October 23, 2011

  • A Sad Time for Zipcar

    Just read a great article by Nate Byerley, of "Bike Blender" fame. I didn't realize times were so hard for Zipcar, and I have not seen any of these ads they have been running... but Nate's analysis (of the ad, and of the wider context) is spot on. Go here to enjoy it: http://everydayadventurers.com/2011/10/why-is-zipcar-bagging-on-the-bike

  • Bike-Enabled Entrepreneurs

    When I began Wordsmith Writing Coaches, I knew I had to keep costs to a minimum, and also find a way to keep in shape while doing a lot of writing, editing, teaching, and coaching (the sort of coaching that involves sitting at coffee shops a lot).  If only I had a bicycle that could easily schlep around all my stuff...

    Hey, I do have such a bike! I mated my old Motiv to a Free Radical back in 2001, creating an Xtracycle-- a bicycle with that little sumthin' Xtra that makes a huge difference.  So I drew up plans for canvas "Wordsmith" pannier panels and "Wordsmith" bike stickers and a "Wordsmith" bike flag*, and drew up my business plan around the Xtracycle as my transportation.

    Every time I run into other entrepreneurs who include the bicycle in their business, I get excited. A few months ago, my wife discovered Bicycle Bread Company, a terrific local outfit that operates on a shoestring and several delivery bicycles (and of course a lot of amazing recipes & ingredients).

    Then just the other day as I wheeled my Xtrabike into the street on my way to meet a client, I did a double-take: three men were pulling up to our neighbors' apartments, on bicycles-- outfitted with lights and stereo system, and laden with lawn-care gear!  

    Now these were men after my own heart. And professionally interested in my lawn.  Have I mentioned that I am going to great lengths to re-establish my dead and dog-holed front yard? Well, it's coming along, and it definitely attracted the attention of these fine gentlemen. 

    They asked about my yard, I asked about their bicycles, and good rapport was enjoyed all around.

    So now I can vouch that there are at least three bicycle-based businesses** in the USC area: my own, Ben and Stephen's, and now Martin's!

    Do you know of any other bike-enabled businesses?



    (*I never actually made any of those things, but it was a fun creative design process)

    (**...that is, businesses that don't sell or repair bicycles: tutoring/dissertation coaching, a bakery, and landscape maintenance have nothing to do with bicycles as a core competence. But all of us have found bicycles to be a tool that serves our business well.)

October 21, 2011

  • Suffering Loss...

    There seem to have been an unusual number of deaths, or anniversaries of deaths, in the past few weeks: my mother Florence died two years ago around this time, a couple of friends' elderly fathers have passed away recently, and now so did Leif Hovelsen.

    Leif was like a beloved uncle to me, a cherished mentor from the Greatest Generation. I wish I could have been with him before he died, or attended his funeral-- we knew the end was coming but even so, the moment of death always seems a surprise when it happens.

    Here is an excellent account of the funeral service from another good friend of Leif's, Steve Dickinson, who represents Leif's Initiatives of Change (IoC) oikos in America. Although he mentions the Diskeruds and my dad, he does not know me personally, nor the oikos of Leif's friends and spiritual family to which I belong (not involved with IoC).  So when he describes the remarkable breadth of Leif's impact-- on so many people, over so many generations and continents-- the reality goes even wider than he knows. And he knows this.

    Leif, we will miss you. May we grow to fill your ski boots.



    Norway, September 29 – October 2, 2011



                It was a great and unforgettable privilege to be at the times of remembrance for our remarkable friend Leif Hovelsen in Oslo last week, and to represent the many of us who loved him in America. Others from outside Norway present were Friedrich and Margaret Schock from Germany, Torsten Hvidt from Denmark, Edward and Elisabeth Peters and Finn Harald and Alison Wetterfors from Sweden. We all stayed at the IofC center at Sophus Lies gate 5. Our hosts were Jens Wilhelmsen, who lives with his wife Klar in an annex apartment, and Jen's cousin Dr. Sturla Johnson, who lives with his wife Viveka in another part of Oslo. Several other team members, including the Wilhelmsen daughters Camilla and Julia, were present at the center at various times.

