July 2010

Transitions

The ex-hippie indigenous studies teacher I had in my first term of college gave me the single best advice I’ve ever heard:

“Don’t worry about what you should do,” he told me as I fretted over what I was going to do with my life, “work hard at what you like and doors will open for you.”

At the time, it was what I needed to hear to calm me down and focus on just getting through college.  Now I look back at that advice as a reminder to be open and flexible.  Life isn’t about getting to an end point.  It’s about the process.  So I’ve put faith in the process — of doing what feels right.  It has meant taking risks, walking away from sure-things  in favor of the unknown, and sometimes just doing whatever it is that makes the least amount of sense.


Eight days ago, I was finishing teaching class when an opportunity fell from the sky and landed smack-dab on my head.

Even if I had been paying attention, I don’t think I would have seen it coming.  It means a lot of changes (and short-term, a lot more to balance) but opens up seemingly endless possibilities for incredible projects and work opportunities.  The door was open.  There was no way to say no.

Family

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Sam, the mystery man.

Sam is Kate’s special friend.  For the most part, Sam is a boy.  He lives on “I Love You Street,” which is in California.  Sometimes California is a place far away, sometimes it’s a house a few blocks away, and sometimes it’s a secret spot known only to Kate and Sam.

Lots of people — friends, strangers, family members — have connections to Sam.   Like when we met our friend, Bryan, at Disney World a few months back?  Bryan was Sam’s Daddy.  The girl at the pool who played with Kate yesterday during swim break is Sam’s sister.  Sam’s Mom and I also share some similarities.  For example, we both have a Diva Cup.  Except that mine is plain; Sam’s Mom’s has princesses on it.

It’s not strange for a kid to have an imaginary friend, so we haven’t paid Sam a whole lot of mind.

Except.

Kate is the kid who comes into our bed everynight, often because “the ghosts won’t let her sleep.” Part of her bedtime routine of tucking her in is announcing to various monsters and ghosts (most of which are named “Georgia” or “Frederick”) that it’s bedtime and Kate is done with playtime.  On some nights, they are can be very persistent.

And Sam?

Sam, she’s told us, used to live in our house.  I didn’t really pay much attention to this, as I’m quite certain our house isn’t in California.  Maybe Kate was making a continuity error.

Oh, but also?  Sam’s dead.

“What do you mean, Sam’s dead?”

“He’s not alive anymore.”

oh.

So.  Someone tell me.  At what point does developmental appropriateness cross into contact with The Beyond?

Is this something she’ll outgrow without exorcism?

Family
Mi Familia

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The cute! It burns!

Paul has been wonderfully supportive of the final stages of birth on our most recent baby.  Beyond the help with meals and laundry and cleaning (because did I mention I’m teaching and doing research interviews and presenting at conferences and oh, running a nonprofit, too?) he has also been taking the kids on outings over the weekends, leaving me long 12 hour days to work uninterrupted.

On Sunday, he took the kids to the Global Wildlife Center in Folsom.  He also took these pictures of them.

Hearts?  Get ready for a beating.

Art & Photography
Family

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To defend, or not to defend.

The email went something like this:


Dear (Committee Chair),

Guess what! I’m not dead!

Here’s my second attempt at producing a dissertation. It incorporates all that stuff we talked about months ago, plus other stuff.

Also, I was thinking that instead of defending this work of mine, we could just go through pictures of me in a bathing suit, having each committee member make comments about all my bodily imperfections. We could spend hours on my legs alone.

It would just make the whole affair less intimate than actually talking about my work.

So, can we defend this thing?

And now we wait.

Issues

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No need for missionaries.

Remember that post I wrote a few days ago about giving and getting?  About how the arrogance and superiority of some well-intended folks ends up alienating and insulting the group they are trying to help?

EXAMPLE GIVEN.

“30 Oregonians with a wealth of compassion, community service experience and technical expertise, will show the nation what the Gulf Coast disaster looks like from inside the Gulf.  We will shine a sustained light on what our neighbors need to survive and what the environment needs to recover.”


