The Music of Flowers

Carol A. Hand

When I first moved here almost four years ago, it was October. The leaves had fallen, old branches were piled to the top of the four-foot fences, and the yard was filled with an odd assortment of metal poles and lawn ornaments. Of course, they were all set in concrete and it was difficult to tell if there were any plants other than raspberry bushes and unhealthy baby trees all along the fence line.

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Photo: Front Yard – Real Estate Photo – 2011 (the windmill and metal tree are gone now)

In the spring, there were a few surprises – an assortment of the most invasive ground covers one can encounter – lilies of the valley, snow on the mountain, yellow woods violets, creeping bellflowers, and or course the ubiquitous creeping charlie. There are a number of other plants with similar characteristics that I have yet to identify. They all have dense, deep root structures that form an impermeable cover over the clay soil that lets little water through. The removal process means jumping up and down on a steel-bladed shovel to clear at least the first foot of soil. Of course, every seed that has been waiting to germinate now competes to totally fill any open space. Viola tri-color flowers and forget-me-nots are lovely. I suspect that they were favorites of the previous owner who planted them anew each year because of all of the plastic plant tabs I find in the soil (along with nails, glass, shingle shreds, and other sundry garbage). The little seeds have been patiently biding their chance to grow – and grow they have – choking whatever else I try to plant.

There have been other discoveries as well – cow parsnips and buckthorn trees. Both are beautiful, but the sap of cow parsnips can cause serious blisters on skin when exposed to sunlight, and buckthorn tress spread rapidly and are threatening the health of Minnesota forests.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the challenge of trying to breathe new life into earth that has been neglected for so long. It’s a matter of having patience to try to reestablish some kind of balance. I’m inspired by the miracle of witnessing the astounding variety of life that emerges from tiny seeds. Who could guess?

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Photo: Gardens have replaced the windmill and metal tree – August 30, 2015

As I contemplated the plants that need to be harvested next – carrots and beets – I heard a song on the classical radio station that my parakeets listen to during the day. I discovered that flowers have inspired some of the most beautiful compositions. Today, I decided to share two of them: The Flower Duet  (from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes) and Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker ballet by Piotr Ilich Tchaikivsky). I know I do have a somewhat unpredictable eccentric taste in music – but can’t you hear the flowers sing and see them dance when no one is looking?

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Photo: Zinnia from my Granddaughter’s Garden – August 30, 2015

The Flower Duet – Sung by Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca  (Lyrics with English translation here)

Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker ballet by Piotr Ilich Tchaikivsky)

 

Worlds Apart: The Enduring Significance of Ojibwe Culture

Carol A. Hand:

Ojibwe Resistance in the News – I don’t often reblog previous posts these days. I’ve also noticed an interesting trend. The posts about Native American issues tend to be the least popular in terms of views, likes, and comments. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they’re viewed as historical, too long or academic, angry, or no longer relevant. Yet as I read the news today, contemporary Ojibwe resistance was among the highlighted stories on Huffington Post.

From my perspective, differing worldviews about life and our responsibility for protecting our environment – our world – our relatives – never lose relevance. As hunting and gathering season begins here in the north country, I decided to reblog this post.

Originally posted on Voices from the Margins:

Carol A. Hand

It makes me angry when I hear about cultural competence. There aren’t any cultural differences between the people on the reservation and the rest of the residents in the county. The culture is gone; it’s a thing of the past. (County Decision Maker, October 15, 2001)

To say there is not a culture is not true. It justifies them [county social services and court systems] for not learning about us. (Terrence, Ojibwe Community Member, October 19, 2001)

These statements were given voice by Ojibwe and Euro-American community members during a critical ethnographic study in 2001-2002. One perspective carried more weight. Because of the speaker’s gender, ethnicity, and position, the statement symbolizes one of the many ways in which Ojibwe sovereignty continues to be constrained and traditional lifeways, disparaged.

