At this point in my life, I greet each morning with gratitude for all of the gifts I’ve been given and for the ancestors and wise beings who have been a guiding and protective presence. I ask only that they help me hold center with compassion, patience, and integrity in good times and bad as I walk my path, perhaps chosen consciously in a previous lifetime. I try to follow the wisdom conveyed by the Ojibwe principle of “doing things when the time is right,” and I hope that this is the right time to share where I am in my manuscript editing journey.
This morning I awoke with a deep but gentle sorrow and tears in my eyes thinking about what my ancestors endured, and what too many people around the globe are experiencing now because we have failed to learn from the past.
In a few days, November 24, 2022, people in the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday meant to honor the sharing of food and companionship between colonists fleeing from oppression in England and the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (now referred to as North America). But a mere three centuries after that romanticized celebration of unity, the following excepts describe the consequences of hospitality for those who helped the new arrivals survive.
This post will not be an easy read for those with tender hearts. It’s drawn from the chapter that stopped my editing process eight years ago. I often say I stopped because I was too busy teaching. That’s partly true. Mostly I stopped because it was too difficult for me to set aside my deep sorrow each week in order to be fully present for students. Yet my muse tells me it’s time to move on, and time to share these excepts with others.
Although centuries of colonial domination affected all aspects of the lives of Native American people, the effects were, in Peter’s* language, “off the radar.” Few outside of tribal communities knew about the dire conditions Indigenous people endured before 1928. That was the year the “Miriam Report” was published, 891 pages in length, documenting the social and economic conditions of tribes. The report,
… revealed an existence filled with poverty, suffering, and discontent. Indians suffered from disease and malnutrition, had a life expectancy of only forty-four years, and had an average annual per capita income of only one hundred dollars. The report reached two basic conclusions: (1) The BIA ** [Bureau of Indian Affairs] was inadequately meeting the needs of Indians, especially in the areas of health and education; and (2) Indians were being excluded from the management of their own affairs. (O’Brien, 1989, pp. 80-81)
The conditions for children and families documented in the Miriam Report have direct links to the present issues that Carrie* [the tribal child welfare coordinator], Peter* [a State regional field representative who worked with countries and tribes], and Karen* [the counselor for the tribal alcohol and drug addiction treatment program] described in their interviews. Given the crucial importance of the issues the Miriam Report researchers covered, excerpts from the report follow. The excepts also illustrate how prevailing beliefs and perspectives at the time the study was conducted influence the interpretations and analyses reported by otherwise highly qualified and objective researchers.
Family and Community Development. The Indian Service has not appreciated the fundamental importance of family life and community activities in the social and economic development of a people. The long continued policy of removing children from the home and placing them for years in boarding school largely disintegrates the family and interferes with developing normal family life. The belief has apparently been that the shortest road to civilization is to take children away from their parents and insofar as possible to stamp out the old Indian life. The Indian community activities particularly have often been opposed if not suppressed. The fact has been appreciated that both the family life and the community activities have many objectionable features, but the action taken has often been the radical one of attempting to destroy rather than the educational process of gradual modification and development” (p. 15) …
Strains Imposed by the System of Education. Indian families are subjected to peculiar strains growing out of their relation to the government. Some of the projects of the government, notably the appointment of field workers to deal with home conditions, have tended to strengthen family bonds. But on the whole government practices may be said to have operated against the development of wholesome family life.
Chief of these is the long continued policy of educating the children in boarding schools far from their homes, taking them from their parents when small and keeping them away until parents and children become strangers to each other. The theory was once held that the problem of the race could be solved by educating the children, not to return to the reservation, but to be absorbed one by one into the white population. This plan involved the permanent breaking of family ties, but provided the for the children a substitute for their own family life by placing them in good homes of whites for vacations and sometimes longer, the so-called “outing system.” The plan failed, partly because it was weak on the vocational side, but largely by reason of its artificiality. Nevertheless, this worst of its features still persists, and many children today have not seen their parents or brothers and sisters in years… (pp. 573-574) …
The real tragedy, however, is not loss by death but the disruption of family life and its effect on the character of both parents and children. The personal care of helpless offspring is the natural expression of affection no less among Indians than among parents of other races. No observer can doubt that Indian parents are very fond of their children, and though the care they give may be from the point of view of white parents far from adequate, yet the emotional needs of both parents and children are satisfied… (p. 575)…
Effects of the System upon Children. The effects of early depravation of family life are apparent in the children. They too are the victims of an arrested development. The experience of the white race abundantly demonstrates that institutional children, even with the best of care, have greater health and personality difficulties than children in families. Affection of an intimate sort is essential to development. Recognizing this fact the better societies for the care of dependent white children have for many years been placing their wards out in families as rapidly as the very delicate adjustment involved can be made. Even in institutions for the care of dependent white children the children are there because they have no homes or because normal home life is impossible, and very few are taken forcibly from their parents. But many children are in Indian schools as the result of coercion of one kind or another and they suffer under a sense of separation from home and parents. Since initiative and independence are not developed under the rigid routine of the school, the whole system increases the child’s sentiment for dependence on parental decisions and children in their teens go back to their mother with a six-year old’s feeling for her.
