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On My Mind

Favorite Stuff of 2019

Ukraine. Wanting to use the remaining allowed “out of country” days during the last weeks of my Fulbright term, I rang in 2019 in Kyiv, visiting on January 1st the incredibly moving Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), wandering the city’s churches, snagging a taxi to a folk park, and taking a painting lesson in the decorative Petrykivka style — before hopping a train to the lovely city of Lviv for another handful of days. What I saw of Ukraine during those days of solo travel made me want more time there; it’s a scrappy, corrupt, charming, complicated place. We recognized in each other some mutual traits.


Belarusian women. As the clock ticked down on my time in Belarus, I was reminded again and again how welcoming and kind the people of Polotsk are. From the day arrived to the day I left, the women (English teachers, university staff, students far and wide, exercise buddies) embraced me — “You can call any time!” “Let me know how I can help you!” “We are so lucky to have you here!” — in a way I haven’t always experienced in the States. The five months in Belarus provided a fundamental internal reset that I’m trying to carry forward.


Belarusian street fashion. Picture whiny blondes in plaid pajama pants pushing carts at Walmart, and feel the shame. Belarusians understand the impression imparted by and self-esteem that comes from making an effort with appearance. (HI DO I SOUND LIKE A BOOMER I THINK I MIGHT SOUND LIKE A BOOMER) All I know is my neck got sore from the head swiveling as I ogled coats and boots.


The wooden houses in Polotsk. Yes, I know you’ve seen them. I know you’re over my Belarus time already. But, jeezus Colton, could you relax for a half-sec, raise your head from your joy stick, and let your soul smile at the picturesque?

Everyone who’s been to Eastern Europe now wants to ask knowledgeably, “Is that a Lada?”


The dramatic farewell enacted by the mural on my Polotsk apartment ceiling. The mural was sad, see. ‘CAUSE SAD ANGEL.

A singular relationship


Leaving something behind. The lending library so many of my U.S. friends and family helped to start in the Language Center at Polotsk State University moves heart to throat every time I think of English language learners having a heap of books to choose from.

More books have been sent since. And more books can still be sent. *cough cough*


Coming home. Belarus was intense. I was broken up about leaving the lovely people yet so glad to be home. For about five weeks, I dipped my head over jigsaw puzzles and stayed in the house, exhausted from So Much, but then, slowly: I rejoined the world.


My pal Christa. I’d never met her before 2019. But a mutual friend connected us online when I was in Belarus, so the friendship germinated through messages; we’d been going to the same yoga class for years but never spoken. It was only this year I found out her nickname for me and Byron in the class has long been “puppies under the blanket.” Tip to toes, Christa is a peach. She feels like a friend I’ve loved for decades. We read the same books, we do exercise classes together, we message constantly, and few sounds are sweeter than her big, dumb laugh. As life goes on, it gets harder and harder to find new Friends of the Heart, but Christa effortlessly became one.


Salon joy. Getting my hair cut has never been my favorite thing — egad, can I please just read this magazine and not have to make small talk? can we please just get this over with? do you actually feel good about sending me home looking like this? Ah, but then I started going to Adeline a few years ago, and since then, visits to her charming salon make me feel like I’m a character in a Netflix series named Shags — during Season One, Adeline dances wildly to Lizzo, hosts pop-up events, organizes community action, masters razor cuts, and mentors up-and-coming stylists, all while her trusty assistant, Kristina, keeps a lid on the place while wearing fierce earrings.


Statement earrings made by creatives. A side benefit of Adeline’s salon is the earring bar conveniently located on a glass case by the check out. The wild and joyous earrings I saw there introduced a slew of local and regional artists who are pushing back against the dull mindlessness of mass fabrication every time they cut-pound-squeeze an idea onto a stud or a loop. And now I’m on a constant hunt for jocund jewelry.

Working a Pledge Drive. This is my seventh year on the Board of Directors for the public tv station in Duluth, the year when they looked at me and thought, much as they would of war, “Jocelyn, huh, good god, y’all. What is she good for?” The answer to this question involved a screen test followed by a bunch of hours in which I asked for money in exchange for cookbooks. I was super nervous. And, as is usually the case when I do the thing I’m nervous about, it was super fun. Sidenote: teleprompters aren’t for the faint of heart. WHAT’S THE NEXT WORD I CAN’T SEE THE NEXT WORD IS IT DONATE MAYBE IT’S GALLIVANT

Had I been stationed on the kitchen set while on air, I’da made you a Julia Child omelet for a one-time five-dollar donation

DON’T…WHAT???


Instagram Stories. While my favorite multi-segment video Stories of the year revolved around the diaries of my great-great-grandmother, Minerva, and those of her eldest daughter, Ella, there’s also good fun in recreating the dynamics of a Spin class. Especially if there are oranges in the house.

That’s me, the ginger in the egg cup hiding in the back row

Minverva Baker Haddock gave birth to ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Her diaries are mostly about “doing the work up fine”


Gin’s ashes. Virginia Claire Larsen died in May of 2018, and when her ashes were returned some months later to her widow, Kirsten invited me to accompany her to Europe to scatter bits of our beloved in certain spots Gin had treasured. Beyond that, we also tossed her hither and thither — in the corner of a hundreds-of-years-old pub, in the cellar of a monastery, off the side of a bridge. With the bulk of her well interred or swirling in the wind, we finished The Distribution of Virginia in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Prague, a place that seemed fitting, given her interest in learning Yiddish (she took classes) and the deeply important relationship she had throughout her life with a Jewish couple who’d escaped death during WWII.

The afternoon light was soft when we dribbled Gin from a Ziploc onto a gravestone, dumped a bit of her in the dirt, poured the dust of her onto a fountain shelf. When the bag was empty, the world around us muffled, and up she floated, bits of her becoming circling motes in a patch of sunlight. Lazily, hanging over the cemetery, she drifted toward the sky.


Speaking to crowds. I know it seems odd, given that I’m in my 29th year as a teacher, but I do not enjoy talking in front of an assembled group. The prospect of it makes me cold-handed and anxious, even sick. Yet opportunities for public speaking keep cropping up, and I keep saying yes, so on some level, I guess I get something from the process of worrying, planning, and presenting. Even more, I feel the like an important part of aging well is continuing to tackle challenges, which is part of why I say yes when my brain is screaming no.

I’m very glad I said yes to Adeline one day when she was making magic with my hair; she’d asked me to participate in her monthly community storyshare event, Gag Me with a Spoon. Before the year was over, I’d gotten on that stage three times, once in a dual performance with pal Christa (We told menstruation stories, and I’m still haunted by the image of a well-used tampon as a dead mouse, so thanks for that, Lawler), feeling more confident each time. I also was asked to be on a panel about “Life’s Curveballs” at my college reunion to talk about the Belarus experience; then a month later, I sat on another panel, this one in front of hundreds of outgoing Fulbrighters at their pre-departure orientation in Kansas, to speak about health and wellness while abroad (“Pack some taco seasoning packets for a special dinner on the dark days,” I counseled).

Each time I’ve hoisted my shaking frame in front of all those eyes, I’ve had to dig deep, square my shoulders, and remind myself: You got this, Jocey. The worst thing that can happen is you act a fool or they hate you. And, girl, you’ve already felt both those things in life and managed to carry on. So open your mouth and let something come out. It might surprise you.


Students. This fall, there were these two firefighting students in my night class, one guy always bringing his rope and giving impromptu lessons in knot-tying to the other. At one point, the knotty guy pulled a classmate across the floor in a demonstration of how a body can be removed from a crisis scene. That, my friends, is a good freshman comp class.

