratch my throat, causing a stir because the sound is alien and loud like pig grunts. I’ve tutored at least 13 students today, 10 of them, ESL; I think they were all afraid to get close to me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

in the shadows

Finally, I am sending out drafts of my novel Bottom Rail, which has grown in the shadows. I’ve been writing this book since 2001. It started out as a short story in Max Byrd’s class and has fanned out to 293 pages----a long haul and a trying experience. The truth about my writing is that it is very slow and I have always tried to mirror the sound of my words in passages to Thelonious Monk’s cacophony and dissonant movement---every element that makes up the South is dissonant, and perfectly unexpected.

I don’t anticipate any immediate takers, but I do hope to raise some brows and spark some interested wagoners! Wish me luck!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Spring Warren's Debut: Turpentine

I have another dear friend who is no doubt a writer. Her debut novel: Turpentine hit the shelves this month. I have my copy, however, in an attempt to order more as family Christmas gifts--an extra surprise--this was the prompt: Only 4 left in stock--order soon (more on the way). I have known Spring for some time and witnessed her tenacity and drive towards becoming a published writer. I am just elated at her success!

Friday, September 14, 2007

crevices make

Dead roses cling to their beauty,
Like stretch marks from a baby
Reminding its mother that
Should it depart this life before
She does, those marks of labor,
Those marks of birth
Remain to memorialize
The aesthetic of death:
Being a woman
Wrinkled in withered beauty.


--jenn on her way to sunday school

Thursday, September 13, 2007

rebellious women

Daddy Billy: his colors, his water, his craft. These are yet two more works from my grandfather’s rebellious women series. The redhead is phenomenal. It’s as if she taunts a lover or gentleman caller—maybe that’s an understatement. Her green jewelry is intense—to me—as well as the rosy cheeks which are highly suitable. For a long while, I stared at the corn-colored blond. Smoking has its attractions. Her face seems to give a carefree expression: “You want it or not? It doesn’t matter to me.” And the last of the three is an amazon beauty. The bracelet, the dark lipstick and ready-to-please smile says it all. If you look closely, her eyelashes bat-bat-bat. They each have such charming extras that give them a burst of personality, sexuality and rebellion. I’m not sure why my grandfather signed some and not others. My mother probably has some knowledge.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

taming wood

There are many reasons why I have my guy. Little did I know when we met a few years ago that he was gifted. Well, okay, we say his work is not Rockler quality or can even be compared to The New Yankee--BUT!--Gera knows how to tame some wood. This project took about three weeks. He bought the wood as scratch large planks and boards, custom cut and shaped them to fit a stair case. Looks easy but it was challenging work. I can say this because I helped coat the bases and stains: the elementary stuff. When he doesn't have a project planned which is rare, he chimes, "I need to move the manos."