April 17, 2021 – Images from my Saturday stroll by the elementary school in my neighborhood on this lovely spring morning.
April 17, 2021 – Images from my Saturday stroll by the elementary school in my neighborhood on this lovely spring morning.
Belatedly posting “old” “news” …
February 11, 2021
On a frigid dark evening in February, there’s a knock on the door I use during winter. “Come in,” I shout out. But the knocking continues as my little dog Pinto keeps barking. Then I remember. I need to unlock the door. It’s my daughter bearing a gift – a key to the house she’s just bought so we can live together as a family in what we all hope will be a safer and friendlier neighborhood.
An old saying comes to mind afterwards, “opportunity only knocks once.” Still, I wonder if moving is the wisest decision even though there are many things I can no longer do by myself, like heavy lifting.
I’ve lived in my little old house for almost 10 years – since October 17, 2011. It’s been a haven of sorts that I retired to, finally alone, after a long and difficult journey. Being here has given me a chance to begin the process of life reflection during a stage of life Erik Erikson characterized as “integrity vs, despair.”
I am grateful for the many opportunities life has brought my way. Sometimes I did open the door when they knocked, and sometimes not. In retrospect, I am grateful overall for the choices I made. Often, the choices to open a door brought daunting challenges, but those were the ones that presented the most interesting chances to grow and to learn.
February 22, 2021
A small part of what I learned has been posted on this blog which celebrated its 7th anniversary on February 11, 2021. I actually began blogging with a partner in 2013, but that partnership ended when I wrote a draft article she wouldn’t approve for “our” blog. After the third rewrite of the draft, “In Honor of Caregivers,” I decided to create a space a lot like my little house, where I could decide how to create and cultivate my own gardens both in reality and metaphorically.
It’s interesting to look back at my old blog posts and see how much I have both changed and become more of myself in the process. It’s also fascinating to see which posts have been viewed most over the years.
Every year, the post that has continued to be viewed most often (now more than 2,600 times) is one I wrote in March of 2015, “When You Think of Health What Comes to Mind?”
This morning as I greeted a bright but frigid morning, I found myself thinking of one of my many culture-bridging experiences. I was wondering why it is so difficult for us to listen to each other and find our common ground.
Maybe it was one specific job interview years ago that made this so apparent to me. In my younger years, I would often get calls begging me to take on a new project – Indian education, child welfare, or addiction prevention to name a few. I remember reluctantly agreeing to consider working on a federally-funded project to prevent chemical dependency in selected tribes. There was only one other Native American person on the research team, and he wanted to interview me to make sure I was “Indian enough.” He asked me about the research I was planning to conduct on Indian child welfare. When I explained that I was interested in learning how Ojibwe people defined effective and ineffective parenting and the systems and interventions they would recommend to address situations they saw as ineffective, my interviewer became impatient and agitated. …
The second most viewed post (more than 1,800 times) is “Context Matters When Teaching Diversity.”
One of my dear blogging friends, Nicki Attfield [who deleted her blog a while ago], asked a thought-provoking question in a recent post – “Can men be feminist?” Her discussion reminded me of a similar question I was asked years ago, and my experiences teaching courses in diversity at two very different universities.
More than two decades ago, I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at a university conference for social work students, practitioners, and educators. The question I was asked to address forced me to think critically about my past experiences and observations. “Can non-Native practitioners be effective with Native American clients?” At that point in my thinking, it was tempting to take the easy route and simply list the reasons why the answer was “No.” But the need to be honest and respectful made me go deeper. Ultimately the answer was really quite simple. Ethnicity and overcoming adversity in one’s life doesn’t necessarily make one more empathetic or a skilled deep listener. What matters most is someone with a kind heart who is willing to do the work to understand the world through another’s eyes. To listen deeply, to see not only the struggles but also the strengths, and to help clients see their strengths, connect to supportive resources, and develop necessary confidence and skills to be able to discover their own answers. To help clients discover they have worth and their own answer to the question – What is the best you can imagine for yourself in the future? …
The third post in line at more than 1,700 views is “The Fool’s Prayer” posted January 3, 2014 (and reblogged on January 13, 2020).