In the same class, a mother of two told me she had to miss one evening to attend a holiday gala at a fancy mansion. I told her she’d be forgiven if she sent me pictures of herself all gussied up. She obliged. Except she forgot to send a photo of the shoes she wore. We came to an agreement: if she wore the shoes during the final exam, all would be well. That, my friends, is a good freshman comp student.

Then there’s the fact that a brand-new class I’d prepared, Creative Nonfiction Writing, had low enrollment and was in danger of cancellation. In a last-ditch effort, I posted a plea for students on Facebook. After more than 100 comments, some realities shook out: ten people, not community college students but, rather, friends from my college years, co-workers of those friends, a former Belarus Fulbrighter, a friend from Byron’s years at Wolf Ridge, and even parents of friends, signed up for the course. The numbers were good enough to save the class. That in itself made my heart swoop. But then the actual class happened.

Week after week, the mix of ages and backgrounds created a dynamic like I’d never seen before. For the standard, degree-seeking community college students in the class, there may have been a few weeks of “What the hell?” as they looked at the writing and work habits of those a bit more — ahem — advanced in life. I venture to say their learning experience was boosted as they realized a world exists where the instructions “write 100 words minimum” simultaneously means “you can write 3,000 words if you want.” The mash-up of people in the class yielded something rare and special in terms of the trust and safety we all felt with each other. As the writers mined their life experiences, I was inspired. In one case, after reading the story of a 77-year-old student’s childhood in International Falls, Minnesota, and how she regularly walked across the border into Canada for all sorts of goods and services not available in her own town, I decided I wanted to do that, too. So, one brisk November evening while in International Falls for other work-related business, I did it. I walked across an international border. And on the way back, I carried a box of Tim Horton’s doughnuts for several miles, declaring them at the border as I re-entered the U.S.

One particular student registered for the class a few days before the start of the semester after I’d happened upon him, a worker in the campus’ new greenhouse, when out for a walk with a colleague. This worker and I talked for a few minutes about the college’s Eco-Entrepreneurship Program before he asked me about my teaching. In no time, I was giving him a hard sell on the Creative Nonfiction class. By the end of that day, he’d dropped a course he needed for his major and enrolled in the CNF class. This young man, Adison, is an extraordinary person and an equally fine writer (in future weeks, I’ll be featuring some of his and his classmates’ writing on this blog!). When, part way through the semester, I messaged him to ask if he’d ever consider sharing something he’d written for class at Gag Me with a Spoon, he was open to the idea.

The night when he stepped onto the stage and read his piece “What They Don’t Tell You about Hitchhiking” was special in a lot of ways. Most of all, for me, it was a crowning moment from The Little Class That Could — the class that could survive cancellation, pull together a diverse group of randoms, and ask them to commit to the process of putting their lives into words. That class was the best teaching experience of my career.


Fluevogs. When you wear great shoes, you gotta get the photo. There in the tub, I “did the work up fine.”

Relatedly, a student blew my heart open when she wrote — in her comparison/contrast essay about her English teacher versus Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series! — “Jocelyn’s clothes are a perfect yin yang balance of tweed style mixed with surrealism.”


Books. I read ’em. I love ’em. Very rarely, though, do I give out 4- or 5-star ratings on my Goodreads. Here are some that made that cut this year.


The lake. My feelings about Duluth and Lake Superior are ripening with each year we live here. Every single time I clap eyes on that massive expanse of water edging the city, I have to stop for a second and breathe in the g.d. majesty of it.

Byron and I had a great time walking home from downtown on the frozen lake

In the summer, I chase Himself around while he swims

THIS IS MY CAFTAN AND IT DESERVES A GREAT BACKDROP

Hey, Slick. Didn’t see ya lounging there

When I picked Paco up at 11 p.m. after a McDonald’s shift, he asked if we could drive down to the beach to look at the moon. No, you can’t have him


90-Day Fiance. It’s a regular thing for me to become addicted to crap, but the fact that Byron is, inexplicably, all in on the nonsense of this tv franchise has been a huge delight in recent months. Now, when I exclaim things like “The shitshow that is today reminds me of when Darcey arrived in Amsterdam and got her Louboutin heel stuck in the escalator at the airport,” Byron understands the reference. A show about idiots desperate for ill-advised marriage has brought a greater level of percipience to my own.


Reunion. How to convey the lasting effects of the best choice I’ve ever made? (…save for ending up with the aforementioned 90-Day Fiance watcher — and that didn’t feel like a choice so much as an easy trust fall into yes.) Let’s try this: Starting in my junior year of high school, all these colleges kept mailing flyers and brochures, somehow having discerned that they were the places I should want to be once I graduated from high school. Because it felt wrong to toss potential into the garbage, I kept all those mailings, shoving them into a shoe box that I kept in the basement by the tv that brought me Sting singing “King of Pain.” At the same time the shoe box was getting heavy, I was obsessed with Lisa Birnbach’s The Preppy Handbook and thus strongly favoring college applications to East Coast colleges where I might learn to wear headbands and plaid like a native. Alternately, I toyed with the idea of a West Coast college, where I could try “smoking grass” amongst ferns and loaves of sourdough bread. But then, as a kind of compromise, a third option gained traction: what if I applied to this one college that was still far enough away — roughly a thousand miles — yet somehow close enough? What if I sent in an Early Decision application to “the Harvard of the Midwest”?

And so I did. The rest would wrongly be dismissed as history — since the experience of that place exhales a daily, very alive, breath even yet. The way that I think, the values I hold, the people I treasure — all came from a semi-random decision to attend Carleton College.

My class had its 30th Reunion this summer, and as we all put feet on those grounds that absorbed our stomps toward adulthood, I felt more myself than I do anywhere else in life.

Plus, I got to follow my daughter around for a bit while she, a student worker, someone who applied Early Decision to a place that felt like Home, counted heads on an architecture tour.


This painting. Out of nowhere, it showed up in the mail one day. It was from my friend Tim, who also happens to be my favorite artist. What the…??? I was tipsy with excitement, flattered to my follicles. Later, Tim explained that he’d been thinking about our college reunion and the various people who’ve populated that place. Although much attention is given to the “big names” who graduated or taught there, he decided it would be more meaningful to celebrate someone who’s a mother and a teacher and a smiler — someone lesser known who still embodies plenty of admirable traits.

Hey, you guys? I love Tim.

Hi, my name is Joceypants. But you can call me Ms. Frizzle


Puzzles. There’s that thing about challenging the aging brain. There’s also a thing about how working on a puzzle transforms head space into a calm, abstracted place of focus. When I am working on a puzzle, I am engaged in a deep, intimate relationship with shapes and images — a necessary break from words and people.


The Tommie Twilight 5K. In high school, our girl didn’t particularly like track. She’s a cross-country runner at heart. But now, in college, she’s enjoying track more. Last spring, she had a really good race one week, setting a new personal record for herself. And then. The next week, she raced the 5K again — and whittled almost a minute off her time from the previous week. When a quiet person beams, it’s like a shout. After the race, her face was shouting. Even more, I’m so glad my friend Mary Beth came to watch the race with me that night; she saved me from crying on a stranger’s shoulder when Our Fierce Leggy rocketed over the finish line.


Y peeps. There’s a place I go lots of days, and it’s a place that keeps me steady and sane. There are regulars, and there are drop-ins, and through it all, there is something like community, in this place where we’re all just after being our best selves, a place where we never have to go to meetings or worry about whispers in the hall. That place is the YMCA, and I’m ever so glad I’m a Young Christian Man.


Internet. Thank you, Al Gore. Your invention makes me laugh on the daily.


Teens in the kitchen. They are smart, quick, funny, and kind. I love teens. I love them better when they’re in our kitchen.

Sis and her brownie spoon will Tell. You. About. It.

