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

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.

Let’s Go in a Different Direction

I’ve been struck lately by the amount of people I know that are traveling. Good friends are exploring the Greek Isles. Another friend is doing a fellowship in Tennessee. A retired couple I know are re-visiting Yellowstone Park and the Tetons to experience the wildlife and nature. Another family of adults is in Austria and Germany on a tour. A poet friend is in Italy visiting family. Another couple is visiting their daughter in Japan. A Kalamazoo College student is studying abroad in Germany. A couple took their pre-teens out of school for the year and are RV-ing through southwestern United States. The list goes on. And while I’m a little jealous, I’m mostly just aware of the importance of getting out of our safe spaces and experiencing new environments and cultures. Without travel, our lives are narrow and fear of the ‘other’ festers.

For too many people in this country, fear is what drives them. It’s sad. They fear immigrants and the gifts they bring. They fear imports and the competition they bring. They fear Science and the knowledge it brings. They fear women and the leadership they bring. Their fear leader is taking this country in the wrong direction. Instead of giving him and his negative tweet factory any more attention, let’s change our focus.

The HP ad above, startled me a bit. (You can see the whole thing by clicking on the photo and there’s an article about the ad here) Near the end is this photo and question…Have we lost touch with what’s real? It’s possible. We’ve at least lost touch with what’s important; as I drive around the Lansing area, I notice many people looking down at their phones as they drive. It’s incredibly dangerous. Driving IS real. I admit that I will check a text at a stop light, but looking while driving seems like asking for an accident.

I do think we need to change our focus (I’m talking to myself here, also).

Here are some suggestions:

* Visit a church, synagogue, or other religious institution different from the one that you usually attend. The new minister at the Peoples Church of East Lansing, Reverend Dr. Shawnthea Monroe, was inspirational and challenging in her recent, first sermon. That’s where I sing in the choir; and I do plan to attend regularly. I feel drawn to Congregation Shaarey Zedek, too, though. And the Islamic Center of East Lansing is a very welcoming place also. I’ve attended services at both places of worship as part of the Thanksgiving time interfaith services. This year’s Interfaith Service will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church on South Pennsylvania on Monday, November 25th at 7 pm. if you are interested.

* Get involved politically instead of feeling angry or apathetic. Learn about the candidates (just a suggestion) before you vote.

* Learn something new, whether online, at a college, by reading a book, or going to a film. For example, the East Lansing Film Festival is always an eye-opener for me. The link says the festival starts October 30th, but the Indie festival is going on this weekend…I plan to see Sama and Tel Aviv on Fire in the coming days.

* Travel as often as you can; finding affordable travel is difficult, but possible.

* Use public transportation as a way to change your perspective.

* Participate in a Living Room Conversation as a way to express your concerns on an issue and try to understand the concerns of those who think about the issue differently. https://www.livingroomconversations.org/

* Disconnect from your devices for a day or a few days — look at people, talk with them…even people you do not know. It’s refreshing to talk with people you don’t know (check out the link).


Does the fact that this sign exists mean that someone turned onto the train tracks? Let’s be a little more careful out there, people.

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

What’s Next

I won’t be posting on Facebook for awhile. I’ve decided to use this spot.

Facebook annoys me. I’m tired of a virtual life. I need more actual living. I want to…

…hike more
…write more
…sit by a fountain and listen more
…read the Bible more
…pray more
…help out more
…split wood more
…sing more
…go fishing more often
…play my guitar more
…listen to music more
…watch fireflies more often
…drink more cold beer
…play more volleyball
…go for more bike rides
…walk along the beach more
…laugh more
…read the books on my shelves more
…travel more
…go bowling more
…even clean my office more
…talk with flesh-and-blood friends more
(just a partial list)

Facebook has made me ADD-distracted (Gerry Brooks explains what it’s like, below)

Facebook is also too toxic lately. I need a cleanse. Garrison says that “Facebook is okay but if it went away, we could learn to sit with people over coffee and conduct conversations.” I agree with the second half, but I think “okay” is too strong of a descriptor. Facebook is “meh” to use the already-old hip jargon. I think Jerry Seinfeld has made a valiant effort to get people sitting with coffee and conducting conversations on his recent Netflix series (which I love). He’s subtly re-teaching us how to be with each other.

