I've moved: please adjust your screens, your feeds, and your expectations.
Here. Under my name. (THE VANITY)
(it's all basically the same. I promise.)
I've moved: please adjust your screens, your feeds, and your expectations.
Here. Under my name. (THE VANITY)
(it's all basically the same. I promise.)
I no longer roll in circles with people who speak wisdom into my life as a matter of divine purpose. I do, however, roll with people who speak a lot of truth into my life in the name of survival. Their words are no less potent, no less encouraging, no less face-wrecking than the ones that were prayed over me since childhood. They are words shared by people who see me and see how I land and where I need to Get It Together.They also see my children and my parenting (for better/worse) and they see my partner-- tired eyes and shaking head-- and then they go in with love.
When I left the church, I assumed I would no longer be held accountable for my behavior in some kind of spiritually lofty way... I was wrong. Or maybe we just fell into the wrong crowd? I have been thinking about what this looks like and how we buoy and encourage each other while still holding ourselves and others to a high standard of compassion and discourse. And I've been thinking that all the best people I know who are able to navigate life in this way-- which also requires humbleness and a small amount of self-deprecation-- are very curious. Some are curious by nature and some through practice. This curiosity braves discomfort, navigates treacherous dialogue, and claims very little stake in being right. It is a bright light that holds uncomfortable truths without judgement and grasps on to unfamiliar narratives in order to understand the world a bit better. As an in-curious person by nature, I am drawn to this kind of open-endedness and work to practice it. I'm a lousy beginner, though, and try hard not to walk the beam between multiple narratives and high moral standards.
Curiosity is not the same thing as being open-minded, although the two often cross paths. Portland is a breeding ground for The Most Open-Minded People in the World. But try moving people toward a narrative where their comfort is not the highest priority and you will be met with a virtual wall. Or in the case or school boundaries or low income housing or racial equity, sometimes a real life wall. This Right to Comfort is a tool of I'm adept at wielding-- because at it's core, it's a tool of Whiteness. I'm working on it.
Angela Tucker wrote a wonderful piece on transracial adoption and gentrification. She details the conundrum of white families moving into neighborhoods to provide a cultural mirror for their children of colour while systematically displacing the diverse community they seek. Paul and I moved to our neighborhood 7 years before we adopted August but timing hardly makes a difference as our impact on our part of town has essentially been the same.
Four days after Christmas one of my teeth sheared off at the gum line. I was eating a cinnamon roll I should've left alone and I tried to fish out my crown-with-my-tooth-inside before I swallowed it. The jagged edges of whatever was left began tearing at my tongue immediately. My family was visiting and I was so mad and frustrated. I didn't say anything because I just didn't want to talk about it. A week later I sat in the dentist chair and fought back shame tears while trying to sort out how to stop the hygienist from trying to make me feel better.
"Oh! How many kids do you have?! In the old days you'd lose a tooth with every kid!".
"Well... I mean, I parent 6..."
"See! These things happen."
"Right. I mean. Well, I didn't have... I mean. Never mind."
My teeth and I have a complicated relationship. I had my first abscessed molar at overnight camp when I was 11. At 24, my fresh-faced, Mormon dentist pulled two molars and all my wisdom teeth in a single visit. Last Christmas, I went in for a root canal and ended up (three visits later) with a raging infection moving down my neck and another extraction. I'm now left with far fewer teeth than my children, a lengthy "treatment plan", and the sinking feeling that my none of this will improve with time. The dentist tells me my teeth look great. I roll my eyes.
"The remaining ones, I'm assuming?"
The truth is, I'm embarrassed. I can't seem to prevent my teeth from falling out. Conversely, why do I care about so deeply about something I can't control? Up until this point, the impact has been mostly cosmetic. The first is just wallowing. The second is obviously the classism and respectability politicking that has conditioned my ego to wince. I will get over the first. The second is harder. It bugs me that I'm so eager to replace what's gone. And the replacement will mean sacrifice, which deepens the guilt. We are down to one vehicle and now I commute for the work week. We were hoping to take a trip with the kids. I joke about it. It doesn't help.
