Friday, June 18, 2010


In my most recent message, Gentle Readers, I lauded Toni Morrison's latest, a mercy.

I also mentioned a female writer who came out of the Harlem Renaissance but never had the success she deserved. Zora Neale Hurston ended her life working as a maid in Florida, her home state.

Before she succumbed to domesticity of just about the worst kind -- you're in charge of the house but it ain't your house and you get paid about diddly squat for gettin' down on your knees and scrubbin' the floor -- Hurston wrote a book I truly love, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

If you haven't read this amazing book, I hope you will, and if you have, I hope you will re-read and perhaps take into consideration my comments on it.

Here's what Lola has to say about Janie's Quest:

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie Crawford longs for freedom, but as an African American woman, she is doubly oppressed. However, Janie is courageous enough to make her dreams a reality. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston uses the symbolism of Janie's marriages along with biblical allusions to develop the theme of a black woman's quest for love and for identity as an individual.

As Janie moves from one marriage to the next, Hurston charts the course of blacks in the United States. Janie's first marriage is to Logan Killicks. Janie's grandmother, Nanny, tells Janie:

Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah ben able tuh find out. Maybe it's someplace way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don't know nothin' but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don't tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin' fuh it tuh be different wid you.

Nanny believes that Janie's life can be different if she will "marry off decent like" to "Brother Logan Killicks." Janie resists marriage, for "the vision of Logan Killicks . . . desecrat[es]" Janie's dreams of love and a full life, but Nanny "slaps[s]" Janie's "face violently, and force[s] her head back so that their eyes [meet] in struggle." Then, Nanny begs Janie to "have some sympathy fuh" her and marry so she can "die easy." Nanny "twist[s]" Janie "in the name of love." Thus, she marries Killicks.

Janie hopes to find love and relief from loneliness in marriage, but she is disappointed. Killicks lives up to his name by killing Janie's "first dream" that marriage would "make love." Killicks has "de onliest organ in town, amongst colored folks" and "a house bought and paid for and sixty acres uh land right on de big road," but Janie would "ruther be shot wid tacks than tuh turn over in de bed and stir up de air whilst he is in dere." Although for a time he "chops all de wood" and "keeps both water buckets full," after Nanny's death, Killicks expects Janie to become his mule: "'Janie!' Logan called harshly. 'Come help me move dis manure pile befo' de sun gits hot. You don't take a bit of interest in dis place. 'Tain't no use in foolin' round in dat kitchen all day long.'" Nanny had "set" Janie "in the market-place to sell," had "whipped [her] like a cur dog, and run [her] off down a back road after things." Symbolically, Nanny has sold Janie into slavery by giving her in marriage to Killicks. Therefore, Janie does not own herself; she has no identity.

Janie escapes slavery by leaving Logan Killicks for another marriage that leads to more disappointment. Her second husband, Joe Starks, is a "cityfied, stylish dressed man" with "three hundred dollars, yes indeed, right here in his pocket." Starks wants "to be a big voice" in "dis place dat colored folks was buildin' theirselves." He promises to "be a big ruler of things with her reaping the benefits," but a ruler, however benevolent, is still a ruler. Starks opens a store in the new town and becomes the mayor. He is "kind of portly like rich white folks," and no one in town has "the temerity to challenge him." When "the other women ha[ve] on percale and calico," Starks insists that Janie wear "silken ruffles." Also, "the wife of the Mayor [is] not just another woman"; she cannot "get but so close" to others in the town "in spirit." This period in Janie's life represents the attempt by some black Americans to emulate white behavior.

Although Starks loves his postion in the town, Janie is uncomfortable with her role as "Mrs. Mayor." She is not even a black woman with Starks. She is lonely and unhappy. She tells Starks: "You'se always off talkin' and fixin' things, and Ah feels lak Ah'm jus' markin' time." Starks tells Janie she should appreciate her position as his wife; he is unable to see her as an individual: "He wanted her submission and he'd keep on fighting until he felt he had it." Starks also insists that Janie work in the store although it "kept her with a sick headache." With Starks, Janie may be a higher class of mule, but she is still a mule. Moreover, she still has no identity as a mere appendage to Starks.