Regarding my non-virtual life and being with flesh-and-blood friends…

I was recently part of a committee that recommended a new head pastor for our church (She’s amazing by the way…come and visit us in a couple months when she starts). I take pride in my ability to listen and contribute when I’m on committees. And I made some new friends along the way; a fun way to volunteer my time for an important task.

I am part of a men’s group at our church that meets (most) every Tuesday morning at 7 am. to discuss a book and to connect. I have enjoyed getting to know each of these men as we walk on our faith journeys.

I’m in a gospel choir called the Earl Nelson Singers that meets on Monday nights to practice singing and to get to know each other better. We sing in concert sometimes too. All fun (and praise).

You can’t do these things on Facebook. And these are the things I want to do more.

I’m not saying I’ll never look at Facebook. Just look, not lurk (or post). What’s next for me is less and less screen time. Yes, I like to play a few games, and communicate via email and text some, but I am consciously disconnecting from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I’ll see you here…or in person. Garrison goes on to say that “Comedy and compassion are what you need to make your way in the world.” Makes sense to me. Maybe I’ll go find Garrison and see if he wants to talk about comedy over a cup of coffee. Or I could start my own show: Armenians in Restaurants getting Meze (appetizers); or Kabodians in Bars drinking Beer; or Wanna-be Comedians in Nightclubs getting Booed.


P.S. If you’re continuing on Facebook, here’s a couple tips about talking with difficult people. First of all, good for you, for sticking with it. I jumped ship as my method. My friend, Troy Hicks, wrote a piece on Peer Review in Public that used four things to keep in mind when commenting on a peer’s text, which I believe is good advice for most any communication —

(Troy’s piece is worth reading and you can also annotate the book, Annotation, and feel a part of the larger project)

And I recently read The Faith Club in men’s group; it’s a welcome reminder that, while some conversations (for example, about religion) are difficult, we shouldn’t avoid them. It’s not necessarily advice I am following in my life right now, but I aspire to it.

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)

A few poems that have been taste-tested

Last week, I was part of a poetry reading at the East Lansing Public Library. I was encouraged by the audience’s reaction to a few of my new poems. I offer them here, as a April-is-Poetry-Month salute. The audience laughed all the right places (thank you to every single one of you) and that reaction was a wake up call to me to write more funny stuff. I’m not sure that you’ll see me doing stand up comedy in the future, but I have started reading Comedy Writing Secrets and aiming toward a more humorous tone in my poems. We’ll see where it leads.

A few, unrelated Haiku

Nuthatch speeds from branch
To feeder to branch and back —
Life’s rat race displayed

Life isn’t five-seven-five
Life rhymes sometimes
Nearly

Most of my exercise
Is pulling myself out of bed
To write this

— — —
FYI: A dancing madrone (below)

How You Know You’re in the Northwest

First of all, you and your car
Are in line for a ferry.
You’ve been on an island
Where time is inconsequential
And you are temporarily
Giving up all that
To make the ferry
At a certain time

The air is crisp
Even early in the afternoon sun.
A Madrone’s sensuous bar
Catches your eye
As it dances out through the wood

A sporty, older couple
Sips coffee
In their matching caps,
Chuckling at secret jokes

A human beauty
Madrone-like in her mystery
Walks by, not really
Noticing you.

In your sideview mirror,
You watch her stop
Suddenly
Putting her hand in the window
Of a stranger’s car
To pet a dog
She doesn’t know.

This goes on for a time.
You can’t keep your eyes
Off her enjoyment.

As she walks on,
You realize
That you
Are jealous
Of
The
Dog.

— — —

Apologies

I intended

To be

A better person —
The dad we wish
We had,
The one who stops
The car
To help the stranger
And does actually help.

One of the
Pure of heart
24/7, 365

One of the
Type A organizers,
As least where
My desk is concerned

One of the
People who never
Need to apologize

But I do.

And so

I apologize

To everyone

For all of it.

There.
That does feel better.
Was it good for you?
Let’s get on with
Life!

— — —

Anonymous Incognito

I can’t tell you
How many times
I’ve been enjoying
A poem, only to look down
Or flip the page
And the great Anonymous
Was the poet

Flying under the radar
With immense humility
Anon nearly always
Satisfies.

And Anon’s versatility —
One minute rhyming
Like a master,
The next a short
Free verse picture of life.