Not a nubbin of pasta left after the crew of, uhhhh, seven boys finished the dinner they’d made

There’s only Bisquick in our house when an animated flipper brings it over


Live music. Concert attendance took a hit when the kids were little, but Byron and I are gradually re-entering the world known as “going places and doing things.” Fortunately, we both love standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow fans, ears blasted by noise and energy and a reminder that notes flying through the air belong to everybody. They equalize and unite.

Try on this description from Fifth Element about the roots of Dem Atlas’ music, for example:

Growing up in a dysfunctional home in Minneapolis, there were two things Joshua Turner turned to for comfort when his parents fought: the records he’d listen to on a loop to drown out their conflict and the atlas he’d pore over to pretend he was anywhere else. Turner’s all grown up now, but his sources of childhood refuge continue to play an integral role in his life. In his spare time he draws maps for fun, and, under the name deM atlaS, he’s composing his emotionally complex hip-hop records aimed at listeners who are in need of some sonic solace of their own.

Even more, I had a great time in the bathroom at the Bad Bad Hats show, counseling a drunk college student about why her new boyfriend couldn’t possibly have pangs for his ex. As a rule, I do some of my best work with drunks in bathrooms. Just ask my students.


Teens at the potluck. The challenge for our annual potluck this summer was to make a dish that, as of the reading of the invitation, the attendee had never before heard of. For Byron and me, that sounded like great fun, but the reality was that some folks struggled with the “make something you don’t know exists” angle. You know who rep-re-sent-ed, though? Paco’s crew (See: teens in the kitchen). To a one, those teenagers came up with delicious, inspired entries. Paco’s buddy Trenton is interested in a career in the food world; he brought gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce, and I was delighted to teach him how to pronounce the main ingredients in his dish as he sat at the registration table, riddling out the spellings and accompanying story. Then there’s Mason, a kid who’d never heard of beignets before but made them and made them WELL.

So, y’know, kudos to the adults who entered excellent dishes. But YEEEEEEET to the teens.


The Anthropecene Reviewed. This podcast’s tagline reads “John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale,” and while that’s exactly what the show is about, it’s eversomuch more, too. Listen, I’ve never read any of John Green’s books, nor do I particularly want to, but, glory, he does some gorgeous writing for this program as he reviews everything from the QWERTY keyboard to the breakfast menu at Taco Bell to the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. His review of Sycamore trees took me to tears.

What I hope to do in the future is echo Green’s example from this podcast — his mixture of history, analysis, heart — by constructing a sort of “review” assignment for my freshman composition classes. I’m not sure I can take another ten years of teaching a standard comparison/contrast essay — but I surely can stand to read students’ assessments, on a five-star scale, of things like Rock, Paper, Scissors and penalty shootouts.

Here, please enjoy the closing paragraphs of John Green’s review of sunsets.

My dog died last year, but one of my great memories of him is playing in the front yard of our first house at dusk.

He was a puppy then, and in the early evenings he would always come down with a case of the zoomies. He’d run in delighted circles around us, yipping and jumping at nothing in particular, and then after a while, he’d get tired, and he’d run over to me, and he’d lie down. And then he would do something absolutely extraordinary—he would roll over onto his back, and present his soft belly. I always marveled at the courage of that, his ability to be so absolutely vulnerable to us, to offer us the place that ribs don’t protect, and trust that we weren’t going to bite or stab him. It’s hard to trust the world like that, to show it your belly. 

I don’t know exactly how to describe this, but there’s something deep within me, something intensely fragile, that is terrified of turning itself to the world. Maybe it feels like loving the beauty that surrounds us somehow disrespects the many horrors that also surround us. Or maybe I’m just scared that if I show the world my belly, it will devour me. And so I wear the armor of cynicism, and hide behind the great walls of irony, and only glimpse beauty with my back turned to it, through the Claude Glass. 

But I want to be earnest, even if it’s embarrassing. The photographer Alec Soth has said, “To me, the most beautiful thing is vulnerability,” and I would go a step further and argue that you cannot see the beauty which is enough unless you make yourself vulnerable to it. 

And so I try to turn toward that scattered light, belly out, and I tell myself: This doesn’t look like a picture. And it doesn’t look like a God. It is a sunset, and it is wildly beautiful, and this whole thing you’ve been doing where almost nothing gets five stars because almost nothing is perfect? That’s b.s. So much is perfect. Starting with this. 

I give sunsets five stars.


And finally.

These ones. No matter the year, they are my favorites and my best.


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Life

She’s Off


I want to tell you what love looks like.

She is 18, about 5′ 7″ with dark blonde hair to her shoulders.

Love looks like her, fresh sweetness driven by curiosity.

I want to tell you what else love looks like.

She is 46, about 5′ 10″, a brunette with tints of red.

Love looks like her, powerful directness fueled by loyalty.

I want to tell you what else love looks like.

She’s a horizontal 5′ 3″, maybe 80 pounds, but it’s hard to say since she hasn’t eaten in days.

Love looks skeletal and radiant in her hospital bed positioned next to the living room window, so she can live in the light as the veil between Here and There thins.

I want to tell you how blinding love is when these three versions of her are supported by the same laminate wood floors at the same time, one over by the living room window, her breathing shallow, her eyes half-open as she drifts in and out of medicated sleep, the other two facing each other near the dining room table. 

The brunette by the table has enough vigor for everyone, despite the exhaustion of walking slowly, over years, then days, now hours, shoulder-to-shoulder with her shallow-breathing wife as she eases to the next phase. The brunette by the table not only has vigor. She has a plan. 

The 18-year-old who has just been given a firm hug by the brunette does not know of a plan. All she knows is that she’s come for one last visit with the shallow-breathing love in the hospital bed. All she knows is that the first person to see the top of her head as it crowned its way into this world is now leaving it. All she knows is that she will be one of the last people to see the first person who saw her. All she knows is that something about this business of first and last smacks at the heart. All she knows is that being there for each other at the beginning and at the end feels like a rare magic.

“So,” says the brunette Kirsten to the teen who is on the cusp of three months of travels. “Here’s a deal I have for you. I’m going to slip a big swaaaaak of Euros into your pocket from Ginnie and me, okay?”

Not sure what is happening, the blonde Allegra nods uncertainly.

“And at some point while you’re in some far-off country, you’re going to see something that looks really fun — like something you’d love to do, if only you had the money. Like, it would be a great adventure, but it costs a lot, so you’ll just have to imagine how cool it would be. Except, see, you’re going to have this stack of Euros with you, and you’ve been told you can only use them to do something you otherwise would never be able to. So the whole point of these…” she trails off as she turns towards the dining room table and grabs a stack of colorful notes, “…is that you use them in memory of Gin…” — she tips her head towards the form in the hospital bed, the same form that was bitten by a lemur in Madagascar, that carried pails of ashes up and down staircases in a crumbling French chateau, that hugged a baby sloth in the Amazon — “…so you need to find an amazing thing to do, and when you throw this money at it, you will be taking Virginia on one last adventure, this time with you.”

Having explained the terms of the deal, the generous friend, auntie, wife, soon-widow pushes the money into the 18-year-old’s hands. The girl’s eyebrows lift as she nods. The terms are accepted.

I want to tell you what love looks like.

It looks like a stack of Euros with strings attached.

It looks like a blonde teen and a brunette chosen-auntie locking eyes for a brief moment as they acknowledge the lasting imprint the slight form in the hospital bed will leave on them both, with the lessons of generosity and gusto she modeled for them.

It looks like the tears in the eyes of a melancholy mother lurking two feet behind her teenage daughter who holds a stack of Euros in her hands; like the tears in the eyes of a grateful friend watching a pal make things possible for her girl; like the tears in the eyes of a grieving intimate who knows her beloved chum is days from death.

I want to tell you what love looks like.

