What Can We Do To Fix This?

I’ve been avoiding looking at my privilege for a long time.

While I realize I’m a white male in a mostly white society, for most of my life I wasn’t aware of my privilege (which is part of the problem).

I usually fell into statements like…

I am fortunate.
My life is blessed.

Without looking too much beyond that.

When I think about race and racism, I feel stuck. I feel like nothing I say will change the mess of a system we now have. So why am I saying anything? Partly, it has to do with being a writer and an educator; through writing, I often come to understand my own thinking and I feel like I need to do that before I can share it or help others to understand their thinking. More importantly, though, is that I’m realizing that writing is not enough. The injustices in the world are calling out once again that it is time for action.

Below are two, recent Facebook posts (written by other people) that I hope you will ponder for more than a quick read. I have re-read them several times and they are both a call to action.
The second post was written by the parent of a former student; Sam Hosey is a man that I respect — an intelligent, involved and caring parent, whose opinion as a person and as a black man, I value.

#1

In America – because I am a human who happens to have white skin, I can do all of these things without thinking twice:

I can be arrested without fear of being murdered (#GeorgeFloyd)
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can sleep in my own home (#BreonnaTaylor)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)

White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.

#BlackLivesMatter

THIS IS NOT A COMPREHENSIVE LIST. It goes deeper and longer and so many injustices never saw the light of day.

I did not write this…feel free to share it…

______________________________________________________________

#2
By Sam Hosey

Thank you to all of my friends, who happen to be white, (or non-black) that have spoken up and spoken out. Many of you are my childhood friends and former co-workers whom I love dearly and I know many of you feel the same. So what do we do next? That’s a question I get asked often. First, keep your eyes open for injustices, but also look beyond the blatant racist acts and look for disproportionate treatment in our institutions. Second, call out your friends, relatives and even employers on their biased habits. Here are some suggestions…(and ask what can you do to fix this?)
* Read the book “White Fragility”
* Ask why is my church predominately white?
* Ask why my company or department isn’t 14% black (percentage of black population) at every level (entry level to executives)?
* Ask why the nonprofit board I’m on is so white?
* How many black people are in my circle of actual friends that I can talk to and listen to?
* How many black teachers has my child had in school?
* How many black neighbors do I have?
* How many black people are city council members?
* How many black public servants are there in my community?
* How many black people have I helped groom professionally speaking?
* Ask why are most of my local news anchors white?
* Ask when the last time I saw a white person brutalized on the news vs. the last time I saw a black person brutalized?
* Ask why are nearly all owners of NFL and NBA sports franchises white but players about 75% black?
* Ask why are most university presidents white?
* Ask why are athletic directors and D1 football/basketball coaches white, but the players mostly black?
* Ask why do I have such a problem with black athletes — who come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds and generate billions for the NCAA and millions for the school — getting paid, but are okay with white coaches getting millions?
* Ask why is the hero or leading character in my favorite movie white?
* Ask what programs does my company sponsor to uplift the black population in our community?
* Ask why are the rankings of “best schools” and “best neighborhoods” and “best cities to live” are always predominantly white?

I could go on. To bridge these gaps it will take very specific and intentional steps from white people. Attend meetings for the city council, the school board, your HOA, your nonprofit, your church, your company’s hiring panel and call this stuff out. Challenge other people who are in charge to fix it. Recruit, start action-based diversity programs, be welcoming, call out injustice and the wrong we see. It won’t do much if a couple people do it, but if a few million do, then we can effect change pretty fast and we won’t have to see racist cops killing people anymore. Thanks for listening.❤️

If you want to watch/listen to something to help kick start you, peep this out…

________________________________________

Wrap up…in direct response to Dr. DiAngelo’s video…and the two posts from above —

I’m the white progressive Dr. DiAngelo is talking about in the above video. I see that now. I do feel that I have tried to inform myself on race issues to some extent: attending diversity trainings and taking implicit bias tests, reading many books by black authors, singing in a mixed race gospel choir, many relationships with people of color… I try to be informed…but no, I haven’t given years to “study, struggle, and focus” on this topic.