                Leif's funeral service was held at noon on Friday, September 30th in the large central Lutheran church of Oslo. Access was slightly challenging as some streets were still blocked off following the recent terrorist attack. Damaged government buildings could be seen just a block away. The service was conducted by a retired Lutheran bishop who had gotten to know Leif in the last couple of years. The casket was covered in flowers with other wreaths and sprays surrounding. The church was full and the service lasted 90 minutes with several speakers including an excellent assessment of Leif's work by Norway's Minister of the Environment and Development, Eric Sulheim. The Chairman of the Norwegian chapter of the Helsinki Watch Committee also spoke well. Finally and wonderfully Camilla Nelson spoke as one of several of Leif's God-children, detailing his remarkable care for and generosity towards so many children, in Norway and beyond, through two generations. Camilla concluded by looking up and saying “Leif, now you can ski-jump again, and eat as many marzipan cakes as you wish.” 

                Most of those in the church, including the bishop and the cabinet minister, then repaired to Sophus Lies gate, which is about a 7 minute drive from the center of the city, so that this large baronial house was filled to overflowing – and so into the garden thanks to a warm afternoon sun. Several of us had spent the morning putting out folding chairs and making open-faced sandwiches. In salute to Leif there were also many fabulous cakes.

                Julia then called on several of us to speak. I said that I spoke for many in the United States when I expressed gratitude for Leif's care for and encouragement of us and our families, and our work of IofC in America. I also spoke of Leif's special connection with Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where his father Carl had built the first ski jump in America. I concluded by saying how much I had learned working with him on numerous trips to Russia, and then quoted from five messages that I had received from Russian friends, including Tatiana Yankelevich, the step-daughter of Andrei Sakharov who had won the Nobel Peace prize (with lobbying in Oslo by Leif) in 1975. Her message concluded, “ I will forever hold Leif in my grateful memory.”

                There was a photo of Leif on the front of the order of service showing him wearing an Orthodox cross.  I remember taking this photo, at Leif's request as he was so proud of having this gift which may have come, I think, from the New York based Russian artist Ernst Niezvestny. At the reception I saw this striking young man wearing the cross. He said that Leif had given it to him recently. The young man is Mikkel Diskerud, a rising soccer star who was recently selected to play for the US mens' soccer team as his mother is American. His father, Paul Diskerud, one of the pall-bearers, has done development work in Arizona and is a colleague of Jerry Nelson. I talked at length with Paul and he told me how Leif had encouraged Mikkel from an early age, going to see him play etc. I thought I knew Leif well but I realized that Leif's outreach of love and care went far beyond what I knew. There is much on Google about Mikkel. This quote from him is evidence I think of Leif's good influence. “For me to be a part of the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup, and to be able to honor reconciliation and forgiveness in this way, will probably in time become the dearest memory.”

                A huge thank you to everyone who encouraged me to go to Norway. I can think of no better way to conclude this reporting than with this wonderful poem for Leif written by Steve and which I read out loud at Sophus Lies gate. The concluding lines refer to some of Leif's last words to his old friend Jens.


    Friendship for Leif



    Friendship for Leif, rooted at home, also spans the earth.

    The Flying Norseman’s fame and friends were arrowed in Leif’s birth;

    Deep mother’s love for home and land, and faith, unwavering, strong,

    All filled the fjord that brought to birth a life that sings God’s song.


    Friendships from school, tested by war, above and underground,

    Too late the taste of betrayer’s kiss, warning’s meaning found;

    Death sentence then – is life so short?  But no, it’s not to be,

    For in war’s hell, in his lone cell, Christ’s friendship sets him free.


    And free he flies to Germany, to set the stage anew

    For nation friendship, widening peace, but still life is not through;

    The hearts of empires need to heal, from power’s coils unwound,

    Dissidents needed, East and West, Leif’s friendships now abound.


    Friendship for life, friendship with Leif – his living spiritual breath;

    So naturally, it can only be, it goes on after death.

    His books bequeathed, he has one more – a final gift to give,

    Just strength to say near his dying day, “Now I know I live.”


    Steve Dickinson



May 2, 2011

  • Let's try and make this clear...