It looks like four unsteady women united on a laminate wood floor, four women whose lives have intersected in profound and unpredictable ways, four women finding balance by leaning on each other.

I want to show you what love looks like.

 

 

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Five in Five

Seven in Fifty-One: Saturday, February 17

This afternoon, Allegra, friend Linda, and I drove through several flat, soul-sucking towns, braving the border of Wisconsin, so that we could participate in a race across a frozen bay in Lake Superior. Approximately 4,000 skiers, snowshoers, and runners take part each year in this night-time race, lit only by luminaries and the frigid tears dotting participants’ cheeks.

During our time in the car, I asked Linda to consider what she knows now, at age 51, that she didn’t know at, say, age 10. Put another way: what about her life now would surprise her younger self?

Reflecting, Linda noted that her 10-year-old self would never have known these things:

1. That her “new friend,” a pen pal she started writing to when she was eight, would, 43 years later, still be her “Numero Uno” — the two of them linked in an effortless friendship. Even more, Linda’s younger self would never have predicted how much time and effort they would would put into each other over the years.

2. That grown-ups have problems and issues and haven’t reached a point where they have it all figured out and are living on easy cruise control. Linda’s younger self was certain adults were never petty or vindictive or engaged in negative interactions. Linda’s older self knows better and is happy to realize that the adult experience is one of growing, changing, and adapting. In the past five years, she’s learned so much — about relationships, for example, and what they should and shouldn’t be. It was only as she neared the half-century mark that Linda understood a person can be independent and still be in a relationship.

3. That time will keep on trippin’, trippin’, trippin’, into the future. At 51, Linda is extremely aware of the passage of time, of her parents’ aging, her oldest nephew heading off to college, her former teachers looking crinkled and “super old.” This awareness doesn’t make Linda sad, per se, but more in awe that time continues to march on, marveling at how things just keep on keepin’ on. Even more, she feels finely attuned to the cycle of birth and death and growth. Although she recalls that this awareness began to develop in the 6th grade, it was when the nephew to whom she used to read Curious George Makes Pancakes left home for college that she realized those moments with him on her lap still feel like yesterday.

When no one’s on her lap, Linda jumps on hay bales.

4. That she would become a social worker. When Linda was 10, she was sure she’d be a nurse — never considering other possibilities — starting college in pre-nursing and then moving towards a nursing degree…at which point she promptly decided nursing was not for her, mostly due to the chemistry and math. Compounding her worries about the classes was her low self-confidence, which caused her to run the other way at the first sign of failure. After nursing, she moved to classes in teaching…until, thanks to poor attendance, she failed out. Eventually, Linda got sober and at that point understood she had a desire to finish her degree. In thinking about which classes had suited her best in her previous academic career, she realized psychology and sociology had resonated. As a result, Linda ended up majoring in sociology; after receiving her bachelor’s degree, one thing was clear: she didn’t feel done learning yet. Rather, she felt like she was just getting started, primed to go further. A couple years later, Linda finished graduate school with an MSW and became a social worker. Her work with the elderly and ill now draws upon her abilities to listen with compassion and without judgment, to empathize with all people, and to affect lives on a personal level. For 51-year-old Linda, the definition of successful work isn’t a life where she’s recording vitals but, instead, when she gets home and thinks, “I really made that individual’s or family’s day better.”

5. That she would mature into someone who doesn’t care what other people think — that she is all good if she makes her own decisions, takes care of her own business, and keeps her eyes on her own paper.

6. That “stale” isn’t the intended taste for crackers. It was only when Linda got old enough to move out of her parents’ house and started to buy her own food that she experienced the sensation of “fresh” when it comes to crackers.

7. That she, a woman who once crumpled when faced with a challenge, might one day ski 10 kilometers across a frozen bay in the pitch dark, and that, as she skied, a strange man would glide into her personal space and yell at her obscured face “STEVE? STEVE?” And when she thought to herself, “Well, I’m not Steve, so I’m just going to keep going,” the man would try again: “STEVE?” Despite the violation of her focused rhythm, she would continue to stride — until he got in real close-like and hollered “STEVE, IS THAT YOU?” which would cause her to finally respond, “No, I’m not Steve,” and in that moment of taking her eyes off her lane, her concentration would be lost to the point that she stumbled and went down in a flail of limbs. Although at least one of Linda’s future friends wished she had grabbed the yelling man’s hands and placed them on her breasts while responding “NO, I’M LINDA,” she didn’t mess with him. And 51-year-old Linda, fully in charge of herself, didn’t cry, nor did she linger on the ice for dramatic impact, as a 10-year-old might. No. Instead, she hopped up, gripped her poles, and clapped her eyes on the tracks set by those who had gone before. Pushing, striding, looking forward to what lay ahead, she carried on, propelling herself through the dusky quarter-light to the finish line.

 

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Survey

Survey Responses by Meredith, Julie (and Sons), and Linda

From Meredith:

1. Feeling stressed. It’s a useless response to having to meet obligations.

2. Edinburgh. Fringe festival, Pan, Scotch, the Royal Mile, men in kilts. 

3. Too many hard ones to name just one. All of them right as there is no wrong answer in life.

4. Peace. It’s fleeting but once found, worth it.

5. Lurray Caverns, if you consider caverns a museum. Stalactites and stalagmites are super cool.

6. Perfect day would entail: coffee at sunrise – no bugs and an ocean view. A proper bagel with a perfect 1/4 inch of cream cheese and whitefish salad on top with no reactions. (I’m celiac and dairy intolerant so this would be HUGE) 
An evening bonfire on the beach with my whole family, my love, a comfy blanket, and a bottle of prosecco. 

7. To keep my mouth shut 8. Blueberry (pronounced bloo-bur-ee)

9. Off the coast of grand cayman – water is super clear as far as you can see and perfect temp.

10. I’ve been to several colleges, still working on a degree. I work at a college and have two kids in college. My best advice: Don’t take it so seriously, enjoy yourself, get good grades, but most importantly, Be curious – go to learn for the sake of learning.

___________________________________________________________________________
 From Jesse, age 15
  1. Summer reading. Don’t like summer homework.
  2. Going to the Galapagos with my Aunt. Enjoyed the vacation in a warm area with lots of cool animals.
  3. I haven’t really had any hard decisions yet in life.
  4. Yep, love the game.
  5. Boston’s Children’s Museum. It was fun as a little kid.
  6. No school. Play baseball during the day and then go out to dinner.
  7. Don’t really know.
  8. Maybe
  9. Down in the Gallepagos I went snorkeling with Hammerheads, turtles, and sea lions.
  10. Haven’t been to college yet.

From Alex, age 15

  1. Have had a good life, wouldn’t remove anything.
  2. The Galapagos. Because it’s the Galapagos.
  3. Haven’t made any hard decisions yet in life.
  4. Working towards Eagle Scout. Haven’t made it yet, still working towards it but think it’s a good path.
  5. Smithsonian Air and Space museum. Because I like space.
  6. A day to relax, no responsibilities, no work, no school. Reading all day. No worries.
  7. I procrastinate a bit. Would like to learn better not to procrastinate
  8. Don’t have a favorite word. I like bacon. (wearing a bacon shirt today)
  9. Swimming in the Galapagos. Got to see some sharks.
  10. Haven’t been to college yet.

