Category Archives: Uncategorized

Moving

For some time, I’ve been maintaing three journal sites. AOL has announced that it is shutting down all journals and I’ve decided to consolidate everything into one site. I hope that you will join me there. Thanks to everyone who read my ramblings here. The address where you may find me from now on is
http://theexaminedlife-sheria.blogspot.com/.

Missing Mama

Today at work, I had a fleeting thought that I would call my mother when I got home. Almost as quickly as the thought came, it was shoved away by the echo in my head that screamed, “your mother is dead.” I can’t quite wrap my conscious mind around this reality, or maybe I just don’t want to do so. Her death last week was sudden. I tell myself that if only there had been time to prepare for her death, a lingering illness, a bedside vigil, that it wouldn’t hurt so badly, but I know that I am grasping at straws. There is no preparing for the death of your mother, no matter how death comes for her, it will rip you asunder.

I am adrift, going through the motions of living but disconnected from the process of living. I am surprised at the numbness, the vacuum that hovers inside me where my heart should be. Sometimes, I don’t think that my heart is even beating. No matter how much noise is in the room, I feel nothing but silence. Last night I turned the television up really loud; it made my head ache, but it didn’t fill the silence.

I thank each of you who stopped by to leave me kind words. They are greatly appreciated. I have heard that time heals all wounds, but no one ever tells you how much time. So I’ll wait.

Today, I hid in the bathroom at my office for a while. Everyone is kind, but they look at me as if they fear that I will start shrieking and wailing at any moment. I suppose that I have the look of the wounded about me. As I sat on the porcelain altar in the office john, I heard myself whispering, “How do I go on?” I eventually grew tired of the bathroom, there really isn’t much to do in there. I came back to my desk and started to write. Writing always soothes me. Here’s what I wrote today. My boss thought that I was really working. Maybe I’ll really work tomorrow.

Learning to Breathe Again

This is how people go on…

driving down the highway
singing back up for Aretha,
chain, chain, chain,
chain of fools

This is how people go on…

staring out the office window
finding patterns in clouds,
white cotton remnants
floating in the waning summer wind

This is how people go on,
when emptiness becomes a constant companion,
holding you in a tight embrace,
inhaling your breath
until suffocation and silence fill the room.

This is how people go on…

looking for that road to anywhere
dreaming of the crossroads
where she still stands
waiting to embrace you and dry your tears

This is how I go on,
one breath at a time.

–Sheria Reid
copyright 9/21/08

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, and So Do Teens

I’ve been reading other blogs and news stories centering on the revelation that vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. As I previously stated, I have nothing but sympathy for Palin’s daughter who certainly didn’t ask to be shoved into this spotlight.

However, I confess that I don’t have much sympathy for Gov. Palin. I find her to be hypocritical, and contradictory in her beliefs. She has chosen to become a public figure; her daughter is off limits, but Palin is fair game. She chose to be in the spotlight.

Gov. Palin touts herself as pro-life, as if the other position is pro-death. I’ve never heard anyone speak in support of abortion, but I have heard and I have made the argument that it is a personal decision to choose what to do with one’s own body. I don’t see this as a simple decision and I worry about the consequences of the choices that women make, but I cannot accept that the larger society has the right to force a woman to take a pregnancy to term. I don’t expect that everyone will agree and I respect your right to hold a different point of view. That’s your choice, but you don’t get to make the choice for others. That’s the big difference between the pro-life position and the pro-choice position. The pro-life view makes the decision for everyone; the pro-choice decision says it is a private matter and an individual decision. Advocates for pro-choice have never told anyone that she must have an abortion; but advocates for pro-life want to have the right to tell every woman what she must do with her body, should she become pregnant.

My digression into a discussion about choice, doesn’t mean that I would advocate that Palin’s daughter have an abortion. I don’t believe in abortion; I believe in choice. She gets to choose whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term. (At least, I’d like to believe that she gets to make her own choice.)

However, my rant today isn’t really about Palin’s hypocrisy. I am more interested in the larger issue of a society that as a whole chooses to behave like the ostrich when it comes to deal with adolescents and sex.Sticking your head in the sand only results in getting sand up your nose.

From what I’ve gathered from the available information on Palin, she supports the teaching of abstinence only in the schools. I’m all for discouraging adolescents from engaging in sexual activity, but I don’t think that simply telling them “don’t do it” is an effective or responsible approach.