… Presentation day was one of nervous anticipation for me. I was excited to share what I thought was an important message with my classmates. But my anxiety grew as I sat through the recitation of nursery rhymes and “Twinkle-twinkle little star.” “Oops,” I thought, “Maybe I made a mistake, but it’s too late now.” When my turn came, I walked to the front of the class and began. I don’t remember how my peers reacted as I recited the poem, probably with exaggerated drama, nor could I see my teacher’s expression. She was seated at her desk behind me. All I remember is from that day forward, my teacher treated me as if I were a leper. The first time I talked to a classmate seated next to me after my performance, the teacher singled me out in front of the class. “You may not need to listen to what I’m talking about, but the rest of the class does. From now on when we are discussing reading, your job is to stand by the side blackboard and draw.” …
The fourth most viewed (at more than 1,500) is “Circle the Wagons – The Natives Are Restless.”
Years ago, I went to a national conference on Indian Child Welfare issues. It is typical for me to feel lost in large urban areas and packed hotels. I easily lose my sense of direction in cities and winding hallways. As I was hurrying to make it on time for a workshop I wanted to attend, I took a wrong turn and ended up in a workshop on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome-Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAS/FAE). This wasn’t the one I planned to attend. Because the speaker was just beginning, I didn’t want to appear rude by leaving, so I took a seat in the audience of 50 plus mostly Native American women. As the Euro-American speaker began, she let the audience know that her expertise in this area began when she adopted a child who was born with FAS. At first, she felt overwhelmed, until she remembered her grandmother’s saying, “When times are tough, put your wagons in a circle.” The audience let out a collective gasp, yet the speaker seemed completely unaware of the meaning of the audience’s response. She went on to describe her challenges. Accustomed to ignorance and insensitivity, nonetheless respectful and polite, the audience remained seated and silent during the workshop. They exited quickly at the end, without a word to the presenter. What would be the point of making someone feel bad? …
The one post that had the most views (almost 7,000), though, was written at a crucial moment in time by a friend and guest author, Miriam Schacht (RoteZora), “Open Letter to White People at Standing Rock.” I am sorry to say I lost touch with Miriam shortly after the former U.S. President took office and extinguished hope for a reasonable resolution of the controversy over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Hope has recently been revived according the EARTHJUSTICE, although there is still a lot of uncertainty about the final outcome of this situation and additional challenges as other tribes join the fight against proposed pipelines that would carry the same tar sands oil threatening communities that depend on rivers, lakes, wetlands, and the Great Lakes for safe drinking water along the way.
I wrote this note while staying at the Two Spirit Nation camp within the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock about a week ago. I originally drove out there to help someone else out, but without the intention of staying, because I take seriously the critiques that suggest that white activists have been taking over the protests. However, I stayed much longer than I intended because it turned out that there was important work to do as a white accomplice–work that addressed precisely the issue of white activists at these camps and these actions. Part of the necessary work of white accomplices is to lessen the burden on people of color. At camp that meant I was asked by Two Spirit folks to give white visitors “allyship 101” or “Two Spirit 101” lectures; this letter is my attempt to keep that work up, and keep taking on some of the burden, even when I’m not at the camp anymore. As requested, I’ve sent hard copies to the folks at camp (there’s barely any internet access there), but I’m also re-posting it here.
Read this, please, with an open heart. If you start feeling defensive, take a moment to reflect on why that is before returning to reading. …
Like the decisions I made about blogging, first to give it a try despite the snobbish disparaging view of blogging in academia, and second to create my own blog when my attempt at partnership didn’t work, I have made a choice to leave the little house where I have lived since I arrived in Duluth, Minnesota, and willingly face a new adventure. After almost a year of COVID, I realize life is too short to live in isolation relying almost exclusively on virtual interactions. I don’t want to miss any more chances to be present in the lives of those I love.
No doubt I will miss my gardens more than some of my neighbors, although others were a gift – Chris, Maddy, Dawn, Shirley, Patty, Judy, Bill, Phil, and Linda and her little dog, Cheeto. They shared their stories and their love of beauty, learning, gardens, dogs, humor, and life. I need to be patient, though. I can’t move until the semester ends in mid-May. There are more lectures to plan, papers to grade, and students to support, so much I need to sort through, give away, or pack, and too much I need to do to get the house and yard ready.