Of course, it is not lost on me that it's the same vanity and the same respectability I lord over my boys when I send them out into the world. I am consumed with keeping them safe and making sure that they do not give anyone pause. My children bear the breaking responsibility of something they cannot control and cannot fix. In their case, money cannot buy safety. And respectability poisons their capacity for compassion and empathy. They are policed and corralled, even by their own classmates. I am desperate to not kill their spirits. I yell at them for not brushing their teeth. They look at me with knowing eyes. It's not like they don't see me brushing every day.
When Paul told me to listen to this Brother Ali song, I asked him if I would cry. "In the first 20 seconds", he said. Brother Ali's "Dear Black Son"
You were a king long before them ships departed
You are not defined by anybody else's crimes
You don't need to answer for what happens in their minds
You are not confined by their imaginary lines
You don't need permission to exist with the divine
In fact, you don't need permission from no one including me
I am surrounded by parenting role models who have married the fierce protection of their children with the abolition of respectability in their homes. I lean on them. Systemic Racism Couldn't Care Less About Your Respectability Politics:
Black love is white supremacy’s greatest fear. Loving the people society has taught us to hate is revolutionary. But that love means nothing without action. We must champion an all-encompassing love for all black people. We should not have to decide who is “worthy” of this radical black love we possess. Rather, we should understand that in order for this love to be revolutionary, it has to identify with black people across the spectrum.
And again... for the people in the way, way back. This is who we are. This is who we've always been. The Heartbeat of Racism is Denial by Ibram X Kendi
Begin with the eight presidents who held slaves while in the Oval Office. Then consider how Abraham Lincoln urged black people to leave the United States. “Even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race,” Lincoln told five black guests at the White House in 1862. So “it is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”
"I hate you. And I'm embarrassed you're my mom."
"I feel you, bud."
"We still have to wash your hair."
His insults are genuine and heartfelt. And I twinge. But. The weight of his grief in those words are much heavier than mine will ever be. He's serious. He throws something heavy that I care about. But I have the benefit of remembering the hot rage I felt at my parent's very presence. And the subsequent passing. Hindsight as gift. Hair is a trigger for him and now for me. Cutting it means faster mornings and no arguments. Leaving it means Black Boy Hair Joy and Pride In 'Fro. We will keep the hair and beg the heavens for mercy on the days we need to deep condition.
On Christmas Eve I re-wrapped gifts and listened to the King's Cross Choir and cried.The night before I had come home to a 16 year old runaway in my kitchen and now I was shuffling around gifts and searching in drawers for something he could unwrap in the morning. The child was in crisis and his 6'4" frame hid briefly the emotional and intellectual capacity of someone much, much younger. When he opened a basketball and new socks on Christmas morning he smiled, unsurprised that gifts had shown up for him. Had we bought him shoes, he wondered?! No shoes.The village came through with a PlayStation gift card though. "I am so pumped on this" he said and waved it around in the air as he headed down to the basement to spend it.
He would be with us for three nights. His social worker was on vacation and could not be reached and there was literally no place (save for a shelter) for them to place him. He left our house for a hotel-- the solution that DHS is relying on in Portland at the moment. I cried and continue to cry knowing that the number of medications he takes during the day will mostly likely turn him into an addict once he is released from the system meant to protect him. I cried because what we did was so small and insignificant, but it is the stuff that a thousand sermon illustrations are parables are made of. And I cried because I knew he could not stay with us-- even as the emergency worker quietly asked us to become certified-- because we are barely keeping our own buffered from the storm.
Truly is turning six this week. She has been singing "We Shall Overcome" and pondering the inaccuracies of skin colour as a category. She screams from her room, "MOM THE PERSON WHO SINGS FERGELICIOUS IS WHITE". Her astonishment is also betrayal. She keeps mumbling about it the rest of the day.The books we read to her when she was three and four have woven their way into her understanding of the world as unfair and unkind and in need of people who listen and try to help. I don't think they are bad lessons for her to learn. I would rather her see joy and hope within despair than rely on fairy dust and magic. This is not lost on her either. She chooses the things with the most glitter, the biggest rainbows, and the deepest purples. Her best friend tells her that she cried today at school. "Don't worry, K. I cried at breakfast, too."
