Reflections about Books and Laughter

In these days of banning books, I have been contemplating how to deal with out-of-date textbooks that nobody wants. Not because they’re risqué, they’re just out-of-date. It makes me wonder what to do with the manuscript I began writing in 2015. The first draft is still waiting to be edited when I can find time. In the meantime, I often wonder whether the book would be of any use to others in the times ahead because it may be too academic. And if it does have potential to be useful, it’s doubtful to survive censorship because it’s as historically accurate as I can make it and critical of colonial domination.

books 1

But there is still the question of those textbooks that have grown obsolete. In a continuing process of decluttering, textbooks are next on my list. It seems that only the pages can be recycled, but the covers and bindings must go. So, the process of unbinding has begun. It’s not as easy as one would think. Here’s a photo of my first attempt.

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It’s the fourth edition of Social forces and aging by Robert C. Atchley (1985). (In case anyone is eager to read it, it was published by Wadsworth, Inc.). I also have the fifth edition of this text in the pile of castaways, but I kept the eighth edition in the bookcase for now, perhaps out of sentimentality (or senility?). I suspect I used it when I taught a course on aging and mental health at my alma mater after graduating with a master’s degree. That’s when I discovered I love working with students of all ages.

I couldn’t resist a final peek at the content of the book in the tedious deconstruction process. I happened to notice the following at the beginning of Chapter 15: Deviance and Social Control…

All societies use general standards to judge the appropriateness of a given behavior, human condition, or situation. If a departure from conventional customs or practice is seen as merely unusual, we call it “eccentricity.” But if the departure is so great that the behavior or condition would be condemned, then we call it deviance. Deviance is always defined from the point of view of a particular normative structure. In large societies such as ours there are many subgroups and conflicting standards of behavior. The same act can be defined as deviant by one group, as eccentric by another, and as “normal” by yet another. For example, what is seen as deviant in a suburban neighborhood is quite different from what is seen as deviant on skid row.

Norms are by definition ideas about how human behavior ought to be, and it is no surprise that societies set up mechanisms to prevent and control both the incidence and degree of deviance. Social roles, socialization, and the internalization of norms are all important processes in the prevention of deviance. Formal social controls that seek to limit and discourage deviance include laws, rules, regulations, and authority systems. Informal social controls include customs such as ridicule, disapproval, and ostracism. (Atchley, 1985, p. 286)

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While I believe it’s important to know how people viewed things in the past, and what they were programmed to believe, this book has served its purpose and deserves to be repurposed. There is a pile of other texts waiting for their turn. But the topic of this quote stayed with me. I’m currently reading something that speaks to the profundity of cultural differences – I miss the rain in Africa: Peace Corps as a third act: A tale of transformation, by Nancy Daniel Wesson (2021), Modern History Press. I came across a passage about the challenges of communicating across cultures, even between people who believe they speak the same English language. I can’t quote the passage here because it would be out of context, but it brought to mind a passage in a different book that shares “an anecdote from World War II” (Estés, 1992, p. 343).

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Clarissa Pinkola Estés recounts an experience she had when she was twelve, spending a day with extended family. She heard her mother and aunts shrieking with laughter as they sat “sunning themselves” and was curious to know what was so funny. While her mother and aunts later dozed in the sun, Estés picked up the magazine one of her aunts had been reading out loud and discovered the passage quoted below.

General Eisenhower was going to visit his troops in Rwanda. [It might have been Borneo. It might have been General MacArthur. The names meant little to me then.] The governor wanted all native women to stand by the side of the dirt road and cheer and wave to welcome Eisenhower as he drove by in his jeep. The only problem was that the native women never wore any clothes other than a necklace of beads and sometimes a little thong belt.

No, no, that would never do. So the governor called the headman of the tribe and told him the predicament. “No worry,” said the headman. If the governor could provide several dozen skirts and blouses, he would see to it that the women dressed in them for this one-time special event. And these the governor and local missionaries managed to provide.

However, on the day of the great parade, and just minutes before Eisenhower was to drive down the long road in his jeep, it was discovered that while all of the native women dutifully wore the skirts, they did not like the blouses, and had left them at home. So now all the women were lined up and down both sides of the road, skirted but bare-breasted, and with not another stitch on and no underwear at all.

