Recently, I talked about my son’s experience with the tooth fairy at a skeptics in the pub event.
Afterwards, in the question and maybe an answer session, I was asked whether, as a presumed sceptic and attempted rationalist, I felt uncomfortable or hypocritical keeping encouraging the tooth fairy legend. I don’t have a problem with the odd fairy tale or myth. I see no reason to constantly hit my son’s head with a mallet of reason after each reading of Rapunzel or The Dinosaur Pirates. Children’s minds are being shaped for the possibility of reasonableness, but I don’t see any reason not to allow some pretend. There will come a time, oddly coinciding with the last pre-molar being placed under the pillow, when he may well decide it was all nonsense, but nonsense that turned near worthless enamel into Lego and comics. If I just told him, “there is no tooth fairy, your mother and I will merely take your teeth in exchange for cash like an infant Cash for Gold learning slope”, I don’t think the lesson learnt is as good as the moment his questioning unearths a fabrication designed for childhood fun.
He also believes in Santa too, infuriating, as I would prefer he knew it was my blinking money that went on those presents, not some benevolent, eternal, Arctic deer hustler.
Most parents spend their lives thinking, “am I bringing up my children correctly? What have I done that will have adulthood repercussions?”
I was recently told off by a psychologist friend who declared that I was, oh and how this will shock you, overly discursive with my son. What a surpris. Ahgaine that I talk and analyse things too much, a career advantage that should be put on hold around the Playmobil.
Faith and religion is a tricky area. I can’t don the mantle of tooth fairy and Santa and outrightly dismiss a deity each time it comes up. Maybe if I rolled tooth fairy and Santa and Yahweh into one being, then he would shrug all three off at the same time. Maybe I can say that is what the holy trinity is.
Though he doesn’t attend a religious school, the Biblical tales are told of God and Heaven and, I wasn’t so pleased with this, tales of the body and blood of Jesus being wafer and wine. The Nativity play (despite what you might hear) occurs each year. Again, i see no reason to go into too much detail just as I didn’t feel I needn’t to tell him that soft toys do not get involved in repair work when unobserved after I took him to see Bagpuss.
When he asks me of God, I explain that people believe different things. I have told him I don’t believe there is one, but don’t just trust me. Later, he told me not to worry, that though he believed in God, he also believed in the big bang. He is Francis Collins in the making.
When we were looking at the Open University Tree of Life poster, he questioned why Darwin illustrated man, as he wasn’t the first man. There is a confusion between ideas of evolution and Bible stories. I am glad to say he laughs when he sees animations where dinosaurs and humans are side by side. “Now that isn’t right is it.”
And I didn’t feel like an oppressive atheist dad when I told him that Adam and Eve is just a story, a way of illustrating life on earth, but not true. We did some hairy apes turning into hairless man ape dances, I am sure Thomas Huxley did similar as he took his children “up the wooden hill to bedfordshire.”
There is an age where death first worries you, that time that you start to imagine yourself parentless and alone. This, too, I do not know the best way to deal with. i am sure there are many conflicting books that deal with it in the overburdened self-help sections.
You find yourself saying, “it won’t be for ages. Let’s have fun now and stop thinking about it.” How deeply can you go into it when they are 5 or 6. With talk of heaven, again I do not flinch at saying, “no one knows, so best to pack in as much as we can while we are definitely here”. I have started to sow the seeds (uh oh, I have hit parable mode) of the idea that we made of atoms, and that all the atoms that make us have made so many other things and will go onto make so many other things while there is still this universe about. We are bits of apple tree, molten larva, pulsar, caterpillar cocoon, Dodo beak, Trilobite feeler, glacier, and so much more, though that can make up the strangest Frankenstein monster in the imagination.
It’s all just stories now, stories trying to convey ideas that are confusing and frightening and exciting. I have been asked on more than one occasion if I worry if my son grows up to be religious. Hah, I don’t think I’d care, but if he grew up to be a dogmatist and venal bigot, then I really know my discursive ways would have something to answer for.
I am off on tour – from Sheffield to Edinburgh, Chorley to Norwich, Huddersfield to Birmingham, and more than likely a town near you. Details HERE
(if your town isn’t on the current list, tell me, I love trains and dislike laziness)
I talked a great deal more about the recycling delight of all the atoms that make us in this DVD HERE
When it comes to politics and policy, I would not consider myself to be a particularly cynical person. Far from it actually; my faith in the power of social movements and grassroots change would not be as strong as it is if I did not hold to the notion that we will see an ultimate victory over the inequalities and oppressions that plague our society. I believe in people, and I believe in communities.
