#ReadDiverseLit Post: Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me

I took my time reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, Between the World and Me. From the opening pages, it reminded me of James Baldwin. Both writers challenge me to think through their pages, to consider their arguments, and see how their view of the world connects with my own. But the part of his book I couldn't stop thinking about, was the protection of the black body, of the value of the black body to our nation, and in particular how he describes his walk to school as a young man.

"When I was your age, each day, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, who or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not—all of which to say, I practiced the culture of the streets. [...] I do not long for those days. I think I somehow knew that that third of my brain should have been concerned with more beautiful things. I think I felt that something out there [...] had robbed me of... what?"

The other evening I rode my bike home from work. It was a little later than usual, so I was paying close attention to cars and bumps in the road that might sneak up on me in the darkness. The sun was setting and the cold, winter, LA sky, glowed brilliant shades of red and orange against bright and blue darkening to navy. Every time I looked up, I was met with a different version of this beauty and tried to smile in appreciation. I also couldn't help but think about Coates and the protection of the body which I relate to as a woman, a small woman, and a small woman riding through LA traffic. Yet I still do not know what it is to hold the fear of violence as a black man in America like Coates describes. When I was young I walked home from school musing red cinder on asphalt or juniper pollen or ice under mostly blue skies. I recognize this privilege and hope more of America will pick up this important and timely book to explore how our experiences connect and differ. 

As part of the #ReadDiversLit challenge, this counts as a memoir or biography by a diverse author. This category has so many titles I love to read (and write) so here are a few books I recommend if you're looking to fulfill this part of the challenge:

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje: A nontraditional, beautifully rendered memoir of the author's family in Sri Lanka.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: The unique structure of this memoir beautifully and brutally sheds light on the violence of growing up poor, black, and male in the American South.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Essays on pop culture and feminism from an intelligent Black voice.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: Coates' letter to his son brought me right to Baldwin's letter to his nephew from this work.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: Alex Haley and Malcolm X: This book was my introduction to the Civil Rights movement beyond Martin Luther King Jr.

Through Eyes Like Mine and Overdue Apologies by Noriko Nakada: The story my early childhood and middle school years from a multi-racial perspective.

Oh, and on my list to read in this category: Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles M. Blow


#ReadDiverseLit Challenge

I'm always looking to diversify my reading list and today I stumbled upon Thien Kim's blog, From the Left to Write. She is offering up this great reading challenge for the year and I'm in. I'll let you know what I'm reading, make recommendations of favorites in each category and invite you to come along for the #ReadDiverseLit ride!

This is what Thien Kim has come up with and I'm excited to get started. Will post about what I'm reading now soon (hint: it's #10 on this list).

2016 Diversity Reading Challenge Checklist:
  1. Contemporary book with a person of color on the cover (set in present day)
  2. Historical fiction about marginalized group (due to race, ethnicity, gender, mental ability, physical ability)
  3. Book in which character suffers from mental illness
  4. Graphic novel featuring protagonists of color
  5. Book written by or about someone with spectrum disorder
  6. Romance novel with main character of color
  7. Book of poetry by LGBT writer
  8. Science fiction or fantasy with female main character of color
  9. Book in which a main character has a physical disability
  10. Memoir or biography by or about a diverse author
  11. Book with a main character who is mixed race
  12. Novel with an LGBT main character
What qualifies as a diverse book?
Diverse books include books about or written by (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.


The Only Three Books I Loved This Year

So, I only read/finished 10 books this year. I guess I was a little hungover from last year's 50 book challenge. I don't think 50 will ever be possible for me, but who knows. Maybe I'll go on another reading tear in 2016. These are the three books I loved this year:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander  

This novel in verse kept me turning the pages like novels-in-verse should. A story of basketball and family, love and loss, I was invested in the characters that weren’t stereotypes even though they were basketball-playing twin boys.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay 

This collection of essays was a great way to restart my brain after it was taken over by sleep deprivation and all things maternal. Gay's conversational style makes every essay approachable and she writes about many things that I think about and write about: cultural appropriation in The Help, white privilege, feminism, sexual violence, and the internet. Mostly, her essays made me want to write essays about my multicultural feminist experience and how motherhood sharpened my perspectives on gender inequity and violence.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson  

I devoured this novel in about a week. It took me a minute to get into the hyperbole and magical realism that the narrators play with, but ended up really loving the story and the way time and one event were the hinge on which the story folded.


