A Knock on the Door

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.

Sunrise – February 5, 2021

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?

Carol A. Hand – Community-University Partnership – 2007

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.”

Photo Credit: Diversity Tree

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).

Jester Logo by Lesley-Lycanthropy, on Deviant ART

… 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.”

 

Frontier Wagon Circle

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.

Open Letter to White People at Standing Rock by Miriam Schacht

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. …

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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.

Early March Reflections – 2021

I still wonder “what could be”
if we were able to put aside differences
and work together lovingly
for the sake of the earth we all share
the “pale blue dot,” our home
which contains so many unexplored mysteries
floating in space amid a cosmos that baffles us

Perhaps others grow dizzy like me
trying to envision a spinning moon
revolving around a spinning earth
that’s revolving around a central sun
along with the other eight planets
in a shared solar system that seems expansive
yet is nonetheless dwarfed by the vast unknown

How many take the time to wonder why?
How many ponder the miracle
of the ground beneath their feet?
Or contemplate this concept
called gravity that keeps us rooted
on a planet spinning in space
at one thousand miles per hour
while revolving around the sun
at 67,000 miles per hour?

I haven’t met many who ask these questions
on my journey through life
most have been too busy to wonder
about ground where they stand
or ponder why they remain grounded
and why they can’t fly

Maybe if more people contemplated these mysteries
we would discover how to care enough about the earth
to put our differences aside…

March Morning Moonset – March 20, 2019

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Information Sources:

https://www.planetary.org/worlds/pale-blue-dot

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-fast-is-the-earth-mov/#:~:text=The%20earth%20rotates%20once%20every,roughly%201%2C000%20miles%20per%20hour.

https://www.space.com/why-pluto-is-not-a-planet.html

Following is a link to a fun video I discovered a few years ago when my granddaughter told me she hadn’t learned anything about the stars or solar system in school. We still laugh about this video. We shared it with her mom and brother this year during her birthday celebration on March 5 when she turned 14 and we all laughed together. Learning and remembering can often be fun.

Reflection – February 28, 2021

Awaken and remember

these are the times you were born for

Breathe in deeply to center

when you feel the heavy darkness closing in

Breathe out gratitude

for the chance to witness life in all of its fullness

Hold firm to compassion

‘though your heart aches with the suffering of others

Practice patience

as you breathe spirit’s glow into your aging fragile frame

Remain integritous

and reach out with an open heart and hold those you love close

Live joyfully

breathing out the ancestors’ light in what you think, and do, and say

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Reflections about Responsibility – February 11, 2021

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.

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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.

Reflections – January 29, 2021

Who would believe
that the mixed ancestry
which made my life
and that of my descendants
so challenging
is a phenomenal gift?

It represents an inheritance
of courage from ancestors
who challenged strongly held social conventions
in acts of resistance and diplomacy
to forge and cement peaceful alliances
between cultures and nations
in contested spaces
during times of conflict and war.

This inheritance is not an easy one to carry.
It conveys a sacred responsibility
to walk the bridging, healing path
of inclusion and peace
in a world so easily divided
by powerful fears
of those who are different.

It means living in a world
that reifies distinctions
between cultures,
nations,
religions,
and political views,
to name but a few of the differences,
often demonizing those who dare
to challenge social conventions
and the ruling elite.

Yet the legacy passed down
from the builders of bridges
created new possibilities
for peaceful coexistence –
hybrids, if you will,
who carry the legacy
of courage
and a sense of responsibility
for living in harmony
with others and the earth
within their blended DNA.
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Acknowledgments:

Sharing with deep gratitude for the participants in yearning circle dreaming who inspired these reflections.

Disunited States – Reflection on the Morning After

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.

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May we take time to reflect and choose the wiser path to peace and healing.

Reflections about the Power of Presence

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”

December 2020 Reflections

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.

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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.

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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.

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Screenshot of 1989 TV interview about American Indian Logo Issues with John Pepitone, Newscene 15 (a Madison, WI ABC affiliate)

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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.

    • Research your topic well. Know who your audience is. And choose the best ways to present information.
    • Take time to breathe and center.
    • Remember the purpose of your presentation. This is not about you or your ego. It’s about communicating authentically and effectively in order to convey crucial information on some topic that is important to the audience.
    • Don’t sit or stand behind a podium. Move! Use the extra energy from fear and anxiety to create a sense of presence.
    • Make eye contact with everyone in the audience.
    • Don’t take yourself too seriously and be ready to adapt to unforeseen glitches and opportunities with spontaneity and grace.

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…

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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.” 

https://www.huffpost.com/horoscopes/pisces

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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.

Thanksgiving Reflections – 2020

Earlier this week, I was reminded of the reality of these times. It’s so easy to forget how many people are suffering. I wonder how many of my students need to stand in food distribution lines. It’s not something they mention though many have lost their jobs. I’m doing my best to support them in other ways to help them make it through the semester, but there are no guarantees my efforts will be successful for all of them.

Waiting in line for food distribution before Thanksgiving – November 23, 2020

This morning, though, my thoughts transported me to other days more than 50 years ago when I set off to find my true home and soul. Homeless and wandering the streets in Hollywood, California, I ended up among strangers who provided a temporary safe haven. I described how I ended up there in one of my earliest posts.

