When February rolls around, teachers feel the pressures of the days. And, such a short month we're given to squeeze it all in. I often wonder what our students think. This poem came from those wonders. February Confusion It’s Black History month my teachers say Ground hog’s day I love to read Love and hearts and Random acts of kindness and a day to celebrate our presidents Also, the biggest football game of the year But, I’m so confused. My teacher also said that one day not so long ago Blacks were not allowed to read and presidents owned slaves And, I found on the internet the groundhog is right less than half the time. My teacher also taught us about racism and stereotypes and said how far we’ve come. . . but I saw white Chief fans dressed up as Native Americans painting their faces red beating on drums Chanting and singing and the Tomahawk chop. . . Be kind I keep hearing Make it random We write letters and give cards with hearts to our friends This makes us all feel good inside the walls of our classroom I don’t know how to wrap up this poem Something is missing and I’m not sure what it is But things are not all what they say it is ©Shari Lynn Daniels 2021 (draft) I'm participating in Poetry Friday where others who are sharing and writing poetry come to gather. You can find more poems to read this week here at the site of Molly Hogan, who is hosting Poetry Friday this week.
Already I’ve forgotten what your smile looks like crinkled cheeks and gentle warmth Wear a mask My arms no longer reach out to embrace Keep your distance Avoiding eye contact puts more space between us Keep safe It’s only for a few months they said in March The calendar says nearly a year has passed by What will happen if we forget what we’ve been forbidden to do?
I’m participating in Poetry Friday where others who are sharing and writing poetry come to gather. You can find more poems to read this week here at the site of Jone Rush MacCulluch, who is hosting Poetry Friday this week.
Reaching to turn on the lamp by my bedside this morning, my eyes rested on this delightful stuffed sheep that was purchased the day before. I’d forgotten that I placed her there before crawling into bed. A warm smile she gave to me as a first taste of this new day.
“Why, good morning, Dear Friend!” I greeted her. And, some giggles followed as the 6 year old girl in me emerged.
Let me tell you how she came to be. It’s a sweet story.
In the middle of a long Saturday afternoon at home, there was a need to get out, to somewhere, anywhere, to be awed and delighted in seeing something new. My eyes were bored of all the sameness around here. I messaged my daughter and asked her if she wanted to take a ride out to The Black Barn. Facebook announced, they were open this weekend with fresh inventory. Spring Stock. This might be the medicine to revive me.
The Black Barn is such a pleasure to visit. It is truly a Black Barn, and a beautiful one at that, nestled in the woods next to a winding river and filled with enchantments to delight all of your senses and the creative maker in you.
Upon entering, we were struck by the greenery, signs of spring – this gave me hope, coffee mugs, blackberry jams and delectables (toffee). Moving inward, the kitchenary will attract the baker in you, and around the corner, there are books of best selling authors to cozy up by the fire with. And, then, there is the children’s corner. . .
Shelves and nooks and crannies filled with stuffed animals and books and childish things that grandmothers desire for their grandchildren. My daughter and I took turns holding, squeezing and sharing each stuffed animal with each other – I think believing that we were actually one-upping one another with every new discovery.
“I really like the avocado doll . . . and the carrot,” she said.
“Oh, it’s the sheep for me,” I replied.
I carried the sheep with me throughout the store, not knowing why I had to have her or for whom she would even belong. Two children’s’ books found their way into my arms as well – titles I hadn’t heard. How could that be? Any day with a new book discovery is heaven indeed.
Nearing the check-out counter, my decision to purchase my goods was stronger than the one that usually taunts me that it’s time to put things back. It’s the Mother Voice nagging “Do you really need this?”
I decided that yes, I did need everything, and I set it all on the counter.
“Oh, you found the sheep!” I heard Brenda say from behind the till. Brenda owns this charming Black Barn. “Did you see her name?”
“No, I didn’t, she has a name?” I responded.
“Oh, yes,” she smiled, and she reached for the tag on the sheep and opened it for me to read. Our eyes met in the mystery of the moment.
Sherri Sheep it read.
Good heavens. We all laughed in surprise and it was decided by us all that the sheep was there for me and was just awaiting my arrival.
I left with my heart full and my little-girl soul happy at the magic of the moment.
Thank you, Brenda, for your attention yesterday. So easy it would have been to just collect the money for the items I purchased, say thank you and send us on our way. You did more. You have created a dream space in this barn and filled it with items that remind us of who we can be and the possibilities of what we can do.
But more than this – you remembered my own name and made me feel seen, and created a somehow magical moment, in which this gift attracted me. You did not know that an old lady dream of mine is to raise alpaca sheep one day, and spin wool, and knit hats and small things for children to wear, but somehow, the universe has a way of using people to remind us of who we are and what our dreams are.
