Tuesday, June 29, 2010

File This Under "You've Got to be Kidding Me"

Last year, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, went through a farce of a confirmation hearing. Democrats, Republicans, everyone knew she would be confirmed. They knew she was qualified. But because she had called herself a "wise Latina," Republicans smelled blood, Newt Gingrich called her a racist, and Sotomayor was reduced to backtracking. She said, "I do not believe that any ethnic, racial, or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment."

She was confirmed, 68-31, but the Republican party continues to paint itself as the party of exclusion. This country is becoming more and more diverse, a trend that hurts the Republicans, and so their success is predicated on marginalizing and disenfranchising a large number of people. How can they think that, long-term, this is a) good strategy and b) moral?

Elena Kagan is the President's nominee to replace Justice Stevens, and hearings began yesterday. It is another farce, as Kagan is not allowed to give any real opinion. But knowing that it's a farce, I have to wonder why in the world the Republicans would focus their objections on Kagan's reverence for Thurgood Marshall? They repeatedly referred to him as an "activist judge" (now code for any hint of progressivism?), suggesting that the Supreme Court's first African-American judge was out of the "mainstream."

Just liked Sotomayor before her, Kagan will be confirmed. It will be along party lines, with a few Republicans crossing over. Perhaps the same farce probably would have taken place were both nominees white men; after all, they were nominated by a democratic president. But these hearings illustrate how out of touch they are and just who they are looking out for.

America is a living, breathing country. It adapts, slowly. It corrects mistakes, eventually. It bends toward justice. I'd like my America to go a little faster, but I can handle this pace: it's those who refuse to let it change at all that challenge me and my patience.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Food, Glorious Food

When I was seven or eight, I started giving up foods left and right. I developed lists in my mind of what I would and would not eat, and you can imagine which list was longer. Some foods I wouldn't eat because they looked weird or smelled weird or had a weird texture; others just because I hadn't eaten them before and didn't want anything unfamiliar in my mouth.

As with my shyness, I look back at this behavior and cringe. My poor parents struggled to find things I would eat; there were weeks where we probably alternated between macaroni & cheese (only Kraft brand) and chicken nuggets and fries. They thought I'd grow out of it, but I was terribly stubborn. It wasn't until college that I became slightly less neurotic, trying other brands of macaroni and cheese, and it was still years later that I began trying other kinds of food, like Indian and Thai cuisines.

I still have my lists, but the one of foods I will eat is longer now. Friday nights, as I sample baked salmon and gazpacho dishes I wouldn't have touched five years ago, I feel a sense of pride. Still, my bathroom scale tells me I need to eat some cheeseburgers and milkshakes, pronto.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chipper Zombie (cont.)

I meant to post this yesterday. At the start of his play, "The Glass Menagerie," Tennessee Williams includes a line from the end of an e. e. cummings' poem: "nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands."

Here's the poem in full, "somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond":

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

 your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

 or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

 (i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Chipper Zombie

Today was a little better, though I feel like a walking zombie. I need food and sleep. A couple of my students (they're total sweethearts) hung around after class this afternoon: "You seem down," they said. "Is everything ok? You don't seem like your usual chipper self!" Once I got over my shock at being called "chipper," I explained I was fine, but thanks for asking.

If I ever wanted to change my name from "Perfect Sand," maybe I could give "Chipper Zombie" a try.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Happy Place

Today was just awful. I felt miserable and ineffective. I felt like I was a character in "Annie Hall," standing beside myself, watching myself be ineffective, unable to make things better.

I want to shout: You get out of a class what you put into it. I'm not going to stand there and shove information into your brains; I'm not going to sing and dance and entertain.

I see indifference and lack of effort from so many who of course will feel like they're wasting time. Awful, awful, and I get to do it again tomorrow.

(Deep breath - I'm fine. Just a little on edge... Below is a picture I drew a few years ago. It's me in my happy place. Setting my alarm for 5am because mornings are always better.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Express Yourself (cont.)

The other day I wrote about Malcolm X's experience as he learned to express himself in more than one way. In class, I ask students to write about a time when they had trouble expressing themselves; how did they deal with it?

