Other items of interest

Draw the Circle Wide

I cannot remember the conference city or the name of the hotel lobby bar where I joined my friend for a late afternoon glass of wine but, even after all these decades, my memory of our discussion is clear.  My friend Estelle arrived agitated and ready to resign from a prestigious committee.  As I tried to discover what had caused her distress, she kept telling me I would not understand.  I, of course, argued I would.  Finally, she said “I am tired of being responsible for representing an entire race of people.”  And she had been right, I didn’t understand. 

Even when serving as the sole female on an otherwise all male committee, no one thought I spoke for all women.  But Estelle was constantly expected to speak for all people of color.  As a talented black woman, often the only person of color in a sea of white, she was put in that untenable situation; expected to know of the needs of an entire community as if the rich, complexity of life was a simple monolith and she held the key. 

There is a challenge within every cultural exploration; to learn and celebrate the beauty of that which is different without inadvertently co-opting a tradition not our own.  To not to fall into that misguided complacency that created such stress for my friend.  While I can revel in the lyrical quality of an Amanda Gorman poem; agonize over the brutal reality of black life in white America as portrayed in a cinematic adaptation of an August Wilson play; even get caught up in a who-dun-it following Walter Mosley’s infamous detective Easy Rawlins through the grime and glitter of LA, I must remember – whether fiction or fact – that those descriptions are just a brief glimpse into lives different from my own.

The challenge is to appreciate the uniqueness of each person’s life, to recognize that each difference in upbringing, family food tradition, or the myriad of diverse life choices that make a whole person, is to recognize that the opportunities for personal growth are endless.  That with each book I read, movie I see, or story that I hear, I only hold a very small thread in a rich tapestry of another’s experience.

Knitting

Mistakes Encouraged

red, yellow and green pine shape lollipops with red ribbon

When I was little girl, I used a variety of rhymes to help make choices.  You may have as well.  A syllable paired with each point of the finger to choose the grape or the cherry lollipop or to determine which of two sides would kick first in kickball.  Back then, the very act of recitation felt quite magical.  A difficult decision simplified.  As adults we know the decision was made with the first point of the finger because of a set number of syllables.  

And yet, even knowing that in many aspects of our lives there are a set number of syllables, I am always surprised when what appears to be the disparate aspects of my life come together.  How is it that liturgical preparations and searching for a new knitting pattern can blend so seamlessly?

Living with Intention is the theme of my spiritual reflections this month and I discovered very similar language in these meditations and recent blog posts by two of my “go-to” knitting designers.  Christina Campbell in Iowa and Solène Le Roux in France both infuse nature into their designs, whether incorporating leaf patterns or revealing rippling water as yarn is transformed from skein to knitted object.  Both designers take a very holistic approach to their craft.  It is not about just the design or the fiber, but the whole experience; encouraging the reader, the knitter to pause, to develop the muscle of inspiration, to connect with nature and each other; encouraging the knitter, encouraging the person to act with intent.

In Navajo weaving every thread tells a story.  The weaver brings the strands together not just to accomplish a function – a finished blanket or rug – but with the specific intention to communicate the culture, the land, a way of life.  Traditional Navajo weaving requires the weaver to incorporate a mistake.  This is done in homage to the belief that only the creator is perfect and acknowledges the weaver is not.  To live with intention or in this case to weave with intention. 

Now, I admit I have a difficult time with mistakes when I am knitting.  I have been known to rip out an evening’s work – rows and rows, thousands of stitches when I discover a break in the design, something that jumps out as an eyesore.  Even with all my experience knitting the same row again and again, I cannot claim that I have ever come close to knitting anything without error and I am certainly not good enough to emulate the Navajo weavers such that the mistake becomes a design element enhancing the final piece.  And so the advice from English writer, Neil Gaiman, spoke to my heart and hands and I hope his words will resonate with you as well as we move into a new year; a new year in which there are sure to be plenty of unknowns.  Gaiman writes:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Photo credit: Old Fashion Lollipop Recipe from Taste of Home

Other items of interest

Holding History

A new map of the world: With all the new discoveries by Captain Cook and other navigators (Ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets) *

My sixth grade studies included a year of world history.  We began in Egypt with pharaohs and pyramids, moved to Greek city-states, before traveling across the Adriatic Sea to Rome and eventually migrating throughout Europe.  As mine was Catholic parochial school education, interspersed with historical events such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of the Magna Carta, there was a generous amount of information on popes and the lives of the saints.  While in geography class we knew there were countries around the globe, our history curriculum was Eurocentric – that is until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue after which our study of world history broadened from one track to two and included a large dose of American Manifest Destiny.

I don’t share this story in condemnation of that hard working teacher.  I will not judge Mrs. Menard’s teaching methods by a modern litmus test.  She used the tools she had at hand, at a very different time than today.  She was enthusiastic.  She made learning about history fun (albeit a narrowly focused history).  It is well documented that most of our curricula, not just that of my childhood and adolescence but continuing in today’s classrooms, regardless of the intended age group, still highlights European accomplishments over those of other cultures. 