However, it would be accurate to assume that I do not have much faith in politicians or the political parties from which they emanate. I am, after all, old enough to remember a Barack Obama who said that he would walk a picket line as President and repeatedly affirmed his support for a public healthcare option. The breadth of politics today has become a game of Team Blue vs. Team Red, and opposition is based less on ideas than the jersey you wear when you take the court. After all, if it were a Republican Congress and President that had signed a bill that slashed food assistance for low-income families, funded the government on the backs of government employees, and ended unemployment benefits that are still necessary in a sluggish economy, many of the Democratic cheerleaders for “bipartisanship” and “compromise” would be a bit more muted in their praise.
So suffice it to say that when a city councilman named Chokwe Lumumba announced that he was running to be the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city, I was skeptical. Having met Chokwe through her work at the ACLU of Mississippi, my wife told me that he was a legit radical. As I looked him up, that much became evident: student radical who once occupied buildings at Western Michigan University in protest of the paucity of Black faculty; former second Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika; founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; and the lawyer for the Scott Sisters. There was no doubt that this was a person who went the extra mile for his community. Yet as I observed his campaign, I came to the same conclusion that I am sure a lot of other people came to:
He won’t win.
It was easy to feel that. Jackson, a city of about 175,000 located in west central Mississippi, has the second-largest concentration of Black residents of any city with a population over 100,000 at 79.4 percent (Detroit is first in that regard at 82.7 percent). It was not always this way, though: Jackson was a majority-white city as late as the 1980s. But when the last vestiges of Mississippi’s particularly virulent strain of Jim Crow were dismantled in education, housing, and employment, white residents began fleeing to suburbs like Pearl, Clinton, Madison, Brandon, and Ridgeland. As the city emptied out and glistening new shopping centers and housing developments popped up on the outskirts of the metro area, the economic and political power shifted along with it.
The new suburbanites managed to maintain a measure of control over their former neighbors through their ownership of local businesses. Even though Harvey Johnson, Jr. became Jackson’s first Black mayor-elect on June 3, 1997 largely through emphasizing his race on the campaign trail, his administration continued the same policies that had largely benefitted the city’s business community. This trend continued through his first administration, through the unbelievably corrupt term of his successor Frank Melton, and into Johnson’s second administration, which was won by defeating Mayor Melton in the 2009 Democratic primary.
As 2013 approached, it appeared that it would be more of the same. No Republican has served as mayor since 1874, so the winner of the Democratic primary would be the city’s next chief executive. Johnson, the incumbent, was in for re-election, as was city council president Frank Bluntson and Chokwe. Rounding out the top contenders was lawyer Regina Quinn and businessman Jonathan Lee. Bluntson’s stature and local media hype likely outstripped his potential vote total, and he was written off early in the contest. The other four were in the thick of it right up until primary night, though it became clear in the last days that Quinn would be towards the rear of the pack.
As the primary campaign wore on, I began to see more folks speaking positively about Chokwe and using his campaign designs and photos as profile pictures on social media. It piqued my interest. But watching him struggle a bit in his #AskChokwe Twitter chat made me skeptical that he would be able to pull this off; he was slow to answer questions and demonstrated a clear lack of comfort with the medium. It seems ridiculous, but folks care about that sort of thing. Then there was that Jackson Free Press editorial supporting Mayor Johnson in the primary, where they called Chokwe “anti-white” and engaged in the worst sort of false equivalency I have ever seen in an alt-weekly. The stupidity of it was transparent to someone like me, but I worried that the paper’s ideological reputation would lead otherwise supportive white liberals to balk from voting for change. In a race with no white candidates, the division in the Black vote meant that the city’s small white population could make a big difference.
My thought was that Chokwe would finish third, and that Jackson would have the most anticlimactic and meaningless primary runoff in recent memory. There would be no challenge to the status quo. There would be no Jackson Plan. There would only be the continued domination of the city’s institutions by folks who had long ceased calling Jackson home. The city would be much like other mid-sized Southern cities: wallowing in mediocrity and watching the very people who could make a difference leave for the perception of greener pastures.
