In My Orbit…

12 11 2010

Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have been glued to the interviews and write-ups surrounding President George W. Bush‘s book tour for his memoir, Decision Points.  President Bush chose to  sit down with Matt Lauer, Oprah, and Sean Hannity, among others.

My favorite quote comes from a Joshua Greenman’s writeup: “George W. Bush never was a bad soul, he was just portrayed as one on TV.”

Of course, Mr. Greenman’s long title that includes the words “long road to restoring a reputation” says much about his viewpoint, and he digresses into the usual partisan sniping about Iraq and how we will never forget, blah, blah, blah.  More evidence that objective journalism and opinion journalism have lost their distinctiveness.

The saddest pull quote was from an article in the St. Petersburg Times, where Colette Bancroft interviewed two historians about Presidential memoirs in general:

“Although historians may comb presidential memoirs for revelations, and although they may sell well to the public, Reeves says he thinks they are ‘way up there among unread books. With a president’s book, there’s so much discussion on TV, radio, print, everywhere that you can talk about it without reading it.'”

A telling comment, and a reflection of the devolution of education in America.

I thought the Lauer interview was the least interesting.  Matt Lauer came off a bit pompous, as he was attempting to appear inquisitive and hard-hitting.  And the editing reduced the interview to a bunch of sound bites instead of a reflective treatise on what I consider one of the most compelling presidencies of my lifetime.

Oprah did much better, primarily because she is a more accomplished interviewer than Lauer.  Her sit down allowed us to hear President Bush’s full answers and watch his body language.  It felt as though we were having the conversation in our own living rooms, which I guess is Oprah’s calling card anyway. The interview is worth viewing, and Real Clear Politics excerpts it on their site.

Hannity’s was probably the least formal of the three, more akin to two friends shooting the breeze, than an interview with the former Leader of the Free World.  Where it succeeded was in giving us a view of Bush’s world, then and now, and how it shaped him.

Notwithstanding the sorry editing of the Lauer interview, in these three television appearances, President Bush came across relaxed, exhibiting a wicked sense of humor couched in light sarcasm, and as very comfortable in his own skin.  And dare I say it? He is a fascinating, multi-layered human being, which is the polar opposite of how the mainstream media chose to portray him in the years of his Presidency.

None of these attributes reflect our current President. He takes himself much too seriously to employ humor effectively, and is not at all comfortable in that substantially thin skin. Layers give depth, substance, and sometimes give insight into how someone might lead or act.  President Obama likes to obscure his layers, which is telling in and of itself.  A stark contrast of two Presidents, and contrasts not lost on Howard Kurtz.   The Decider v. the Agonizer.

Most of the writeups  are coming from the perspective of the memoir as a “reinvention tour” or “crafting a legacy”.  But President Bush,  in his interview with Matt Lauer,  said it best:  “I hope I’m judged a success, but I’m going to be dead, Matt, when they finally figure it out.”

In this information age where a President’s life and times is reduced to sound bites and images, I feel reading a Presidential memoir should be required for everyone, no matter what your political stripe.  Having heard enough from both sides, it will be refreshing to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Today’s my reading day, so I’m diving in.





In My Orbit…

21 08 2010

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So the Girl is really taking it easy today.  I slept in until all of 9:00 am (for me these days, that’s late), and after feeding the pups, have been easing myself into the day, which is, amazingly enough, almost half gone…

So what’s in My Orbit?  Well, I’m quite stoked after reviewing the book, Humanitarian Jesus and interviewing the authors, Christian Buckley and Ryan Dobson.  I have always strongly believed that as a Christian, my witness is shown as much (and sometimes more) by my hands and feet, as by my mouth, and one should not diminish the other, but complement.  The authors, and the leaders of the humanitarian and relief organizations who are a part of the book also express this belief, among others.  Hop on over to my Examiner.com page and take a read:

Book Review: Humanitarian Jesus

Meet the Authors: Ryan Dobson and Christian Buckley

And I am currently in the Sherman Oaks Apple Store, writing this very blog post on a MacBook Pro!  Yes, yes, I’m seriously considering stepping away from the Dark Side (many of my friends are saying, “What took you so long?!) and buying a Mac.  The cost, more than anything is the main hesitation.  But now that my life is more about writing, blogging and the creative things that I do, and less about the training and software support which used to be my bread and butter, I feel as though it is time.