And timeless, my goodness,
Anon never dies.
Anonymous has a self-appointed
Androgynous immortality.

So my dear Anonymous
Who could be listening now,
Probably is,
I salute you.

On so many levels —
You are classy
In your stealth.
I am in awe of
your prolific volumes.
Maybe it’s your humble
Nature that’s kept you
Alive so long,
Albeit incognito.

Good Things Come in Threes

I get a lot of junk mail everyday. Both the snail mail and email variety. I don’t even see the really terrible stuff because the good people at gmail collect it all in my Spam folder so I don’t have to look at it. On the other hand, Garrison Keillor sends me mail electronically every day via The Writer’s Almanac and weekly via the column he writes on his website. Those personal messages from GK not only far outweigh all the crap I get, they also keep me turning on my computer every morning.

His recent column called “So that’s over, and what’s next?” is a fine blend of old man humor and spicy politics with a dash of musical fun. In the column, Garrison explains that he attended three amazing musical events in a week. He notes that “…all three had moments that threw me out of the plane and opened my parachute.”

After reading the column, I realized that I, also, had three parachute-opening experiences (though not musical) this past week. Here are my recent top three OMG, felt-like-I-was-flying moments:

#1 — The MSU Spartan men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Sweet 16. I really hate to agree with Jay Bilas, but “the Spartans should not be this good.” We have had so many injuries to key players that we should just be mediocre this year. Once the team’s health started unraveling, so did my expectations. But we found a way to beat Michigan THREE times and win the Big Ten title and tournament. Starters and bench players alike have stepped up their game; who knows what tonight holds in the Sweet 16 game against LSU? It’s been an amazing run for a gritty team. I’d like to see Winston score and pass like crazy. McQuaid and Goins hit three-pointers with ease. Tillman block shots and disrupt passes. Nick Ward step back into his mid-season shooting proficiency. And Henry and Loyer could shine also. I’m just proud of their effort to get to this point. Go Green and White!

#2 — I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, finishing it this week. Reading her book, Becoming, it felt like she was sitting in the room talking with me. I enjoyed her direct, frank writing style. Michelle’s unique perspective on motherhood, friendships with Jesse Jackson’s family, Barack’s Presidency, the Secret Service, and service in general, were very engaging. She’s a classy, intelligent person. And her humor is refreshing, even encouraging, in the midst of her place in history. With every page, the book got better and better, bringing me to tears at times, laughing out loud others. Mostly, I was just sitting there listening intently, soaking up her story.

Though I felt like starting the book over again when I finished, I gave it to Judy to read. It is true that I’m writing a poem based on the book…partially so I can keep it on my mind.

Here are a couple quotes that stood out to me. “Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to people.” And later, when she was campaigning for Barack, the more she met with small groups the more she “learned it’s harder to hate up close” — though she did feel hated at times.

Her book is really a call for optimism in the midst of these crazy times.

#3 — I experienced Arizona in March. I realize that Arizona in March happens every year. It’s just that I’m usually in Michigan when it happens.

I soaked up every moment of sun, getting up at 6:30 and writing while sitting amidst their ‘chilly’ 48 degree morning — I saw a road runner dart across the road — And Judy saw a skittering salamander — We took several hikes (in shorts), appreciating the exercise as much as the remarkable views — We had time to talk with family and friends that we don’t see often — We enjoyed Gilbert’s diverse Farmer’s Market with fresh fruits and veggies — I checked out the A’s Spring Training camp last game (from the road)…they don’t seem ready to me — The Desert Botanical Garden was spectacular; then, at night they cranked it all up a notch with lights and music…with a bonus sunset in-between — Rob and I fit in 9+ holes of desert golf and I didn’t do half bad…

It’s all a blur now. Here are a few photos to help bring it into focus for you (more on my Facebook page).

The backdrop to these joys is that “a man is tweeting on his phone and primping his hairdo while at the wheel of our national government careening down the highway.” Garrison suggests that we “get off at the next exit.“ For me, reading 45’s tweets (and listening to him talk) is like opening my SPAM emails and trying to take it all seriously. And there are too many joys in life for that.

Literary Nonsense

I look forward to reading the daily Writer’s Almanac post in my email. Everyday, I learn something new and practically everyday I am intrigued by much of what I read, which often leads me to read related poems, biographies, or other texts.