Yes, a group of folks from Portland and it’s surrounding universe are headed to New Orleans!  (No offense to beautiful Portland and our friends doing wonderful things out there, this just happens to be where this group is coming from.)  In any case, these folks are coming here to do 6 days of visits to Gulf Coast communities which:

“…will culminate in the production of a graphic travelogue of what we saw, learned and felt.  Our experiences will be represented through the arts of drawing, writing, filming and making music.  The images and voices we capture will be engaging, powerful and influential.  And, most importantly our final documentation will contain a roadmap for individual action to minimize a second occurrence of this type of catastrophe.  The proceeds from the sale of our book, and any other money raised, will be contributed to Gulf Coast and national efforts to educate children about this catastrophe and how we can do the best possible job of cleaning up after ourselves, plus prevent this from ever happening again.



Also, they are trying to raise $60,000.  You can donate on their website.  But no, the money isn’t for the Gulf… it’s to finance their trip.   So that they can come to the Gulf, visit as “caring neighbors arriving to help,” spend 6 days capturing images and voices, and then put them in their book.

Hmmm.

I showed this to my graduate students earlier today in class.  In the words of one of the students: “I’m not even from the Gulf Coast and this insults ME.”

Check out their website.  What do you think?


Here are are some lessons that these undoubtedly very nice, wealthy-with-compassion-Oregonians should have considered:

  • The disaster is not about you!  No, really.  I’m not kidding.
  • Please travel to share technical expertise where you are invited to share technical expertise.
  • If you want to “show the nation” what is happening in the Gulf Coast, then work locally to build partnerships with Gulf Coast organizations, and find places within your communities to make those voices heard.  There are plenty of organizations, plenty of stories, plenty experiences — all existing without your collection, reorganization, and authority.
  • We also have artistsMany artists.  Who have and can continue to creatively express the experiences of this region in a multitude of forms.  We even have spaces to support them.  They are very much able to “shine the light” on these communities, and would probably be interested in collaboration and partnership on projects.
  • Taking other people’s stories to publish in your book takes advantage of people who are suffering in a very unique and powerful catastrophe.  Particularly when mischievously veiled within the scope of a “local gathering to break bread.”
  • Six days to “experience” the Gulf is tourism.  You’re tourists.  Good news — this is a fantastic place to be a tourist.  Enjoy the area, tell your loved ones, friends, your contacts on your social networking sites about your experiences visiting this area.  Just please don’t position yourself in a place of authority based on 6 days of tours.
  • If you want to contribute to Gulf Coast communities through service, then contact organizations and let them find ways to use your skills.


These folks are coming here with an agenda that is their own, focused on their own needs, their own desires.  This does not help a situation, it only makes it more difficult.


(Hat tip to local bloggers, who found and shared the website.)

Issues
Life in New Orleans

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Sunshine, waterslide, and blueberries

Pearl River Blues Berry Farm, in Pearl River, Mississippi — the same organic farm that we gave our cast iron tub to years ago when we started renovating the back of the house.  (The tub is in the back.)  Beautiful farm, wide space for running and jumping, friendly people and animals, and lots and lots of blueberry plants.  No chemicals in the growth process — which means that you can eat them fresh off the vine.

Which means, a lot (a LOT) of blue-tinted kid poops in your future.


Family
Life in New Orleans
Mi Familia

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Strikes and gutters.

One of the great things about New Orleans is how nicely the city has promoted tourism interests to remain neatly tucked away from the rest of the city.  Bourbon Street, as I’ve been told, was created to keep tourists out of the rest of the city and as far as my experience has shown, it’s done a fantastic job.  In general, the frat boys, the wanna-be-frat-boys, the remembering-the-days-of-being-a-frat-boy, and the associated hangers-on stay in a few blocks within the French Quarter and leave the rest of us alone.

But occasionally we get a visitor who wants to get New Orleans.  And man, oh man.  Showing someone from another part of our lives just why we live here?  This is one of our favorite things in the world.  The only thing better than that Reconcile Bananas Foster Bread Pudding is having someone new to share it with.

