Archives for March2008

South Africa here I come…

I bought my plane tickets to South Africa today for this summer…Now just need to figure out what the hell I’m doing while I’m there! I’ll have four weeks of research time, and then Chris will join me for about ten days of vacation. The vacation part is easy….I won’t have any problems planning that! It’s the four weeks of research that will make my life very interesting!

Ghost Tales

I was sharing ghost stories with my dad the other day and couldn’t believe he’d never heard of Bloody Mary. Later that night, I was talking with a friend about the Mystery Spot in California, which is a real place with effects you can actually feel but can’t explain. He said it reminded him of Gravity Spot here in El Paso. The tale goes that a schoolbus full of children fell into a hole of some sort, and now the children try to prevent others from going near that spot–if you’re in the wrong spot, you might feel the small, cold hand of a child pushing you away. So he looked it up on his iphone, and we discovered the Big Ass Texas Ghosts website.

They’ve always been slaves….

I sat down next to a woman in the Atlanta airport who launched into a “I’m so sick of the elections” tirade as soon as I sat down. “It’s race this and race that. Why does it have to be all about race?” she asked. “Does that make me a bad person?”

 “I don’t think it’s so much about race,” I objected. “But one thing is for sure, it’s an interesting election.”

“I don’t know,” she said. ” I’m just so sick of it! Race race race race race race race. God, I just wish they were over already. Do you think that makes me a bad person?”

“Well, it’s also kind of about gender, if it’s about race,” I commented, or rather mumbled because, well, I may be slow, but I was finally beginning to get the sick feeling what she was all about.  I dialed my home phone number. Surely my mom would rescue me! No cigar…

“Well, you know, they’ve been slaves since the beginning of time,” she continued. “Somebody should remind them of that! They’re so fond of quoting the Bible, somebody should tell them to read it and they’ll finally learn about their history.”

“Whoo, is that your phone ringing?” I asked, as her phone rang, thank God.

The human inside me wanted to deck her or otherwise play with her mind. The African historian in me wanted to point out how many facts she had wrong in her little racist speech. The writer in me is writing this little blog and realizing how futile it is against the massive blindness in the world.

Soooo glad to leave that seat behind–and soooo glad I didn’t have to sit next to her on the plane.

How To Find a Squat & Other Lessons in Homelessness

This afternoon, I asked a couple of the homeless kids I work with how they find a squat. Because, well, I’d be lost if I found myself homeless, though I’m sure I’d learn fast. They told me that some cities are easier than others–New Orleans, for example, has a ton of abandoned houses so it’s easy to find someplace to live. San Francisco is apparently mediocre–not great, not bad either. They look for an abandoned building that has a hidden entrance of some sort, perhaps through the back or covered by leafy trees. They usually try to keep the entrance covered with a piece of wood or something so it looks boarded up. And they put black garbage bags over all the windows so nobody can see inside.

The best part of the description was their comments about how it needs to be in a “good” neighborhood, but a “good” neighborhood has a very different definition than what people-in-homes think of. One of the girls told me that she and her boyfriend were relieved the other night when they heard gunshots outside their squat and the police never came. That made it a “good” neighborhood.

The Confessional on Important NYC List

I’m pleased to report that The Confessional is getting some accolades. My editor at Knopf writes, “Those smart librarians at the NYPL have selected THE CONFESSIONAL to be included on the New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age 2008 list!  Now in its 79th year of publication, this group selects what they deem to be the best of the the previous year’s publishing for teenagers 12 to 18-years-old.  The list will be printed in a booklet that will be available at all the city’s public libraries, and mailed out to area educators.  Congratulations, Jessica!”


The Wire

My all-time favorite television show, The Wire,  ended last night. Only five seasons but wow–that was some spectacular writing. Best I’ve ever seen on TV. Hope someday to write something like that for film or TV.

Human Development Index

Because of the Guinea-Bissau article, I was curious about the UN’s ranking of countries by its Human Development Index, which I found on wikipedia. It was interesting to see where countries ranked (U.S. was #12, South Africa #121, Mozambique #172, Guinea-Bissau #175). I’m naturally suspicious of the development ideology to begin with, seeing it as a sort of teleology that posits “development” as the only solution to world-wide poverty, but there is no doubt that their listing is probably correct in terms of comparative poverty.

First Narco-State

The Guardian reports on how Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony, has become the world’s first declared narco-state…suggesting that Europe’s hunger for cocaine may destroy West Africa “again” the way its hunger for slaves destroyed it up through the 19th century.

A State of Mess

Well, I hope California gets itself out of the mess its created…Requiring that homeschoolers meet a certain standard is one thing (a standard public schools themselves all too often fail to meet), but demanding that all kids be taught by a person who is certified to teach is another. The absurd part is that it’s obvious that certification–or should be obvious to everyone–doesn’t necessarily make someone a better teacher and doesn’t necessarily make standards in a classroom any higher. There are many good-hearted and excellent teachers out there and they are treading water, propping up a fast-sinking ship. The public school system is failing in all sorts of ways all over the country, with some clear exceptions in pockets around the country.  Actually, I’m not sure I’ve felt so much anger in a long time. The public school system is f***ed in all sorts of ways. Granted, homeschooling is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and certainly won’t solve the ills of the public school system, and there are certainly homeschoolers who should be jailed for what they do. But why should the state make it criminal for parents to  provide the best possible educational option they can for their children? Hell, yeah, I’d go get certified if that’s what it required for me to homeschool my kids–and then I’d do my best to forget everything I was taught. Learning how to teach a classroom full of 30 kids is not the same thing as tutoring a kid one-on-one.

 Will this also affect Catholic schools and other private schools that don’t require their teachers to be certified….?

adoption & Mexico

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine who was telling me a story about a lady she knows, a naturalized citizen, who only recently got the visa approved for her son, whom she adopted from Mexico. She kept him in the U.S. for five years, illegally, because it took that long for the U.S. to approve the adoption and grant him a visa. And it took a letter from my friend before the U.S. would finally grant the visa.

My friend was at the immigration offices when the visa was approved. She said it made her cry to hear the immigration officers refusing to speak Spanish to people trying to get their visas approved; she said it made the entire experience confusing and upsetting: “Until that day, I didn’t understand,” she said. “But now I know why so many people hate us.” I wish I’d been a fly on the wall. But I’ve been down to the DMV to get my driver’s license. Take that kind of bureaucracy, multiply it by ten or even twenty, and throw in a language barrier and tons of suspicion–and yeah, it’s got to be pretty bad. Getting a license at the DMV is bad. The other, it’s got to be hellish.