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A River Tooth – for Richard

This morning I was forced to rely on CDs to entertain my parakeets, Bud and Queenie. It was one of those days when the weather affected radio reception for the classical station that plays the music that helps them feel safe and encourages them to sing. The first CD I chose was by John Denver, and suddenly, I found myself thinking of Richard, a friend from decades ago. Richard was a shy, gentle man who seemed out of place in a house shared by ebullient, self-assured, and opinionated students, some who loved to party. He was from a privileged family, the well-behaved son of professors. I was the only housemate who took the time to get to know him.

It’s funny to realize that I always remember him whenever I hear John Denver sing Rocky Mountain High. I think of our adventures traveling through the Rockies in his ever-untrustworthy Fiat in 1968. The memories make me smile, but also carry a sense of sadness.

Photo of Grand Lake, Colorado by Charles Yates – uploaded with creator’s permission. Source: CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=814879

I was a poor, struggling college student when Richard and I were housemates. He had already graduated and was working as a photographer for a local newspaper. I had just finished my worst semester ever. I passed advanced French literature with a final exam written in French that I couldn’t translate when I awoke from the long sleep that followed two days and nights of cramming. Although I wrote what was, I think, a brilliant final paper for Peoples and Cultures of Africa, I just never got around to handing it in, so why would I pass? And the history of Buddhism – I really should have dropped it when I could. The arrogance of the professor who needed to remind us at least 100 times each class that he was the world’s most renowned scholar was so at odds with the subject. The only thing I remember from the class is one word – jnana – the Sanskrit word that means wisdom-knowledge, intelligence guided by compassion. The word was so antithetical to the example the professor modeled to the class through his words and behaviors.

And then there was my job, a nurse’s aide for the graveyard shift at the university hospital. I alternated between the gynecology floor and the maternity ward. By that point, I had witnessed nurses make mistakes that caused permanent damage to newborns with no professional consequences and morning staffings that were nothing more than gossip sessions about patients who were dying painfully from the last stages of metastasized cancer.

I was so ready for a change. When Richard asked if I would be willing to go on a summer adventure to see the western United States, I told him I would on two conditions — we would share expenses equally and would remain friends without any emotional entanglements. He readily agreed, so I dropped out of school, quit my job, and we took off on an adventure in his little maroon-colored Fiat. This particular model of Fiat was tiny, with the engine in the rear and the storage compartment in the front. We packed some of our camping gear in the front “trunk.”

And then we hit the road. First we traveled southwest, through the prairies and cornfields. We finally made it to the Texas panhandle, and as we drove on flat highways with no speed limits, the little Fiat valiantly fought to hold the road, buffeted by powerful crosswinds as trucks flew by. One strong blast of wind blew the hood of the trunk open, and another ripped it from its hinges into the middle of the highway. Although we stopped and ran to retrieve it, we were a little too late. We watched helplessly as a large truck drove over the hood, permanently bending it. We collected the dented hood, found some rope to tie it on, and headed to the nearest town to find some way to repair it. The best solution we could find was more rope and duct tape, not the most convenient solution when we needed to open the trunk every night to get our camping gear.

We decided to travel north through New Mexico. Getting to the camping gear was a daily ordeal of untying crisscrossed ropes and ripping off duct tape and then replacing everything in the morning. After taping and re-taping the trunk for a few days, Richard decided to buy a small, light trailer to haul our camping gear. The Fiat was able to pull the trailer, at least on mostly flat terrain and gently rising foothills. But just as we reached Denver, the engine gave out. We had to stay in Denver a few extra days while we waited until the only mechanics trained to work on Fiats had time to fit us in. With the new engine, we headed deeper into the mountains and camped in breathtakingly beautiful places. I remember Grand Lake, nestled in the forests of high mountains. We froze at night in our sleeping bags. I would awake long before dawn and walk to the lake with my sleeping bag wrapped around my shoulders. I sat on the shore waiting for sunrise. As the sun rose and warmed the cold mountain lake, spirals of mist appeared and danced on its surface. Legends say the spirals of mist are the spirits of the Ute women, children and elders who died when their rafts capsized during a storm.

We traveled on to ghost towns that had once been busy silver mines, turned by then into seldom-visited tourist attractions. When we stopped in small towns to buy supplies, or on rare occasions to eat something other than campfire-cooked meals, we became a main attraction. People would line up at the windows of shops to watch us as we walked by. Richard was starting to grow his hair longer, a change from the clean-cut persona he projected when he worked for a newspaper, and a beard was beginning to show. My hair, then almost black, was long and unbound, blowing in the mountain breezes. Dressed in my sandals, bell-bottomed jeans and huge workshirt that looked more like a dress, I guess we appeared strange. Perhaps it was the first time townspeople had an opportunity to see “hippies” up close.