The Ojibwe community I studied had been confined on an ever-decreasing landbase and subjected to the policies and institutions…

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Women of Substance and Heart

Carol A. Hand

“The woman is the foundation on which nations are built. She is the heart of her nation. If that heart is weak, the people are weak. If her heart is strong and her mind is clear, then the nation is strong and knows its purpose. The woman is the center of everything.” (Late Elder, Art Solomon (Ojibwe), For the People: Teachings on the Natural Way) (Source – Shannon Thunderbird)

Across the past three generations in my family, it has been the women who nurtured the children and ultimately ended up as the primary economic providers. We are women of little importance when viewed from the prevailing paradigm that values material wealth, elite status, or fame – a nurse, a social worker, and a teacher. Yet each in her own ways continued to bring health, respect, kindness, and light into the lives of others.

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Photo: Family Photo for my Mother’s 65th Birthday (1986)

None of our lives have not been easy, but somehow we all found the strength to carry on, to love enough to keep going, and to help others as best we could along the way. I am grateful for my mother’s example and my daughter’s courage and resilience.

A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) (Source)

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Photo: The next three generations – Lake Superior 2010

I believe my granddaughter will carry on the tradition. She stopped her soccer match last evening as she knelt down to console one of the opponents who was injured. Another spectator commented that it is so like my granddaughter to stop the game in order to show compassion for another.

“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished no matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons.” (Tsistsistas, Cheyenne) (Source – Shannon Thunderbird)

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

What If …

Carol A. Hand

What if –
We believed everyone is born
With a special gift to offer the world
Each one has a unique and necessary role to play
That no one else can fill

What if –
We welcomed and nurtured each new child
Enfolded them in love and warmth
Helped them developed their gifts
Encouraged them to share their sprit song joyfully

What if –
We learned that all life is sacred
And found ways to live in peace
To tend our gardens together and share
To blend our voices in harmony

Dreaming of possibilities is the first step …

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Acknowledgment: This was written in gratitude to the Tribal staff for the Honoring Our Children Project who created initiatives to welcome each new child and rebuild communities, and to my granddaughter, Ava, for inspiring me to draw.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We Can All Be Ordinary Heroes

Carol A. Hand

Is there evil in the world? As I read the news today, I ponder this question yet again when I see a picture of Scott Walker with an article about his ideas for repealing and replacing Obamacare. I’m no fan of this ill-constructed legislation that supports corporations – insurance companies that provide no health care or useful life-affirming products and drug companies that fail to heal and at best, merely anesthetize. But he’s just one face that represents the war against joy, freedom, and life. A windigo made visible?

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Photo Credit: Windigo, by Ashere

Yes, I remember the colleague who once asked me the meaning of a gesture made by a former Native American friend who became an enemy. “Can you tell me what this means from a Native American perspective?,” she asked. “My partner and I gave our friend a gift, a beautiful vase made by a famous Native artist. [I can’t remember which artist these many years later.] After a disagreement, she sent us a package. Inside the package, we found the pieces of the vase we had given her. It had been pulverized. Does this have any special significance?”

She seemed sincere in her question, but her partner, also present, scowled. I decided to reply honestly. “I can’t really say what it meant in her tribal culture, but some Ojibwe people believe that objects hold the energy of the giver. Gifts from people whose actions hurt others are felt to carry bad medicine. Things that they gave or touched are disposed of or returned to the giver.

Her partner shouted in reply. “You can’t REALLY believe that NONSENSE! You’re an EDUCATED woman!

I decided to reply. “Yes, educated in two cultures to a certain degree. Your partner asked a question that I did my best to answer truthfully.”

But does evil exist? I always try to see the good in others and the world, but as I look around at the state of the world today, the evidence is rather compelling. Destroying other’s careers as these two women did? Killing others because you can? Because you want something they have, because you don’t like the color of their skin or where they were born? Denying them an opportunity to live, love, eat?

In my work as an advocate, I have had to stand against powerful, charismatic people who were doing harm by enticing and encouraging others to feed their own insecurities and appetites. Sometimes you create powerful enemies by taking a stand for integrity. I remember one in particular. Years passed after our battle and some of the damage she left in her wake had been healed. Who could predict our paths would cross again in the most unlikely of places – a national conference on the Queen Mary dry-docked in Long Beach, CA? We were both selected as presenters.

