Monthly Archives: June 2018

Mr. Liberty

I got stopped by a tall guy wearing sunglasses in the parking lot of the Fry’s at 40th and Thunderbird tonight. He asked politely if I wanted to sign a petition on campaign finance reform.

Normally I’m a sucker for the flexing my one-vote political clout. But I’d read a caution  that there’d been bogus petition-passers working at a shopping center near PV Mall lately. My first thought was, is this an ID theft ring? And was I approached because I have gray hair, and ergo, probably a credit card or two? Usually petition people have a table and some literature about their cause, not JUST a clipboard. And stopping people when it’s 110 in the shade, really?

So I swung by the customer service on my way into the store, to tell them they mightmightmight have a problem, politely. “Ah-GAIN!??” sputtered the manager. “They were asked to leave yesterday.”

ID Theft or Community-Building?

I found an article or two saying that without your social security number or bank account, it’s hard to for crooks to profit with just your name, address, and signature on a petition.

Sadly, stuff like this makes it tougher for people with real ballot issues to get signatures. Still, perhaps there’s another way to look at this.

I have signed petitions over the years at the front door of the Mesquite Library. I have unfortunately forgotten the name of the man who for years has balanced multiple clipboards every weekend, getting signatures on local ballot measures.  I call him “Mr Liberty” in my head. (Admit it, you do it too, give nicknames to people you see all the time but who are, in the end, strangers.) I figure if he were a criminal, he’d have been arrested by now.

I once commented to Mr. Liberty that I’d sign stuff I mildly disagreed with, and I’ll sign on various political parties too, because really it’s all about giving people an equal chance to have their voice heard.

You would have thought I plugged him into a light socket.  “You GET IT! You GET this stuff about freedom and democracy!” he said (or something akin to that), dropping clipboards momentarily to shake my hand.  I mean, this guy was excited to the depths of his soul about the democratic process.

Gosh Darn It, We Have To Talk To Each Other

I now have a relationship with Mr. Liberty, if it’s only a smile and a “Whatcha got for us today?” as I go by. And you know, I don’t think his business will dry up because some poseurs have a racket going at the strip mall next door.

Maybe we’re being sent back to democracy school right now. Maybe passing petitions to trusted friends, instead of blanketing the neighborhood stranger-to-stranger, is the best way we can go, to make change.  

I left Fry’s downcast about people who take advantage of the weak. But I later realized I had a choice to make. I could be upset over predation on the vulnerable or I could do something about it. Talking to the store manager didn’t solve the problem of petition fraud, but they guy was gone when I came out of the store, and I saw the manager walking into the store.  Alone, I was a potential victim. By reaching out, I was part of a community that wants to improve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Gets Better.

[Standing editorial note: I know there is a danger to writing about 40-year-old memories. I do my best to tell the truth. I am a fan of Dave Eggers, who classified “What is the What” as fiction rather than biography because the memory of a refugee is so un-confirmable.  So classify this however you will, fact or fiction, but I will claim it as the way I remember it, as best as I can tell.)

Part of why I’m writing this blog, is to put down the story of how I got where I am. I’m so thrilled that for some reason, people in their teens and 20s want to listen to my stories. And as I move toward Act II, toward “senior citizen” years that give me a chance to hit the reset button, I have more friends my age asking me how they can make a difference.

The answer: You’ll have little incidents happen that seem like nothing, but are really God telling you what to do. Follow those little things.

I remembered a very key moment in high school that put me on this path.  It was a moment of pain that a classy teacher turned around into a vital teaching moment.

Ouch.

Setting the scene: 10th grade, a high school in Wayne County, Michigan. I had stayed after school for Spanish Club.  In 1970s Michigan, there weren’t many of us taking Spanish. I think my 9th grade class barely had the minimum complement of students to warrant a class. My teacher also taught drama part-time. We were a close-knit bunch of futurists who didn’t really know at the time how useful Spanish would be.

I’ll call my teacher simply Señor T. He was from Southern California originally, of Mexican heritage, and his first love was acting.

He was also probably the first gay person I knew. He never shared that with us in class or at any other time. We heard it, unfortunately, in an unkind and spiteful comment from another teacher.

