Eyes White Open: Count Me In

If you’re at all political, or even if you just like bookstores, you’ve probably seen these titles on the front shelves:  Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. And this is just the books on whiteness BY Whites. There are plenty of others by Black authors, but obviously the vibe is different. We’re clearly in a moment where folks who’ve always considered themselves “the good White people” (like me!) are suddenly feeling the need to study, well–ourselves. Our assumptions. Our Whiteness.

On the titles above, I’m two down and one to go and I’d love to talk about any of them with anyone. But since it’s easier for books to sell themselves than podcasts, I want to throw a little love to this podcast, from my hometown of Durham, NC: Scene On Radio’s series, Seeing White.

If you prefer to get your Whiteness-awareness-raising in smaller, more varied chunks, I’d suggest starting the series from the beginning, where host John Biewen (White) and his friend/mentor Chenjerai Kumanyika (Black) explain what it means to “turn the lens” onto a “race” that’s never really seen itself as such, even while determining the very meaning of the word. I’ve listened to a dozen, and they’ve all been DEEPLY thought-provoking.

But the last one I listened to, My White Friends, really made me want to share. Here’s the premise: photographer Myra Greene, who is Black, got a handful of her White friends to pose for pictures in ways that push the viewer to ask, “What is the Whiteness of this photo?”

Like this photo of a friend who’s a public high school teacher. With, yep–a Subaru. (photo by Myra Greene)

You can see more of Ms. Greene’s exhibition here. Her photos got me thinking, what is the Whiteness of some of my own? Let’s try a few.

Well, I’m obviously out in a mountainside meadow. Wilderness, or at least the illusion of wilderness, is important to me. Is that a White thing? And I have gear: knee braces, a water pump. Good boots. REI Nation! I know they’re trying to reach out, but still–REI’s a pretty White store, am I right?

OK, here, I’m performing in public–in flip-flops and a skirt sewed out of old T-shirts! I was raised to believe informality was cool, inviting even. It would never have occurred to me that some folks might find this disrespectful of the audience.

One more?

And here I am, back in the wilderness…this time very far from home. And though you can’t tell from the photo, it was taken on a Monday in March–not a holiday, mind you, just a regular workday, when I got to be on vacation. In my REI gear. What’s the Whiteness of that, you ask? Layers upon layers of privilege, which I’m only now starting to acknowledge.

If you’re up for it, and you’re White, choose a photo of your own to describe. If you look, can you see your own Whiteness?

Your Basic, Old-School Thanks-giving Post

Hot water.

Mosses and mushrooms.

Animals who cuddle with other species.

Ice.

People who are braver than I am.

Garlic.

Uniball pens.

Rhythm and harmony.

Dewy spiderwebs.

Hammocks.

People who go out of their way to be helpful.

Madrona trees. (Okay…all trees.)

Dark chocolate.

Clouds.

Cardboard.

My family. My family. My family.

Did I mention hammocks?

Keep this going, please: add yours! And may you thoroughly enjoy your Thanks Giving.

My Conscience Speaks In Joan Baez’s Voice. And I Don’t Care If That’s Weird.

A friend once offered some questions she’d brought back from a writing retreat. I can’t remember them verbatim, only that they were mind-opening. Especially the one that went something like this:

“Give your Inner Critic a persona and a voice. What does s/he say?”

I didn’t have to think at all. My Inner Critic–sometimes self-doubt, but more often simply my conscience–sounds like Joan Baez. She IS Joan Baez. And she usually wants to know, in her beautiful, stripped-down, poetic but peremptory way, why I’m not making more out of my time on Earth.

Do I need to explain this foible of mine, or defend it? Maybe I will, someday. But right now all I want to do is celebrate and share Joan singing, “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

The song, written by Zoe Mulford, captures in song the moment Barack Obama did just that, in June 2015, while giving the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was shot in his own church along with eight other worshippers by a young man in the depths of hate. But it also captures…amazing grace. The kind that turns hopeless grief into hopeful action. The kind that speaks, decade after decade, in Joan Baez’s voice, asking me if I’m living the best life I can lead.

That’s all I think I need to say. If the hatred of our age is getting to you…just listen to Joan. Then comment and/or share as you feel moved.

Confronting Amazon: Adventures in Moral Cowardice

I admit it: Amazon’s got me right where they want me, and I’ve been mostly loving it. And no, it’s not just ’cause I live on an island where you can’t always get what you want. I’ve slid into loving the whole experience, from the one-click purchase to the insanely speedy arrival of that smiley package at my door.