Under normal conditions the experience of family life is of itself a preparation for future parenthood. Without this experience of the parent-child relation throughout the developmental period Indian young people must suffer under a serious disability in their relations with their own children. No kind of formal training can possibly make up for this lack, nor can the outing system when the child is half grown supplement what he has missed in his own family and with his own race in earlier years. (pp. 576-577).
This is just an except from one chapter of a rather long manuscript to try to show a small part of the legacy of loss that has continued to affect each generation of Native Americans in the US, as it did for me this morning and many other times in my life. It’s a deep, often unhealed, wound survivors of genocide and colonial domination carry and pass on to the next generations.
I don’t have the answers for resolving these issues. Perhaps I will have a few ideas when I finish editing my manuscript. But for now, I offer this post in hopes that it will inspire others to be both grateful for the gifts they have been given and compassionate for those who suffer.
* Note that these are not people’s real names.
** Here’s a link for more information about the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): https://www.bia.gov/bia
Sharon O’Brien, American Indian Tribal Governments (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), pp. 80-81.
Lewis Meriam and Others, The Problem of Indian Administration. Report of a Survey Made at the Request of Honorable Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior, and Submitted to Him, February 21, 1928. (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1928).
In loving memory of my mother, a gentle and gifted healer, who was born on an Ojibwe reservation on March 1, 1921, and died on October 10, 2010, just before what would have been her 89th Thanksgiving.
My mother, age 7, before removal to a Catholic-run Indian Boarding School
My mother on her Confirmation Day. It wasn’t until her later years during the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease that she told me how much she hated the Catholic Church because of what they did to her. She never shared those stories.
My mother at home after Boarding School. She was the first Ojibwe from her reservation to attend the local public high school in the nearby Euro-American border town and, despite discrimination, or perhaps because of it, graduated as salutatorian of her class.
Retirement from the tribal clinic she helped establish on her reservation.
What I learned from my research changed me
Everyone I met had a story to tell
but few if any had someone to listen
deeply, intently, without judging
to the fascinating kaleidoscope
of differing experiences and views
And it led me to wonder –
Would the world be different if more people learned to be listeners?
Just curious …
I realized, too, that a researcher’s role is to listen
but now, as a writer, I have many stories to share
including my own as a seeker, listener, and recorder –
a sacred re-search for a deeper understanding of our collective journey
and I’m just curious …
Who will listen to the stories – deeply, intently, without judging?
A humble weathered hollyhock – a captured moment in the life of a simply beautiful resilient living being
It’s been almost two months since my last post, and perhaps this will be my last. It’s too soon to tell. I still have to finalize part one (11 chapters), with 3 more parts to follow (51 chapters in all). I feel a sense of urgency to finish. (I even had a dream about a future where a group of people were sitting around a campfire, their main source of light, reading a battered copy of my book. They were looking for ideas about how to rebuild a sense of community. Yeah, sure, I thought when I woke. It made me laugh…)
The world has changed in ways I could never have imagined in the eight and a half years I’ve been blogging. There are still moments of peace and beauty, kindness, and everyday acts of heroism but they’ve not been enough to stem the tide of cruelty, stupidity, and unreason that now dominate almost every social institution.
That’s why I have decided to finally retire from teaching. There’s no longer any wiggle room for me to challenge the oppressive status quo in dumbed-down standardized curricula. Academic institutions have increasingly become solely concerned with their survival, competing to maximize the number of students they can attract while cutting faculty and sacrificing the quality of the education they provide. It’s especially tragic when education fails to take a stand as libraries and school boards are under attack to make sure future generations have no opportunities to learn to think critically, feed their curiosity to learn more, or express their joy and wonder through creative arts.