When Joe Starks dies, Janie makes considerable progress in her quest. She decides: "Ah done lived Grandma's way, now Ah means tuh live mine." Janie can finally begin to enjoy life, and she does so with Vergible "Tea Cake" Woods. Janie is no mule to Tea Cake: "He wouldn't let her get him any breakfast at all. He wanted her to get her rest." Significantly, Janie has economic independence, so she does not need a man to support her, but Tea Cake insists upon providing for Janie anyway. Tea Cake takes Janie "down in de Everglades" where "folks don't do nothin' down dere but make money and fun and foolishness." She finds that "the men h[o]ld big arguments here like they used to do on the store porch. Only here, she could listen and laugh and even talk some herself if she wanted to. She got so she could tell big stories herself from listening to the rest." With Tea Cake, Janie has an identity. They work together, play together, and love together. Their marriage represents a celebration of black culture and traditions--especially those concerned with language and storytelling--similar to that of the Harlem Renaissance.

Additionally, Janie's relationship with Tea Cake is a celebration of selflessness filled with biblical allusions. When Janie has Tea Cake's love, and she has an identity, she finds that her love for Tea Cake is so great, she no longer needs to worry about herself: "He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place." When Janie "gain[s] the whole world" through possessions with Killicks and Starks, she has no soul (Matthew 16:26). But when she loses herself in complete love for another, she gains her soul: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25). Of course, the sacrifice of Tea Cake's life for Janie is the culmination of their unrestricted love.

Janie's celebration does not end with Tea Cake's death, although her grief is tremendous. No man tells the story of Janie's life; Janie can tell it herself. She tells her close fiend, Phoeby, who "done growed ten feet higher from jus' listenin' tuh" Janie, and she urges Phoeby to teach others about love: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowhip with us" (1 John 1:3). As for Janie, she is alone but at "peace. The light in her hand was like a spark of sun-stuff washing her face in fire."

"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)

Janie knows Tea Cake can "never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking": "For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life . . . . And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:2, 4).

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Gentle Readers,

Yesterday I finished reading A Mercy by Toni Morrison.

I looked at the photo of Morrison's familiar face on the back cover and felt as if her strength and beauty had been transferred directly to the page. Oh, to be such a writer. Pulitzer Prize Winner. Nobel Laureate!

I have also read Beloved, which is amazing, and Song of Solomon, which has a particular passage about a death that moves me to tears every time I think of it.

What a powerful writer Morrison is.

My only disappointment with her is actually Oprah's fault, because Oprah made a movie of Beloved, starring herself. Check out the movie and see what you think, but I don't think Oprah was up to the task. She was a better actress in The Color Purple, before she was so famous and so full of herself.

As usual, though, the book of The Color Purple by Alice Walker is superior to the movie.

I celebrate you Toni Morrison, and you Alice Walker. Yes, you are important black, female writers, but your greatness transcends any particular category.

And Alice Walker, thank you for finding the approximate burial plot Zora Neale Hurston and putting the marker on it that it deserves: A Genius of the South. I love Their Eyes Were Watching God. What a wonderful character Janie is!

I think we need to explore Hurston more in the future and take a look at Maya Angelou, whose poetry and memoirs receive quite a bit of attention, and richly deserved attention it is.

Happy Reading, Gentle Readers.



Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I watched the movie Nine, Gentle Readers, based on the Broadway musical of the same name.

It has some big splashy fun production numbers that I really enjoyed.

However, the most interesting character was that of Luisa (Marion Cotillard), film director Guido Contini's (Daniel Day-Lewis) wife.

Once upon a time an actress in Guido's films, Luisa took on the role of Wife and lost her identity. To retrieve it, she must leave Guido.

That's the danger of marriage to a famous or celebrated person. You become the Nobody who accompanies him and is never noticed. People cannot be bothered with you. You feel embarrassed and ashamed all the time because you are in the way. Everything you say is judged as stupid, or when it's intelligent, it's attributed to him.