Me, I was immediately taken back to my first day of fourth grade. Even though I was in the same house as the year before, I had a new bus route. I wasn't supposed to ride the 113 anymore. Unsure of what bus I was supposed to ride--and too shy to ask--I stood, paralyzed, until I was approached by the vice principal.

"Do you know which bus to ride?"

"The 117, I think."

She turned to another teacher: "Does that sound right?" She turned back to me and asked which bus I rode last year.

"The 113."

She ushered me onto the bus, number 113. I saw some familiar faces, but only a couple, and none of the kids who got off at the same stop or in the same neighborhood as me. I had never ridden a bus with all white people before.

I knew I was on the wrong bus, but I didn't know how to say it. Instead, I took my seat. The bus took an unfamiliar path, and I got off at the first stop and began walking.

My shyness never went away. Every day, words choke in my throat. I am unable to say exactly what I want to. Whether standing in front of a room full of students or being introduced to a group of would-be friends, I feel a disconnect between my thoughts and speech.

But I am still able to express myself. The words that don't come out of my mouth come pouring through my arms and fingertips and to the keyboard and onto the screen. With a push of a button, those words are sent across the United States, to Scotland, and to Kenya. I am able to share my thoughts and feelings with a much larger audience.

Simultaneously, a strange thing has happened: the more I write, the less of a disconnect I feel between what I think and what comes out of my mouth. The fear will never go away--in some ways, it drives me!--but saying what I want when I want is a good thing, in whatever medium it takes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Express Yourself

In his autobiography, Malcolm X describes how he received a "homemade education" while in prison. He had always considered himself an "articulate hustler," but the language he used on the street--"Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat"--were insufficient within the prison walls. With only an eighth-grade education, he was unable to engage in meaningful conversations and correspondence. With access to little else, Malcolm X began to copy the dictionary. Starting with "aardvark," he wrote each word and its definition:

In my slow, painstaking, ragged handwriting, I copied into my tablet everything printed on that first page, down to the punctuation marks.

I believe it took me a day. Then, aloud, I read back, to myself, everything I’d written on the tablet. Over and over, aloud, to myself, I read my own handwriting.

I woke up the next morning, thinking about those words—immensely proud to realize that not only had I written so much at one time, but I’d written words that I never knew were in the world.... It went a lot faster after so much practice helped me to pick up handwriting speed. Between what I wrote in my tablet, and writing letters, during the rest of my time in prison I would guess I wrote a million words.

To listen to his speeches, to read his words, makes his "homemade education" all the more impressive. He felt unable to express himself, and he rectified it. He describes himself as never having felt "so truly free" in his life as when he was incarcerated, his eyes and mind and possibilities opened to the huge world contained in books. Language is power. Controversial as he was, Malcolm X was undeniably a man of ideas. His ability to communicate those ideas made him a leader.

I watched the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company perform his complete works (abridged). There were jokes scattered about crazy right-wingers, tea parties, and BP. At one point, one of the three actors--they performed hilarious versions of everything from Othello to Hamlet--said, "That's the craziest thing I've heard, at least since, 'Change you can believe in'... What, too soon?" There were audience members laughing and clapping. But I didn't get it. I still don't. I want to say, "Grow up! Obama is trying to govern!" I don't understand what more people want him to do. He needs support, he needs political capital to effect change, and by ridiculing him from the left, people are instead removing an important voice from the debate. Keep up the pressure, but let him lead.

We have so many opportunities today. Libraries, the internet, education: these should be equalizers! Good-natured people, myself included, worry about the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots. But is anyone talking about the gulf between the "knows" and the "know-nots"? Am I just projecting here? The more television I watch, the more I read, the more I think about (what I perceive to be) rampant anti-intellectualism. Politicians, the media, appealing to our basest instincts, worrying about the 24/7 news cycle instead of truth and progress. Where are the intellectual leaders? Who has big ideas today, based on fact and reason, that has enough celebrity to garner attention? Will corporate media allow any other voices? And when will we be smart enough to demand better?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Grown-up Things (cont.)