I am so grateful for the years in this little house and for the original blog partner who inspired me to continue blogging on my own. Both opportunities opened up a time and place for deep soul-searching and healing. And I am deeply grateful for the blogging friends who have been part of the journey over the years. Thank you all.
Watching the courage of the House Managers of the impeachment trial for the former US president as they presented compelling evidence about evil actions, I realized something profound about myself. I know with absolute certainty that people are born in a state of original sanctity. I knew it even as an infant before my first birthday.
I often think of the question Phillip Zimbardo wanted to explore in his infamous study, The Stanford Prison Experiment.
“What happens when good people are put into an evil place? Do they triumph or does the situation dominate their past history and morality?” (Philip Zimbardo)
At least for me, I know I had choices. And I didn’t always make the right one. I was not yet five years old when I stopped eating because life was too painful. At thirteen, I tried to end my life again, unable to find a way to reconcile the senseless violence all around me that was so at odds with what I knew to be true. The father who beat me and the mother who helplessly watched were not evil. They were in pain. Life had wounded them in ways that left them unable to do otherwise. It took my daughter’s birth to force me to finally decide to stay despite the pain of witnessing so many people who carry soul-deep wounds, myself included.
The responsibility of caring for a tiny infant in a crazy world felt so daunting. Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t do it alone, so we set off on a journey. Though I didn’t consciously realize what I was seeking at the time, now, I know. The question that inspired me was different than the one Zimbardo asked. I wanted to know if good people could work together to create and sustain sacred places.
I searched in many places, among them communes and intentional communities, health service agencies, state governments, tribal communities, and educational settings. I discovered it is possible to create sacred spaces for brief moments of time with great effort, but they are so easy to destroy. In the past 50 years since my daughter was born, I have tried to create both real and metaphoric gardens wherever I worked to encourage plants and people to blossom.
Recently, though, I discovered something important and shared it in an email to a dear friend.
“I truly wish people didn’t feel the need to rely on leaders or ‘experts.’ I spent much of my career trying to help people learn to see their own beauty and find their own power within. Yet I often failed to see my own strengths and beauty. It’s taken me a lifetime to realize I am not responsible for others’ choices. I am only responsible for my own.”
I sincerely hope that the courage and dedication of the House Impeachment Managers will encourage US Senators to decide wisely. There is much that has always been imperfect about this colonial nation, but in its defense, it nonetheless has embodied the potential to inspire the best in people. We have all witnessed yet again how easy it is to incite people to behave in angry, violent, destructive ways. It need not be so.
Regardless of the Senate’s decision or the distorted beliefs and despotic behavior of a former president, his enablers, and his followers, I will do my best to continue planting gardens, both real and metaphorical, wherever I go. I have no power to change others, but I do carry a responsibility to breathe the essence of who I am into what I do. I also carry the responsibility to be grateful for all of the gifts and friends I have encountered in my journey, and all of the people who have continued to share their light because it’s the essence of who they are.
The solitary mountain ash now stands alone
to weather the winds that led to the passing of the two old willows
that once embraced her and nurtured her through her tender years
Still, they anchor her firmly and deeply
between their stumps and roots
feeding the abundance
fall and the
Although I have so little time to write and blog these days, stories and poems sometimes flow through me any way. They are meant to be shared with others because they are connected to others who inspire them. I am sharing this with gratitude to my colleague who insisted we use trees as a metaphor for the class we are teaching about community practice. Initially, I thought she was a little bit crazy. But the course has continued to inspire students year after year. I am also sharing it with gratitude to a dear blogging friend, Robyn, a gifted writer and poet who has inspired me to look ever more deeply at my connections to the land where I stand. And of course, last but not least, this post was inspired by the mountain ash tree bearing her gifts for all who come into her presence.
Where does one begin to unpack the factors that contributed to yesterday’s attempted overthrow of the nation’s governing structure? What comes to mind is the profound effect the circumstances of our birth have on how we learn to see and understand the world. Our “positionality.” The time and place of birth matter greatly. Our status in the nations or societies or cultures which we inherit from our parents and ancestors affect the rest of our lives, often in ways we may never see or understand.