So far, I’m loving it!  It’s intuitive, in terms of applications, they are not a whole lot different than the comparable Windows’ ones; and probably a bit easier to use.  And the ease of switching interfaces and applications is a huge PLUS in its favor.

I better wrap this up, because it’s a zoo in here, and I’m sure someone is waiting to test this puppy out!  I’m going to move on to the low-end laptop (the MacBook) and see what it has to offer, then it’s off to a summer party.  Leisurely Saturdays are few and far between in my life, so it’s been a slice!

Until next time…





In My Orbit…

9 03 2010

Digital Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jones-ing again.  Catching up on the political grapevine, and the fruit is ripe indeed!

Stanley Fish says it plainly, in THE New York Times no less, and I agree–Do You Miss Him Yet? Oh, indeed. It started for me on November 5, 2008, and I am sure it will only get stronger.  Signs continue that the Kool-Aid high that elected our current President has indeed worn off; especially as he continues to lie, spin, and misspeak.  Yep, me and other Americans are right there with you, Stanley!

Mark Steyn cuts with precision, and dissects the true nature of this Obamacare push: Obamacare worth the price to Democrats.  Can’t add anything to Steyn’s brilliance–read the article.

And Karl Rove,  another person that the crazies on both sides love to demonize, starts his book launch today: Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.  I am always fascinated by personalities that everyone loves to hate, whether it’s the left or the right.  I read Hilary Clinton’s book for that reason, though I can’t recommend it.  It’s a snoozer and way too much fiction–but it at least gave her a chance to have her say, and I was interested in hearing it from her perspective.  I’m sure the critics will be brutal simply because he’s Karl Rove; but I pay little attention to critics.  Courage and Consequences will be added to my reading list, along with Going Rogue.  Say what you will about Rove’s politics, he’s a smart man and a class act.





Sister Glue

28 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

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I could never love anyone as I love my sisters!
Jo March, Little Women 1994

My relationship with my sisters has been as individual as we are.  Often complicated, sometimes overly dramatic, but no less enriching and essential to my life.  The glue of faith, prayer, and family honor has held us together, when at times I felt we were irreparably parted.

These excepts are from different chapters of Fried Chicken and Sympathy.

Chapter 7:  Sister Interrupted.

During my young adult years, my contact with Barbara waxed and waned throughout the years as I sought to find myself and my life.  But I will never forget her constant love and worship of God, her childlike trusting faith, and her adherence to truth.

When I was a child, if you had told me I could get close to God if I stood on my head three times a day, I would have broken my neck trying.  During my time in Catholic school, I learned different forms of prayer, to saints and to Mary, that I used to say along with the other forms of praying I had learned at New Hope.  Barbara was walking past my room one day, and she heard me praying the Hail Mary.  She barreled into the room, in her blustery fashion, and demanded I stop.

Startled, I looked up at her.  “But I’m only praying,” I excused.

“You don’t have to pray to anyone but Jesus!  He is the only true God.”

That made an impression.  As loopy as other’s deemed her, and as convoluted as her thoughts sometimes could be, she was secure in who the Source was.  Despite the faulty teachings, and false hopes, she never lost faith in God that she would be healed, and she never got angry with God because it never manifested in this life.  She didn’t understand the whys, but it never stopped her from continuing to seek answers, ask questions, and trust God’s will and heart toward her.  I model much of my relationship with God from her example:  Unyielding faith, eternal trust, yet never afraid to be fully human.

Even when I thought I had stopped following her life, she was still committed to following mine.  Like Gerry, she loved her family, and was loyal to a fault.  When I would phone the Ferdinand house to speak with Bay, I would hear her excited voice in the background,

“Jennifer!  Oh yes—let me speak to my sister!”  Bay would surrender the phone, and she would ramble on about Lil Mike, Joshuah, Aimee, her job, or about nothing in particular; she just enjoyed the process of connecting with me.