    The odd manner of speech "try and" is one of my pet peeves.  For a long time I would mark it as wrong every time I saw it, until I began to notice it used by grammatically-savvy writers and authors.  As I paid more attention to it I saw and heard it more often. Could it be a common and correct idiomatic expression? Have I have been unfair to my students and clients for years?  Shocked, I looked it up and found this defense by Gabe Doyle:

    I’ve got some leads for the complainant on where — and when — this try and thing came from, and the answer is, as usual, from extension of an existing acceptable construction somewhere around the 1700s. I’m assuming you’re all familiar with the phrases come and and go and, as in:

    (1) I’ll go and see what episode of Antiques Roadshow is on.
    (2) Would you come and tell me whether the appraiser I like is on?

    I don’t think anyone is going to say (1) or (2) are bad grammar. They’re definitely fine by me, and they’re attested well into the past at the OED (see and, B. 10). Anyway, the same basic construction, where the action of the first verb (come, go) occurs before the action of the second verb of the second one (see, tell), got applied with a few other first verbs, such as try. This yielded sentences like:

    (3) Vic’s going to try and fit twenty-seven grapes in his mouth tonight.

    This extension makes some sense: first Vic will try to fit the grapes in his mouth, and then he will fit the grapes in his mouth, just as in (1), I will go and then see. (It’s a little weird with try because it’s difficult to clearly say whether the final outcome should count as part of the act of trying. If I’m trying to hit a home run, and I do hit a home run, at what point did I stop trying and start doing it? It’s a sticky metaphysical situation.)

    Independent of its sensibility, though, the try and extension has some history behind it. The first attestation in the OED is in 1878, in an economics primer. Google Books has examples dating back to — saints be praised! — 16031657, and1662. It’s not a new phenomenon and it used to be used in formal writings. In fact, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage hypothesizes that try andpredates try to. Nowadays, though, try and is somewhat more colloquial; to me, at least, it looks out of place in formal writing. That’s not to say it does not appear in writing; in fact, the construction is commonplace in modern books, but seems more common in ones with a slightly informal tone.

    But there’s nothing wrong with saying try and; it’s old, it’s well-attested, and it’s got a reasonable lineage. So please don’t base your vote on whether or not a candidate says it. Unless, of course, you’re voting in favor of a candidate who usestry and, who’s willing to stand by history and ignores the ill-informed objections of armies of pedants. That would show character.

    Summary: try and is a venerable old construction with 400 years of usage backing it. For whatever reason, it’s no longer considered sufficiently formal for formal/business writing, but it’s still fine in most writing styles and certainly in speech. As Fowler said: “It is an idiom that should be not discountenanced, but used when it comes natural.”


    A bit of context for those who are not grammarians: the field is divided between two polar opposites, Prescriptivists and Descriptivists.

    Prescriptivists believe that grammar, like math or engineering, can be defined by rules and algorithms. Meaning is objective. A strong Prescriptivist will say that grammar not only can be "right", it must be made right.  To know whether a particular turn of phrase is acceptable, one turns to logic, standard rules of grammar, and often to a particular grammarian authority.

    Descriptivists believe that grammar, like culture or fashion, must be observed as it evolves.  Meaning is subjective.  A Descriptivist will say grammar is not a field of "rightness" or "wrongness" but semiosis.  To know whether a particular turn of phrase is acceptable, one does not turn to rules but to research: if it is "common usage" or "current", then by definition it is acceptable, regardless of how it may offend traditional sensibilities-- which, after all, are determined by enculturation.

    Most writers, editors, and teachers do not live at the poles, but in the more comfortable latitudes in between, since each side has its strong points and weaknesses.

    I tend toward prescriptivism, perhaps because of my editorial experience, classical bent, and of course my fondness for the Trivium. Except when I tend toward descriptivism, because of my several decades of intercultural work, life, ministry and graduate study, and my fondness for semiotics.

    In this case, my initial peevishness at "try and" is ameliorated but still stands. Here's why:

    1. Doyle makes a good point with the compound verbs "go and see" and "come and tell". But the reason compound verbs work well is that each portion of the compound can stand on its own. I go, see, come, and tell.  But "I try" seems like a sentence stem: more than the previous four verbs, it begs the question "try what?"

    Doyle's own analysis makes this clear.  He says "It’s a little weird with try because it’s difficult to clearly say whether the final outcome should count as part of the act of trying. If I’m trying to hit a home run, and I do hit a home run, at what point did I stop trying and start doing it? It’s a sticky metaphysical situation."  That's because the trying and the outcome ARE more intimately connected than in the case of "go, see, come, tell".  "Try" wants to be a helping verb... which is why it makes sense to treat it as a helping verb, not a compound verb.

