Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mama On: New Year's Resolutions

"In all things, give thanks."

Okay, this one is not original Mamaknology. It is from 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and it absolutely describes how I am feeling right here at the beginning of a new year, and a new decade. This is not the year that I will make new resolutions -- not that some of mine have not worked in the past. Rather, this is the year that I will simply be thankful to hold onto and build upon an old one.

We all know that we do what we do, we are who we are, and no matter what we resolve to change, if we are so blessed as to wake up on tomorrow, we will have one more chance to do it better. So, I'm going to give thanks for both today and tomorrow. And I don't know if that is a resolution or an acceptance of an Almighty force outside myself, but I am giving thanks.

My mother, the original Mamaknologist used to make it her business to get me into somebody's Sunday School every Sunday -- until I got old enough to say I didn't want to go. And of course, after that, I used to get the weekly, "if you could hang out and party, then you can get to church," lecture. And somehow, in all her efforts, I learned something.

I learned gratitude, and now I have learned to be grateful for every day I live to see. I have learned to be grateful for my health. I have learned tobe grateful for the friends who have become the anchors to my life. I have learned to be grateful for the job I don't always want to go to. I have learned to be grateful for literacy. I have learned to be grateful for my right to vote. I have learned to be grateful for so many things that this list should be darned near endless.

But most of all, I am grateful that I can hold onto this old resolution and that in all things I can be grateful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mama On: Bumble Bees

"Do it right the first time and you won't have to go back and repeat it."

I already hear you. Yes. This quote makes all the sense in the world, but does that mean that we pay attention and follow through on it? No, it doesn't. And that, of course, leads us (read that as me ... okay, maybe you, too) into all kinds of trouble.

Yes, I'm having One Of Those Days, and I have to admit that the Mamaknologist who raised me taught me all of the Right Stuff. In fact she placed special emphasis on things like honesty and integrity, and if you catch me on the right day and at the right time, I will spout the cherished phrases verbatum. Yes, word-for-word, I will tell you all about how saving money for emergencies (that don't include One Day Sales at Macy's) is a good idea. I will tell you that you are what you eat, and that that should not be limited to red velvet cake. And, yes, I will tell you why we should all be glad that our knees bend and our fingers interlock when we bow our heads to pray.

But, dang! Can you tell me how it is that we forget all of that when it comes to our real lives? And worse, why do we insist on not applying the Mamaknology, then wondering how we wound up in the mess we were warned about? Doesn't that parallel the notion that madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome?

Why we (in this case me) continually fall into these little life snares is a mystery -- even when we think we've girded our fiscal, physical, emotional, and artistic loins, we step into the mess. Maybe some of this is why my mother thought that doing something right the first time would make it easier when you had to deal with a similar mess later in your life -- just because of the general life madness.

More than likely, though, this was a point of remedial Mamaknology and you've heard it couched in other language. We've all heard that, "what does not kill us makes us stronger." And we've all heard that the reason a butterfly must struggle to be free of its cocoon is to build strength for its life. But my mother, the original Mamaknologist, liked to tell me about bumble bees. She talked about their big, round, unwieldy bodies, and their fast-fluttering wings. She told me that because of the way they were built, there was no way in the word that they were supposed to be able to fly, and yet they did. She said that the reason they flew high and far was because they either didn't know, or didn't care that they couldn't.

She told me that people and bumble bees had a lot in common. Hmm... So, the Mamaknology here is simply to serve the general life madness with prayer, and do the best that you can the first time around.

As for me? I'm gonna bumble like the bee!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mama On: Birthdays

"Celebrate your birthday, baby. You only get one."

And in the great wisdom of Mamaknology, my mother thought it was important to celebrate self. She saw one's birthday as a personal holiday to be cherished -- after all, it only comes once a year.

So, for me, today is one more birthday for me than my mother lived to see, and I am determined t0 try to live every day in faith, peace, health, and happiness. After all, it's just a part of the celebration of my birthday and my life because I have this one time to do it right.