It’s a fairy tale dream that may never happen, but it’s fun to dream none-the-less.
Until then, I’ll just keep visiting Brenda at the Black Barn.
There’s magic in there.
The Day the protests began, I’d already felt helpless. I didn’t know enough about the Black Lives Matter movement. I didn’t know how to help. I didn’t even know how to talk about it. And, if I’m honest, I had very few people in my racially insulated northern Minnesota pillowed life to talk to about it with a listening ear. Most people are ready to defend their views. Much of what I was reading on social media urged White people to “do the work” themselves to make a difference in racial injustice advocacy.
But, what does, “Do the work?” actually mean?
As always, I reach for books first – books about racial injustice, racism, and the history of white supremacy in our country. The first read was a book by Beverly Daniel Tatum called, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.
With a pen, book and notebook in hand, I carried two chairs and a small table out into my yard by the flowering crab apple tree. A perfect location to bask in the aroma of the tree blossoms and soak in the sun. I needed one chair to sit on, the other to rest my feet upon with knees bent to use as a table for my notebook. This is an important part of the story. Pay attention. The chairs were kinda heavy. I had to make two trips. After I was set up, I made a third trip and balanced my coffee on a small table, bringing it out to set beside my chairs. I could stretch this part of the story out, but this is just a blog post, not a book and this is enough to give you a picture of my effort in this matter of setting up to read.
Each chapter in this book, demands a close read. There is so much to digest, unpack, and make sense of: systemic racism, microaggressions, Real Estate Laws, redlining, the New Jim Crow, Government Policies, incarceration statistics, discriminatory voting laws, intersectionality, overt white nationalism and internalized oppression. These are only some of the factors that contribute to a society of racism. I’d read for a bit, then write a few sentences in my notebook, connecting the ideas to prior knowledge or experiences.
My only issue was:
I didn’t have enough experiences.
My husband eventually ventured out to the yard with his coffee cup.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Reading – writing,” I replied. He must tire of this response and wonder if I ever get anywhere with the reading and writing that I do.
He set his coffee mug on my table and with both hands on the sides of the chair I had my feet on, began to move it.
“What are you doing?” I asked, jolted.
“I’m going to sit in this chair,” he said.
“But I’m using that chair for my feet,” I said. (I know. This sounds so selfish. But, don’t forget how much work it took me to get set up!)
“Do you really need two chairs?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” I replied. “There are more chairs up by the house if you want to bring one out.”
He was calm and not upset. Rolled his eyes inside his head, I’m sure. He took his coffee cup and decided to go sit up by the porch.
Now, you may be thinking I am an inconsiderate wife. Or, you may be thinking my husband is inconsiderate. Whatever you are thinking, park that thought for a moment, because it’s beside the point I want to make with this episode. Just play along with me here.
Instead, imagine you are a Black college student, male or female, it does not matter, sitting in the Union studying alone. You pulled a heavy chair from against the wall over to rest your feet upon to set your laptop on.
Then imagine, a White male comes and attempts to grab the chair your feet are resting on to bring over to sit at another section of the Union with his buddies. He does not ask. There are other chairs available. He wants this one.
How do you feel?
Imagine it. Maybe it’s actually happened to you – or something like it.
That’s how I felt.
I happened to be reading Tatum’s chapter on microaggressions.
Tatum uses psychologist, Derald Wing Sue’s definition of racial microaggressions as “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”
I imagined the act of taking my chair as a behavioral, unintentional indignity. Indignity is a sharp word that encompasses shame, embarrassment and insult. I didn’t have shame or embarrassment, nor was I insulted, but had I been surrounded by others? maybe. . .
After my husband went back to the porch, I presumed he was perfectly content, drinking his coffee and reading. He doesn’t dwell on these kinds of things. He respects my solitude and I respect his. I can rationalize this.
However, I was left, energetically, in a different place, than when he arrived. I internalized the small act of inconsideration towards me and I could feel it in my body. It had to go somewhere. I blew this up in my mind, for “the experience” of “the micro-aggression”.
Keep playing with me here. . .
Did he feel entitled to the chair? Did he feel he had power over me? He was not emotionally effected. I was. What was that???? Call me crazy.
Back to being the imaginary Black student in the union. Do you say something? If you do, what do you risk? Is it worth it? Who would be the one to start the argument? What authorities get called over? Whose voice would get heard? Certainly, no one NEEDS two chairs.
Now imagine 10 – 20 microaggressions a week. These – just the “smallest” acts of racism.
Beverly Daniel Tatum writes, “Social science research has demonstrated that the cumulative effect of microaggressions ‘assail the self-esteem of recipients, produce anger and frustration, deplete psychic energy, lower feelings of subjective well-being and worthiness, produce physical health problems, and shorten life expectancy. . .'” Psychologist Derald Wing Sue “the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group.”