Well the governor had apoplexy when he heard and he angrily summoned the headman, who assured his that the headwoman had conferred with him, and assured him that the women had agreed on a plan to cover their breasts when the general drove by. “Are you sure?” yelled the governor.

“I am very, very sure,” said the headman.

Well, there was no time left to argue and we can only guess at General Eisenhower’s reaction as his jeep came chugging by and woman after bare-breasted woman gracefully lifted up the front of her full skirt and covered her face with it. (Estés, 1992, pp. 343-344)

I have to admit this made me laugh as well. It still does. These days I think we all need more opportunities to laugh. Yet, I know it’s easier to laugh at other’s expense, and harder to look at the humorous side of things we’ve been socialized to accept as “normal.”

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Initially, I give people the benefit of the doubt and trust what they tell me or write is true from their perspective. I’ve learned, though, that’s not always the case. Over time, I’ve become a lot more skeptical, but I wasn’t as an undergraduate student when I first read about a strange tribe in my anthropology class, the Nacirema.

Horace Miner’s (1956) article, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” helped teach me that lesson and others.

Nacirema culture is characterized by a highly developed market economy which has evolved in a rich natural habitat. While much of people’s time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the fruits of these labors and a considerable portion of the day are spent in ritual activity. The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance and health of which loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people. While such a concern is certainly not unusual, its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are unique.

The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this purpose… While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries… (Miner, 1956, p. 503)

In conclusion, mention must be made of certain practices which have their base in native esthetics but which depend on the pervasive aversion to the natural body and its functions. There are ritual fasts to make fat people thin and ceremonial feasts to make thin people fat. Still other rites are used to make women’s breasts larger if they are small, and smaller if they are large. General dissatisfaction with breast shape is symbolized in the fact that the ideal form is virtually outside the range of human variation… (Miner, 1956, p. 506)

Wikipedia says the following about Miner’s work.

“In the paper, Miner describes the Nacirema, a little-known tribe living in North America. The way in which he writes about the curious practices that this group performs distances readers from the fact that the North American group described actually corresponds to modern-day Americans of the mid-1950s.”

(For those who don’t already know this, “Nacirema” is “American” spelled backwards.)

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These two authors, Miner and Estés, have something in common. They deal with topics that are rarely discussed in polite “normative” conversations. (I think Atchley of old might agree with that assessment, although Miner’s article had been published long before Atchley’s text.) Their published works will probably be censored in the coming years because they present views that could easily be classified as deviant by those leading the pack to enforce their seemingly joyless point-of-view. After all, hearty laughter and joy signify freedom from control – and they serve a valuable role as a “medicine for tough times” (Estés, 2992, p. 344).

Estés makes this point quite clearly when she describes the aftereffects of reading about Eisenhower’s welcome.

I lay under the chaise [lounge] stifling my laughter. It was the silliest story I had ever heard. It was a wonderful story, a thrilling story. But intuitively, I also knew it was contraband, so I kept it to myself for years and years. And sometimes in the midst of hard times, during tense times, even before taking tests in college, I would think of the women from Rwanda covering their faces with their skirts, and no doubt laughing into them. And I would laugh and feel centered, strong, and down-to-earth…

When the laughter helps without doing harm, when the laughter lightens, realigns, reorders, reasserts power and strength, this is the laughter that causes health. When the laughter makes people glad they are alive, happy to be here, more conscious of love, heightened with eros, when it lifts sadness and severs them from anger, that is sacred… (pp. 344-345, emphasis mine).

I hope these stories helped lighten the heaviness of these times, at least for a moment…

Here’s a video that may help inspire laughter as well – Loretta LaRoche, “The Joy of Stress”

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Wishing you all much joy and laughter to light the darkness in the days ahead.

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Works cited:

Atchley, R. C. (1985). Social forces and aging (4th ed.). Wadsworth, Inc.

Estés. P. C. (1992). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype. Ballantine Books.

Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58(3), 503-507. (Link to copyright-free download here.)

Wesson, N. D. (2021). I miss the rain in Africa: Peace Corps as a third act: A tale of transformation. Modern History Press.