Happy birthday to me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mama On: Standing

"We have to develop But Power."

Well, our Rock Star president has won the 2009 Nobel Peace prize, and we all know that in large part, it is due to his innate ability to endure and outlast, 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. Taking nothing away from William Shakespere, the author of those words, I am going to give credit for this bit of Mamaknology to former U.S. Congresswoman, Barbara Jordan (1936-1996).

Jordan was not a woman of great physical beauty. She was tall, dark-skinned, seriously 'thick', and nobody ever accused her of having 'good' hair. What she did have was wit, wisdom, backbone, and an enormous intellect. She possessed a strong, gravelly voice, and piercing eyes. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she made steps that a lot of people would have give second, third, and even fourth thoughts to -- and then she stepped up and out.

I was privileged to hear her speak and to meet her at a Zeta Phi Beta boule in Chicago, when I was fifteen and have never forgotten her words or her presence. She marks me to this very day, and when I am ready to give in or give up, the Mamaknology of her words touches me again. Her topic was, "But Power," and I heard and understood the lesson she was there to teach, even before I internalized the words that would come later.

On that hot August day, Jordan stood before a group of women; women like my mother, who would soon reach middle-age; young women just emerging from the college experience; and women-to-be, like me and my friends. When she took the podium, intelligence shining like a beacon, she smiled. And then she rocked the room with a voice like an avenging angel. She told us that people would look at us and tell us that while we possessed everything it took to run a world, they would also say things like:

  • but you might fail
  • but you're a woman
  • but you have no money
  • but we're not sure about you
  • but this has never been done before
  • but your proposal is filled with risk
  • but this is outside your range of experience
  • but you would have to be the first one to do it
And you know what? She was right, but she gave us the answer to every one of those BUTs and a blueprint for the process of being 'different' in America. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, preacher's daughter, graduate of Texas Southern University (1956) and Boston University Law School (1959), Houston democrat, keynote speaker at the 1976 Democratic Convention, and African-American said: "We have to develop BUT Power."

She told us that in times to come, the answer to every challenge would be But Power. She said that when you are told 'no' the answer is not to turn, hang your head, and walk away, it is to remain calm and humble and realize that the answer is no today, BUT tommorrow is another day. When you are told that you lack the skill or education, the answer is, BUT I will find a way to learn what I have to and I will be back. When you are told that you are only a woman, the answer is BUT Jesus was only a man, and look how that turned out. When you are told that your skin is the wrong color, or that your hair is not 'good' enough, the answer is, BUT I will still come back tomorrow. And when the door is closed in your face, you just may have to find a seat for your BUTT, but you don't leave -- and you don't back down when your civil rights and ethics are challenged.

I think that these are lessons that Mr. Obama has learned in abundance, and transmitted to the world around him. I am proud that he has taken them into the White House and the world beyond the United States. His humility in acknowledging the award was admirable, and I know that his daughters have learned from his example. I am pleased and happy to see his wife at his side -- he stands as a man of honor and his wife is confident that he is who he always promised her he would be. It would appear that Mr. Obama had done his best to demonstrate BUT Power.

Well done, Mr. AND Mrs. Obama.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mama On: Behavior

"Behave yourself! Do you want people to think you were raised in a barn?"

Ah, we have again come to one of the basic tenants of Mamaknology -- "Act right." And of course, the addendum is, "Act right in public; you never know who sees you" "

I had the privilege of viewing the AMERICA I AM exhibit, here in Atlanta. Before going further, I have to say that it was an amazing exhibit and totally worth the one-hour (plus) wait in line. Now, knowing that this fascinating event dealt with the contributions, trials, tribulations, and triumphs of African-Americans in this country. I wanted to believe that I was going to celebrate being black in America with people like me. People willing to share and enjoy the best of what we are.

Well, as it turns out, many of the people I was in line with turned into something I hope never to be: rude, ignorant, loud, vulgar, and callous, and they had no problem demonstrating these traits in pairs, trebles, and other multiples. The children with them MUST have learned their manners somewhere else -- thank goodness -- because the ones throwing the tantrums, trying to touch the exhibits, taking pictures, sitting and standing on the exhibits, and stepping on other people were the adults.