I’m aware that my understanding of racism is incredibly incomplete, and there is some discomfort in discussing it…but that’s where growth comes from.
One tries to be humble and vulnerable when one is learning.
Humility…saying one has it pretty much destroys credibility.

the uncomfortability of discussing racism
is where we grow
things fall apart
so that they can be pieced back
together together
to fall apart…
know that the falling apart
will be pieced back
together

Yes, I was raised to be racially illiterate. Being Armenian, I was taught to be proud of my ethnicity. Proud of our language, our food, our history, our struggle to persevere and survive genocide,
and that’s similar
but different,
narrow, limited

I’m not living in Turkey.
Maybe if I was an Armenian living in Turkey right now…

Racism is definitely a system.
I’m part of it. Not proud of that.
A part of it
Not
apart from it

Her re-framing of the Jackie Robinson story for truth (…”whites let him play”…) helps me. I need role models…for change. I keep going back to Sam’s list above and thinking about which ones to address first.

Aversive racism, as she describes it, fit me to a point; I don’t buy the notion that our places of work are mostly white because people of color don’t apply — I’ve seen racist policies in place going on there…but have I spoken up?

I need to use my freedoms, my privilege, to speak up and out to change our unjust system.

Here’s an excerpt from DiAngelo’s book to get you thinking…

continued…

Here are some other resources that have helped me on my continuing journey.

Resources

Begin with the video, above, then read the book…

White Fragility by Dr. Robin DiAngelo

Assertive Black…Puzzled White: A Black Perspective on Assertive Behavior by Donald K. Cheeck, Ph.D.

Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him by David Henry and Joe Henry

Changing Systems, Changing Ourselves: Anti-racist Practice for Accompaniment, Sanctuary, and Resistance

The Race Card Project encourages people to condense their observations and experiences about race into one sentence with just Six Words.

Join the Earl Nelson Singers…we meet on Monday nights at 7 pm at Sexton High School in Lansing (when it’s safe to do so).

Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race

Poems and other uses of the language

Often, life is right in front of me, jumping up and down, waving her hands about one thing in particular. (yes, life if female — that is, life is filled with new life, life is unpredictable, life is stubborn, life is beautiful, life often has a plan for my life that is different that I had planned…) During National Poetry Month (April), life seems to shout about our use of language. Some may call it synchronicity — the more I focus on language the more language is hard to ignore — others may say, ‘once an English teacher, always an English teacher.’ Add in forced isolation and I’m seeing books I forgot I owned and needed to share some of the good stuff I find. Here are some fun, insightful poems and other observations as I wander 765 Alton and the internet.

ABC
by Robert Pinsky

Any body can die, evidently. Few
Go happily, irradiating joy,

Knowledge, love. Many
Need oblivion, painkillers,
Quickest respite.

Sweet time unafflicted,
Various world:
X=your zenith.

For the young who want to

by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Note: In Fooling with Words, Piercy explains ‘phlogiston’ was a pre-nineteenth-century explanation for why things burned: people said things burned because they contained phlogiston.
Fooling with Words is also a captivating Bill Moyers film and great use of an hour

—–

More Than a Handshake
by Aram Kabodian

In the old country
Your handshake
Was your identity.

Men shook hands
With strength and conviction,
A bond and a test.

Our grandfathers squeezed
With a death grip
And a wink.

That first handshake
Is hard to forget,
More difficult to repeat.

Firm grips were earned.
Long, back-breaking days
Out there doin’ what had to be done.

More than a mere greeting,
That hand extended
Was a challenge;

Look your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather
In the eye
And wink.

Feb. ‘99

—–

More Language I’ve noticed lately

Here’s a post-4/20 thought. Remember this song…

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

Coincidence?

——

Ways people communicate with me these days: I need to check my phone messages, email, text messages, Facebook page, Facebook messenger, Marco Polo, and Twitter. There’s zoom, facetime, google hangouts, …does anyone skype? Some people need to check snapchat and instagram too (I’m only a lurker there). I used to check Slack but that was another life. Others are in online forums. I’m sure that I’m missing some newfangled method…Doxy or Fango or Lettermo or ToxicTok. I almost never forget to daily check our mailbox in front of our house.

what will we be like after the isolation?


