Saturday, August 13, 2016

Angels In The Olympics

I share these two excerpts from chapters 6 and 13 of "Aunt Sadie's Angel" in celebration of all of the 2016 Olympians (and their predecessors) across the globe - each  a champion in his or her own right. I am especially reminded of USA, Shot Put , Gold medal champion Michelle Carter and Swimming, Gold medal champion Simone Manuel!  

 Chapter 6 
As Rashi was nearing the end of his story, they approached the gates of pearl. As if someone knew they were coming, the gates opened wide, and Rashi and Wings walked right in. They went straight to the receiving area. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Jesse Clayton. Is he around?”  “Check at the shore, he and his buddies usually gather at the sea for crown casting first thing every morning.” As they departed, Rashi looked at Wings and asked, “You know what crown casting is?” “I’ve heard a lot about it. Apparently, it’s some kind of social activity among the ancients. They get together in large groups, and toss crowns around the water. It’s considered a show of devotion to the Lord God. Whoever is able to cast his crown closest to the other side is considered the most devout and will, round by round, garner the crowns of the others.” “It’s akin to shot putting or discuss throwing.” “Really?” “Ummhmm. All the Olympic throwing events that the mortals play having their origins in crown casting.”

            There they were - Jesse Clayton and twenty-three other elders. Each had several crowns of Gold. The first guy stepped up to the shoreline and turned so that his back faced the opposing shore. With his right arm horizontal to the ground, he held the crown with the base of his fingers. He pushed it against his neck and underneath his chin. He held his stance for a moment. Then he lowered himself and began to glide with a short hoping movement so as to increase his momentum. When his right foot was perpendicular to the other shore, he extended his left leg and firmly planted his foot for support. Just then, he swung his left arm, used the strength of his legs to lift his body, quickly exerted the forces of his trunk and arms, and released his crown at a 40° angle over his straightened left leg!
             “Wow, he’s pretty good.” “You ain’t seen nothing yet kid,” a second of the group exclaimed as he moved toward the sea.  It was quite entertaining to watch the twenty-four elders as they cast down their golden crowns around the glassy sea. Rashi and Wings watched respectfully as JC took his turn. His crown landed clear on the other shore. “Now, that’s how you cast a crown,” he said as he turned to acknowledge Rashid and his companion.  “How can I help you son? What brings you back this way?”

Chapter 13 

As they departed the Lord said to Sadie “Should I take you for the full tour or would you rather just get your wings and your crown and save the sightseeing for some other time?” “No I wanna see everything.” Sadie insisted.  So they entered by the South Gates. “It’s a huge city you know? It has twelve gates.” “So I’ve heard.” “Would you like to take a swim?” “Now Lord you know us colored folks don’t care nothing ‘bout no swimming.” “Sadie you do realize that the Elders all swim – even the colored ones.” Sadie hadn’t considered that. “Don’t worry, there are no slave traders in the Sacred Sea” the Lord assured. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two for Two - A Review of Aunt Sadie's Angel

“Lisa-Jane Erwin’s writing is clear and direct … The story reads like a tale told around the fireplace on a Saturday evening, inviting the audience to be spellbound and asking for more.” Guy A. Sims     

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is to submit my book to a critic for literary review. It’s very much like submitting an assignment to a teacher and waiting on a grade, except that there are no do-overs, no hope for redemption should you not get the grade you want.

Difficult though it may be I’ve done it, twice now. And so far I’m two for two.

Reviews of Aunt Sadie’s Angel appear on I Is The Future and goodreads. Check them out!


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why Book Clubs Matter

Recently I was the guest author at a meeting of the Renaissance Readers Book Club; and I must say that it was just fabulous! Having never done such a thing I was nervous and didn’t know quite what to expect, so I checked with a few more knowledgeable author friends. “Every club, and every club meeting, is different” they said. “Just be open and go with the flow.”

