Phenomenally Phenomenal Woman: Eloquent History on the Journey to Language Learning

My sister Clarissa was one of my favorite orators in our drama club. She was hilarious during practice. We would all laugh as she joked around or did some funny gesture. The teacher sometimes didn’t like it because we tended to join in with Clarissa and her antics.I loved it.

At first I wasn’t even in the drama club. I just showed up to watch the performances. This was no normal club. All of us were black children and we did traditional black poetry; Langston, Maya, Countie. I loved Langston. Eventually Clarissa’s hilarious actions had me joining in on the fun with everyone else and the next thing I knew I had memorized something and was performing it for everyone.

I went to a famous historic black school. I mean old, it was the original Yates school before Yates became a school. Before the Civil Rights Era it was called James D. Ryan School for Coloreds. There was a worn out plaque in the entrance someone had tried to scratch out. I took a picture in front of it once, smiling and pointing with my friend Nicole. Our school was slightly modern but in the 3rd ward neighborhood there was certain things black children learned and did by way of tradition. How to Step, How to Orate, How to Debate, How to Sing a Gospel Song like you Deserved to Be On Stage, and How to Pray. All the keys to eloquence.

My teachers would put me in play after play. My family and my teachers would make me dress up to go to Museums to orate a speech or a poem. My friends and I would make up dances and step it out in front of the school. My Uncle would make us kids sing like we knew what we was doing at church. The frilly socks, the super done up hair, and the attitude to boot. Those were the funny, black traditions a young child was taught in the historically black neighborhood I grew up in and at the historically black school I went to.

Oratory competitions was my thang!

I think it helped me to be the person I am today. These powerful poems and the awareness of black history, it helped me along the way. It gave me a foundation of what I believed in, what I thought was fair, how I wanted to see the world, how I wanted to be treated.

I will make a grammar mistake like anyone can do. But when I really mean business, I can get my point across. I love to remember and perform poetry. My own now a days.

Even when I went to my first year of college I spent what money the school I was working at gave me for free books on Langston Hughes poetry. I loved a new poetry book from San Francisco’s Marcus Books which catered to black authors. I would sit in my living room remembering by heart Langston’s poetry and performing for myself since no one was around

Sometimes when the children were good in my class room, I taught visual and expressive arts in the historically black neighborhood of Bay View at an elementary school, I would perform for them. They ate it up, they loved it. One of my favorite poems I will never forget by Langston was called Suicides Note, it simply goes: The calm cool face of the River asked me for a kiss.

Not only because it was easy to remember, simply a sentence, but he brought the River to life and maintained that the River wanted him. The spirits in it’s depths wanted him and he kissed the River.

I don’t think I told the children what the name of the Poem was. 🙂

Our drama club, the one I was at first a spectator in at school, had only a few girls. Priscilla, Clarissa’s and I childhood friend was a helpful ringleader of the foolishness we drummed up. After drama club we would go to my grandmother’s porch and make up dance steps with the radio blaring and our ice cream melting and my bag of hot chips all over my fingers. Our drama club also had about one or two guys. I forgot his name for now but I know we had no since of what managomy or jelousy was. We used to practice kissing him and I tell you I only did it once and I don’t think I kissed another boy for a while after that because I thought it was so gross.

The girls remembered one poem in particular. I don’t think we could truly eloquently put into words why we all personally thought this poem was important to remember but we just did and kept it to ourselves. The poem was Maya Angleou’s Phenomenal Woman. We blared it, our hands on our hips as we performed it, walking sassy across the stage. I Am a Woman Pheno-na-ma-na-ly! Phenomenal Woman That’s Me!

My sister was really good at this poem. We didn’t laugh when she performed it, we watched. I think our drama teacher was calmer when she performed it. She certainly didn’t have an annoyed look on her face when she did. Another favorite of ours was Fire by Langston Hughes, the guy we kissed performed this one so well. Like he was about to get smote. His hands in the air over his head, a pleading in his loud clear voice. Begging and unbelieving that he could be burned by fire in hell.

However Phenomenal Woman, I will always remember that poem. How important it was for me. How important it is for me. I think I once shared it with the children of my art class. In front of all of those beautiful black boys and girls in my class. My voice ringing out: I am a Woman!

Now I am learning French. My tutor told me to do things I would normally do in French if I would like to become better at speaking. I love to read poetry. I love to read Alice, Tony, Tananarive, Octavia, Langston. I love to read. I love to read more than I would like to see a movie or video. So I pulled up this poem for you. A reminder for us all. No matter your race, age, or beliefs. No matter if you are a woman or a man or a transgender person. I think this poem has something to teach us all. I think this poem matters even to feminist and womanist (some might not like the note on high heels). It is a triumphant cry with defining verses opening doors or perception and the bare bones truth.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

And because I would like to get better and make myself and my tutor smile 🙂

Femme Phénoménale


Merveille de jolies femmes là toute mon secret. Je ne suis pas mignon ou construit pour adapter la taille de mannequin, mais quand je commence à leur dire :

Ils pensent que je suis dire des mensonges. Je le dis, C’est dans la portée de mes bras, La durée de mes hanches, l’enjambée de ma démarche, la courbure de mes lèvres. Je suis une femme Phénoménal.

