Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Facebook Sedition 2: I Gotta D'Agata

Yesterday I responded on Facebook to a blog posting about John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain. The posting was very astute – it was, after all, written by one of the preeminent teachers and writers of creative nonfiction essay. I, however, stated my ambivalence and said I understood D’Agata’s point that facts in creative non-fiction don’t always have to be absolutely accurate. It’s not journalism and it’s not biography. And in terms of writing a disclaimer of such in the form of a preface in order to alert the reader, well, I thought that was akin to a TV program alert that states, “Don’t do this at home,” as if the audience is too dumb to figure that out.  If you are reading memoir, then you might suppose that some things are not 100% accurate, or as my mother-in-law says, “Why you gotta tell every little fart (pronounced “faht”)?”
With D’Agata’s book, I remember feeling like I was in on the secret as I read it – his writing sounded reportorial yet I sensed his play and exaggeration of certain things as the book went on. Besides, as I flippantly pointed out, his omission of the preface allowed him to publish two books rather than just one.
My post was removed minutes later. It’s removal put me in a stew.
One of the other posters asked me (after my post was removed) if I wouldn’t be upset if the date of a loved one’s passing was changed to make the story better. I said no, but, maybe upon thinking about it, I would be upset if the date was wrong in the loved one’s obituary, which, by the way, would be written at the time of the passing and not as a memory.
Thinking about it more, I realize that I always remember the date of Ronald’s and my first meeting as January 20, 1976. Thirty-two years later (I had that as thirty years originally, but I didn’t want you to think I was lying – it was December 2007) as we were packing to move south, I pulled out all my old journals (and shredded them! My God, I was histrionic!), and happened to come across the date that we actually met. To tell you the truth, I still don’t remember it, and for always in my mind, it will be January 20, 1976. Am I lying? And does it matter what the exact date was? I don’t actually say the date in my memoir, and many other dates are just referred to as spring of 1978 or winter of whatever. I’m terrible at dates. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you I’ve called them and said, “I know you have a birthday sometime around now. Did I miss it?” I changed majors in undergraduate school from journalism to drama (and then finally to English education) just because the facts didn’t particularly interest me. I was more into the human aspect of the story, and I still am.
When the human aspect is considered, facts get blurry. Just sit at the table of any family reunion and listen to variations of the same family story. “No, it wasn’t Uncle Tony, it was Uncle Joe,” or “No, they didn’t go fishing, they went hunting.” Or what about the stories that never really happened, but they’ve been told so many times they have become family lore? Are they lying? No, because memories become truth and our memories are faulty and changeable.  They are dependent on so many things, as elucidated in my last post, and I didn’t even list all the variables that impact how an event is remembered.
Isn’t that what readers are seeking when they read memoir? Don’t they want to learn of that particular author’s perspective on events in his/her life? And do the particularities – the truths or facts – really matter, if the story is placed in context and in time and the author elicits feeling? Did you really believe everything you read in Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club? Didn’t the title hint at least a little that she was a member of the club she wrote about? It didn’t make me like the book less.
Facts will always matter to some people, of course, but not to all. I’ve learned I can’t please everyone, but I can work at pleasing myself through my most honest and heartfelt literary representation of my story.

Maybe all that thinking isn’t what got my post deleted. Perhaps it was my audacity at posting my blog’s URL. I didn’t realize that it would post a giant photo of me and look like an ad. I’m not technically proficient in social media, and I swear I’ve posted the URL before and it was just an address. I posted it because I had touched on D’Agata in my own post that week. It was relevant to the discussion, even if not as astute as the preeminent writer/teacher’s post.
An agent, the one I stopped contact with because she wanted me to rewrite my memoir as some sort of exposé, told me that I had to build a social media presence. Was I wrong to post my URL? Did I overstep some invisible barrier? Did it have to do with the social media hierarchy of who’s who? Classism? Elitism? Yes, the preeminent writer/teacher has credentials, many credentials. He is well respected and sought after. Do I not know my place?
I have a few credentials, too, but I don’t refer to them much because why do they really matter? They were degrees and milestones I wanted to accomplish. Do they make me smarter? Am I a better person for having completed them? Two of the smartest people I ever knew were my parents, and neither one graduated high school.