If you can’t handle the use of the f-word, skip this video; if you’re okay with…enjoy a few laughs.

One of my favorites videos we've made "CUTE HOUSE" -Dress Up Gang -Frankie Quinones – Brent Weinbach

Posted by Donny Divanian on Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Weird Al is still out there doing his literary magic.

Here’s a link to one of the books I’m reading; it’s a book of insightful essays by an author I’ve come to love (Brian Doyle).


Here’s someone who knows how to use the language: Colbert.

I Want to Get Away

Years ago, my fishing buddies and I created this mash-up of a song. I started singing it again today — a couple weeks into this virus lock down.

* Note: Every time the lyrics change, you need to start singing the new song tune…
It starts with Lenny Kravitz’ “Fly Away” then to Steve Miller band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and so on.

I want to get away
I want to fly

like an eagle
to the

CC Rider
Riders of the storm
into this world were

Born to be wild
Born to be

Wild thing
You make my heart

Singin’ in the rain
I’m singin’ in the rain

Purple Rain
Purple Rain

(there may be more but I can’t remember it)
Here’s an audio version…

I share this because though ‘I want to get away,’ I am staying home. I do feel like I’m bopping from one thing to another, having trouble going deep into anything (writing, episode-watching, reading, gaming…). This memory reminds me of carefree times and I hope to get on the river again this summer, but I’m taking every precaution at this point. I pray that you will also. We can limit the severity of this virus if we work together.

Coronavirus update

BEST SUMMARY VIDEO: Trevor Noah interviews Dr. Fauci

The numbers of people with Coronavirus in the country exceeded 100,000 recently. The toll this virus is taking on health professionals is tragic. While some news agencies just focus on the dumpster-fire, others share the personal and economic costs Americans are experiencing.

Here’s one of the more compelling personal stories

Fun stuff on the internet:

* 50 Bird Species and the Sounds They Make

* Cowboy Museum Puts Their Head Of Security In Charge Of Their Twitter, And His Tweets Are Hilariously Wholesome

* Universal Studios “Free” Photo Booth, “Can’t Stop Laughing”
(this one opens in Facebook)

* An artist takes a trip to Estonia and comes away with insights about the country and Brexit

* I was going to discuss how many sheets of toilet paper one should use for #1 vs. #2, depending on your gender…but instead, just watch these guys and their alternatives to toilet paper.

Movies we have seen so far:

* Young Sherlock Holmes – We saw it on Criterion, but you can also see it on YouTube TV and Vudu. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, this 1985 flick was much better than I expected. The music and a few of the scenes reminded me of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T., and even Harry Potter for some reason.

* On the Basis of Sex

* RBG

* Amelie

* Hugo

* Moulin Rouge

* Manhattan

* Mrs. Doubtfire
Every once in awhile Robin Williams re-enters our lives. His daughter, Zelda, posted this photo of them on her Twitter feed. And one thing led to another and we enjoyed his humor again last night.

Some of the shows/series we have watched (and where we found them)

* The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel (Amazon Prime)
Here’s the Maizel cast interviewed if you need another fun thing

* The Crown (Netflix)
* Outlander (Starz)
* Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)
* Ken Burns’ Baseball (PBS)
* Mark Maron’s stand up called “End Times Fun” (Netflix)

* a few Sherlock Holmes episodes on DVD (PBS version with Jeremy Brett)

Some Teaching and Learning Resources

* Bound to Be Bound Resources for Homebound or Home Schooled Students

* A list of authors and illustrators doing online storytime

* Virtual Tours of 12 Famous Museums

* A Zoom conference called “Moving Online”: Critical and Creative Teaching in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis led by my friend and mentor, Dr. Troy Hicks


Re: what else I’m doing…

We just finished our second puzzle. I liked several things about it: the reminder that we have so many National Parks and Monuments waiting for us to visit; the information about the parks was interesting (and helped when placing pieces); getting reacquainted with the location of the parks (because I love geography); and the vibrant colors of the puzzle. We are starting another puzzle today.