The workshop I presented with a colleague from Wyoming was one of the highlights of the conference. The standing-room-only audience was excited and energized. Afterwards, my colleague, his partner, and I toured the coast. Exhausted after the long day, I went to my tiny room below deck, with only a small porthole to view the harbor and shore. I fell into a deep sleep and had the most disturbing nightmare of my life.

I found myself in a dark, cavernous space. My body was covered with oozing sores and I was struggling to breathe. The guide who has spoken to me in other, more uplifting dreams, said, “This is evil.” I replied , “I don’t believe evil really exists.” Breathing became more difficult and the pain more excruciating. The guide repeated, “This is evil. You need to admit it.” “No, I can’t believe that,” I said. As I struggled to keep breathing, I knew I was dying. One final time the guide repeated, “This is evil. If you won’t face the fact that it exists, you will die.”

(My choice is obvious. I’m still here to write these memories. I don’t know if I would be had I made another choice. ) I survived and woke up in a sweat with my heart pounding as I sucked in air. It was four in the morning. I began packing, intent on getting a cab to the airport as soon as possible.

Does evil exist? I believe all of us are capable of doing incredible things, both good and bad. If the only powerful examples we have encourage us to lose hope, to doubt that kindness matters, needless suffering, death, and environmental destruction will continue to exist. Is keeping hope and kindness alive through our thoughts and actions in dark times the path of the hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell wrote about? I don’t know.

Opportunities to find deeper power within ourselves come when life seems most challenging. (Joseph Campbell)

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Photo: Sending Light to the Four Directions

Living the light as best we can may not be enough, but it’s what we can choose to do.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Art of Unlocking Stories

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I was reminded of a picture I posted on Facebook four years ago
Honestly, I can’t believe I had the courage to share something so imperfect
But it was part of an exercise to unlock stories with faculty colleagues
Who were likewise challenged by not wanting to reveal our childish art.

Pick some objects from the collection,” our workshop facilitator advised.
Choose one that represents an important event in your life,
And two others that you find interesting.”
The collection included a shell, a stone, a feather, and an assortment of plastic toys.
The natural things were the first to be chosen as the basket made its way to me.
As I gazed at what remained, all that was left were plastic toys,
A reminder to me of all that was wrong with the world at that moment.

Instead of faking it, I took the risk of sharing my honest feelings –
I think I’ll sit this one out. None of the plastic garbage left inspires me.”
The facilitator was not offended and offered an alternative
It will be harder, but you can try to find an image in your mind.”
As others were busy drawing, I closed my eyes
I thought about plastic garbage, capitalism, and consumerism.
What memories do these concerns trigger?

I thought about nature and life, and I remembered Sister Lorita.
When we finally hung our works on the wall to explain our memories,
This is what I shared four years ago today, August 17, 2011.

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Photo: Sister Lorita Holding a Blade of Grass

My amateurish atempt to honor Sister Lorita, my advisor from St. Xavier College for Women.
The students made fun of her because of her weight and her enthusiasm for her subject, botany.
Her words have stayed with me.

I don’t care if people make fun of me. I know what they think,
But it’s worth it to me if they learn to see
The wonder of life in a blade of grass.”
Chi miigwetch, Sister Lorita, for the gift of celebrating life.

I regret that I never had a chance to thank her
Or tell her about the profound impact her words had
For the struggling young woman she tried to reach and inspire.
Her words and example stayed with me when I worked with students,
Help them see “the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Pivotal Years of Momentous Change

Carol A. Hand

After I posted my last essay, I realized that I forgot to mention my gratitude to a dear friend, Cheryl Bates. She reviewed various drafts of the play (You Wouldn’t Want To Hear My Story) and gave me very helpful feedback and suggestions. Although she took a hiatus as my blog partner to focus on her work as an assistant professor, we still talk and exchange emails. She has often helped review some of the odd things I write. Some were refined and published on my blog as a result of her feedback, and some remained as unfinished fragments that were revisited and sometimes woven into later posts.

