Saturday, April 27, 2013

Out with the Old

Hipsters! Consider yourselves served. I would like it to be known... I picked up my new glasses this week. (These spectacles are reminiscent of my glasses from 1993.) The fact that I have these glasses is the sign for all Trenders to move on to the next big thing. It's like when the crocuses pop up as the first sign of spring.

I find I often come to trends on the tail end or well past the trend arc. I was the next-to-the-last person to get a cell phone. (The last person was my brother-in-law.) I only caved in to the cell phone thing when my car broke down in the fall of 1990 and I was 40 miles away from everyone I knew. It was freezing and I had a parakeet in the car. A nice man stopped and asked if I needed a ride and I said "no, but can you call my husband from your cell phone?" That was a little pathetic. Nice man called. Husband rescued me. The bird lived.

To prove my theory, witness my recent discovery of flaxseed.  I just started using it and I found out a few days later that flaxseed is out and chia seeds are in. (I know, flaxseed has been around for a few years but see, this is what this post is about. Me discovering things later. Like The Police. I found them after they split up and I decided I liked Sting anyway...a very controversial statement.)

Def Leppard acquired from Pinterest.
It's like when Madonna ran around in leggings under her underwear and Def Leppard wore messed up jeans. Underwear is something I still believe should be hidden which would explain the lyrics "like a virgin..." and I didn't get into the ripped jeans until mine wore out and they became fashionable... a little late. Always a step or two behind, sometimes never catching up.

I got into leggings but I didn't buy them until everyone moved on to high-waisted jeans and all the leggings went on sale and then I couldn't get enough. I had leggings in all kinds of colors and matchy-matchy tops to go with them... not realizing that I wasn't old enough to wear matchy-matchy. I figure in 20 years I can go matchy with any color of my choice. Diane Keaton did it with black and I am going to do it with pink or maybe lavender. I haven't decided. I might mix them up. That will be a perk I am going to embrace.

There is only one time I remember getting the jump on the trend. I had the cool specs first and that was right before Sarah Palin hit the scene with interesting glasses. My glasses. Finally, for once I had them first but all I heard was "oh, you got Sarah Palin glasses." NO. Sarah Palin got Darcy Cline glasses... and I can see Mt. Rainier from my house. Really. If you press your face up against the front living room window you can see a snowy slope through the trees.

My first pair of bifocals, the Darcy Cline glasses, required some practice to get used to the dual planes. Right after I got my new prescription, I fell down the last three stairs landing on the concrete on my knees. That hurt. I didn't see them because I was looking through the reading lens. I became a little paranoid after several incidences where I almost fell while looking through the wrong lens of my bifocals. (So if you see me clutching the stair rail, its due to fear of smashing my knees... or breaking my neck.)

I like to think of myself as a person who doesn't jump right into the latest fad. My boss made an assessment of my situation. "You're not a Hipster," she said. "You're like a reverse Hipster." Yes I am a Retspih. (The 'h' is silent) 

Aside from the Darcy Cline Glasses incident, I generally stay behind the curve and most trends that I end up with have cycled through everyone I know.

Barbara Streisand & Robert
Redford in The Way We Were.
Rastar/Columbia Pictures
NO wait. In 8th grade, I liked Robert Redford in The Way We Were. All my friends thought he was ancient. (Now, that gets funnier as I get older.) He has gone on to be an advocate for environmentalism, Native American rights and the arts.

I also fell in love with Barbara Streisand. None of my friends caught that trend because they were all into The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Elton John. I listened to those musicians as well and some have remained my all-time favorites, but Barbara Streisand has a voice that wouldn't quit and I loved it that she kept her unique look and sound when the pressure to change must have been pretty great. Yep, I am still a fan.

My new glasses lead a line of old
specs slated for the Lions Club
Donation box.
Back to the seed that grew this Out with the Old post; the important feature of my new glasses is that when I wear them, I can see very well. I don't have to ask my classmates to tell me what the words are on the projector screen during lectures. I can read them for myself. I don't have to find that perfect two-inch depth margin where I can read clearly... thanks to my new bifocals, and most notable is I will not mistake caution signs for busses. (That one was for my kids.)