So I'm still reading "Stamped from the Beginning: The History of Racist Thought in America" because I'm having to reread parts and take breaks. My god, read this flipping book.
I'll be Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith and Writing in April... Which is another whole story!I do want to recommend the podcast of past speakers (Zadie Smith, Jennifer Patterson, Frederick Buechner among them) called Rewrite Radio. They are an antidote to the literary interviews that sometimes skew heavily toward the interviewer. Plus they are hosted by my friend, Lisa. So. Nepotism.
In 2007 the adoption section at Powell's was divided into distinct camps: How-To, Parenting the Unattached Child, and Memoirs of Children Adopted in SE Asian Countries. I read what I could find. We had sorted out the "how-to" bit pretty quickly. We were going to be matched with a small child, so we hoped that the attachment would be the manual, loving, labour of holding, rocking and feeding. The memoirs bit was trickier-- still is. These were fully formed adults talking about the weight and trauma of being raised by Other People. I was under no illusions that I was not Other People.
My writing at that time-- if you can call it that-- was benign and breezy. I reveled in the things I did not know. I knew enough to not worry about the wait for our child. That was selfishness. The rest would take time to know. I was wholly fixated on the racial implications without knowing what the racial implications would be. I felt like we were probably going to make a lot of mistakes.
Portland was probably going to be our first, big mistake. We know that now. Liberal Meccas are bastions for Polite Racism-- personal and structural. Everyone was going to love on my baby and turn to NextDoor to complain about them when they got old enough to ride their bikes around the block. We were going to bring our precious loves into a system where they would be tokenized, their spirits crushed, and their worth questioned by people who refused to see them as whole persons.
And. They would also be seen and loved and cherished by people who look like them and who would teach them how to gird their hearts against the specificity of Pacific Northwest Whiteness. They would be encouraged and accepted. We would find our other Family in our friends and neighbors and coaches. We would get the hair thing right. We would be blessed by unearned generosity.
When people say "Portland So White" I sigh and think "Not My Portland". And so in that, we sought to rectify our first mistake.
Go back though. Our first mistake was probably thinking we were good enough to take this on in the first place. That is a wondrous kind of good-hearted arrogance, isn't it?
We tell Augie about his tiny, baby self often. 10 years later it is still funny and strange. "Sam hated the smell of formula. You would be spitting up and farting in our arms and Sam would be gagging and covering his nose sitting next to us."
"You had thrush... it's a kind of infection and it covered your tongue. The ladies at the hotel told us to rub urine on it. We took you to the pediatrician while dad drove Sam around in the parking lot so we could get you checked out. You were perfect, of course. The thrush cleared up right away. No, you were too tiny to go swimming in the hotel pool."
"We went to the beach one time. The night before we left. We parked in a roundabout and Sam and dad ran out into the sand and I stayed with you on a bench. The sky was pink."
"Your brothers and your sister were so little. We saw them one time with J. She held you while they did an activity book on the floor. Your sister____ was 12 months old and insisted on filling up everyone's paper cups from the water cooler. You all walked when you were so tiny. I tried really hard not to cry, but I felt sad for J and didn't know what to do. She didn't know what to do either. Mostly she just smiled at you. We didn't know very much about your family. We know a lot more now. You know A LOT more now."
"You were so bummed when we got back to our house, Augs. It was too cold and your tummy hurt and we just held you as much as we could. Your dad had no time off. You did not love to sleep."
He laughs because he still doesn't really love to sleep.
"The day Sam played with you was right about the time you started scooting around. He gave you a toy and started talking to you in a silly voice. I took approximately 1 million pictures and then I cried."
At this part he just stares down Sam. "Rude", he says.
