What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned
or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned
from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way.
They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
Yesterday, my blog turned four years old. I still wonder what led me to blogging. Initially I thought it was the stockpile of unpublished reflections and stories I wanted to share. They were stories based on a particular perspective as an outsider who wasn’t content with merely pointing out injustice and oppression. My work has always involved trying to solve puzzles and experiment with possible constructive solutions from a critical view. It seemed fitting to name my blog Voices from the Margins.
After a couple years, though, I ran out of those old reflections. So I began to experiment with different topics and ways to write. I also learned a little bit about photography using my old digital cameras. I kept blogging because of the dear friends I met here in the blogosphere. Although few of my original friends still blog, new friends have filled the void.
I have no illusions that my photos or blog posts are great works of art. But I do have fun creating them and sharing them with others.
On this anniversary, I wondered what comes next. I find myself re-engaging with the world a little more and taking on long-ignored home repair projects. The title of the blog still holds true, but perhaps the blurb about my blog needs a bit of updating. There are all kinds of issues I could write about from a critical frame, but so many others do that far better. What is less common are those who look both critically and gratefully at what is and ask how this informs practical everyday choices.
Increasingly, my posts are deliberately a little like the bright moon on a dark night peeking through tree branches. Reflected light that flows through me, meant to provide solace and encourage creative, peaceful, constructive, thoughts and actions in a time of darkness.
These days, though, like the moon, my presence is not always visible. I am woefully behind replying to comments and reciprocating visits to other’s blogs. I apologize. I will try to do a better job because your friendship and what you share matters. I am always touched by the work you do.
But I do become micro-focused, like yesterday, when I had intended to share this post and visit blogs. I became so intent on finishing my newest project, sanding an old window frame, that I failed to stop and see the beauty of the day. I only saw the birch tree lit by the sun in a clear blue sky after I took a photo to record my progress.
Today, I will take time to thank you all for being an important presence in my life.
Please excuse me for belated responses to comments and visits to your blogs. These days, I am literally stretching to address long needed practical tasks. Some things I can do myself with the right tools – a higher light-weight ladder that fits into tiny spaces, caulk, spackle, a power drill, a Japanese handsaw, and paint. In the process, though, I have to live with messes again.
When I moved into my small fixer-upper house seven years ago, I had two days to clean up incredible messes before all of my stuff arrived. In that time I had to scrub, remove rotting, moldy rugs, and paint the floors and walls while I could. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much those days, nor during the cold winter months that followed. Boxes and furniture were solidly stacked to the ceiling in the little living/dining room downstairs. It took me many months to finish as best I could. Then, there was outside work to do.
I haven’t been eager to take on what still needs to be fixed. So I have simply lived with it. Until now.
You may guess that I’m a rather small woman, so I really do need to stretch. I can’t afford to pay “handymen” to do the things I can do myself. So here I am, balancing on a ladder and in life. When I’m not working on scraping and painting, or spending time with my lovely daughter and grandchildren, I’m trying to keep up with the class I co-teach.
At the moment, I’m thinly stretched. Please know that I value your friendship, thoughtful comments, and the important work you all do. I will visit and respond to comments when I can. In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who has been engaging with each other in dialogue about the issue of garbage, my recent post. Chi miigwetch for your understanding and patience.
A few days ago, I checked the news on Huffington Post and read a story about garbage, something I have been thinking about lately. On Mondays and Tuesdays, overflowing garbage containers line the alley behind my house. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know where it goes.
I still haven’t made it a priority to investigate exactly how the city where I now live handles trash, but I do remember “garbage mountain” in the last city where I lived. The mountain rose high above the flat landscape, placed close to the state prison. I often wondered how the prisoners were able to breathe because I could smell the heavy stench miles away.
The Huffington Post article I read was disturbing on a number of levels. Here’s a brief excerpt:
China No Longer Wants Your Trash. Here’s Why That’s Potentially Disastrous.
The country has been the “world’s wastebasket” for decades. But starting Jan. 1, China has said “no more.” (by Dominique Mosbergen)
On Jan. 1, China made good on its promise to close its borders to several types of imported waste. By the next day, panic had already taken hold in countries across Europe and North America as trash began piling up by the ton, with no one having a clue where to now dispose of it all.
For more than 20 years, China has been the world’s recycling bin, accepting an enormous quantity of recyclable waste from nations worldwide. In 2016, China processed at least half of the world’s exports of waste plastic, paper and metals — some 7.3 million tons of trash in all. The U.S. exported 16 million tons of waste to China that year, worth about $5.2 billion. Britain sent China enough garbage to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The ramifications of China’s recent ban has been described with language suggestive of a natural disaster. It has sent “shockwaves” worldwide, said Greenpeace East Asia plastics campaigner Liu Hua. Arnaud Brunet, head of the Bureau of International Recycling, compared the ban to an “earthquake.”
As recyclers and governments now rush to figure out what to do with their mounting garbage, environmental activists warn that the initial effects of China’s ban could prove detrimental to the environment and human health.