I love my new glasses in the same way I loved my 1990's glasses and I relish the end of this latest fad when I will be able to walk through a crowd and not recognize my style on anyone else. That's when I will be an original again.

Think of me as the "Jumping the Shark" of trends gal. When I get around to it, its already gone. So Hipsters, what next?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nothing New?

During my time at Pierce College, I have had many opportunities to learn new things, radical ideas, interesting concepts. I say to myself "well, yes... college is like that." But I have been to college before and this learning thing is nothing new.

After 52 years of living I have a pretty good grip on who I am and where I fall in the societal scheme of my world. I am a product of a teen marriage. My divorced parents are decendents of mixed European races: Danish, German, Irish with a bit of Native American thrown in. I have two siblings; We grew up low to middle income. Pretty ordinary for an average American.

When a learning opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. I'm not going to lie, the idea of spending two nights in a hotel and having all meals prepared... throw in a little live entertainment... of course I am ready to learn something new.

Along comes the Students of Color Conference(SoCC) in Yakima. Yes. I applied and was accepted and I was ready to have a fun-filled weekend. I expected the performances and I knew I was in for some interesting workshops about race, equality and diversity.

First on the agenda: White Race Identity Caucus. "Who am I?" as Jean Valjean sings "24601."

I had no idea.

I felt like we were going to be asked to stand up and say "Hello. My name is Darcy and I am a white racist."

I had no idea that because of the color of my skin, I am a racist.

I wanted to argue, "but I'm not a racist!" I am not.

But I am white.

And with my white skin, comes privilege that no other groups can claim. Yay me. I win.

Why didn't this feel like a win? I don't want privilege simply because I was born of white European decendants. Thats not fair. And it for sure doesn't say anything about my talents or brainpower... or anyone else's. I want fair. (I can talk about fair later.)

There was a moment of silence in that room where we all tried to absorb this concept. I did not like it at all. This concept argued in my head. "I try to be the same to everyone... but my skin color makes it different."  It doesn't matter how much I want it to be otherwise, it colors every interaction I have with people every day.

Now that is a learning moment, isn't it? My skin color makes me different. After 52 years I have just now felt for a moment what it was like to be judged by the color of my skin. (A moment can't really give me a true understanding of what it is like to be on guard all the time, but it helps put a little, tiny check mark in my experience tab.)

This concept was presented to me on our first night when we were all asked to select an identity group. I selected white because that is what I am... although I have liked that I have Native American heritage and have read about different tribes and watched documentaries, I know this does not make me a Native American nor an expert. And also I didn't claim this identity because I have not taken the time to research my father's grandmother's lineage. So, white I shall be.

The important lessons for me were to really look at the advantages I am given and haven't even thought about the fact that I have them. I have power and privilege and because of that, I have a voice that is not silenced by oppression. I can walk into my child's school and demand things that will be given because it came from me. I can get upset and angry in public and it will be a sign of my passion for what I believe. A woman of color must not show passion or it is interpreted as a "race thing" and she runs the risk of losing the attention of the policy-makers, the administration, the people in power. She has to be so much better at public relations than I.

A person of color runs the risk of losing ground every day. Every new day brings the same battle, the same hidden traps and the same pitfalls.

Here is where fair comes in: I learned the difference between equality and equity. Equality is when everyone gets the same thing, but equity is when everyone gets what they need. We all have different needs so equality isn't really equitable... it's a new and interesting concept for me, and I like it. I was reminded to look at the meaning of oppressive terms and think about who is the minority and what does that mean? I am a minority and yet we still call the greater population of people of color "the minority."

The list goes on. The topics I listed were a small drop in the larger pond of issues I had skipped merrily by in my ignorance until the White Race Identity Group Caucus "kicked me in the teeth," as one of my fellow White Caucus attendees stated so eloquently.