My first and greatest credential is that I am a fellow human being. One thing I learned over the years is that I don’t assume anything about anyone, which is why I’m trying really hard not to assume I know why preeminent writer/teacher deleted my post.
When I sold jewelry on commission in retail, I was one of the few associates who did not size up potential customers. I treated people with exactly the same attention whether they planned to spend $1.99 or $1,999.00.  Oftentimes the very people that other associates snubbed ended up spending the most money. It was the human interaction and the chance to be of service to another that motivated and excited me. It didn’t make me the best sales associate by a long shot, if commissions were the only measure, but it made my customers feel valued and me feel good. All humans deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, even when they sometimes make it difficult to do so. Social media was supposed to be the great equalizer, but it is not.
There’s the rub. When we talk about truth and facts in the social media world, how many people present their lives truthfully? They are already editing and altering their life stories by what they post and what they don’t. Some create whole personas and life stories, often for bad intent. We live in an untruthful world because we are human and flawed. We can’t help ourselves. We can’t help that we view the world through a particular lens or that our memories are fluid or that we are inherently selfish and egocentric. Every major historical event comes down to someone’s ego being offended, and don’t even start me on how biased history is. Or how blatantly politicians lie to gain supporters. Talk about untruths!
How I feel about people is my greatest ambivalence. I have a strong motivation to serve. Yet people disappoint, and I know I disappoint them. All we can do is listen to another’s stories with respect, an open heart, and an open mind, just as they are told to us, whether orally, written, or through action, art, music and dance.  The way they are told and what is told are as important as the stories themselves, lies and omissions not excepted.  They define who we are and give us common ground. They are the great equalizer.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reality Check

I’m swimming in the muck of my emotions this week. It’s tiring and I can’t see the shoreline. You might imagine that it sucks to be me lately. But I’m not feeling that. I’m all in for the journey. Sometimes I just let go and allow my feelings to sling some shit, and this is one of those times.
I think we are veering away from emotions lately except for anger maybe. I know lots of people who are angry. They’re angry we have a black president. They’re angry the dag gum government is making them pay taxes. They’re angry the dag gum government isn’t imposing Christian beliefs in the bedroom and in women’s vaginas. They’re angry because they can’t conceal weapons while picnicking in the state parks. They’re angry ethnic minorities are growing in numbers in our country. They’re angry because they are white and it doesn’t matter like it used to.
Others quash their emotions with drugs – prescription, legal or illegal. Then they don’t have to feel a thing.
Others keep it light: OMG, LMFAO, SMH (what does that even mean?).
Some live vicariously through reality TV. Okay, I admit my infatuation with it, but I promise you, I don’t inhale.
But why are we so fascinated? Do you remember the first reality show? It was called The American Family and it ran on PBS in 1973. I partook. The Louds, the family filmed for the show, claimed editing emphasized the negatives. Others thought they used the presence of the cameras as an opportunity to behave badly. Oldest son Lance came out in front of the cameras while mom Pat asked her husband Bill for a divorce.
The show led the way for other shows such as Real World that debuted on MTV. Now we are bombarded with reality shows, but I think reality has gone for a swim.
I watch three shows regularly: American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, and Dance Moms. I have partaken in occasional voyeurism with shows such as Toddlers & Tiaras, Dancing with the Stars, Pawn Stars, Call of the Wildman and a few others as well as several shows on HGTV. Aside from sometimes sapping my emotions and my intelligence (I can only hope they are regenerative), I can’t quite figure out why I am so drawn to these types of shows.
Maybe I am drawn because the shows are like memoir, aren’t they? They don’t show every agonizing moment, thank you very much, but edit it all down to fit into a defined time frame and particular topic or event. The dramatic content is there for effect, to make the viewer feel something.
The genre of memoir has felt the sting of slung shit. John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain, is in the ring of reality right now. He is defending his right to alter facts in order to serve the literary art of essay writing. Now he didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s how I perceive the fight. I read About a Mountain and I liked it, even as I came upon escalating statistics and variations of the truth. The book made me feel something. But I cannot say what I feel about the altering of verifiable facts because, as D’Agata argued, facts are often biased, just ask any politician. I’ve been guilty of it myself, and I can’t imagine a single one of you, readers, who can honestly say you’ve never used a fact that is purposely slanted to support what you wanted to say. Go back up to my paragraph on angry people. See what I mean?
