Monthly Archives: January 2011

Digging deep

I passed the year anniversary, January 12 and 18, of my first posts to this blog while I was in Seattle, Washington last week– without a nod to the blog’s anniversary.  I have not given the blog a new face, I’ve not thoroughly rethought my direction nor did I do anything else to mark the date.  But I am thinking and thinking, what next?  What do I want to say in this coming year?  What are the dozens of interesting things that I think about, laugh about, talk about with people, read about and do that I’ve never written about before?  I am digging deep– as in thinking deeply.

I usually give a lot of thought to what I write and what gets posted here in laura writes blogland.  I wanted so much to write a bit from Seattle that I tossed something out there from the airport, promising to say more later.  Now, I have other things on my mind– so will make this brief.  I would post a few pictures but it wasn’t that sort of trip.  I didn’t take any.  Not even one.  It was more a looking inward, than a looking outward kind of trip.  It is true that one of my most loyal readers caught me at a gathering a week and a half ago and said something along the lines of– “sometimes you say things like– ‘My mind is heavy with hard things’ and then you don’t say why or anything else really.  I don’t like it.  It feels– well, withholding.”

I was really touched.  Thrilled even.  Truly.  I mean someone who is bothered by what I haven’t said or explained?– that is a loyal reader.  Exactly what one wishes for as one does this kind of work.  Lately, I keep wishing for a thousand or five or 25-thousand such readers.  So as I promised, I will say a little about my Seattle trip.  I hope my patient and devoted reader(s) remain(s) loyal and patient with me.

I went to Seattle to try to gain a new, or to regain an old (depending on how you look at it) perspective.  On myself.  A hopeful perspective.  A happy perspective.  I know this job loss has not been the worst thing.  In many ways (aside from the obvious loss of income and uncertainty about the future work-wise) it has been a very, very good thing.  Yet I have been caught in this feeling that my life is gray and bleak and getting more so.  So I decided on this trip without family to try to get some space to gain a new perspective.  And in many ways, it worked.  Every day I was with people I love and care about and who love me– some of whom I’ve known well for a long, long time.  I  did some inside-of-me emotional work– without my family, without daily responsibilities, but not at all alone.

And lo and behold.  It worked.  It made a difference.  I dug deep and things do actually look different.  Hopeful even.

Some of the more mundane and in-the-world parts of the trip were that I stayed with a very old friend with whom there has been a rift recently– and I think we healed many things by being together, talking, clearing up misunderstandings and hanging out.  I stayed at her house with her and her wonderful partner.  I spent time with her two step-children– young adults both; one young and pregnant with a baby whom her whole family is excited to meet and to love soon.  The other young and amazing, with a very profound disability, but with many of the gifts that seem inherent to being human– an exuberant smile, a great way of reaching for people and a great enthusiasm for things and people around her.  Being with her gives you the sense that though her life is very different from the life of a person, without such a disability, that she feels that life is very good and she loves living it.  And you should too.

Every morning in the car I loved seeing the gray sky and the water of Puget Sound and the great containers and container ships and cranes that offload the containers–full of all the many, many things we use that come to us from China.  I took in the feel of life in a western, rather than an east coast, city.  I missed my own Chicago-midwestern-industrial roots.

I dug deep and I am glad I did.  But I was happy to return home.  I am happy to be here in my dining room, eating oranges and writing and writing.

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Far from Home

When I lost my job I became a younger person in some ways.  (Well not really, but read on.)  I started wearing jeans a lot more of the time, I walked to and from my daughter’s school the way I had walked all kinds of places with her as a mother earlier in her life.  I bought a laptop that I had been planning for since before I lost my job.  I pictured myself like all the younger adults in my world; blogging on the run; in coffee shops and other locations in which we see people working away on their laptops and other devices.  It hasn’t really worked that way.  I need a certain mental space to write and I end up doing that best at home.  I do other work on the laptop away from home, but I rarely write a blog entry other than from my dining room or guest room which doubles as a study.

Nonetheless I write this from an airport, far from home.  I am away from my east coast home– without family, in Seattle waiting to board a red-eye (yech) to get me home Saturday morning.  I meant to post something about this trip sooner, but didn’t find the time and space.  Other than when my father died, it is the longest I have ever been away from my daughter, since we became family on the 12th day of her life.  It was a very big deal to decide to be away that long– though it was an amazing week.   When I return home I will sit at my table in a quiet house and try to write about what I have done this week, but I wanted to check in out there and tell you that I’ve been on an adventure.  Far from home.

 

A 2011 Shabbat– Friday, January 14 MLK weekend

I am sitting at the dining room table with the Shabbat candles burning.  My daughter and one of her very best friends– our neighbor from up the street, and a young person who I particularly love being around myself– are watching a DVD about 6 feet from me.  I spent much of the day with them.  There was no school today and I fixed lunch for them (well, to be truthful, we made nachos and then I threw something else together that could hardly have been called a healthy meal) and we took off for a museum that has a lot of hands-on stuff where we spent far longer than I would ever have imagined they would have wanted.

They are very excited because the stars lined up and the four parents involved have agreed on a sleepover for them here.  It is cold for this part of the world– and has been cold with ice and snow on the ground for over a week and so the candles bring not only light, but a feeling of warmth into the house.  My mind is heavy with hard things– but the candles and these two girls are the counterpoint and I love being home with them.

Several miles away at our synagogue, the annual musical Shabbat service honoring and commemorating Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; a service filled with beautiful, hopeful, uplifting music sung by a Jewish choir and an African American choir, is just concluding.  We had planned to go, but for a number of reasons, and although it was hard to miss, we decided to stay home instead.  I know I am missing something important and today though I had many things to do, I thought a lot about the meaning that the movement for civil rights for black people, offered me as a young person.  I feel very lucky to have been very young in a time infused, top to bottom, with fairly open struggles about racism, war, conscience, morality and values.  Not that I feel lucky to have been young in a time when there was racism and war, but lucky to have been born in a time when there was such open dialogue about those issues– as well as vibrant, progressive social movements fighting for change.  I do still believe that young people and young adults were responsible in significant measure, for many of the important victories of that time.

My first post on this blog, a post called, Skin, was posted on January 18, 2010 and described, literally, my own skin, the small surgery I had just had for a squamous cell carcinoma and many other things, including the MLK service at our congregation one year ago.  It is just past one year since I set up this blog and nearly one year since I posted my first real post.  I do not think this writing, just me at my dining room table, or in the guest room or bedroom are a substitute for the things people did– all together, in churches, synagogues, on the streets and in living rooms in all kinds of places– in Dr. King’s time– to change our world.  But I am glad to have this collective community of readers, thinkers, friends known and unknown– all of you, thinking, hoping, planning for a future for ourselves and our children.  And very glad to have these candles burning, my partner making a simple, delicious dinner and these two girls– so close by.

Young Jewish women rock; Nikki Yanofsky

My daughter and I spend a fair amount of time trolling around YouTube together.  It is an alternative to television with no ads, and we’re more involved watching it and deciding what to watch next, than you are with TV.  When we find something really good we drag my partner in to watch too and we all have a great time.  One thing led to another and we came across first this– a song/dance segment from the kids show, Electric Company:  “Electric City”, with Wyclef Jean and a young woman we’d never heard of.  

We like Wyclef Jean and thought the young woman who sings and dances with him was something special and looked for more of her.  Turns out her name is Nikki Yanofsky.  She’s 16, Jewish, Canadian and an unbelievable jazz singer.  We have been listening for days and not only I, but my daughter seems to love it that she has an amazing voice and is a very young Jewish woman. She’s not an unknown– she sang before about a billion people at the Vancouver Olympics, but so far it seems that the big commercial interests haven’t co-opted her.  Take a look.   The YouTube video of her singing Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is from when she was 14.  The depth of her voice and of her rendition of that song is really something.  Go Jewish girls!  Go young women!

And here is one more– a sweet interview with a British tv show–Nikki Yanofsky on Balcony TV, London.  Listen for the fire engine sirens in the background…  And remember it’s best if you get up and dance!

 

This white mom; talking racism.

I haven’t written directly about race and racism in a while.  I notice it all the time, all around me in all kinds of ways.  It is more striking and takes-my-breath-away–  not the in the good way, but more like having the wind knocked out of you, as my daughter gets older.  In other ways it is less startling and just more grinding as she gets older.  There is some way you always hope, when your child is very young, that she will somehow be the person who escapes the effects of the things you haven’t been able to change in the world.  I surely signed on for the job of mothering a daughter of color with my eyes open about racism and with the expectation that I would only learn more as I went.  I have definitely learned and seen more.  And more.

If I reflect on why, I think I have stepped back from writing about racism for a bit because I notice how defensive white people (of which I am one) generally feel when the subject is even mentioned.  It isn’t exactly that I want to save us from those hard feelings, I think we will not be able to end racism without feeling some very hard feelings.  But it is true that I keep trying to figure out a way to talk about these issues– and the racism that is all around us, before our very eyes–  in a way that my fellow white people will actually engage with and can actually hear.  Or sometimes I give up and retreat, but eventually someone asks me innocently, what I think of something– like how school or religious school or something is going for my daughter.  Then I go and open my mouth.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to do enough emotional work on the subject that I don’t feel quite so, so badly about myself.  And not feeling so, so terrible about oneself (as a white person) seems to be one key to being a halfway decent ally as a white person to people of color.  Knowing solidly enough that you are a good person, despite racism (around you and your own) seems to be key to honestly facing what goes on and how you are a part of it.  And it does go on around me and I am a part of it– as well as a part of the work of the world to end racism.

There are things I can look at without going under emotionally.  I can face the fact that racism is not “out there” but right here– in all the institutions in which I participate, in the life I live.  It’s just braided right into the life I lead as well as out there in places I don’t ever go (also as a result of racism).  The world is still very heavily stacked against the flourishing and full humanity, dreams, self-determination and entitlement of people of color.  Like, for example, my daughter.  I don’t mean to sound hopeless here– or like she is a victim– neither is true in any way.  She is great and amazing and she is flourishing in so many, many ways.  But there is something about facing the fact that being adopted into a middle class white family doesn’t solve the racism she faces.  In a variety of ways it makes matters worse.

I have been fortunate to have a number of close friends of color who have been willing to forgive me my mistakes in the area of racism (mine).  I am certain there have been even more mistakes than I know and yet these friends and colleagues have hung in with me, talked openly (or at least I think somewhat openly with me), listened to my ideas and continued to tell me what they really think about various important things.

But on the home front with other white people, I’ve had quite a string of conversations over many months with white women who are parents in my daughter’s school, other white adoptive parents of young people of color, white women at our synagogue, and with good, progressive lesbian friends who are not parents and others.  We talk about issues I see in our school, our synagogue and elsewhere–and then the actual dialogue comes to a halt and the person I am speaking to starts to argue that what I see isn’t really there or isn’t racism.  They ask for specific evidence, they argue that my (admittedly often inept) descriptions of what I see that is so clearly the result of racism– is really something else– or that I have to offer proof that someone’s intent must be consciously racist for the effect to be racism, or they want me to be able to outline the plan of what should be happening differently.

My daughter has not escaped the piece of racism that is manifest in the fact that children of color struggle academically in school in numbers disproportionate to white children.  They call this the achievement gap.  The achievement gap doesn’t apply to someone else– she is in a catch- up reading program this year.  It’s a big intervention– she is pulled out of her regular classroom with a small group of other 4th graders for 75-90 minutes each day.  The independent data on the success of this program is quite underwhelming but schools have been buying and using it for over 10 years now.

Progressive educators have written about a wide array of concerns about the program– from ineffectiveness to racism resulting from the fact that to allow time in the schedule they pull kids from their “specials”; art, music gym– and in many schools, like ours– it isn’t the white kids who miss out on these opportunities; it’s a group of young people of color.  When we were told she was slated to participate we went through a lot of angst.  How we arrived at the reluctant conclusion to allow my daughter to try this out for one semester is another story that I may never write, though you can write me privately if you want to know it for some reason.

I do know a few things about the program first hand.  If my daughter was going to be in it, I wanted to observe it.  As a 4th grader, my daughter who loves to be with me, said it was too embarrassing to have me come to her class– so I have been helping out regularly in the 5th grade class.  In my daughter’s reading class there is one white child.  In the 5th grade reading class there are none. The young people are wonderful, lively, funny, very hard-working and often, I think, bored.  It has been– not surprising– a deep experience for me to be with this whole group of 5th grade young people of color.  I have put my own mind to the task of trying to think and learn about what it would mean to have this urban school really meet their needs.  And what is needed for no one to give up on them and more importantly for them to not give up on themselves or each other as brilliant learners and thinkers.

So why am I writing all this?  Well for one thing it is just always on my mind– as much as basketball and sadness at the turn of the year; as much as poems and reflections about writing and blogging.  I had gone silent out of the fear that someone would say, “Can she ever stop talking about that?”   I debated about whether to write this because it hauls a struggle that my daughter and sometimes I, would probably prefer to keep quiet about– right out into the light.  But I don’t actually think this is just a personal struggle of hers.  It’s our struggle;  our collective racism and effects of racism, our collective problem to solve– for my daughter and for all young people– especially young people of color.  So I just decided it was time to speak up again.  That’s what I call getting the new year off to a good start.

Update/ Houskeeping

Note to myself– I need to go back and add tags to many of my entries.  In the early morning hours of January 2, I received an interesting, no doubt computer generated WordPress summary email– showing me how many entries, how many comments and what searches have led readers to me over the past year.  I must admit that as I approach the first anniversary of my first blog post, I am thinking about this and other blogs.

It is percolating slowly and quietly in my own mind, but I know I want to do more writing this year and I am hoping for a bigger readership too.  So I am thinking about what are the technical improvements needed, while at the same time committed to a focus on writing, not on something that looks like a marketer made it.  I need to make the blog– perhaps– prettier, better looking.  I want to add many more links than I have here on my sidebar blogroll.  I look to and learn from and feel a connection to so many bloggers and I want it to be easier for you to find them too.

Clarifying that there is just some heavy baggage for me about New Year’s Day– I woke up early Sunday morning, the day after New Year’s Day which had felt bleak and enormously sad– with an enormous burst of happy energy.  My daughter was gone at her second sleepover in three days (a first for us– two in three days) and my dear partner was still snoozing comfortably in a warm bed.  I was organizing, writing, emailing, sorting and cleaning up the kitchen.  Happily.  I was hopeful and busy and happy for the new day in a new year.  I paid for renewals for my own and my sister’s New Yorker subscriptions.  I’ve been buying it for her for several years now and thought it a no longer exciting gift– but as I said to her, it is a lousy substitute, but the closest thing I can figure out to a book club for her and for me– we’re more likely to read and talk about the same thing this way.

In keeping with the housekeeping theme– both here and related to my own New Year’s Day recommendations– I can report that today is day three of no sugar consumption.  It’s hard for this self-proclaimed salt-and-fat girl.  I will say that if this is to be good for me, it will be interesting.  But easy, it is not.  Do I want that piece of sugary soft candy that I love every day right now?  I do.  Have I stopped craving it or seen that my life is better without it.  Well no, not yet.  We’ll see where it leads and I do not promise to keep reporting in– too boring, but I thought I would let you know that I am trying out one of my own recommendations.

On the less mundane, I was also so happy to get Sarah B’s comment on my New Year’s recommendations.  She adds that it is good to make and have friends of different ages.  Friends much younger and much older than you are– I think I was hoping for that in my recommendation that if you don’t play– you should.  But I love that she wrote it and sent it to me.

 

One/One/ One-One or January 1, 2011

A year that begins with all ones.  You cannot miss that this is the beginning of something.  I cannot help but write a bit about this new year starting today.  I started the day, not with a recognition of this new year– but by going to the small Torah study Shabbat service at my synagogue.  I was feeling all loose ends with my own inner compass gone awry.  The service was short and it was fine.  It wasn’t the answer to life or even to the day, but it was very good to be there.  It turned out that today is my Rabbi’s 50th birthday and I could tell he was glad to see me.  He reached for my hand in greeting when I came and took a seat next to him, after the service had started–which meant a lot.  I needed a hand.

Katie Granju, a wonderful mama writer (or is that writer mama?) whose 19- year-old son Henry died this year posted yesterday on her blog Mamapundit— about the sadness and fear she felt at the year-end– a feeling that the change of the calendar is pulling her further and further from her now lost son.  Her loss is specific, heartbreaking, pointed and tragic.

I am fortunately not facing any terrible loss, but I relate to an inner kind of fear/sadness that bubbles up with the markers of passing time.  I think sometimes that the markers of time passing bring forth the feelings I carry about my own family’s not-so-long-ago immigrant heritage– the feeling of knowledge and ways of life fading in the distance and the feelings about people lost.  I have never, ever liked goodbye.  Neither to people, nor to a year gone by.

The reality is that many things in my own particular life keep getting better; my life gets bigger and I am still working through the big questions about what kind of work I want to do– or the even bigger question of what kind of life I want to have.  But this fear of the passage of time leaves me — as I said in an earlier post– sad.

Sad or hopeful, it seems that a blogger should have some significant reflection on a year gone by, or words to live by in the coming year.  And this year, for the first time in my life– it is New Year’s Day and I am a blogger on this day– so I am going to follow this real or imagined convention.  I offer a few of my ideas about going forward in the coming year rather than reflection on the past.  So here they are, my wisdom for the coming year.  All but the first will be challenging for me to follow– so I do not speak as someone who has addressed each challenge.

1.  Read poems.  Read them out loud and to yourself and share them with other people.  Email them to your loved ones, to me, to your mother or sister or brother or grown children.  Read them at dinner or when you wake up.  I don’t mean all of the above, but some of the above.  Read most of them at least twice and some of them over and over and over.  There is a reason that people reach for poems at birth celebrations, funerals, rites of passage, war memorials, protests; important beginnings and endings.

2.  Talk more deeply and openly with some people you have never talked with before, deeply and openly. Tell your story, your real story to someone and listen to theirs.  Reach for people you haven’t yet reached for–our lives are only as big as the breadth and depth of our relationships–which means showing ourselves openly and listening deeply.

3.  Take good care of yourself–read on to understand what I mean.  By this I don’t mean what a profit-oriented society means when that phrase is uttered.  I don’t mean reach for greater comfort.   I don’t mean you should go to a spa or buy fuzzy slippers or take a long bubble bath or stock up on your favorite chocolate.  I don’t mean buy something and I don’t mean what magazines seem to mean when they say, “pamper yourself”.

What I mean is that you are precious and it is important to the world that you live a long time and live well and in good health.  Take an honest look at your own struggles to take good care of yourself and take a stand on your own behalf.  Take a stand for a long, healthy life for yourself.  Exercise if you don’t.  Slow down enough to eat healthy food but maybe less of it.  Get outdoors every day and go slow enough to enjoy the sun and the rain and the change of seasons.  Sleep.  Take another stab at tackling addictions– for me this year it is going to be an effort to deal with a particular sugary candy that I reach for quite literally, when I feel I need a little sweetness– when things feel too harsh or too rushed.  Do not give up on the well-being of your own body; it’s where you live.  Oh, and do not try any of this alone.  Find a buddy, a gang.  I heard recently about a group of mothers of very young children who lived nearby each other and had a deal that if their porch light was on at 6:00 a.m.  they wanted to join the others for an early morning trip to the gym.  They knew they would never make it alone. Of my own advice, this piece about my physical health will be hardest for me to follow.

4.  Play. Play with young people and play with friends your age.  Try things.  If your repertoire doesn’t involve being with people in a wide range of ways, laughing, moving around physically, getting silly and paying attention to things that interest someone way younger (or older) than you, get going.  There is a reason that 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9- year- olds make real, fast friendships after one afternoon of running and bumping into each other, laughing, playing tag and trying many things together.  Play.  Our own comfort zone is way too small a way to live.  This is also advice that does not come easily to me– but I have seen it pay off when I try.

This is my short list.  I have other advice that relates to other serious issues.  I may add to this list, but for now I am sending out love and  hope that we can make things different for ourselves, our world, our children– in small and in deeply meaningful ways in 2011.  I have loved knowing you were out there reading this past year.  I’d love to hear from you in 2011.