Now, what's wrong with us? Why can't we go anywhere and act like it is meant for EVERYONE to enjoy-- not just us. Why do we think that the rules are meant for everyone EXCEPT us? Why do we forget our manners at the door and then have the NERVE to be offended when we're caught doing the wrong thing? And yes, people were in the exhibit trying to handle and take pictures of 500-year old artifacts!

Come on, people! You KNOW your mama raised you better than that. People died for your right to stand where you are, and you're tramping all over their blood, sweat, and tears like it means nothing. Were you raised in barn?

The Mamaknologist take on this is much like the line from John Donne's poem (Meditation XVII). Donne tells us that, "No man is an island, entire to himself...". Briefly, this means that you have no right to behave like a circus act and then take it on the road because you are not the only person in the world. You have no right to abuse the people around you with your bad behaviour. One of our president's was quoted as saying, "the rights of the individual extend only as far as the next individual."

He might not have been a Mamaknologist, but he put the right words in place to make the point.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mama On: Thinking Before You Speak

"WHAT did I tell you?"

Tonight, I watched the VMA award show and witnessed a man moving contrary to everything that has brought him to this point in time. DEEP in my heart, I heard my mother's voice loud and exceedingly clear. She said, "Kanye West has lost his mind, and I KNOW his mother is embarrassed." The Mamaknologist in me agreed wholeheartedly. His interruption of another artist was rude and inappropriate. His language, though not entirely lewd, was unacceptable. His behavior and the manner in which he chose to voice his opinion was ... wrong.

And we all know, his mama didn't raise him like that.

It is my belief that Dr. Donda West, in all the years of raising her child used that key phrase ("What did I tell you?") with all of the power any Mamaknologist could muster -- and I am sure that she moved emphasis and aggression throughout the phrase with strong intent. I'm pretty sure that this is what she meant when she said:

  • "WHAT did I tell you?" Translation: Are you listening when I tell you what I know about the world?
  • "What DID I tell you?" Translation: I'm going to repeat this because you need to get a clear understanding. The world is going to hold you responsible for getting it right.
  • "What did I tell you?" Translation: Son, I've laid my life on the line for yours because I want yours to be better than mine. Take the gift and grow into a good man.
  • "What did I TELL you?" Translation: Son, why aren't you listening? You can't be a child forever and this life is not a dress rehearsal.
  • "What did I tell YOU?" Translation: Son, I'm not giving this gift to anyone but you. Please use it well.
So, here's the Mamaknologist take, delivered as a direct message: Crazy is not cute, Kanye. Your mother, armed with all of the acquired wisdom of her Mamaknology, provided the blueprint. It is now up to you to build a life worth living. People maybe watching, but you need to man up and get some help. There is no shame in recognizing a need for support, and the Mamaknologist in me hears the voices of both my mother and yours, because I know that your mama DID tell you.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mama On: Prayer

"Aren't you glad that Jesus believed in crosses?"

My mother, The World's Foremost Mamaknologist, liked to say that it was a good thing that Jesus believed in the cross enough to climb up on one. My father's mother used to like to remind me that I could live a life that was Paid In Full.

Suddenly, on a day when my heart is full and I have undeniable reasons to be grateful, I am very happy that Jesus believed in crosses and God gave me knees that could bend and hands that can fold for prayer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mama On: Learning

"Once it's in your head, no one can ever take it away."

My mother was very good about pointing this out, especially to me, because I was her own. Her point, more than anything else, was to be sure that I knew that knowledge is invaluable and worth the inspiration and effort it takes to get it. She wanted me to stay in school. She wanted me to be brave and to forge ahead in life. She felt compelled to let me know that knowledge was meant to be filtered and tempered with all of the sensitivity and power of a joyful and caring heart. She was certain that with an adequate education, my future would be secure. She never knew that I would have to stalk security.