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It’s okay to be odd…

A work of dystopian speculative fiction (maybe) …

Truth be told, she had a vivid imagination. Mostly, she was able to control it by focusing on the present moment, detailed analytical tasks, or solving complex puzzles. But grocery shopping day always presented challenges. As an empath, wandering among so many random feelings and thoughts made her feel as though she was somehow entering a viscous “twilight zone” where whatever laws that govern the world were temporarily and totally suspended.

The experience that comes to mind to illustrate what happens involves a rather heavy-set young man. He was standing up from the wheeled conveyance he needed to get around the store, laughing and exclaiming his delight at the many flavors of Spam. He was reading the label on each can, announcing the flavor loudly, and throwing many of them into his companion’s shopping cart.

It took her a moment to hold her self-righteous judgement at bay. Spam reminded her of the canned pork, lard, and starchy commodities distributed by the federal government to her Ojibwe ancestors. It’s not something her ancestors would ever have chosen to eat and doing so left a legacy of serious health issues for generations. As “captive nations,” they had been confined to reservations on the least desirable lands and forbidden to carry on the traditional hunting, gathering, and gardening activities that had helped them survive for millennia.

Corporations have done an effective job marketing this as a convenient, desirable food,” she thought. “Sadly, few people know that.”

Sliced_Spam

Source: By BrokenSphere – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Entering the twilight zone…

And just maybe, there are tiny magnetic nano particles embedded in genetically modified foods and other health products. If people eat enough of them, nano particles are stored in organs throughout their bodies, attracting them by a magnetic pull toward certain foods every time they enter the store.”

Watching other shoppers walk aimlessly in a daze, or rush about impatiently almost hitting other shoppers with their carts only added to her imaginative speculation. Sometimes she was able to resist the pull and focus on one person whom she could help. It was “grounding.” Afterwards, the viscosity of the atmosphere would abate somewhat, allowing her to remember to be present and kind when other opportunities arose.

She may never know the truth about this speculative puzzle. There’s really nothing she can do about it anyway, except to be increasingly more thoughtful about what she’s choosing to eat.

Reflections about Teaching – March 7, 2022

ah, the challenge of teaching

during overwhelming times

please let me be here now

and take time

to listen,

observe,

and reflect

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we only have

these precious moments together

two hours every other week

it’s not enough

but it’s what we have

I watch and wonder

how I can help you

rekindle curiosity and learn

when you’re too weary and anxious

to be fully present

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let’s take the first steps together

to unpack a daunting assignment

step by step

take a few minutes to read

the article title and think

what do the authors assume

about the people and issues they studied?

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those few precious words say a lot

about how researchers frame their work

it’s the first step for analyzing anything

and it’s too easy to move on

without taking time to realize

that this is the most important thing

they will have to say

about the assumptions, values, and worldviews

which (perhaps unconsciously)

guided the purpose and design

for the steps and details that follow

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can one judge the quality of a work by its title?

the title, along with the abstract and key words,

offer a snapshot of authors’ views

about people and causes of problems

and clues about the trustworthiness

of their work and interpretations

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do they encourage exploratory solutions

which are respectful and inclusive?

does their work have the potential

to enhance community connections and resilience?

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Mary Oliver 2

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“Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads”

Mary Oliver

(repeated because images can’t be translated)

 

Reflections – February 9, 2022

A lifetime lived in the liminal space

between those with petty power

and those whom they would oppress

perhaps without conscious awareness

parents

please believe me when I tell you

it’s not an easy place to be

sometimes a clown or trickster

other times deliberately deferential

with a mousy well-tailored demeaner

soft-spoken and mild-mannered

and a focused observant presence

looking for any possibilities

for building common ground

yet unwilling to compromise integrity

even when it means disregarding

threats and demeaning disrespect

silently healing a bruised ego

because that’s not what is important

when others’ wellbeing is at stake

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recognizing that one has many choices –

deep sorrow, self-righteous anger,

or patience and compassion for all involved

over lost opportunities to come together

in the exploration of creative, liberating

possibilities based on reason and grace

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recent events served as a reminder

that my worldview and values

don’t fit well with those of colonial institutions

and those of the gatekeepers and overseers

posted as guards to enforce conformity

often unknowingly – reminding me once again

of the words of Michel Foucault (1979, p. 304).

