Being Human

Many times over the last year or so, I’ve wondered: What one thing do I wish everyone knew? What one thing, if known, could make a better world possible?

I’ve come up with a hundred answers. Each time, I can find more counterarguments than arguments to support a given answer, so I discard it.

Finally, last week, I landed on a one-thing with few worthy counterarguments.

Over the last couple of weeks, my third-grade son has repeatedly reflected right-answer thinking. This is a kind of thinking that perceives the world in dualities instead of dimensions–yes/no, black/white, Democrat/Republican, right/wrong–and which struggles to account for systems, complexity, and the interdependencies that grow in complex systems.

So I’ve faced a question: In a social world constructed to cultivate such thinking, how does one teach other ways? How does one reveal its shortcomings in ways that can work for a third grader, especially when that third grader is stuck in a system that rewards right answers over piercing questions? Continue reading “Being Human”


Talking Books

Yesterday, my family and I went to a book-themed birthday party. On the ride there, my husband, Anthony, asked our eight-year-old, Li’l D, about his favorite book character.

Li’l D first named Clay, a dragon from the Wings of Fire series. We spent a few minutes talking about Clay before moving on to favorite human characters.

At first, Li’l D couldn’t think of any human characters. Anthony and I offered up four names for D’s consideration: Greg, Rafe, Miles, and Niles. Rafe (Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life) got the gold medal for being so funny; Miles (The Terrible Two) got silver, because he’s so good at improvising pranks.

After a good ten or fifteen minutes talking about Li’l D’s favorites, I asked if he had any questions for us. He said, naw, I don’t want to hear about scary books! I pointed out that I read a lot of not-horror books; my favorite author, Neil Postman, wrote cultural critiques.

I could practically hear Li’l D roll his eyes as he said, “Postman, Postman, Postman.”

(See, even he knew it’s not all horror for me—though, to be fair, some of Postman’s critiques exposed horrifying possibilities!)

After a pause, Li’l D asked us about the scariest books we’ve ever read. Anthony and I agreed on The House of Leaves. We spent another ten minutes or so trying to explain its creepiness, with Li’l D completely unpersuaded. He couldn’t believe I’d slept with lights on and all inside doors open for weeks after I’d read it alone in rural Japan. Anthony, for his part, couldn’t believe I’d dared read it in such circumstances.

The conversation tapered off after about thirty minutes, but the minutes it lasted were delightful! For all we all love reading, yesterday highlighted how little we talk together about what we’re reading.

Now, we’re going to consciously set aside time for such talks. I’m already looking forward to our next one.

Baldwin for the both of us

Mid-morning. Front yard.

Me reading next to my three-year-old.

My eight-year-old son had been whooping and hollering in circles around me for a few minutes. He’d ignored my many requests to stop or take his clamor elsewhere when I realized I knew exactly how to send him running.

He loathes it when I read my books aloud, so I began to do just that:

The father is in a perfectly respectable, perhaps even admirable profession, and the mother runs an art gallery. The setting is a brilliant re-creation of a certain–and far from unattractive–level of American life. And the black doctor is saying, among other things, that his presence in this landscape (this hard-won Eden) will do nothing to threaten, or defile it–

By the time I finished reading this passage, he’d already hollered “aaaaarrrrrrrgh!” (as if a cinematic vampire just doused with holy water), run back inside, and slammed the door behind himself.

Someday, I hope Li’l D will read James Baldwin and appreciate Baldwin’s keen and piercing words. Today, though, is not that day for Li’l; at eight years old, it’s not likely to even be this year.

For now, I’ll enjoy Baldwin for the both of us, and–beginning now, thinking of Li’l–smile every time I look at the cover of The Devil Finds Work.

acting from reading

Yesterday morning, I spent an hour reading at a coffee shop before readwalking for another half-hour. Specifically, I read further in Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s recently released How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.* I’d been moved by her From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation and was thus excited to read more from her, even in principally interview format.

Yesterday, I read through the first interview and part of the second. In both interviews, I was struck by the interviewees’ memories of participating in the civil rights movement as youths. Those exchanges reminded me how good it felt to take my son to a few political events, and hear all his questions asked about the whys and hows of it all. I realized those memories might be part of what he someday remembers about his childhood.

I ended up taking him to hear Danny Glover and Dr. Gerald Horne speak: Continue reading “acting from reading”

The kindness of book-loving strangers

Seven library books came due yesterday, but I could only find six. I engaged my (almost) eight-year-old to help find the book, which led us to take the mess of his books strewn around the house and put them into a barely-used bookshelf in his bedroom.

After we’d filled three long rows of books, Li’l D was pretty proud of our work … and his book collection, which he could finally see in full! Still, somehow, this didn’t stop him from being annoyed when I later found my missing library book exactly where it belonged. Continue reading “The kindness of book-loving strangers”

A library trip

Late yesterday, I walked my seven-year-old to our neighborhood library. He grumbled about having to go, preferring to watch a little TV, but found several books.

This morning, I noticed he’d sorted his books into two piles. “Wait, what?” I said aloud. I picked up the stack including the book I’d seen Li’l D reading at bedtime. I carried them to my bedroom, where my kids have (for whatever reason) decided to congregate today.

“Did you already finish reading these?!” I asked.

“Yeah,” he intoned, not pausing his video game to reply.

“Dang! Good job, kid.” 

With four books read in fourteen hours and four books left unread? We might just be back at the library when it reopens on Tuesday …