Now, I prefer to garden,
A gift from squirrel gardeners
Potentilla, cone flowers (Echinacea), and nine bark in bloom
Carrots, tomatoes, and chard nearing harvest
to spend time with family,
My Nephew and his twin sons (3 ½), my granddaughter, and daughter
at the Park Point Beach on Lake Superior
Meeting my grandnephews for the first time as their dad introduces us.
My nephew and his sons at lunch – Sam (blue shirt) and Ben (black shirt)
A family gathering – my granddaughter, grandson, daughter, nephew, grandnephews, and me
to dog sit,
Sweet Cinnamon spent a few days with me while my daughter was traveling
and to work with two dear friends who are helping as readers for the book manuscript I’m editing, We Remember: Stories about Ojibwe Child Welfare. It’s based on a critical ethnographic study I conducted two decades ago. I had to put it aside many times for too many years in order to teach.
In the process of answering my readers’ questions about things I assumed everyone knows, I find myself having to explore issues more deeply and completely so I can explain them with greater clarity. The process has brought us closer, even though one friend lives in Oregon and the other in Alabama. They both feel the manuscript is compelling and still relevant today, a fact I find depressing. Yet that makes it all the more important for me to finish and share it while I can.
In the process of preparing the manuscript for possible publication, I realized that some of my older blog posts need to be kept private. They’re posts about the study findings. Few people have viewed those posts in recent years anyway. It will take some tedious time to change them from public to private, though. There are at least 30 of them!
I am deeply grateful for the blogging friends I had when the essays were posted. They provided incredibly helpful and supportive feedback, much like my manuscript readers now.
I am also grateful for the newer blogging friends who continue to share inspiration, knowledge, beauty, and kindness. I will try to keep up with your blogs even though I doubt I will post much in the future.
An aside, I’ve had to block comments on all posts older than 45 days because of a barrage of spammers this year – more than 100 a day on some days. The only open space left for comments on my blog will be this post for a short while and on the contact page. Some days, only one spammer finds it…
I can’t make any promises about my ability to respond to comments in a timely fashion, though. I need to stay in my own culture and “language” to be able to keep editing.
Sending my gratitude and best wishes to all. 💜
June 22, 2022
One can’t predict air quality on the southwest side of the city where I live. It depends on the time of day, which way the wind blows, and whether residents decide to build bonfires that smolder during times of thermal inversion when the smoke and smell will continue to linger in stagnant air. Obviously, that creates challenges for those of us who rely on open windows and fans in the summer rather than on air conditioners. But last night after a couple uncharacteristically hot days, the air was clear and sweet. The intake/exhaust window fan worked. But it needs to be removed in the morning before the heat of the day arrives.
This morning, the process of removing the fan provided a vantage point to witness a wee drama unfolding. The raucous calls of crows filled the air. Three crows came into view and landed on the power lines, crying out excitedly as if in warning just as a rather large skunk came waddling across my neighbor’s backyard. The crows seemed to be chasing and terrorizing the skunk, usually a nocturnal animal, perhaps a mother trying to find food for a hungry brood. She briefly disappeared amid the tall weeds behind a shed, and emerged by the left back corner and began digging furiously. She was able to find momentary safety and the crows took flight and quickly disappeared.
The shed sanctuary has been home to skunks and rabbits in past years so I’ve learned to be attentive when venturing out at night, especially when my little dog, Pinto, was with me. His brief encounter with a baby skunk during his first spring here taught me how important that was. Fortunately, the baby skunk hadn’t yet learned how to aim his/her spray but it was still a very stinky adventure.
This may be the last post on my blog for a while. These days, it’s hard to find time to blog, as the following post I began a few days ago explains. Today, I decided to share these brief reflections along with a post from eight years ago. Although most of the links no longer work, the old post still seems relevant now. I truly wish things had changed for the better since then. We haven’t made much progress coming together as communities to work collectively as an inclusive team on the crucial issues we all face. I’m not sure what to do to help that happen.
June 16, 2022: Rainy Day Respite – Revisiting the Past
Mid-June, and the garden plants are still struggling to emerge. May was cold and rainy, and early June was dry. I had to replant bean and cucumber seeds, and I may have to do the same for chard. The weeds have been hardy and prolific, though, covering every inch of soil. But still, I am grateful for the gift of a piece of land once peopled by my Anishinaabe ancestors, and before them, the Dakota. I’m grateful for the chance to try to try to revitalize the soil and provide a safe haven for my plant and animal relations. It’s not an easy undertaking these days when too few seem to understand the responsibility we all carry to be wise stewards for the sake of future generations.