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. This carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observations, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of normalizing power.”

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normalization 3

Drawing by Carol A. Hand (based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, inset # 10 between pp. 169-170).

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It may well be as Foucault suggests

that only some of us are fortunate enough

to know that we are not completely socialized

and carry the responsibility to teach

by thinking critically and “walking our talk”

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Work cited:

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975)

Reflections – February 4, 2022

Yesterday I asked a question I have often asked before, “What’s in the neighborhood where I live now?

Although I have now lived here for about 11 years, it still feels relatively new to me. It’s the first time I’ve lived in this state. It’s where I moved when I retired to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. My grandson has lived here with his mother since before his first birthday – 23 years ago.

I arrived battle weary after retiring early from a series of difficult academic jobs and personal losses, merely looking for a small house and yard where I could plant gardens and create a sanctuary. I was tired of dealing with mean and petty people in power. Of course, one often finds pockets of both kindness and wisdom and cruelty and ignorance everywhere. No matter where one lives, one also discovers the interface of natural beauty with threats to exploit and control nature in ways that continue to leave great harm for future generations.

The place where I live now is no exception. Yesterday, I was inspired to ask that question about my neighborhood in a more pragmatic, action-oriented way. Once again I greeted the morning by looking out through my front window toward the rising sun.

Hibbard 1

(hmm- the bell tower really does seem to lean although not quite as much as this photo suggests)

It was another bitterly cold morning when the sun would be so welcome, even though it would do little to add warmth to the day. But its light was blocked by a thick steady stream of smoke rising from the spooky tower sitting in the St. Louis Bay less than a mile away.

I learned a little about the tower from my last young neighbor in the rental house next-door. He was the first and only one of my neighbors who seemed to care about such things. He told me that the tower was owned by Minnesota Power. His father had told him that it was used to burn trees from northern forests that were destroyed by past storms. (Sadly, he moved last year when he bought a house. I miss him and his housemates, as well as our backyard conversations.)

With too many things to do before and after my young friend moved, I just stored that information away for future exploration “someday,” like the books on my shelves waiting to be read.

But that someday has arrived for the beginning of my exploration of what’s in my neighborhood. I decided to begin the story this morning before I begin grading papers, a sure way to lose the ability to think and write in my own language. But I need to sign off now to begin that task before tomorrow’s class.

Hibbard 4

Duluth (edited screenshot)

To be continued…

Of course, if you’re curious to find out more about the tower before I have a chance to write again, you can explore the links I have posted below.

http://towns-and-nature.blogspot.com/2021/01/duluth-mh-hibbard-renewable-energy.html

https://www.mnpower.com/Company/MPJournal12022016

http://www.energyjustice.net/map/displayfacilityadvanced-64839.htm

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Hibbard Renewable Energy Plant, by Jadin Hanson, September 2018 (edited screenshot)

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Hibbard Renewable Energy Plant, by Jadin Hanson, February 2019 (edited screenshot)

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Reflections about the Art of Researching

Life is full of surprises. If we’re lucky, it takes us to places we never imagined. As a child, I was curious about the world around me, although I don’t ever remember hearing the word “research” until I was in college. When I did, it was often, but not always, in the context of incredibly boring classes that required me to memorize formulas, the assumptions of the Central Limit Theorem, and the differences among various types of variables that are subjected to research studies and analyses (independent, dependent, control, discrete, interval, nominal, ordinal, etc.).

I never saw myself as a teacher then, let alone as a teacher of research. Yet, I have been so at both the graduate and undergraduate levels in colleges and universities periodically for the past 20 years. I realized it could be exciting for me, and sometimes, for students. I think I have gotten better over the years at figuring how to make it both interesting and relevant.

During the past few years, I have had a chance to develop and continue refining a new experiential approach that focused on a crucial issue, the link between access to potable water and community health. The small, diverse cohorts of students I worked with each semester have done exciting work. The cohort last semester was especially notable. Their work has real-life implications for addressing health and crucial environmental issues on a local level.