From Julie (mother to Jesse and Alex), age 49

  1. Cooking dinner on a daily basis. Although I love cooking and baking, thinking about meals and meal planning is something that I don’t really enjoy. I’m not able to get out of cooking by going out to eat with the family and I’ve tried hard to get my boys to cook dinner for the family but the burden still falls on my shoulders most nights and I would love to get rid of that burden.
  2. This is a tough question to answer as I’ve had many fun trips. I lived abroad as a senior in high school and as a junior in college and took lots of trips through Europe during those times. However, the trip that stands out is my first bicycle trip across county in 1993 with a boyfriend. We met so many interesting people as we asked strangers each night to set up a tent in their yard.
  3. I feel fortunate that I haven’t had to make many hard decisions in my life as when faced with obstacles typically, with thought, the “correct” decision is fairly obvious. I recall feeling particularly conflicted when I applied for and got into Boston University School of Social work but then a few months later my relationship with my long-term boyfriend ended (He was in school in Boston) and I decided to accept my place at BU and move on in life without that relationship. I do think I made the right decision but looking back, I wish I had the guts to have applied somewhere else to school.
  4. I have worked my hardest at being a great mother and partner to my husband. Yes, it has been worth it as I have three amazing boys and seventeen years of marriage that have overall been quite pleasant.
  5. It has been over twenty years since I went to this museum but I recall being impressed by the Holocaust museum in D.C. I recall having read things about the Holocaust as a child and young adult but I think visiting the museum was the first time I was impacted by the scope of the loss of so many people.
  6. A trail run with friends in the morning followed by a tasty brunch and then maybe playing some golf or watching my boys play baseball in the afternoon. A home cooked meal shared with friends (I don’t mind bringing a potluck dish to a meal) would round out the evening.
  7. I wish I would have learned a language such as Spanish at a young age and maintained fluency in the language throughout the rest of my life.
  8. I am not a word person and I can’t say I am one to focus on or pay attention to specific words. I am amazed at people who use words well and I know words can have great impact on people. I also can get frustrated when so many people don’t use words well. However, to give an answer to this question I will say the word “Thanks” is an important word to me.
  9. Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii stands out for me. I went swimming there when my family lived in Hawaii in 8th grade and then returned as an adult in 2015 and although much of the coral had lost its color, the scenery was still pretty spectacular and love snorkeling with lots of colorful fish.
  10. Carleton College. Had a great experience socially, athletically, and academically. I’d have to say that although I recall the academics being thought provoking and challenging, it didn’t help shape what I became professionally. And, although I made great friends while attending Carleton, they are not my closest friends today. I did meet my husband, who attended Carleton a year behind me, long after I graduated and the Carleton connection was significant in our attraction to one another. I love that I can meet someone today who attended Carleton and feel as though we shared a similar life experience and I don’t think most folks can say that about the college they attended. I also have yet to meet a Carleton graduate who has not been a respectful, insightful, smart, and all around good person. Advice for attending college: I do think atmosphere and finding your “people” plays an important role in having a good experience to grow, learn, and find one ’s self.


From Linda:

  1. The one thing I would remove from my life: my built-in hankering for carbs, sugars, and foods that don’t necessarily do my body good. Why? The amount of time and energy I put into thinking about, avoiding, imbibing, regretting….
  2. The best trip of my life: backpacking through western Europe in 1985 with my Finnish friend, Lena. Why?  We were 18 years old, and spent 4 weeks travelling by train through Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, France, and Spain, culminating in a 2-week stay in a 14th-floor  apartment on Costa del Sol, Spain, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. My favorite parst of the trip were sitting on an open-air train car, watching the countryside and castles go by, and free-lancing our way through each day.
  3. The hardest decision of my life: whether or not to start college at Gustavus Adolphus in the Fall of 1985 or to embark on the European backpacking trip instead. Right decision? I’m who and where I am today because of that decision to forego Gustavus at that time.  I sometimes regret not having the standard “going away to college” experience, and sometimes have envy for those who are experiencing it now.
  4. What I’ve worked hardest for in my life: overcoming active alcoholism and drug addiction.  Worth it?  HELL YES!  On Sept 2nd, I will celebrate 14 years clean and sober.
  5. The best museum I’ve been to: Seris Museo in Bahia de Kino, Mexico (January of this year).  What made it so great?  The director sat on the floor and taught my wife and I ancient Mexican children’s games (we were the only guests in the small history museum).
  6. My perfect day: homemade waffles with vanilla yogurt for breakfast, hike high above the shore of Lake Superior with dogs (on leashes, of course!), playing and swimming in rivers and creeks, ending with a campfire and s’mores in the backyard firepit.
  7. Something I wish I would have learned when I was younger:  How to say “NO” and how to speak my truth without fear.
  8.  Favorite word: Benign
  9. Favorite place I’ve ever gone swimming: Finnish friend’s cabin on the Baltic Sea.  Sauna. Moonlight. Sea. Friends. Perfection.
  10. I’ve had a fragmented college experience spanning 20 years. I did some time at UMD, then North Dakota State University back in the late 80s. I  finally returned to UMD to finish my undergraduate degree (2005) and earned my Masters degree in 2007.  My advice: Be grateful for your freedom and your opportunity to explore, experiment, and immerse yourself in the college experience.   My advice is to follow my mottos: “Don’t let fear hold you back” and “Something new can always happen.”


 

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On My Mind

Survey Responses from Deanna and Jessica


Deanna showed up as a student in one of my online classes five years ago. After that, she became a mentor embedded into my courses; she drafted me to be the faculty advisor of our campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa; and recently she achieved her Bachelor’s degree at the age of 52. ENJOY HER:

  1. If I could remove one thing from my life is not a thing, but rather a person. Although there is nothing that I can do to affect this, there is a person in my son’s life who is cruel and abusive to him. I see the changes her influence has had on him, their son, and the rest of the family and it breaks my heart.
  2. The best trip of my life was our trip to South East Asia, particularly to Thailand. It was romantic, relaxing and I loved the people as well as the landscape.
  3. The hardest decision of my life was a recent one where I had to ask my son and his girlfriend to move out of my house. It was the right decision as it will force him to finally stand on his own two feet.
  4. My college degree is what I’ve worked for the hardest. I fought for years for the right/permission to go and at 45 made my dream come true. Working full time while going to college full time was particularly difficult, but well worth it.
  5. The best museum I have ever been to was The Louvre because it is willed with not only works of art that I had only seen in books, but there is a sense of palpable history. I believe one could have repeated visits and continue to be surprised each time.
  6. My idea of a perfect day is sleeping in just a little, having breakfast with Shawn (my fiancé’) and then spending the rest of the day hiking or kayaking – something outside.
  7. When I was a young girl, I was given two piano lessons for free. I wish that I had been able to continue those lessons so that I could read and play from sheet music today.
  8. My favorite word – that’s a tough one. I would have to say love for what it means when it is true and deep.
  9. My favorite place to swim is the swimming hole that I swam in as a child in the Ozarks of Arkansas. We spent summers there, as a child visiting grandparents and my grandpa would take us in his old red truck.
  10. I just completed my undergraduate in English at the College of St. Scholastica. The best part was my professors and how they made the curriculum and books come alive. My advice for those going to college is to fully submerse yourself in everything that is signed. Get to know your professors and join groups!


Jessica is one of my favorite people I’ve never met. Her writing is a DREAM, so I’m particularly glad that she started teaching it last year at the college level. Lucky, lucky students. 