Sometimes, those of us born into the liminal space between differing ancestries and cultures learn at an early age how to see the world from differing vantage points. We directly witness the consequences that racism and classism had on our parents and grandparents. At an early age, we begin to question the values and governing structures created by a ruling class that not only allowed an attempted coup to materialize on January 6, 2021, but were also the actual architects that purposefully imposed oppressive structures and policies designed to preserve the power of the Anglo- and European-American capitalist elite.
It’s easy to assign blame for yesterday’s events on “thugs,” “neo-Nazis,” “White-nationalists,” or “domestic terrorists.” It’s easy to blame demented Donald Trump who, himself, is merely a product of a materially privileged, morally bereft, and emotionally abusive childhood. And it’s easy to blame the racism that runs rampant through the nation’s criminal (in)justice systems. Yet through the lenses of those on the margins, none of these simplistic explanations and reactions come anywhere close to explaining or addressing the root causes of yesterday’s events.
What do we expect from the soul of a nation built on genocide, enslavement, and unearned entitlement based on gender, the claim of property “ownership,” and ancestry? Why should it be surprising when the legitimacy of the governing structure of such a nation is challenged by those who inherited their positions on the margins and view themselves as victims of its unfair system?
In a very real sense, all of us have been socialized to accept and internalize our congenital place in a given society. Every aspect of the social values and institutions we encounter is affected by our positionality – our birth, where we live, how our parents parent us, the quality of nutrition, care, and education we receive. We are constantly reminded about our place in the social order. Myths of meritocracy encourage a largely unattainable false hope that we can achieve increased social status if we work hard enough. We are rarely, if ever, encouraged to question the legitimacy of the values or institutions that constrain our life possibilities, though.
The work and resources of people on the margins are essential for the continuing existence and comfort of the parasitic elite. The issue of how to control the vastly more sizeable percentage of the population that is marginalized has been accomplished through a capillary network of discriminatory practices in every aspect of people’s lives by their ability to pay. Education is a crucial dimension in the socialization process. Those who are lowest in the social structure are the least likely to receive an education that prepares them to think critically and aspire to professional careers (other than sports) or leadership positions.
When confronted by events like the one we all just witnessed, I am grateful for a framework that can be used to think critically about the differing ways cultures have conceptualized conflict and operationalized their values in the social structures and institutions that evolved over millennia. A simple question illustrates how profound differing views can be. Does a society seek to help heal individuals and damaged social relations or does it seek revenge by punishing individual offenders? Rupert Ross’s work offers a fascinating contrast to consider.
Contrast between Ojibway/Cree and Euro-Canadian Cultures
Adapted from the work of Rupert Ross (1992). Dancing with a ghost: Exploring Indian reality. Markham, Ontario, Canada: Octopus Publishing Group.
The most important of Ross’ (1992, pp. 165-184) observations from my perspective is that way he characterized cultural differences in fundamental beliefs about human beings. In his role as an Assistant Crown Attorney in Ontario, Canada, he had an opportunity to work with Ojibway and Cree tribal communities and described their belief that children were born in a state of “original sanctity.” In contrast, as a Euro-Canadian, he argues that the cultural view held by most non-Native Canadians is a belief that people are born “in a state of original sin.” He goes on to point out how these differing views resulted in distinctive ways of dealing with conflict that were linked to very specific goals. Simply stated, one culture focused on isolating and punishing deviant individuals and the other cultures were interested in healing individuals and their relationships with others.
The United States is once again at risk of repeating mistakes its made in terms of how the nation responds to conflict. The quick avenging call to action is being sounded to punish the “bad” people. I feel a sense of responsibility today to type these words even though they are unlikely to be read by the people who are in greatest need of wise counsel.
We CANNOT resolve conflict by assigning one-sided blame. How many of us have reached out to try to understand those who have differing values and political views? I am not suggesting it’s easy, believe me. I have participated in activities to find common ground on polarizing issues with people whose views were diametrically opposed to mine. Sometimes the best we could do was to civilly agree to disagree. The positive outcome, though was that no one was harmed and nothing was destroyed in the process.