But today, it’s too wet to garden or mow an overgrown lawn.
I need to transition cultures anyway to work on a manuscript I began in 2015 that’s still waiting to be edited from beginning to end. I’ve edited the beginning chapters at least 30 times but I want to revisit the beginning again. I’m not the same person featured in the most recent draft of the introduction. And authentic ethnographic work needs to include an honest accounting of who the author is in order to help readers discern the trustworthiness of what is being presented as “truth,” at least as seen through the author’s lenses.
A few days ago as I was beginning my transition, I noticed something that symbolized differences in cultures. Two plants still constrained in planters that are slowly dying. It hurts me whenever I notice living beings struggling – earth, lakes and rivers, flora, fauna, and humans.
The effects of being unaware of other beings and the metaphor of constrained roots inspired me to venture into my file cabinets to find a paper I wrote years ago. It was about my commune experiences for a course I was taking on organizational theory. I briefly contemplated sharing the paper. It describes how changing positions within an organization, the commune, affected what I saw and understood about being true to one’s roots. It was a descriptive assessment of the impact of power and positionality on peoples’ ability to view “reality” and their consequent responsibility to be aware of how their behavioral choices affect others’ wellbeing.
In Search of Community
“Is it not right, then, that education should help you, as you grow up, to perceive the importance of bringing about a world in which there is no conflict either within or without, a world in which you are not in conflict with your neighbor or with a group of people because the drive of ambition, which is the desire for position and power, has utterly ceased? And is it possible to create a society in which there will be no inward or outward conflict?”
(Krishnamurti, 1964, Think on these things, p. 52)
Living through the polar vortex forced me to question the wisdom of continuing to try to survive on my own. Of course, I am not totally alone. I have supportive friends and family, but this past winter they all had their own challenges to attend to, their own leaking roofs and freezing pipes, icy roads to travel to get places not served by public transportation, and never-ending snow to shovel despite artic temperatures. It has led me to the realization that living the way we do in this neighborhood isn’t wise or sustainable. Each family has its own separate dwelling, heating system, and needs to attend to all of the chores associated with survival on their own.
As much as I would like to head off to an intentional community, I am skeptical. I already tried that, twice. I am still laughing about the second attempt. A group of successful, smart people coalesced to prepare for the end of the world in a small farming community in central Illinois. I wasn’t there because of the nonsense the charismatic leader espoused. I was there because it made sense to share the work of growing food, contributing one’s unique skills to a collective, and reducing one’s carbon footprint on the environment. But the need many people have to follow leaders has never ceased to baffle me. Taken to extremes it is hilariously ridiculous or frighteningly dangerous.
Photo Credit: Carnival Swing – miss-thrifty.co.uk
When I think of collective living, I think of people in my second alternative community experience. The leader organized a community-wide event for members — a chance to raise their IQs, for a moderate-sized fee of course. One of the members offered his large home as the training venue, and many attended the evening event. Attendees were greeted at the door and were given small brown paper bags as they entered. At the appointed time, the lights were dimmed and attendees were told to strip down to their underwear and breathe in and out of the paper bag for 10 minutes. They were promised that this exercise would improve their IQs – it would make them smarter!
(Then, I didn’t have internet tools to research the scientific validity of these claims, but in writing this essay many years later, it seemed wise to give it a try. Breathing into a paper bag for 5 minutes does seem to be a credible treatment for anxiety-triggered panic attacks – it helps rebalance elevated oxygen levels from over-breathing during attacks by increasing CO2 levels in the blood stream. People often feel immediate relief. So in this ingenious money-maker, creating a stressor and then reducing its impact left people with the impression that they felt better and brighter as a result of the exercise! Yet I only discovered wily walnut’s claim that the “Brain Bubbles” created by blowing in and out of a paper bag is one of the techniques one can use to raise IQ.
My partner and I were invited, but we declined. I heard about the event later from a friend who did go and felt even less intelligent as a result. My partner and I decided to leave the periphery of the community soon after.