  1. I would remove my chronic migraines. I thought about saying I’d remove fear or anxiety, but sometimes my fear and anxiety are a product of the migraines. So much of my life revolves around avoiding pain and treating pain. I want to know what it’s like to wake up each day and feel healthy, to not take bushels of pills that make me feel half-present, to be able to play full-throttle with my 4-year-old son. That kind of thing.
  2. The best trip of my life was my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The country is endlessly beautiful, the people were welcoming and kind and impossibly happy, and we ate like kings. But a big part of my enjoyment was spending time with my husband while NOT planning a wedding. He was a self-described “groomzilla,” and I threatened him with a “pre-divorce” several times during the lead up to the wedding. Being on the honeymoon put us back into sync. 
  3. The hardest decision of my life was to not have another child. Every day I question whether it was the right decision. 
  4. I’ve worked hardest to have confidence in myself. It’s taken me four decades to believe that I have talent and value. Hell yes, it was worth all of the work.
  5. The best museum I’ve ever been to was the chocolate museum in Brussels, Belgium. It was full of stupid mannequins and grainy videos about cocoa bean production. Utterly boring. BUT, when you exit the museum, the folk that work there hand you a plain tea biscuit. You take that tea biscuit and hold it under an open faucet of warm, creamy Belgian chocolate. I visited that museum with my sisters, who don’t give a damn about art. All three of us felt that we had reached a kind of common ground, and that ground was made of chocolate. Very bonding. We paid for two tours in a row.
  6. My perfect day goes something like this: Wake by 7:30. It’s autumn. Drink coffee alone. Read a good book. Eat breakfast. Write for two hours. Take a walk. Magically be transported back to my hometown of Baltimore (about 90 minutes away from where I am in Alexandria) and have lunch at Mastelone’s Italian deli. Eat all the meats and cheeses and bread. Magically remember that I have a 4-year-old child who has magically been staying with family or something, I guess. Magically remember that I also have a husband, who has been at work, I guess. Magically be transported home. The three of us go on a family constitutional. My son fights off imaginary neighborhood polar bears and wolves with a stick, shouting, “Don’t eat us. That’s rude! Go order a pizza!” (I really love his absurd heroism.) Have dinner with good friends. Drink wine. Read my son a bedtime story and tuck him in. Sit outside with my husband and just talk and make each other laugh. Drink some wine. Smooch some. Go to bed in a cool room. Sleep deeply.
  7. This is a toss-up: I wish I’d learned to speak another language. But I also wish I’d learned to be more comfortable with failure. They are related. I didn’t kill it in the language learning department, so I just quit. Sad trombone noise. 
  8. Oh, this is tough. The first word that comes to mind is “sussurus.” It’s beautiful and ridiculous and a bit onomatopoeic.  But I also like “hematopoietic,” because it sounds like “blood poetry.” (I worked for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Lots of good lingo.)
  9. The best place I’ve ever gone swimming is in the Cayman Islands, specifically Grand Cayman. I saw fish and coral and a moray eel and a shark. Thanks to the shark, I got to hear what I sound like screaming underwater!
  10. I attended the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. It is an all-women’s Catholic school. Yes, its acronym was C.O.N.D.O.M., which may be why it’s now Notre Dame of Maryland University. I LOVED that school. It was (and still is) very small, but because of that, I never felt lonely or like a faceless member of the student body. I couldn’t afford to live on campus, so I had to commute an hour each way. That said, I participated in a lot of organizations. I was on campus so often that several faculty and staff members were surprised to find that I didn’t live at school. My advice is to go with your gut. Notre Dame wasn’t a big or prestigious school, but when I toured, I knew right away that I felt at home. Because I felt at home, I was able to really throw myself into what I loved (literature and writing). I became president of clubs and assistants to my favorite professors and all that nerdy crap. It was fantastic. Being a big fish in a small pond is pretty rad, actually. Those years were critical to my sense of myself and my priorities. I made lifelong friends at that school. I still talk to the English Department faculty. Thanks to that school, I got into a great MFA program, and now I get to be the one teaching literature and writing. So, again, follow your gut — find a school that makes you feel like you not only belong, but that, at that school, you will be at your best. 

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Survey

Survey Responses from Susanna and Angie

My friend Susanna, in England, writes:

1  If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Greed.  Why?  Because I truly believe it underlies all the other atrocities in life such as cruelty, lust for power, lack of compassion, injustice etc etc.

2  What has been the best trip of your life? Cannot choose. Why? Because each trip has introduced me to wonderful places, cultures, people and wildlife, all different, all equally special.

3  What has been the hardest decision of your life? To refuse to help my mother to end her life.  Do you think it was the right one? Yes, I could not have survived doing that, and shortly afterwards her family doctor intervened and helped resolve the situation.

4  What have you worked hardest for in your life? Health and strength.  Was it worth it?  I have not achieved it yet but have learned so much along the way, been able to help so many others, and by constantly struggling and braving difficulties have been able to do and see  so much.  It has made me a strong, brave person who loves every minute of every day and is forever grateful for everything I am able to do.

5  What is the best museum you have ever been to? Metropolitan in New York.  What made it so good?  I had a whistle stop tour by a guide who knew the place inside out and made the trip the most thrilling and inspiring I have ever had in any museum in the world.  She linked everything she showed us together in an awesome way and took us round literally running between exhibits.  Her level of knowledge and enthusiasm was out of this world.

6  What would your idea of a perfect day entail? Feeling well, being with friends and family yet apart in my own space, and being on a hillside in the country surrounded by fresh air, wind, a huge blue sky, and wildlife.

7  What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger? (not answered)

8  What is your favorite word?  Discombobulate. 

9  What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?  The sea off Beachy Head in the UK.

10 If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? I went to Sheffield University in the North of England.  What was the best part? The quality of the tutors who made absolutely anything and everything thrilling and expanded my consciousness.  Any advice?  Never pre-judge what is interesting.  Everything is fascinating if we only examine it with an open mind and are prepared to dig into it.


And the most lovely college friend, Angie, writes:

1. If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be?
I want to say disease – Alzheimer’s, cancer – those beasts that ravage the people I love most.
That seems like an easy one, and yet something about it doesn’t sit right. All of the cliches
about what we learn from adversity may be cliches because they hold some seed of truth. So
maybe what I would remove is my desire to remove things from my life. I’m working on learning
how to live with a sense of peace in the middle of all of those things I truly cannot change.

2. What has been the best trip of your life? Why?
When my son Nelson was 17, the summer before his final year of high school, we spent a week
in Spain walking the final 113k of the Camino de Santiago. It was the perfect combination of
place, time, person, and plan. We’d wake up and walk through oak forests and rolling hills,
stone walls and bougainvillia, side by side, listening to the rhythm of our hiking boots and each
other as we meandered through our own and each other’s thoughts. We ate perfect bread and
salty ham and the most tender Pulpo a la Gallega on the planet. We sat under canopies of
green and played cards and drank wine (in moderation. it’s Europe – it’s ok that he was only 17).
We carried our belongings and didn’t take photos or check our phones or read the news, and
we fell in love with a country and walking and each other at the cusp of his launching into the
world. It was a good trip.

3. What has been the hardest decision in your life? Do you think it was the right one?
Leaving my marriage was absolutely the hardest and most important (best) decision in my life.
It was hard because I knew that it would be the hardest thing for my kids and their dad, and I
hate hurting people. We were all giving up all of the dreams and ideas about what our life and
my family was going to be. The other hard part was that now I had to create a new life with
intention – instead of just letting things happen and assuming that was how it was “supposed” to
be. That’s work, and it’s hard, and it’s the rightest thing I’ve ever done. Turns out it was right
for my kids and their dad, too, in a million ways. Whew.

4. What have you worked for hardest in your life? Was it worth it?
I think the common thread that sews together my professional life and my personal life into
something that feels coherent and authentic is my work to help people realize what they’re
capable of in this world. It can be really hard. It breaks my heart – shatters it, sometimes. But I
look at 28 years of students, two children, and countless deep friendships and know that it’s the
only worthwhile thing I want to do.

5. What is the best museum you’ve ever been to? What made it so good?
I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in some of the world’s great museums, and there is
beautiful art and architecture in all of them that I love. But one that really struck me is the St.
Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow. It’s a museum that tries to bring together
the parts of each major religion that shape how people live, and to celebrate the beauty that
religion brings to the world – it’s a physical manifestation of the city of Glasgow’s commitment to
build a community that brings people of all backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and traditions together
into one thriving community. I was moved by it, I learned a lot, and it inspired me. I wish there
was a museum like it in every city.