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Photo: Dr. Cheryl A. Bates

Although I have always had special friends wherever I found myself, I noticed how they dissolved over time when I took on new responsibilities and moved to new places. The threads that connected us gradually frayed as our lives and work took different directions. Although fond memories often remain, holding onto the past is something I do mostly in my thoughts to make sense of the present and reflect on the future. My friendship with Cheryl is unique because it was forged and strengthened by facing challenges together as allies during a year of momentous transitions for both of us. The year 2010 was a time of life-changing events.

I often ponder the old adage: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

The saying helps me look back at a life of many moves from many different perspectives. Honestly, I do wish I had purged a lot more of my furniture, files, and mementos when I made my last move. But I did leave all of my dear friends behind as I have been doing since I made my first pivotal move at the age of 12. While my parents and brother settled into their new home, I spent the summer of transition with my grandmother on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation in Wisconsin. My summer experiences and the shock of entering my new home just as school began influenced my lifetime far more profoundly than I realized at the time. I learned that for some people, like my grandmother, growing up in adversity doesn’t necessarily make one kinder or wiser. Sometimes, people are too wounded to care about themselves or others.

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Photo: My Mother and Me (at home in NJ) – 1959

My transitional summer from childhood to womanhood was spent in the company of an abusive alcoholic. My grandmother’s abuse was different than my father’s physical beatings. I had learned to endure physical abuse by using my mind to focus on other things so intently that I was oblivious to pain.

Taller and thinner than many of my Ojibwe relatives, I felt like an awkward giant. Bespectacled from the age of eight, I was used to being called “four-eyes.” I suspect my grandmother could read my awkwardness and insecurity. That may have triggered her abuse – cruelty that cut deeply. At least a hundred times a day, I was wounded anew each time she ranted about how ugly I was. She ranted in private and in public at every opportunity.

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Photo: My Mother and Me (outside our home in NJ) – 1959

Now, I wonder if perhaps her cruelty was due to jealousy. She was a gifted hair stylist and beautician. (It’s not a gift I inherited.) And as a young girl, she was stunningly beautiful. But age and hard living had taken their toll – makeup and hair dye couldn’t erase the effects.

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Photo: My Grandmother and Her Sisters (my grandmother is the one on the right)

Every evening after my grandmother closed her beauty salon, she dragged me along as she made the rounds to local taverns, drinking up what she earned each day. She dressed me up in clothes way too old for a twelve year old, with make-up and carefully coifed hair. Older men tried to pick me up as they laughingly referred to my grandmother as “Black Agnes.” Next, she started accusing me of stealing her money and sleeping with men. I begged my Aunt and Uncle to let me stay with them when my grandmother kicked me out. They did take me in.

And then, the summer came to an end. I moved to my new home where I didn’t know anyone, shredded with self-doubt and internalized shame. My new school was three to five years behind my old school in every subject – reading, math, and even home-ec. Hoping to end it all, I downed a huge bottle of aspirin. But my mother, a nurse, found me too soon. (I’ve been allergic to aspirin ever since.)

Surviving wasn’t easy, and I didn’t really try. The only real friends I had for the five years I was in my new temporary home were the elders who lived in the nursing home my mother owned and administered. I learned about grieving over loss and death from them at an early age as my older friends healed and went home, or had health setbacks and moved to hospitals or died. When I headed off to college, there were really no friends I would miss and I had no intentions of returning when I finished school. My yearbook and mementos were recycled decades ago, and I’ve never seriously considered visiting the town or attending a high school reunion.

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Photo: My Mother and Me (on my way back to college after spring break) – 1966

In a strange sense, I realize my grandmother had given me a gift. I accepted the fact that I was unattractive and decided that was okay. I was smart, charming when I wanted to be, and multi-talented. And I learned I could survive without approval from others. But these gifts also came with costs – some obvious, and some that have waited decades to be understood.