I made a conscientious effort to be the “auntie” to my nephews and niece, particularly at Christmastime.  I made sure that Lil’ Mike, Joshuah and Aimee (who had the misfortune of being born on December 24) had something, even if it was only coloring books.  Barbara would exclaim, and ooh and ahh over the little gifts, as if I had given them college scholarships.  She was grateful for kindness, especially toward her children.

I didn’t understand the depths of her love for me until after she died.  At Barbara’s repast, a very thin and agitated young girl walked into the church hall where it was being held.  Joan greeted her, then brought her over to where I was sitting.  The woman was a coworker of Barbara’s, and she had traveled two hours by bus to pay her respects.  She was very apologetic, because she had gotten lost and missed the wake.  When Joan introduced her to me, her face lit up with recognition.

“You’re Jennifer!”  she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I replied, extremely puzzled at her highly familiar exclamation.

“Barbara talked about you all the time—how smart you were, and your clothes—and she used to tell me you wore these wild earrings!”  We all laughed, then she continued to go on and on about how Barbara talked about me.  I sat there and listened, and cried over this precious gift from a total stranger: a part of my sister that I never knew existed, and unfortunately, realized too late.  I mattered much to her, and was thought of, even in my chosen 3,000 mile exile.

Chapter 16:  The Law of Reflection.

Everyone has people who are mirrors in their lives; some render true reflections, others do not.  June’s mirror is a solid plane that has rendered an accurate reflection, allowing me to view myself and my world with some degree of normalcy.  I have never felt reduced in her presence, and I have never been made to feel as if I were “less than” in her eyes.  I know that I would not have had the courage to believe in myself, pursue my dreams, or move away from our family dysfunction had June not been in my life.  The mere fact of her acting as that solid plane has caused the direction of my “light” to change for the better.

Yet, while we share similar values, beliefs, and preferences, we are definitely opposites.  I’m more of a social butterfly, and she’s a homebody, preferring to sit in her place and read, or play her beloved computer games, than be in a roomful of people.  I’m extremely creative and innovative, enjoying projects that have a defined beginning and then moving on to the next task.  June is more analytical—she enjoys maintenance, and the mundane details and redundant tasks involved in it, where this type of work drives me insane.  She will often listen to my view on something, and she’ll say, “You know what, you’re a strange kid!”  But she means this with no malice, and it’s usually expressed with her dry wit.  The mirror defines our kinship.  Her positive reflection of me when I was younger helped me navigate what, for the most part, was a troubling and confusing childhood.  And now that I’m an adult, she still reflects a clear image, confirming who I have become and affirming who I can continue to be.  There are a handful of people who I know will love me no matter what I do, and she is at the top of the list.  She adores me and is among my true fans—always encouraging me to be true to who I am, to write, to not give up on my creativity.  Always reminding me that the dreams that I dream can, and will, come true.  She’s a great source of inspiration, an emotional support, and the epitome of what family means.

Chapter 15:  Enigma.

The intervening years had seen their share of divisiveness and rancor, and they has taken their toll on all of us as sisters.  June was always faithful to pray and hang on to hope of a restoration, when I had simply resigned myself to the fact that I lived on a different planet than the balance of my siblings, and had no expectation of any common ground for continued peaceable relations.

Two weeks before June died, Adrienne and Joan flew in from Chicago and took care for her.  This, as well as their concern for mine and Gabi’s welfare, reflected a stark contrast to the disregard and battling that had occurred in the past.  June was able to see us agree on ways to best care for her, and to see them reach out and sacrifice to ensure her health and well-being.  That was her prayer answered, and a promise fulfilled.

It was in 2006, that I began sensing the first thaw to the cold front that existed between me, Adrienne and Joan.

I received an email from Joan, inviting me to participate in this online movie site where you rate movies and chat with other people who have similar cinematic tastes.  I saw this as a hand through the door that I have left open, so I extended back and responded.  She’s shared snippets of her life (new cat, new job), then fully opened the dam, releasing a floodgate.  Sister is back in full swing, and we have chatted for hours on over instant messenger and on the phone, catching up on each others’ lives.  After June’s death, we have committed to spend at least one Holiday together each year, and so far that has gone well.

This recent development is as bittersweet as all the others—who knows when or if division may rear its ugly head.  But, I continue to hope that maybe this time, we are ready to actually be Sisters and that this will remain; no matter where we disagree, or what goes on with us.

With Adrienne, it began after a serious illness where she almost died.  June phoned me to let me know that she was in the hospital, so I tracked down the phone number and immediately called.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Adrienne, it’s Jennifer.”

“Well, hello!  How come you haven’t given me your new address?  I wanted to send you a birthday card!  It’s your 40th, right?

“Wow!  What a good memory you have,” I said.

“I have everyone’s birthday written down in my Bible, but I always remember yours.  Maybe because you were the last.”

“Well, thanks for remembering.”

“I have a pen and paper, so go ahead.”

I gave her my information, and we chatted for about twenty minutes about what happened at the Foxx Family Reunion, her condition, and what was going on in my life.

“Joan said she saw your writings on the Internet.”  I was initially shocked, then realized between my blogspot and my writing coach’s website, I could now be Googled.

“She must have happened on my writing coach’s website.  I’m finishing up my novel.”

She was impressed by this, and said she looked forward to when it was finished.  We talked a bit more, and then I decided to end the call.

“Do call me any time,” I said.  Again, she may never bother, but I still refuse to slam the door.

From the Epilogue: The Destination is There.

During their visit to care for June, I talked with Adrienne about things that we never shared in the past: challenges at their church, marriage, being a spouse and running a household.  In writing my memoir, I had collected many of the old photos of the Foxx and Oliver families, and Adrienne wanted a disc. Looking at the pictures together, we both noticed how our Aunts Allene and Everette had aged, then calculated how old our mother would be if she had lived.  It was 2008, so she would have been 77.  Adrienne marveled at this, then said, “Sometimes, I wish she were still here.”

I was quiet, as I had no immediate response.  In reflecting on this later, I realized what I did miss—the possibility of what might have been.  Surely the restoration and alteration of relationship would have extended to us as mother and daughter.  But that will never be in this life, though I am sure it will be in the next.





My Brother’s Keeper

19 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

Excerpted from Fried Chicken and Sympathy, Chapter 4: My Brother’s Keeper

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“This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether or not God will show them favor in this life.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1

Death truly does comes in many forms, which don’t necessarily involve a dead body.  There are economic, psychological and emotional deaths as well.  Oliver was the sole economic provider for our family, and when he died, that element died with him too.  Bay now found herself burdened with providing for seven children, along with bearing the weight of our various struggles and illnesses, and the inevitable hardships that followed.  Oliver’s death changed our lives irrevocably.

But next to Bay, I think Gerry was affected the most deeply.

Gerry was supposed to have been the “baby” of the family; then I came along and usurped his place.  Because we were the closest in age of the siblings, we were often stuck together, while the others were off at school or doing the teenage thing.  The one family picture where I actually got to see myself as an infant was the one I described earlier, with Bay, the six older siblings, and me on her lap.  The other picture of me from early childhood was with Gerry; I was probably about one and a half, and he was about eight.  It had been a professionally-done black and white print, overlaid and enhanced with colored oil paint.  I am in a cute yellow dress, and Gerry is in a fine blue suit.  The photographer posed us with me sitting on his lap, and one of his arms draped around my waist, holding me securely in place.  We are both all smiles and glow, my milk teeth showing, his a sunny grin with tiny teeth, reflecting a closeness that became damaged and diminished.

When I was six, and Gerry twelve, my favorite T.V. show was Speed Racer, and his, Batman. The problem was, the shows aired at the same time on different channels, and these were the days of one TV per home, and no TiVo™.  We would have “good-natured” battles over who would watch what.