My sister emailed me to tell me, among other things, that she read my post about our library visits when we were kids, but she told me I had the library wrong. It was not the NYS Public Library but the Harmonus Bleeker Library on Dove Street. She said she loved that place, too. Did it matter in my reminiscence that I got the library wrong? Is it considered an untruth because my child’s mind and my adult memory melded two places into one? I don’t think so. I recalled the feel of the place and the memory, and Peggy, my sister, knew exactly what I was talking about. As for the rest of you readers, does the exact place really matter?
So where does that leave truth and reality? We are mere humans, and truth is elusive because it will always be perceived through the lenses we wear. Those lenses are prescribed by ethnicity, culture, race, class, gender, age, sexual orientation, education, religious beliefs, experience, nature and nurture. Reality? Still viewed and perceived through those same lenses. We are flawed. That’s why I don’t mind swimming in the muck every once in a while.
Here’s some reality for you, readers, from my memoir. And, no, I wasn’t there.
(Excerpt from Chapter 6: Being Black All by Myself, Salt and Pepper: A Memoir about Interracial Love – still waiting to hear your opinion on the title)
A week later Ronald was on overtime duty at Fire Station 6. They responded to a fire call at the parking garage of the hospital – smoke on the roof, origin unknown. A blizzard pelted the region, the accumulation of snow already over a foot. The temperature was somewhere in the teens. The smoke was heavy, the snow was heavy, and visibility was zero. Ronald and his partner carefully made their way through the snowy, smoky fog, looking for the source of the fire.
I had left work early to pick up my parents-in-law. Sylvester Sr. had an appointment for a biopsy of his prostate gland, and he would not be able to drive afterwards. Though I hated driving during a snowstorm, I wanted to be there for both Sylvester and Bertha.
Ronald found the source of the smoke and fire – the equipment room – and turned to head toward it when he slipped on hard packed snow, slid backwards, and fell. He suddenly felt water all around him. His seventy pounds of fire equipment dragged him down, down, down, below the surface, and he wondered if he would touch bottom. He did – seven feet down. He wore his breathing apparatus, and he pushed and fought his way back up. When he broke the surface, he found himself trapped in a watery, oily, debris-filled drainage pit with smooth concrete sides and the edge of the pit three feet above him. He closed his eyes.
“Tread water,” Ronald said in his mind, remembering the first time we took adult swim lessons and the instructor nicknamed him “the Rock” because he immediately sank to the bottom of the pool. Ronald could not reach his radio and stay afloat, and he wondered if anyone knew that he had slipped into the drainage pit.
His partner had seen him disappear and radioed for help. There were men in the bucket truck parked at the side of the garage and they had seen him disappear, too. They sent a search and rescue crew. After several minutes of searching through the snow and smoke, they located the drainage pit – the grated lid had been removed to plow the large amounts of snow directly into it, but the discovery of the smoke had led to emergency calls and the lid was forgotten. They made their way toward it.
Ronald began to tire and thought he might slip back under the surface. He looked at the oil swirling in rainbows around his arms and the garbage closing in on him. The chill drilled into his bones and made them ache and grow heavy. Anxiety tightened his chest and, despite his breathing apparatus, no air reached his lungs. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, his arms and legs slowing to near inertia.
He thought, “This is it; no one will find me.” Then he felt his mother’s hands tying his hood just the way he remembered her doing it when he was a boy; he smelled the lotion on her hands; and he heard the comforting sound of the string running through the hood of his jacket. Peace lay gently over him. The sound of voices, muffled as if deep inside his head, and the feel of hands yanking him out of the cold, wet tomb broke the memory’s spell.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Riding the Interracial Marriage Highs

No one should be surprised that interracial marriages are at an all time high. 8.4 percent of all marriages in the U.S. are interracial, up from 3.2 percent in 1980.  The increase includes interracial marriages of all combinations but is tied to the increase of the Hispanic and Asian populations in our country.