I’m reading a few things of course: The Sun Magazine (and old copies that I didn’t finish); listening to Trevor Noah read his book, Born a Crime; Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman (our men’s book group book); Lent 2020, Christ Is for Us by April Yamasaki; and several books of poems (In the Corner of the Living by Janine Certo; Tunsiya/Amrikiya by Leila Chatti; and E-mails from Scheherazad by Mohja Kahf)

I’m writing two books right now. My book of poems was coming along slowly until this isolation set in. Now, I have collected in one document all the poems I’m currently planning on using. I need to revise about a third of them and pass the whole collection by the members of my writing group (and by Judy). Here’s a glimpse at the list of poems I have included thus far:

A Hope Unspoken
First Teacher
Baboo Godoshian
Berube
Test Driving a Hearse
Another Day
Clara was a Tiger
Praise for Anonymous
Dad
Reflecting
Language Lover
In a Democrat’s Car
Open Sky
How You Know You’re in the Northwest
Instead, at 6:30 am
BRF is Not Me
Birth of a Poem
This photo
Opening a Pomegranate
My Brainmind
Poem for Today
Too Still, Too Small
Bob Skinny
Guilt
Why We Are All Not Jesus
Ultimately
If Life is Baseball
Cats
In Love
What Will Happen

I will hopefully be self-publishing them at MSU’s Publishing Service…when it re-opens.

I’m co-authoring a book for teachers also. Kristine Brickey and I are writing a book called Lower Your Expectations: A Teacher’s Survival Guide. Much of it is written; we are tweaking it and hope to have it out in some form by the end of the year. Here are the current chapter titles:

Lower Your Expectations: A Teacher’s Survival Guide

Table of Contents

Prologue: Let’s Get Real
Chapter 1: It’s Not Time to Panic…
Chapter 2: Teachers Need Naps, Too
Chapter 3: Your Expectations are Too Damn High!
Chapter 4: Teaching ‘Then’ vs. Teaching ‘Now’
Chapter 5: When To Bitch and When Not to Bitch
Chapter 6: Honesty and Parent-Teacher Conferences
Chapter 7: Why Won’t You Let Us Teach?
Chapter 8: Now is Still Not the Time To Panic
Chapter 9: So What’s in Your Toolbox?

After reading all of that, I seem busy (even to myself). I don’t feel busy. I was just telling our son, Aaron, this morning how I enjoy the pace of my life. Yes, it has slowed lately, but even before our virus precautions, I have a blessed pace to my life. I’m aware that this life I lead is a privileged, white male life in a prosperous country…and I do my best to use my life for good.

P.S. Zoom dance parties are fun, too!

Need a Book?

Do you ever feel that you are holding books as hostages? I have a connection with every book I own and I love having access to them when I want to read them, but sometimes I feel that they are prisoners. That I’m keeping them from being read by others. It may sound strange, but I’ve learned that even when I think my feelings are odd and unique, others can relate.

As difficult as it is to let go of some of my books, I am doing it on a regular basis. Whether to increase the chances they will be read or to clear out my hoard/library, it needs to happen.

So, as we begin to hunker down for the winter, if there’s a book from the list below that strikes your fancy, let me know and I’ll get it to you. If you want to keep it, that’s fine. If you want to read it and give it to another interested reader, even better. And if you’d rather give it back, I can deal with that too (I’ll just put it in a Free Library near me).

Note: this give-away is also necessary because I keep buying more books.

* Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
* Indian Boyhood, by Charles A. Eastman
* Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin
* What is the Bible?, by Rob Bell
* A Newbery Halloween (a dozen scary stories by Newbery Award-winning authors), selected by Martin H. Greenberg
* Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
* The 100 Best African American Poems (with CD), edited by Nikki Giovanni
* Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, by Bill McKibben
* The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
* As We Are Now, by May Sarton
* The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
* Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe, by Philip Gulley
* Telling Writing, by Ken Macrorie
* Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
* Brainiac, by Ken Jennings
* The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
* A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
* Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott
* Gandhi: A Manga Biography, by Kazuki Ebine
* Beloved, by Toni Morrison

I don’t know if you can tell, but these are not my throw-away books. Some are my favorite reads (and some are doubles). These are books I recommend. These are books that need to be read. I am freeing them to be read. I want them to have a good home. And I have many more; if you would like to peruse my poetry books, fiction section, Native American collection, biographies…let me know.