In my home state, for several years schools were only allowed to teach abstinence only in public school sex education classes. After concerns about the increased teenage pregnancy rate and the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, the law was modified to allow school systems to present the question to the parents–to teach a full sex ed course, including birth control and how to prevent STDs, or to continue to teach abstinence only. Regrettably, most parents gave a clear message to their school systems that they wanted to continue with teaching abstinence only. I say regrettably, because the result is that a great many adolescents are sexually active and sexually ignorant. Teaching abstinence doesn’t guarantee that they won’t engage in sexual activity, but it does guarantee that should they engage in sexual activity, they won’t have a clue as to how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

Think back to your own teenage years, did you choose to engage in or not engage in sexual activity based on whether or not you were exposed to a comprehensive sex ed curriculum? There is no statistical support to show that that teaching abstinence only causes teenagers to choose not to have sex, nor any evidence that teaching a fully realized sex ed curriculum causes teens to run out and become sexually active. However, not teaching teens about the consequences of unprotected sex does correlate with high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

I have intentionally used the term sexual activity, because many adolescents consider that anything short of vaginal intercourse is not really sex. Not really surprising as we have some well-known adults who have expressed similar beliefs.

When I taught high school, after a year with a record number of teen pregnancies, one of my colleagues and I had an informal rap session with some of the teen mothers. I still recall with dismay the misinformation that I heard from those young girls. Beliefs such as standing up after sex could prevent pregnancy, and douching with coca-cola was an effective method of contraception. There was also one young lady who shared that she was on the pill but got pregnant nonetheless. Upon further questionning, she explained that she took her birth control pill every time she had sex. She missed the directions about taking it daily.

However, I was totally unprepared for the widely shared belief that oral sex wasn’t really sex, and was regarded as safe, because it couldn’t result in pregnancy. A report on teenage sexual activity released a couple of years ago reported that anal sex had risen in popularity with teens because it also didn’t result in pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) didn’t appear to factor into the equation for the teens. Engaging in sexual activity isn’t rocket science and adolescents are definitely not scientists.

There is substantive research to support that effective parenting is the factor that has the most relevance in influencing the age at which an adolescent engages in his or her first sexual experience (once the barn door is opened, it is rarely closed tight again). That’s where family values play a role. Not the kind of family values that conservative websites spout on about, but family values centered in honest dialogue among parents and children about distinguishing love from sex, about dealing with those desires and feelings that are a natural part of growing up, and about making choices that are in your best interest.

The video is from the 1968 movie of Romeo and Juliet, teenagers who risked all for the passion of young love. The song is What Is a Youth?, similar in melody to the theme song of the film, A Time for Us.

The Tale Continues

Beth over at Nutwood Junction has continued the tale of the Contesse and the mysterious Emma Marston (click the link to follow the tale). This is so much fun, sort of like the serialized novels of Dickens’ day. Thank you Marc for such creative inspiration.

Marc has modified his Hy-Art illlustration for the story to better represent Mrs. Emma Marston.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda???

The North Carolina 2008 Legislative Session officially ended on Friday, July 18 at 4:40 pm. I cleaned off my desk, tied up a few loose ends and left work at 6:30 pm. I had a meeting this morning that began at 10:00 and was over by 11:30. I’m off until Thursday. If you hear a sound, it’s me sighing contentedly. The other sound is me loudly singing along with Jennifer Hudson’s new single. It takes me back to the R&B songs of my youth, where there was a melody that you could sing along with and lyrics that you could understand. I’ve posted a YouTube video that some enterprising soul put together of images of young Ms. Hudson with her new single, Spotlight playing in the background.

I’ve been working on catching up on the journals that I haven’t read for the past two weeks. If I’ve missed you, I’ll be by tomorrow.

I stopped by Marc’s place and he has posted a meme that I found interesting. The entry is the Roads Not Travelled, echoing Robert Frost’s poem (at least to these former English teacher ears). By the way, if you don’t know the poem, please check it out. It’s one of my favorites.

Back to the meme, Marc writes about alternative paths, the untraveled roads that we might have taken. He provides some of his “might have been scenarios” and ask of the reader, “what are your top five alternate untraveled roads?”

This is a really difficult question for me. Perhaps its because I’ve travelled at least part way down a variety of paths, at least career wise. I’ve worked as a cook in a Jamaican restaurant where I learned to make Jamaican beef patties and Bouillabaisse. I worked in a factory that made motors for hair dryers. My job involved shoving a little round thingamajig into a hole and then pressing a foot pedal that shot out enough heat to solder the wires to the tip of the little round thingamajig. It was highly technical work. I also worked at a book store in Chapel Hill known as the Intimate Book Shop (no, it wasn’t that kind of a book store, just a family owned business that tried to create a cozy alternative to the big chain stores, although we did sell all of the Anne Rice, writing under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, Sleeping Beauty trilogy).

I took a rather roundabout route to becoming a teacher, and finally a lawyer.

I’ve rambled enough, so here are my five might have been scenarios.

