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At break time, the four Cuban women that I’ve been working with in a small group want me to converse with them in Spanish.

“Tee-cha! You. Spanish. Talking now.”

Maybe it’s to get me back for always saying, “English, please” during class. They are turning the tables on me, so I will see how difficult it is.

Fair enough. My Spanish is poor, but I’m willing to trade places with them – to be stuck, to be searching for words, to wonder if I sound foolish.

It’s hard to flip the switch in my head and go from English to Spanish, but I do have something I want to say. It takes several tries before I get it to come out right. We all laugh, but in the end there is understanding. This was a great bonding activity, to switch roles and have them correcting and assisting me.

So much of teaching is about safety and comfort and being allowed to get things wrong on the way to getting things right.

 

 

White Privilege

moving day

When I meet the mailman for the first time, he says, “I’m glad GOOD PEOPLE like you have moved in here,” and I wonder what makes him think we are good people. His words would have gone right past me, except the woman two doors down said the same thing to me – those very words – a few days earlier when I was out front raking leaves. She saw me through her living room window and hurried over to introduce herself.

“I’m so glad GOOD PEOPLE like you have moved in here,” she said.

First her, then the mailman, and it takes me a while, but I start to wonder if ‘GOOD PEOPLE’ is code for something.

* * *

I’ve not forgotten the weekend we came house-hunting, how a man in a restaurant, a lifelong resident, said:

“A lady like you belongs in Audubon Park.”

My husband and I were waiting for a take-out order and a conversation started up with this guy who seemed like a fixture in the place. He was either the owner or manager, or possibly just someone who warmed a bar stool there each evening, we didn’t know. We’d just come off three full days of looking at houses and were eager to get back to our bed & breakfast so we could discuss making an offer on the last house we’d seen.

Deep furrows appeared on the man’s brow when he learned where we were thinking of buying, the general area. “I’m not saying that’s a bad area, mind you,” he said. “Just that there are good parts and there are not-so-good parts, if you know what I mean.” I did not turn to see whether a wink punctuated that. I expect one did.

Our order came up. We got ready to leave.

“I’m just saying, I see a lady like you and I think, a lady like that belongs in Audubon Park.”

I have since driven through Audubon Park. Found myself there one day early on when I made a wrong turn. Lovely! I don’t mind one bit people thinking I’m the type of lady who belongs there.

Still, between the man in the restaurant and the neighbor and the postman, I’m left wondering how people make these leaps based almost solely on my appearance.

* * *

Walking to the library with refugees on a warm autumn day, I SEE how it is. Very exciting day! Everyone is applying for library cards. But I SEE how it is when a few of them get ahead of me. I SEE the looks on the faces of those chatting outside of shops, sitting on benches, waiting in cars parked curbside. I SEE how people stop talking and turn to stare. Then I come trailing behind and it becomes clear I’m with them. I SEE how my sudden appearance changes things, as if my presence somehow validates them, makes them acceptable.

Faces soften.
Heads nod.
“Good morning” comes forth and students are excited because they know how to respond to this greeting.

“Good morning,” they say in chorus. The class overachiever adds, “How are you today, good?” and the rest dissolve into giggles because of her daring to engage.

What was it about my appearance that turned stone into flesh on Bardstown Road?

* * *

Go ahead and say it’s age. There’s some truth there. Since acquiring this look – white hair, sensible shoes, slower pace – all sorts of graces have been extended to me. And yet this type of experience is not a recent development. Pretty much all my life people have ascribed to me, at first encounter, positive traits I may or may not possess – good background, good education, right thinking, goodwill toward all mankind, etc. Based solely on my appearance and knowing absolutely nothing about me, people will assume and believe these things, unless and until I prove otherwise. It’s a presumption of goodness.

I am not complaining. It’s nice to know I look like the kind of lady who belongs in Audubon Park, that the door there is open for me.

But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure most of the non-white world is having the opposite experience, that for them, at first encounter, based solely on appearance, a host of negative characteristics are assumed.

And it’s right here, in the discrepancy between these two types of assumptions, that privilege lies. White privilege. And it doesn’t really do anybody of any color any good to say it doesn’t exist.

Let us at least start from a place of truth.

Many decry the idea of white privilege, saying “What privilege? I’m white and I’ve had to work hard for everything I have.” Yes, you have. Absolutely you have. I’m not taking anything away from any of that.

All I’m saying is…put this white hair, these sensible shoes, this schoolmarm face, this conservative style of dress on a non-white person and have her move into the neighborhood. How often is she having the experience of neighbors rushing over to say how happy they are good people have moved in? Not much, I’m guessing. And she might actually be a better person than me.

yada yada

IN A TINY CORNER of cyberspace, we are reading a book, a number of us, I don’t know how many. Deidra has spearheaded this, as she has spearheaded so many things. In fact, spearheading may be her spiritual gift – a combination of openness, sensitivity and leadership and courage. 

Since I first encountered Deidra in the comments section at Belinda’s blog and then here in 2009, I’ve watched from the far seats and seen her do some powerful spearheading. Not impetuously, mind you. Not ill-advised. Not recklessly.

She dared to ask the hard question about the CHURCH and RACE, to see if anyone was willing to have the conversation.

It is not always easy to engage people in needed conversation. I’ve been trying to have a conversation with someone for over 3 years. The person is not ready. What if she’s never ready?

She committed to a month of posts on the topic (“31 Days in My Brown Skin“), facing the very real possibility her readers, preferring more comfortable discussions, might drain away.

It’s crazy, how important that seems to us at times, how much we (writers) would sometimes prefer to stay in the comfortable, no-risk seats rather than bring up the topic which very well might be the reason for our placement and existence. Then again, I guess that’s natural.

She continues “Going There, inviting people’s stories, even the really, really hard ones. Little by little by little, the rock gets chipped away.

Now she’s nudging the conversation forward again through an online book club.

So much can happen
if only we are willing
to keep the conversation going.

As I began to say, a bunch of us are reading the book The Yada Yada Prayer Group, in which a bunch of women of diverse backgrounds and experiences are thrown together. I admit to some selfishness on my part in joining this. The idea and timing dovetailed nicely with a reading goal I have for this year. Plus, I knew the added impetus of reading along with others, and discussing, would be more fun. It is!

This week’s assignment: Tell about the last time I went to a worship service, book reading or community event that pushed me outside my comfort zone. How did I end up there and what happened while I was there?

All good stuff, folks. Little by little, chipping away, at least in one tiny corner of cyberspace.

photo exhibit at library

There are gems to be had, often right under our noses.

AN EXHIBIT of PHOTOS taken by Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, might not seem like much of a Play Project outing. Perhaps it’s more of an artist’s date. I’m not exactly sure of the overlap between those two, but a trip to any exhibit where my everyday thoughts are temporarily suspended feels like play to me. It may fit into the category of spectator play or even storytelling (because photos tell a story).

My favorite photos were those with children behaving as children, especially two with children in costumes, one boy imitating Charlie Chaplin. I rarely see images from 1940’s Europe of kids just being kids.

I asked permission to snap a photo and was told that pictures of individual photos are prohibited due to copyright concerns, but I was allowed to take a picture of the overall display. First thing on a cold Saturday morning, we had the place to ourselves (except for the librarian) and did not even use up the 30 minutes on our parking meter out front. (I suspect there is free parking in a lot on the north side of the building, but I’ve not been adventurous enough to go around, having, as I do, a fear of getting entrapped by a web of one-way streets and never finding my way out of downtown again.)

* * *

Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album (© AFF Basel / AFS Amsterdam) consists of 71 photographs compiled from the Frank family albums – many of which are rarely shown to the public. The collection is at the Jefferson County Public Library, Main Library on York Stret in Louisville, January 10 – February 27. The exhibit is made possible through grants to the Library Foundation from Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence and Jewish Federation of Louisville.

In my fantasy life, I’m a good mentor. Truth be told, I’m not.

It’s National Mentoring Month. The words “Will you be my mentor?” or “Are you willing to mentor So-and-So?” always stop me in my tracks. I feel that in saying yes, the relationship is now doomed.

The problem is the formality of it all. The mantle of responsibility is too much for me to bear. I want to say, “Aw, c’mon. Can’t we just hang out and be good influences on each other? Do we have to make it an official thing?” I realize this is a lot like saying to someone you’ve dated a long time, “Let’s not ruin the relationship by getting married.” You know there’s a backstory there somewhere.

I wrote a short-ish post about my feelings, then held off publishing it because it wasn’t very encouraging. To potential mentors, I mean.

The problem is I lose track of my mentees. We meet. We do stuff together. We pursue goals. This goes on for a while, possibly a long while. Then life happens (usually college). Years pass. Next thing you know, I’m getting a wedding invitation and being introduced as an influencer. I don’t even know the groom’s name or what anyone majored in! Is this the right moment to tell them I feel like I failed? Nah, they might think it’s about how they turned out.

Okay, maybe the problem is I have a little perfectionism going on. Since the ultimate goal is not concrete and it’s unclear to me whether I’ve hit the target, no matter what I do, it never feels like enough. We don’t meet with enough frequency. We don’t have enough important conversations. We don’t have enough fun. (Suffice it to say anyone having me for mentor is not having fun. That’s a given. If they wanted a fun person, they should have asked someone else.)

Despite all this, today in Sunday School there was a discussion about mentoring, about being willing and available to empower someone else, to help them grow to their fullest potential, and I do think it’s important.

So I came back and wrote this medium-ish post because I was inspired and renewed in my thinking, and reinvigorated! (Still, this isn’t a very encouraging post. For potential mentors, mean.) But while the teacher was talking and drawing a graphic on the board and inviting thoughts, it struck me: The whole time I’m walking with someone else and they are being stretched and they are growing, I, too, am being stretched. I am growing.

Mentoring isn’t about resting on my laurels, disseminating wisdom from on high. I’m still learning. I’m still encountering faulty thinking on my part, ridiculous expectations and inner resistance tracing from who-knows-where.

In fact, if I ever start to think I AM a good mentor, that might be a red flag.

I just have to sneak this in here, this list from Dr. Alan Jacobs’ article “I’m Thinking it Over,” in which he calls the Internet a mugger who demands our attention and reaction, and wants them both right now. (The article from which this list came is worth reading in its entirety. Source info appears at the end.) I’ll call this list Guidelines for Interacting on Social Media. In my fantasy world, there’s a grassroots movement to spread these ideas. :-)

From Dr. Jacobs’ article:

• I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.

• I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.

• I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.

• I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.

• If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.

• Private communication can be more valuable than public.

• Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.

• Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

* * *

Source: “I’m Thinking it Over” by Dr. Alan Jacobs, appeared in The American Conservative, January 4, 2016. You do not need to be a conservative to appreciate the article. :-) Efforts to obtain Dr. Jacobs’ permission to reprint this list proved futile and ended when I read his website’s apology page. You can follow Dr. Jacobs on Twitter at @ayjay.

#PlayProject

cartwheeling

Sometimes the sheer demands of daily living seem to rob us of the ability to play. – Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play

In my fantasy life, I’m fun and playful.
Truth is, I don’t play. YOU play, I’ll cook. That way there’s food for you to eat when you’re done playing. But me? I don’t play. I am not competitive and I don’t care to be around people who are. I had to scratch “learning to play bridge” off my list after witnessing too many skirmishes at the senior citizens’ home over who played a card wrong. It was pretty scary.

Clearly, my definition of play was too narrow.

As the new year approached, play was not on my list of initiatives. All my goals were serious ones. But then, just before the end of December I caught wind of Writing Coach Ann Kroeker’s Play Project – 30 days of play, all different kinds of play.

It’s not time consuming. It doesn’t need to cost anything. And best of all, it’s not competitive (unless I want it to be).

So far, I’ve played with food, I’ve played with the dog, I’ve played with a writing idea, and today ….drum roll, please…..I’m going to play with my watercolors!

watercolor paints

First, I need to blow the dust off them…and me. :-)
It’s not too late to join in the fun.

* * *

If you enjoy podcasts, check out “Ann Kroeker Writing Coach.” All kinds of encouragement and tips for writers.
The update from #PlayProject’s first week contains all sorts of ideas, plus a pic from my kitchen play efforts!

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