April 2018

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Times, They are a-Changing.

Today I celebrate the end of my forty-seventh year. That number is starting to sound awfully close to fifty, which is of course half a century.

As a child, I imagined that everything new--telephones and televisions, cars and planes and in-door plumbing--had been discovered in the years before my birth, and that I would live in a dull era. Then the internet was born and so were cell phones, so life has not been so dull after all.

I will have stories to tell my great-nieces and great-nephews of the days when I typed my papers on a clunky typewriter, using white out when I made a mistake and making sure not to type too far down the page. I will tell them about the time, back in my day, when I listened to music on a large round, black disk called a "record," which I played on something called a "record player." I will tell them that when I talked on the phone, I was tethered to the wall. Back in my day, no one talked on the phone when they were on the toilet. They'll be amazed.

Already, I find that teenagers cannot imagine my childhood world. The first time I ever felt that I was aging was when, at the age of 22, I overheard my students preparing for their American History test. As I had memorized the dry details of the Napoleonic Wars, these students reviewed Watergate.

Watergate was my first political memory. Though I did not understand its details at the time, I sat with my parents each night as we watched the news updates on our black and white television. When Nixon resigned, I knew that something momentous had happened. My students were trying to remember the details for their test: "There was a hotel and these guys broke in and stole some tapes." They reviewed the details dutifully. "No!" I shouted, "This was Watergate!" I held my face in my hands, attempting to communicate the drama, and yelled again, "Watergate!" Nonplused, they returned to their note cards.

Friday I worked with high school freshmen Isaiah, a tall African-American boy who wears glasses like Malcolm X and has Malcolm X's bearing, and Jasmine, a Latina girl who wondered why I didn't refer to the brown people in North Carolina when I grew up. "Though there are lots of Latinas in the Carolinas now, I told her, I never knew anyone growing up who was Latino. If you were a person of color in my town, you were black.”

I worked with Isaiah and Jasmine, who had written their own poems, on how to get feedback on a poem. I read to them my poem, inspired by George Ella Lyons's "Where I'm From" and asked them to tell me what they liked in the poem, where they were confused, and where they wanted to know more.

Isaiah was confused that I was born in the white wing of Grady Hospital. He tried to imagine a hospital flying, thinking this was some metaphor. I told him that when I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the hospitals had areas for white babies and areas for black babies. Each area was called a "wing." His jaw dropped, and he seemed to doubt me.

I told Isaiah and Jasmine that when I went to E.C. Brooks Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina, as a first-grader, no black kids were allowed to go to my school, and no white child even thought of going to school with black children. "Ohhh," Isaiah said, "I've heard of that. Like in the time of slavery."

I'm old, but not that old. Happy birthday to me. Mary

1 comment:

  1. It is strange to realize you are an alien. It reminds me of that part in The Road where the father realizes that he is an extraterrestrial (as far as his son is concerned)because he came from a world that is beyond the imagination of his son. He is from a different planet, and so are you. On the bright side, you are also a time traveler. You are capable of going back to place in history and owning it because you were there. I mean, there aren’t hover boards or anything, but you likely have memories of Nixon before he got all jowly. I think that is pretty cool. I say keep traveling lonely traveler, and try to bring those kids with you for a spell.
    It also reminds me of the conversation we had about Superman today. I found the quote for you. Here it is:
    "Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
    — Quentin Tarantino

    Totally awesome.


Please comment: I'd love to hear your thoughts!