October is the month we married, the month we bought our house then years later, sold it. It is the month in college where everything was still golden and I always felt like this was the year I was really going to kill it with my GPA. November is the month we brought both of our babies home, a year a part. This week he blew out candles and opened up new clothes and shoes. He and I both cried at some point but for different reasons. He did not know why he felt so sad. I told him that sometimes the body holds on to things that are hard, even if our minds do not remember them.
I have not spent that much time thinking about Macklemore, but I did really love this article and felt like it described the PNW fairly well. How Macklemore Laid Down His White Burden
He’s done, as he put it, with “preaching to the choir”: rapping politics to the white liberals who compose the majority of his fanbase. Which, for many, comes as a relief. He remains the avatar of white guys trying hard not to be the worst, but he’s also — especially in this new incarnation — a salve for those exhausted with the enduring conundrum of white guilt. His endurance makes sense, but it’s also proof of the fickleness of so many components of white liberalism: When you can put a conversation aside when it ceases to thrill you or feed you, how deep was your investment? Is the ability to stop talking about injustice the greatest white privilege of all?
Nikole Hannah-Jones is getting the recognition she deserves right now. I want everyone I know who has children in public schools; who are landlords and renters and homeowners; who are managers and small business owners to read this short article. And then Just Keep Reading until we are all so wrecked and demoralized that we actually start to push back on what we have* until now, been complicit in. "Schools are segregated because white people want them that way"
People want hope. They want to believe things are getting better for black folks. What I'm arguing, and I think what Ta-Nehisi is arguing, is that things will never be right. An improvement doesn't make things right; it just makes them a little better.
Black people are still fighting for equal citizenship rights. Millions of black children are still in schools that look just as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened. Generations of black people are still trapped in urban ghettoes. The black unemployment rate, in the best of times, is still double that of white Americans. Black people face discrimination in every sector of American life.
So when people want hope, I wonder: Hope for what? To me, until black Americans are treated as full citizens, it's immoral to expect people to be satisfied just because there's forward progress. People want hope and absolution instead of working to destroy a system that still holds black people last in almost everything.
This is our latest YouTube loop from 6th graders (and their teacher) in Milwaukee laying it down to Tee Grizzly's "First Day Out'.
I am smart/I am strong/My life matters/I'm a Blessing
*Accurate edit suggestion
I would tell my 18-year-old self — and I wish I’d written this book for my 18-year-old self — that the only thing wrong with black people is that we think something is wrong with black people. I spent the better part of my early years thinking that the main problem was black people. And then I switched from that to thinking that the main problem was white people. And, eventually, I realized that the main problem was racist people, was people who were executing these policies out of self-interest. That’s what I would have told myself: that there’s nothing wrong with black people and there’s nothing extraordinary — the only thing extraordinary about white people is that they think something is extraordinary about white people.
The findings appeared to be a striking indication of racial discrimination in seemingly benign and mundane interactions. The tendency to ignore emails sent by African-Americans was particularly pronounced in sheriffs’ offices, but it was also evident in school districts and libraries.
In a clever twist, the authors analyzed whether the replies were polite, counting responses that included either the sender’s name or words like “hi,” “Mr.,” “dear,” “good” (which captures “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “have a good day”) or “thank” (which captures both “thanks” and “thank you”). By this measure, those with apparently African-American names received 8 percent fewer polite responses than those with white names.
And since you might have the tissues at the ready anyway... Lost Together by the Blue Rodeo with Gord Downie earlier this year.
"Let's start by talking about his strengths", she said.
"He's quiet. Kind. On task."
After a very *crispy* summer, all six of the Framily Children began school this August. The youngest one was declared the Most Ready in The History of Readiness as she marched into Kindergarten unafraid. She's already treating it like some kind of all-inclusive resort where one takes full advantage of the transportation, meal service, leisure, and educational opportunities to get one's money worth. On Saturday night she told us all that the thing she was most excited about is that there is only ONE MORE DAY BEFORE I GET TO GO BACK.
The eldest three are all in middle school and dealing with the familiar pains now that the new-shoes-new-backpack-new-hair sparkle has worn off. There has been some locker confusion and I wonder if this will be the year they are required to use their planners as tools and not as backpack filler/doodle venues.