So imagine my surprise when this happened:
That image was a stab in the heart of the suburbanites and rapacious capitalists who had previously exploited the city that was good enough to make money from, but not good enough to love or care about. It was enough to begin the various campaigns seeking to malign Chokwe’s character, party affiliation, religion, and commitment to his community. They used the same old appeals of “investment flight” and “depopulation” in order to make the city’s residents fear for their economic security. The opposing campaign even started insinuating that Chokwe was an FBI informant by using documents from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, which was the primary instrument of the state in harassing and intimidating civil rights organizers. At that point, one thing became clear to me:
They are scared. But wait….if they are scared enough to run these ads and put out these flyers, then could Chokwe actually win this thing?
Sarah and I were driving back from our favorite pizza place in Central New York on the night of the election, and I remember telling her, “I think that Chokwe is going to win this thing. I have a feeling that when the night is through, Jacksonians are going to ignore the bullshit and trust themselves and their city.” A few hours later, we got our confirmation:
As a Southerner, a leftist, and, most importantly, as a Black man, I was over the moon. WE DID IT! We managed to elect a radical Black leftist who was once a lawyer for the Black Panthers as the mayor of a capital city in the South. And not just any capital city, either: a city that once housed such ignoble figures of white supremacist history as Ross Barnett, Theodore Bilbo, and James Vardaman during their terms as Governor.
But how would he govern? If being Black has taught me anything, it is that progressive rhetoric is much easier to come by than progressive action. Many a candidate have claimed the mantle of the “people’s candidate”, only to disappear into the wilderness of power and influence once in office. I needed to see what he was about.
Finally, Lumumba, 66, approached the podium, pulling the microphone up to suit his tall, lean frame. “Well,” he said, “I want to say, God is good, all the time.”
The crowd replied. “God is good, all the time!”
“I want to say hey! And hello!”
The crowd called back, “Hey! Hello!”
Then Lumumba smiled and raised his right hand halfway, just a little above the podium, briefly showing the clenched fist of a Black Power salute.
“And I want to say, free the land!”
Whoa. Did this brother just say raise a fist in the air and say “free the land” at his inauguration?
Inaugural addresses tend to be where all the progressive rhetoric that inspired so many folks turns into meaningless pablum about “unity” and “coming together for the common good”, but not this time. Chokwe’s inaugural address was a defiant affirmation of Blackness and a radical sense of community in a city that had seen precious little of that in its history. Hearing his call to elect people who “not only look like us, but also speak to our interests” was a poignant moment for me in his inauguration speech. Communities of color have long advocated for the idea that institutions should reflect those they serve, and we have gone a long way towards achieving that in the South. But while Jackson had seen sixteen years of unbroken Black leadership, there was little to show for it in the way of concrete policy change for its Black citizens. Nearly 50 years after we first gained free access to the franchise, it is no longer enough that we simply seek descriptive representation; we must seek substantive representation of our interests and aspirations.
Chokwe set about doing this. The part of his plan that got the most attention was the Jackson-Kush Plan, and for good reason: it would be a direct challenge to the economic and political power that currently resided in the suburbs of Hinds, Rankin, and Madison counties. While the other candidates for mayor supported an economic plan that was based within the status quo framework, Chokwe supported a plan that began local before spreading out across the region. While the most discussed portion of this economic plan involved using the human capital within Jackson’s communities to form economic cooperatives where workers had a say in the means of production, there was also a framework to facilitate the growth of urban green spaces and to engage in organizing workers through the Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights. This sort of collaborative economic empowerment is something that is rarely seen in the South, and for an elected official to make it a part of their mandate is rarer still.
He would put forth a big budget to accommodate these big aspirations for his city: 2 million, an increase of 43 percent over the previous year. Much of that additional spending was on public works projects that the city badly needed: roads and a sewer system that is in such disrepair as to require a federal mandate that requires the city to bring it to standard. In addition to that, he worked to put a 1-cent sales tax increase on the ballot which would go towards infrastructure improvements. The measure overwhelmingly passed.
Chokwe was becoming a 21st-century embodiment of the “sewer socialist”, those urban elected officials from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who used the power of the state to provide quality public services to as many constituents as possible. Those folks made strides to take socialism out of its theoretical constructs and put it in front of the masses through public administration and works programs. While there have been times in Southern history where leftism has gained a foothold, the space and breadth of that foothold has been fairly limited. And it has never really been a popular concept in Southern cities; the Populist movement was dominated by agrarian leftists in northern Louisiana, northern Alabama, and western North Carolina.