As an author and a loyal supporter of indie bookstores, of course, I rarely buy books from Amazon. (Irony! Remember when they called themselves “Earth’s Largest Bookstore?” Me neither.) For example, if you want to buy my books, I ask that you request your favorite Indie bookstore to order them.*Click on the link to see how: The Flying Burgowski.

*This shameless self-promotion brought to you by #supportyourlocalauthor

But my own books are published through Createspace, an Amazon company. And I was given a Kindle. Don’t use it much, but when I do–hello, Amazon. And did I mention how much I love finding packages at my door?

So of course I signed up for Amazon Prime. Ooh, free movies and music too! Got a little grumpy when they raised the price, but still–ooh, shiny free shipping. Which just encourages me to one-click more often.

I do support my local stationery/office supplies/gift shop, and my hardware store. I do send most of my loved ones homemade granola for Christmas, and what clothes I don’t buy at our Thrift Shop I buy at REI.

But oh wow, I can get six pairs of garden gloves for the price of one here on-island? And they’ll be here tomorrow?

Lately I’ve become disturbed by my own rampant acquisitiveness, but not enough to slow myself down much. But now, two additional considerations are doing just that.

First, I began hearing and reading news stores about Amazon using unmarked vehicles to ship, and calling the drivers “independent contractors.” Because Prime speed is the ultimate goal, these drivers are not given routes which avoid dangerous left turns (which UPS drivers do avoid). And if an “independent” Amazon driver does hurt or kill someone, Amazon dodges legal responsibility.

Second–and this was the biggie–I learned that Amazon has been making its cloud storage available to Palantir, the data-mining company that ICE uses to target people for arrest and deportation.

According to Karen Hao of MIT Technology Review,

a new investigation, published today, sheds more light on the web of tech companies involved in supporting ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, commissioned by activist organizations Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project, found that Amazon has played as central a role as Palantir in providing the backbone infrastructure for many of ICE’s, and DHS’s, key programs. Amazon has also enjoyed a cozy relationship with the federal government that has helped it secure an outsize number of government contracts.

Hold up. Amazon is helping La Migra do its dirty work? THESE people?

ICE’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

That one hit me right where I live–or try to live. Because my first thought was, Wow, I need to join that Amazon boycott–and not just on Prime Day

And my second thought? I can’t quit Amazon! I just…can’t.

Stop selling my books? Ditch my Kindle? This is where the rubber of social activism meets the road of sacrifice. And I failed the test big time.

To salvage a few ounces of moral authority, I made two decisions.

  1. I quit Amazon Prime. At the very least, they won’t be getting an automatic $120 from me every year. And between my new efforts to avoid Amazon, and the very real costs of shipping, they won’t be getting as much of my money.
  2. I signed up for Amazon Smile, which allows you to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice. And I designated Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest as my recipient.

But I’m still not very happy about my dependence on this giant company which I’ve loved so dearly and so long. Can I get an Amen? 😦

Trying on Wine, Or, A Taste of Tasting

As thirsty human beings go, I’m pretty basic. I drink Earl Grey tea all day, every day. When I eat pizza or tacos, I like a beer. If someone offers me wine, I’ll usually accept, but I don’t tend to buy it. And I NEVER go wine-tasting.

Enter The Niece (an appropriate verb, because The Niece is an actor). Last year, as her college graduation gift, I offered her an all-expenses-paid Auntie Weekend Package. She got some choices. To name a few: The Big Apple (go to NYC! see a show! eat Reubens!); the REI (stay in a National Park inn! go hiking! see moose!); the Spa (have our toenails painted in matching colors! ummm…what else do they do at spas? thank goodness she didn’t pick that one).

Obviously the National Park one would’ve been right up my alley, the NYC one right up hers–though actually a little too close to work for funsies. But I was pleasantly surprised when she picked The Sonoma: a weekend of wine-tasting in California’s sunny autumn. (Since I wanted to visit my cousins there anyway, I got to combine the trips in a two-fer.)

Of course Fate intervened last weekend, in the form of Sonoma’s terrifying Kincade Fire. Thank all those firefighting gods, at this posting, that fire is now over 80% contained–though other fires rage in SoCal. (Hang in there, SoCal!) So we pointed ourselves south instead, and off to the coast we went.

By my count, in 48 hours, we visited a vineyard, a tasting room, a wine bar, and a tap room. Also three restaurants. Not a bad alcohol: food ratio by my lights. And I definitely enjoyed each one, especially the part where you try to summon adjectives to describe what you’re tasting–I mean, I AM a writer!–and then compare your take with the official blurb.Wine, beer--whatevs. We're tasting!