2015 Blog Review

This is post number 33 for 2015. I hoped to post 4 posts per month, 48 for the year. It's the third most in a year for this blog and readership is pretty steady. Thanks for tuning in, y'all.

My third most visited post for the year is "The End of Our Fertility Journey." It summarizes the long journey David and I took to complete our family with lots of links to previous posts I made along the way. I hope couples struggling with fertility might stumble upon this blog and know that their struggle is one many couples share and that wherever they are on this journey, the only way out is through.

My second most popular post is part of my 12 Days of Blog Posts: "Two Kid Life." I introduce my 12 Days idea and describe the gratitude David and I try to feel as we live out our two-kid dream.

My most visited blog this year and of all time is "Fasting Again..." I've written a great deal about public education and the attacks from the corporate education reform movement. This post summarizes my one-day fast to show support for a school in Chicago. I'm no sure if it is the labels I posted or the desire for people to understand the subtext behind struggles for schools like the one going on at Dyett, but over 3,000 people visited this post, way more than any other I've posted.

There were three other posts that managed over two-hundred visits, so I think I'll link to them as well.  I think they do show that my blog is a little bit all over the place. After all, these are random bits.

"Remembering To Kill A Mockingbird" about teaching, reread, and writing about this classic American novel.

"Back to the Grind" about heading back to work after maternity leave.

"Culmination Address for the Class of 2015" about the end of my journey this past school year.

So, with that, 2015 is in the books. See you in 2016!


12 Days of Blog Posts: Can I Get a Day Off, Please?

Vacation with kids is no vacation.

Vacation with sick kids is no vacation.

Vacation when you get sick from your sick kids is no vacation.

And with that, I conclude 12 Days of Blog Posts! Happy holidays, all.


12 Days of Blog Posts: The Perfect Tree & Two Sick Kids

My mom loved Christmas. Last year, her sudden passing was too close to try to do family Christmas in Portland, so our family trekked to Tahoe. This year, however, we are here in the cold rain of Portland, staying in Mom's home with all of Mom's collected holiday trinkets: snow globes and advent calendars, angels and stockings, but there's no Mom. It's strange. But I feel her presence in so many small moments. When Kiara plays with the dolls Mom kept here for her grandchildren, when Kiara and Gabe squeal at the little snail that all of Mom's grandchildren played with before them, when a squirrel scurries across the backyard fence and Kiara screams, "Squirrel!" And I feel her when I pull out the boxes of Christmas ornaments to decorate the tree.

Mom never seemed completely happy with her tree. The tree I remember from my childhood had colored lights and an array of ornaments. She didn't like tinsel or flashing lights. To me, our tree always looked perfect, but to Mom it just looked alright. It was too crowded, or too sparse, or maybe it was lopsided or crooked at the top. Where I saw perfection, Mom was a realist.

Tonight as I decorated the tree, carefully hanging the ornaments Mom held on to for all of these years, I wanted it to be perfect. But Gabe was clingy and whiney, still recovering from the flu. Kiara puked several times in the course of my decorating, and rather than helping me trim the tree as I envisioned, she curled up in a ball and watched, occasionally complaining that she still felt so sick. But now, the kids are in bed, hopefully recovering from this stomach bug, and I'm gazing up at Mom's tree. She would say it looks nice, although maybe a little plain. I shake my head and think of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: "Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could." In that case, today was perfect.

And then David and I both started puking. Reality within perfection.

12 Days of Blog Posts: Nakada Basketball Reunion

Tonight I drove with Dad out to Forest Grove to watch my niece play basketball. She starts. She's a freshman. She's a baller. She's a Nakada. Well, she's a Flennaugh, so she's already taller than her mom and aunt. And although her height might come from the Flennaugh side, Nakada basketball is in her blood.

I wasn't really sure what that meant, but with her mom, her aunt, and her uncle sitting in the stands I began to see what Nakada basketball is all about. 

We all probably learned this from our dad. Nakadas play tough defense, play point guard, push the pace, drive to the basket, draw the foul, and hit shots. Pretty basic basketball concepts that have served us all well for many years of playing and coaching. And Nicole did that all (although we were encouraging her to do it all even more). 

