Living My Questions: What does it mean to “do the work on yourself” first, as a White, Privileged Female in a Racist World?

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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 . . .

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Remedy ~Mending a Weary Soul

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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.

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~ from my morning walk ~

And . . . my heart is beginning to mend from all of this ye tang che.

 

When a Poem Lands on You ~ SOL 2020

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.

Writing Intentions: Making Connections ~ SOL~2020

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“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.

Shari 🙂

 

 

 

 

A Profound Thought ~ SOL #4 ~ 2020

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.

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2020 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂 To read the posts of other Slicers, please go here.

Game #1 ~ SOL #3 ~ 2020

“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.”

Cribbage: A Relationship Builder? SOL #2~2020

I’ve never liked playing cards. When I was young, my father would urge us kids to play cards, trying to convince us that learning how to play cards was a non-negotiable skill that all human beings should be adept at. I’m not sure if my four siblings recall this same experience, although, I think they probably played cards and liked it. Perhaps I was the black sheep of card playing. I’ll have to ask them.

My husband is a card player. He taught our four children how to play cards when they were very young. I resisted joining in, letting this be his territory. I stuck to Candyland. Now, our children are all adults and when at family gatherings,  the night often ends with a game of Hearts and cocktails. There is laughter, joking, lots of snacks, shouting and cheering in these card matches. I sit on the sidelines, taking notes, or I sneak off to bed.

In our mid-fifties, my husband and I are now empty nesters. The winter evenings are long.

“You should learn how to play Cribbage, hon,” my husband urges me one late winter afternoon, as we were both reading by the fireplace. “I’ll teach you. It would be fun for us to play Cribbage games in the evening.”

“But, I don’t like cards,” I reminded him. “I just don’t.”

“But, Cribbage isn’t a card game, it’s a relationship builder,” he tries to convince me. “Please, it will be fun.”

I felt a wee bit sorry for him for several reasons. First, because he has to adapt to a wife who does not play games. Competitiveness was a gene that I was missing. Second, because he has no one else to play with. Except Ella. But, she only likes dog games.

After much banter, I sighed and said, “Okay.”

He jumped up from his chair in triumph. “We’ll have to go to Fleet and buy a new Cribbage board,” he says, “I know just the one.”

“Don’t we already have a Cribbage board?” I asked.

“Oh, this one is going to be special. We need one to commemorate the beginning of this new journey in our relationship.”

“How much is it going to cost?” I asked.

“It’s 40.00, but I have a 20.00 coupon. C’mon, let’s go.”

Off we drove to Fleet Farm to pick out a Cribbage board. Already, I was regretting my decision. This felt like too much of a commitment. What if I seriously did not like this game? Then there will be a new unused Cribbage board to remind me that I quit. What will it do to the relationship if he feels so strongly about it being a relationship builder?

We brought it home, chose a location in the house for it to hang (alongside the fireplace), wrote the date on the back with a permanent black marker and signed our names. It felt big. . . like we got married again.

“Tomorrow we’ll play game number one,” he announced.

For the love of Pete. What have I done?

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2020 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂 To read the posts of other Slicers, please go here.

 

Taking My Husband’s Advice SOL#1~2020

Curled up in my writing chair, nestled by the fireplace,  words were being penned into my notebook. My husband sat in the adjacent couch absorbed in a Conservation magazine, while our dog, Ella, sprawled out on his lap.

“Hmmm,” he mumbled as his brows furrowed slightly.

Knowing he was trying to entice me into asking him what he was reading, I tried not to look his way. But, I could not help myself. He knows what he is doing.

“What?” I asked, interrupting my writing – nothing interesting had yet appeared on my pages anyway.

He began to read out loud to me from an article about how we should be eating more insects.

“No,” I said.

He went on. “Palm weevils taste like bacon and some ants taste like lemon drops.”

“You are lying,” I glared at him, “making that up just to get me riled.”

“Wanna bet?” he asked.

“No. You are,” I argued, quite sure this can’t be true. He will try to do anything to get my attention when I’m writing. I think he feels neglected during my morning writing each day.

“Put some skin in it – I’ll bet you,” he pressured.

“Well, now it must be true, otherwise why would you want to bet?” I continued.
“You only make bets when you know it is a sure thing.”

“Fine. I won’t show it to you then.” His eyes pretended to go back to his reading.

My writing time was being hijacked.

“I can just look at it after you leave,” I finally said.

“I’m taking it with me,” he smirks.

I say, “Fine,” and go back to my writing, pretending to be unscathed.

He hesitates and then flips the magazine around to show me the article. “See? It says so right there.”

My eyes scanned the page for the words he had recited. It was true. We should be eating more insects. They taste like bacon and lemon drops.

“That’s just gross,” I mumbled, defeated.

“Maybe you should write that in your notebook,” he advised.

So, I did.

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2020 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂 To read the posts of other Slicers, please go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story Starters, Prompts & Quick Writes ~ SOL#19 ~ Day#5

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It seems like Twitter is flooded with lots of educators asking questions lately; teachers needing resources for a unit, books around a certain topic, or a lesson to teach something. I recently came across a tweet requesting prompts for journal entries for a class because the students didn’t have anything to write about.

My inner writing soul whispered, “Teach them to notice the world.”

Mary Oliver said it best, “Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About it.”

What if we just modeled and taught our students what awareness was and what that looks like, sounds like and feels like? Writers have strategies to help them pay attention to the world around them, and I think that we can teach these as strategies or triggers and call them as such, rather than the latter, to get something down on the page. Awareness is a habit of mind that can be cultivated over time – every day – so that after a couple of weeks, we can just say, “Write for 20 minutes,” and students will be able to grab something because, hopefully, they have been paying attention, or else they can choose a strategy to get them started. If our goal is writing independence, wouldn’t we want them finding writing topics on their own instead of us having to provide them?

Lynda Barry’s tool for teaching students (and myself) to be more aware is pretty effective. Seriously, used daily for a week or so activates the senses to no end.  Character sketches can happen constantly because people are everywhere and people are interesting. Really see someone, pay attention to their character and who they are. We write from big wonderings or noticings when we read books, listen to music or podcasts, or pay attention to the happenings going on in our world. Most of the time, if we are truly aware, just paying attention to the voices that are constantly talking in our mind should give us enough content for life.

I’ve also learned how important it is to take a good line from one of those awareness entries, just a line and to write from that, following whatever path unfolds, to find our way to new discoveries (Donald Murray taught me this). This, too, takes practice. And, modeling. Scary modeling it is, because it’s authentic and you don’t know where it will lead. Once I modeled this for my third graders starting with the smell of burnt toast and ended up writing about how it reminded me of my grandmother’s house and pretty soon I was a puddle. Geez. 28 kids sat there mesmerized. They wanted to try it.

Awareness and discovery. I really think that’s the meat of what keeps me writing.

Well, this wasn’t really a Slice of Life, but Twitter started it.

I just followed the thread.

I’m participating in twowritingteachers March 2019 Slice of Life Challenge of writing a blog post every day for the month of March. 🙂 To read the posts of other Slicers, please go here.