But the whole time, I was aware that the activity of wine-tasting felt very alien, very Not Me.

The fact that I was more enamored of the labels than the actual wine should have been a clue.

In 48 hours, with only a minimum of driving,The Niece and I managed to absorb a whole bunch of non-tasting-related experiences. We thrilled to the unexpected opportunity to stroke some “ambassador owls” which were visiting the vineyard just then. (The vineyard’s been having some gopher issues, so they’re teaming up with a raptor center to welcome some hawks and owls there–win/win!) Being able to put fingers into the soft fluff of such fearsome birds was a dream come true.

C’mon, pet me!

Beneath the wharf, sea lions created a free aquarium display, all day.And what’s not to love about the California coastline?

Even better at sunrise!

Because it was El Día de los Muertos, we got to enjoy some extra festivities.

While in town (and yes, slightly buzzed), we allowed ourselves to be seduced by a consignment shop featuring glitzy gowns for $40 apiece. We did not buy anything, but man–I’d forgotten how fun it is to play dress-up!

Soooo tempted! Too bad I’m such a sensible person.

Thinking about it later, that dress-up activity offered itself as a fitting (pun intended) metaphor for the entire weekend. A wine person I am not. A taster I am not. But I sure had fun trying those roles on with a dear companion!

I won’t go wine-tasting again any time soon, any more than I’ll buy a silver-sequined gown. Even for $40. But every now and then, I might “taste” something equally out of character…and I might like the hell out of it.

But then I’m going back to my Earl Grey.

 

Handwritten Recipes: Chicken Soup For The Soul Even When They’re Vegetarian

The Mate and I have been downsizing again. You know. All those boxes that we decided to keep and store, the last time we downsized,10 years ago. Did they somehow go forth and multiply while we had our backs turned?

Among these boxes are old cookbooks, ones I swore I couldn’t part with 10 years ago. But have I used them in the last 10 years? Course not. So, into the boxes with them.

That part wasn’t too hard. But then I discovered the handwritten recipes.
Specifically, I found Aunt Erma’s recipe for fish chowder. Aunt Erma died 14 years ago, at the age of 90. She wasn’t my aunt, being on the Mate’s side, and she wasn’t actually even his—more of a cousin. First, once removed? Second? In truth, though, she was more of his adopted mom. Aunt Erma lived in a small hamlet near Gloucester, MA. She was a widely-renowned artist, and a wonderful cook. And her fish chowder was LEGENDARY.

Guess what recipe I found, in Erma’s handwriting?

It even includes illustrations!

In case you’re wondering, yes–I can actually read her handwriting. But the recipe’s become less legible over the years. Last time I made it, I simply modified an Internet recipe, Erma-style, by adding more butter. The point is not the exact recipe, of course. The point is the memories conjured by that loopy scrawl, that attention to detail, the voice I can almost hear as she transcribes her kitchen magic. She’d be making sure we had some good crusty bread to eat with our chowder. And of course she’d be warning us not to forget to pre-heat the bowls, whatever we do.

So I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do with Erma’s fish chowder recipe. I guess since I’ve taken its picture and blogged about it, maybe it’s time to let the actual papers find their way into our wood stove. Maybe I’ll think about it for the next 10 years.

But I do know one thing: right now, I want to cook me some fish chowder. With extra butter, and pre-warmed bowls.

Speaking of old family recipes, handwritten or otherwise…now would be a great time and place to share one! 

 

What Are We Actively Avoiding Paying Attention To? A Love Letter.

Dear Tacoma,

I know, I don’t write you often enough. As my adopted hometown, as my official Now I Am a Northwesterner Address, as the birthplace of my children, you have owned my heart since I first met you in the mid-80s. I love your grit, the hell-no-we’re-not-Seattle chip on your shoulder. I love all your big things: big trees, big ships, big trains, big Dome. Thanks for being you.

But Tacoma, you have a dark spot. No, I’m not talking about your Superfund sites–I know you’re working on those. I’m talking more a cancer, a symptom of our New American Normal of meanness. I’m talking about the Northwest Center for Detention, run by ICE in conjunction with GEO Group, a private prison firm.

The NWDC sits right smack in the middle of your industrial heart, Tacoma. And you know it. Your City Council approved it in 2004, and allowed its expansion in 2009. You probably know too about the hunger strikes that detainees have waged, on and off, since 2014, trying to improve conditions which our House Representative, Adam Smith, called “shocking.”