She played tough d, ran the point, helped break the press, and she hit three threes. Her team won comfortably and the Nakada basketball tradition carries on.


12 Days of Blog Posts: Road Trip!

Gantt and I have been making this drive for sixteen years. Our first drive from LA to Portland, Oregon was during spring break in 1998. That was when David first met my family. We've grown up so much since then. We've lost parents, and taken a long journey to parenthood ourselves. 

Tonight we're taking the trip with two kids in the backseat and driving through the night. We will drive a little slower this trip, knowing all we could lose.

Our winter drives usually coincide with winter solstice and this longest night gives us the chance to think about where we've been and where we are heading. 

With most of the year in our rear view mirror, 2015 was welcoming Gabe and completing our family. It was the awe of Kiara coming into her three-year-old self. It was exhaustion and trying to fit even more into full, full lives. It was absorbing a country at odds over #blacklivesmatter, an international refugee crisis, and a chaotic political landscape that too often leaves me feeling hopeless. 

But this past year's challenges taught me so much about who I am as a mom, a teacher, a writer, a coach, and a human and when we make this drive again a year from now our planet will have made another trip around the sun. Our kids will be one and four and 2016 will be nearly complete. I welcome all of the possibilities. 


12 Days of Blog Posts: Balancing Busy

Mom always said I was too busy; that I work too hard. I'm starting to think she was right. In high school school it was three sports, and school, and choir, and friends. In college it was almost always 18 credits, and work study, and volunteer work. Now it's parenting, and teaching, and coaching, and reading, and writing, and exercise. And all these goals I set, that are actually quite ridiculous, but they provide some structure to what seems to be a crazy life.

Maybe these two can help me find some balance. 
So here is my near-the-end of the year update on those goals for 2015.

Reading: I wanted to read 48 books. I've read 10. I hope to finish 2 more before the new year.

Writing: I wanted to write 20 hours per month. Not close there either, but I wrote plenty for NaNoWriMo which just proves it can be done.

Submitting: 5 pieces this year. 5 rejections. I know I need to get my words out there if I'm going to build this writer-life. I guess I just don't know how badly I want it.

Blogging: This will be blog number 28. It's more than last year. It's 20 fewer than I hoped, but this 12 Days of Blog Posts thing will get me closer.

Exercising: I started biking to work 2-3 times a week which comes to 20-30 miles per week. That along with the miles I've run means absolutely nothing... except I'm getting in the miles and getting to closer the body I'd like to live in from here on out.

So, balance. I haven't found it. Not even close. I'll be thinking again about what I want from this next year, what I really want, and aiming for some balance within my busy.


12 Days of Blog Posts: NaNoWriMo Excerpt on Earthquakes

This year my National Novel Writing Project took an unexpected turn. My realistic fiction piece titled #nerdyjock turned thriller when my protagonist's sister turned up missing.

Here's an excerpt from this work in progress because, to be honest, I don't have the energy tonight to create something new.

Lo on Earthquakes

We’ve been having all of these earthquakes lately. Some people say it’s because of fracking, others say it’s the fault moving little by little which might actually be saving us from the big one. Or maybe, it’s just getting us ready for the big one.

But no matter how small, I hate earthquakes. They jolt me wide awake, send my heart racing and force me to imagine a world of absolute destruction.

None of them have come at school, so no one really knows how freaked out I get, but Mom and Dad have a hint. They try to ease my fears, show me the earthquake preparedness kit, tell me they have a plan for what we will all do if the big one hits and we are at school and work.

The last big earthquake in Southern California was the Northridge quake. I wasn’t alive when it happened, but Dad talks about it sometimes, how he got motion sickness from all of the aftershocks. Mom wasn’t living in LA at the time, so she’s never been in a really big one either.

It’s the pictures that I can’t quite get my head around, how the earth shifted causing freeways to collapse and buildings to crumble. I never pass under a tunnel without thinking about how it would be a terrible place to be during a quake.

And every time we have one, I get a little more nervous and wonder what would happen in my life if the big one hit.

The thing is, sometimes earthquakes aren’t of the fault-slip kind. Sometimes earthquakes shake up your life, hit when you least expect them and leave you devastated. The question I want answered is, am I ready for the big one?