When Black History Month was first designated in the early 1970s, the library where I worked created a book display pulling together titles scattered throughout the collection.  I wondered why a special month when these important contributions should simply be integrated into the normal flow of information.  Now, I better understand the need to spotlight lives and achievements whether it is in March as part of Women’s History Month or during the 30 days of November for Native American Heritage Month.  These months of celebration are not intended to diminish mainstream accomplishments but rather are a simple acknowledgement that the sheer volume of information and resources presented from a white, male perspective creates an almost impenetrable monolith whether it is history or literature, science or art. 

Each of these designated months gives us permission to explore an author, a musician, a filmmaker, that would not be a normal “go-to” source.  My study plan for November includes:

  • Reading a book of poetry by Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poet Laureate; and
  • Viewing the films featured as part of this year’s Native Cinema Showcase sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian.

Join me in “Holding History” by organizing your own personal mini history course and learning more about the rich culture and history of Indigenous People. 

* Kitchen, T. , Junior, and John Evans. A new map of the world: with all the new discoveries by Capt. Cook and other navigators: ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets &c. London: I. Evans, 1799. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2003630537/>.

Gardening

Pandemic Fatigue: Real not imagined

The last burst of pandemic summer color

My across the street and next door neighbors each recently acquired new garden tools.  With a cordless power drill and a hex drive auger to serve as bulb bit, my neighbor to the north planted 160 tulip bulbs on either side of the walk leading to her front door.  Not to be outdone, my gardening neighbor to the west made a quick Amazon purchase for this same handy tool and scattered 80 daffodil, hyacinth and early snowdrop bulbs among her well-established perennials.  Promises of spring – that is assuming the scurry of squirrels that nests in our 80-year elm tree doesn’t dig up the bulbs as winter appetizers or the fluffle of rabbits under the neighbor’s shed across the alley doesn’t devour each green shoot just as it pokes through the snow. Normally all this activity would have inspired garden envy and set me on my own quest to add spring color.  And, last fall I would have enthusiastically joined the planting challenge but not this October.

When we first entered our global quarantine, I accepted it as an inconvenience and then joined two new book clubs, enrolled in an Impressionist art appreciation class, and participated in an earth-based meditative retreat led by French knitting designer, Solène Le Roux.  But what I am feeling today, 18 months into our shared Covid experience is a bit like the title of the 1971 S.E. Hinton coming of age novel, That Was Then, This is Now.

When mass media began mentioning “pandemic fatigue” I recognized some of the symptoms as my own but also wondered about the power of suggestion.  Then articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet validated my feelings.  The World Health Organization even has entire publication devoted to “pandemic fatigue” which is defined as:

…an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis – not least because the severity and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic have called for the implementation of invasive measures with unprecedented impacts on the daily lives of everyone, including those who have not been directly affected by the virus itself. 

An expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis.  The validation that what I am experiencing is an international phenomenon may not be a precise recipe for an attitude adjustment but it certainly is a step toward reducing my irritability.  Getting back in the garden, if only to put things to bed for the winter, may also help diminish my pandemic fatigue.

Other items of interest

On the day of a verdict

Poetry, offered as prayer, that captures what my soul feels…

A verdict means to say the truth.
A judge and jury, in this case, convicted an executioner.
May the truth we say always be
that black lives matter
that justice is more important than order
that militarization of police hurts us all,
and we have a lot more work to do.

Some days, the world seems to wake up,
even just a little bit - 
still groggy, still bleary-souled,
asking us to notice the glimmers of hope
shining through this weary world.
We need to keep waking up, again and again.

Sometimes,
guilty is the glimmer we need
to keep doing the work
and saying the names
of George Floyd, of Sandra Bland, of Emmett Till,
and countless other sacred names,
speaking them with reverence as speaking the name of the holy,
until we can all breathe.

    Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer, April 20, 2021

Other items of interest · Reading

Another Minnesota Shooting

The news that a Brooklyn Center police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon haunts my thoughts this week.  There is a shocking dissonance in this spring time, this vaccination time, when we should be focusing on new beginnings as the sun shines longer, crocuses offer a burst of color and vaccinations rates are increasing, that we are once again facing the ugly underbelly of an unjust society.

Last summer, I was appalled by the sinful video footage showing George Floyd’s murder on a Minneapolis street.  After the death of so many black men and, as we know from the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home, the shooting of black women, I wondered, how can this happen?  With those first thoughts of outrage I wanted to place responsibility for what we as a society were becoming on the rhetoric of the past four years.  But life is not that simple.  I knew we did not simply become a racist society with the results of one election.  I recognized that it was only as the hateful rhetoric went viral and the incidents of violence against People of Color went virtual that I became increasingly aware of what is and what has always been a dramatic difference between my safe white environment and threatening world faced daily by People of Color.

I did take some hope that we may have reached a tipping point last summer as people across the world spontaneously marched.  White celebrities sat down with Emmanuel Acho for Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black ManLewis Hamilton wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on the starting grid and on the winner’s podium even as racers sprayed champagne.  And, Formula 1 cars now carry a #WeRaceAsOne logo as a visible display of a new “initiative aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities – the fight against COVID-19 and the condemnation of racism and inequality.”