We were sitting in Spanish club after school, Señor T. was in the hallway, and another teacher passed by the door. I have no idea what precipitated the comment, but suddenly we heard another male teacher saying in a very loud voice something about “That G**D**** f****t drama teacher.” (Hint, the second expletive means a homosexual. I think you might get the first one without a hint.)

What do you do with something like that?

We looked at each other in quiet shock. We were still young enough to think teachers were demi-gods. and this didn’t fit our paradigm. But even in our young minds, this wasn’t right.

Señor T. came into the room. He must have seen our stricken faces. After a moment he spoke.

“What you experienced here today — what you just heard– is not the real world,” he said slowly. “The real world is a wonderful place. It’s full of amazing people and amazing ideas. I hope you’ll experience it someday.” And then we moved on to learning about life in Guatemala, from a recent trip he’d led with some other students.

From a man I know others didn’t consider to be a great teacher –who talked too much about himself in class — I learned so much. What he taught us about his supposedly worthless life stories was about that other world, the one where knowing Spanish and loving art and culture, would open doors we couldn’t yet fathom.

Take Homes

And he knew about communication as power. With a few simple sentences he eviscerated a nasty bigot. He also moonlighted as an ESL teacher, working with recent immigrants. He gave power to those who had none, in night school courses in neighborhoods we thought unsafe for visiting. He gave us a vision for how we might also help others some day, to become literate, full-voiced, bilingual participants in our community.

He gave me my first lessons in culture stress. He experienced it as a Latino trying to get a degree at at university when there weren’t many people who looked like him going to college. He experienced it taking students to Central America, and told us how some very central tenants of our identity as Americans and even our faith would be challenged by experiences with the church in Central America.

As mentioned, he never talked about his sexual orientation. I found his obituary on Google and it mentions a “longtime companion” type of relationship. He described a gentleman in passing references as “his roommate.”   I have given my teacher a pseudonym and have not mentioned specific details I knew about his life, because evidently his family wanted to use the euphemisms. I lovingly respect their choice.

What I do now, as a result

I have sometimes fantasized about meeting Señor T. and now know it’ll have to be in heaven, to let him know what joy his teaching has brought me.

But that lesson of turning the ugliness of the world, into a positive, is something I always try to do with young people how come to me distraught and downcast about the state of the world. “It will be better,” I say. This may be the biggest thing we can do, as women (and men) who have been down the road a piece. We MUST communicate hope to the next generation.

And I know that storytelling is an important way to do it. Specific stories stick. I’m not sure how I arrived at the point of realizing storytelling has value, except to say, it was a huge part of my upbringing (but that’s another blog post). My stories, your stories, have value.

Convergence

I did not graduate from the school where I met Señor T., but when I arrived at University of Michigan, several of my former classmates joined me in upper-level Spanish courses.  Several of us converged in the prerequisites for the Spanish teaching certificate. Which is a pretty good measure of a high school teacher’s effectiveness, doncha think?

Despite only having 3 years (on paper) of Spanish (I was put back a year when I changed school systems), I tested at 4th-year level at Michigan and got a pass into upper-level Spanish lit courses. (Props here to Señoras Ward and Lyons for top-flight teaching in Dearborn, as icing on the cake!) My very first class as a first year student, was a junior-level Spanish lit course, taught by an Argentinian leftist, on Octavio Paz’s classic essay “The Labyrinth of Solitude.” Which included a lengthy discussion of several key phrases in Spanish that will get this post blocked by your browser, including a discourse on the four-letter word that begins with “F” and a phrase called the “Madonna/woman who sells herself” complex. Yep, that was 8 a.m. on my first day as a first-year student.

Quite the intellectual blast to a suburban whitest-of-white girl. I didn’t even know what a leftist was. I could barely find Argentina on a map.

Due to Sr. T, I did not quit right there.  Instead I said, “Well, Hello, real world.” I may not have liked it much but I was ready for the challenge. Which set me up for a lifetime of first-days where I was a fish out of water.

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Learned Via Needlework

There’s nothing that soothes my stress like needlework. I don’t consider myself an artist — I’m far too content with copying a pattern. But the focus on making beautiful things, even following behind others, connects me with God and with others in a way that few other things can.

