©Mark Ali, 2012


“My own self house,” my grandmother used to say.

This would be her starting point for a lesson about having four walls of your own. Her discourse on the nature of partitions would entertain what one generally assumed, accepted, and believed about them – they could entrap you, seal you off, enclose you, confound you like a maze if let be, but, she reasoned, making her departure from the adopted, acknowledged, and what was regarded as true and living fact – walls were erected for more than shutting out or shutting in, there was comfort to be found amongst them, that allowed one to navigate in the dark and the light, all the same with opened or closed eyes, you could touch them, feel your way, though, she did concede, walls could also be cold in their familiarity.

“My own self house,” my grandmother would sigh.

These periodic seminars were geared towards “learnin’ (me) somethin’,” seeds of wisdom being sown for when I had some kids of my own, when I would need water for parched ground, some sun rays to break through cumulous clouds. “Hear what I say,” she would opine, “you gon’ need it.” This advice most often came after she had been visiting too long at one of her grown children’s homes (this woman who never went anywhere she wasn’t asked, who always had carfare handy just in case, and who, as she put it, “didn’t ask for no quarters and don’t take none”). No matter who it was – my mom, my aunts, my uncles, her daughters and sons – after a while she got plain tired of each and every one of them. Holidays visits were expected to work on family nerves, though good food numbed much of those reactions to others’ idiosyncrasies, but the fatigue she spoke of was something different, especially evident when she was at her adult kids’ residences, being drowned in the abyss of someone’s uninviting nuances – you know, like when the host doesn’t offer you a glass of water, and if they do, don’t ask whether you want ice or not, they just start pointing to coasters talking about the table’s (faux) woodgrain finish, or asking you to do silly stuff before you even get inside good, like taking off your shoes when they knew you weren’t into all that foolishness – ways to keep you in a sense of vertigo, ways to let you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

“My own self house,” echoed in my head, as I dwelled in the unwelcoming grounds I was now on as I entered my now lordly son’s place, at the mercy of his house rules, wishing I could click my heels three times, ‘cause, like my grandmother knew there was truly no place like home, or the four walls that made it be so.


©Mark Ali, 2012

BAWPed 2009 times in his Summer Institute of the same year, Mark Ali left Tolman Hall a little more lumpy-headed, a lot more enlightened, very much open-minded, and increasingly more intolerant of formulaic thinking, especially where young people where concerned. You will find him asking “why” at his sites’ staff and department meetings like a little kid in the backseat of car on a road-trip, or taking the contrarian point of view in most discussions, appropriating Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken” to “When Everybody Goes Right, Go Left (or Vice-a-Versa).”

2 Responses to “Own Self House by Mark Ali”

  1. martywill Says:

    “Own self house” is a great way to put it, Mark! And this phrase, “the adopted, acknowledged, and what was regarded as true and living fact” I loved for the way it turns the accepted truth on its head and the rhythm of it said out loud!

  2. Lanette Says:

    My grandmother has a number of sayings as well and as she nears the other side of this life I find that her teachings are life lesson’s that I should come to know more intimately so that when she can no longer share them I can call them up. Thank you for sharing your grandmother with us.

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