The reasons for leaving my first attempt at “community” were not as amusing. Like the second community, the first was organized around a charismatic leader. But the followers were much younger, as was I when I first arrived, a single mother with a one and a half year old daughter. We hitchhiked, my little one in her stroller packed with necessary supplies and $20 in my pocket, trusting the kindness of the universe to help us survive. We weren’t escaping abuse, merely a mind and spirit-numbing environment of never-ending criticism and cold indifference — a life lacking warmth and laughter and possibilities for something better than the pursuit of empty material comforts. In the next four and a half years, our lives were transformed.
By the time we arrived, the alternative community had been in existence for more than 3 years and had grown from less than 20 people sharing a treehouse to more than 200 people spread across four towns in northwestern Massachusetts. I willingly agreed to accept the principles espoused by the community, no drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity. Newer arrivals like my daughter and me were initially relegated to live with more than 100 members in a rural setting that included a large house and dormitory with a smaller two-story shed. Despite my battered self-esteem, I looked around the community and noticed more than 25 children under five roaming about who were without care or supervision. With two other mothers, I set out to create a daycare center. We were able to renovate the first floor of the two-story shed, adding a sink that I helped plumb, and a stove and refrigerator we were able to get for free. We scrubbed and painted, and found some furniture and made sure kids had meals and supervision.
During the first few months, there were a number of observations that raised my curiosity about cultural differences. I watched as people pushed each other out of the way so they could be the first on the bus to attend meetings organized by the community leader. They competed for the white sweaters that proved they were more spiritually evolved than others and bullied and demeaned those who were forced to wear brown sweaters showing their lack of spirituality. I pondered the disconnect between the spirituality they gave lip service to and their actions. I also pondered it as I witnessed how mothers who previously ignored their children suddenly were only concerned about their children, stashing private bags of food for their children in the daycare center refrigerator. Unlike other mothers, I felt the need to make sure all children had the best we could provide.
I was also aware of how disrespected and patronized I felt by those who were in the upper echelon within the rural setting hierarchy, explaining it away to myself as another indicator of my many deficiencies. Despite my lack of self-confidence, there was still a noticeable difference between me and most of the members I encountered. I still thought about each of my actions and made my own decisions. I was perplexed by my observations that otherwise smart caring people did whatever the leader told them to do without question, even if it contradicted their deeply held values. Almost everyone else did unkind, foolish or illegal things because the leader told them to do it. Yet I stayed because I genuinely cared about my new friends despite all of these differences.
Slowly over the years, I gained skills and had experiences I doubt would ever have come my way in another setting. I worked outside jobs as a waitress, nurse’s aide, donut finisher, receptionist, and seamstress, and as an attendant for an institution for people with cognitive and developmental challenges. As my status in the community rose, I moved from setting to setting. I travelled to the south to promote the community radio show, served as the booking agent and lightshow operator for a mobile disco, and ended up as the general office manager for the community, a buffer between the leader and ruling elite and the 200 members of the community. As my status in the community shifted, so did my ability to see more of what was really occurring. At first, I had believed most people followed the publicly proclaimed principles. I even believed that when I was the office manager, collecting members’ weekly donations, allocating funds to members to cover their needs, purchasing household supplies and food for twelve different enclaves, and buffering members from the never-ending demands for more money by the elite.
Again I pondered cultural differences. There were members who worked multiple jobs to donate all they could for the well-being of the community as a whole. There were members who never donated anything, but who were exempt because the leader favored them. There were members who were so wounded by life that they were unable to contribute anything but still needed resources multiple times a day every day. My carefully calculated food purchases to make sure each person in each house could have two eggs a day on Saturday and Sunday were glibly blown away by members from privileged backgrounds who thanked me for buying the eggs, proclaiming “I had six eggs this morning and it was such a treat.” I wondered how many children would be denied protein as a result.
But these were minor annoyances. There were deeper secrets I finally discovered – the way people’s hard-earned dollars were used to subsidize the costs of the leader’s alcohol and cocaine addiction. I thought long and hard about whether to stay and try to help someone whom I thought at the time wanted to recover or leave for my daughter’s sake. I came up with an alternative that I felt was reasonable. My daughter’s father agreed to take care of her for the summer. I would stay for that time to see what I could do to help the community get back on track. Two days after my daughter left, the leader of the community accosted me, yelling. “What the FUCK did you DO! Sending your daughter away was SO FUCKED UP!” (Those of you who have read my previous blog posts probably can guess how I responded.) I looked him at him calmly and replied in a quiet voice, “If you want to understand why I act as I do, it would be better to ask me. I always consider important decisions very carefully knowing that it is my karma not someone else’s if I make mistakes. It is not your right to question or judge my decisions. And it’s certainly not your right to tell me what to do.” He turned red in the face and screamed “GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT NOW!!!!” This was the only command I obeyed, but based on my own decision that it was the wisest course of action. It was not until decades later that I learned about the sexual abuse women and children experienced at the hands of the leader and his closest cronies, something many former members still prefer to ignore as they continue to believe they are “more spiritually evolved.”