What we were witnessing (and continue to witness) in Jackson was not just unique for the purposes of contemporary Southern politics and urban spaces; it was unprecedented. Anytime I thought about the Jackson experiment, I got excited. Since my arrival in Alabama in the summer of 2011, I have felt like I was in a constant battle with recalcitrant conservatives, centrists, and liberals within the Democratic Party. Much like Chokwe, I have come to consider myself an independent leftist who sees the Democratic Party as a temporary vehicle for change, rather than the driving force behind that change. Seeing Chokwe’s initial successes in Jackson gave me hope that I would live to see a day that Southern progressives would not be faced with the same meaningless choices that we are constantly confronted with when we close that drape behind us and participate in our democracy.
Those hopes were temporarily dashed for me on February 25, 2014.
I was in the midst of making some notes for a student when the news first broke on Facebook. It all seemed so sudden; was this a joke? Had WLBT’s Facebook page been hacked? But when I started seeing tweets from other news stations confirming his death from different sources, I knew that this was real.
Chokwe Lumumba, progressive Mayor of Jackson and hope to any and all Southern progressives, has died today at the age of 66.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 25, 2014
I was gutted. I was absolutely sick over this. And then I did something that I never thought I would be able to do over the death of an elected official:
I cried. Hard.
Normally I’d have something inspirational to say. I don’t. I can’t. I’m done. My gut is wrenching like it hasn’t in a really long time.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
Probably not since my grandmother died. We are losing too fucking many of our community’s freedom fighters.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
They were tears of devastation and disbelief at first; then pretty quickly turned into tears of anger. At everything, especially God:
I could break and destroy everything around me right now. It’s like God, the universe, whoever the fuck doesn’t want to see us prosper.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
EVER. FUCKING EVER.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
Doesn’t God know that we FUCKING NEEDED HIM HERE? HUH? WE FUCKING NEEDED HIM HERE. IN THE SOUTH. IN FUCKING JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
I’m angry at everything right now.
Douglas Williams (@DougWilliams85) February 26, 2014
I have been through personal stuff with both my family and myself that has always given me the belief that God is real; there is no way that I could believe otherwise. I had read about the vengeful, wrathful God that existed in the Old Testament throughout my youth. In fact, the church that I went to in high school seemed to reinforce the notion that God that was not loving, but rather judgmental of a whole host of behaviors both large and small.
Homosexuality? Hell. Fornication? Hell. Belief in another religion? Hell. Making more money than you could fit through a eye of a needle on Judgment Day? Well…our offices will get back to you about that.
But as I progressed into adulthood, I realized that God was something different. They led me to Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, where I got to hear a Word that was more inclusive, grounded in equality and justice, and progressive than any I had ever heard back home. They led me to vow that I would do everything possible to eliminate the ills — poverty, lack of access to education, oppression of all sorts — that had plagued my family, my community, and myself for generations. They gave me the right lineage to see the workers’ struggle firsthand, how it has persisted through generations, and how Their Word has been a salve to those deep in the fight. The same God that led me down the path I am on also led Chokwe Lumumba down his as well; that was evident in various interviews, his involvement in his own church, and the uniquely Southern style of “progressivism flavored with the Gospel” that had become his staple.
I will never understand why God chose to take Chokwe at a time when his voice is so crucial to everything that I hold dear as a Southerner, a leftist, and as a Black man; none of us will. But it is at times like this where my faith is a crucial component for my ability to move on. And not my faith in God; but rather my faith in movements and communities. We will learn not just from Chokwe, but also from those people who were some of his closest aides and confidants. I am hopeful that he has recorded his thoughts and motivations in some fashion, since it seems to be apparent that his health was worse than most of us realized. It may not be as comprehensive as some other historical figures that have had their bright light extinguished too soon, but those who seek to continue his far-too-important work crave anything that could point us in the right direction. And if that does not materialize, then we will have his speeches, interviews, and family/network to go on. Sometimes that is the best that we can hope for, and we should look to them for signs as to where we go next.
Most of my blog posts are prescriptive; this one will not be. It cannot be, because I still have not sufficiently cycled through my grieving process enough to have a proper account of Chokwe’s legacy. I am still badly wounded from this, and the one thing that is keeping me upright at the moment is the thought that Chokwe and my grandmother are swapping organizing stories with the rest of our fallen at the moment (and if he was anything like my grandmother, it is over a game of bid whist or spades). And, if I am honest, I do not think that anyone can lay out a legacy for Chokwe Lumumba at this time that would be sufficiently unique to the man and the community he served. I would rather grieve first, then reflect, and then chart out appropriate next steps. It might not be timely, but it will also not be cookie-cutter and meaningless; those are two things that were the antithesis of Chokwe Lumumba and his career.