China’s decision seems reasonable to me. It’s not the job of Chinese citizens to continue to be buried in the world’s toxic garbage. I also wondered why the author of the article failed to use this as a golden opportunity to mention inventions that could potentially address a crucial part of the issue, plastic. I remembered reading about a Japanese inventor who had developed a process for converting plastic back into oil and did a quick internet search.
The inventor was Akinori Ito. He “created a household appliance which converts plastic bags into fuel. The fuel can be used for various applications such as the generation of heat” (interestingengineering.com).
I also found a fascinating video that features Ito describing the motivation behind his invention and demonstrating how it works. (This Japanese Invention Can Recycle Plastic into Oil).
My discoveries didn’t end with Ito. John Bordynuik describes his invention for converting plastic to highly refined oil on TEDxBuffalo.
In doing a little more research, I discovered that Borynuik was later found guilty of misrepresenting his company’s performance to stockholders. Initially, I decided not to post this piece and trashed my draft post. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about this issue. After further reflection, the corporate agenda to discredit an innovator by any means made me seriously question why any one has to make money on a process that helps us resolve a pressing human and environmental issue. Isn’t it enough of a benefit to deal with mountains and oceans of plastic pollution in more responsible ways?
It’s true. I was looking for an easy way out. I wanted someone else to rescue me from the responsibility of doing more myself to reduce what I contribute to the problem. It is also true that I believe science can help provide answers, although more than five decades have passed since my early college days when I was majoring in biology and chemistry. Setting our scientists to work on solutions to pollution would be a far wiser investment than building yet more bombers, nuclear weapons, and continuing our unsustainable environmental exploitation.
What concerns me most about Huffington Post’s article is the fact that Ito’s video was posted in 2010, and Bordynuik’s was posted in 2011. The science is known and both Ito and Bordynuik have demonstrated that it works, albeit on a small scale that requires time and money to carry out at this point. Their work suggests, however, a wiser way to invest in the future without fracking and drilling new oil wells on the shores of Alaska and Florida.
Just think what we could do if we stopped manufacturing new reasons for international conflict and agreed to work together to solve this challenge in ways that make sense! Figuring out how to deal with our own garbage responsibly is a daunting enough challenge to keep us all busy for the foreseeable future.
I wish that Huffington Post had taken a little more time to do research and frame their story in a more constructive manner. It makes me wonder whose interests are being served by presenting information in a tone that may well foment yet another excuse for international conflict. Our garbage.
when I’m reading, watching Netflix, or typing away
without warning my computer screen turns black
“Oh crap,” I mutter to myself, “Windows 10 is back”
Urgent daily updates? Perhaps it’s just incompetence
exposing gaps between human and artificial intelligence?
Or perhaps it’s an intentional creative-flow-disrupting annoyance
making it quite clear I’m subject to a machine’s chaotic dominance?
At times like these
I wish I knew computerese
This poem isn’t typical for me, so it sat among the many reflections that never make it to my blog. It would have remained there, I suspect, until I discovered that the software for one of my cameras magically disappeared in a recent update. After reloading the software yesterday, my screen went blank for the second time in the day. Perhaps the software disappeared in the update, again, but I really don’t need to check. Ever curious and resilient, I discovered another way to save photos from that camera.
Ultimately, I realize that I am grateful to Windows 10 for making me rewrite things that were still in process and for providing me with puzzles to solve. I’m not sure that is the intended purpose of random intrusions, or even if there are any conscious intentions behind inconvenient disruptions other than artificial unintelligent mechanical programming.
Celebrities have never inspired me. I may appreciate their prowess or art, their courage, discipline or tenacity, but I wonder why that somehow makes them more worthy of admiration than the hard-working people we meet in our everyday lives. Fame-seeking behavior is not the best attribute for those who would be leaders or role models for others. “Making it big,” “being a winner,” in a society that worships status at any cost doesn’t mean one is kind, generous, wise or compassionate. Those are the hard-won characteristics I value far more than media recognition and acclaim.
The greatest gifts in my life have come from thoughtful neighbors, teachers, friends, or random kindhearted strangers who shared their wisdom and kindness because that’s what they do. They give of themselves to others without expecting recognition or fame. I only hope that I can learn from their examples to be humbler, a little wiser, and compassionate enough to do the same. To listen, to care, to give what I can without expecting anything in return.
Yet if I were to choose a role model to admire, it wouldn’t be Steve Jobs, it would be Jane Addams. Steve Jobs made a fortune by developing technnological devices that have, over time, increasingly distracted people’s attention away from their immediate surroundings. (In class yesterday, many students pulled out their iPhones or iPads to look at pictures of trees for an assignment rather than gazing out the window at the tree-filled college grounds surrounding us.) Jane Addams, on the other hand, used her inheritance to live among some of the poorest immigrants in Chicago during the tumultuous years at the turn of the nineteenth century to address serious health and social justice issues. She, and her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, wanted to be good neighbors in their new home. They wanted to help build a healthier, more inclusive sense of community.