My Brainmind

My Brainmind

— with thanks to Billy Collins

Sometimes I picture it
Directly above my eyes
Hovering just out of my view

Or as a fog I should be able to see through,
A grey mass harboring shadows of unrecognizable forms

But then the sun burns away my unknowing
Or I find a box of light bulbs
And my old friend comes through for me again

If it will the next time I call on it, God only knows —
This mystery brain,
Brother to my heart,
A constant companion directing me like a drone operator,
An encyclopedia with pages torn out

Let us say it is a book
I have been writing constantly, even while watching TV and driving the car
Then re-reading aloud — at least in my head

Or now that it is aging,
An echo of itself,
Papers found in a drawer in my hand-writing but foreign

Like yours, it is fickle,
Rock solid watching Jeopardy,
Absent as a deleted app when asked my 3rd grade teacher’s name,
To define ‘transmogrification,’ or what I had for dinner last Tuesday.
Then present again when I need a seldom-used password

Or is it a dream itself,
Not the grey mass the size of my fist the scientists talk about

But part of my whole being —
In every cell,
Hair, organ —
Is even the food I eat, temporarily,
Part of my mind
While in me?

Affecting everything I do —
What to add into my scrambled eggs,
Whether or not to play the guitar,
Which word to choose as an ending

An Update

I’m in a phase where I feel like I don’t know anything. It’s difficult to write a blog entry of any substance right now. I’m doing a lot of reading. It feeds my unknowing more than reading usually does. It feeds this feeling that this world is almost unknowable. Knowledge can be overwhelming. And a bit immobilizing.

Something will come of all of this. I still write from time to time. I offer this draft of a poem which is somewhat on the subject…

This Is One Poem

I once heard of a tree named Discipline
I wanted to find it and revel in
its constant beauty
obeying duty
but alas, it left me wanderin’

Every ant distracts
Birds’ activity threatens
Intent and focus

A laziness of thought
becomes me
I wear it like

a cloak
an x-ray barrier
a pile of stones
that COPD elephant

incapacitating
movement
toward
forward
no word
for it

Antidisciplinstablishmentarianism
comes close

When in Doubt, G to the Rescue

Most of the time, life is quite distracting. I have trouble deciding where to focus my time and energy. The circus in Washington is quite disconcerting and tragic; the fires in the Arctic are potentially even more troubling; and then, there are more personal issues like new career vs full retirement and self-actualization in general.

I wish I had written the following, but alas, Garrison Keillor beat me to it. I swear, I was working on something very close to it when I read this today.

“Someday you’ll understand what I’m telling you

My birthday is this week, which I mention by way of saying, “Please. No gifts.” My love and I went through major downsizing in January and we are pretty much done with Things now, even a picture of a wilderness lake taken by you or an inspirational book that could change our lives. My life is good enough. Every day is precious. When you reach 77, you’ll feel the same way. It’s a shame that a con man is in the White House as the Arctic is melting and white nationalists are shooting up our cities, but we’ll be okay, we just need a Trexit vote next year.

I reached my present age thanks to medical advances that didn’t exist for my uncles (than whom I am now somewhat older) nor for Dostoevsky (59) or Thoreau (44). Pharmaceuticals would’ve enabled Dostoevsky to retire from writing agonizing novels and switch over to light comedy in his old age and Thoreau to leave Concord and move to New York and find a girlfriend. He went out on a cold rainy night to look at trees and caught bronchitis, which agitated his TB and he went into a steep decline. As he lay dying, his aunt asked if he’d made his peace with God, and Henry said, “I was not aware that we had ever quarreled.” So he had a good last line, which many people don’t, but think what he and his girlfriend could’ve done with thirty more years. Go into the canoe business, buy a house with a lawn, beget kiddoes, enjoy evenings at home, Isabelle lying with her head in Henry’s lap, reading “Walden,” laughing at the funny parts.