    2. Doyle appeals to etymology or lineage too, and this is his strongest argument. I'll concede this. Point well made (especially that Merriam-Webster link). Back to this later, though...

    3. Doyle also appeals to corpora, to how often the construction "try and" appears, and has appeared, in the English language. This is what he means by "attestation"-- the history of its use attests to its validity. But as Doyle describes eloquently in a different post, corpora can be a shifty place to stand when arguing for or against the validity of a grammatical construction.  I wonder how many of those occurrences use "try and" in a way that is clearly a compound verb, not a misconstructed helping verb.

    That leads to my own conclusion. I now see how "try and" could be a legitimate compound-verb construction. But most of the time it is meant as a helping verb, and ought to be written that way, using the infinitive form of the main verb ("try to X").  So I will not be so quick to mark it wrong in the future, and will more carefully consider whether it might be a genuine compound verb, looking at the context around it and not merely the sentence it serves. And I agree with Doyle about its colloquial, informal feel-- it is out of place in formal writing, precisely because of its mushy vagueness.

    For the sake of promoting sound logic, and helping my clients and students clearly express logic via language, I will still correct it when the "and" obviously needs to be a "to."

    But I will try to relinquish this pet peeve at last.

    Maybe leave it at the local peeve shelter?

October 15, 2010

  • Explain that connection again...

    Oh, between grieving for my mom and rappelling down a skyscraper?


    It all started last winter, our first Christmas without Mom.  Sad. Missed her. Odd blank space inside me where I thought there ought to be a bit more pathos or pain or something. Hmm.  But a busy life can help crowd out awkward introspection, and I allowed it to.

    For one thing, my friend Jason Jaggard had this great idea called Sparks, and our small group at the time could certainly benefit from an extra spark or two, so we signed on. I think we and the other folks who tried Sparks at that time were iteration 2 or 3 of the concept, so some things were in place, but there was definitely a "here's the idea, ready, go!" feeling to it. Closely followed by a "...and hey, tell us what happens, let us know how others might benefit from your experience in the future." In other words, we were guinea pigs developmental groups.

    The basic point is to inspire, or free, or challenge, each person to make a Spark decision of some kind, every week for five weeks, and then support one another in following through. A Spark can be anything that you could do in a week that:

    1. could make the world a better place, or

    2. could make yourself a better person, and

    3. must involve an element of risk.  Any sort of risk. The idea ought to give you pause, require a step of courage to implement, be "outside your comfort zone".

    It turned out to be an experiment in taking initiative, for me. Our small group soon moved on to a different focus but the connection was made for me: if something is important or valuable, then it is worth taking a risk to honor that, or to gain that.

    Fast forward to September 20. I know that the first anniversary of Mom's death is just a few days away, and no one seems to notice. The cards & condolences ceased ages ago. Life has just gone on without her, and it will keep going on without her. "As if she never was," murmured the leaden voice of Despair.

    This was a tactical mistake on Despair's part. Immediately I began to think of the ways my mother's life had changed and shaped the life of others, how she had created a whole extended family out of the words "I do" and a kiss from my father so many years ago.  Not only that, she created entities that outlive her, that continue to do good and improve the lives of many.  She became a champion at raising money for noble causes later in life, when she had the time, energy, wisdom and connectedness to do so.  It would honor her memory if I told some of that story for her. Perhaps my mom's story would spark hope, action, and change in others who had not even known her during her physical lifetime.

    Then came the invitation from the National Eagle Scout Association: let's raise awareness of urban Scouting by rappelling off the Bonaventure! The LA Area Council needs more money to do what's necessary in Los Angeles to spark good, to spark virtue, in our urban youth. Let's risk an expensive event in the hope that we will raise enough money to pay for the event and help urban Scouting.

    Hey, just the sort of thing Mom would love! And, just the sort of thing that would honor her, if done in her name!

    So, I'm doing it. You can too! Or, just give generously to spark change in the youth of Los Angeles, to honor Florence Nelson, and to push me over the edge at last.