I remember going to the movies with Cara and Mackenzie to see Save the Last Dance in 2001. It was a movie about dance, and that’s why we went, but it was also a movie about an interracial couple that faces prejudice from peers and family. I cried through the whole movie: not sniffles and discreet dabs at my nose with tissues, but outright sobbing, snot and tears flowing, and shoulders heaving. I didn’t realize until then how much emotion I had stuffed inside me and pretended didn’t exist. I felt the full onslaught of anger, loss and hurt at the way people treated us and how much of it went unresolved after the death of my parents, Dad in 1981 and Ma in 1983. Cara and Mackenzie were embarrassed and baffled that I had reacted so strongly to a predictable and sentimental film.
They were rising seniors in high school and were about to leave to attend their first year at the conservatory that was predominately white. Their whole school career had been at urban public schools that were around fifty percent ethnic minority. They wore the confidence of acceptance amongst their peers. Too soon they would experience prejudice, stereotyping, isolation, and racism at the conservatory, but at the time we saw the movie, they could not understand what their own parents had experienced.
I realized that day that I just wanted to be like everyone else: worry about the bills; wonder how Cara and Mackenzie would fare 700 miles away; work at getting to know one another again after raising two kids and beginning a new phase in our relationship. I didn’t want to have to think about Ronald being treated poorly because of his skin color or worry whether or not we’d have problems if we tried to buy another house or went to have dinner at a restaurant or tried to get a hotel room when we went south to see the girls. That’s all anyone wants – to feel the freedom of not being judged and to live one’s life without someone stepping in and trying to make something out of it that it isn’t.
(Excerpt from essay Staying on It: Beauty and Aging)
My aging hair upsets me the most. I can never recapture its color, a blend of browns, golds, and reds that lit up in the sunlight and glistened with health. I didn’t start dying my hair until I was in my late thirties. I had, long before then, advised my sister Peggy, ten years older than I, to dye hers.
“My God,” I said to her when I was searching for her in a large crowd of people on the concourse under the New York state capital plaza. “I didn’t recognize you. You look like Aunt Josephine.”
She called me a week later, my thoughtless comment still stinging, and asked me if she should start dying her hair. “Yes,” I said, “you look older than your years.”
I knew women whose hair had turned gray or white prematurely when they were in their teens or twenties, and I loved the uniqueness of it. But why am I so tormented by my own gray hair?
“Don’t dye your hair,” Ronald said weeks before I started getting it done. “They can’t duplicate your hair color, and I’ll notice if you color a single strand on your head.”
It took him six months.
Now he complains that my hairdresser doesn’t know what she’s doing. “She’s putting the lighter color underneath the dark,” he said. “It looks like your scalp is showing through. It should be the other way around.”
“Ronald, that’s not what she’s doing,” I said, anger flaring for his pointing out what I can no longer hide. “That’s how white my hair is, and when it starts to grow out, that’s what you see. I’d have to have it colored every two weeks to keep up with it.”
Debra Gimlin studied how middleclass white women take care of their hair and the role hairdressers play in helping them in her book Body Work: Beauty and Self-Image in American Culture. She says, “Clients above all want ‘natural-looking’ hair. However, this quality is related not to its being ‘natural’ in any genuine sense but rather to the painstaking construction of ‘naturalness.’”
Both Cara and Mackenzie think I might like the white or gray my hair really is, if I would just grow it out and try it. I talk to Ronald about it, but neither one of us seems to be able to make a definitive choice. Besides the awful skunk stripe I’d suffer with for the months it would take me to grow it out, I’m afraid that I’ll have succumbed to being old.
“I don’t want to look like George and Barbara Bush,” I’ve told Ronald on several occasions. His hair is salt and pepper, he has a growing bald spot, and he sports a spare tire at his waistline. I’ve promised to tell him when the bald spot has become too large, and he should shave his head. Cara, Mackenzie, and I see how he has aged, but strangers think he is years younger, even twenty years younger than his chronological age. I feel the unfairness and obsess over it.
“Are you going to leave me for someone younger?” I ask, dreading the answer.
“Dianne, I’m still here. Let me deal with the sadness I feel sometimes. Give me time to sort through what it feels like to watch you age,” he said.
I was hurt that he felt sad for me, even as I felt sad for myself. I felt old women became invisible but old men continued on as always.
“Dianne, it’s like a favorite pair of shoes,” he said, as we lay on the bed, my head resting on his shoulder, his arm around me. “They might be worn, but you’ve grown attached to them.”
