Monday, January 16, 2017


I left my comfort zone for the unknowns of the city's Senior Center yesterday. Two local groups hosted The People's Potluck as a way to get underrepresented people together in a comfortable space. 
But, I'm not underrepresented.
As a middle class, well-educated, home-owning white woman with job security, I am well represented just about everywhere I go. I have a privilege that comes with my skin tone and my luck at being born into a family able to give me a head start. I know that privilege, and I know not everybody has it.

What I also know is that circumstances often keep me from meeting people who do not share my life experiences. It felt important to take action here.
So, I sat through the introduction asking us all to look around and notice the lack of color among the attendees and felt that less-than-welcome feeling as the presenter continued with "but we welcome our allies." I know she too often has looked around the room and felt less-than-welcome and was trying to begin a conversation about why it is so hard to come together rather than to make me feel bad for coming at all.
At my table I talked with an older white woman who lives in HUD subsidized housing and relies on various government support to keep her healthy and fed. She pointed out the struggles of living in the apartment complex downtown and the lack of communication between the residents within her building and certainly between those residents and the artists and condo owners who also live downtown. Admitting that people just don't come to meetings we started to think about  what holds people back. 
It's uncomfortable, for one.

I almost didn't attend the potluck that day because I didn't know what to expect, didn't know anyone else going, wasn't sure it was "my place". But, and allow me to be sentimental here, after listening to President Obama's farewell speech where he admitted to fearing for the future of our democracy and suggested the importance of face to face conversations with people, I knew I had to force myself to attend. I had to agree to be uncomfortable.
But, that's a bit easier to do when you are comfortable most of the time.

When my husband and I sat at a table only to have the two people sitting there keep their backs turned away engaging only each other, we sort of felt like we should leave. I felt better when I was able to joke with an older man in the food line, and help him get a piece of frittata, and then finally more people joined our table brought us into the conversation, and I'm glad we stayed.

It became very comfortable when I was able to start talking to one of those people who initially kept her back to me and we found out a little about each other. I connected to a woman with a child in my school district who is worried at what is missing from his education because the school has been working so hard to reach "Level 1" status. As a teacher, I know very well what's missing, and it is not worth the prestige that comes from high standardized test scores. And I was moved by hearing from a gay man who said he felt unwelcome at his local Southeast Asian restaurant but left with a better understanding when an Asian-American woman suggested that the culture may be naturally reticent, not necessarily hostile, and also wary of difference in a way that many older generation immigrants tend to be.

In her TED Talk, Kio Stark mentions the phenomenon of "fleeting intimacy" that allows us to connect with strangers in ways we don't with those in our closer circles. She posits that, since these people do not know us and so can't respond as well to our nonverbal signals we feel we have to fill them in on details we would leave out with a more familiar audience. It's important to talk to strangers for many reasons, but one is that we say more, elaborate more, make more clear connections all in order to be understood but also resulting in more reflection on our part. And what I need right now is to understand what I really think, why I do what I do and what I want to change. 
With my one little word "action" as my guide, I left my comfort zone yesterday and became a little more comfortable there. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

One Little Word - action

 This is the first word that popped in my head when I read the One Little Word posts at the Two Writing Teachers site. I pushed it aside and started to reflect on others - kind, brave, positive. But action kept resurfacing. So, this is my focus word for 2017.

The One Little Word (OLW) is a strategy to focus your year without creating a long list of resolutions. The process of refining my goals to one focus word has helped me to better understand what I want from this new year, the kind of life I want to live. 

Not going to lie, I feel like phrasing my word as a noun instead of a verb sounds a little contradictory. Shouldn't my word be ACT? But as I think about the actions I want to take, it feels right. These actions include writing, reading, and participating and the guiding word "action" puts me in mind of putting myself in front of others. So, I frequently write but rarely write out loud to engage in a wider community. I read all the time but what do I do with that knowledge? Maybe participate is really my word since what I want to do is engage with the world. But participation is not as inspiring as action. Action implies that I am in control of my work; participation requires me to subvert myself to the group. 

I have a lovely Pinterest-worthy image of decorated words posted around my life to help keep me focused. And I’ll probably Zentangle at least one word to hang in my classroom, maybe even design a sticker for my laptop. Truthfully, adding art into my days is a part of the action I’ve been thinking about so taking the time to doodle and paint fits right in with the goal. But what I’m excited about is that for the 2nd day in a row I’ve taken the time to write in my journal, write for posting, and read something that challenges me to action.

Let the year of action begin.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

I remember being told once that what you do on New Year’s Day is indicative of what you will be doing in that year. It makes sense since what you choose to do with a day off can certainly show your priorities. But we all know that we often subvert our personal priorities for obligation and perceived responsibility. Days off are days off. They take us out of our routine and give us a vacation from responsibility. I think I’m spending this New Year’s much as I’ve spent the past several, but it is not necessarily how I’ve spent my years.
I woke early this morning, before anyone else in the house, got the coffee started and settled into the couch with some light reading. I noticed a Goodreads invitation to submit my 2017 reading challenge and so took half a minute to think about what might be reasonable and then typed in 50 even though it's not. True, I read 51 books this past year – not hard because half of them were student fiction – but this year I’m hoping to sign up for a post graduate program and won’t have the same kind of pleasure reading time that I had last year. Then I think about how much time I spend trolling through Facebook and playing mindless games and reading frustrating blog posts and remember that 50 books is well within my means.
Let’s stop that train of thought though because if what you are doing on New Year’s is what you’ll be doing through the year then I know I want to do a lot less self-flagellation and a lot more energized action.

So here's what I want to continue doing after this morning. Reading, being close to my husband, planning for a better world. And what the picture can't show is the action taken because I will give myself time to refresh.