Our friends hosted a potluck dinner party last night. Mike and Nancy, who got married last summer, have a lovely suburban house with a great back yard, complete with swing set and hill (I did go down the slide, feet first, and I may or may not have rolled down the hill).

Many of my friends (myself included) are in periods of transition. We may have had college educations and post-graduate experience, but our jobs haven't been careers; or the positions were temporary. Mike and Nancy seem the exception. They not only have stable careers that will remain in the Cincinnati area, they also have put down permanent roots here. Mike loved showing off his composting and gardens full of peppers, onions, broccoli, and tomatoes. Nancy served a home-cooked meal, chicken, mashed potatoes, and dinner rolls; there were five dessert options.

Two months from now, my savings account depleted, I may be kicking myself for my decision. I had a kind of stability that is hard to come by these days. But obviously I don't think that will be the case.

(My first "Grown-up Things" entry)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

January 30, 2010: The Last Time I Saw Jesus

Have I mentioned how much I love storms? The more the trees sway, the more the house rattles, the happier I get. Last night we had a doozy of a storm. The flashes of lightning were nonstop, and, for a time, the thunder was simultaneous. I got some shots from my porch, but this is the best I could get.
The big story in Cincinnati today has been the demise of Touchdown Jesus. Touchdown Jesus was a bit of a landmark off I-75, about 30 miles north of the city. Six stories tall, it was a sight to see. It was struck by lightning and, shortly thereafter, was only a steel frame. It was large and gaudy and slightly absurd; the statue was also referred to as "Butter Jesus" because, in the right light, it certainly looked like sculpted butter. Following his untimely demise, of course, the jokes poured in. "Don't worry," some said, "he'll be back in three days." Another said, "You're next, Creation Museum" (that Kentucky museum dedicated to refuting science). A friend said it's now "Corpus Crispy."

Below is a picture I took as I traveled north on I-75 a few months ago. You really don't get a good idea of just how big he is (was).

NPR wrote about it here; it includes some up-close pictures.

It's storming again tonight. I keep hoping the rain and wind will bring some cooler weather, as I'm still AC-deprived. I find myself lounging lazily around my apartment as any kind of exertion makes the heat unbearable.

One last note, and one I'll return to: just as my dad gets back in the next couple of weeks, my mom and her husband are preparing to go to Palestine. Paraphrasing what my mom told me, they will be part of a group working with children affected by the violence there as well as the adults who teach them. Because of the turbulence, many students have severe emotional and behavioral issues that teachers there may be unaccustomed to dealing with. Hopefully I'll be able to get a website and more information to link to in the future.

Edited to change "say" to "sway," although trees that talk are almost as cool as trees that bend!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The End of Men?

The Atlantic recently had a fascinating article, "The End of Men." Author Hanna Rosin chronicles and analyzes the shifting workplace and education dynamics and asks, "What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?"

The gender imbalance at colleges has been growing: women make up something like 60% of the student body in 4-year bachelor programs. One reason, of course, is that men with a high school degree still make much more money than women with that same diploma. She needs to further her education simply to compete. But also, women seem better prepared for the demands of college. Rosin spoke to some students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City:

Burress, a cute, short, African American 24-year-old grad student who is getting a doctor-of-pharmacy degree, had many of the same complaints I heard from other young women. Guys high-five each other when they get a C, while girls beat themselves up over a B-minus. Guys play video games in each other’s rooms, while girls crowd the study hall. Girls get their degrees with no drama, while guys seem always in danger of drifting away.