I’ve tweaked the class a little for the semester that began last Saturday. The even smaller diverse cohort I met with seemed excited to learn, unlike the first cohorts at the beginning of past semesters. Access to potable water has gained increasing attention, highlighting its significance as an issue that is particularly relevant for all of us, and especially for vulnerable populations.

It’s likely, though, that this may be the last time the research course is delivered this way over two semesters. It may well fall victim to the quest for standardization and economic efficiency. Few people think of research as a core foundation for future work, and, from my perspective, for life in general. Like me, their prior experiences in courses on the topic may have been something they merely survived to earn a degree.

But research is important. The word “research,” both a noun and a verb, involves paying attention to the world around us, as well as exploring our own ways of perceiving and making sense of what we see.

research perspective crabtree and miller

“Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent.” (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

My perspective of research and teaching has rarely fit within “mainstream” approaches. That’s not surprising to me. My parents were from very different cultures, although both came from economically disadvantaged roots. They taught me to see the world from two cultural perspectives – Ojibwe and working-class Anglo-American. It inspired me to continue to observe and critically reflect about those different ways of seeing throughout my educational journey and professional career.

What I discovered are profound differences on many levels which directly affect how one approaches education. I learned what feels most comfortable as both a learner and educator. The table below is a simplistic but heuristically helpful way to illustrate those differences.

NCLB Program Contrast to Native American Education

Source: Starnes, 2006, p. 389

These differences point out an indispensable first step when developing any course or curriculum. Ultimately, we first need to answer a central question. What is the purpose of education? Is to mold docile citizens who can memorize and regurgitate answers on fill-in-the-blank tests? Who can perform robot-like jobs without ever questioning authority? Or is education’s purpose encouraging observant presence, curiosity, and critical thinking skills? Providing an understanding of broad historical dynamics and tools that have proven effective for building inclusive, healthy communities? For equipping students with methods for thinking about and exploring creative ways for responding to an array of complex crises we face globally?

Six years ago, my colleagues and I answered that question with the second choice. We began discussing how to implement an alternative – an integrated model of teaching and learning. We created links in content across courses and experimented with collaborative course delivery. The research class was especially challenging.

Students in their junior year had variable levels of the foundational knowledge and skills needed to succeed within one semester. Many had never read a research article or learned how to find scholarly resources, and few had written academic papers. We experimented with a groups’ approach for assignments to reduce the workload. That proved unsuccessful for a number of reasons, so we decided to try a different approach.

We split the course in half and spread it over two semesters. The first semester allows students to learn basic knowledge and skills, and the second provides an opportunity for them to apply what they learned. The course still requires hard work, but it proved to be effective for the majority of students pre-Covid. The COVID transition year (2020) necessitated moving to a remote delivery model that was especially difficult for Native American students. The creation of a new assignment and small group approach that meet via Zoom helped build a supportive network that enabled those who participated to successfully complete the course. Because the new assignment proved so successful, it was integrated into courses for the following years.

CSS SWK 3385 a & b

We were able to fly beneath the radar for years because our site serves a unique population of students. But the current colonial corporate agenda is one of increasingly repressive measures in education (and governance). That agenda places our flexible, experiential approach in the limelight and threatens its survival. Our site, located within a tribal and community college, is not like the other campus satellite sites which serve different populations. There seems to be little acknowledgement or interest in considering the importance of culture and context in curriculum delivery, especially by national higher learning accrediting bodies and those who don’t have the will, skill, and/or courage to risk challenging them.

I honestly believe that each voice from the margins matters. This post is the beginning of the journey which may signal the end of my formal teaching career. It is my belief that children are born curious.

curiosity 1

My grandson at age 2

Some continue to hold on to a sense of wonder, curiosity, connection, and gratitude in their adolescence.

curiosity 2

My granddaughter at age 14

The approaches we use in education can help support those gifts or extinguish them. Even in college years, my experiences have shown me that the remnants of curiosity and wonder remain and can be rekindled. But it takes intention, patience, flexibility, and dedicated work to do so in ways that are interesting, relevant, liberatory, and effective.

