Dreams From My Father

i’ve been reading this book and it has just been the most amazing experience. at face value this is a thoughtful, well-written, very smart book that i think would impress anyone who enjoys a good read. it is insightful, a commentary on his own life and on american society, and on kenyan society as well.

on a slightly deeper level, it’s amazing to read it knowing that this is our president! it’s very candid, open, opinionated. a rare glimpse into the personal thoughts of a world leader before he knew what would become of him.

for me personally though, this is the first time i’ve ever read anything that so closely mirrored my own experience. from as early as i can remember i have felt like an outsider, different from everyone else around me. my dad is from nigeria, he wasn’t around for most of my life. i didn’t meet him face-to-face until i was 29 years old and traveled to see him there. my white scandanavian mother and her family raised me here in minnesota in the late 70s into the 80s. diversity has come here through refugee and immigrant populations, as well as the increasing number of multi-racial families that have become a part of our midwestern landscape. but it wasn’t like this when i was growing up, and i was keenly aware. i’ve carried that feeling with me to this day, though circumstances have changed.

over the years i have met others in similar circumstances… black/white biracial of course… every once in a while there would be someone with an african parent… a certain kinship i’ve always felt with trans-racial adoptees… kids with an international parent. i’ve certainly not been completely alone. but my experience, i feel, is pretty unique. for a long time it was very lonely, and shame-based when, growing up, most americans didn’t know anything about africa but abbreviated history lessons in school national geographic movies, mocking what they don’t understand. i don’t know that i’ll ever be completely at peace with my place in the world, but with a lot of continued self-reflection, study, and a certain 2 week trip, i’ve come a long way.

i have been amazed to read this book! here is a man with an absent african father, raised by his white family, thinking through race in a complex way, who goes into community organizing, then goes to his father’s country as an adult to do some exploring and make some peace. amazing! i have found a few little intricate details that have made my hair stand on end because it’s such an odd thing to read in a book, parts of my life that i never thought would be in a book. one such part is something i ended on last night… barack in kenya reading through old family letters. being halfway across the world reading history, coming to terms with the beautiful parts, the ugly pieces, the realities you have to accept.

it’s an obvious treat for me, being a person who has such a similar experience. me, the girl who was never like other people! but aside from my personal connection, this is a fantastic book and i recommend it to everyone. i only have a few pages left and i’m honestly a little sad to be finishing it. i’m really proud to hear his story told and i still get goosebumps once in a while knowing that a man with this story became our president.


my sewing machine

this will be like an appetizer to what i’m really thinking about – spring cleaning. bajeebees i’m awesome! it’s better than it sounds, i promise.

so i started a sewing class last week, the culmination of a long time dream. i bought an old machine at savers probably ten years ago and was trying to teach myself to use it but it kept breaking needles on me. i investigated, took it apart (i love doing that, my mom says that’s a mechanical intelligence, a family trait, but i haven’t heard it talked about in a long time) but didn’t know enough about it to fix it and ended up throwing it away.

i found this current machine in grandpa’s basement a couple years ago and took it home with me. it moved with me into grandpa’s house when i lived there for a year and a half, and it moved with me into my new place. never touched. i do this, i collect things i want to do and then i drag them around with me place to place. it’s funny what gets used and what you find out years later you’ve dragged around for no reason.

turns out that’s not the case with my machine.

as with many things lately, i find myself suddenly doing something i’ve always thought i would love to do. i guess i’ve been kind of a scaredy cat. i have a fear sometimes of trying new things, things i just know i would be good at… but what if i fail?

then again, what if i succeed?

so last week was like an introduction to class. she said if we wanted to learn on our own machines to bring them, and the manual, this week. she said we should try to have the machine threaded by next session. class is tomorrow, i accept my obsession with the last minute. so tonight i read through the first part of my manual, identifying parts and getting aquanted. just a few minutes ago i lowered the foot on my threaded machine. satisfaction is mine!

i’m just very proud of myself for this time in my life. i’m scared to death of the changes i’m forcing on myself (again, refer to future blog, “spring cleaning”) but if feels good to push forward anyway. and i love that after graduation last, i’m doing the things i always put off because i didn’t have time. i’m conquering another beast. fine so i may not be able to teach myself to sew, but i’m finally enrolled in that class i always talked about and i’m doing it.

this is so exciting!