And I do it because I learn as I work. Every project has a lesson woven into its trajectory. My home is filled with my projects not because I’m too cheap to buy something better. Rather, each creation has a story that I remember when I see it.

Why do I spend so much time in needlework? The stress-alleviation is just the tip of the iceberg. In reality, I learn so much from creating:

  1. Perfection is unnecessary.  I can deviate from the pattern and still make something gorgeous.  In fact, I have the most fun when I break the rules.  On my latest piece, pictured above, I’m A-B testing  (that’s marketing-speak) a metallic thread that’s a different composition and weight from the rest of the needlework floss.  You can see I worked one motif in lilac and charcoal, and I’m testing a glittering copper-gold/charcoal motif next. Will it work or not? I don’t know yet but I’m sure having fun seeing how it comes out. Thus far I’ve determined I have to double the thread to get what I want.  I may end up pulling out stitches if it doesn’t work. But some of life’s best results come after failures.
  2. Needlecraft anchors you to the past.  Sometimes, the very, very distant past.  When I visited Ireland two years ago, on a day trip to Kilkenny Castle,  I saw amazing tapestries on the walls. As I looked out the windows at the beautiful grounds, I imagined myself as a young woman in the 1200s, when the castle was built, stitching in the natural light streaming through the panes. When I grasp a needle, I feel a deep-down connection with women worldwide throughout history.
  3. Needlework knits generations together.  Some of my earliest and best memories are of my mother teaching me to knit, crochet, and embroider.  Unlike me, my mother is left-handed, but she managed to learn how to teach me using her right hand. She brought me untold hours of joy from that sacrifice.  I hope to someday teach younger women the craft as well.
  4. God is in the smallest details.  I once worked a crochet piece, an original amigarumi animal patterns, where I simply could not get the shape I wanted. I finally put down the crochet hook and prayed. And then I picked up the hook again and figured out the problem. What a life lesson! What other small things in life will God fix if we just turn them over to Him?

What have you learned from household crafts? (Hit the “Leave a Comment” button at the top of the post.)

Do brown people lie more?

person uses pen on book

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Part of my professional day is reading stories from all over the word. The writers don’t look like me or sound like me, checking the “White/Anglo/Caucasian” box. They’re East African, Bangladeshi, and Caribbean. They would get stopped for driving in certain neighborhoods in the US, or profiled at the airport.

I am not color blind.  When I meet someone who is a different color than me, whom I don’t know, I can I be tense. Not out of fear for my safety but more, “How should I act?” I know from experience that my actions have consequences and I’m nervous I’ll blow the relationship. Despite years of practice in environments where I’m a minority, I still need a moment to get over the “otherness” of the person in front of me.

“Well, that’s a start,” some would say. “At least you’re aware of your tendencies.”

I recently thought of a conversation I had about cross-cultural work, where I had a chance to make a difference and missed it. Partly because I was more interested in touting my own professional horn; partly, because I needed to ferret out a deep-seated assumption.  And that assumption was horrible and deadly: “Brown people lie more.”

How can you tell?

I was at a work conference where we talked about obtaining life-stories of people in other countries, for use in non-profit fund raising.  I stated that I was quite proud of my charity’s ability to obtain are stories from people who are from the country they’re writing about. The people interviewing and writing aren’t from places like the US but rather like Kenya, or the Philippines, or Guatemala.

“How do you know the stories are true, that they give you?” a person asked.  I chose to respond with tactical advice.

I answered with a swift bullet-point list about about fact-checking techniques, training modules, and professional experience helping discern when a story doesn’t ring true. The discussion moved on to other topics.

I missed the boat completely, in thought and deed.

What I should have thought — and said (but more diplomatically):

  1.  Why are we assuming that because they aren’t American, or Canadian, or European [read: White, even though that’s not necessarily a given], that they are more likely to lie?
  2. Why is this conversation assuming that someone like me would be more capable of discerning the truth more readily in a foreign culture, while working through a translator? And of writing the truth? How many completely false stories have I published because I had no idea how wrong I was?

Why oh why in this multicultural world am I still buying into these old thought patterns, without even blinking?