I am left on my own during the day for the first time since 2004. Expectations are high. Lunches are long. I have rewritten my resume and made a list of projects to tackle. I have agreed to volunteer in ways I am half dreading and I am cutting back on the coffee.
"Well, it would be good if we could get him out of that period and switch him around. There are a lot of challenging behaviours in the room and I see him getting sucked in."
"I think I could do more for him if he wasn't distracted by overbearing kids."
"He's drawn to the wrong crowd."
I was in an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) Review meeting for one of my kids. His whole team had come and I was looking forward to facing this year with some great strategies and kid-centered accommodations. I am a public school junkie and this is where I bask in its glory: free and appropriate education for all. I marvel that there are laws that guarantee access and we can challenge the manner that these laws are deployed.
AND. And. Here we are, sitting in a room of wonderful educators who are using coded and deficit language to describe their challenges with classroom management and their weaknesses in delivering instruction. I know this child. He is not quiet-- not by personality nor circumstance. And "quiet" certainly isn't a strength for a child who needs to learn to self-advocate and be fearless in the face of academic challenges. No, the word "quiet" in this case means compliant. And the word "compliant" in this place is code for Whiteness. Who are these "bad" kids he's drawn to. Is it because they clearly hold the power in these rooms? Do we draw close to power in order to survive?
His case manager glances at me. She knows. I suck in my breath and we push forward.
"He needs to trust you, but he doesn't need to like you. He will learn if he trusts you. Don't confuse the two", I said.
How are you handling the return to school or to education or to routine or to the same thing you do every day? What drives your commitments to yourself, to your village, to your family? How do you manage self care in a time that seems so fraught?
I bought a small pack of Black History Flash Cards Vol 1 and pulled them out yesterday for Manny's sick day. He picked four to learn: Montgomery Bus Boycott, The 1968 Olympic Protest, The Haitian Revolution and Barak Obama. We had to do some word definition and some major backtracking and even though he knows all about Dr. King, he still somehow thinks he was the first Black President. He's with it though, and wants to pick out four more today when he gets home.
Racial Consciousness: How White Boys are Deprived Without It (There parts of this that read like poetry, and parts that read like a knife to my heart, and parts that I want to tattoo on my soul. READ THIS PLEASE. It's not long.)
Raising white boys to see their privilege and use their moral compasses to actively interrupt it begins the labor pains of true racial equity. Parents, it will hurt. I'm not white, but I've personally seen white folk stand up, only to lose family, friends, jobs, spouses. Pain is a part of labor. Breathe and push! Not only is racial consciousness vital to the interruption of systemic and personally meditated racism in our schools, jobs, prisons, banks, churches, stores, and places of business, it's good for the soul of the ones who have always had privilege anyway - the white human boy. He was put into your arms for you to help him grow into his best life. Don't let your racial ambivalence rob him of it. Nurture the baby. Privilege is not his birthright. Racial consciousness is.
Here Wee Read-- On the advice of friends I started following Charnaie on Instagram and I'm forwarding her blog to all my teacher-friends and bibliophiles.
I pre-ordered Devin Allen's A Beautiful Ghetto this summer and it arrived last week. It is beautiful and joyful and heartbreaking. Make space for experiences and feelings that your are not a part of your current reality.
Hannah texted me a photo of our family this week. It is the six member version and it was taken on a Sunday before we took her to the airport. We all have morning faces, droopy clothes, and are sitting close to each other on our new sofa. I'm looking at this picture today-- flicking through my phone, fixating on my little boys draped across our laps, Truly's awkward camera face behind Paul, and Sam leaning in wearing his red "Malcolm Martin Huey" shirt. I look tired (or maybe just forty). I am smiling in a half way that is the way we smile in my family.
How are you feeling, friends of mine? Are you worried, are you harried, are you assuming this will all pass? Are you engaging in arguments of false equivalency? Do you feel like your friends and family have become strangers to you? Do you wish you could go back to not knowing or not seeing? Do you think this is all being blown out of proportion? Are you googling the wikis for Antifa? Do you march? Do you think marching is an inconvenience?