I remember the feeling of terrible loneliness as I left that room and stepped out into the hallway. As I made my escape, I ran into an incredibly nice young man from our group. I said "how was your identity meeting?"

He was so happy and excited, he was practically vibrating with joy. "I love it! I am so excited about my culture and my people! This is the best conference ever!"

I was genuinely happy for him. That is how it should be for him. I was also sad for the white students who were in my group. There was no joyful celebration of identity for the minority.

Our somber group dispersed into the hallway packed with people laughing and cheering. I couldn't even begin to identify with the explosion of excitement and anticipation. I wasn't excited. I was bummed, actually. I wanted to be somewhere safe so I turned away from the crowds and made a dash for the doors where the Yakima wind was blowing fresh and clean.

I went straight to my hotel room and when I got there, I felt even lonelier than I did at the Students of Color Conference. I sat down and cried.

Then that got old very quickly so I quit being a baby, made some coffee and went to the next session and learned more.

And then the next... and the next... and the next and learned.

What I learned at SoCC was really quite profound. I need a few more years of constant study to understand the whole concept of power and privilege and oppression. And even then I may not know everything I need to know.

Every speaker, dancer, storyteller, and presenter was motivational and profound.

I can't really explain how moving the experience was. I have more to learn, certainly. Given an opportunity to go to the conference again, I would take it, for sure. I want to make sure I convey the idea that this is a journey begun. I am not the flag-waving proclaimer running through the streets. I am not out there in that way.

What I hope to do in my life is interrupt oppression in the way that I can do it and to do it... every day. I know there are little injustices that happen minute by minute and my goal is to not tolerate it. The kicker here is that I may not recognize oppression. I know its tricky but I am going to try... do not listen to Yoda. There is TRY. If we keep trying, we will get it right.

In one of the sessions I attended on Sisterhood, I was sitting there in a roomful of women when the speaker dropped a bomb.

"Thank you all for coming. Men, thank you for being here to support women. You are not allowed to speak. You may listen." She took a breath then continued, "White women, thank you for coming. You may not speak, but you may listen."

I was shocked and hurt. I remember a moment a few years ago when I was helping at an event where a musician performed for a small group. After the music ended, we were all talking and when I spoke, the Privileged White Male singer said "stop talking." It was awkward and embarrassing.

I have never been in a similar situation like that again... until SoCC. But this time it was different. I was handed an opportunity to learn. To see what being stifled feels like. To know that I could speak... but that I wasn't welcome to speak. For that two-hour period I was not allowed to participate because of the color of my skin.

That was powerful.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Mexico

I know it has been a bit since I last posted, but finals are over and that brings a close to this difficult quarter. I have one more quarter to go and then I am officially graduated. Whew! Why does it seem harder this time around? A question for another time. I hope you enjoy my latest post. Thanks for reading.

Recently, my boss asked "where were you born and where do you call home?"  I was born in Ukiah, California but I believe home is where my family is, so for me, it's true to say home is where the heart is. This answer is always true.

There are times I have an additional answer to this question. La Gloria. La Gloria is a small town near Tijuana, Mexico tucked into the dusty yellow hills 20 minutes outside Rosarito, close enough to the pacific ocean to smell the salt and seaweed scented breezes. Cool mornings touched by fog are the relief as the sun climbs high and the temperature soars, scorching in its intensity, .  I love it. I have been to La Gloria 16 times over the course of 9 years. For two weeks every summer, La Gloria was home.

It all began with an uneventful Sunday morning. My oldest daughter, Courtney and I were sitting in the crowd of parishioners.  I know I was not really paying attention.  I was busy thinking of all that needed doing. The laundry, finishing up school shopping, getting a plan for the coming holidays... I admit, I wasn't using my God-given time wisely.

Sometimes the homilies speak directly to me and I pay full attention because there is a bit of wisdom tucked away in each of those carefully written talks.  At the time, it was Father Gary speaking and at the end of mass, he didn't release us.  "Please be seated. Eileen is here to talk about her recent mission experience in Mexico."