6. What would your idea of a perfect day entail?
Coffee, pancakes and bacon around the wobbly oak dining room table with the people I love
most in the world. Time by the water with a good book. Time on the water in my kayak. A long
hike with Honeycrisp apples and enough cold water. A big meal assembled in companionable
laughter while Frank Sinatra croons in the background. Twinkly lights after a long pink sunset.
Wine, chocolate, cards or Balderdash and a lot more laughing. A rumbly thunderstorm as I fall
asleep. Perfect.

7. What is something you wish you’d learned when you were younger?
I wish I’d been explicitly taught to trust my gut. I always felt like I needed to wait until I had an
airtight logical reason for any decision I made – especially one that wasn’t popular with the
people around me. Dating relationships, of course, but also jobs, moving decisions…the whole
lot of it. I got stuck on who am I to refuse/break up/turn down this thing being offered. It took far
too long to realize that no decision I ever entered because I wondered who am I to turn this
down turned out well for me. My gut knew. My gut also knew when I found the right thing, the
right person, the right place. I have been luckier in that I trusted that instinct more. I try to be
one of the voices in my kids’ heads saying “you don’t need an excuse or a reason. If it feels
wrong, trust it.” I needed that voice long before I found it in me.

8. What is your favorite word?
Serenity. It’s deceptively simple (even cliched), but for me, it captures all of it. All the hardest,
stickiest, most destructive stuff life can throw at me can be answered with this.

9. What is your favorite place you’ve ever gone swimming?
I’ve done some amazing swimming off of different islands in the Caribbean – all blue and colorful
fish and white sand and sky – and I loved that. But there are two places that stand out, maybe
because I wasn’t expecting to be so enchanted by them. One is Cave Point County Park in
Door County, Wisconsin – limestone cliffs and underwater caves and blue-green water. In a
county park. In Wisconsin. I couldn’t tear myself away, and the memory of floating in that water
still brings me a deep sense of peace. The other was Zuma Beach in Malibu, California. I know
– I grew up with Malibu Barbie and I should have expected it to be lovely, but maybe because I
grew up with Malibu Barbie, I expected to hate it. But I stood in the surf and felt the water drop
two feet as it got sucked into the coming breaker, and I watched the wave rise over my head
and peered through the bluegreen glass of the breaking wave, and then I would leap into the
energy of that wave and ride it into shore, and it felt like I had stepped through some barrier into
a different kind of world. Unforgettable.

10. If you have been to college where did you go and did you have a good experience? What
was the best part? Any advice?
Like your mother, I went to Carleton. It was perfect for me, in that I grew up in a very nice, very
small world. Carleton opened up my brain and taught me how to think and learn. I had
marvelous professors who worked in tiny Northfield, Minnesota because they loved to teach.
Period. Every single term, I had at least one class meet in a professor’s home. I could join the
dance ensemble, the diving team, play ultimate frisbee, sing in the chorus of the student
musical, watch Hitchcock movies in the chemistry lecture hall, eat far too much chocolate
peanut butter ice cream, join in social justice movements, and discover the people who still feel
like home to me. I didn’t have to be the best at any of those things – I just had to be willing to
say I wanted to try.

My own children chose different college paths – my daughter is at a large private university
studying film production – something she couldn’t have done at a school like Carleton. There
are things she’s missing that make my heart ache – the intense(ly interesting) academics, the
ability to join sports teams (without being an elite athlete), being in a community made up of the
kind of people who choose a school like Carleton. But she has been able to spend more than a
year in Los Angeles working on independent films, two of which made it into the Sundance Film
Festival. She’s got real experience as a producer, and she’s already making it in an industry that
has been her dream and her goal since she was twelve. She’s more than ok with the trade off.
My son almost chose Carleton, but in the end, decided to head to Glasgow, Scotland for his four
years. He had to select his degree program when he applied (a joint degree in Religion and
Public Policy), but he felt ready to do that, and he chose well. He loves his professors and his
courses, he’s fascinated by what he’s learning, and he truly loves living in Scotland’s largest city
with other students from all over the world. He joined the ultimate frisbee team and has been
able to travel all over the UK, he’s hopped many trains, spent a week in Prague, and has plans
for much more travel over the next three years. A bonus is the university was founded in the
15th Century and his classrooms look like Hogwarts.

I guess my advice is not to limit yourself in how you think about college/university. I know I
didn’t realize when I was 17 how many different options there were, and both how big and how
small the world really is. Wherever you go, don’t be afraid to try a little bit of everything. Keep
asking a lot of questions.

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Survey

Survey Responses from John, Elly, and Elaine

A college pal, John, responded to Allegra’s survey questions thusly:

  1. I would remove my wife’s student loan debt. It is a lot, and it hangs over us.
  2. I went to New York City with the woman who later became my wife. It was great because it was the first time I ever traveled with someone with whom I was in love. Plus, it was New York, so we had great food and went to fun places.
  3. Eh, I suppose the decision to go to graduate school in philosophy was the hardest. It should have been, since that takes many years to complete and the job market in philosophy was poor and I didn’t know if I was good enough to succeed. But it turned out to be correct because I am now a philosophy professor and I love my job.
  4. Maybe I worked the hardest to publish some papers in the last couple years before I went up for tenure at my professor job. It worked, as I was more productive than usual and I got tenure (hired for life, instead of fired).
  5. It is hard to top the Metropolitan Museum in NY, but for a single visit it has too much, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might be better. It has the best collection of the old Dutch masters.
  6. I’d be on vacation with my wife in an exotic location with historical significance, like Rome or a Greek isle. The weather would be nice, and we’d be staying in a hotel within walking distance of cool stuff. We’d walk to a place we can eat outdoors, for each meal, take a ride in some kind of boat (the sea, a canal, a river – doesn’t matter), and tour a museum. Fancy whiskey in the evening.
  7. I wish I’d known in high school and college how to study better.
  8. My favorite word is apocalocyntosis, which means “pumpkinification”, like what happened to Cinderella’s carriage. When Emperor Claudius suggested he deserved apotheosis (to be made into a God), the playwright and philosopher Seneca said that apocalocyntosis was more apt. Emperor Nero, who he advised, later forced him to commit suicide.
  9. I’m sure there are many better places to swim, such as in the Mediterranean, but my favorite of the places I have swum is Leo Carrillo Beach, near Los Angeles. Big waves knocked me over in my first time at the ocean.
  10. I went to Carleton College, then the University of California at Santa Barbara for grad school. Both were great experiences. The best part, for both, might be the lifelong friends I made. But the subtle and gradual effect the professors (and fellow students) had on my intellect was extremely important too. I’ve made commencement remarks to small groups of philosophy graduates and I have never been able to think of good advice to give them, so I just try to make the speeches short and funny. So my advice to you is that if you have to give such a speech, make it short and funny.

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Here are the responses of my beloved friend, Elly (check her out at her blog Buggin’ Word):

1 – The word “should.” It’s a dangerous word. When I think of everything I “should” do, I feel overwhelmed. What a subjective word, too. I’m trying to think more about what I “could” do instead.
 
2 – My brothers, their partners, and my parents travelled to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico when I was in my early 20s. There was some horrible mistake on the part of the resort so they bumped us up to the luxury side of the resort – everything was gorgeous and clean. )I was living in a horrible apartment in Hell’s Kitchen at the time and often found used crack vials on my fire escape.) No one was responsible for cooking. No one was responsible for planning. No one was responsible for exploding plumbing. Everyone – even my parents – were still young and healthy. We climbed ruins and shot tequila and rode giant inflatable bananas and chased lizards…together. I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to my family.
 