I have laid on the floor in my kitchen, face to the laminate, and tried to will away the suffering that I inflict on my family. What happens when White Supremacy has built your family like it has built mine? How do I fight fascists and stand in the truth, when I cannot ease the heartache of the people that I love the most? What happens when I am the author of the heartache?
Yeah... I don't know.
We let August play football this year and he loves it and it soothes his heart to be with adults who believe in him and children that look like him. He can make the perfect French Press of Coffee. This is a gift beyond measure.
Sam learned how to hurdle in track and we joked that he PR'd every meet. His coach pushed him from believing he was not capable of jumping and running to watching him fly over these devil hurdles while we screamed from the stands. Last year was rough for him. We talk a lot about the negative effects of "peaking" in Middle School.
Manny found his voice and is growing out his hair and chooses all the Shirts About Blackness. His best friend hurt his leg on the last day of school and he hoisted him onto his back and carried him across the Sport's Day field toward the cupcake table.
Truly is starting full day school and Paul and I will miss her and worry in the same way we have worried about all of our boys, although slightly less given her eagerness to please and her Whiteness. She says impossibly funny things every day. She worries about the tantrums (her boys and mine) and puts herself to sleep singing.
The big boys are coming home in a few days and I am going to be kinder and softer and hope that we are helping and not hurting.
Next week we will become eight again and in reality, probably much larger if we think about the ways we have chosen family or the family that has chosen us. We are, as you are, directly impacted by the policy and practice of this country and our community. You might not have sorted out how yet-- or more realistically, not had to exact a price-- but it is coming. I am trying to love this family and our sleepy faces and love my people who are like family. These people include our Black, Brown, Queer, Transgender, Refugee and Undocumented brothers and sisters and best friends and neighbors. The folks that choose to stand in the way of their happiness and their safety will have to reckon with our fury and answer for their words and actions. Figuring out what is best for the 6 or 8 or 20 people in our family photos is a tricky business but it most certainly doesn't mean staying home or staying silent-- it never has. I'm going to believe that our love is strong enough to weather this crap but I'm not going to assume it is enough.
To that end, I'm filling my life with people who hold me to what a friend calls "a high moral standard" that centers race and racism as a moral obligation for our shared humanity. I'm going to do what another friend does and "assume best intentions" when I see how harm lands in my kids' classrooms and then call it out in love. I'm not going to buy the narrative that says that comfort is divine or that preserving innocence is the best defense. I'm going to resist the urge to defend myself when I should apologize and to speak up where I should let someone else have the floor. I'm going to stare at those five other faces-- the ones I committed to first and always-- and try to do better.
A Chart! I love charts. This one is especially good if you are trying to place a certain feeling or experience into a framework or give language to a "not quite right" moment experience of racism or coded language. I find this especially helpful in naming my own shitty behavior.
I hear and read a lot of well-meaning people talk about how we are "legitimizing" the alt-right or the KKK by talking and recognizing who they are and what they are doing. Like maybe they are just children playing a dangerous game. Maybe we should ignore this as a fringe movement in hopes that they go away. But these folks are our lawyers and coaches and realtors and board members. These are class presidents and soccer moms as much as they might be felons or gang members. They are organized and focused. And they are not going anywhere.
"Costumes tell the viewer that the thing the wearer is trying to do is cultural, that it's not a political or violent attack," she says. "They suggest that the wearer is trying to convince, or engage. If you're wearing a costume, you're thinking about the viewer, you're imagining yourself in conversation with someone else. But what people fail to understand is that cultural control is a question of power." The playful outfits give the rest of us a false sense of security by tricking us into thinking the performers are acting within the liberal symbolic order. They indicate an expressive speech-act is occurring. "Costumes tell us that they're performing, that they can come back from what they're doing," Parsons says. "But why should that be reassuring? Military uniforms are costumes in the same way." Just because it's a performance doesn't mean it's not real.
What are you reading right now to help you make sense of the world or help you fight or pull you back from the brink?