So as I ponder the wisdom of living in an intentional community, I remember these experiences and ask if it is possible to find people who can really build a community based on comradeship. Can people escape the need to follow a leader? The organizational structure that both communities and every organization I have worked for shared in common was based on hierarchical power distinctions. Those organizations that were the most dysfunctional took oppression a bit further, using the “hub” style of management. The person in charge developed personal connections with each member or employee separately and discouraged the development of inter-collegial relationships by pointing out the deficiencies of all the others, a divide and conquer tactic that isolated people from each other and made them easier to manipulate. A picture is worth a thousand words here.
Photo Credit: Hub-Management Powerpoint slide
The three-dimensional picture of the carnival swing (above) is a more effective illustration. Each person is isolated, reliant on a thin tether that connects them to the power source for their continued survival, a power structure they are incapable of penetrating because of its distance and protective isolation. Each worker or member is easily replaceable, a part of the ride. How can such a structure do anything other than encourage individualism and selfish preoccupation? Can intentional communities undo the unconscious programming of what “leadership” means to those socialized in the dominant culture?
Perhaps I am stuck in my romantic notions of “traditional” Ojibwe culture. In order to become an adult, each individual was encouraged to find his or her own gifts in order to more fully contribute from a grounded foundation to the well-being and survival of the community as a whole while protecting the environment for future generations. I wonder if this ideal is possible. I wonder if the moral of the Sufi story that John McKnight relates is true, “You will only learn what you already know.” Do we as a people already know that our survival really does depend on everyone else who shares the planet? Do we really already know what it takes to live with others in inclusive, respectful, constructive, peaceful ways?
For the sake of my grandchildren and generations to come, I hope we already do know or are still able to learn.
Allowing others in power to tell us to do things that we feel or know are harmful was all too common for commune members during my time there. It was something I had hoped to escape, but it seems to be a universal issue regardless of cultural or organizational context. I believe we are still responsible for the choices we make. Those in power are responsible for theirs only, not ours. Our best hope for a healthier future is directly connected to our willingness to make choices that nurture the health of the earth, each other, and all our relations.
May 7, 2022
Up before dawn to get ready for class. I planned on reading the final two student papers before class after I took a shower. But I knew that what I had prepared for the two classes today wouldn’t do. This has been an extraordinarily difficult semester for students. Yet the students kept trying to do their best. I wondered how I could honor their hard work and as I showered, words flowed through me – “the art of letting go.”
Even though we are scheduled to see each other again in the fall, one never knows what surprises life may bring. Each moment together could be our last.
A Courageous Red Poll – May 2, 2022
A Curious Squirrel – May 2, 2022
The Art of Letting Go
We spend a lifetime learning the art of letting go
when we begin there’s so much we don’t know
about the highs and lows, the good times and bad
perhaps in the end grateful for all the chances we’ve had
to know both joy and sorrow, failure and success
to love and lose, to laugh and cry, to blame and bless
finally learning we have only this moment today
to create memories that will help us keep finding our way
I know that words cannot express the gifts that come from students. Even though I have read the articles I’ve assigned many times, the papers students wrote during the past semester pointed out things I had never noticed or considered. Each point of view was unique, each focused on different issues, and each was written in a different voice. The lesson of research, really – to explore and consider as many vantage points as possible when trying to understand an issue.
But the most profound gift was their inspiration. No matter how overburdened their lives were, they showed up and tried – tenacious, resilient, and willing to consider uncomfortable truths. They wanted to learn all they could because they believe it’s possible to help make the world a healthier, kinder, more peaceful place for all. It’s not just wars that have been an enduring presence throughout history, though. There have also been never-ending acts of creativity, kindness, and heroism, many of which are not mentioned in history books, or these days, by mainstream media. We cover that in classes, too.
Each group of students inspires me to keep learning and trying new things. Who could ask for a better job even though it also means learning the art of letting go?