A pair of shoes, I thought, anger breaking like beads of sweat, an emotional hot flash, but I realized it was his way of saying that he couldn’t imagine living without me, just as I could not imagine living without him.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Parenting Creativity Part 2

I’ve been thinking a lot about the arts and creativity again this week as I began to reread my memoir yet again. I hadn’t meant to reread it, but I had asked Ronald to read it again. After all, it is his story, too. When I printed it out to give to him, it felt and looked so inviting. Even as an avid Nook user, I find I still like to hold a physical book, feel the paper, and run my eyes over the words as they make patterns on the page.
As a child I loved the smell of libraries and the touch of books. Here’s a little reminiscence I wrote about one of my visits there when I was around four years of age:
A couple Saturdays a month Peggy (my big sister) walked me to the city bus stop. When the bus rolled to a stop in front of us, we climbed on board. Peggy dropped coins into the coin slot, we took seats side by side, and we rode into downtown Albany. We got off at State and Pearl Streets. Then we crossed State Street and climbed the concrete steps of the massive brick building fronted with Greek-styled columns that housed the New York State Museum of Natural History and the New York State Public Library.
 Once in a while we would turn away from the library and go into the museum. A life size model of a sperm whale skeleton hung above the entrance high in the air. We wandered through the circular paths from one exhibit to another. There were taxidermy animals set in natural habitats and wax figures of Indians sitting in long houses around campfires. One room was called the Gem Room, and each case held samples of sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. An Ellis Island exhibit portrayed immigrants arriving on US shores for the first time as my grandparents had arrived from Montemurro, Potenza, Italy: wax mannequins crowded around steamer trunks, valises, and duffle bags that fit everything they owned, awaiting check-in.
Round and round we went, stopping to look at each exhibit while Peggy read the placard describing it, lost in the enormity of time and place. Soon the gift shop would be ahead of us, and sometimes Peggy would let me pick out a tiny museum memento, maybe a tiny plastic whale or wooly mammoth or a coin purse decorated with Indian beads, to take home with us.
Most Saturdays we did not go to the museum but to the NYS Public Library. The smell of musty books overwhelmed and the quiet enveloped me. On this day Peggy left me in the children’s section while she went searching for books to please her tastes. “Stay right here and don’t move,” she whispered. But there was no way I was going to go anywhere.
The library floor was cold dark tile. I sat cross-legged on it in the middle of the aisle, my dress pulled over my knees in a triangle, with books on either side of me in long wooden four-level shelves. I smelled the books, the pungent mustiness burning my nostrils; I touched their plastic jackets, and ran my fingernails over them, scratching the surface.
The pictures held me spellbound. Some were just line drawings; others were in color; and still others seemed to jump off the page. They spilled over into the words I could not yet read, and their colors and lines were textured with movement.  Make Way for Ducklings, Madeline’s Rescue, Ten Apples Up On Top, Are You My Mother?, Curious George, Happy  Birthday Moon – I knew them by the pictures on their covers. I scrambled on my knees up and down the aisle, pulling books off the shelf, and looking for ones I hadn’t taken out before and whose covers and pages attracted me in some way.
Peggy wandered back with a few books in the crook of her arm. “Let’s pick some books to take home, just four,” she said. I knew Peggy would read to me whatever books I chose. I picked just four because I knew she would take me to the library again when the books were due and let me take out more.
We checked the books out and walked back to the bus stop on the opposite side of the street from where we had gotten off. On the bus, Peggy dropped more coins into the slot and we took our seats for the ride home. Often a visit to the library exhausted me as no other play could, and I slept with my head on Peggy’s shoulder for the duration of the ride until she roused me at our stop on Central Avenue and Locust Park. “Come on, we have to get off now, “ she coaxed.
The walk home always seemed longer than the walk to the bus stop, and my feet felt heavy as bricks. I held my books against my chest, my arms tightly wrapped around them, lest I drop one in the road. They were my treasures found.