I hope the decision the college makes regarding the future of education takes into consideration how important these gifts are for our collective survival and well-being on the “pale blue dot” planet we all share (Sagan, 1994/2014).

References:

Benjamin F. Crabtree and William L Miller (eds.). Doing Qualitative Research., (2nd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc., 1999.

Carl Sagan (1994/2014). Pale blue dot. Random House. /Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot OFFICIAL, aired on Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey. Cosmos Studios, Inc.

Bobby Ann Starnes (2006). What we don’t know can hurt them: White teachers, Indian children. Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (5), 384-392.

Looking Back on 2021

On some levels, it is so easy to say “good riddance” to 2021. It was a year of so many losses and catastrophes. Escalating global health crises, social isolation, and environmental disasters profoundly changed our world and lives in unpredictable ways. Despite the costs involved, those of us in relatively privileged circumstances turned to technology as a way to work and connect with others.

For me, it was a time of painful losses. But 2021 also brought many blessings I never could have imagined – reconnection to friends and colleagues from the past and opportunities to make new connections that enabled me to explore the world. I was forced outside of my comfort zone as a technophobe (although not a luddite) by the need to solve technological puzzles in order to communicate and connect. Of course, I have yet to learn how to use the block editor in WordPress, and I wonder if I will ever make the time for that endeavor…

Some of the 2021 losses were almost more than I could bear. My beloved companion, Pinto, passed in July.

look back 2021 1

Pinto – February 17, 2014 – his second winter with me – “the winter of the polar vortex

I realized after his passing that he is irreplaceable.

My little parakeet, Queenie, has had to fill the empty space Pinto’s death left in my life. Of course, I can’t take Queenie on neighborhood walks, so I don’t go out very often these days. My connections to my daughter and grandchildren have also changed. They’ve become remote, the result of our differing choices for dealing with COVID, both made because of our love and concern for the wellbeing of others.

I have shed a lot of tears, but I have also experienced moments of joy and found many reasons for gratitude. I can’t list them all here, but I want all of my blogging friends to know that you have enriched my life in so many ways. There are a few I would like to thank for unexpected gifts of connection.

Early in 2021, I was asked by a dear blogging friend, Robyn, to be part of a Yarning Circle to honor connections to the land where we were standing. The experience widened my horizons and introduced me to new friends and a better understanding of the wisdom and challenges of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. I am deeply grateful to Robyn, David, Sheila, and Annette for sharing their knowledge and stories. Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you”) for your kind and welcoming presence.

Not too long after Robyn’s kind invitation, I received an email from a friend and colleague from my university days, Mel Morgenbesser. He reached out to me in his role for Alumni Relations and Development for the School of Social Work, UW – Madison. He asked if I could write a brief article about myself for the online newsletter the School published. I told him I would think about it but let him know I was buried in student papers and wasn’t sure I could promise to do anything soon. I sent him a copy of my resume (Curriculum Vitae in “academic speak”) and a link to a few things on my blog to consider. Mel graciously took the initiative to pull the pieces together and drafted an article on his own:

https://socwork.wisc.edu/2021/03/25/carol-hand-mssw-83-phd-03-teacher-advocate-author/

Mel’s kindness touched me deeply. Ultimately, his article led to another gift that I will return to after acknowledging another unexpected reconnection.

In a recent post, I briefly mentioned my experiences on a commune. In part, those memories were triggered by another email in September from a friend I hadn’t heard from for several years, Judy. She asked if I would be willing to review a book a friend of hers had written. Once again, buried in student papers, I told her that although the book sounded interesting, I couldn’t make any promises to take on other responsibilities because I was too busy teaching. She replied, “That’s okay. I was just looking for an excuse to reconnect.” And that was the beginning of our long phone conversations every other week.

looking back 2021 2

Reflections about our friendship and shared experiences deserve a separate post, but again, here I am, faced with too much work at the beginning of another semester. Let me just say that her presence in my life has continued to be a blessing. I look forward to our scheduled time together with eager anticipation on alternate Mondays. We arrived on a rural Massachusetts commune from very different places as young mothers of mixed ancestry toddlers. Together with another mother from Montreal, we started a daycare center for more than 20 children and then, each went on to other things.