This particular demonstration was led by a synagogue from Seattle.

But I know you, Tacoma. I know you’d rather not think about the over 1,300 people locked up in your heart like hardcore prisoners for the crime of trying to live and work in this country, or fleeing violence in theirs, or both.

You know why I know how actively you’re avoiding thinking about those people, Tacoma? Because I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been REALLY good at it. Even though I moved away in 2010, I still consider myself a Tacoman at heart, and I haven’t even been aware of the NWDC until three years ago. And when I learned about it, did I take the time to learn why there were protesters out front? Did I do anything at all?

Self-explanatory.

Nope.

But Tacoma, that moment arrives when you have to look yourself in the mirror and stop pretending you don’t know about stuff you don’t want to think about. I had that moment a few months ago. It took me a long time to act on it for a number of reasons, but this past weekend I finally did. I joined the weekly protest run by La Resistencia.

Most of these protesters are from Seattle, I’m sorry to say–not Tacoma.

I’m a slow learner, Tacoma. Now that I’ve finally made myself learn about the conditions inside the NWDC–the maggots in the food, the medical neglect, the lack of clean water, the reprisals against anyone who dares to complain–I can’t un-know these things. And I can’t not get involved, and raise my voice.

Which is why I’m writing you this letter, with deep affection. You are better than this, Tacoma. We are all better. If you are actively avoiding this ugliness–ANY ugliness–as I have done, your conscience knows why.

Paper cranes of hope, outside the gates.

PS: Please don’t just take my word for it. Here’s ICE’s own website. Here’s KUOW’s take on the NWDC, with photos. And here’s the perspective of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. 

 

Americans of Conscience Checklist: For Those Of Us Who Can’t Keep Up

I admit it. I hate calling my Congressperson. I actually have to ASSIGN myself a time to call, or a number of calls to make, depending on the issue. But after calling, I always feel good, and wonder why I had to fight so much inertia.

If this sounds at all like you, you might be interested in this website I was just introduced to by my friend Iris, the Americans of Conscience Checklist.

I signed up to receive the weekly Checklist via email. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As it tells you on the home page,

the AoC Checklist features clear, well-researched actions for Americans who value democracy, equality, voting, and respect. To stay engaged through challenging times, we practice gratitude, self-care, and celebration.

So I get the best of both worlds: a definitive, time-based reminder that’s done all my legwork for me. All I have to do is choose one thing–boom, done. I can go deeper if I want, but that’s entirely up to me.

My own little bit for America (photo by SweetShutter, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take this week’s list, for example. It offers actions to take if you are concerned about…

…advocating for a crucial safeguard against election fraud:

[h/t Verified Voting]Call: Your two state legislators (look up).

Script: Hi, I’m calling from [ZIP] because I want security around [STATE]’s elections to be public and trustworthy. Nonpartisan experts agree that a specific type of post-election oversight called a risk-limiting audit (RLA) is the strongest and most cost-effective defense against malfunctioning or hacked voting systems. Can I count on [NAME] to support mandatory RLAs in [STATE] beginning with the 2020 presidential primaries? Thank you.

…the rights of vulnerable people, like Native American women:

 [h/t National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center] Call: Your two senators (look up).

Script: Hi. I’m calling from [ZIP] to express my deep frustration that the Senate still has not acted on the Violence Against Women Act, lapsed now for more than a year. As a result, Native American women in particular are even more vulnerable to assault and rape. I’m asking [NAME] to support the complete House version (H.R. 1585) and call for an immediate vote on it.

The checklist goes on to offer a name of someone worthy of thanking. This week, it suggests: “Thank NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for affirming employees’ individual rights to freedom of expression.”

And of course it provides Mr. Silver’s address.

Then comes my favorite part, the Good News section. Don’t know about you, but I need this stuff to keep me hopeful! There’s national good news…

A federal court issues a temporary injunction against the administration’s “public charge” rule, which would limit aspiring Americans’ ability to receive green cards should they need to utilize public assistance. 

…as well as state-by-state, like this from Vermont:

VT will allow young adults aged 18-20 with criminal charges to remain in the juvenile court system, providing them with age-appropriate services and allowing them to avoid a life-altering criminal record.

Way to go, Vermont! I doubt I would have learned that news from any other source.

Point is, my inertia doesn’t stand a chance against this kind of easy, hand-picked list of ways to weigh in on things I do care about, even if you wouldn’t know it from my laziness. If you can relate to this at all, I hope you’ll consider checking out the Americans of Conscience Checklist here.