It’s a constant perpetual drip of stress.
I imagined a life time of these acts towards me – in which I had no power to reject or stand up against, for fear of what might happen. Then, I imagined generations of these acts – for hundreds of years. How much gets stored in the body with nowhere to go? Passed down from generation to generation. At some point, you don’t even know why you are angry – you can’t name it. It lives in you.
But then. Something happens.
Like a Black man being killed on video for the world to see.
And, you are cracked open.
I made these discoveries in my notebook as I documented what was happening, my emotions, connections to ideas from the book and my imagination. I needed the “chair stealing” experience with my husband as the missing piece to “the work” I needed to do.
Gratefully, our relationships can prompt for experiences that can be starting points to imagine racial injustice. It is here that we gain understanding and develop empathy for those who are oppressed.
I’m not sure how others do “the work”, but this is where I’m starting until I learn more. I know I still have “work” to do on my own unconscious racist ways of being, thinking and behaving. I know that I’m not sure if I will do this “work” right. But, I’m willing to just start, lean into the discomfort, get messy trying figure it out.
“The work” continues . . .
It’s all I have to bring today
This, and my heart beside
This, and my heart, and all the fields
And all the meadows wide
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the clover dwell.
~Emily Dickenson (1830-1886)
This weary soul of mine succumbed to social media early in the morning, as some days, scrolling is all I can muster. My hand, even too exhausted to lift the pen to my notebook page.
On this particular day, a teacher-writer-soul friend, Mary Lee Haun, was also having a weary kind of day. Her #poemofpresence whispered to the quiet corners of my dissonance:
today I am sad
please don’t try to cheer me up
there’s nothing for it
My fingers typed a few words to let her know that I felt her angst as well. I shared with her a word I’d recently learned, one that named this kind of tired – a word in Tibetan: ye tang che. The ye part means “totally, completely”, and the rest of it means “exhausted”. Altogether, ye tang che means “totally exhausted”.
Devendra Banhart taught me this word, while listening to him on a recent episode of the On Being podcast. The lovely language and voices of this podcast are healing, so I turn here often in times of need. The word, ye tang che, Devendra credits to have learned from Pema Chadron in his book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
I had jotted it into my notebook to bring up in moments of despair. Like this.
A lovely dear friend of us both, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, swept in to save us on this dreary day. My heart sang just seeing her name and an image of her responding to our short conversation.
She offered a gift: a recommendation of a book.
The Wild Remedy ~ How Nature Mends Us by Emma Mitchell.
With a slight surge of new energy, a quick exploration brought me to the contents of Emma’s book. Emma suffers of “the grey slug” or depression, as some know it as. She shares her journey through nature as a balm to lift the grey from her days. Winding paths through the woods, drawing and painting the discoveries along her way fill her illustrated diaries. Month by month, she charts her highs and lows and the neuroscience of how our bodies, minds, spirits and hearts receive the natural healing benefits of plants and wildlife when we step into the wild.
Her book arrived on my doorstep yesterday.
All of a sudden, I’m witnessing more bees, and fields and meadows wide.
~ from my morning walk ~
And . . . my heart is beginning to mend from all of this ye tang che.
As I pulled on the right leg of my black leggings this morning, around 6:00 am, leaning back in my chair, both feet lifting high into the air, as if gravity was going to lure these things on, the words of a childhood poem washed over me.
“Monday’s child is full of grace,” it whispered, as poems sometimes do.
Even though I know not the exact words of this nostalgic nursery rhyme, parts of it are lodged deep within me somewhere, and I thought,
“Wait, I don’t think Monday’s child is full of grace. It’s Tuesday’s child!”
But I’m telling you, Monday’s child needs it.
The words swirled and played in the dance of a new poem being born as I reached for my “Monday” dress, a free flowing knit, waist free, forgiving, stretchy, throw in the dryer, no-need-to-iron kind of dress. It wears on me whether I am a size 4 or a size 14. I hoover somewhere in between, depending on the day, the month, the season or the year.
Still – this dress embraces me and says, “It’s okay, I’m here for you, Shari.”
Topped off with my favorite black vest and knee high boots, Monday arrives in the comfort of my Friday jeans, even after a weekend of pizza, too many cookies and a little (okay, a lot) of laying around.
Gosh, I love a dress that can do that to a Monday.
Oh, the poem. It’s been marinating all morning. Here’s what I’ve got so far. . .
Monday’s dress is full of grace,
A thank you melts across her face,
None is there of shameful woes, or
Regrets of weekend diet foes.