Anyway, the movie was fun and thought-provoking at the same time. All the women of Nine were great, including Kate Hudson, Fergie, and Penelope Cruz - who can do the most amazing moves with those long gorgeous gams of hers.

The women, however, are stereotypes who revolve around Guido Contini's Sun. The Wife, The Whore, The Mistress, The Muse, The Slut Reporter/Fan. No woman is a well-rounded character. No woman is all things, as Guido Contini is all things.

Something to think about.



Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Gentle Readers,

I was allowed to sleep in my bed last night. Robin began the night on a doggie bed on the floor. I don't know why. She just did.

So I made myself comfortable, and at some point during the night, she joined me. She didn't push me around. I was allowed to stay where I was.

Perhaps Robin read yesterday's message and realized that remaining a bed hog could make her unpopular.

In spite of the large tumor she has, I question the vet's prognosis of four months to live. She's so tough, I suspect she may decide to hang around awhile longer, especially now that she's living the good life.

In another life, I helped take care of a man who was dying from lung cancer. Oh, I adored him. Before the pain got really bad, every day I would take a fresh pitcher of water to him and he would tap his cheek and say, Gimme a kiss right here, baby doll.

I was happy to oblige.

But when he no longer asked for kisses and stayed in bed all day, the hospice nurse was called in. She said he had mere hours to live.

His family came to be with him. They gathered round his bed and cried, Daya-dee, don't leave us!

Daya-dee respected their wishes and lived about another six weeks.

So much for the hospice nurse and her prognosis of mere hours to live.

The man was the one who knew when it was the end. He told me he wanted his son to be called - his oldest son, not the rest of the family.

The son arrived at about 2 a.m. and the kindly man drifted away into lovely, soothing death. He knew when it was his time, and I think Robin will let us know when it is her time.



Monday, June 14, 2010


Gentle Readers,

Poor, pitiful little Robin who is dying of cancer started out as a cuddler in my bed.

Poor, pitiful little dog, I thought. She is so starved for affection and attention. I was simply thrilled to give her the love she deserves.

But cuddling has turned into a turf war; that is, who owns the bed?

Before I can get in the bed at night, Robin hops in and settles down smack dab in the middle. I have to push and shove her as best I can so I can join her in bed. For a poor, pitiful cancer stricken dog, she is mighty heavy and strong when she plants herself in her desired spot.

Last night, I barely got into the bed, and when I did, I was allowed only enough of the sheet to cover half of myself. Robin was on top of the middle of the sheet and would not allow me to pull more onto myself.

I awoke frequently during the night, finding myself in danger of being pushed out of the bed. Robin, I said, You really must let Mommy share the bed and get some sleep.

I was exhausted this morning because I spent the night fighting for a spot in what used to be my bed.

So the question is: Who owns the bed?

The answer is simple: Robin.



Saturday, June 12, 2010


Gentle Readers,

Robin has come here to live.

Robin has come here to die.

Robin is some sort of bulldog mix. She has had I don't know how many litters of puppies. She has a terrible limp. She has a scar around her neck from being chained. Her ribs are sticking out.

And she has cancer. About four months to live, according to the vet.

My son's young lady love wants her to know what happiness is before she dies, and I think she already has it figured out.

Happiness is curling up in a chair in the family room and getting your tummy scratched.

Happiness is regular meals.

Happiness is a fenced-in backyard where you can run with the other dogs and feel free but safe.

Happiness is batting at Mom's arm when she's reading to make sure Mom doesn't forget you for one second, and you don't get in trouble for wanting attention.

Happiness is getting into Mom's bed at night and cuddling up as close to Mom as you can get.

I named her Robin because it is still spring. Summer will arrive soon, but right now, at this moment, it is still spring and the robins return in the spring.

So Robin has come to us during the spring. We will see her through the summer and care for her and give her all the love she wants and needs.