I began to understand some of the hidden gifts and costs in 2010. It’s the year I split with my partner of 35-plus years. He finally had a decent paying job after 20 years so he could afford to support himself. My mother died that year after 13 years of progressive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. Her death was a blessing. Her suffering ended and she was finally at peace.  I still miss her and grieve because of the hard times she lived through, but these old photos brought back healing memories. Without the ongoing challenge of figuring out how to cover the costs of her care, I could contemplate the possibility of retirement. After one last ugly battle against institutional discrimination targeted toward vulnerable students and colleagues, I did decide to retire at the end of the academic year (2010-2011), a lot earlier than originally planned. It was obvious that academia was not going to change for the better given the cast of characters in power who allowed these abuses to continue – and continue – and continue – despite the best of my efforts. I guess that’s something else my grandmother taught me. Hurt people hurt people and sometimes people are just too deeply wounded to heal.

Cheryl and I shared the battle and its aftermath, and I will be forever grateful for the friendship that we developed. We left at the same time. One of us moved a little to the northwest (me), and the other, to the southeast, one to retirement, and the other to another position in academia (Cheryl). We both left our other friends behind.

Battle weary, I sold my house (well actually, Wells Fargo really owned it and charged me most of my salary to live there). I moved closer to my family to see if I could be the kind of grandmother I wished I had had so long ago.

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Photo: My Grandchildren and Me – Summer 2011

Only time will tell if I succeed, but that extra furniture I moved continues to provide a place for my daughter and grandchildren to share meals, sleep, play, and teach me new things.

Dear Cheryl, I apologize for forgetting to mention your invaluable help. Please know that I am grateful for your continuing friendship, your honest feedback, and your presence in my life.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Shifting Perspective

Carol A. Hand

In the past, waiting for a response from others was always the hardest part of completing any initiative for me. When I created something to share with others, it was often an experiment to try something new. I wondered if and how others would respond. I remember sharing this with my graduate advisor when I handed in exam papers. “I always wonder if what I write or say will make sense to others. Is it brilliant, confusing, or merely mediocre?” His response was slow. “Your work is so – it’s so – interdisciplinary.” That didn’t really address my anxiety.

When I submitted my first ever play for review a few days ago, the same questions surfaced. And then I realized that my reason for writing and submitting this work, and other works before it, was not really about others’ reactions. Sharing stories, ideas, and possibilities about crucial issues past, present and future is an attempt to inspire productive dialogue and constructive changes.

I hope the play will make a difference for at least some of the reviewers. Maybe it will even be selected as one of the plays that will be performed for an audience. But once submitted, what happens next is not something I can control. So why should I be concerned? It’s a diversion from the more important question I should be asking, “What’s next?

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Photo: An unidentified perennial in my hummingbird garden – early July 2015

If you breathe your spirit and heart into what you do, how others respond is really not the most important consideration. You’ve done what you can to share something meaningful. In this case, what I tried to do was to honor the words and experiences of others who trusted me to share their stories in hopes that their suffering might help others. Those who have followed my blog faithfully for the past couple of years would recognize some of the stories highlighted in the play. Uncle Raymond and Auntie Lucille share their early childhood experiences within their Ojibwe reservation community. They describe how these and later childhood experiences affected them throughout their lives, and the ways in which the lives of the next generations were influenced as well.

The title of the play comes from the words Auntie Lucille whispered in my ear when I was visiting the elders’ center during lunch nine months after my study began – “You wouldn’t want to hear my story.” Her warning that it wasn’t a happy story proved true. She was removed from her family and community when she was nine and spent the next nine years in an abusive White foster home far from the reservation. Yet her story is distressingly similar to that of so many Native American children throughout the centuries of continuing colonial oppression. Child removal and out-placement practices still continue today.

Uncle Raymond’s contrasting story demonstrates that there have always been effective culturally appropriate alternatives to keep children safe in their own tribal communities.

I don’t want to spoil the suspense by sharing the ending. But I can say that the ending brought healing tears to my eyes while it warmed my heart with hope. I have no way of guessing how it will affect the reviewers. Regardless of what they say, I am grateful for the important things I learned as a result of trying something that took me outside of my comfort zone. I’m also deeply grateful to Diane Lefer at Nobody Wakes Up Pretty for the encouragement to try. (Chi miigwetch, Diane. I have learned so much from your blog, books, and televised interviews.)