The flow began with the very gracious hostess welcoming me to her beautiful home and introducing me to the other club members. It continued with food (good food) and drinks, and a little catching up on their part and then, “So Lisa about the book - ?”
We talked about my process, my inspirations, my roadblocks and delays, my very active imagination and my worldview. We talked about God, of course. How could we not? God is what “Aunt Sadie’s Angel” is all about after all. But we also talked about civics and politics and religion and family life and career building and health management and our current social climate. We talked about ancestry and spirituality. We went with the flow.

The collective aptitude, perspective and intelligence of those gathered was powerful, enlightening, religious in nature, downright sexy. The conversation flowed in so many directions that I simply cannot share it all, but one thing in particular stands out as food for thought; and that is that we grieved for the family of the Nebraskan toddler killed by the alligator at Disney World: what a permanently life-altering ordeal. We thanked God that the child’s remains had been recovered and hoped that the recovery offered his parents some small comfort.
We went on to talk about the child who two weeks earlier fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and how his family narrowly escaped a similar fate.  We talked about the stark differences in society’s treatment of the two families, how one family was seen as helpless victims worthy of compassion and regard while the other was seen as heartless offenders whose negligence resulted in the unwarranted slaying of an innocent animal. One incident sparked a review of the park’s safety protocols while the other launched a criminal investigation into the background of the parents. 

We talked about the expressions of outrage over the slaying of that gorilla to save the life of a child, indeed an entire family. We talked about the absence of outrage over the slaying of five alligators in an effort to help a family resolve its grief despite a knowing that the child’s life could not be saved. We condemned the former because it was utterly unacceptable that so many people felt no compassion for a mother’s panic and fear; but we celebrated the latter for it was as it should have been.  The embracing of that family's fear and grief, the prayerful waiting was a display of humanity at its best. The slaying of those alligators was warranted! Recovery of the child’s body, recovery of a small portion of his family’s peace was worth the loss. They were on vacation. It was supposed to be a happy time. They were in no wise prepared for the tragedy that befell them.

The slaying of that gorilla was also warranted! Just as with the alligator, the peace and safety of an entire family hung in the balance. A mother took her children on an outing to the zoo. It was supposed to be a happy time, a cultural experience. They were in no wise prepared for the tragedy that befell them.

The most obvious difference between the two incidences is that one child, one family is black and the other child, the other family is white. And as much as I know in my spirit that our society’s harsh treatment of African Americans factors into the differences in reactions I also know that there is more to it than that. I know that there is also a less obvious difference between the two incidences and that is time.  In the first incident we didn’t take the time to process what was at stake for the child or for his mother. We just rushed to judgment. “That mother is at fault. She should have …” It’s what we do to convince ourselves that what happened to them would never happen to us because we would never …

I believe that two weeks later we had time to realize just how absurd that line or thinking is and so we were better able to respond to the second family, which brings me to why book clubs matter.

Though one was fatal and the other was not, both incidences were tragic. Even more tragic is that we live in a society of people whose kneejerk response to a family’s danger is to place blame. We live in an angry world. We have a lot of pent up emotions. We are fearful and reactionary; and when our anxieties are roused we say and do ridiculously outrageous things like pass judgment on a woman who is afraid for the safety of her child. And we are unable to see the inappropriateness of that until we gain some distance from it and our fears are calmed. Truth be told - we could all probably benefit from a little therapy, but we’re afraid of that too. So …
Until such time that we can come to terms with our need for counseling things like book club meetings could potentially offer a reasonable, albeit temporary, alternative. All of humanity has a definitive need for community, for dialogue, for reliable intimate conversation spaces, for safety zones in which to process our feelings. In the absence of healthy forums for communication we resort to unhealthy communications, name calling, mud slinging and unreasonably harsh judgments of one another.

Books, even not so good books, invoke discussion; and the gathering of book clubs invites dialogue. It’s an opportunity to hear and be heard, to say out loud what we think about a matter and then have what we’ve said reverberate. It is a practice ground for sorting out what we really think and feel before presenting our ideas and feelings to the world. Or at least it has the potential to be. The meeting of the Renaissance Readers club certainly was. It was a gathering of enlightened minds open to the exchange of ideas. It was easy to be honest. It was easy to disagree. It was respectful and supportive and encouraging. It was safe.
If you have some processing to do but you aren’t quite comfortable with the idea of counseling consider joining a book club. It just might help to move you in the direction you need to go.