Life is unbearably precious. Two heroes of mine died in car crashes when I was in college, and yet I myself, a couple years later, driving north on Highway 47 in my 1956 Ford, on a straight stretch in Isanti County, gunned it to 100 mph just to see what it felt like. It felt good. Then a pickup truck eased out of a driveway and onto the road. This was before seat belts. In a split second, I swerved to go behind him and it was a good choice — he didn’t back up — otherwise he and I would’ve been forever joined in a headline. I hope he has enjoyed his survival. Whenever I relive those fifteen seconds, all regrets vanish, all complaints evaporate.

I am now older than my older brother, who died ten years ago at 71. He slipped while skating and fell backward and hit his head. I think of him often. He was a scientist and engineer, a problem-solver, a sailor, a family man, and when faced with a personal dilemma, it’s good to ask, “What would Philip have said?” He tends to recommend patience, attention to detail, and taking a break for a few hours, perhaps on a boat, during which the answer may suddenly occur to you.

I don’t brood about death as the actual date approaches. My mother (97) enjoyed herself into her mid-nineties, flew places, saw her ancestral Scotland, cruised the coast of Alaska, and seemed, all in all, happier than when she had six little kids to worry about. We grew up near the Mississippi and she thought extensively about drowning. When cousin Roger (17) drowned, trying to impress his girlfriend Susan, Mother sent me to swimming lessons at the Y, but I couldn’t bear it, the instructor was such a bully, so I went to the library instead, a wise choice on my part, and I grew up to earn my way as a writer rather than as a professional swimmer.

Nature is not interested in my twilight years; past 30, semen develops problems, man becomes irrelevant in the furtherance of the species. God created erectile dysfunction because old men can’t be trusted to raise kids. Living past 70 is an artificial idea, a lovely idea, like flying or anesthesia, but still. So an old man needs to justify his continuance, taking up space and being a traffic hazard on the freeway by driving the speed limit. My reason for living is simply this: I am still working and my best work may be yet ahead of me.

I say, 77 is a fine age, way beyond 17 or 37 or 57, but take your time getting there, and remember to marry someone who is good company and can carry one end of the conversation and sometimes both. There’s the real message. That’s worth reading to the end of the column to find out.”

– – –

Reprinted without permission. I’m more of an ask forgiveness kind of guy.

Commencing into Success…and a poem

Two thousand nineteen is about half over, and it has felt like ‘opposite day’ for that entire time, so here are two blog entries in one, to celebrate its half-ness and its oppositeness (as the math crowd knows, 1/2 multiplied by its opposite (2) is actually one, so yeah).

Here’s a draft of a poem that may have promise.

Instead, at 6 am

I need the cool breeze
Coming in through the screen

And that pervasive silence,
That welcome absence —

I need distant bird chatter
As the loudest sound

And an orange burst,
Pink spray, green leaved

Morning.

Instead of physical activity
And its expectations.

I need this pen and my journal,
A few moments alone,

Time to contemplate the day
With a glass of water

In a soft recliner
That rocks when I say.

Stillness without sleep
Thought and observation without action

Morning bliss

————
I began the next entry around graduation time. It’s incomplete, unfinished, lacking something…but then again, aren’t most graduates? Aren’t most of us?

Congratulations to the class of 2019 at every level.
Congratulations to those choosing retirement.
Congratulations to everyone who just breathed in and out.

Success is so hard to define. So, for everyone moving from one thing to another thing, I recommend the following podcast: How Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript by following that link). It’s a recent On Being discussion on that elusive thing called “success” involving Krista Tippett, Abraham Verghese, and Denise Pope.

Here are a few highlights designed to heighten your interest:

* “Follow your heart…within reason”

* The importance of friendships across generations (a type of mentoring) — “I think it’s really a calling for this century because the wisdom of young adulthood, I think, is actually an urgency and an impatience and this longing and this aspiration to see the world whole and make it better. We want that. But there’s something so relaxing about living for a while and knowing in your body that life is long and knowing that there will be another side to whatever is happening. And so that’s really the experience you have of failure.”