And it's not just me.

I know that every year there are millions of graduates who share my mother's opinion and that there are thousands of Mamaknologists among them, people who will use their educations and build upon them, to help make this a better world, given the chance. But what happens to them in this economy, when there are no jobs and a world of rapidly shifting options?

You fall back and punt, my mother would say. Fall back on what you know; use what you've got to get where you have to go. Life doesn't have to have a designer label or a long-term guarantee, and it is most certainly not a dress rehearsal -- but once it's in your head, no one can ever take it away. So the Mamaknologist take on our situation and this economy is don't let the bad stuff find a home in your head. This is the time to build on the things we have learned and not just make them work, but to find triumph in them. Now is the time to make a life of the good things that we've learned and to look forward to what we will be on the other side of the hard times and belt tightening.

Now is the time to focus on not being bitter. Now is the time to rise to the occasion and make the most of our accrued knowledge and what it has made us. The Mamaknologist in me says that my mother was right -- she just didn't tell me how flexible knowledge was.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mama On: Working With What You've Got

"Life may not be fair, but this one is all you get -- make the most of it."

Maybe this bit of Mamaknology should have been put in place on Mother's Day, but I think that it is appropriate to all the days of a life lived with Mamaknowledge -- yes, that's the proper noun for what we're practicing here.

Anyway, I took a look at a special picture the other day. It was a very old picture, the kind people throw away with hardly a thought -- mostly because they look like junk or trash. Heck, it was old! But like I said, this picture is special. The woman pictured is named Betsy Sims Cyrus. She is my grandmother's grandmother.

That makes Betsy my great-great-grandmother.

Which made me think. It makes me wonder what her words of wisdom would be for those of us trying to do the math. See, Betsy trekked from Georgia to Texas on the Trail Of Tears -- about 170 years ago, for the history and math impaired among us. The cool thing is not just that she made it. The amazing thing is that Betsy found a way to make a life for herself and her family, and it must have been a good one, because here we all are today.

The exciting thing is that just looking at this picture, I get to lock real value into the Mamaknology of working with what you've got. Betsy's son Moses was my great-grandfather, and he took great pride in providing and educating all thirteen of his children. Happily, my Grandmother Bert shared his pride, forced it through my father (Leon) and into me. And because Leon married my mom, the original Mamaknologist, it stuck.

Now, that's some powerful Mamaknology!

But, I guess I should tell you what the cool thing is, huh? The cool thing is that all of my cousins and I get to look at this picture, all these years later. Even through things she could never have imagined -- from World Wars and moon landings, to women sitting on the Supreme Court and an American President with skin the color of her generational children, more than just her image has survived. Egyptian pharoahs built great monuments to their glory, but Betsy left this picture and us. She has survived, not just in the features we share, but in the fact that I can look at this little picture and love her for working with what God and her own mama gave her.

Thank you, Betsy, for working it out!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mama On: Doing Your Best

"If you do your best, you can ALWAYS hold your head high -- you have nothing to be ashamed of."

Well, here we are. Day 100.

The flag still flies. The sky is still up there. And to the best of my knowledge, the Antichrist has not claimed my soul. What has happened is that I now hold my head a little higher and smile a little brighter, and all because our National Boyfriend and his Amazing Girl Next Door have irrepairably and forever changed the definition of what Americans look like and what they can do. The other thing that has happened is that Americans now respect their president enough to EXPECT something from him.

The Mamaknologist in my soul is so proud and ready to strut her stuff in stilettos that I don't know what to do.

Don't get me wrong, I am still concerned about the economy, global warming, crime in our cities, and the very real chance that Korea will reduce the planet to cinders. And in all honesty, I don't know that the next 100 days will change any of that. But what I do know is that it took two Bush presidents sixteen years to dig a hole that few people are willing to admit exists. To expect to do any more than cover that hole with platitudes and illusion in 100 days is ridiculous -- and if you think it can be done, I suggest you speak with your local Mamaknologist. She undoubtably can point you to a bridge in Brooklyn with your name on it.