This seems an apt metaphor: "drifting away." The comments following the article--many of them critical--suggested that our education system the past twenty or thirty years favors girls. Stereotypical masculine traits are devalued in favor of more feminine ones. Commenter Doug111 wrote,

This now begins in kindergarden[sic], with all male roughousing [sic] of any sort suppressed and belittled. Classes in first grade and on are taught so as to favor girls. Everywhere there are cheers when girls beat out boys and all is done to see that this happens time and again. The emasculation of boys really gets going by junior high when again girls are favored. Final exams are deemphasized. Massive grade inflation encourages diligent consistent plodding performance, which obedient little girls are good at, and gets them As and A+s now with no extra grade given for the ocassionally [sic]brilliant insight, mixed with less than total diligence in mundane assignments and pop quizzes that are typical of how brilliant boys tend to operate, and what the education system used to prize most of all.
He goes on to describe this trend as "positive discrimination." I think he raises interesting points. But I think this is part of a larger paradigm shift, one in which women--more than men--are adapting and taking the initiative. I see young women in school--they have one or two children and, sometimes, an unemployed husband. They are getting this degree to support their family, to gain stability, and more often than not they are working another job at the same time. I see young men--unattached, unburdened by children--drifting, unmotivated.

Toward the end of "The Poisonwood Bible," Orleanna Price, the mother, reflects on men, women, and history. Men, she says, are around for the beginning and the end; the birth and the death. They fire the shot that launches wars, they plant the flags. But women are there, too, between the lines. They're doing the laundry, teaching the kids, and comforting the ill. I think about those articles on marriage from a few months ago that I read and posted about. One of the writers suggested that, usurped of their traditional roles as providers and breadwinners, instead of adapting, many men will turn to hypermasculine behaviors. Violent, misogynistic. Orleanna described the danger of standing still, refusing to change--she was condemning the United States and men in general, and her husband in particular.

I do recommend reading "The End of Men" article in whole - it's long, but worth it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friday's Wine Tasting

The food at the wine tasting is hit or miss. True, I'm neurotically picky, but some things just seem too weird to try. Friday, luckily, I skipped nothing, and everything was delicious.

Station One: Lolonis Ladybug White Cuvee and Corn Fritters, served with a sweet chile sauce.

The wine was fine, and I could have eaten two or three of the fritters!

Station Two: Borsoa Rose and Deep Fried Burritos

We were surprised they had a rose so early, given that the third station was another white, but you can't go wrong with deep fried anything.

Station Three: Les Jamelles Sauvignon and Lemon-Thyme Wild Salmon Burger

The salmon burger was a bit much. I ate a couple bites. Again, the wine was fine. (Their old sommelier, our favorite, was recruited to Jungle Jim's - the pairings have suffered!)

Station Four: Cooralook Pinot Noir and Kentucky Hot Brown (roasted turkey, crispy bacon on Texas Toast with a cheesy Mornay Sauce)

I'm a fan of most pinot noirs, and this was no exception. As for the appetizer, they had me at "bacon."

Station Five: Campos Reales Tempranillo and Chihuahua Cheese & Cumin Crackers

This red wine was my favorite of the night. It had hints of fruit flavors but had a dry finish. The cheese was good but slight; when we started, they gave us three different kinds of cheese. I can understand why that would get expensive, but I don't have to be happy about it!

Afterward we went to Wild Ginger, a Thai restaurant, for dinner.

So Friday was a good day. I'm currently salivating over the time I'll have next month. To clean. To organize. To plan. To write. To run again. Back in 2006, after I stopped teaching preschool full time and started working at the library part time, I spent a lot of energy figuring out when I could mail certain checks. I also worked as a nanny/house cleaner (the "cleaner" part I find totally hilarious!) I ran almost every day. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I didn't mind. I have much more direction now, almost four years later: I know there's no time to waste.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Impulsive but not Unplanned

I told the dean yesterday that I didn't plan to come back next quarter.

On the one hand, this was impulsive. I hadn't known I was going to do that when I got to campus. In my various discussions and ruminations, this had merely been an option (the smarter and financially practical choice would have been to leave the library, instead).

On the other hand, I had made this decision many times; I had told the dean the same thing before the start of the last quarter, and she convinced me to stay.

I am better for having had this experience, and I do hope the students are better for having had me as an instructor. But I know without doubt that my talents and passion lie elsewhere. I'll have the time, when the quarter concludes in July, to pursue those.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"In the World, the Carrying Capacity of Humans is Limited..."