a little sadness doesn’t hurt now and then

i’m sad. i’ve been running away from it for a while but it’s time to check back in to what’s real. sadness is real.

i came back from colombia with such fierce determination to make a better life for myself. i made some quick sweeping changes and felt free as a bird, i moved into a state of bliss and it lasted for a while. i broke up with my boyfriend, i got back into a healthy lifestyle, forged some new friendships, started volunteering and making art again. you know… a while back as i was figuring out how to deal with my periodic depressive episodes, i remember coming to a realization. “can it really be as simple as taking good care of myself? eating well, regular exercise, self-expression, getting enough sleep? is that really the key to happiness, to being even-keeled?” through trial and error, i have learned that it really is that simple. at least for me. i feel like my time after colombia reinforced it.

but like anything, life is a process, a balance, and i can’t hold my balance forever. i need time alone, i need the majority of my life to be sober even when social time frequently gets boozy. i need to hold it together and practice self-discipline and guard the time i need as an introvert to re-charge. but social time gets addictive and then begins to feel like a responsibility that i have trouble keeping up with. so i revert, letting go of healthy patterns, and indulging in instant gratification, which eventually makes me sad. i’m not good at hiding or ignoring my feelings. and the cycle continues.

of course, it doesn’t help in the middle of a downswing to get hit with an unexpected death. herbie was old, 87, lived a full life, was religious and therefore sure of a better afterlife, so that helped. but the shock of someone dying who you’ve known for your whole life is definitely tough. herbie was very special, a friend of my grandparents and a constant presence at the church i grew up in. he had a big smile, saggy skin around happy eyes, and the tightest, warmest hug in the world. that hug is what i’ll miss the most. and i told him and his wife that a few months ago in a letter when i heard he was sick.

at his viewing i talked to people from the old church, which had closed down a few years ago. it was especially nice to see merril, my other old pal, 90 years old and vibrant, still doing woodworking and stained glass projects. his wife lois, he admitted, wasn’t doing so well. lois used to play organ and piano for church and through the years she would tap me to do special music, choosing songs she could accompany me to sing to. after a fall a few years ago, lois developed alzheimers and merril told me she now had about a 6 word vocabulary and wasn’t much herself anymore. what an awful disease.

i love old people, they are wonderful and richly experienced. but lately they have made me sad. my grama is 90 years old and has been deteriorating quicker over the past couple of years. she told me when she was 78 that 80 is enough, she talks incessantly about her demise, her funeral arrangements, and claiming her prize in heaven. she wants to live independently in her seniors high rise 1 bedroom apartment until she dies, yet we’re all a little afraid she might soon need more help than she’s comfortable with. so last weekend when i was doing my morning writing i kind of asked God to take her before she got to that point. around 6pm i got a call from her saying she needed to go to the emergency room. she fell, again, and had another big bump on her knee. everything turned out fine, they just observed her overnight, but it shook me up. a lot. i was afraid, as they had warned us after her last fall, that she may not be able to go home again. on top of this my aunt has advanced cancer, and my mom is starting to take hermitting to a new and shameless dimension. it’s a kind of scary time in my family, and it’s taking its toll.
it’s hard to find yourself in one of the best times of your life, filled with such a feeling of rightness and possibility, when so much around you is unsure and a little frightening. that’s where i’ve been living.
also part of the sadness is my ex. it was my first more serious relationship, my first real attempt in a long time. as i was stimulated intellectually and emotionally in such a profound way in colombia, i realized i wasn’t getting what i needed at home, i wasn’t even aware of what i was missing until it surrounded me. it made me a little hostile and i cut ties with him quick, and i felt really free. seeing him a couple weeks ago made me remember that he truly is a special and wonderful person, not just my tidy sum of words… “he’s such a nice guy… he just doesn’t belong to me.” which is true. but we did connect and i did love him very much. it’s hard to wade into this gray area where i’m not a prisoner of his smothering love, and he’s not the boring sap who was sucking the life out of me. we’re just two people who care about each other, but it won’t work. hopefully we’ll both find a better match. someday. and i hope he finds someone good enough for him to realize he was settling, too.
sadness is a part of my life, just like the bliss and the rightness when i get back on track. i run and run and run from it, but when it finally catches up to me it’s not so scary. i can handle it, let it pass through me. in a strange way it feels like home, familiar and startling, jerking me back into place, into peace.
and there’s an upswing around the corner.