The night after participating in a virtual political convention to choose candidates to endorse for state races, I awoke from a dream. The details remain a bit foggy, but I remember being in a car that I couldn’t steer. It was racing in never-ending circles, seemingly controlled by remote external forces. There was no clear purpose or destination in sight. Just unending circular movement in a dark, barren, asphalt-covered landscape.
It reminded me of the convention and my recent, though distant, involvement in the political process. The convention itself felt unwelcoming, focused on rules and the need to appear inclusive by making meaningful dialogue impossible. In fairness, though, I doubt there’s a way to effectively hold a Zoom meeting with 300-plus people, some of whom were seasoned political operatives with clear agendas, and many of whom were strangers and newcomers. All had different perspectives without any opportunities to connect. We were all just tiny faces and names on a screen. Those who jumped through the hoops to speak rarely seemed to care about focusing on things that would matter to the group or the state overall.
I couldn’t stay until the end, but there was one hopeful candidate with clear visions about what needed to be done – protecting clean water, building jobs through sustainable alternative energy initiatives, and supporting workers’ rights. She spoke with passion about hopeful possibilities and highlighted a successful track record for building necessary relationships to overcome political divides. Fortunately, two-thirds of the conference delegates voted to endorse her as the party candidate for state senate, the necessary threshold for approval of her candidacy.
I understand why many people are unhappy with politics and politicians. Why shouldn’t they be? I just wish more people knew at least a little more about US and global history before voting! And a little bit more about the dire situations the world is facing on every level right now from sources other than mainstream or social media. Maybe then people would be able to stand with others who stand for something positive, hopeful, and worthwhile. Until then, I fear we’ll continue going in circles as the world falls apart around us, unable to collectively act on issues that will affect generations yet to come.
I have noticed that community meetings are not really designed as listening sessions or opportunities to create a collective sense of dignity and belonging. Yet the choices are clear. One is the world we have now, where people are programmed to continue in a perpetual winner-take-all tug-of-war to impose their ideologies on others in two party systems that pit the 99 percent against each other for petty reasons. The other is one where the 99 percent work together to build a world where life, love, and laughter matter more than power, money, and things. Maybe then we could finally set a course forward toward a kinder, more peaceful world and steer our collective journey in the same direction…
you are special
I’m not telling you this to boost your ego
too often you discount your own gifts
it’s a way to shirk the responsibility
you agreed to carry this lifetime
by convincing yourself you’re unworthy
you will know when it’s your time to speak or remain silent
find strength in simplicity and moments of beauty and laughter
to help you stay the course in times of loneliness and doubt
when you walk into the crowded room today to testify
before strangers, friends, and foes,
media, spectators, and decision-makers
I will be there to help you find the words
to touch hearts and open minds to wiser possibilities
it’s not your job to make those changes
it’s just your job to help others realize
they have choices and abilities to lead
what they choose is not your burden
though it will weigh on your heart nonetheless
Recently, it’s been difficult for me to post what I write or visit others’ blogs. And I’ve been reflecting about why that might be. I remember how I answered the question “Why do I write?” in a free course I took on WordPress years ago, Blogging 101. “I write because Mickey can’t.”
Mickey was confined to a life in a nursing home. A work accident had left him paralyzed and struggling to frame his thoughts in words. One had to slow down and listen carefully to make sense of his new, unfamiliar language. Too few nursing home staff had the time, interest, and/or skill to do so. As a mother with a young daughter to care for, I worked the “graveyard shift.” I had time to learn Mickey’s language and decipher what he needed. Respect. Soft hands. Kindness. Presence. And laughter.
I still write because Mickey can’t. But now I realize I write and teach for the sake of others who can’t speak, either. The earth, the trees, the lakes, and the rivers who give us life but are not honored for doing so. The plants and animals that feed us. The birds, butterflies and bees that give us beauty. What I write is shared for free with anyone who happens to read or listen.
The small salary I make when teaching comes from students who often assume debts they may have to carry for decades, so I try to make what I share worth the cost. With the trend of declining enrollments, it’s uncertain if this signals the end of my teaching career. But writing and teaching have never been about money, power, or fame. Sharing is just celebrating life.
Building and planting new gardens – June 24, 2013
These days, words and teaching are not enough for me. The things that I feel are important to say may be lost in a cacophony of voices competing for attention. I care about the world my daughter, grandchildren, students, and the generations yet to come will inherit. I find myself on steep learning curves to explore more direct ways to share. I’ve agreed to serve as a delegate for the political party that I find to be less toxic to select a candidate the party should support for the state senate. As a community and state, we’re facing uphill battles on environmental and social justice issues that need to be championed by the most capable, tenacious, ethical servants of the people.