October 12, 2010

  • Shameless plug for the Reading Seminar

    "Books that are over your head weary you unless you can reach up to them and pull yourself up to their level.  It is not the stretching that tires you, but the frustration of stretching unsuccessfully because you lack the skill to stretch effectively."
    -- Mortimer J. Adler

    Through my coaching/tutoring business I am offering a seminar that teaches crucial reading, research and study strategies for college students and graduate students alike.  Or, if you are a wise high school senior, learn this stuff now and really be prepared for college life next year. 

    The seminar is based upon Mortimer Adler's foundational text "How To Read A Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading" and J. Robert Clinton's "Reading On the Run", as well as several other helpful texts and our decades of personal experience in academia.  This is NOT a remedial reading course, it is for students or professionals who have to plow through a lot of reading efficiently (i.e. QUICKLY) and effectively (i.e. learning all you need to know from your reading).  It is not a speed-reading course, nor a study skills course, although we will touch upon each of those topics.  The Academic Reading Seminar is available as a 2-hour introduction for $100 per person, a 4-hour half-day workshop for $180 per person, or a 6-hour comprehensive workshop for $250 per person.

    Wordsmith writing coaches are mobile experts in academic reading and writing: we come to you! Because we do not maintain brick-and-mortar offices and classrooms, we can keep our overhead very low, and pass the savings on to you. It is also convenient: we will meet you wherever is best for you.  If you can meet us within our biking range, we waive any travel fee and thank you for helping keep us fit and trim.  We are willing to drive to meet with you, but if driving is necessary, we must charge $.50 per mile one way, still a reasonable fee.

    Our standard hourly rate for tutoring and coaching at the undergrad/graduate level is $75/hour.  See our website for more details and our story.

    Call today to schedule your Academic Reading Seminar!  Ask about special group discount pricing too.
    (my phone number is on our website: www.wordsmithwritingcoaches.com)

    "We must become a nation of truly competent readers, recognizing all that the word 'competent' implies.  Nothing less will satisfy the needs of the world that is coming."
    -- Mortimer J. Adler, 1940

September 22, 2010

  • The Bonaventure + Florence Nelson + A Long Rope = ??

    I don't mean to steal any thunder from NWNW (and there is plenty of thunder rolling through the blogosphere), but in just one week and one month, I will leap backwards off the top of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, clinging to a climbing rope. It's high time I explained why. It's complicated.

    My mom, Florence Nelson, died September 25 of 2009. The first anniversary comes in a few days, and I have simply not been able to grieve much for her over the past year for some reason.  Her final illness was a long one, so I did a good deal of pre-grieving in anticipation of her passing, but afterwards... I was willing to grieve, and tried to do so a couple of times, like while my brother and I were sprinkling her ashes from a tall rock outcropping overlooking one of her favorite stretches of Sonora desert. But there was just a blankness covering up where I knew the grief was hiding. I was able to celebrate her life, but not able to do the other thing. Whatever that was.

    There is no sense trying to force something that isn't ready to happen, so I got busy with life again.  Probably what my practical mother would want me to do.

    This past Sunday I rediscovered this book, one of the best I've ever read about the grieving process, and one that I had completely forgotten about until now. I find metaphor and story are often far more helpful than cognitive analysis, with things of the heart. Tear Soup's story is touching, its metaphor robust. Something tipped inside me, and I quietly wept for the first time since the memorial service. My grief has peeked out from its hiding place, pushing the blankness aside, just a bit.  I think I'm ready to begin my own batch of Tear Soup.

    This will be an unusual batch. I'm not a maudlin person, so I don't expect there will be a lot of actual tears (although I might be wrong, we'll see-- grief is a funny thing, and can play tricks on you sometimes). After sitting with my rediscovered grief for a few days, I am sure of some of the Soup's ingredients:

    • Solitude, humbling myself before God

    • A Party, taking pride in something worth celebrating

    • Study, learning new things from a master

    • Teaching, passing along something I've learned

    • Adventure!

    • Philanthropy!

    All of these are intimately connected to my mom Florence, and I'll make those connections & their expressions clear as they unfold. But on Monday morning those last two ingredients' expressions sprang to vibrant life, fully-formed, via an email from the Los Angeles Area Council (LAAC) of the Boy Scouts of America.

    I serve as an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 848, where my son Armando is a Scout (Second Class). I am also a member of the National Eagle Scout Association. When the LAAC wanted volunteers to rappel off the Bonaventure Hotel to help raise money to support Scouting in the City of Los Angeles, they approached local and active Eagle Scouts first. Mom's qualities of Adventure and Philanthropy popped promptly into place in my mind and I signed up immediately, with my wife's enthusiastic support.

