Sunday, July 31, 2011

Transition to Greenwood: Catching Up.

In my last days in Ypsilanti many gave their opinions on Mississippi. Most reacted with groans, raised eyes brows or condescending shoulder pats. A few were more positive, but one particular individual – who had spent time in Mississippi – reacted quite vehemently. He declared it, “The Land that God Forgot.” He ranted for several more minutes and left shortly after. Spending time here I can see some of what he said. If I were to be compassionate I could see his emotions as frustration with the poverty here, the lack of upward mobility and the failure to do anything about it. I don’t really think that was the case, I think he was just a pretentious jerk.

The last seven weeks here have proven that indeed these people are forgotten by most of the country, but the people here rival anyone I know that is worth remembering. The Delta’s popular perception doesn’t differ too vastly from that of Flint and Detroit. I’m not sure if this indicates me as a purveyor of the underdog (What American doesn’t at least pretend to be?). But, none the less the realization needed to be shared.


I wrote the above at the end of institute (the training program I was in for most of June and July) and I write to you now from my one bedroom above garage apartment in Greenwood, Mississippi. School for me starts a week for tomorrow, just in time to commence the hottest month in Mississippi. When I accepted this position in TFA many people said, “It will be challenging work” “It will be hard work” etc. Anyone can accept a general challenge. It’s similar to when someone says to you about a person you haven’t met named Xanu, “She’s really interesting but hard to be around.” Most compassionate people will think Hey, she can’t be that bad. And then the reality of those general statements comes to fruition in gritty detail. Like she always interrupts you, or hogs the copy machine that you need to prepare every day, or at the onset of violence takes an apathetic approach, or has a forked tongue. All that said do not be alarmed. I am at peace; I know why I am here and have no thoughts of leaving. There just comes a moment when I encountered all the little details that will make up the school day and it’s shocking. All I can do is forgive it and know that I am here for the kids plain and simple.


In other news my house was struck by lightning my second night here. I left the house for twenty minutes last night, and in that time frame lightning struck. The storm flooded the street and I learned about another necessary piece of Mississippi equipment: knee high rubber boots. My land lords are sweet people. They had a big welcome barbeque for all the Greenwood Corps Members and embody southern hospitality.

My above garage apartment is sound, but unfortunately the land lord’s house next door is having issues. Here they run the plumbing and the electrical together, which means that the water main has about seven holes in it – which means it’s going somewhere other than sinks, toilets and showers. The water still works in my apartment, and they’ve patched the biggest holes – but they may still need to replace all the electrical and plumbing that would mean a hotel stay sometime soon for Mr. Stevens. I’ll get another good story to story anyway.

If you’d like to know what Greenwood looks like you can go see the movie “The Help” it was shot in Greenwood because it largely looks like it fits in the 1950s. There are virtually no modern structures in the downtown, but rest assured on the West side drag we have a Wal-Mart, Big Lots and other indications of mass consumption I’ve deemed a necessity to my existence.


Monday, July 11, 2011


Dear Friends,

My update will be brief this week. As I search for housing, wrap up summer school and figure out what possessions are essential to my life I have written a great many of things in long hand. In their present state those thoughts are only coherent to me.

On Thursday my students will take the writing and reading tests that will determine if they recover their credits for their junior year. These four weeks of summer school have been a roller coaster. What’s more is that I’ve reached the point of actually having a rapport with my students just in time for the program to end – but I find that life is full of such occurrences. Timing is fickle, but usually right.

Also, by Thursday I’ll be pretty close to locking in a place to live (at least that’s the plan).

School starts August 4th.

As we say in summer school: the time is short and the need is great.

Talk to y’all soon,


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Mississippi National Guard

Dear Friends,

The sun arced up at 6am and barraged Cleveland, Mississippi with heat. At 8:30 when I set off on my run sweat poured immediately, as if I were wearing a big sunglasses and passing through customs. Cleveland’s cobbled sidewalks, coffee shop Mississippi grounds and a jamboree of kittens marked my progress. Stymied grass pulverized by the sun lined the way. Each car that past received a wave and my shoes slapped the pavement, a background instrument to the Radiolab Podcast. On my return a short and squat woman on a red cruiser bike, with a red hat to match, waved me down. My ear buds plopped down to my shirt in a patch of sweat. She smiled, and the muscle work pushed her cheek bones up. A row of tiny dark freckles bunched together and then relaxed as she said, “Are you in the National Guard?”
“No, I’m in Teach for America,” I said.
“Oh, ok good luck,” she said.

She rode away, perhaps to question other citizens on her big red bike.

Welcome to the Delta.

In the military context I imagine TFA with a big American flag behind it, and a multicultural children’s choir singing a song written by Francis Scott Key.


Yesterday I went a looked at houses in Greenwood, Mississippi. A Corps Member who is no longer teaching led us through some houses. He wore a camouflage hat, a wrinkled beige polo and cargo shorts. He reminded me of an outdoorsy football player I knew in my childhood. He explained that he was taking a break from teaching to apply to MFA programs for fiction and would be working at JC Penney come winter to get through the year. We followed him in his BMW to the various houses and apartments. Along the way he pointed out where not to live. The houses were of a various quality, much were starter homes from the 70s. Lot’s of gray siding, stained carpet and intermixed with hardwood floors. The feeling generated was akin to that you’d feel if a realtor was taking you to look at houses and said, “Just use your imagination!” Thankfully our leaders did not issue this command.

Here in the Delta finding a house has no script, it’s all improvised. This Corps member was kind enough to lead us through the process, send us spreadsheets with numbers and locations and give us advice.

After seeing each house the reality and gravitas of my decision to come to the Delta began to settle in. There’s no regret behind those words just the filling in of details. My work is cut out for me. Our Corps Realtor in the camouflage hat spoke of the violence in his school, the challenges with his administration—I’m not in Ypsilanti anymore.

This is all pretty fragmented, but let me add this: Yesterday I went to Lake Village, Arkansas. I met up with some TFA alum and second years - most importantly Caroline (the person who made the five week care package and has been truly helpful through this whole teacher boot camp). We had a barbecue and sat for a time in the 95 degree water of the largest oxbow lake in North America! The relaxation time was great once I forgot about snakes and what could be near my feet at any moment.




"Decisions determine destiny." – Federick Speakman