Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A blue plastic memorial for Phila Ndwandwe

 Read the story of Phila Ndwandwe.  Read the story of "The Blue Dress."  When I first heard about Phila Ndwandwe, and the artist Judith Mason creating a dress of blue plastic for her, I experienced an emotion that has haunted me.  Phila was stripped naked, tortured and then murdered by the South African police force during the last years of apartheid.  At some point before they killed her and buried her in a shallow grave, she found a scrap of plastic bag and used it to cover herself as much as possible.  The scrap of plastic underwear was still clinging to her pelvis when she was disinterred.  When the story was told during the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, artist Judith Mason said:
I wept when I heard Phila's story, saying to myself, "I wish I could make you a dress." Acting on this childlike response, I collected discarded blue plastic bags that I sewed into a dress. (The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent, 1995, in Art and Justice: The Art of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, published 2008)
I do not really know consciously at what point I realized the power of Phila's act, the power of Judith's art, or the depth of my own desire to recognize in a graphic way the courage of Phila.  The image of the blue dress was powerful and I could not get it out of my head.  At some point in the process, it also became about the many brave and incredible women who have been silenced in their efforts to create a just world for themselves and their children. 

South Africa is not unique: plastic bags cover the landscape of many of our homelands.  They are the careless remnants of our disposable societies, easily discarded to blow in the wind, catch in the corners of buildings and gather trash, or wrap themselves round a tree limb or catch in a wire fence.  Mason called them the memorials to Phila's courage that were everywhere.
When I finally decided to make another blue dress, it came out of a discussion in my class last fall.  It was a response to Phila's story, and to the untold and unknown stories of so many women.  I initially created it with the intent to take it to the classroom--the scene of so much co-created learning among us during the last fall.  Somehow, once I finally finished my interpretation of the blue dress...I could not yet part with it.  I look at it often thinking about the women who are suffocated, both literally and figuratively in many hidden ways.  I think about Mason's statement about the ubiquitous plastic bags, filling our trees, fences, oceans as memorials and about what that might mean.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A dog's advice on chilling

 It has been one of "those weeks" the last couple of weeks.  The kind where you ask, "What next?"  In those moments, sometimes it is good to chill, so chill I did yesterday.  I worked from home, on some long overdue research.  That may not feel like "chilling" but it was the perfect antidote for me.  It was the kind of research that requires meticulous searching and tracking of historic information--my favorite kind.  Newspaper archives are my best friend.

I wish I could do it again today, but duty calls somewhere else.  Sorry Libbers, you have to make do without me today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Focus: an act of concentrating interest or activity on something
Focus on: pay particular attention to

Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Monday. What's on your plate today?

Napping in the sunshine?
Friends for breakfast?
 Maybe some pensive and reflective "me" time?
What's out there in your world today?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Analyzing blogs: What will it say about me? Or, what will someone think it says about me?

Last week, I was contacted by a researcher and invited to participate in a study related to people who write about experiences in their personal lives in their blogs.  In the process, the researcher informed me that the project would include analyzing my public posts.  While we all know that what is posted on any social media, especially the Internet, is not private, and indeed, one assumes we want others to read it or we would not be posting it publicly, it has still been unsettling, and I cannot quite put my finger on the reasons for that feeling.  I tend to want to help PhD students with their dissertation research, having myself depended upon people's willingness to help me with mine.  I clicked on the survey link to just see what it said, not at all certain that I would participate, and got an error link, so that solved the question for the moment.

I suppose part of the discomfort for me is that I do not consider this blog a personal journal--said she who is writing some pretty personal stuff here right now.  I do, obviously, write about my personal experiences, and from my perspective, it is usually to inform, educate, address some inequality or injustice of the system, bring issues to light, and yes, to connect with other like-minded individuals.  I like that the stories and experiences we share connect us with each other, and that we learn from each other, and it humanizes us and our experiences to share those.  I do not think of that as a personal journal--that is the one that I write in my own handwriting, and no one sees but me until I die and will probably be trashed by my unemotionally-attached-to-sentimental-things son, no doubt while rolling his eyes if he perchance even opened one of the journals that occupy a full shelf in my bookcase.

So, in my thoughts these past few days (especially every time I think about posting) is the question of "Will this get analyzed by a piece of software, trying to ferret out some pattern?  Will a human being read it, and think thoughts about the questions raised, and will it matter that said human being read it?"  And then, what is it that bothers me so much about this, if indeed I am posting these essays, or stories, or experiences in a public space on which people can comment?  Obviously, it cannot be my sense of "privacy" or some concern about having my thoughts, words, and analyses on issues scrutinized, because that could be done without my even knowing about it.  Is it the knowing?  Is it like when we do not know something is happening, then it does not enter our conscious thoughts to concern us?

Or is it the software angle?  That my life and words and experiences and thoughts and analyses of important-to-me and sometimes to the world issues gets relegated to an impartial, inhuman analysis to determine what it says about society?  Is it the thought that something that matters to me gets chunked into the categories determined by a computer program, and the conclusions of an academic who interprets those computer-generated categories, but that human eyes have not observed the content nor construed meaning nor participated in understanding that world and its relevance?

Now as one of those academics who has done qualitative analysis and published from it, I fully understand that you cannot analyze massive amounts of data solely with your one brain.  It takes too long.  I am old school, and was trained on qualitative when it was new to my profession, and not very highly thought of by some academics.  We did not have software--we had to do the painstaking coding and categorizing and pattern seeking and understanding from the standpoint of the population and their lived experience all by hand and human critical thinking.  And that is how I still do it.  I think of the police officer I worked with back in Texas who once opined that yes, there were computers that could generate profiles and tell you about the likelihood of what your "perp" was going to do next, etc., but that he did not think there was a substitute for reading it, looking at your clues, thinking like the "perp" might be thinking, and trying to put your human self into solving the problem.  Remember the movie Three Days of the Condor when Robert Redford is an analyst (using computers) that analyzes books to locate code for the CIA (or whomever it was) and he goes out for coffee and comes back to the office to find all of his colleagues dead?  The story then revolves around trying to figure out (as a human) what had been uncovered in the computer analysis that made someone think they were on to the plans to do whatever foul and evil deed it was that was a big enough threat to kill an office full of computer analysts.

Yes, that is probably a bit overdramatic, but then, there was that whole actress gig in my early life, which is also probably interwoven throughout my blog posts along with the serious essays and stories about Rio and my family, and of course, that the Lottabusha County Chronicles was born because of the experiences of moving to Mississippi and at mid-life, having my ideas upended in unbelievable ways due to those experiences.

I am probably way over-estimating the importance of either the research project or my tiny little spot in it.  So, on that "experience" I have to go to my day job--researching evidence-based assessment.  Ironic, isn't it?