The most interesting Mamaknologist observation, as we head into day 101 and beyond, is that as a nation, we are now expecting and assuming change because our president has offered us his BEST. And he has done it boldly, with his head held high -- leaving no shame in his wake. I like that.

So on Day 100, and on behalf of Mamaknologists everywhere, I offer these words: Well done, Mr. Obama. Well done.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mama On: What's Done In The Dark

“What’s done in the dark will always come out into the light.”

Though my mother said this often, I know that it is not original Mamaknology, but I’m going to use it, anyway. Today, after seeing the "cartoon" published by the New York Post (following the signing of President Obama's economic stimulus bill) I simply speak as myself.

Here's what I think...

This "cartoon" (have you seen it? Look before you speak...) is not a joke or misplaced humor. It is, in fact, a calculated invitation to assassination and I sincerely do not understand why Homeland Security has not moved on this bold terroristic action. And by the way, is anybody else wondering who, "they," are? I know that I am, and how far are these gun-wielding terrorists willing to go, under the legal guise of constitutional policy and precident, to stop, "them"?

I also have to wonder, if monkeys, apes, people of color, and our current president are not points of ridicule, why did the Post (and other publications) fail to so "honor" George W.? He's got big ears, a longish face, a moderately simian bend to his posture, and goodness knows he was never the sharpest knife in the drawer.

And hey, remember that we live in a country where you cannot go to the airport and say, "I have a gun," without consequences... even though you can ride around on MARTA (public transportation) all day with it. This drawing has stepped beyond the realm of free speech and freedom of expression into the arena previously inhabited by the likes of Timothy McVey and the deliverers of jets into buildings. This "cartoon" delivers a quick and dirty visually demonstrated threat. There should be consequences and dire repercussions for the Post and its related staff, including removal of the people responsible for the "cartoon".

As the African-American daughter of a retired veteran of American wars, a beneficiary of Brown v. The Board of Education, and a citizen of these United States, I am ashamed of the Post and this poor representation of both human and American integrity, intellect, sensitivity, historical place, and justice. Morally, this is more than a lack of thought and inspiration. It is the public display and demonstration of a deep and abiding institutionalized hatred and depravity.

Shame on you, Mr. Murdoch. Shame on you, Mr. Carlucci. Shame on you, Mr. Delonas. Shame on you, Mr. Allen. I see what you’ve done and it is ugly. You didn’t even have the courage to bring your racist bigotry out under its own umbrella. You had the nerve to try to dress it up as art, free speech, personal opinion, and then slide it into the world. Well, I see you and it for what you are, and shame on you. Know that you have all individually and collectively reduced, demeaned and shamed us all, because actions do indeed speak louder than words and culturally insensitive art work.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mama On: Appearance

"Always keep your hair done."

Yes, my mother said it and yours probably did, too. Yes, it's good advice. But who knew it could be a lifesaver?

The Mamaknologist in me fully understands that it is the right and purpose of every Mamaknologist to keep herself intact and looking good. We dress ourselves and present ourselves with care, while moving forward with decorum and grace. That means shopping, manicures, and exfoliation. And sometimes, it also includes a hair weave.

Now, the world is not kind in challenging women of color about their hair -- even as they are in the midst of living their lives. And yet, today we are all marveling at Kansas City Mamaknologist-In-The-Making, Briana Bonds, who has her tight and obviously well-maintained weave to thank for saving her life.

Giving new meaning to, "stopping a bullet," and winding up with a slight headache, the 20-year old woman has broken up with her boyfriend and survived -- thanks to the tightness of her tracks and her knowledge that she deserves to be treated well in her life. Her spurned 28-year old former lover was unhappy with her obviously wise choice to move on, and "He fired four or five shots at me, you don't shot at someone you say you love."

Thank God she recognized this.

My mother used to say, "if you hit me (or, by implication, shoot at me), then you don't love me. And if you don't love me, what in the world am I doing with you?" Okay, I took the long way around to get to this one, but think about it: any woman, Mamaknologist or not, who has value for herself is going to realize that a gun-toting man is probably going to use that gun at some point. And, if he's not in control of his temper and emotions, he's going to use it in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Possibly on you.