I promise to let you all know what happens with the play. In the meantime, I send my gratitude and best wishes to all.

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Photo: The hummingbird garden – August 12, 2015

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Making Waves

Carol A. Hand

I never set out to create waves, and yet, it seems to be the story of my life. Growing up on the margins does that, I think. I learned to follow the culture that made the most sense to me – my mother’s Ojibwe culture – the one that was filled with welcome, warmth, and laughter. That was my choice because I wasn’t drawn to the dour austerity and joylessness of my father’s Anglo culture. I was forced to think for myself about a lot of other things at an early age.

It seems the only logical choice when different religions tell you that their way is the only truth – but you grow up with too many differing perspectives about “the one right way. “ And what about gender, ancestry, and socio-economic class? What if you grow up without realizing that there are acceptable things only boys and men can do? That you’re not supposed to love music and reading or appear to be too smart if you’re Ojibwe and grew up on the wrong side of town?

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Photo: An online image of a print hanging on my wall (by Sandra Ure Griffin

Somehow, I managed to make it through school, even though it was often joyless and dourly austere. Eventually I learned to simply listen quietly, unless there were serious inaccuracies or harmful messages conveyed that needed to be challenged. And then I made waves by presenting alternative possibilities. By college, I learned to support my arguments on the basis of what the research literature had to say on the focal topics, but again, only if the information was clearly incorrect or discriminatory. A few course grades were threatened as a warning. Yet there were shining moments of creativity and initiatives that had important transformative possibilities in the real world.

And then I entered the world of organizational employment, based on the very same culture of dour austerity and joylessness that I remembered from childhood and school – with the addition of an even more rigid hierarchy and competitive edge. Sometimes I was fortunate enough to have the freedom to create because the jobs I was doing were too boring or obscure for anyone to notice. It was then that I had the chance to breathe life and joy into documents, meetings, and presentations. But things change, and new directors or governors can close even the tiniest of loopholes for creativity.

I hoped to escape that by moving to the ivory tower of academia. Through my rosy lenses, despite my own experiences in school, I believed the hype – that universities were charged with discovering new knowledge and deeper truths to create a better world. A better world couldn’t possibly be joyless and austere, based on outdated notions of socially-constructed inequalities, could it?

I tried my best to fit in. I quickly learned that fitting in was not going to be easy. The first course I was assigned was community organizing. Although I tried to follow the syllabus I was given, I couldn’t in good conscience teach community organizing by assigning college students with the task of collecting canned goods or old coats to distribute to “the poor.” (Using an adjective that suggests deviancy to describe a group of people who are not able to make it economically in the context of strategically orchestrated structural inequality was deficit-focused, demeaning, and prejudicial, as was the required intervention.) That’s something Sunday schools do, not college students training to work as competent professionals who are supposed to recognize the dignity and worth of the clients they serve.

I diplomatically approached the curriculum committee with an alternative. They were unwilling to budge. Ethically, I could not teach the course as the committee dictated, so I redesigned the readings and assignments. “You know,” they told me, “the committee decided that this was how the course would be taught and you need to follow our decisions. We are exploring the limits to your academic freedom so you will be forced to use the texts and syllabus the committee approved.” Fortunately, the chair of that department told me not to worry. “I have your back,” he said. “I hired you to do exactly what you’re doing.” And he did have my back, unlike the chairs of other departments that would follow.

At each new university, I encountered the rules the variety of committees had put into place before I arrived – dour, punitive, austere, and joyless rules like the cultures of the departments I joined. For all the talk about “strength-based practice” and “social justice foundations,” there was little to be seen. The committees had decided that long before.

Nonetheless, there were moments that made it all worth it. I lost count of the number of students I helped stay in school and graduate who might otherwise have dropped out or failed, many from Black, Native American, or first generation college backgrounds. There were classes, lectures, and assignments that were transformative for me and my students.

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Photo: Framed Plague from Graduate Students (where I was known as a Students Advocate)

It’s not just my imagination. I have files filled with hand-written notes, group photos, treasured gifts, and plagues on my wall from my former students. The memories of the light in students’ eyes when they understood something or the joy when they accomplished something that was important to them are far more meaningful to me than any other awards could be.