Femme phénoménale,

c’est moi.

Je rentre dans une chambre Tout aussi cool que vous s’il vous plaît et à un homme, Les boursiers debout ou Tomber à genoux. Puis ils pullulent autour de moi, Une ruche d’abeilles. Je le dis, C’est le feu dans mes yeux, et le flash de mes dents, le swing dans ma taille, et la joie dans mes pieds.

Je suis une femme Phénoménal.

Femme phénoménale,

C’est moi.

Les hommes eux-mêmes sont demandent ce qu’ils voient en moi. Ils essaient tant de choses Mais ils ne peuvent pas toucher Mon mystère intérieur. Quand j’essaye de leur montrer, ils disent qu’ils n’est pas visible. Je le dis, C’est dans l’arc de mon dos, le soleil de mon sourire, Le trajet de mes seins, La grâce de mon style.

Je suis une femme Phénoménal.

Femme phénoménale,

C’est moi.

Maintenant vous comprenez Juste pourquoi ma tête n’est pas courbée. Je ne pas crier ou sauter sur Ou dois parler vrai fort. Quand vous me voyez en passant, Il devrait vous rendre fiers. Je le dis, C’est en cliquant sur mes talons, la courbe de mes cheveux, la paume de ma main, le besoin de mes soins. Parce que je suis une femme Phénoménal.

 Femme phénoménale,

C’est moi.



100 turns to 6

I think art can span in any direction you want it to. I think even language is art. I am turned on by it now. I mean it in a way that someone might ask you What Breaks the Sound Barrier for You? Right now I would say language does.

It really began with memory. For years I was training in the art of presence. Memory matters. When I came across memory athletics in Cambodia I thought wow I really like this, these 30 words I learned in ten minutes could be words in another language. Context matters. In memory athletics you attempt to learn words in less amounts of time. To do this you create templates of what the words, symbols, cards, and numbers you are to remember could be so that when you see them it becomes a story you are building. You are the architect in memory athletics. Folks build whole buildings and place the things they want to remember in the rooms and spaces of the house. What is wild is that here is the first lesson you learn in school, playing with you imagination, and it will help you learn large digits, foreign languages, speeches, poems, and games.

The next year after Cambodia I was walking around in Ecuador paying attention to the street I was on. The four trees near the house I was staying at, I still remember how they lined up and the flowers on the concrete. I still remember the blue of the house, the abandoned basketball court. The rusted swing, I remember that too. I remember how many houses to arrive to the gate of the place I was staying. All of this matters because all of these sites could be attached to a word and it’s definition. It helps me to remember lists of words, cards, and definitions. Whole conversations,body language, and the look in a persons eyes. These things elicit feelings in us that we can call upon and it will paint the whole scene for you to remember it.

For language, I like to take a word and break it down in a way I want it to be broken down to. I add actions or pictures and place these images at a location on a route I remember. Walking, looking around for purpose in a living room. All of these things that are so personal can also be helpful. Language and memory they go together now. If I was to pick up the newspaper and tally up the number of words in it more than likely it will be about 600. Most people have a larger vocabulary than 600 but the words we use everyday even if we were writing an essay would more than likely be 600. If you can remember 30 words in less than ten minutes imagine what you can do to 100 words, in a few days 200 words. A few days after that try to get to 400 words. 600 is not that far behind. Next learn at least 50 verbs. Give these verbs a person, a place, and an action. Then learn the conjugation rules. Find people willing to speak to you in the language you would like to learn. There are so many ways. I would love to share with you that if you turned it into a game, relaxed, put a smile on your face, and really dove right in you would learn more.

A few fun list of words to learn:
Swadesh List
Jakarta List
Your own 100 wishlist of words
55 verbs

Here is a chart I put together for Spanish and French.
Start with these 20 600 words most used in English – The First 20

Learning is so much fun, especially when you play with it!

Additional Resources:
Anki cards: you can put the app on your phone. Find decks of cards you would like to learn. Practice everyday your Anki cards

Listen to audio like Michel Thomas and other audio programs

Cartoons! I love cartoons for language learning. I have the whole set seasons 1 through 3 of my favorite cartoon Avatar the Last Air Bender in Spanish. I put on the captions and relax, watch, and listen.

Watching the news, listening to the radio, looking at comics

Chatting with people from different countries on skype or whatsapp. Trading a language your English for their ____.