"...History holds all things in balance, including large hopes and short lives." (Adah, Book 5)

I mentioned yesterday that I was rereading "Poisonwood Bible" for book club tonight. I'd previously led the discussion for another of my favorites, "Unaccustomed Earth," by Jhumpa Lahiri; there were about eight of us that time. Apparently, my branch has tried to cancel their "second Thursday" book club during the summer for lack of attendance, but the members resisted. So we had it, and so it was that I led a conversation about "Poisonwood Bible" tonight with a lovely woman named Barb.

Luckily, Barb was a like-minded reader. The book angered her in the same ways it angered me (America?!?! How could you?!?!) and engaged her in similar ways. She had grown up with an older sister who was visually-impaired and was fascinated by the relationship between twin sisters Leah (able-bodied and brilliant) and Adah ("crippled" and brilliant). We both agreed that the end was perhaps more drawn out than it should have been.

I told Barb about the Lumumba movie and my shock over America's involvement, and she told me about living through the assassination and being vaguely aware of the official version of what had transpired. She'd said something to her dad, and he said she sounded like a Communist: "I wasn't offended," she told me.

While it would have been nice to have more voices, I enjoyed this book-talk. We'd only met the last time I did the book club, months ago, and after we'd discussed Kingsolver's book for a good forty minutes, we talked another fifteen about her children, my education, and our hope for the future.

A thought: Pundits talk about code words. Dog whistles. Things politicians can say that only reach a certain audience. They may refer to states' rights. Welfare queens. Tough on crime. But it's not just racist politicians who use them. We all do in our own way. We say something that would register only to those who share our world view, negotiating until we know we are in safe territory.

I realize I'm unsafe at school. Today, in a lesson about understanding visual information, I showed a picture of a couple, posing for a wedding picture. He was in his tux, she in her white wedding gown, bouquet in hand. In the background was storm, palm trees heavily bent by wind, heavy rain. On closer look, we see that the bride's bouquet is coming loose and her hair blowing. And still they smile. The text on the bottom: "Ignoring global warming won't make it go away."

One student thought the poster was suggesting that global warming caused the hurricane, and no one wants hurricanes to ruin a wedding. But clearly, the couple, obviously affected by their environment, are choosing to ignore it, just as we continue to ignore global warming. This same student argued that global warming is a hoax, and the poster is propaganda. How do you argue with that? On one side you have scientists, and on the other side you have non-scientists. As Bill Maher said on his show last week, this is not a debate! I did the smart thing and didn't engage myself. The last thing I want to do is diminish a student; besides, we're going to spend four more weeks on evaluating sources. The best thing I can do is give him the tools to find better information.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Telling the Truth, Slant

This is new for me - I've finished a goal I set for myself with time to spare. Instead of procrastinating, instead of calling up my mom or a friend to meet for lunch, instead of catching up on the finale of "Grey's Anatomy," I chose to finish the task I'd assigned for myself. Now, this should be impressive to no one except myself; grownups do this every day, right? They don't need a supervisor breathing down their backs or some instantaneous positive feedback.

Practice and repetition makes habit, and I'd like to develop good habits. Clearly, all this talk of multitasking has me hyper-focused on how I conduct myself. Ultimately, of course, I want to apply these good habits--discipline--toward writing. Can I move forward with my plans given my current schedule? Is there room if I just become more disciplined? Or do I have to cut something out?

Tomorrow I'm leading a library book club discussion of one of my absolute favorites, The Poisonwood Bible (read about George Rede's experience with the book here). Kingsolver is the kind of writer I'd like to emulate - a distinct and informed voice, an engaging story that is at once personal and universal. The story follows a baptist minister, his wife, and their four daughters as they travel to the Belgian Congo to spread Christianity. The first time I read it, I had just completed a course called "Africa on Film." We watched Raoul Peck's "Lumumba" about that nation's first democratically elected leader; Patrice Lumumba was imprisoned and murdered, and evidence suggests the complicity of the United States. His election, capture, and death--and the politics behind these events--provided the backdrop of the Prices' stories. Having learned about it made Kingsolver's story all the more interesting to me. (Click here to watch a short "preview" for it; the embed feature doesn't seem to be working).