1. I left home at 18, moved to New York and became a back up singer for James Brown. While performing at the Apollo, I was discovered and became a solo act as a blues singing diva.
2. I opened a soul food restaurant in Atlanta that became a hangout for the best blues artists around.
3. I fell madly in love with a biker, married him and started wearing leather and a cute diamond stud in my nose. He dies in a motorcycle crash and I sing Leader of the Pack at the funeral.
4. While performing in a musical version of Cinderella in a summer drama program in my home town (I really did play the wicked stepmother and performed a version of an Anthony Newley song from Stop the World, I want to Get Off entitled “I Want to be Rich”), I’m discovered by a Broadway producer who invites me to New York where I become the sensation of Broadway.
5. I skip teaching altogether and go straight to law school after undergraduate graduation. I become an accomplished litigator in tort law, and successfully represent client in lawsuits against companies with deep pockets. I make lots of money, retire at age 42, move to Jamaica and engage in a string of affairs with the boy toy of the moment.

There is a bit of true desire in each of these scenarios, but I’m not telling you which bits. Ultimately, I suspect that I’ve taken the right road and it has made all the difference.

Do Unto Others…

I am behind on reading and commenting on journals; I’ve tried to catch up a bit today. Just because I didn’t leave a comment, doesn’t mean that I didn’t stop by for a visit. I owe you a comment on the next trip.

I didn’t plan to write an entry of my own today; I’ve been reading a really good book that my sister recommended, and my plan was to read a few journals, and get back to my book, 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. However, as I read journal entries and the comments that some engendered, I was struck by a recurrent theme, a willingness to give in to our pettier impulses, a rush to judgment of others, to assume that laziness, dishonesty, and lack of a willingness to work are what leave people impoverished or homeless or just without the basic necessities of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I read much goodness and kindness in these journals too, but it’s the judgmental observations that chill me. Far too many of us toss them off so casually, without even thinking about what our views do to others or what they do to and say about us.

Several comments that I read eagerly affirmed that people on public assistance spend their food stamps on cigarettes,T-bone steaks, and nonessential food items. I’m not certain what the nonessentials are. There is also the Greek chorus chanting how people drive SUVs while collecting public assistance and live in public housing while driving Escalades. Then there are those who attest to witnessing the food stamp users who leave the grocery store with their beer and wearing Adidas and sagging pants, and then climb into their SUV. Clearly, the rest of us are missing out on a good thing. We should quit our jobs, sign up for public assistance, and live the high life.

When I first began my legal career, I worked for Legal Aid, which provides free legal assistance in certain areas of law to low-income persons. Some of my clients were facing things like eviction from housing or repossession of a vehicle. Others had been denied Medicaid, SSI, or some other federal or state assistance. Some had been fired and then the former employer tried to block them from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Some owed money to hospitals for medical treatment and the hospitals creditors were threatening them with collection agencies. Legal Aid doesn’t handle criminal cases, but I did represent women seeking 50B (civil protective orders in NC’s courts) in domestic violence cases and I also did child custody cases. Most of my clients received public assistance of some sort and I learned a lot about the welfare system while I worked at Legal Aid.

I have no doubt that somewhere there is someone, maybe a few someones, who have figured out how to milk the welfare system for all that it’s worth. Much like the top executives at Enron and other corporate businesses figured out how to rob people of their life savings. Criminal behavior doesn’t always wear sagging pants, sometimes it wears business suits and white collars. However, the majority of people receiving public assistance of some sort are not living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

You cannot use your food stamps to buy alcohol, tobacco products, pet food, or laundry, household and paper supplies. By the way, they are no longer food stamp coupons, it’s an Electronic Benefit Card (EBT), which may be used to purchase food meant for human consumption, and plants and seeds for food production that are sold in a grocery store. The SUV dealership does not accept food stamps. If you are interested in how much your monthly food stamp allotment would be, click here.

If you detect anger in my post, then you are not imagining it. I’m not angry because some people think that those who are receiving public assistance are a bunch of miscreants who abuse the system, I’m angry because those misbegotten points of view actually impact the lives of the very real people whose survival depends on that public welfare system. Every person who believes the half truths of the Chicken Little clones who are constantly espousing myths and lies about the welfare benefits system makes very real decisions in voting for public officials at the federal, state, and local level. Those elected officials are the ones who decide what monies are allocated to what some call social benefits program; I prefer survival programs.

During his administration, Ronald Reagan liked to tell of the Chicago Welfare Queen. According to Reagan, she had ripped off $150,000 from the government, using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards, and four fictional dead husbands. The country was outraged and the “Welfare Queen” driving her “Welfare Cadillac” became permanently lodged in American political folklore. What didn’t get nearly as much attention was that the press attempted to track this “Welfare Queen” down only to discover that she didn’t exist. The closest that they could come to a real, live welfare queen was a woman who had used two aliases and managed to collect $8,000 in benefits to which she wasn’t entitled. (Interestingly, there was a wealthy couple living in Pasadena, California in the 1980s who engaged in welfare fraud to the tune of $377,000, filing claims for public assistance for 38 nonexistent children but they were not poor and clearly should have never qualified for welfare assistance.)