Over the past seven months, our Common Read at church delved into the hard and realistic truth that the injustice playing on our screens again this week is not new but is as old as the country itself.  As we read, we were reminded with each well crafted paragraph, each page we turned that injustice is deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  That violence happens every day.  We need only look to other April days to recall shocking events: 

  • April 1873 – A white mob massacred an estimated 150 Black voters over the results of a hotly contested gubernatorial election;
  • April 1956 – Four white men attacked signer Nat King Cole while he was on stage performing for a white audience;
  • April 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Earlier, I blogged about one of our Common Read titles, a powerful anthology, A Good Time for the Truth:  Race in Minnesota.  It is an eye-opening collection of personal stories shared by 16 Minnesota authors of Color that sheds light on life in our state and in our time.  In the book’s introduction, poet Sun Yung Shin, who edited A Good Time for the Truth, offers both a challenge and words to help guide us.

Good people need to take action continuously, and I would say daily, until [racism] is dismantled.  Because lives are at stake, every day; on sidewalks, in doctor’s offices, in the waiting room of the bank, and, most importantly, in classrooms.

I believe we can do it.  I know I am not alone in this conviction.

People of color and Indigenous people know with a specific, agonizing intimacy that racism was constructed and upheld by white society (in spaces such as the police precinct, the courtroom, school board meetings, newsrooms, Hollywood studios, mortgage loan offices, and everywhere power has resided in America) in order to confer unearned advantages on white people.  It is as simple as that.  It’s not a law of nature.  It’s culture.  It’s something we made, invented, maintained.  Since it was made, like a vast machine, it can be unmade, and it must. ...

Change is necessary.
Art

Caradori Kintsugi

A number of years ago, a friend described the Japanese art of Kintsugi in her opening words on a Sunday morning.  Amazing to think that in this all too quick to pitch, always buy new consumer world, there are those whose art focuses on the broken, carefully recreating that which was valuable and making it even more beautiful by re-assembling it with precious metals.

I am sure I must have passed ancient porcelain repaired with gold or platinum in the Asian Art collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) but nothing immediately comes to mind.  Although, to be honest, we frequently walk the long corridor dividing period rooms without careful study simply because it is the most direct route to our timed entrance to tour a featured exhibit.

One day, while visiting Caradori Pottery for bowls to give as wedding presents, I indulged my love of pottery and treated myself. Unlike a piece of pottery broken by use, this vibrant green glazed bowl had developed a small crack during firing.  Rather than reject this beauty, David, artfully filled the gap with 24K gold.

Reading

When life interests intersect …

Throughout my library career I advocated for the Minnesota Center for the Book and the Minnesota Book Awards.  I’ve booktalked Book Award nominated titles and represented Greater Minnesota on the Book Award Advisory Committee, as well as attended receptions at the Library of Congress to celebrate the work of Centers for the Book around the United States. 

So I was excited to learn about a new book club – One Book / One Minnesota.  Launched in the spring of 2020 as Minnesota went into Covid quarantine and libraries closed their doors to walk-in patrons, One Book encouraged Minnesotans to read together.  The three titles selected thus far feature award winning Minnesota authors:

  1. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  2. A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin
  3. A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich.

A blending of reading good books by Minnesota authors and retirement life came together last night as I led an online book discussion of A Good Time for the Truth.  This anthology contains 16 extremely well written chapters, each by a different Minnesota author, each a Person of Color living and working in our state.  Artfully edited by Sun Yung Shin.  The first lines of her introduction reads:

You hold in your hand a book of visions.  Memories.  True stories.  Shock.  Grief.  Dreams.  Activism.  Recognition. A call for us to listen and learn about one another’s real lives in Minnesota.

While the setting and many of the references are Minnesota specific, the stories are real whether they occur in Minneapolis or Minocqua, Rochester or Rockford or any city, USA.  Stories which reveal how those who look like me – white, middle-aged, educated, financially comfortable, that is to say privileged – take for granted our place in this white patriarchy.  Or, conversely as Sun Yung Shin states:

Most people of color in the United States have to think about race every day, multiple times a day.  We are constantly negotiating our bodies, our selves, our identities, in a racialized society.

These stories are so well written and revealing that I could only read one at a time before setting down the book and taking time and space to reflect, sometimes to cry, about the injustices and inequities to which I was blind.  This same sentiment was expressed by several participating in our church’s Common Read book discussion.

We are living the great American democratic experiment.  But for it to be truly successful, all the voices need to be heard.  Those Indigenous People with whom our government has repeatedly broken trust.  Those whose ancestors were brought here against their will chained in the holds of slave ships.  Those who came to this “land of opportunity” for a myriad of reasons and every day enrich the whole of our existence but whose contributions are minimized because they are different.  I encourage you to pick up a copy of A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota.  Read with an open heart the beauty of the language on the page and hear the stories of fellow Americans. After, give me a call or an email or a text so we can chat as we grow and learn together.

P.S. If you want to hear some of the authors in their own voices, check out this One Book / One Minnesota YouTube video with Sun Young Shin and six of the anthology’s authors.