Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gullah/Geechee Nation International African Music & Movement Festival

I attended the Gullah/Geechee Nation International African Music & Movement Festival this past weekend where warm wind was blowing off of the river at the Maritime Center and booths were set up by Gullah/Geechee and African-American vendors selling books, dolls, jewelry, sweetgrass baskets and African masks. I was greeted by a group of women dancing, stomping and chanting in a circle. I later watched these same women, the Wisdom Circle Council of Elders, stomp in procession to drum beats. "Free-dom, Gullah/Geechee. Free-dom, Gullah/Geechee." The women were beautiful, dressed in colorful Sunday best with smiles to make your heart melt.

The young boys drumming on stage were part of the Jolee Dance troupe and had just come back from Ghana after spending two weeks there helping with AIDS awareness. Their female counterparts, middle- and high-schoolers in black leotards and colorful sarongs, danced their hearts out to African rhythms and brought tears to my eyes. At one point, the girls brought up audience members to learn a few African dance steps, including yours truly. Thank goodness my husband had borrowed the camera that day. No one wants to relive my dance-moves.

When Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, came on stage, not another sound was heard. She carried a sweetgrass basket on her head filled with cotton and Carolina Gold rice and sang spirituals. She spoke in Gullah, but with her recognizable inflection and perhaps the fact that I've been studying the language for the past year, I could follow along with her story of her ancestors and what life used to be like here for them in the South. She used parables to convey the message that people don't sit on the porch and visit like they used to. Many forget where they come from and often try to cover it up, ashamed. Queen Quet's pride of her heritage shines through her performance and has you laughing and thinking the whole time, yearning to revisit the family values of yesteryear.

For a unique, eye-opening experience, be sure to visit the next Annual Gullah/Geechee festival here in Charleston. You don't need to be of Gullah/Geechee lineage to learn about the culture and to see how we each play a role in it's survival.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Drawing Lines

I read this morning that the reality t.v. show Survivor is going to split up its contestants next season into four tribes according to race; Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Whites, and Hispanics. The concept stopped me in my tracks.

At first, the idea in and of itself--that race was to be delineated--shocked me. But there is nothing wrong with declaring unique ethnicities. It's a wonderful privilege, especially in this country, to be able to celebrate one's unique lineage and heritage. But for some reason, delineation of races struck me as "incorrect" in our current atmosphere of political correctness. In fact, many Caucasians go out of their way NOT to distinguish someone's race for fear of crossing that line into politically incorrectness. I do not have a problem with Survivor bringing attention to someone's particular ethnicity. That's not what bothers me.

What I do have a problem with is the show pitting one race or ethnicity against each other like some high school football game. "We've got spirit, yes we do. We've got spirit, how 'bout you!" I find the show's new concept of teams of race revolutionary in the sense that yes, it's okay to celebrate one's unique ethnicity and it's time we talked out it, but I also find it in bad taste as the show will most likely have contestants and audience members rooting for their own in a contest to see which race will win. Delineation between races should not be a contest. And in a the upcoming season of Survivor, I don't see how there can be any true winners.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Charles Towne Landing, Born Again

Last night was amazing. I was blessed to have gone to a preview of the reopening of Charles Towne Landing, the birthplace of South Carolina. From a new beautiful entryway, I drove through majestic oak trees and wound up at a brand new visitors center. Wow! This place is unbelievable with a wall of windows and bridges over water, and when I meandered through the new interactive exhibits, I learned so many things I never knew. At one point (and I'm not kidding), I teared up. I know we live in a place full of history, and it's one thing to teach your children abut it. It's a completely different thing having them learn it--experience it--for themselves. I'm so excited to bring my children here. They'll love it!

Gee, and that was just the new visitors center.

I can't wait to come back with Brian and the kids and follow the trail through the animal forest, along the palisade wall, by the archeological digs and over to the ship, Carolina. I'm so proud of The Friends of Charles Towne Landing and everyone who worked so hard to bring this important historical place back to life.

If you get a chance to visit Charleston and you're at all interested in history, visit Charles Towne Landing. And if you haven't been there in a while, come back. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The S-C-R-A-B-B-L-E King

I'm not that great at Scrabble. It surprises me, really. I love words, love to write them, spell them, read them--but my husband usually beats me at Scrabble. Him, with his engineering mind. He loves numbers, not words. Yet he beats me. I thought about it, and I think I know why:

I love words. That's my downfall. I love to see what beautiful words I can create from my letters, "rogue," or "kumquat" or something equally exotic. I bask in the light of my letters as they shine back at me, my lovely creations. Look at that. There's my word. Oh, what a great word! Then my husband comes along, adds an "s" to the end of my word, and gets a double or triple score. OFF OF MY WORD! That's you're word? How common of you. That took no creativity at all, I tell him. Yet he went for the points. And he wins. Usually.

Well, I have to say tonight, ahem, I beat him. Yep. By five points. Beat my in-laws too, but I don't want to gloat about that. They don't have this competition going like Brian and I do. I must say, he's good. In fact, he's better than me at Scrabble. Yes, there, I said it. I may have won tonight, but next time, I'll be fighting for my life. Brian is the Scrabble King, and I find it very attractive in a geeky sort of way.

But hey, I'm a geek. We both are. That's one of the reasons we love each other. Anyway, there's always Monopoly. Even though he's better with numbers and money, I'm better at taking risks. I buy up everything and break all of his fiscally-responsible rules. Yep. I am the Monopoly Queen, and Brian knows it. Drives. Him. CRAZY!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Writing Magic and Madness

Not long ago, I was fortunate enough to actually speak with Pat Conroy, the king of Southern literature. It was definitely a "pinch-me" moment, and it still seems like a dream, but I remember asking him one very important question: "What's it like to be Pat Conroy? What's it like to be an author?"

I think I was expecting him to tell me about adoring fan letters, or how he's changed people's lives through words, or how his life has been altered so much for the better since he found his muse. That's not at all what he told me.

"If you gotta do it, you gotta do it," he said. Huh? I wrote the words down to make sure I had it right.

Since then, I've edited my first novel, and I'm now mid-way through writing my next. I'm beginning to understand what he meant. First, YES, I do "gotta do it." It wasn't that way a few years ago, but since I've been bitten with this passion for writing...this...this THING, I have to do it now for my soul.

Writing is one of the biggest blessings of my life after my husband and children. And it calls to me just as often as they do. It tugs on my skirt, begging me. I write in my head when I'm showering or making dinner. I think of scenarios, word phrases, authentic feelings and behaviors my characters should have--at inappropriate or inopportune moments. For days, I've been stewing on an idea...pressing for it...pulling for it...searching. It's been on the tip of my brain, obsessing me. MADDENING! However, last night, the concept came to me in full glory. I took it, ran with it, and oh my goodness, I think it works. It's like experiencing pure MAGIC. And it's the magic after all that keeps me going--these tiny aha! moments when all the madness swirls away and I get to see perfectly for one...clear...flash.

"If you gotta do it, you gotta do it." These are words of wisdom. Pat Conroy speaks the truth.