United States vs. Mexico
I imagined a collective groan from the room full of Catholics who had done their time, ready to move on. Courtney and I sat and listened.

Eileen talked about serving our young people by being involved in the Esperanza program at Holy Disciples. She talked about experiencing the challenge of helping people build a better life. She talked about the grassroots program that empowers people to work towards the common goal of a close-knit thriving community. Low interest loans, payback programs, community involvement... and she talked about Mexico. It was interesting.

I was in my early forties and I began thinking about how I had always wanted to travel, join the Peace Corps and make a difference in the world. I didn't grow up in a household that worried about what was happening outside of our own country or even beyond our neighborhood, so I was easily discouraged from this yearning. I went down a different path instead.  That all turned out good but I couldn't quiet the travel bug.

So when Eileen talked, I listened and thought "I could do this. I could finally go somewhere." Yes, travel was the bait.

The Neighborhood built on a dump site. This picture was
taken from the clinic that was built to help the community
resolve their many illnesses due to toxins from the refuse.
I looked at Courtney and she looked at me and we said "lets do that."  So we did.

It turned out to be more than an opportunity to travel. It became a calling.

My first trip in 2002, in which I was a chaperone was so profound, it was beyond explanation. The entire experience was rich in culture and struggle. I couldn't get enough of the scenery and the people. I found a sad beauty in the blue tarp communities and took hundreds of photos. I loved the families we met and learned to communicate with very little Spanish... and there was the hard work, the extreme heat and limited conveniences. It was all very interesting.

It felt so good for me to do this... I was part of something important and our first family was wary of us, having had a previous group that didn't talk to their children, complained about the food the family served and made the construction crew wait in the car while they ate lunch at a McDonalds.

We won them over, though. Before long the kids were singing songs with our group and we were exchanging recipes in the kitchen...  and fixing up their house... it was just like home.

I think the Esperanza International program is a smart, grassroots program to
teach communities how to care about their surroundings. The families accepted into the program must hold jobs to pay back very low interest loans on a cinder block space that can be added onto in later years. Unlike the wood structures, cinder block homes do not catch on fire or get washed down the hillsides.  The 2-3 foot foundations keep them firmly in place. They are also very good in the heat, providing much needed shade in 100+ temperatures.

The program is built on the theory that friends within a community will work together to make it a better place and want to stay.  Each family can be on the waiting list for a home for two years. During those two years, they help and support other families while their homes are being built. When it is their turn, the people they have helped, then help them. It is a "pay it forward" philosophy.

The work was long and hard and tiring but what I enjoyed most was learning about their lives. This always happened with the moms in the kitchen, usually a room made of parts found in the junkyard: a garage door, old lumber, barrels, and roofing materials housing a cook-top electric stove powered by wires crawling across the lot to be joined with other wires in the street that ran down the side of the road to the nearest working utility pole.
The progression of the foundation.

When water ran down the street, I could see the sparks snapping as children ran around and jumped the wires as they played. I remember one volunteer could not get past the U.S. code violations: "They would never do this in the U.S."

He didn't love the experience, which I think is fine. Some people like to get down into the trenches and work till they drop when natural disasters devastate a town, community or region. Some like to go on managed missions to make a difference. Other people like to send money. All of this is good.

Ladies of the community preparing food for the workers.
One of my favorite memories of the kitchen talks, was when I sat and listened to a mom talk about her challenges to use holistic methods of dealing with her family's health. It was like being hit over the head. The daily life in the ever expanding edges of Tijuana is so difficult that I never considered there would be time to study alternative lifestyle choices and yet this mom was totally motivated and excited about this. She expanded my narrow thinking.

My family and I have spent many summers traveling to Mexico through the Esperanza International mission program. this was something we looked forward to every year. I couldn't wait to go back... year after year. I loved every minute of the experience. I loved working with the youth of our church as each person changed and grew in one way or another. I loved meeting the families and hearing their stories... watching the children get to know each of us... helping in the kitchen... building.

I miss it.