I have no desire to assign blame to anyone. Perhaps it’s the researcher in me. I just want to understand what we need to do differently as a society to help all people feel they are valued members with a vested interest in our collective, peaceful survival on a world we all need to take care of. I want to do what I can now to help us make that transition.
May we take time to reflect and choose the wiser path to peace and healing.
There was really nothing remarkable about her appearance
small and thin – if truth be told, a bit ordinary and mousey
perhaps a blessing in disguise – it made her invisible
Her voice was soft and melodic – with a hypnotic quality
that created space where those who were too loud, quieted,
and leaned forward to listen intently when she spoke
She didn’t think this had anything to do with her in particular
Her laughter, though infrequent, created sparkling crystal light
thawing and healing wounded hearts or invoking fear
among those who were filled with darkness
Her gaze was focused and intense – a reader of souls
People who were relegated to marginal status
were often drawn to her light like moths to a flame
sensing a compassionate presence others could not see
She sometimes felt the power within and hid from it
knowing that power brought overwhelming temptations
aware that an ill-spoken word hurled with anger or rage
could leave legacies of lasting harm
and would certainly cut her most deeply
Life taught her to hone her voice, gaze, and presence
though she somehow intrinsically knew only to use them responsibly
on behalf of others in times of great need or danger
and spirits watched over her helping her learn
to only use her gifts in ways that would not draw attention
from the watchers who wanted to stifle compassion, wisdom, joy
and the loving spirit of ordinary people
in order to keep them afraid, confused, angry, and divided
and unable to express the transformative beauty they carried within
Imagine life in COVID for such a one
with months spent largely in isolation
unable to use abilities that were gifts
intended to help others on the margins
to be seen and heard, to have their voices matter
in decisions that affect their lives and all our relations
The regenerating effects of energy shared between humans
through the magic of presence, smiles, and touch now taboo
forcing reliance on distancing technologies and online platforms
as the primary means for communicating through virtual words
Yet nature provides a way for her to stay connected to the world
with the gentle winter kisses of snowflakes – each unique
and each a miracle of seemingly impossible beauty
reminding her to be grateful because she can still share
from her heart even with distancing technologies
even in the midst of suffering, loss, and darkness
She hears a message for herself
and feels compelled to pass it on to others
“Be kind and gentle with yourself and others
each unique and each a miracle of seemingly impossible beauty
rekindle the light within and envision the best you can imagine
for the new year just beginning – let it be a time of healing
and a time of freedom from bondage to fear, suffering, and separation”
Please don’t let anyone see me
in their neighborhood
in these times of surging COVID
on this cold Sunday morning
with a frigid light breeze
turning my nose into a leaky faucet
rather than an apparatus for breathing
Fingers already freezing
my morning trot
despite triple-layer polartec mittens
especially the fingers on my righthand
often bared to grab a plastic bag from my pocket
to pick up Pinto’s offerings along the way
Please don’t misunderstand my whining
I am truly grateful for my little companion
whom I love enough
to face this uncomfortable responsibility
for his sake alone
knowing that greeting the morning this way
is not a choice I would be willing to make
I am always willing to be the one to take responsibility for making sure we are properly physically-distanced from anyone else we encounter on our travels. I truly hope we will not need to do so in the near future.
I am sharing the poem that sang through my heart this morning before my last classes.
Choosing to focus on compassion brings gifts.
This morning, I realized the gift of myopia (nearsightedness)…
As a child, I couldn’t see the sharp boundaries that separated one thing from another.
I could only see the way things blended together at the margins of their physical beings.
Now I realize the power of learning to see the world through that perspective.
At 8, I got powerful lenses that helped me see that leaves on tress were distinct and separate
not a massive cotton-ball sitting on top of their trunk.
Yet I can’t go back and unsee their connections –
Sometimes the things others call deficiencies
turn out to be among our most precious gifts
if we are fortunate enough to be able to overcome the limitation they may impose.
My childhood was not easy. It forced me to find inner strengths to survive…
I hope you are able to remember how you learned to see the world as a child.
I remember reading something years ago when I worked on elder issues, although I honestly no longer remember who wrote this:
“People really don’t change with age. They just become more of who they always were.”