I will, however, keep writing about the South and the ways in which we can make it the kind of place that Chokwe, and the rest of us Southern progressives, want it to be. My hope is when my wife and I are sitting back in our rocking chairs at the twilight of our lives, holding hands and reminiscing on the lives that we have lived, we will be able to say that we achieved that one three-word credo which rang out from Jackson, Mississippi as a clarion call to community-building and working-class empowerment:
FREE THE LAND
Growing up, there were two kinds of kids in the world: kids who had been to Disneyland and kids who hadn’t. If you were in the first group, we poor kids naturally hated your guts. My own family’s version of a vacation was a 13-hour non-stop drive to Salt Lake City to visit relatives twice […]
Freshly Pressed: Editors’ Picks
An interesting study was issued recently by psychologists at the University of Illinois, suggesting that the profile pictures or “avatars” that people choose to use in online gaming may subconsciously influence how they see themselves, and how they treat other people. Researchers found that when subjects thought of themselves as Superman, they were less likely to harm someone else when given an opportunity to do so (in a minor way) in real life. Conversely, when the subjects identified with the evil Lord Voldemort from “Harry Potter”, they were far more likely to take advantage of a real-life opportunity to harm someone else – again, even if only in a minor way.
Obviously there are potential implications from this study with respect to violent video games, and these results will be poured over by experts in developmental psychology. However rather than focusing on the negative conclusions one might reasonably draw from such findings, it might be more useful to look at them as another example of science proving a human trait which, instinctively, we all share. Humans want to know about other humans to look up to, and to model themselves after, even if realistically they only are able to achieve that mirroring in the smallest of ways.
We should first clarify what this study is NOT. These findings are not some sort of justification to go out on a make-believe crusade and behave like an idiot, thereby running the risk of injuring oneself or others. Sadly, in this day and age, such a caveat is in fact necessary. Yet putting aside those with some sort of street vigilante death wish, there is something anciently, fundamentally human about the practice of talking about heroes, real or imagined, and then looking to those heroes as examples.
In ancient cultures, stories were of course told about the exploits of the gods, but legends were also told about humans who did extraordinary things. The touchstones of Western literature, The Iliad and The Odyssey, are accounts of the deeds and exploits of such men and women, designed to make those who heard them appreciate the differences between good and evil, right and wrong. In the process, authors such as Homer hoped that the audience would be inspired by the pursuit of good, and shun the embrace of evil. Perhaps the average Greek would never get to slay ferocious beasts like Hercules in these kinds of stories or in the art they inspired, but they could discern the better aspects of his character and behaviour, and try to imitate his example in their own lives, while simultaneously avoiding the excesses of his personal pitfalls.
Fast-forward to Ancient Rome, and we have the real-life cult of the gladiators. In ancient graffiti in the Coliseum and throughout the Roman Empire, we see evidence of people arguing heatedly over which of the arena performers was the greatest. Although they were not gods or demi-gods themselves, these men who fought one another in public garnered huge followings as people projected themselves onto both their actual exploits on the sands, as well as the legends being told about them, which circulated like court gossip. It allowed the average Roman citizen to imagine that he could fight a wild beast or a savage enemy himself, if put to the test, even if he led a reasonably uninteresting life in some provincial capital.
Today, to those who think they are too sophisticated to fall into such practices, one would suggest they look about the next time they go out in public – or for that matter, cast an accusing eye into the mirror. See that fellow wearing the jersey with Alexander Ovechkin or Peyton Manning’s name and number emblazoned on it? Is he really any different from that ancestor inspired by tales of adventure and heroism to go out and try to do more than he thought himself capable of?
Even those staying up late to watch this year’s Winter Olympics from Russia on television are, at least sociologically, the descendants of those who engaged in such celebrations of other people’s achievements at the original games back in Ancient Greece. Most of those watching the Olympics have absolutely no hope whatsoever of competing at an elite level in any of the sports on screen. Yet as human beings they still feel inspired, at least on a subconscious level, by these athletes. They continue watching and cheering, whether for reasons of health, patriotism, or in admiration of human ability and determination. And perhaps for some of them, the positive examples of these men and women take hold, even if only in a small way.