There are no guarantees of success for those who are willing to courageously propose alternatives that reverse the corporate exploitation of people and the environment, but it’s crucial that those who want to wield power, or those who are forced to by default, honestly represent the best interests of people and the environment who are not able to speak for themselves. But politics are always a gamble. There’s no way to predict how people will react to wielding power or how effective they will be when dealing with others who have conflicting views.
That means the state of the world is also up to each of us, too. I believe we have responsibility to do what we can to learn and act in ethical, well-informed ways. That belief inspired me to volunteer for several community-based initiatives to help explore what’s happening from many different vantage points. I’ll explain these initiatives in a moment because others might find these various opportunities intriguing as well.
Changing landscape after the willow was damaged in a winter storm – June 4, 2018
First, though, I feel it’s important to mention that I have been fascinated by the “natural” environment all of my life. As a little girl, I preferred the woods, stream, and pond near my house more than the company of children my own age. It was a place of wonder to explore and a sanctuary away from the noise and busyness of my home and neighborhood. As a teen, I preferred the company of elders and spending time on the Allegheny River that flowed in front of my family’s musty summer cottage. When I attended college, my goal was to study ecology, a subject that wasn’t offered yet. Instead, my world was expanded through the discovery of other cultures and literature I had not read before. Ultimately, I ended up working in jobs that applied ecological frameworks to human society and institutions.
Yet, I just passed the age marker that signals the importance of doing what I love the most while I still can – learning new things about the wonders of life and sharing them with anyone who will listen. When my mother was this age, 75, she was mid-stage in the painstakingly gradual loss of choices due to Alzheimer’s disease. As her legal guardian for fourteen years, I witnessed her heartrending transition from a gifted nurse to someone who could no longer speak a clear sentence, moving her from her lakefront home to congregate elder housing and then to round-the-clock assisted care.
So I decided to do something I love. Keep learning. There are so many things I don’t know. Recent patterns of drought and deluge have compacted the soil in my yard. I tested some soil last year because the blueberry bushes were struggling, and I found that the soil was extremely alkaline despite the surrounding pine trees. Last year’s extended drought meant frequent watering, so I’ll need to test the tap water, too, to see if the ph-balance of the water affected the reading. I plan to continue exploring how to achieve a healthy acid/alkaline balance and improve the overall health of the soil using natural, doable, affordable methods.
Gardens recovering after some rain – July 29, 2021
I also want to gain knowledge and skills that will help with significant climate transitions that will become more likely given ongoing environmental destruction, over-consumption by wealthier people and nations, and changing weather patterns. I’ve taken a few first steps.
I joined the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS for short, and took the obligatory “skywarn” training from the National Weather Service. I have become a “trained weather spotter.” The required “WeatherYourWay” rain gauge for CoCoRaHS volunteers to use for measuring precipitation is finally out of its box, waiting to be set up. Perhaps my grandson can help me put in the recommended 4” X 4” post to mount it once the ground here thaws.
Here’s a little bit more about CoCoRaHS:
“… CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. We are now in all fifty states.”
I also joined “scistarter,” an organization for volunteers who want to learn more and participate in “citizen science.” There are many intriguing topics to study. Here’s a link to explore possible projects: https://blog.scistarter.org/featured-projects/2022/03/five-spring-tacular-projects-to-get-you-outside-this-season/
The topic I chose to focus on as a beginning is “iseechange.org.” Following is the brief overview from the website:
GOAL Our climate is changing — so are we.
TASK Share your experiences and collect data to help our communities.
WHERE Global, anywhere on the planet.
What you see in your backyard, neighborhood, and city is important to our understanding of how climate change and weather affect our communities. Your observations and block-by-block insights can help cities, engineers and local organizations advocate for and create solutions to climate challenges.
We welcome and host observations from people in 118 countries around the world and counting. We are also currently working with partners in select cities on specialized investigations.
If you or your community has a question or hypothesis about how climate is changing your area, you can also use your ISeeChange account to collect data and answer those questions.
The only thing certain about the future is that changes will continue. It seems to me that the only way to prepare for change is to learn what we can now and share what we learn with others. I am grateful for the chance to do so and for all I learn from you when I have time to visit your blogs. Sending my best wishes to all.
Here’s a list of the links embedded above in case you are interested in learning more:
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.”
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.