I flew to South Florida to hand off the two oldest for the summer. It was hot but not so hot that I felt helpless. It was humid but not so humid that I felt stymied. J does not force me to eat on these short trips. We run errands together and she cooks and we make fun of each other. I promise to figure some things out and she promises to make the boys do homework. The boys are anxious for me to leave them to their life away from me. Their life away from us.
The smaller boys handle the transition in expected ways. They don't expect it, of course, but the rest of us brace for impact. Loss is not new and written into their bodies and their bodies respond in kind. They navigate the hits and we all get through. I am struck by how much easier 4 is than 6. I'm sure it should seem obvious to me, but it isn't.
Truly tells me all the time that she wishes she "wasn't the last one born" even though she will probably end up with the best of us-- the bits where we are too tired to object or too tired to find a reason why not or too tired to do anything but laugh. The boys and I were talking about traveling to Japan and bullet trains and all the places we could go see. They immediately think about our friend who's family is from Japan and visits often and decides that he will only go if she is going with us. I think: "we will probably never go/I wish I could take them right now".
The house that saved us is the house that is demanding a lot of us (isn't that always the way). It gets whatever the children have not already claimed.
This is a wonderful article about education and living in Portland and reflects a lot of our experience within this system. If you are an educator I am curious to know what you think. If you live in a place that prides itself on being progressive, same drill. My friends offers up the critique that the author centered herself heroically (as we white women are want to do) and I would say that her editor needed to be a bit more ruthless in her approach.
It's what's on the inside that counts will not heal the deaths of all of the Black and indigenous people who have died, to date, from the largest genocide in the history of the planet. It's what's on the inside that counts will not bring back Trayvon, or Emmett, or any of the millions who died in the chokehold of White power, but for God's sake, Portland, we cannot go on like this.
May I Have this Dance (On Repeat)
I’ve come to realize that people like myself—white do-gooders, to be more precise—have not been taught adequate theology for our times. My neighbors do not care if you have a robust urban missiology. They would like secure, affordable housing and good schools for their children. They have practical, tangible needs that are altogether forgotten in a capitalistic, consumeristic society where those with plenty ignore the realities of others who would never buy a latte at the new corner coffee shop. In the few spaces where the ideas of theology and urban renewal are brought together, something is missing. The overarching themes of American exceptionalism and triumphalism, tinged with colonialism, have made it nearly impossible to adequately engage with an economic and social reality as complex as gentrification.
Canada tried to celebrate a 150th birthday last week and America rolls onward with the 4th. I am no patriot. We are going to try and build a fence tomorrow because ours is about to fall into the alley. A friend asked who all was coming for dinner and the number is pending. I've already overcooked the eggs for the salad and I'm sure we do not have enough beer. I'm hoping to yell very little (or not at all) and that these days and our shoddy attempts at/resistance to celebrating them will translate as only love.
March has been unusually cold and wet. Everything is soggy and weedy. We started on the backyard over the weekend, which meant folding tarps and removing the scrap metal. It now looks less like a squat and more like your average mess/work-in-progress. Paul took out a small dogwood The Sisters had planted in the grass. We will plant another on the street side to compensate. Our fence is staked into the ground with tent poles so that it doesn't fall into the alley. There are large dips in the grass and divots where I have been digging out ancient irises, fennel, and diseased rose bushes. The whole thing needs to be leveled. The boys leave their bikes and scooters and basketballs all over the small patch of grass. We've only been here a year and there are already plastic guys buried in the mud. I yell about it. The usual.
Our Saturdays will soon be eaten up by day long track meets.
The front yard is marginally better. The dogs regularly mark their territory on both the budding rose bushes and vigorous daffodils in the parking strip. Woe to those who decide to pick the flowers and take them home. I cut the Japonica back and cleared out its underside and Paul chopped down the early magnolia that had been planted in the middle of the bed. I am contemplating the soggy straw bed we installed last year and trying to reclaim the other three beds from the knot weed. A neighbor posted about the invasive Lesser Celandine and sure enough! There it was, disguising itself as a buttercup, trying to take hold up our front slope. I am avoiding the nurseries as much as possible. Even so, two raspberry bushes and something for the pots made it home with me two weeks ago already.