Lastly, gorillas and alligators matter. Unquestionably, undeniably they do. But they do not matter as much as children and families, and people like you and me and those who gather to discuss the books they've read.

Wishing you peace for your journey,






Friday, February 19, 2016

Teaching Daddy to Read

I love this picture. I saw it on Facebook. According to the FB caption it's "Dizzy Wright's daughter teaching him how to read"

In all honesty I have no idea who Dizzy Wright is but if he let's his daughter teach him to read he's an alright dad. I certainly remember teaching my daddy to read. I was just about the age of Dizzy's daughter. I taught him to read "The Little Red Hen". Lessons occurred everyday just before dinner, between 4:30 and 5:00. And I did a great job too because my daddy became quite fluent and was an avid reader, especially of newspapers, until his dying day.

#DadsRock  #EveryDayIsFathersDayWhenYourChildrenLoveandTrustYou

Monday, February 8, 2016

Black Family History

A friend whose blog I follow posted on her Fb page a statement which reads, in part, “If you have a blog don’t you feel obligated to do something special for Black History Month …?”

I agreed, immediately. Problem is I am brand new to this blogging thing; and I didn’t have any clever, interesting ideas like Lori who decided to weave her love of books and her love of Black hair into a literary celebration of Blackness. But when I mentioned Lori’s Black History observance to my sister she told me that she wanted to do something on the Black History within our family.
Welp, my sister doesn’t have a blog so I stole (yup I said stole) her idea. And yes, I realize that I am already a week behind, but … refer to problem noted above. So late and all, I plan to observe (the remainder of) Black History Month by celebrating family history, and I invite you to join me by celebrating the history of your family too.
Be advised that your family history doesn’t have to be remarkable or newsworthy. The only requirement is that it has somehow influenced or contributed to the shaping and making of you: how you parent, how you worship, your work ethic, your politics, your style, your intellect, your artistry, your career path/s, your financial literacy, your celebration rituals, your warrior spirit, your peacefulness and resolve, etc. Celebrate the history makers in your life!

I begin with a celebration of my Aunt Clara: Rev. Clara Delores (Peterson) Dockery, RN; March 4, 1929 – October 13, 2011.

My Aunt Clara graduated HS in 1946 and wanted to go to nursing school but was repeatedly denied because there were very few schools that admitted women of color. She persisted in her quest for two years before finally being admitted to the nursing program at Jewish Hospital (now the Albert Einstein Medical Center) in 1948. Her first nursing appointment was at Lankenau Hospital. My Aunt Clara was also a proud veteran of the US Armed Forces. Her nursing degree allowed her to enter the Army as a 1st Lieutenant, and she served two tours of duty during the Korean War working both stateside and abroad. She reentered civilian life as a nurse with Burlington Co Memorial Hospital, Mt Holly, NJ. When she retired from nursing she became a minister and served on the clerical staff of the Tyree AME Church until her death.
That’s what Aunt Clara did, but that’s not who she was. She was funny, and loving and kind and generous to a fault. She was a devout family woman: wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunty.  She was a woman of personal resolve who found a way to respectably rise from the hardships of divorce without bitterness. She was a foster parent, a woman of community who thought it her responsibility to help raise the children in her village. She was a woman of dignity who lived out her life’s calling without fanfare. That’s who she was, and I miss her sometimes. But I don’t always miss her because sometimes I am her.

Who are the history makers in your life?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

That Book You Can't Put Down

At church today five people gave me positive feedback on "Aunt Sadie's Angel" - five. Now that might not seem like a big deal to you; but trust me when I tell you it is a huge deal. Five unsolicited nods in a single day, from a single place is huge.