“I don’t want to watch Batman!  He’s stupid!” I’d whine.

“Is not! You got to see Speed Racer yesterday – so I’m watchin’ Batman!”

“No, you’re not!” I’d yell, stamping my foot.

“Yes, I am!”  he’d yell back, turning the knob on the TV and shoving me to the floor.  I would then hop on his neck and start punching him.

“Oww!” he screamed, trying to get me off his back.  “Leggo!”

“No!  I wanna watch Speed Racer!”  He attempted to topple me off his back, while I reached toward the channel knob.  I pretty much had him in a chokehold until Bay stepped in to arbitrate the mini-war.  Most of the time, I ended up watching Speed Racer, while Gerry pouted and fumed.  But with those he loved, Gerry rarely got ugly or violent—and I knew he loved me.

Our favorite game was hanging upside down on the couch with our heads toward the floor and our feet skyward.

“I’m falling down Niagara Falls!” Gerry would yell, pretending to drop.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!” I’d scream, letting the blood rush to my head.  Then we’d roll off the couch, feet over head, and walk around woozy for a bit, before getting back on the couch and doing it again.

So my being born really didn’t cause any huge sibling tension, or affect Gerry’s place in the family.  He was still the baby boy, and Oliver’s little prince.  He was spoiled rotten, and got away with acts that would have been unacceptable with the older siblings: being able to stay up past bedtime, talking back, and eating whatever he wanted, even if it was bad for him.  This distinction was not lost on Teddy, Adrienne, Barbara, June and Joan, so they did what they could to put him in his place.  Any of his infractions of household behavior was gleefully reported to Bay or Oliver, in the hope of his getting a beating, or at least a scolding.  It mostly backfired, because in Oliver’s eyes, Gerry could do no wrong.

The same was true of Bay.  Her reactions to Gerry’s bratty behavior and outbursts were based on fear that he would do serious harm to himself; and in his case, her fears had a legitimate basis.  June said that when Gerry would throw a temper tantrum, it involved a lot of thrashing and crying, and three times it resulted in Gerry’s getting a head injury.  The first time Gerry pitched a fit, it was because Bay wouldn’t stop washing dishes to give him some sweets.  She tried to get him to wait, but he first tugged at her skirt, then eventually started hitting his head against the wall.  He did this with such force that he busted the skin above his brow, at his scalp.  Bay rushed him to the emergency-room at Cook County, and he had to have stitches.  Another time when he was upset, he ran into a table and gashed open his head, also requiring an emergency room visit and more stitches.  So it was no wonder that she gave in each time he became demanding, to avoid any more injuries or medical bills.

The coddling given by Bay and Oliver did nothing to improve his short attention span, or his even shorter temper, but I have always felt Gerry’s behavioral patterns had a deeper-seated cause that had little to do with lack of discipline.  From my own personal studies and observations, I suspect my brother suffered from one of the Autism Spectral Disorders (ASD), perhaps Asperger Syndrome.  Many of the behaviors outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) fit Gerry’s behavioral and social dysfunction.  From his difficulty communicating or perceiving what has been related to him, to repetitive behavior and motion, to the inability to interact and lack of sensory response, Gerry lacked the necessary frame of reference to be able to navigate in the outside world.  My curiosity and study led me to seek out a professional opinion.  So a friend referred me to Dr. David A. Reisbord, a Los Angeles neurologist who treats many cases of Autism and its related illnesses.  “The temper tantrums and self-injury are typical in Asperger patients,” says Dr. Reisbord.  “So are all of his other symptoms.”

If Gerry had been born today, and I had had a mother who were willing to seek help, he might have been appropriately diagnosed and treated.  Even if his condition had been recognized and attended to in his teens (during the mid-‘70s, when Autism was being recognized as a serious developmental disorder), some of his pain, and much of ours, might have been assuaged.  But back in the 1960s such syndromes were not commonly known, or were simply dismissed among “plain” folk like us.  Bay’s desire for privacy also tied into her myopic approach to Gerry’s problems.  What happened in the home, stayed in the home, and it was nobody’s business how it was handled.  Even if the appropriate help and treatment had been available then, Bay would never have sought it.





