The Birmingham Project

I was looking into the eyes of a black girl around thirteen years old. She looked back, her eyes pensive and a bit sullen. Then I shifted my gaze to the black woman seated as if next to her, about fifty years her senior. The woman’s eyes were those of a survivor, the eyes of someone who has lived through and somehow managed to transcend unimaginable pain.

What this woman from Birmingham, Alabama had survived was the racial violence that overtook her city in the early 1960s. The federal government had ordered Alabama’s public schools to de-segregate; Governor George Wallace was determined to resist.

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Breaking Up with My Job

leavingjobLast week, I left the job where I have worked for the past seven-and-three-quarter years. There’s not much to say about the job itself—that’s the other life I don’t write about in this forum, the one where I live under another name entirely, although in this day of the online permanent record, you can connect all the dots in a minimum of keystrokes on Google.

There’s also little to say because it was a very good job, the kind of rare position that is always being written about in our papers of record for its flexibility and humane part-time hours, along with its intellectual challenge. Despite my commitments to domesticity, volunteerism and full-on mothering, it never made sense not to work, and it’s been good for my mental health, to boot. (I guess that means I should write about it, but I’m not going to do it here.)

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Girl Meets God in the Classroom, Part 2

Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_sonContinued from yesterday.

On the first day of my class “Spiritual Autobiographies: Theirs and Ours,” a few students shared that they weren’t “spiritual people.” Why, I wondered, did they sign up for this elective class?

Some of them, I would learn later in the semester, had been deeply wounded by religion. A few said that religion had been forced on them by their parents.

At this moment of emerging adulthood, it was time to turn away, to turn another way. Neither the students nor I realized, as class began in mid-August, that some of their wounds, whether exposed in speech, writing, or—to anyone paying attention—in silence, would become sites of inquiry and that inquiry itself might begin a process of healing.

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In Memoriam

roadside-memorialIf you live long enough in a place, people will start to die there, but the phenomenon of time’s passage is often framed more romantically. Consider the lines of the classic Beatles song (emphasis mine):

There are places I remember…
Some have gone and some remain
All these
places have their moments
with lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all.

I’m not immune to this tendency myself. I am a Southerner, after all, and a Mississippian, a member of the tribe for whom the phrase “a sense of place” is endlessly and (often) sententiously invoked.

A real joke: How many Southerners does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Three. One to call the yardman, one to mix the martinis, and one to talk about how lovely the old one was. [Read more...]

In Defense of Fruitcake

Runyan photoAt some point or another, every Christmas celebrant in America has to draw lines in the sand over the following doctrinal issues:

When is it acceptable to begin listening to Christmas music?
What are your thoughts on front yard inflatables?
Will you shop on Black Friday or boycott it and buy all the crap a couple weeks later?
To what lengths will you go to ensure that your tenth grader still believes in Santa?
What will be your game plan regarding the song “Christmas Shoes”?
How much fruitcake will you consume?

The first five questions have been known to tear families and friends asunder during this glorious time of year. But the one that unites enemies? Fruitcake. [Read more...]


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