*“on a small scale, [resilience is about raising] your hand in class and risk ‘sounding stupid.’”

* “failure, what goes wrong, what you get through that you didn’t know how you’d get through, this is the breeding ground of becoming wise and mature.”

I liked the discussion, partly, because of the speakers’ collective awareness that there is no one path to success. And their understanding that one hurdle toward whatever success is most assuredly involves failure. Many of the seventh graders I taught in the final years of my career were downright afraid of failing. That leads to a lack of taking risks (in writing, in class participation, in leadership…) and that can be quite immobilizing.


Generations of Allium look like waves of students over time

I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the East Lansing High School Commencement. Two graduates asked that I give them their diplomas. That allowed me to have a seat on the stage. I became a witness to the graduates’ pride. A co-celebrator in their joy. As a retired teacher, this was a rare and singular moment. Our district (like many, I would imagine) is not that adept at using the talents of retired teachers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries in an on-going, integral way. The occasional invitation to be included in commencement, however, excuses that educational faux pas just a bit.

Witnessing young person after young person hearing his, her, or their name spoken, finally, at Commencement felt like seeing sunrise after sunrise after glorious sunrise. Each one had a face that mixed exhilaration, expectation, and trepidation with a dose of amazed wonder. They were beacons of hope, one after another. Each a success, but not in a ‘final package’ way; they found a way to cross the stage and it will lead to many more successes —— laced with failures —— on their journeys.

A teacher friend suggested I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Intrigued, I found the TED Talk by the author and I share it here for its important messages; it is, in an odd way, a success story. Not the author’s story, per se, but her awareness that generalizing one experience to fit a whole group (stereotyping) is at the heart of what’s dangerous in our world today.

2009

Danger of a Single Story

I found a wonderful reflection on Adichie’s video that includes a way to incorporate it into a meaningful lesson, for you teachers out there. Both breaking stereotypes and offering self-awareness, this lesson seems important at this time in history.

Other resources:

* Challenge Success is an organization that helps schools and communities re-think what they are asking of students. They offer a way to re-think what success means for each student.

* Success in a concentrated way is a version of flow, a concept I use with students to help them find balance and confidence. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

* As the Women’s World Cup winds down, here’s an eye-opening article about how women’s professional soccer players do what they love in the midst of sacrifices.
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Finally, a blessing to all of us as we strive to live the most whole, rich lives we can…

May you live in peace
May your heart always be open
May you awaken to the divine light deep within
May you be healed
May you be a source of healing for others

(This may be from a Tibetan Buddhist Prayer)

Loss of

Loss of

The same people that research
Family histories —
They still write physical letters
To others.
Besides that, letter writing is dead.

And I’m still grieving
The fun
I had with it.

Creating a letter
Was like writing a symphony.
It was mine
But I was gifting it
So someone else —
That I cared about —
Could have this message, this song,
This part of my mind and heart.

Letter writing was an opportunity to share
A bit of my creative soul
With a loved one.

(That old-person-thing where they can’t stand all the changes in the world — I’m feeling it)

Innovation is allegedly a sign of creativity
But
Creativity is a sign of blending heart and mind
And soul

Most days
I don’t miss changing the ribbon on
A typewriter

It was messy and often tricky to get right

And yet
Maybe this phone-focused life, world,
These relationships

Need some messy time. Need to feel that
Uneasiness

Relationships are tricky to get right
In ways emoticons
And textspeak lingo
Can’t convey.
We’ve come to expect our
Relationships to load quickly.
When the dreaded, perpetual spinning
Circle of waiting
Appears,
In human form,
We are flustered, confused, stymied.

Can we go back
To simpler times?
Has too much changed?
Progress at ANY cost?

There are moments in
Our days
When we have time
To disconnect from our work at hand.
Instead of singing
Or
Writing a letter
Or
Calling a friend
Or
Meditating
Or
Resting —
We open our phones.

We suckle at
The techno breast
And it feeds us
Techno milk
And it’s not what we need.
It’s mind-numbing shit.
It’s not symphony writing.
It’s escape
When we need
Touch
Rest
Contact
Attention from