“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself” (Jane Addams).
“… the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life” (Adams, 1961, p. 76).
“Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself” (Jane Addams)
“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world” (Jane Addams).
Addams’ work has been a beacon of hope to many. Following is a poem written by Gwendolyn Brooks, an award-winning poet and author, to honor Addams’ many contributions.
Jane Addams (by Gwendolyn Brooks)
I am Jane Addams.
I am saying to the giantless time –
to the young and yammering, to the old and corrected,
well, chiefly to the children coming home
with worried faces and questions about world survival –
“Go ahead and live your life.
You might be surprised. The world might continue.”
It was not easy for me, in the days of giants.
And now they call me a giant.
Because my capitals were Labour, Reform, Welfare,
Tenement Regulation, Juvenile Court Law (the first),
Factory Inspection, Workmen’s Compensation,
Woman Suffrage, Pacifism, Immigrant Justice.
Black, brown, white, red and yellow
Heavied my hand and heart.
I shall tell you a thing about giants
that you do not wish to know;
Giants look in the mirror and see
almost nothing at all.
But they leave their houses nevertheless.
They lurch out of doors
to reach you, the other stretchers and strainers.
Erased under ermine or loud in tatters, oh,
money or mashed, you
You matter, and giants
Whatever I was tells you
the world might continue. Go on with your preparations,
moving among the quick and the dead;
nourishing here, there;
pressing a hand
among the ruins
and among the
seeds of restoration.
In these times, US leaders whose ancestral roots originated in other “lighter-skinned” nations around the globe are spreading fear about newer “darker-skinned” immigrants, fomenting hatred and divisiveness. My colleague and I are countering those messages. We are asking our students to learn about their ancestral roots and the historical roots of the profession they wish to enter.
Module I – Exploring Personal Roots and the Roots of Social Welfare Macro Practice
How many of us wonder why people behave the way they do? Certainly as future social workers this is an obvious question we must answer. If we’re thoughtful, though, we quickly realize that there is no one easy answer. In a very real sense, how we think and behave depends on when and where we were born, what we experienced as a result of our inherited statuses in our particular social context, and how we have been socialized.
Understanding each client and colleague we encounter is only possible when we understand our own values and perspectives and how they were formed. Knowing more about our ancestral roots and how they have changed over time in response to changing circumstances provides a crucial foundation for beginning the ongoing journey of understanding who we are. The purpose of Module I is to help you begin to explore the importance of your ancestral roots within the context of changing historical environments.
Our work with clients is also influenced profoundly by the dominant values and beliefs embodied in the social institutions that prevail during our life time. Like the lives and circumstances of our ancestors, the values and goals of social welfare institutions have shifted throughout history. Changes in institutional values and beliefs have not always been beneficial from the perspective of social workers or the vulnerable clients they serve.
In order to assess where we are now, it is essential to consider the roots of social welfare and the shifting roles of social work in the US. The course readings for Module I describe the values and institutions adopted by the US in the early years, and the pioneering efforts of Jane Addams and the women of Hull House to address compelling human suffering, exploitation, and marginalization.
Perhaps your ancestors were among the thousands of immigrants who benefited directly from their work. Certainly all of our lives were affected in largely positive ways by the many policy and institutional reforms they inspired. It is our hope that a deeper understanding of your personal and disciplinary roots will prepare you to meet the challenges ahead in creative ways to foster healthy, inclusive communities as Addams and her colleagues did more than a century ago.
The work of Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr, and “the women of Hull-House” is an essential foundation for understanding how to build understanding and inclusive communities. No jobs were too demeaning.
“We were asked to wash the newborn babies, and to prepare the dead for burial, to nurse the sick, and to ‘mind the children.’” (Addams, 1961, p. 72).
Listed below are some of the resources my colleague and I have shared with students in case you are interested in sharing them:
“Publicly opposed to America’s entry into the war, Miss Addams was attacked in the press and expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution, but she found an outlet for her humanitarian impulses as an assistant to Herbert Hoover in providing relief supplies of food to the women and children of the enemy nations, the story of which she told in her book Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).”
Although my colleague and I need to rely, to a large degree, on technological innovations Steve Jobs made possible, we are using those tools to enlighten rather than to divide and distract. Our integrated learning hybrid program helps students who work, care for families, and commute to access college education that might otherwise be unattainable. I just wish education was more affordable, or preferably, free. Perhaps someday it will be…
After reading this post, my dear friend and colleague, Cynthia Donner, gave me permission to publicly thank her for being a supportive, inspiring partner in our ongoing experiments to make learning more engaging and relevant.
Tragically, Hull-House finally closed its doors in the spring of 2012. It was a warning sign of hard times ahead without the visionary leadership of gentle and unlikely giants like Jane Addams. (For more information, please visit the following link: World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org)
Jane Addams (1961). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York, NY: Signet Classic.
A welcoming space for resistance to the forces of oppression and hegemony.