In addition to the EBT (formerly, food stamp) program, the major other funding for public assistance goes to TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, formerly known as AFDC. TANF payment amounts vary somewhat from state to state. Under TANF, states receive a fixed amount from the federal government based on what they spent on welfare programs in 1994 without regard to subsequent changes in need. TANF frees the states from many federal constraints on how they manage the funds. The program reduced the federal welfare. Based on a cursory check of the Internet, it appears that TANF monthly payments average less than $300. Sort of hard to imagine making payments on an Escalade on that income.

The bottom line is simple. Those of us who know better have got to start making as much noise as the town criers who shout half-truths, misrepresentations, and down right lies about the individuals and families that find themselves in need of a helping hand in order to have life’s basic necessities. A society that doesn’t take care of its least fortunate is devoid of values. Shouting about the greatness of America means nothing if we take no steps to ensure that everyone partakes of that greatness. For every person who is convinced that people who depend on public assistance are living the good life, eating steak daily and drinking imported beers, tell you what, quit your job, apply for TANF and get your piece of the pie. Don’t forget to pick out your SUV.

The music is an orginal composition by Jeff Majors (on the harp) setting the 23rd Psalm to music. The vocalist is James Murphy. Majors has an album, Sacred, with equally beautiful songs on it.


Napoleon Dad

I’ve been fixin’ to write a post all day but I’m just getting around to it. By the way, “fixin'” is southern for “having something to do but delaying getting it done while you distract yourself with doing other things.” You can see why we use “fixin’,” it’s a lot shorter to say. I feel down right multilingual. I speak passable French, a modicum of Spanish, and fluent Southern, Ebonics, and standard English.

A few months ago, my sister and I commissioned Marc Olmsted to create a special picture for our father’s birthday. Regular readers are familiar with Marc’s Hy-Art in which he combines one or more classic works of art into an original interpretive work of art. Follow the link to Marc’s Etsy site where he sells his art. However, the birthday present for my dad is another of Marc’s original creations, aptly named “Thou Art,” or “you in art” in which Marc inserts you into a classic work of art. I’ve been the subject of a Thou Art by Marc on more than one occasion. Each time, I loved the results, so I asked him to create a Thou Art of my father.

My mother is the big talker in our family. She is one of the most entertaining gossips that I know, mainly because when she’s telling us about the shenanigans of one of her many siblings, she does spot on imitations of not only their voices but their mannerisms. She doesn’t just tell me about Aunt Dorothy’s worries that her old boyfriend may think that she is still lusting after him if she moves from New York back to North Carolina, she becomes my slightly daft aunt, caught up in worries about a man that she dated some fifty years ago and hasn’t seen since.

In comparison, my dad is a quiet man, although he rouses himself if the discussion is about politics or world affairs, subjects that don’t interest my mother nearly as much as the continual doings of her siblings. Years ago a good friend told me that my father resembled the actor, Richard Roundtree. I reporter her comment to my father and he literally beamed. My dad is still a handsome man, proud of the fact that he is as trim as he was as a 17 year old when he lied about his age to enlist in the military. In addition to being a vet, my dad is also a retired police officer; he served as a police officer on the Wilson police force for 25 years, retiring with the rank of captain. I’m proud of him. He was one of four black men who integrated the Wilson police department. He is featured in a local museum, the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House Museum, covering the history of African-Americans in Wilson County; when he was asked to provide materials for the museum, including a biographical sketch, he asked me to write it for him. I was proud to do so and I confess that I take delight in visiting the museum and seeing my words about my father on its walls.

I sent Marc a photograph of my father taken 20 years ago. In the picture, he is beaming as he holds his grandson, my nephew, in his arms. I love the smile on his face. Marc selected a setting for dad that delighted me and my sister, and her husband Bob. (Bob likes it when I mention his name in my blog.) He appropriately named it Napoleon Dad. I framed the image and my sister, Bob, and I presented it to my dad for his birthday on May 27. He was totally delighted, immediately recognizing that the original image was of Napoleon Bonaparte and thrilled with seeing himself sitting astride Napoleon’s magnificent steed. He immediately announced his plan to carry the picture (a framed 8 by 10) with him on his walk the next day to show to his buddies. Both of my parents are avid walkers, however my mother walks with a group of mall walkers at the local shopping mall; my dad prefers walking the sidewalks of Wilson that used to be his beat when he was a foot patrolmen, new to the police force. The picture now graces a shelf on the built in bookcases in my parents’ living room.

My thanks to Marc for helping us provide my father with such a unique present and one that brought that same wonderful smile to his face.

If you are interested in commissioning Marc to create a one-of-a-kind picture of you or a loved one, click here to see more of his “you in art” creations or email him (makemarc@aol.com) directly.