Today, I enjoyed it so, that I’m re-posting the whole entry below (to use the links, you’ll have to go to the actual website). I’ll comment on it more, under the entry.

——————
Friday, February 22, 2019
The Writer’s Almanac
with Garrison Keillor

“Be Careful Darkness”
by Erica Jong

Whitman wrote.
He knew
the claws & paws
of darkness,
how they capture
light & try
to blind
our eyes to hope.

Darkness
at the edges
of our being.
We ourselves are light
pushing aside
the darkness
as we move.

Standing still
lets the darkness
in.

“‘Be Careful Darkness’” by Erica Jong from The World Began with Yes. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

__

It’s the birthday of George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, which caused him great pain, which he tried to alleviate with opium.

He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. His inaugural address was the shortest in history: 133 words long, and it took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

After two terms, he retired to Mt. Vernon in 1797. He died two years later after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain.
__
On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he argued against the belief of the church. He argued that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and that in fact the Sun is the center of the solar system, with the Earth circling around it.

The book was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books the following year, and Galileo was tried and convicted for heresy. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime.
__

It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She went to Vassar and then moved to Greenwich Village where she lived a Bohemian life involving poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. She was one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she went on tour, she drew huge crowds, and she recited her poetry from memory, very dramatically.

Millay wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”

__
On this day in 1980, in one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympics history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of collegians and second-tier professional players, defeated the defending champion Soviet team, 4-3, at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

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It’s the birthday of Seán Ó Faoláin (books by this author), the Irish author, born in County Cork, in 1900. He is best known for his unflattering but sympathetic portraits of modern Irish life, his criticisms of church-inspired censorship, the narrowness of the Irish clergy, and restrictive family traditions. Thus, he was controversial but also a hero to other writers including Patrick Kavanaugh, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, and Brendan Behan.

__
It’s the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey (books by this author), born in Chicago, 1925. He was well known for creating drawings for the animated title sequence to the PBS series Mystery!, and he produced picture books such as The Beastly Baby (1962) and The Ghastlycrumb Tinies (1963), which begins:

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh

A new biography just came out about him this past November; it’s called Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.

__
Frank Woolworth opened the first of his dime stores on this date in 1878 in Utica, New York; his innovation was to put the merchandise out where the customer could pick it up and look at it. By 1919, there were more than a thousand Woolworth stores worldwide.

——————–

Garrison surprises me with little-known facts about people I thought I knew (I assume they are facts…though he is a fiction writer, so…). The father of our country had a speech impediment and loved cream of peanut soup? Edna St. Vincent Millay was an icon of the Jazz Age? Investigating Edward Gorey a bit on my own, I saw that he was part of the Literary Nonsense movement, according to Wikipedia. That Wikipedia page listed many writers who also have written in this genre that “balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.” I was surprised at how many from the list I considered my favorite authors: Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, Dave Eggers, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Jack Pretlusky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, T.S. Eliot, and even John Flansburgh (from They Might Be Giants); I would add e.e. cummings to the list. And Bob Rentschler. I began to realize that literary nonsense and I had been courting for years without being introduced. The fact that “Jabberwocky” is the only poem I have completely memorized (not counting song lyrics) should have clued me into knowing that I am drawn to literary works of a nonsensical nature. The looks on my students’ faces when I played “Impossible” by They Might Be Giants also might have been evidence worth noting. In addition, I enjoy the Borowitz Report and the Onion more than most things I read. David Byrne is my musical choice of late (Musical Nonsense). And lately I’m writing limericks of all things. I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ as a lover of Literary Nonsense.

A few recent attempts at limericks:

Some say the times are depressin’
And that we can’t learn our lesson
Think before you vote
For God’s sake don’t gloat
Mistakes are always worth confessin.


There once was a lass from Kent
Taken with an artsy gent
Shacked up for fun
When it was all done
Neither one could afford the rent.


The Electoral College is quite bent
The people is does not represent
Elected a crook
A real Donnybrook
Let’s say it together: “impeachment!”

I mentioned my interest in Literary Nonsense to Aaron and he pulled a book out of his library for me to read: A Nonsense Anthology, collected by Carolyn Wells and published in 1902. “Jabberwocky” was on the first page. I found another gem by Rudyard Kipling which seems to fit the day —

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”