Let’s go, America! (photo by finn, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

Need A Little Harmony With Your Outrage? Try Windborne.

I knew this group was coming to perform on my island. One of the singers is friends with someone here. From New England, I heard. Tight 4-part harmonies. That was all I knew, till a friend sent me this video of Windborne singing “Song of the Lower Classes” in front of…yep…Trump Tower, in Manhattan. In the snow.

Now THAT is what this society needs. Immediately, I could not WAIT for that concert.

And I wasn’t disappointed. They sang in a small church, the natural acoustics amplifying the weave of their voices better than any microphone.They sang of struggle, hardship, love, longing, labor–every song a call and an inspiration, both musical and political.

Funny story they told at the concert: apparently all of the singers of Windborne had kept their day jobs; they enjoyed singing together but none thought it would become a full-time gig. But after their impromptu Trump Tower song went viral, they were more or less drafted into touring…by internet fans!

I won’t go on and on; I’ll leave it to you to check out Windborne if you don’t know of them yet. They’re actually pretty famous by now, having been discovered by music critics at the NY Times and NPR, among others. As for who they are, here’s what they have to say about themselves:

Windborne is Lynn Mahoney Rowan, Will Thomas Rowan, Lauren Breunig, and Jeremy Carter-Gordon. All four have traveled extensively in the US and throughout the world with Village HarmonyNorthern Harmony and the Renewal Chorus, leading workshops and giving concerts. Windborne has toured New England several times, and in 2010 their vocal agility and power won them first place in Young Tradition Vermont‘s Showcase Competition. Since then, they have appeared at the Flurry Festival, the Shelburne Harvest Festival, the Young Tradition Vermont Reunion Concert, and have taught master classes at Keene State College.   In January 2014, AMA sent Windborne on a month-long tour to Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Angola performing and teaching as musical ambassadors for the US!

Keep hope alive!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go learn some new harmonies for “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

Hashtag Shoe-Bling, or, When Life Gets Too Heavy, Be Stupid

Ever have one of those weeks where every conversation feels so weighty, you wonder that you can’t count it as a workout? I’m having one of those: Impeachment, White Privilege, Climate Crisis, MeToo…oof. Never thought I’d turn to my blog for the purposes of lightening up–but that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Or rather…lighting up.

No, I don’t mean smoking. Don’t you know me by now, people? I mean my FEET.

***bling!***

Yes, these are mine. (No, they don’t exactly fit my healthy-living, down-to-earth, thrift-shopping style, but then again, did I mention I own camo pants? They’re PANTS. And these are SHOES. Get over it.)

Here’s how I came to own these glitzy beauties. Fourth of July evening, the Mate and I were gathered with some friends in a field, ready to watch our island’s epic fireworks show. But while waiting, we were treated to a pretty phenomenal pre-show involving kids running around like gangbusters, waving glow-sticks and high-tossing some very cool gizmos that flashed and glowed while they twirled back to earth.

And then I saw him: the child with the Feet of Fire.

A blur of incandescent rainbow, that’s what his feet were as he ran. A breathtaking river of fairy-light. I couldn’t take my eyes off them…even though I wasn’t at all sure what I was seeing. “What,” I gasped, “am I seeing?”

Luckily my 20something friend did what 20something friends do: she googled “shoe lights.” A moment later I was looking at an ad for LED shoes–the kind where the LEDs go all the way around the sole, not just at the back of the shoe.

“They have ’em in grownup sizes,” she observed.

And now a shout-out to The Mate–usually a total stick-in-the-mud when it comes to fads. “You know,” he told me, “those would be great for your night rides.”

I looked at him, thinking, who are you and what have you done with my husband?     well hey now. “They’re probably ridiculously pricey,” I said.

“Thirty-four fifty,” my friend read from her phone.

The fireworks were AMAZING that night, maybe the best show ever. But lights were going off in my mind too.

Long story short: next day I ordered the magic footwear. They came in all colors, including sensible black, but you know what–if I’m getting flashy shoes, I want FLASHY shoes.

Now you see me…

So now when I hop on my bike at 3 a.m. for the long, dark ride to the bakery, I do so feeling like a queen, with Feet of Fire. No one gets to see ’em but the deer, and the oh-so-occasional passing car…but I like to think I’ve blown their minds when they do.

Oh, the ride home in daylight? Nowhere near so impressive. And I keep having to explain to people that they’re just SHOES that I bought for SAFETY. Because of course that’s the absolute, number-one reason.

…now you REALLY see me.

Anyone else ever made a ridiculous purchase that made you ridiculously happy? Do tell.