With the stretch of lycra, loving and giving
Enabling her to go on with her living
A life that is so good and gay
A gift to savor on the morn of Monday.
Gosh – writing that just made me so happy! Poetry can do that, you know.
“The most daring thing to do with your life is to create a stable community in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut
It’s not that I forget to write a Slice of Life (or two or three even). I write every morning in my notebook. My notebook writing is my life support. But, it’s not Slice of Life writing. So, then, I have to write twice in the day, which wouldn’t be a problem except I save it for the end of the day. And, at the end of the day, opening up my laptop is a dread when you’ve been looking at it all day.
I could write a slew a slices in one day and then just shoot them out each morning. But, that doesn’t feel authentic. What I write one day might not feel true on another day. Oh bother. . . there are so many other facets that contribute to my issue of putting writing out there for the world to see, but that’s too daunting to address in one Slice of Life. Another day . . . maybe.
I had to reassess my purpose of slicing in this challenge because for the last couple of years, I petered out after day 4 or 5. Sometimes I’d come back, sometimes not. I’m coming back this time because it’s only March 8th. There’s a lot of month left. It’s too early to jump ship.
But, if I’m brutally honest, I need the energy that comes from discovering new relationships and in keeping past relationships alive.
My writing friend, Elisabeth Ellingson at the dirigible plum reminded me about intentions of the challenge. For me, I don’t need to develop a habit. I don’t need to learn how to live a wide awake life most of the time (ideas are NOT my problem, choosing is my problem). I need community. A real writing community. So alone we feel in this writing life.
So alone we feel in this life sometimes. Period.
So, I’m not going to fret so much about what I put out there just as long as I’m showing up to join others in this journey, to cheer others on for being here, and to relish the new connections we make as we discover new like-minded writing souls.
Thank you for writing with me. And, reading – because sometimes it’s just as much fun being a cheerleader.
I drive 37 miles to work each day, which is good because I can listen to podcasts and audio books. And, I need the solitude.
Today, I listened to a podcast where the host interviewed a lady that died for 8 whole minutes and then she came back to life.
“What did you learn?” the host asks her.
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“Like, when you came back to life, what have you learned? Are you living differently here on earth?” he elaborates.
And she says, “What if I didn’t come back and I’m still dead. What if this is heaven?”
They said something like that, and I can’t remember the exact words, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.
“Are you ready yet, hon?” my husband has asked me for the third time.
I have promised him that tonight I would play our first game of Cribbage. I don’t know how to play Cribbage, so my loving partner of 31 years has so kindly offered to teach me.
“Not yet!” I holler from the living room, “I still have one chapter left to read in my book!” Reading requires brain power. I’m thinking that when I’ve mustered up all of my thinking for the day, we can play games.
He walks over to me and pleads, “Now?” like a little boy wanting to open his Christmas presents.
“Oh. . . kay. . . . “ I sigh.
He brings over the Cribbage board with cards and places them on the large ottoman in front of my chair. He gets comfortable in the adjacent couch. I take deep breaths and set my books aside.
“Now, here are the procedures,” he begins. “We each cut the deck, low card deals. The dealer passes out six cards each and we need to discard two we don’t want. Those cards go in the kitty. The dealer gets the kitty.”
He continues with more procedures. Then, how you get points, “You want to try and get cards that equal 15 because they are worth 2 points, runs are worth 3, unless it’s a double run – they are worth 8 because 3 and 3 and then you add 2 for the pair.”
And, then he gives directions on how to peg for points. More procedures. And new words: pegging, double runs, fifteen-two, fifteen-four, flush, nobs, a Go, thirty-one for two. . .
“Are you ready?” he finally asks.
I am a little girl sitting in math class asked by the teacher to count backwards by 7’s from the number 3574. Tears stood in my eyes. There was a tightness in my chest. My hands rise to my cheeks because they are burning.
“I don’t know what the —- you are talking about,” I calmly tell him.
He pauses, smiles tenderly and says softly, “We’ll play for a few days with open hands, so I can help you,” recognizing my pain. “Don’t worry, hon, you’ll get it.”
I almost say no, I can’t do this. But, I need him to walk me back from the end of the plank. I signed my name on the back of that board. Relationship building. . . I kept whispering to myself.
I win the first game, with open hands. He praises me for my resilience.
Exhausted, I shuffle off to bed.
In the night, gazing out the window at the moon, residue from our game lace my thoughts . . . dread that I was going to have to do this again tomorrow.
Worse yet . . .
I had visions of the hundreds of students I’ve had in my classrooms over the last 30 years and I ached with remorse for all of times I probably put them through this.
I just lay there, whispering, “I’m sorry.”
And, the last line of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Day” came to me like a prayer. . .
“I have miles to go before I sleep.”