    Mom loved adventure, and she loved giving generously of her time, energy and money, to worthy causes. She was especially devoted to education and various kinds of mentoring for character development, maturity and wisdom. Scouting is all about those things. Scouting in South Los Angeles is especially strategic, and anything I can do to support them will honor my mom's memory and add to her legacy.

    Please join me in this.

    You can rappel with me, or volunteer at the event (probably the best deal), or contribute toward my goal of $10,000, or just come to watch and join us at the After Party at the Bonaventure.

    I give as much time and energy as I can to serve Troop 848, one of the very few African-American troops in Southern California and a highly respected outfit. (I'll tell you more about them as "Over The Edge"-Day draws near.) I don't have the resources to be a philanthropist of Mom's caliber, but financially too, I give what I can. I am not asking more from you than I require from myself.

    Will you help me in my crazy attempt to honor my mother, and to strengthen Scouting in Los Angeles?

    This will be a great way-- a healing way, for me-- to mark the first anniversary of her death.

    Mom will love it.


  • Ending the Slavery of Self-Destruction

    This month marks the 21st anniversary of my wife's move to South Central Los Angeles. I joined her four months later, in January 1990. We never left. We have been intimately engaged with South Los Angeles all this time, increasing our depth of connection over the years as experience and opportunity allowed.  We have been the ethnic minority in each of our neighborhoods all this time, so we have some small taste (from the other side of the pot, so to speak) of what that's like.  We love our neighbors and genuinely want the best for them. We regularly endure criticism for being the wrong color, the wrong class, the wrong political stripe, the wrong fans (Clippers, not Lakers)... for being foster parents, for adopting a Black child, for living in a small apartment, for living in a big house that's too old and ugly, for living in a big house that's too new and pretty . . .  It is not easy, but I would not trade it for anything else. I love South Los Angeles. I love Black and Latino culture. And Chinese, and Nordic, and Zambian, and British, and Indian too-- both "dot" and "feather"-- here, we have it all!


    On September 22 – the 148th anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation – African American writers throughout the United States are being encouraged to flood the blogosphere for an entire day of online debate, information, and commentary under the auspices of “No Wedding, No Womb” (NWNW) an initiative that seeks to address the problems of-and provide solutions to-the unplanned pregnancies among African American single women. Nearly half of all families in the African American community are headed by Black women. In addition, more than 70 percent of live births in the Black community are to unmarried women.

    Founders of BeyondBlackWhite.com Christelyn D. Karazin and Janice Littlejohn will spearhead the online effort joined by more than 100 top African American bloggers and noted journalists who will provide their own new and informational posts stimulating a movement toward strengthening Black communities and families.


    Although I am not a Black woman, my daughter will grow up to be one soon. As one called by God to love South Central and its fascinating mix of cultures, I want the best for my urban African American friends and neighbors, for the Black community, and most especially and personally, I want the best for my lovely daughter.

    On this day, September 22, this means I want to see the African American community becoming emancipated from its slavery to self-destruction.

    Yes, slavery. To self-destruction. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to Black teens (boys AND girls) singing popular lyrics that could well have been written by some kind of White Supremacist conspirators, rather than "respected" African-American rap and hip-hop artists.  Young Black women in a community-college class commiserating about how rotten men are, and agreeing sagely with the closing comment "mens is just out to use you and abuse you, so you gots to use them first."  Teen girls pushing their toddlers in strollers who wave enthusiastically at their old Bible Club teachers, promising that as soon as their kids are old enough, they will make sure they come to Bible Club too, since it is so much fun and teaches you about how to live. (I have never felt such a failure as I did then)  A jaded urban missionary leaning out the window of his creaky van to shout at a group of gangbangers on the corner "Hey! Get a job!" Their cold anger gave way to embarrassment as they recognized the man of God who taught them in after-school homework clubs and coached them in youth sports leagues... they respect him but will not follow him or his God, or get that job... they will not submit to an employer's "demands", so God's are off the table entirely.  