I’m still working on this.  I’ve been listening to a fascinating podcast called “You Are Not So Smart,” which regularly blows my mind about how human beings think. It’s helpful to know I’m not alone; most of us are clueless about our daily thought patterns.   I always find myself more aware of how I think after I listen to a new episode.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, to which I owe a large percentage of my daily sanity, taught I could change destructive thought patterns. How do I find — and check — blind acceptance of racist thinking?

At any rate, as multiple Sunday School teachers have  said about sin in our lives, “You don’t realize how many bugs are on the windshield until the sun comes up.” May the sun continue to blaze.

 

 

“You Should Write.”

IMG_1081I can’t think of how many times on my life-road that people have told me, “You should write a book.” One advantage of having a few decades of adulthood behind me is, I know I don’t have the patience to write a whole book.

So here’s to listening to men and women wiser than I, taking their advice, but doing it my way (cue Sinatra).  This isn’t a new road for me by any means. I’ve been blogging for years, as a communications professional for a global humanitarian organization.

But I’ll be taking a fork in the road, so to speak, with thoughts and stories in a new voice.

Over the edge

What pushed me over the precipice? I recently did a series of Google searches on variations of the phrase “mid-life female bloggers.” I searched both with “Christian” and without “Christian” since being a Jesus-follower is a huge part of who I am.  I just wanted to read about women like me. I mean, we’ve got Ann Lamott’s Facebook posts (which I savor every time she writes), but is there anybody else?

Google spit out a variety of posts on how to dress so you don’t show your age, how to eat so you don’t show your age, and how to do your makeup so you don’t show your age.

This is largely because bloggers have to make a living. Talking about food/fashion/makeup in the digital version of a grocery checkout line magazine leads advertisers to give you money.  I thought, But are there women out there who want to read and think about something else?

Maybe things like being the sandwich generation….watching with your heart in your throat as your kids pick a life partner…wondering if the next stock crash will smash your not-too-distant retirement plans…seeing poverty and suffering in your own neighborhood and wondering how you can make a dent.

Miles to Go…

I knew I wanted this site to have the word “road” in it, and being a former English Lit major, with a diploma from the University of Michigan where Robert Frost hung out as a fellow, “The Road Not Taken” popped into my mind.  Of course, someone else snapped up that site name within the first few minutes after blogging was created.

So after a cell phone brainstorm on my back patio with a dear writer-sister-friend (one of several I’ll introduce to you eventually), I picked The Road Undiscovered.

I’ve covered a lot of territory in five-plus decades but there’s more to come.  And I know so many women who’ve lived amazing lives, and yet have so much more to give the world. And who don’t want to spend all day obsessing about what kind of mascara to wear.  We have come a long way, but we have so much left to travel.

…and Promises to Keep

Frost’s well-loved poem includes the phrase, “But I have promises to keep.” Here are my promises to you:

  • We will have fun.  I have seen a lot of pain in 22-plus years of humanitarian work. I promise I will hire a therapist rather than give the devil more publicity, by regaling you constantly with how awful the world is. I don’t believe that anyway. Bad stuff happens but God is good. I will bang the drum loudly for peace and justice fueled by Jesus Christ, and tell you stories of what I’ve seen, but with a liberal dash of hope mixed in.
  • I will talk about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit because they power my existence. I hope that you’ll see that faith infused in my writing. You may even see some theology perpetrated from time to time. But  I promise the right answer won’t be “Jesus” for every post. Some days I don’t have answers and don’t want you to feel like your life has to tie things up in a tidy spiritual bow every day, either.
  • I promise to write some things you’ll disagree with. I promise to be available to discuss them with you.   I promise to be an example and mentor to others on civil discourse in this world. It’s the least we owe to the generation coming up behind us.
  • I promise to post on a schedule. Weekly, at the very least. It’s hard to have a relationship with readers when you go AWOL after the first five posts. I will take vacations but I’ll let you know when that happens. My hope is to create community where people — particularly women, particularly women who’ve done some road-traveling — can read, think, evaluate, and talk.

I don’t have all this figured out. Just a moment ago, in writing the next-to-last sentence, I decided to use the Oxford comma in this blog.  We will see where the trail leads.