The conclusions to be drawn from this research study are too many to treat in a single blog post, and I am certainly not qualified to even attempt to make them all. Yet these results clearly do speak to a fundamental human need for heroism. We want – need – to feel that we can achieve much more than others or perhaps we ourselves think we are capable of. The Greeks learned this about themselves from Odysseus’ experiences, as that character came to understand himself, just as we also can do from Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Harry Potter, lo these thousands of years later.
By May June
Our society is full of artificial norms and fake standards. Whatever is attractive is whatever you’re not. Whatever is normal is whatever you’re not. Whatever is popular is whatever you’re not. Whatever is ideal is whatever is impossible.
Despite this, people are going to judge. You can’t stop them. But you can stop caring. Instead of worrying what others are going to think, embrace your quirks and guilty pleasures.
Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are and screw the haters. You should never have to start a sentence with, “No judgment, but…”
Be unique. Be spontaneous. Be free. If you’re not going to be you, then who will?
To get you started, here are 8 things you should embrace and never have to hide. Enjoy!
1. Binge watching Netflix and eating Moon Pies until you pass out
I was going to tell you why there’s no shame in this, but I only have 15 seconds until the next episode of Parks and Rec starts. Just know that whatever you had planned for today can wait until later. WHY WILL THIS WRAPPER NOT OPEN??
2. Facebook stalking your crush
Ecards are the best! They’re just so funny and insightful that you can’t help but smile a little as you like another one of your crush’s past profile pictures. People like to stigmatize “Facebook stalking,” but honestly that’s only because no one does it to them and they’re jealous. If your crush returns the favor and likes all of your pictures since birth, then you know they’re the One.
3. Taking selfies whenever you want
I found this picture on Reddit labeled as a cringe pic, which is just another sad example of how people judge others. We admire ourselves in the mirror all the time, so if you happen to be looking good one day, take that selfie!
4. Drunk buying off Etsy
Okay so you bought a 0 copper meditation pyramid off of Etsy. We all have those nights. And there’s no need to be embarrassed. After all, now you have a place to drink your herbal tea!
5. Not having any food in the fridge except Hot Pockets and ice cream
You’re a busy person, and sometimes you only have time for the essentials. Other times you need a little late night indulgence. So leave that fridge door open and sit on that counter. Like they say, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
6. Loudly singing along to Nickelback
People like to hate on Nickelback, but honestly they don’t know why. It’s all just bandwagoning like with Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black. They’re all great artists whose songs you should feel no shame belting out in the shower, in your car, at home, and in public.
7. Walking around your apartment au naturel
If there’s one thing that’s nice about not caring what others think, it’s saying buh-bye to makeup and buh-bye to clothes! Seriously, they’re such a drag. Don’t feel like you have to fit into whatever unattainable size society dictates. You might look like a popped can of Pillsbury dough, but inside you’re beautiful. And this home is a judgment-free zone.
8. Eating Dove chocolate and taking the wrapper’s advice
Uh, what’s the point of printing advice on the inside of the wrapper if you don’t listen to it? It’s like a horoscope, but tastier. No judgment here!
May June is a writer, part time photographer, and life-liver. She can’t remember most of her college years, but she assures me it was the best time of her life. In her free time May likes to browse Pinterest, watch female gorillas give birth, and advise her friends to get back with their exes. May would also like to thank elitedaily.com for inspiring this article. For more completely original life advice make sure to follow May on Myspace and as always share typicalblogger with your bffs.
A helpful blog entry from Brevity’s managing editor Sarah Einstein. Sarah will be talking about rejection, acceptance, and writing as part of the panel “Getting Short-Form Nonfiction to Readers: A Publication Panel” on the Friday morning of AWP Seattle:
Every couple of weeks, a writer-friend sends me an email or a Facebook message with the text of a rejection letter in it, asking me to help them decode it. Most often, they want me to help them figure out how close they got to being published, which is an impossible task. I couldn’t even tell you that if it was a submission to Brevity… ultimately, either we took the piece or we didn’t. We do have tiered rejection letters. If you got our “close but not cigar” rejection, you should probably turn around and submit that piece to five other places right away because we thought pretty hard about taking it. But if you get our standard rejection, that doesn’t mean you weren’t close. It might mean that we really liked it, but that we had recently published one that seemed too similar for us to be ready for another in the same vein. It might mean that we really liked it, but we could already tell from other choices we had made that it wasn’t going to fit well into this issue. It might mean that it is perfect for PANK / Diagram / Quarter After Eight but just not perfect for Brevity. The list of things it might mean is infinite. And the truth is, there is no way for you–the author–to know. We don’t have time to write to each author and explain why we didn’t take a piece. I wish we did. I really do. I face the same issues with my own work.