Rereading the book, almost ten years later, I'm able to make a different sort of connection. The female Prices learn (some more quickly than others) that their knowledge and experiences in Georgia don't mean a thing in the Congo. The seeds they planted, the food they cooked, and the way they treated one another do not easily translate. The girls and mother are able to adapt, whereas the father remains steadfast in his belief in a certain kind of God and in his ideas of what is right and wrong. I compare his unwillingness to change and his inability to learn about and love the community in which he finds himself to my dad's journey in Kenya. Instead of imposing change on a group of people, my dad became friends with them, immersed himself in the customs, the values, and the needs, which are as varied there as they are here. They work together to meet those needs. After almost three years of living there more than here, Africa is a part of him.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Do Few Things, But Do Them Well

I'm not a much of a multitasker. Sure, I may have four browser windows open, one of which is an episode of "Friday Night Lights" that is slowly buffering; I may have stacks of graded and ungraded papers surrounding me; I have my iPod playing, and I have Tweetdeck open in my background, sending a quick "pop" each time there's a new tweet. I may try to do many things at once, but I'm not good at it.

In Montessori school--I attended a public one through sixth grade--we were taught to retrieve "work" from the shelf, complete it at our own pace, and then return it to its spot. I wrote about it in a post last summer, Progressive Building Blocks. The philosophy of Montessori discourages multitasking and promotes focused, engaged learning. A spat of articles the past few years further debunks the idea that we can do many things at a time.

In "The Myth of Multitasking," Tanya Watkins writes that "chronic high-stress multitasking is associated with short-term memory loss." She cites a study that indicates that subjects who are interrupted during a task take 50% longer to complete that task and make 50% more errors than those who are uninterrupted. "Managing two mental tasks at once," she says, "reduced the brainpower available for either task."

While I've known for years that I can't multi-task, it's good to know that no one else can either - they're just kidding themselves. Back to grading: I had rewarded myself with thirty minutes of writing time after finishing one set of papers.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Weekend Fun

Another busy weekend, although it certainly had fewer subplots than the last one.

Friday, instead of our usual trip to the grocery store to taste wine, a group of us went downtown to Fountain Square for the kick-off of Midpoint Music Festival's indie concert series. The main act? Camera Obscura! The rain held off, and the weather was beautiful - perfect for
this lively and quiet band from Scotland.

The concert ended with an encore of one of my favorites of theirs, "Let's Get Out of This Country." Below is the video I took with my phone - you can find some great footage of their music with far better sound quality, but it wouldn't be nearly as authentic, eh?

Last night, a good friend of mine visited the city. I always enjoy showing off the best parts of Cincinnati (which, ironically, often include trips across the river to Northern Kentucky).

I hate posing for pictures, but my awesome red peep-toe wedges don't mind at all.

This one is called "Cincy's Arches"

Here, my foot is posing alongside one of Shepard Fairey's murals (he of the Obama "Hope" poster fame).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

There's a Pair of Us - Don't Tell!

The past few days, I've gotten in the habit of waking up at 3am. I lie there, restless, for an hour or two, debating whether to give up, get out of bed, and be productive. I turn a few pages of the same book that's been at my bed side the past month, Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteredge," then toss it aside to check the internet: was a flotilla invaded? did a celebrity die? did any students send me an email with a question about the assignment due in just seven hours?

It's always after five when I fall back asleep. My alarm goes off a couple hours later, and I feel like I haven't slept a wink. The most annoying thing about this routine is that I'm a morning person: those wee hours after the sun has just come up and most people are still grouchy and wishing they were in bed are usually the hours I have the most energy and feel positive most about life.

Oh well, a blip. In the grand scheme of things, what's a little tiredness?

We discussed Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes today, and I played a recording I'd gotten from the library of Hughes talking about and reading his poetry. In the introduction, he described how when he was in the eighth grade, a new student at a middle school in Lincoln, Illinois, he was elected class poet - not because he was a good writer but because he was black, and the students assumed he had rhythm. But the students liked the poem he wrote for the end of school, and so he kept writing poetry. It was neat listening to him in his own voice, reading his own poetry. I transcribed one of my favorite poems of his, "I, Too, Sing America," in my post reviewing 2009.