This week Cara astounded me with a beautiful short memoir film, a memoir in motion. It aroused and recalled my emotions and what it was like to let my seventeen-year-old twins Cara and Mackenzie move twelve hours away to pursue intensive dance training at a conservatory. The memory elicited tears as I recalled how, that first year, Ronald and I repeatedly wondered if we had done the right thing by sending them there. I cried that first year almost as much as they did. But the film was joyful as I witnessed Cara’s exploration of how she grew to love and emulate the very teacher she had at first questioned and for whom she felt anger, distrust and dislike. The dance duet between teacher and student, and then teacher peers, is evocative and moving. I showed it to Ronald and he said simply, “It’s beautiful.” Cara intuits her way through her artistic pursuits and through life, a whimsical, beautiful, artistic being.
Here’s the link, if you’d like to watch it: http://vimeo.com/36345833.
I wanted to share a photo of Mackenzie doing the very thing I shied her away from as a child when she begged to take gymnastics – “you’ll get hurt,” I admonished each time she brought it up. But I cannot figure out the technology to include it, so I will include a short piece from my memoir describing the circus arts she now performs in addition to dance:
(From Chapter 8, Watch Our Show – possible new book title: Salt and Pepper: A Memoir about Interracial Love – let me know your thoughts on it)
We would sit through many performances over the years: piano recitals, dance recitals, dance performances at the conservatory, and then their own productions and dance films.  We went to New York City to watch Mackenzie fly on fabric that was suspended from the ceiling, secured with giant carabiners. She spun in graceful circles. Then she scaled the fabric twenty feet up, twisting and turning it around her body, the long fabric tails flipping through the air.  Near the top she released her hold and spiraled downward, the fabric unwinding as if she were a spool and it the thread. Just as it looked as if she might not stop, she did, the fabric flexing bungee-like, her back arched, her legs and arms hanging backward toward the floor, looking like a spider in a web.

Ronald and I had no map to follow when we grew up as artistic people. We had no mentors. We did not know about nor have access to special schools or conservatories that can immerse one in art and where one can meet other artists. We lacked drive perhaps, to push ahead anyway, as many, many artists did and continue to do. Maybe we were too sensitive and worried too much about the response to our creative endeavors. I still worry and feel disappointment. Maybe we needed stability more than the satisfaction one gets from creating. Or maybe we were too afraid of failure or what might lie ahead. No matter though, we still live artistic lives, now maybe a little more comfortable with our artistic endeavors than we were as young adults. And we raised two artists who forge ahead, not always sure of where they are going, but who are committed to living creatively and artistically.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Parenting Creativity

I had conversations with each of my daughters this week about their artistic pursuits. I originally wrote that sentence by describing the conversations as “nice” but that isn’t accurate. They were conversations about struggle, frustration, the process of sharing work and passion, and how hard it is to be an artist of any kind. We spoke about how an artist’s work is affected by where you present your work and who sees it. They’ve watched their own parents struggle with this as well and witnessed our feelings of failure and lack of personal satisfaction. There has been growth, but if it is only internal or only at home with no audience in sight, there is a sense of incompleteness about the process.
I’ve felt my own love/hate relationship with my creativity. As a writer and a daydreamer, my creativity isolates me. Yet I feel the urge to share my writing and then oftentimes end up disappointed by rejection (one agent told me to rewrite and “tell me how you feel.” Isn’t that the clichéd counselor’s exhortation?) or arguments (family and friends telling me what I experienced and how I perceived that experience is incorrect). That’s hard to take because it is my story, my memory, my vision, my perception, and my expression of what happened and how I processed it. The feeling is innate in the telling and the choices made during that telling.
Then I think of my husband, the most creative, sensitive, and artistic person I know. He’s been a successful artist. He’s led bands and recorded music.  He is driven to try repeatedly to collaborate but each time he feels that disappointment, the failure of not reaching a shared vision, his sense that others don’t have or want the same intensity of experience, and there he is, a musician left alone with his instrument. He has told Cara and Mackenzie time and again, “Do your own thing. Don’t wait or rely on others.”
One other thing he tells them, that I agree with and often repeat, is, “Amateurs help amateurs remain amateurs.”
Cara had her own bit of wisdom to impart today, to me, her mother. I told her I was rereading my memoir, going over it again, reading it out loud, and looking for weaknesses in the structure and the writing. I said, “I’m not liking it now. I think the second half is complicated.”