And, really, we all know that you can’t actually get any real information out of a form rejection letter. We know that the fact that it took four months to hear back from a journal might mean they spent a long time considering the work and it got pretty close, but it also might mean someone at the journal got sick/married/arrested and just fell behind. That journals don’t have secret codes embedded into the form emails that explain how to become the next Jill Talbot or Anna March. But that doesn’t stop us from looking for clues that aren’t there.
So, writer-friends, I’m giving you this little present. It’s a Form Rejection Letter Decoder Thingy (PDF link here). Surely you remember these from elementary school, when you probably called them “Cootie Catchers.” Just pick a color, pick a number, and the FRLDT will give you a perfectly possible reason that your piece was not selected for publication. Sure, the reasons it will offer you are all on the sunny side of things. It won’t ever tell you, for instance, that the editors thought your narrative was great but prose was stiff. Or the other way ’round. But since all you got was a form rejection, let’s just assume that–as is far more often the case than writers believe–the reason your piece was rejected does have everything to do with the needs of the journal and nothing to do with your work.
That said, it’s probably not a bad idea to take a second pass at revision before you send it out again. Because you always want your work to be your best.
Two of the hot topics in education in the last few years have been Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) and the flipped classroom. I’ve been experimenting with both of them.
What I’ve learned (besides being able to use the word “pedagogy” in a sentence) is
1) assigning students lectures as homework doesn’t guarantee the students will watch them and 2) in a flipped classroom you can become hostage to the pedagogy.
Here’s the story of what we tried and what we learned.
MOOC’s – Massive Open Online Courses
A MOOC is a complicated name for a simple idea – an online course accessible to everyone over the web. I created my MOOC by serendipity. Learning how to optimize it in my classes has been a more deliberate and iterative process.
If you can’t see the video above click here
When my Lean LaunchPad class was adopted by the National Science Foundation, we taught our original classes to scientists scattered across the U.S. We adopted WebEx, a web video conferencing tool, to hold our classes remotely. Just like my students at Stanford, these NSF teams got out of the building and spoke to 10-15 customers a week. Back in their weekly class, the scientists would present their results in front of their peers – in this case via Webex, as the teaching team gave them critiques and “guidance”. When their presentations were over, it was my turn. I lectured to these remote students about the next week’s objectives.
Is it Live or Is It a MOOC?
After the first NSF class held via videoconference, it dawned on me that since I wasn’t physically in front of the students, they wouldn’t know if my lecture was live or recorded.
Embracing the “too dumb to know it can’t be done,” I worked with a friend from Stanford, Sebastian Thrun and his startup Udacity, to put my Lean LaunchPad lectures online. Rather than just have me drone on as a talking head, I hired an animator to help make the lectures interesting, and the Udacity team had the insight to suggest I break up my lecture material into small, 2-4 minute segments that matched students’ attention spans.
If you can’t see the video above click here
Over a few months we developed the online lectures, then tried it as a stand-in for me on the NSF videoconferences, and found that because of the animations and graphics the students were more engaged than if I were teaching it in person. Ouch.
Now the NSF teams were learning from these online lectures instead of video conferenced lectures – but the online lectures were still being played during class time.
I wondered if we could be more efficient with our classroom time.
Back at Stanford and Berkeley, I realized that I could use my newly created Lean LaunchPad MOOC and “flip” the classroom. It sounded easy, I had read the theory:
1) A flipped classroom moves lectures traditionally taught in class, and assigns them as homework. Therefore my students will all eagerly watch the videos and come to class ready to apply their knowledge, 2) this would eliminate the need for any lecture time in class. And as a wonderful consequence, 3) I could now admit more teams to the class because we’d now have more time for teams to present.
So much for theory. I was wrong on all three counts.
Theory Versus Practice
After each class, we’d survey the students and combine it with a detailed instructor post mortem of lessons learned. (An example from our UCSF Lean LaunchPad for Life Sciences Class is here.)