Then when fall arrives and it is time for the dying that precedes winter, we will see Robin through her death and we will make sure the death is as calm and gentle as possible.

Robin, you are loved.

Robin, this is what happiness is.

I am so glad you are here.



Friday, June 11, 2010


Gentle Readers,

A friend forwarded this message to me. I think it's quite funny and I hope you enjoy it.

She spent the first day packing her belongings into boxes, crates and suitcases.

On the second day, she had the movers come and collect her things..

On the third day, she sat down for the last time at their beautiful dining room table by candle-light, put on some soft background music, and feasted on a pound of shrimp, a jar of caviar, and a bottle of spring-water.

When she had finished, she went into each and every room and deposited a few half-eaten shrimp shells dipped in caviar into the hollow of the curtain rods.

She then cleaned up the kitchen and left. When the husband returned with his new girlfriend, all was bliss for the first few days. Then slowly, the house began to smell.

They tried everything; cleaning, mopping and airing the place out. Vents were checked for dead rodents and carpets were steam cleaned.

Air fresheners were hung everywhere. Exterminators were brought in to set off gas canisters, during which they had to move out for a few days and in the end they even paid to replace the expensive wool carpeting.

Nothing worked!!!

People stopped coming over to visit.. Repairmen refused to work in the house. The maid quit.

Finally, they could not take the stench any longer and decided to move.

A month later, even though they had cut their price in half, they could not find a buyer for their stinky house.

Word got out, and eventually, even the local realtors refused to return their calls.

Finally, they had to borrow a huge sum of money from the bank to purchase a new place.

The ex-wife called the man and asked how things were going.

He told her the saga of the rotting house. She listened politely and said that she missed her old home terribly and would be willing to reduce her divorce settlement in exchange for getting the house.

Knowing his ex-wife had no idea how bad the smell was, he agreed on a price that was about 1/10th of what the house had been worth, but only if she were to sign the papers that very day.

She agreed and within the hour his lawyers delivered the paperwork.

A week later the man and his girlfriend stood smiling as they watched the moving company pack everything to take to their new home........ .

And to spite the ex-wife, they even took




Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Gentle Readers,

After I saw the movie The Informant, starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, a whistle blower who went undercover for the FBI to reveal price fixing schemes, I was curious about the real Mark Whitacre.

So I read Mark Whitacre: Against All Odds by Stevin Hoover.

Of course, Mark Whitacre's story is fascinating. His faith actually grew during the unjust years he spent in prison.

But the person who belongs on the page of Women: We Shall Overcome is Mark's wife, Ginger Whitacre.

Ginger kept the family together and never, ever lost her faith in God and her husband as he struggled with mental illness and was convicted of the crimes HE uncovered. How easy it might have been to say, I've had it with this. I'm outa here.

But not Ginger Whitacre. Every time Mark was moved to a different prison, Ginger moved the family to the area and they spent every minute of every visiting opportunity with Mark. Ginger went back to school and worked as a kindergarten teacher to help support the family. She continues to teach today, using her teaching skills to work with children who come from poverty stricken homes.

She is a woman who has overcome so much, and now she has her beloved husband back at her side -- except when he travels for his new job, which he does a lot.

But Ginger Whitacre is o.k. with Mark's work. In fact, I'd bet the family farm that she's more than o.k. with it because Mark is looking to help people beat cancer. She's willing to share her brilliant husband so he can do his part to save the world.

Ginger Whitacre: Your husband isn't the only one in the family who is intelligent, hard-working, and selfless. I don't want to hurt Mark's feelings, but I'll go so far as to say you top Mark by a bit. I know how hard it is to be the wife who tries to help her husband through every trial -- literally and figuratively -- and tribulation. Sometimes a woman feels helpless.

If you ever felt that way, I don't think you let Mark or your children see it or sense it. You, Ginger Whitacre, you are a strong and amazing woman. Congratulations.

Ginger, if you should happen to read this and would like to post any information about your faith, your marriage, your teaching, your whatever, I'm sure it would be helpful to a lot of women who also have much to overcome.