3 – Deciding to become a mother. Was it the right one? Maybe. Probably. I mean, if given the option I wouldn’t go back and undo it. But I also know I would have had an interesting and fulfilling life had I not become one, too. 
 
4 – Recovering from the treatment for cancer. Not the treatment itself. Though that sucked, too. Learning how to live again despite the fear. And letting go of what might have been.
 
5 – There was a tiny historical museum in the town where I grew up – Greensboro, NC. It smelled right. And you could walk from building to building – small farm type buildings. But yet there was an art museum attached, too. 
 
6 – Waking rested. A cup of coffee on a screened-in porch with my ukulele and an open agenda. A walk. Somewhere beautiful – woods, a beach, a park. A warm meal. A cold drink. Laughing so hard and suddenly that it makes my throat raw. The sound of cicadas. A breeze cool enough to sleep with the windows open.
 
7 – My own resilience.
 
8 – Texture.
 
9 – Smith Mountain Lake, VA.
 
10 – Guilford College, NC. Yes. Amazing. And horrible. At least initially. I didn’t adjust well. But eventually I found my way. It’s where I found my love of the music industry, my activism legs, and my writing ability.
 

 
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 And our “second-mama”-level friend, Elaine/Ileyn, she who made our year in Turkey so much easier and who now lives in Istanbul with her husband and two amazing kids, told Allegra:
 

1) If I could remove one thing from my life, it would be the feeling of never having enough time in a day.  That feeling in and of itself causes me unnecessary stress.

2) The best trip of my life was the one that I took when I was in college with my then boyfriend at the time (Selin’s Dad).  We went to the Bahamas and it was magical and fun.

3) The hardest decision of my life was deciding to remain in Turkey after I got divorced when I was 26 years old.  I think it was the right one as Selin was able to see her dad and his family.  I also enjoy living and working in Turkey.

4) I have worked hardest in life to keep positive and logical even when everything else was chaos around me. 

5) The best museum that I have ever been to is the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh.  They have wonderful and very creative exhibits for all ages. 

6) My perfect day would entail waking up at 9:00am and having a ready made picnic basket of all my favorite foods waiting for me in the kitchen.  All of my family and friends would go to the beach and have a wonderful day swimming and having fun.

7)  I wish that I would have learned how to speak fluent Italian when I was younger.

8) My favorite word is booty as in baby booty.  I like the way is feels as it passes over my lips.

9) My favorite place that I have ever gone swimming is the Bahamas.

10) I went to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and got my B.S. in Elementary Education. I had a great experience and my favorite part was the friends that I made there.  My advice is to pick a school that suits your needs and concentrates on the major that you want to be in.  I think paying in-state tuition is a great idea for undergraduate education.  Out-of-state is not only usually more expensive, but the logistics of going home and bringing things back are harder.

 

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Categories
racism

A Message for the White People

Clayton-Jackson-McGhie-memorial-Duluth-Minnesota

Photo: “Clayton-Jackson-McGhie-memorial-Duluth-Minnesota” by Carol M. Highsmith – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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The teens found a photo of their classmate and made some changes to it.

The classmate is a young black man.

They drew a noose around his neck and added the words “Gotta hang ‘em all” and shared the edited photo on social media.

When this story hit the news in Duluth, Minnesota, last week, our city of 86,000 reeled. The act itself was hateful—but for it to happen in a city that is still coming to terms with the day in 1920 when six black circus workers were wrongly accused of raping a white girl, a day when a mob lynched three of those innocent men on a corner downtown, well, it made people wince. In an effort to acknowledge that terrible day, to publicly commemorate the city’s darkest moment, a memorial was erected on that corner in 2003. Since then, citizens have been able to point to the memorial with a feeling of “That’s how it was. But never again. We aren’t like that now.”

Heartbreakingly, as the altered photo of a high school boy demonstrates, that’s not how it was. From fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma using a racist chant to the police shootings of unarmed black men, we are like that now.

In response to the photo circulating on social media, the school district issued a statement that it was “taking appropriate action.”

Is there such a thing? Can any action in response to this bald, awful hatred be considered appropriate? Shock, maybe. Tears. Nausea. Anger. But those are reactions, not actions. Those are emotional responses to something horrible; in contrast, action implies intent, reason, forward movement.

So the school district will take action by applying policy. Consequences are one way to effect change. However, because what happened in our small city last week grew out of matters of the heart and mind—because racism is an infinitely human problem—we also need to engage in grassroots, person-to-person education. Particularly with our children, we need to convey our values not just through policy and not simply through parental example. We need to talk to them, explicitly and clearly.

To be honest, I hadn’t fully realized how necessary such talks are before last week when our good friends, Anne and Jenna*, sent out a plea from their family to their larger community. Anne and Jenna have been together for more than fifteen years, having moved from dating to falling in love to a commitment ceremony to a legal marriage a few years ago, when the state of Minnesota changed its laws. During the course of their relationship, they have bought houses, taken trips, become godmothers to my kids, changed careers, and adopted two children of their own. While Anne and Jenna are white, their ten-year-old son, Robbie, is black. The birth mother of their daughter, four-year-old Sadie, is Native-American.

Due to the realities of their family, these beloved friends have to wade through the world very deliberately. While all parents want to raise their children to greet life with open hearts, Robbie and Sadie—and all children of color in the United States—also have to learn to live defensively.

That is wrong.

Spurred on by the altered photo of the boy (at the high school where Anne teaches), Jenna sent out the following message—a call for action:

I am sending this email to you because we care about you and your family, and we hope that feeling is mutual on some level. Know that as I write this, I don’t mean to offend or presume (tho’ to be honest I am getting beyond caring about that because this is too too important.). My request: please teach or talk to your kids about what it’s like for kids like ours to grow up in this world–what it’s like for kids of color to grow up in this world. In the United States, skin color does matter. You may feel or say that “I don’t see color.” But much of American society does.

Please teach them that we walk around stores now with Robbie and watch OTHER people stare at him and wonder if they are thinking he will do something wrong. Teach them that Robbie, at 10 years old, feels these stares too, and that shakes a person’s confidence and sense of self. Please talk to your kids about the fact that we teach Robbie he has to be MORE polite and MORE respectful than any of his white peers because he could get hurt, badly, if he’s not. Teach them that we talk to Robbie every few weeks about the police. Right now, Robbie doesn’t like police and he says “Police shoot black people.” At age 10, he knows this is unfair and unjust. Ten-year-old white kids don’t have to carry this burden; no child should. Please tell your kids that we teach Robbie not to wear his hoody and to act polite and happy even if he doesn’t feel that way.

Please talk to your kids about Native American history and the stereotypes of Indians. Teach your kids what white people in this country did with the boarding schools, almost destroying a culture and how those stereotypes are so prevalent still today.

Please teach your kids or help them recognize that while they don’t HAVE to think about any of this, many other kids have to deal with it every single day. What a privilege for white kids not to have to carry this burden.

Please know I am not being overly sensitive or trying to be overly dramatic. You may already have these conversations in your household and if so, thank you. If not, please do or call us or talk to us. We are doing our damnedest to make this world feel less difficult for our kiddos, but gosh would it be great to know there are other white kids, peers, friends that will stand by their sides and have our kids’ and other kids’ backs.

Thank you for caring about our family. Thank you for reading this. Thank your for being part of our community.

 

Suggested Resources:

Beverly Tatum “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”
Anton Treuer “Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were
Afraid to Ask”
Peggy Macintosh https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf

Get Home Safely: Video: https://vimeo.com/116706870

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*Names have been changed

**I did have a conversation with my fourteen-year-old about all of this last night. That’ll be in my next blog post.

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