“Mom,” she said. “Don’t over edit. You’ll ruin it.”
 I know that. She’s right. My story is braided and complicated. That’s how my brain perceives things, too. It wouldn’t be my story if I edited that out. I saw that as I finished reading the last few pages of the memoir out loud an hour or so ago. It’s authentic and true to who I am and the story I’ve chosen to tell about me in all its complexity. It’s not a story about just race and racism; it’s a story about two creative, imperfect people who feel the impact of differentness in a racially constructed world.
We need that differentness that we bring to the creative process, else it would just be the same artistic product over and over, like thousands of same model cars made on the assembly line.  Some are blue, some are silver, and some are black, red or white, but they are the same damn car. There would be no individuality, no authentic emotional exchange, no true sharing of culture, spirit and humanity.
Mainstream culture embraces the car theory of artistic pursuit. Find a good artist that appeals to the masses; then duplicate him or her until the masses tire and want something else. Artists don’t choose to be tragic figures, but I understand how many end up that way.
Nurture your creativity. Accept its differentness. And when it grows mature and it gives you good advice, be open to it. That’s good parenting.

(Excerpt from essay Mother Mother)
I had a terrible fight with Ma when I was fourteen. I hung out with a group of girls, all living middle class lives. They spent their weekly allowances at the mall and bought T-shirts, Snoopy and Mickey Mouse stickers, Tiger Beat, a fan magazine, and 45s with hits by David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman. I didn’t get an allowance. Ma and Dad couldn’t afford to give me one, and our house looked nothing like their houses. It was cluttered, dusty, and greasy with worn-out furniture and raveling rugs covered in animal fur over asbestos tiled floors. A film of cigarette smoke blanketed every surface.
My newfound friends enjoyed ice-skating at the tennis courts on Locust Park. Just three blocks from my house, the tennis courts were flooded each winter by the village and the skating was free. The girls kept asking when I was going to come, and I wanted to go so I would not be left out or forgotten. They had already expressed their displeasure at my eccentric behavior when I spent a sleepover at one of their houses hunkered down in the corner with the novel Knock on Any Door, by Willard Motley. They couldn’t understand how an old, moldy paperback with a torn cover, taken from Ma’s bookshelf, could possibly be more interesting than looking at a centerfold of David Cassidy in the latest Tiger Beat issue.  But I found Nick “live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse” Romano much more intriguing. I couldn’t put the book down.
I asked Ma for ice skates, and she wandered into the cellar and pulled out a musty pair of skates from beneath a pile of junk. Peggy had used them a decade or so before. The leather was cracked and brittle, and they smelled bad. I hated them in comparison to the other girls’ brand new skates. When I put them on, the other girls sneered and said they were ugly. I had not skated before, and my ankles leaned inward and grew sore and tired within a short time. I struggled to hold back my tears and formulated my plan for getting new skates.
When I got home, I started crying. I told Ma how my ankles hurt from wearing the old skates and how much I needed a new pair. Ma lashed out at me, saying the kinds of things I was used to hearing like how selfish I was. I lashed back. Then I ran into my room, and sobbed for all I stood to lose by not having those skates.  In a few minutes, as I choked and blubbered, Ma came into my room, sat on the edge of the bed, hugged me, and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much the skates meant to you. I’ll find a way.”
My victory felt shallow and tarnished, but I got my skates the next day. I know now that Ma had no money for skates and was more worried about putting food on the table. And she was right I was selfish. The minute I had those new skates on, though, I forgot about it. My ankles still sagged inward and hurt, but my skates were shiny and new.
I made sure, even if I went into debt, that Cara and Mackenzie never suffered my shame. It caused fights between Ronald and me as my store credit cards hit their limits, but I never wanted them to feel unworthy. In principal I didn’t allow them to wear the more expensive popular brands that many of the middle class kids wore. It was my way of keeping them grounded, and I reminded them how some of the other kids they went to school with might never have a new winter jacket or a warm pair of boots. Each year we donated clothes they had outgrown to the school nurse, so she could give them to students who needed them. I explained that their old winter jacket would become someone else’s new jacket and that if they saw someone wearing something that used to be theirs, they should never mention it. That’s how parenting is done sometimes, as a correction of the past. It doesn’t make it better or even right, but it happens just the same.