Skip to content

My Day Off With Jan Willis

February 18, 2010

It’s been a lovely Wednesday.  Bánh mì sandwiches and reading in Golden Gate Park with Ryan; trees and sun and tea and vegan coffee-whiskey-fudge gelato.  Plus, I finished Jan Willis’ memoir, Dreaming Me (wisely re-subtitled, I think, in a later version: Black, Baptist And Buddhist — One Woman’s Spiritual Journey).

It’s well past my grandmotherly bedtime and I’m too tired to get into the autobio too much, but I will say it spoke to me, and I enjoyed it.  Raised in the 1950’s in a Klan-rife Alabama town, Willis attended Cornell as one of the first waves of black Ivy League students. (She and my dad, apparently, likely rubbed shoulders during the Straight Takeover  — in which an armed Black Students Association occupied the student union in the spring of ’69, protesting a local cross burning and demanding an Africana Studies department.) After graduating, she faced a soul-rattling decision between joining the Black Panther Party (the obligation, she believed, of “any thinking black person” in the U.S. at the time) or traveling to Nepal to study Buddhism.  Gotta love choices like that.

One of my favorite passages:

Of course, the next day things would return to normal and I’d find myself again in a divided camp, with whites on one side and blacks on the other.  This spiritual connection with all things did not erase the racism of the everyday world I inhabited.

Yup.  And:

Talking with the Dalai Lama brought this truth home again.  Buddhism was a process; one did not need to delude oneself or pretend to be other than oneself, and one did not have to become completely passive in order to embrace the notion of peace.  Choosing peace did not mean rolling over and becoming a doormat.  Pacifism did not mean passivism.  Still, patience and clarity were essential.

And finally:

[Baptists] knew that misery and joy can stand side by side.  Indeed, it is this very knowledge that black people call “the blues.”

The teachings, at least as interpreted by these African-Americans, were about overcoming suffering, about patience, strength, and the cultivation of true love.  And they were delivered with compassion.

Amen.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Barry Loncke permalink
    February 18, 2010 8:47 pm

    It’s great to learn that another Cornell graduate and veteran of the “Strait armed takeover” has provided inspiration to my daughter. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

  2. February 19, 2010 10:53 am

    This book sounds amazing! I LOVE the quote about the blues, actually, I love many of the quotes. Thanks for that….gonna try and read it when I get a chance.

  3. February 19, 2010 10:59 am

    Hehe, love you, pops. You probably didn’t know Willis since she was an undergrad…?

    Welcome, D.! Glad you’re feelin it. :)

  4. March 2, 2010 9:49 pm

    hi k8t!

    I am here but am i seeing what I am supposed to see? one never knows do one? have you ever seen the old timey comic strip Pogo? It was very outré in it’s day, (pre-civil rights it was very pro-integration etc..)
    re: revisions.. do i see them now or do i have to look at some kind of edit log?
    sometimes even I a techno-gawdess feels overwhelmed by the technotoolz available!
    so all is lovely and spring is still so far away from here but I feel myself walking there, nuzzling the bottle brush bushes!! my favoreet fleur du Bay Area! happy packet posting! a demain! je t’embrace! Valerie.
    i scroll

  5. March 3, 2010 1:39 am

    Bonjour, Valerie! Bienvenue!

    Can you email me the email address you used to register your WordPress account? Then I can add you as a contributor, and at that point you should be able to view my drafts. In my work packet mañana I’ll be giving you the specific url’s to the most fruitful revision comparisons, so all you’ll have to do is click!

    I think it’s funny and great that we both operate in such different computer sub-cultures. It’s true that I just assumed that since you’re a techno-artist-scientist-diva, you’d somehow know all about blogs. (Whereas even I know relatively little about them tech-wise, and ≤0 about virtual reality, computer science, or pretty much anything technology-related!) Hehe. Also,

    BOTTLE BRUSH BUSHES!!!

    I will look up Pogo.

    Hearts,

    k8t

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: