To Not Working a Day in My Life

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. –Confucius


How do you combine a love of teaching, a penchant for writing, and a skill for formatting documents into highly stylized arrangements of spaces, footnotes, and punctuation? I am trying to figure it out.

I am a tutor, an independent ESL instructor, and a copyeditor. Writing is the only activity that does not generate revenue. After being a classroom teacher for almost a decade, I began tutoring full-time both in-person and online. I started copyediting, mostly dissertations, before I left classroom teaching.

This work is extremely rewarding. Working one-on-one provides the opportunity for me to get to know my clients and their unique learning needs. It is truly a journey, especially with my clients in kindergarten through 1st grade who often greet me with pouts. They would rather play than work on skills that cause them to struggle. During those first couple of sessions, I am a detective trying to figure out a way in. As if by magic–really perseverance–they come to enjoy our sessions and that is when the progress begins.

My adult clients are interesting people. Many of my ESL clients have come to America due to a family member’s job relocation, leaving close family and friends. One of my clients has been in the states for decades and is a widely respected dancer in her community. In the dance school she founded, she is the guru to the students who attend her school. I was honored to see the recent dance production by her students. It was heartening to see her life’s work on display.

Because most of my copyediting clients are not local to me, I never get to meet them face-to-face. Reading their research gives me a window into their motivations and the research interests they have invested a great deal of time studying.

I feel particularly fortunate to have this space and time, this flexibility. I hope to use it to devote more time to write during those days and weeks that are not filled with appointments. This work is not work in the sense of something you dread facing on Mondays. It is that work that gives me the opportunity to be of use as illustrated in Marge Piercy’s poem so named.

No Service

I wonder about institutions or the people in them. Do individual people create the ethos of an institution or is it the other way around?

I’m thinking about this in relation to the dealership where I bought my car almost 2 years ago. On the day of the sell and for about two months afterward, I felt like that institution really valued my business. When I had a question about the interworkings of this fully electric vehicle, I would send an e-mail to a specialist and he would answer my inquiry quickly and expertly.

The problems began when I started taking my car in for service. That valued customer feeling began to wane quickly. The service advisors as they call them seemed to be glued to their computers as if by their own effort they were servicing everyone’s vehicle with a mouse and the power of their concentration on the screen. After they would call me to pick up my car, it would take another hour before they could see me once I arrived. Looking around the dealership, I began to see that turnover was high. Those that took the jobs were functional yet indifferent to me as the customer.

While you wait, there is a cafe staffed by two of the sweetest women this side of Church street. Their service could almost make up for the service advisors’ nonchalance. “Can I get you a beverage and a snack?” they ask. I smile, accept, and drum my fingers while flipping through my cell phone to read an article or send a frustrated text message.

Recently, I contacted them to set up a complimentary rental. When I bought my fully electric car, my sales person told me I could rent a car from the dealership twice a year for a road trip. The receptionist promised she would have the two sales managers call me about this. I called back in an hour and was told they were looking into it and would get back with me. I know they will not call me back. I will not call back either.

The answer to my question is both. An institution sets an ethos and the people reinforce it (or not). Sometimes one person can make a difference. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will occur at this place. In short, if you are thinking about a BMW, pass Nalley BMW in Atlanta by if you want good customer service.

What Wakanda Means to Me

“Black Panther.”

This will be the answer I give when anyone asks me to name my favorite movie.

Black Panther was more than a movie. Watching it was an experience. I was immersed in a different worldview and aesthetic where people who look like me were not marginal  but central.

This is a rarity in movies as illustrated by the thirty minutes of movie previews that ran before Black Panther aired. During my first airing, the only movie without an entirely White cast was the preview for A Wrinkle in Time.  My second airing included a promo for a television series starring Tracy Morgan, The Last O.G. This sort of erasure of black bodies from the mainstream is as old as dirt.

But I did not fall in love with this movie from a point of scarcity. No, the movie was a masterpiece on its own merit. It had action, drama, suspense, romance, history, comedy, and political commentary.

When the father tells his son the story of Wakanda as the film opens, I had no idea this was Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). I assumed it was a younger T’Challa and his father. When the movie revealed this nugget, it made the story more significant. That was how N’Jbou passed down the story of Erik’s heritage and made him into the child from Brooklyn who “believed in fairytales.” These sorts of clever plot devices filled the movie.

Every article I’ve read about this movie has stressed that Wakanda is a fictional place. That may be true, but it is a real place to me. It bridges the gap between my past and present. Slavery robbed African people of their homeland, language, history, and cultural heritage. They were not immigrants. There was no true homeland. In the transition from African to African American, blacks were dispossessed and universally maligned. Chadwick Boseman (Prince T’Challa), in an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, spoke about how this movie gave African and African Americans a sort of common story. I wholeheartedly agree.  Many movie goers wore African attire. I donned my earrings and necklace made of cowrie shells and an African print stole.

For me, Wakanda inspired in me a deep pride in my heritage even though I do not know the details of my African ancestors. Wakanda is a metaphor for my heritage and bridges that gap. I am like Erik Killmonger, believing in fairytales.