Talking and not being ashamed to make a mistake. I am not a big fan of this but I know it is necessary. Speak the language you want to learn as much as you can. Whoever is talking to you will correct you, go for it.

Practice at least 30 minutes a day

TAKE A BREAK WHEN YOU NEED TO, let it marinate


Be good to yourself! ❤

Clean the floors

I am gearing up to clean the floors of my friends house which she has dedicated to be a cultural center here in Huancayo. I wanted to make sure to leave the place better than I found it especially since I have been dog and  housesitting. A poem, a song came to me :

Half the Wisdom

You put a bat in your pocket
You were wondering why you were dying
Risen from the ashes
Another second only to shine

Like a cloth to silver
Magos girl turned to gold
Rusted copper still
Pour the water for your role

Milkened fat from pastures cows
Blood of birds disappear
Into the the darkened parts of the world
Seems set not to appear

Flor the flowers
Stripped and eaten from the leaves
An entity holds the robes
Opens fences
Gives you ease

Over the head of girls
Longing for poetry from the dead
In places deep down in the there
Imagined in your head
To that world they live and walk a foot
Walks the stix without falling in
A flag that waves + acts to save
The ones who would rather not
Spend all their time walking the line
For half the wisdom of the other side

I’ve Heard Speeches

Speeches by Maya Angelou, read poems of Langston Hughes, and cried at written scripts meant to say something. I share a speech talen from the eulogy of Corretta Scott King written by Maya Angelou…I Will Never Cease

Many times on those late after — evenings she would say to me, “Sister, it shouldn’t be an ‘either-or’, should it? Peace and justice should belong to all people, everywhere, all the time. Isn’t that right?” And I said then and I say now, “Coretta Scott King, you’re absolutely right. I do believe that peace and justice should belong to every person, everywhere, all the time.”

And those of us who gather here, principalities, presidents, senators, those of us who run great companies, who know something about being parents, who know something about being preachers and teachers — those of us, we owe something from this minute on; so that this gathering is not just another footnote on the pages of history. We owe something.

I pledge to you, my sister, I will never cease.

I mean to say I want to see a better world.

I mean to say I want to see some peace somewhere.

I mean to say I want to see some honesty, some fair play.

I want to see kindness and justice. This is what I want to see and I want to see it through my eyes and through your eyes, Coretta Scott King.

Lucidity Festival, Kindred Quest 2015

After a wonderful report back and presentation on Appropriate Technology: Then & Now at Place for Sustainable Living in Oakland, I have great news! Foodwebstories will be live at Lucidity Festival 2015.

lucidity festival 2015

Here is the schedule:

Friday @ Permaculture Action Hub, 11 am
Appropriate Technology: Then & Now

FWS Appropriate Technology Then & Now


 In the early 20th Century Gandhi lead the Indian Independence Movement. One key component was Appropriate Technology, locally sourced tools and technology that were at times in tune with the indigenous history of the people of a land. It was felt AT, a people centered technology could cut down the supply and demand afforded to outside and often oppressive sources, thereby the people would regain their independence and not depend on their oppressor. Appropriate technology(AT), in most cases it is made from reuse materials, and is very affordable.

AT has saved millions of lives around the world through efficient stove designs and eco-sanitation. In this presentation we discover the stories of AT saving the lives of people and environments while promoting independence and innovation. Overall this presentation is designed to help communities find out whats new and what they can do. It is meant to inspire audience members to start an AT project of their own.

The possibilities are limitless as to what you can create to live a more sustainable and technologically independent life!”
Saturday @ Nomad’s Nook, 2:30 – 4 pm
Food Web Stories 
food web stories


In this report back, I will express the works of foodwebstories. A multimedia blog in which I have traveled to several countries to find stories of people and their relationships to their food web/environment. Through articles, interviews, and audio podcasts Foodwebstories is meant to bring awareness to our environmental baselines and create a dialogue between developing and the developed worlds. It will continue to innovate and shift perspectives. This year the theme is Be Kind Do Not Rewind! We cannot solve our environmental problems by using the methods we used to get us into the situations we have now. Rather we must innovate and find new methods to improve our environments and ourselves. This year I will focus on sea grasses, what is happening with our waters, and address new methods and innovations in animal rights and wildlife corridors.
Sunday @ Nomad’s Nook, 10 am – 12 pm
Community Level Bioremediation 101 
What is biosyntropy, the elevation of living intentional systems. How can we improve our environments creatively using simple and innovative bioremediation techniques. How important is it to clean our air, soil, and water supply? This in depth look takes you behind the scenes to discover what is the importance of harmonizing with your environment and the factors that play when a person is not in harmony with the spaces, place, and surroundings called home. We will play with techniques, discover new terms, and hopefully leave inspired to bioremediate your land to heal our local watersheds.