We were thrilled to share these past five days with a good friend of mine from college — a guy who gave me my most lasting nickname (Hosh), studied with me in Switzerland and Italy, and who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade.  We went out, hung out at the pool, hung out in the park, played with the kids, ate good food, explored random parts of the city, and just generally enjoyed the awesomeness of having someone so open and positive about all the things we love about our home.

On Saturday afternoon, Jeb and I, along with a friend of his who had recently moved to the area, went to Commander’s Palace for the Jazz BrunchCommander’s Palace is the long-standing launching pad of culinary royalty; Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse are among its dignitaries.  While there, enjoying the music and company and food and all that comes with it, I mentioned the odd fact that every time Paul has eaten at Commander’s, he’s been ill within 24 hours.  No, it is never because of the food… just really bad timing.  Paul enjoys a completely fantastic meal and four hours later it’s floating down the Mississippi.  Bad timing.

Of course I had to tempt the fates by telling Jeb all about it.

The next morning, we didn’t hear from Jeb.  We thought maybe he’d gone jogging in Audubon Park, or perhaps needed some extra sleep to compensate for late night music at Les Bon Temps.  So we went blueberry picking in Mississippi in the morning.  On the way back, we spoke to him for the first time that day: it had been a rough night.

No, it wasn’t the food.  It was just bad timing.

And completely my fault.

Thankfully, he bounced back in the afternoon and enjoyed the rest of the blissful weekend.  Then Sunday night, last night, the fates rolled over to Kate.

She had eaten her body weight in blueberries at the farm so we expected a certain amount of tummy disturbance.  But it wasn’t until 3 am that the disturbances truly made their intentions clear.

Yikes.

The weekend then was like any other time in New Orleans — incredible highs and miserable lows.  We accept both and appreciate the need of each.  It is just that sometimes, we’re surprised at just how they materialize.  And in Kate’s case, the incredible monochromatic palate that results.

In honor of Jeb, quoting NOLA’s beloved John Goodman… Strikes and gutters.  Strikes and gutters.

Family
Life in New Orleans
Mi Familia

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Photos from Hwy 90, July 11th

Driving back from Mississippi this afternoon, we decided to take more scenic US 90 into town.

The photos below come from less than a quarter mile southwest of Fort Pike. (The “A” marks Fort Pike.)

Here is the map closer in — the photos come from about where the “90″ is on the map, between Lake Saint Catherine and Lake Pontchartrain.

For orientation, the I-10 bridge over the Lake is visible in the background of several of these photos. These were taken over a span of a few hundred feet along US 90.

I’m not an expert in environment, oil, or marshland ecosystems. Nor was I searching for a smoking gun. But this does not look right to me.

This part of the marsh looked a lot different than the rest.

Tell me it’s a normal look.  Tell me that the green isn’t there temporarily (these photos are not photoshopped).  Can someone who knows more about these things tell me that this is a healthy marsh?  I honestly don’t know.

Issues
Life in New Orleans

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Poverty, Invisibility, and Dignity: Thoughts on 40 Years of The Bluest Eye

Claudia at The Bottom of Heaven kindly invited me to blogging event around the 40th anniversary of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  I was thrilled to participate.  It is one of my favorite books.  I had wonderful experiences with it as a student and later as a TA, teaching it to undergraduates in a women’s studies course.  Although I am not a literary scholar, I deeply appreciate the symbolism and metaphors used in this book.  It was where I first experienced quality classroom learning on issues of race, class, and gender; and the first time I learned to facilitate those discussions.  Without question, I wanted to celebrate this with Claudia and the other bloggers.



At the end of The Bluest Eye, Claudia describes Pecola as a contrast:

“All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed.  And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us.  All of us – all who knew her – felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her.  We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness.  Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor.  Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent.  Her poverty kept us generous.  Even her waking dreams we used – to silence our own nightmares.  And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt.  We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.”

I think a lot about this passage because, to be frank, I just don’t know.