I'm pretty sure Ms. Bonds is glad that she realized that this boyfriend was the wrong one... even as she took the Mamaknologist advice and hooked up her hair, thus inadvertantly managing to avoid becoming a victim of domestic violence.

Oh: she drove away, but came back in time to see the boyfriend picked up and taken away by the police. He has been charged with domestic assault and armed criminal action. We can all hope that she will take that as seriously as she takes her weave.

Read the article: Hairweave Stops Bullet

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mama On: Aging

"Mother Nature is an Indian Giver."

Okay, to begin, I am fairly certain that this quote is not politically correct. But my mother, Knower of all things Mamalogical, was pretty much on target. Think about it: you're born and you are pretty much a blank slate. Given time, you grow into a lovely young person with opinions, a tight body, and the time to use it. When you reach middle age and know what to do with what you've got and how to work with it, Mother Nature starts trying to take it back! As someone (I think it was Mae West) once said, "getting old is not for wimps."

So, what's a Mamaknologist to do?

My mother would tell you to enjoy the process. She would tell you to get the most you could out of your life before Mother Nature began trying to take her gifts back. She would tell you to start with making every day, especially every birthday count. She would say that there is nothing wrong with reinvention. She would say that you should leave your mistakes behind when you climb into bed every night, because every day that you wake up is one more chance to get life right. She would say that God don't like ugly, and neither should you -- don't let stupid and ugly bind your ankles and trip you up.

She would say to be the best that you can be. She would say that looking good and feeling good are yours by right, not privilege -- unless you let someone take them from you. She would say that you should never stop learning; that once you've learned something, it can never be taken from you. She would say that everything good to you is not good for you -- and that goes for everything from cake and alcohol, to sex and men. She would say that you should extend the same courtesies to yourself that you extend to others, because if you're not good to yourself, you will never be good for anyone else.

Today would have been my mother's 81st birthday, and she would tell you that your birthday is your own personal holiday. She would tell you to celebrate your aging with grace and to mark your life with beauty. And when you get to the end, she would tell you to know God and to be glad that Jesus believed in crosses.

Yes, my mother was The Knower Of Many Things, and not at all shy about sharing them.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mama On: Thinking Before You Speak

"It's better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

I had to make a service call today because the cable bill had errors on it. The young man I spoke to was rude, arrogant, and (yes...) foolish. Without checking the computerized record, he gave erroneous information and accused me of lying about my account, thereby pissing me off (Royally!) and neccesitating a call to his supervisor ...

Someone I work with accused me of failing to follow up on a project (that I had already completed). Her language was abusive and rude, and in her arrogance, she failed to note that I had also corrected and completed her portion of the project (that she was at a total loss about, but needed to complete in order to justify the raise in pay she wants)...

My dad is in a nursing home. One of the nurses felt that it was appropriate to, "put me in my place," with regard to his smoking. Her language was critically brusque and assaultive, neccesitating comments from me and a call to facility administrators...

The applied Mamaknology here is to simply think before speaking. Do your job and extend the courtesy you would like to recieve. Be a decent human being. As a Mamaknologist, I realize that all three of these folks had options and chose the one that they thought best under the circumstances -- and I have to shake my head. Didn't any of them see the problem with those choices? Even if I had started out thinking that they were fools and approached them that way, did they HAVE to confirm the suspicion? Did they have to reduce themselves to their lowest level in order to feel better?

The Mamaknologist in my soul says, "no, they didn't." And yet, they did. Now, I not only think that these people are fools, but they have moved to prove me right -- not smart. In each of these cases, they've put their jobs in jeopardy. In each of these cases, they've lost both public and peer respect and put themselves in less that positive positions. Worse, they've proven themselves untrustworthy, unprofessional, and undignified.

My mother also used to say, "think twice and act once." Would have made sense in all these cases.