I walk by our old house four times a day and peek over the fence to see what's blooming, what their dogs have destroyed, and what is taking over. There are renters in there now (something we had hoped to avoid with the offer we accepted) and they shoved some tomatoes in the too-shady raised bed last summer. Their anemic carcasses are still poking out of the dirt. I contemplate coming back at night and digging up bits and pieces I should have taken with me. And weeding. Good, god people, just weed. It's not that hard. No matter. I bought another "Jude the Obscure" to put behind our ornamental maple. I ordered Dahlias from a catalogue and troll through the feeds of English gardeners and their wild and beautiful border gardens and think about how unreasonable and beautiful they are.
We need a fence for the front. It is not about keeping us in or out, but so I can train things up its railings. I'll be honest. I need a landscaper, too. And someone to show me how to work the watering system we still do not know how to use. Devon came over to advise me on the devil of a slope we've put everything on. She tells me the cucumbers will have to stay in buckets. She is correct, of course. I need a lot of money for most of this work.
This kind of gardening is luxury and necessity all rolled into one. I'm happier after being out there than after doing almost anything else. Truly is happy, too, and I think it is work we can do together. I drag a stump out of a friend's yard to build her a fairy house. (Should've moved the stumps from our old house with us.)
The summers in between college semesters I worked at a small flower farm in the town where I grew up. I was responsible for: tilling the new beds, transplanting, fertilizing, weeding and eventually harvesting the flower. The owners dried most of what they grew and sold it in preserved arrangements from their property in the fall and during the holidays. I painted signs for the end rows, fed the chickens, picked up after the horse, and dutifully answered (lied about?) the questions asked by the provincial monitor who came to interview me every August so that my employers would receive my wage subsidy. I did not want a career in agriculture and I hated catching the chickens and making sure the greenhouse did not overheat. Every summer I would swear I would not have to go back out, but my college let out after everyone else and by the time I returned home all the non-dirty seasonal work was taken. While we waiting for the rows of gomphrena to come in and the nigella to go to seed, I would head out to the gravel dikes along the river to harvest hundreds of bundles of Yarrow, stripped of the leaves and tied with rubber bands. I waded into the swampy shallows on the edge of the farmland for butterfly bush and wildflowers taller than my head. I would stumble upon a tidy grow-op in the trees and snip bits of the marijuana plant to take home in a bouquet.
They would send me along with their friend's children-- kids who wanted to make a little money and who mostly complained about the heat or the rain. "This was easier than the berry picking I did when I was your age", I would say. 19 years old and already a grump.
I ask the boys for help only occasionally. They steal my joy by turning the rakes into weapons and complaining about the dirt (when they are not throwing it at each other). 40 years old and still grumpy. Truly is covered in itchy red welts. I wonder if it's the Daphne by the front steps, as it began blooming before anything else.
My friend Blair wrote a beautiful, beautiful book about quilting and using precious fabric. I have a lot of books about quilts and sewing (and gardens) and this is the only kind of book I'm interested in these days: the kind that is written as a love letter to the craft. Blair is a craftsperson and takes that responsibility seriously. Our stories should be woven into the things we make and we should be working to do better, whether we make for money or for love. It is no coincidence that she chose someone we both love, Stephanie Congdon-Barnes, to shoot the photos for the book. Both Blair and Stephanie understand making-as-meditation and that the practice of sewing (or whatever) satisfies something much more important than consumerism. My wedding dress turned quilt is above.
I do not know how my Gardening and Sewing and The Resistance coexist outside of trite and meaningless gestures right now. Skill-building, maybe? Definitely self-care. I do know that I am becoming much more intentional about both acts and where I spend what money we have. There are also people doing the good work of feeding people despite hardship in accessing land, loans, and opportunities: Black Owned Farms and Grocery Stores Oh, and Hey Oregon: you suck at this as usual.