Let me tell you what I mean.  I have this colleague or friend or relative who lives in another U.S. city.  It can be anyone of those gleaming metropolises far away from The Deep South, a place that already feels a bit superior simply for not being a slave state 150 years ago.  Maybe New York.  Or Providence.  Boston, San Francisco, Chicago or Philadelphia.  Like many, these folks from Minneapolis or Seattle or Bangor are caring and giving.  They were shocked when New Orleans was devastated.  They click their tongues in worry about people on rooftops and trapped in attics.  They try not to show their disgust when they see the grunge and filth around the edges of those images.  It’s not that they are being, you know, judgmental; it’s just that they, personally, couldn’t imagine living that way.   But they do care, so when their church started gathering supplies to send, they gave.  And when that same church brought down a group of do-gooders to rebuild homes, they came.  “We came and built a house on a street that was just terrible,” she or he or they will tell me, “there wasn’t anything left on that street, it was just a mess.”  And then, the surprise, “but you know, I recently saw a picture, and that house we built?  Well, know there are four more and you wouldn’t even know it’s the same street!”  They tell this story with pride and surprise at what can happen when do-gooders get together.  “It’s really an example of the power of people, you know?”  Also, they watch Treme.  So between the show and that house they built, well, they really get New Orleans.

“Her poverty kept us generous.”

That passage sticks with me because when I’m faced with those situations from my story above, I don’t know what to do.  I am thankful, without question.  Please don’t doubt for a second that I am so, so thankful to each and every person who thinks about New Orleans.  The people who watched those days unfold with us just as sick and angry as we were, and were so thoughtful and kind.  I am grateful that folks are monitoring the oil spill and wondering about the coast.  That is for sure.

But also?  When I hear those stories above?  I sort of want to be sick.  I want to serve back their superiority on a plate of snappy come-backs.  I don’t want to be in a place that is pitied.  And frankly, after all I’ve seen, done, heard, and lived in this place, I know that it is not a place to be pitied, period.

“And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt.”

When something terrible happens, something so awful that our common humanity compels us to act on it – why does this become a source of pity?  Before September 2005, no one cared of the poverty and inequalities that existed in the Lower 9th Ward, in Gentilly, in the Treme — places that now hold the collective imaginations as symbols of endemic and systematic disparity.  The poverty set the stage for the disaster, yet did not compel true action until it became a spectacle.  And then, it became a place of pity.

Why?


Claudia discussed this with me as I was struggling with ending this piece.  In an email, she wrote:

How can we assist people and populations in need with mutual respect (and empathy? openness?) right now, in 2010, without using their suffering to affirm our own sense of virtue and self worth? And perhaps, more controversially, how do those of us whose way of life has been weakened and is in need of repair, accept help appreciatively, but in a way that makes pity and contempt unwelcome? (That line – “and she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt” – is arguably one of the most haunting and most troubling in the book! How did Pecola “let” them? Through silent acquiescence?) Maybe the answer begins in breaking silences, naming these awful, awkward moments, and how much of our well-being is based on the illusion of “us” vs. “them.”

Within this context, part of the legacy of The Bluest Eye is in this complex issue of giving and receiving.  Disasters of unthinkable proportions will continue into our future, compelling people to act.  Is there a line between curiosity over an event so monumentally catastrophic that it must be seen to be understood – and respect for those who are living through it?

As for naming those silent, awkward moments… I agree that it is important.  But then what do we do?  Breaking the illusions of “us” and “them” means that we all take some responsibility for the inequalities in the world… and then make the hard choices required to address them.  And this, unfortunately, seems like something we will still be discussing when The Bluest Eye celebrates another 40 years.

What do you think?

(Thank you, Claudia, for the invitation to participate!)

Issues

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Just Posts: June 2010

The Just Posts for a Just World are a joint effort between Alejna and me — together, and with your nominations, we try to find posts on personal blogs about relevant social issues.  Regular people thinking about important stuff.  Ways we can inspire each other to think, do, and be all that we want to see in the world.

Here are the Just Posts of June 2010.

The posts of this months roundtable were nominated by:

Issues

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