    But mostly my heart has broken over and over as beautiful little girls bursting with promise and potential (Black, Latino and a few Hmong) become teenage "baby-mommas" as if pregnancy is an inevitable result of the end of puberty. I watch them fall into a cycle of immaturity and dependency and poverty that I was sure THIS one would break free from... or, maybe THAT one... my hopes have been dashed so often I have lost count. I never wanted to keep a count anyway, I want to focus on hope rather than despair. 

    And as I do so, I see married couples.

    Strong married couples, and counter-cultural ones at that, seem to be the only reliable predictor of children who will escape the cycle of slavery to self-sabotage.  Marriage alone doesn't make much difference if the parents uncritically accept the culture around them, a culture which enthusiastically promotes sex and selfishness and simplistic thinking (or no thinking at all), a culture which scorns self-control and ridicules most virtue.  Whether the counter-cultural stance is Christian or Vegan or Armed Forces Patriotism or Save-the-Earth Greenism or whatever, if it is authentic and persistent and involves both parents, it seems to be effective.

    I will let other bloggers like Sophia Nelson and C.M. Whitener wrestle with specific facets of the issue of marriageless procreation, and I am more apt to emphasize the role that Black men might take in solving the problem, but the basic concept of NWNW seems axiomatic.  If Black women simply refused sex with men who refused to marry them-- and, by implication, refused to marry men who were not "marriage material" (a wedding ring is not a magic totem!)-- this would go a long, long way toward emancipating the whole African American community from self-destructive cycles.

    More than that, it would begin a profoundly CONSTRUCTIVE cycle that would replenish the Black community-- educationally, financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, creatively, with generation building upon generation (rather than generations crowding against and sapping from one another). I can only hope that NWNW becomes the catalytic discussion that brings this change. 

    "Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come." (Victor Hugo)


    this topic is too important to confine to a single date. I hope conversations are sparked and seeds of transformation are planted that will grow and mature and bear the fruit of freedom over the next ten years... so that all this will seem like history, not lurking slavery, to my daughter when she is grown.

September 21, 2010

  • The Death of Great Women - Eloise Drake

    The anniversary of my mother's death is coming up later this month, and when I heard about Eloise Drake passing away, it got me thinking... this, then, is the first of four posts about great women whose deaths have been meaningful to me and, perhaps, teach us something about life. And about greatness, too.

    Eloise grew up on a ranch in New Mexico during the 20s and 30s. Her high aspirations and academic competence led her to attend Abilene Christian College in Texas, but she left after a single semester because the formal and informal social restrictions were too burdensome.  Seeking a more relaxed setting for her education, she transferred to a school in California, then known as George Pepperdine College.  She met her husband David Drake there, as the war ended, and they were married on Christmas Day in 1947.

    Over the next 61 years they lived mostly in Hacienda Heights, where they raised three daughters, then moved to Santa Monica. They also called Albania home on two separate sojourns, during which they taught English and the Bible. They were lifelong members of the Church of Christ, and from that stance, served their communities and an ever-widening circle of friends and acquaintances. Eloise in particular gave herself to sharing with others the love and grace and truth of God, which she called "evangelism" but which bears little resemblance to the social science or salesmanship that often go by that name.

    In retirement, Eloise and David's "business card" read simply "David & Eloise Drake, A Married Couple Since 1947."  Indeed, their real "business" seems to have been valuing relationships and inspiring others to do the same: marriage relationships, family relationships, friendships, business relationships, etc. but most of all a person's relationship with God.

    David died in November of 2009, and Eloise died just weeks ago, on September 9th, 2010. Like the other Great Women who have inspired me, she was what Paul called a "ligament" in the Body of Christ, supporting far more persons than anyone realized until after she was gone.  Like the other Great Women she was taken for granted, but not in a bad way-- her presence and influence was so constant and reliable that folks simply depended upon it without thought or worry, in the same way that the solidity of a flight of stairs is assumed by those who depend upon it daily.  And the reality of its absence is equally surprising.

    Eloise was elderly, 88 years old, and her physical death must not have been a complete surprise... it is the adjustments that must be made, the almost-daily discoveries of how exactly she connected different people, and how relationships must change or be lost now that she is gone, all these are as surprising as the absence of a much-used flight of stairs, no matter how much advance warning one might have had of its impending removal.

    I had the same surprising realizations after my own mother's death last year... but I will tell the story of her death later.

    Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the many who love Eloise and who mourn her passing. Grace and strength to you.

September 19, 2010