The first bit of feedback came during an exchange with a sister in the ladies' room before service who said, "I'm reading it now. So far it's really good." Then after service two of our deacons sought me out to tell me that they finished and really enjoyed it. One said"You are very talented. Do you have a sequel in mind? Because now that ..." And a third made a point of telling me that his wife is really enjoying it.

Needless to say, I am extremely excited about all of their feedback as well as the initial feedback I got from those who purchased and read it right away, my first responders. I really appreciate them having taken the time to sow into me by sharing their enthusiasm for my work. But by far the most exciting feedback came from a sister who told me that her granddaughter is reading the book. She gave it to her granddaughter as a Christmas gift, but she (the granddaughter) was not immediately interested. In fact she only started to read it because of her grandmother's prodding. But man, once she got started ...

Long story short - the granddaughter got in trouble twice (that's two times) for sneaking to read during school. Of course her parents and grandparents are none too thrilled about that but boy I certainly am! That's the kind of thing every children's author wants to hear. It was such a wonderful thing for the grandmother to share, just made my day.

I'm a librarian so I know that there's lots of quality children's literature out there: really well written with well-developed story lines. And I am admittedly a novice at this with a lot to learn, but I wanted children of faith to have an alternative to all of the dark and dystopian literature that is so readily available to them. And I wanted children (and parents) of color to have an alternative to the demonizing imagery of brown and black children held by the world. In stalk contrast “Aunt Sadie’s Angel” angelicizes (yeah I made up a word - artistic license) children of color and it reflects the light and hope that faith brings to bear upon our lives and the lives of our children. As you can imagine I am elated to know of a child who cannot put it down; and I will be just as elated to hear that you or a child in your life cannot put it down. Please read it and share it with the children in your life.

Do you remember any of the books of your childhood which you simply could not put down? We all had a book or two or three like that when we were in middle school. Mine were "A Teacup Full of Roses" "Twin Spell" and "Sorry Wrong Number". What were yours?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Process

Aunt Sadie’s Angel
Aunt Sadie’s life is coming to an end and she has no angel, no spirit-guide to help her crossover. Rashida’s life is just beginning and her angel is overwhelmed by the demands of guarding her. In both cases the confusion can be traced to matters of race and racism

In heaven, that vast and glorious place we’ve heard so much about yet know so little of. And on earth – in all of the earth, especially wherever it is you live.

In Philadelphia. Most of it in my mother’s North Philadelphia home where I had grown up and moved out and then moved back to save money. The rest of it in my own home where I moved once I had saved enough money to do so. In any case it’s a home-spun tale

On September 11, 2001 a war, of sorts, was waged against the United States. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives, and the dynamics of very many families were forever sorrowfully altered. The assailants were 19 men of Arab descent. Fear engulfed the nation; and people everywhere developed a hatred of Arabs.      

The fear was understandable. The hatred was not. Well maybe a hatred of those 19 men and the forces behind them was understandable. But hatred of all Arabs certainly was not. From that time forward I found myself thinking and talking and debating about ethnic stereotyping and racial profiling. I found myself thinking about the erroneous assumptions people make about all African Americans because of the misconduct of a few African Americans. I thought about the things I’ve heard over the years of my life about Native Americans, or Asians, or Africans, or Latinos. I thought about the things I’ve heard about Christians and Muslims and Jews, things about women - especially things about Black women and also things about White women. I thought of the things I’ve heard about gay people, or poor people or uneducated people, things about single parents or unwed mothers. I thought about the very many ways we classify and group people and how we allow our experiences with a few people from any one of those groups to dictate how we feel about the group in its entirety. And in each case I found myself asking – “Really, all of them? How could it possibly be all of them?”          

Over the years, as I spent time in the presence of God I saw the beauty of human diversity and the handiwork of God in people from all backgrounds and walks of life. And as I sat with God examining prejudice (both that which I encounter and that which I may exhibit) this story unfolded. I didn’t intend to share it as much as I intended to allow it to shape and inform my worldview. But in the fullness of time -