As we headed on our way to Wyoming, the little trailer didn’t quite hold the road as we wound around hairpin mountain turns without guard rails and finally went off the side of the mountain. Fortunately, we didn’t go with it. We stopped and got out just in time to see the trailer give up its tenuous hold on the trailer hitch and tumble the long way down to the bottom. Although shaken by our narrow escape, we nonetheless continued our travels and replaced some of the camping gear we lost.

Our travels led us to Seattle and down the Pacific coast to Los Angeles. This is where I decided to stay, with a newly found friend who lived in Hollywood. I know Richard was deeply hurt by my decision. Despite our agreement to avoid romantic entanglements, I knew that he thought he loved me, and I knew he wanted to protect me from harm. But I also realized that I needed to find out who I was by learning to stand on my own in the world. Hollywood seemed as good a place to learn as anywhere I had been before. It was far more diverse and exciting. Richard left alone to return to his Midwest home with tears in his eyes.

This morning when I remembered Richard and the adventures we shared, I googled his name on a whim. I found someone with the same name who is the age he would be now and whose photo looked like what I imagined he would look like decades later. I was relieved. I choose to believe that this is the Richard who once thought he loved me. And I choose to believe that our adventures inspired him to go on to become the famous creative quirky photographer described on the internet. Although we never met or spoke again, the memories of the friendship we shared remain in my heart and will probably continue to reawaken to the sound of Rocky Mountain High.

Some stories have happy endings without any regrets, even though touched by a hint of sadness.

“When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.”
(Kahlil Gibran, 1923/2002, The Prophet, pp. 58-59)

***

This Thanksgiving morning, a few words from a song that one of my long-ago new Hollywood friends wrote and recorded came to mind.

What can you make

that nobody else can fake?

Try a gen-u-ine

one-of-a-kind

guaranteed original.

You can make a smile

that is your very own.

You can make a smile

and you can make it known.

You can smile.

My travels have taken me many places since then. I lost touch with many of the friends I encountered along the way. Yet lessons they shared remain in my memories, leaving a legacy of resiliency and gratitude. I can smile. I can also send healing thoughts and bring soft hands and laughter into the lives of people I meet today.

Today, I am grateful for those gifts. Surviving hard times can bring unexpected life-long benefits. I hope that is true for those who are suffering today.

Note:

In another early post, I defined a term I learned from a former student, “River Teeth.”

Recently, I have been reflecting on what I would identify as the “river teeth” of my life thus far. River teeth, according to David James Duncan (2006), are the hard resinous knots that are all that remain after the softer wooden fibers of pine trees have been dissolved by the river waters into which they have fallen. Applied to life, they are the memories that remain decades later as transformative experiences and epiphanies.

Early-November Musings 2020

 

November 2, 2020

Sunset – November 2, 2020

*

November 6, 2020 – A Nation Divided

The last four years have exposed with undeniable clarity how easy it is to exploit the fault lines and fissures in our communities to divide us by ancestry, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and political ideologies. In the coming years, we will need to find common ground to survive. It will take all of us to face the threats that affect us – diseases including COVID, technological disasters, and climate change.

All I can do in these times is to try to help family, friends, and students keep hope alive.

*

November 7, 2020 – Class Day

What I noticed this morning –

Instead of looking out of my upstairs window at the gardens below and then greeting the morning on my side porch as I do almost every day, I ran downstairs to turn on my computer so I could check the news about the election.

The past week has been a rollercoaster ride between two contrasting choices – dread, despair, and disappointment or cautiously hopeful optimism. I didn’t find a resolution to a polarized nation on news sites. What I did find, though, was helpful advice from horoscopes for the two astrological signs associated with the time of my birth – Pisces, an emotional water sign symbolized by two fish swimming in opposite directions, and Aquarius, an analytical air sign represented by the water-bearer. The horoscopes both offered what seems to be sage advice for all of us during challenging times.

“Your ability to arm yourself with knowledge and a calm demeanor will help you to shut down any chaos or negativity.” (Aquarius horoscope, 11/7/2020, Huffington Post)

“Your presence of mind and patience will help you out tremendously today.” (Pisces horoscope, 11/7/2020, Huffington Post) 

In class, I chose to follow that advice. Rather than drone on and on about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, I asked my colleague to join me to check-in with students to give them a chance to talk about how they were doing and find out from their perspective what we could do to help them.

PowerPoint Slide – Class 9 – November 7, 2020
    • What have you noticed about yourself in the learning process this semester?
    • What have you noticed about our learning community cohort this semester?
    • What did you learn about your ancestors’ struggles last year that offers ideas about how to survive during difficult times?
    • What story will your grandchildren tell about the way you came through these challenging times?

One of the final questions we asked was

“Why are you here?”

We added an observation.

“Showing up for four or five hours of classes via Zoom on a Saturday, especially on one of the last warm, sunny days we are likely to see for many months, is noteworthy. We’re grateful that you are all here.”

Students told us “connections matter.” That’s what helps them survive during these times.

Being there for family, students, colleagues, pets, and the gardens I planted takes almost all of my time and attention these days. Too soon, the snow will make that more challenging…

*

November 11, 2020

Sunrise – November 11, 2020


Still, I want to take this moment to say chi miigwetch (thank you) to all of the WordPress friends who have continued to bring so much beauty into my life.

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