But I wonder. What could we have done with a team of people who grew up in a culture that was welcoming, warm, and filled with laughter? What if we looked for strengths and possibilities, those things we shared as common ground, and focused on accomplishing the best we could imagine together, as a team, instead of imposing committee rules and hierarchies? These are the questions I contemplate as I consider the possibility of looking for a part-time job. I wonder if anyone would be willing to take the risk of a hiring someone with a history of making waves and inspiring creativity without imposing previously-developed committee rules. I wonder if such a job exists…

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ah – Memories

Carol A. Hand

I just took a quick break to contemplate the ending of a play I have been working on this week. As I sat in my garage thinking, the eagerly anticipated rain began to fall. (We’ve been in a two week heat wave without any rain. Of course “heat” here means any temperatures above 80 F degrees.) As I heard the blessed sound of rain hitting the roof and hard ground, a memory surfaced.

I remembered my daughter’s wonderful story, “The Only Raindrop,” with a mixture of pleasure, sadness, and righteous indignation. And I remembered how amazed I was as I read her story for the first time when she asked me to let her know what I thought before she handed it in to her fifth grade teacher. It’s one of those treasures that were somehow lost in our many moves, and one of the very few that I truly regret losing. (Her original story was far better than the following reconstructed adult version.)

It was a story about a farmer in a drought-stricken prairie. Every day the farmer would check on his gardens and his corn field, and his heart ached as he saw the plants wilting and suffering. He tried his best to keep them watered but it just wasn’t enough. Finally, he couldn’t hold in his grief any longer. He stood in his field and wept as if his heart were breaking. And it was. His sobs were so loud that they attracted the attention of a lonely raindrop in the sky. The raindrop felt sorry for the farmer but wondered what possible difference it would make if it fell on the fields. But the farmer’s sobbing was more than the raindrop could bear, so it decided to fall anyway. It dropped right next to the farmer’s feet.

raindrop

Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

The farmer was overjoyed. He laughed and jumped and shouted with glee. Other raindrops heard his joyous racket and decided to go down to see what all the commotion was about. And the farmer shouted louder with even greater joy. Other raindrops heard the noise and soon, raindrops were all falling all over his field and gardens. The Only Raindrop did what it could, and because of its sacrifice and the farmer’s joyous thanksgiving, life-saving rain came in time.

rain cloud

Source: Microsoft Office Clip Art

This was an essay worthy of a commendation from my perspective. So when I got the message that my daughter’s teacher wanted to talk to me, that’s the first thing that came to mind. Imagine my reaction when the teacher began by saying she was concerned about my daughter’s work. My daughter needed to learn how to write her own essays. No child could possibly write the kind of stories my daughter handed in without adults helping.

I don’t remember my exact words, but I do know that I let the teacher know that my daughter did indeed write her own stories. And I asked the teacher if her assessment of my daughter’s abilities was based on the fact that her complexion was darker than that of the other students in her class. I let her know that I found her response to my daughter’s creativity and talent insulting and of deep concern. I stood up and told her that I would be carefully watching how she treated my daughter.

How quickly a mother’s pride and joy can turn to anger and concern. Skill and creativity are especially threatening when they come from someone on the margins. But of course, that’s where these qualities are more likely to be found. Is it any wonder that these are also where the worst public schools are located, and the most devastating economic and social conditions? Who knows what the world would become if we eliminated structural oppression and the never-ending assault of macro and micro aggressions?

Well, I need to get back to the play. I did finish the first draft before I fired off this post (You Wouldn’t Want to Hear My Story). Sorry for the rant but this incident still makes me really angry almost forty years later. How could anyone accuse a delightful, talented ten-year old of lying and cheating simply because her skin tone was darker?

Remembering this incident makes me aware of how grateful I am for all of the teachers, bloggers, advocates, and activists who challenge oppression every day. Your actions are like the life-giving rain that finally comes because someone hears what you have to say and spreads the word… Thank you for what you all do!

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