Judy and I got jobs in a city 50 miles away from the commune and still laugh about the adventures we shared hitchhiking to and from work. I remember looking up in awe at the clouds in a clear blue sky as we hiked along the interstate on June days while we waited for our next ride. We both had two jobs at the same places for a while, a fancy restaurant, and a greasy spoon less than a mile away.

Yet, things changed. As the commune became ever more successful, we found ourselves in different positions with little time or opportunity to stay in touch even before we both left and ended up in different states. I severed my ties with people from the commune for many years, reconnected briefly, and then said goodbye to past connections and Facebook forever. But the connection with Judy remains deeper, different, and special. Reconnecting is an unexpected gift.

In November, another thoughtful email opened up a new opportunity. Mel’s article included a link to my blog. Chelsea (Schlecht) Rademacher, Senior Writer and Publications Manager for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, read Mel’s article and visited my blog. She asked if I would be willing to write a poem for the November issue of Badger Vibes.

I agreed to try, adding that I didn’t see myself as a poet, but sometimes words flowed through me in a way fit into a poetic format. Chelsea was a joy to work with and I want to express my deep gratitude to her for the opportunity. Here is a link to her lovely work:

https://www.uwalumni.com/news/just-breathe-by-carol-hand/

looking back 2021 3

As I looked back at 2021 to say a final goodbye today, I am grateful for gifts of connections to friends old and new, and for the opportunity I had to work in partnership with dear colleagues and exceptional students who have so many gifts to offer others in the years ahead. Sending my heartfelt thanks to all who made the journey kinder and worthwhile.

Reflections – January 5, 2022

This morning I awoke remembering a dream I had many decades ago. To be honest, I don’t remember where I was living at the time, but for some reason, it feels as though it is associated with the years I spent living on a commune. That’s another story, part of which I shared almost eight years ago.

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Queenie January 2022 2

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My memories of the dream were probably triggered by a Netflix movie I selected for my parakeet, Queenie, last night. He sang and chittered merrily as we watched a children’s movie together, “The Guardians.” It’s not the story that resonated with me. It was silly. But the vibrant moving colors that transformed darkness and fear, creating the possibility for hope and joy, made me wonder again about the existence of forces beyond what we can easily measure objectively.

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Aurora_Borealis_and_Australis_Poster

By The original uploader was 14jbella at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37486421

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In my old dream, I gazed up at a dark sky that was filled with moving, morphing shapes of vibrant colors, similar to the Aurora Borealis pictured above. The guide who has been present in my vivid dreams throughout the years told me, in thoughts more than words, that color and shapes have the ability to affect people’s emotions and energy in powerful ways, frequently outside of their conscious awareness.

As I write, I wonder if the dream came around the time when I was the “light show” coordinator for a mobile disco during my years on the commune. Or perhaps it was after I was served as an assistant for the commune video crew hired to record a Yes performance in Boston, Massachusetts. (But those are other stories, too, that I don’t believe I have written about.) I digress…

The movie and memories brought Edward Bernays to mind again, and the power of images to manipulate emotions to control “the masses.”

The Century of the Self – Part 1: “The Happiness Machine”

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Present day media provide many examples of the technique for fomenting divisiveness and fear. Yet I also think of the images Louie Schwartzberg shares that have the opposite effect.

Gratitude – “Happiness Revealed”

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As I prepare for another semester, I am contemplating once again how to weave these messages together to show the contrasts. Both realities coexist. It’s important to know both. How else would we realize that we all have a choice? We can decide to critically assess alternative perspectives and actions in challenging times like these and work toward inclusive, peaceful, consensual solutions. I hope I can encourage my students and others to consider how to model and share alternatives that help individuals and communities strengthen connections to each other and to the earth we all share.

Reflections – January 3, 2022

Fitting liberatory lessons into limited timeframes

within little boxes on semester syllabi

as critical resources once available without cost

disappear from the internet

is becoming an ever-more challenging,

time-consuming undertaking

but it’s still worth the effort

even though I may not be here

to see whether my work matters

in dawning new years yet to come

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sunny morning march 2019

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Sending gratitude to all of my dear blogging friends

for your friendship and support over the past years

along with my blessings for the new year

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