Angel Fall: The Update

16 02 2010

"Angel Fall" cover art by Jeff Gifford

I reviewed Angel Fall and interviewed Coleman Luck for my Examiner page last year.  Apparently things have taken a bizarre turn with the book; read about it on Coleman’s blog: If you own a copy of Angel Fall you own the Collector’s Edition.

I suggest you visit the Girl Recommends… to buy that Collector’s edition while you can!  You can also order directly from Coleman’s site.  Coleman Luck-Angel Fall.





Oliver’s Twist

10 02 2010

Black Heritage is my heritage–embodied in the history of my family.

Excerpted from Fried Chicken and Sympathy, Chapter 2:  Oliver’s Twist: The Father I Barely Knew

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“People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often caught by sudden tragedy.”

Ecclesiastes 9:12

I only have two memories of my father: The first one was in life, the second in death. The first was of a family trip to Brookfield Zoo in 1969. I consider June the unofficial family historian, and even she is surprised that I remember it so well. After the nine of us had spent our day at the zoo, we ambled single-file through the parking lot, to get into our lovely green four-door Oldsmobile with the chrome bumpers and the white-green interior, and head back to Cabrini-Green.

I was a vision of two-year-old cuteness, in a sky-blue pinafore with little embroidered flowers, blue socks with frilly borders, and braids that were contacting Mars; to this day my hair still has a life of its own. I distinctly remember Oliver (as most people, including us kids, called him) swooped me up with one large hand, and tucked me in his arm, holding me in the crook, while he used his other hand to retrieve the car keys from his pocket and open the door for the rest of the family. Oliver was stylish, in his button-down shirt, suspenders and tweed slacks. He had on one of his classic wide-brimmed hats, and I attempted to grab it off his head—an attempt which amazingly he dodged—seeing that his arms and hands were full.

He whispered something in my ear, but at that age I didn’t understand or care about words. All I cared about was his arm around me, holding me close, and the feeling of contentment it gave me.

My second memory of him is not really about him, but about his funeral. We were at Burr Oak Cemetery in Worth, Illinois on July 12, 1970. By today’s standards it’s a ghetto cemetery, but back then, it was one of the few options for people of color. Grandpa Joe and Grandma Annie had been laid to rest there, so it was in keeping with tradition.

So there we were, all seven of us kids standing around the gravesite in the rain, like strong little soldiers in black. I was holding onto Bay’s black-gloved hand, and something struck me so suddenly that I began to urgently tug on her arm. She looked down at me, her head wrapped in a black scarf, eyes shielded by the dark glasses she wore.

“Is Oliver coming back?” I asked. I didn’t get an answer. Just silence, with all eyes plastered on the hole in the ground. My first lesson in family dynamics. When faced with a hard question, pretend it was never asked.

I still have a knack for asking hard questions that have no answers.

I felt about as confused, and cheated as I sometimes feel now. At the age of three, I was not mature enough to wrap my heart around death’s finality. The little girl now buried within the adult still doesn’t.

It puzzles me how you can ache and long for someone you didn’t really know. I’m still that little girl in the blue dress at the zoo—except now, I long for my daddy’s arms instead of enjoying being in them. It’s a gaping hole—no matter how hard you try to fill it, it remains a bottomless pit. I pinpoint a lot of my emotional problems to the fact that my father was stolen from me. The depression I struggle with, my choosing emotionally-, and physically-unavailable men, and the subsequent lack of trust which has resulted from all those dead-end relationships.

As part of my own therapy to get a handle on the past, I’ve attempted to piece together Oliver’s life, like shards of a shattered plate. A delicate and painful exercise, with the end result being bloodied hands, and a piece that lacks the beauty, function and worth of the original. To some, it might serve little use except as a reminder of what used to be; but, painstakingly, I continue with the task. With each piece that comes together, and every little bit of new knowledge I acquire about him, I get a sense that I’m doing something significant and important—even if it’s for no one else but me.








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