Today, as I get ready for my last day of Saturday classes after an incredibly challenging semester, that statement seems to ring so true.
Following is the photo of the place where I’ve spent most of my time during the last month – sitting in front of my computer. Sometimes I was grading papers online in the “Review” mode of Microsoft WORD, and sometimes I was meeting on Zoom.
Learning how to teach on Zoom has been a difficult journey. It reminded me of the fist time I saw myself on video. The experience was truly memorable and continues to exert its influence each time I see myself on camera before I begin accepting students who are in the Zoom “waiting room.”
Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a while ago that has helped me remember both the humor and humility needed to face this daunting but necessary challenge.
October 26, 2020 – Reflections about Zoom:
Trying to maintain social connections in an era of physical distancing
I wonder how many people have seen themselves on video. I didn’t see myself on video until I was in my early 30s. It was a shock! All I could see were my imperfections. Mostly, the size of my nose! I remember the aftereffect vividly. As I climbed the stairs from the basement video lab in the social work building after watching my first taped interview, I wondered why my nose wasn’t bouncing off the walls three-feet away as I turned the corners of the winding stairway.
I laughed at the thought later, but it only made it harder for me to face another video-taped interview, or even worse, a public speaking event. And as luck would have it, I had to do a lot of public speaking in the first job I had after completing my master’s degree. Luckily, experiences before and after my first video taught me the power of humility and humor. They also taught me to face my fears head on.
Rather than continue suffering for days before each speech, unable to eat, I enrolled in a public speaking training course. Participants were required to present information on a variety of topics to other enrollees as the camera rolled. Then, we analyzed our own and other’s videos to identify both strengths and suggestions for improvement. I didn’t notice my nose. What I did notice were a few surprising strengths I had never noticed before.
No one would be able to tell that I was scared and nauseous. There were no “tell” signs of anxiety – no stuttering or deadly space fillers of ums or ahs, no red neck or flushed cheeks, and no hands uncontrollably shaking. My presentations were animated by movements, facial expressions, and hand movements, and my voice was pleasant to hear, modulating appropriately with changing topics.
The experience also taught me some techniques to deal with fear.
Fast-forward to four decades later. It’s not the size of my nose that bothers me most these days when I see my image reflected back to me on the Zoom screen. But honestly, I try not to notice the way the camera highlights the two front teeth that were the victims of bad dentists, or how the headphones I need for audio make my scraggly, thinning, graying hair look even more disheveled. Let’s not mentioned the wrinkles or the lenses on my glasses that either reflect light from the window or computer screen or distort the size of my eyes. These are a small price to pay for a long life spent on gaining knowledge and compassion that I hope to pass on to others.
The most difficult part of Zoom, though, is not being able to sense or change the energy in a room. All I have are words that don’t flow as easily when I have to remain stationary and speak to small images of student faces, or blank screens with their names when students turn off their video cameras. I can’t even tell if the Zoom camera ever shows that I am looking at them directly when they’re speaking.
Yet I try to communicate as effectively as possible anyway, because in these times connections matter even more. Although human connections with students are over a distancing medium, it’s the best we can do right now. I try to focus on the things that matter despite the vulnerabilities that are exposed in the process. A sense of humor and humility help…
The most difficult challenge now, though, is the fact that I have so little time to write or keep up with the photos, poetry, stories, and reflections that you all post on lovely blogs. As I face the beginning of a new semester all too soon, I wonder when I will ever find time to blog again. I have a new online platform to learn and courses to significantly modify in order to incorporate what I have learned about online teaching through trial and error.
One of lessons from the past semester is the importance of closing each class with a meaningful message. The PowerPoint slide I often share at the end of my research classes is posted below. (The photo on the slide is the “Beaver Moon,” taken on November 28, 2020.)
Remember to take time to observe
what’s happening within and around you.
Remember what you focus on
and the lens you look through
affect what you see.
“Life isn’t just about just choosing between
this or that,
it’s about perceiving and embracing
all the possibilities between.”
Just in case I am unable to post again this year, I want to wish you all wonder-filled holidays and a peaceful, hopeful transition to a new year.