Here’s what we found when we flipped the classroom:
We decided we needed to fix these issues, one at a time.
There’s still more to do.
Besides finding the right balance in a flipped classroom, a few other good things have come from these experiments. The Udacity lectures now have over 250,000 students. They are not only used in my classes but are also part of other educators’ classes, as well as being viewed by aspiring entrepreneurs as stand-alone tutorials.
My experiments in how to teach the Lean LaunchPad class have led to a 2 ½ day class for 75 educators a quarter (information here.) And we’ve found a pretty remarkable way to use the Lean LaunchPad to organize corporate innovation/incubator groups. (We opened source our teaching guide we use in the classes here.)
- Creating engaging MOOC’s are hard
- Confirming that students watched the MOOC’s is even harder
- The Flipped classroom needs to be balanced with:
- Student accountability
- Instructor time in front of the class
- Advanced lectures
Listen to the blog post here
Download the podcast here
Child star Shirley Temple Black’s life may have taken different turns in adulthood, including ambassador stints to Czechoslovakia and Ghana, but, in death, her on-screen relationship with tap dance master Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is one of her most enduring.
Numerous obituaries never fail to mention the two, although of the more than thirty feature films she appeared in, only four were with Robinson. Their first, The Little Colonel in 1935, and their second teaming for The Littlest Rebel, also in the same year, stand out as the most memorable.
The pairing of the elderly Robinson with schoolgirl Temple was a Hollywood milestone. In her 2012 Huffington Post piece “Shall We Dance? Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson: Hollywood’s First Interracial Couple,” Constance Valis Hill, author of Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History, referencing the staircase tap dancing scene in The Little Colonel:
“She took his hand and learned his steps, and they danced their way into cinema history as the first interracial tap-dancing couple, albeit a 6-year-old white girl and 57-year-old black man.”
Donald Bogle, in his classic book, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, writes, “Theirs was the perfect interracial love match. For surely nothing would come of it. Indeed audiences so readily accepted them as a pair that in their biggest hit together, The Littlest Rebel, Robinson played her guardian, certainly the first time in the history of motion pictures that a black servant was made responsible for a white life.” Bogle goes on to call Robinson’s role as “Uncle Billy” in The Littlest Rebel, “the perfect—perhaps the quintessential—tom role.”
And it is plenty disturbing. Temple plays Virgie Cary, the daughter of a Confederate captain and Uncle Billy is his and essentially her slave. Along with the other slaves, Uncle Billy holds the Yankees or Union soldiers in disdain and even uses his masterful dancing to raise money for Virgie to travel to Washington D.C. and ask Lincoln to pardon her father.
One of the most disturbing scenes in the film occurs during Virgie’s party when she asks Uncle Billy, who is also serving her and her friends, to dance for them. After the dance, which, by all accounts is great because Robinson, even in his advanced age, commanded a stage, Uncle Billy returns to his young mistress side to continue in his servant role. Bogle even notes that, in the film, little old ladies comment, “My, isn’t he a sweet colored man.”
During his real life, Robinson was much different than the subservient characters he played in film. For instance, he was notorious for refusing to allow restaurants to not serve him. He contributed to numerous black causes and was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America in addition to co-founding the Negro Leagues Baseball team, the New York Black Yankees. On top of that, he was a member of New York’s famed 369th Infantry, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters, during World War I. Interestingly, Robinson played to majority black audiences until he advanced in age. Throughout his career, he conquered vaudeville and Broadway and was a well-known dance icon even to Fred Astaire prior to his film appearances. It is this Robinson that Gregory Hines strived to portray in his 2001 film homage Bojangles.
Although Shirley Temple was generally deemed to be a nice woman and contributed much good in her lifetime, her on-screen roles with Robinson remain bittersweet.
On the one hand, even today, the sheer joy the two entertainers enjoyed in each other’s presence is undeniable and so are both of their considerable talents. But, on the other, it is hard to escape the botched script Hollywood has contributed to race relations in presenting a young white woman as the superior of an elderly black man.
That Robinson comes across as a toy to Temple’s characters, only there to entertain and delight them, is a huge disservice and perpetuates the myth that black people are happiest when serving whites and, thus, are incapable of having feelings and thoughts beyond that purpose.
Therefore, as the world hails Temple for her film legacy as a pioneering child star, it is highly unfortunate that her crowning achievement comes, as many things have in the United States, at the expense of showing the humanity of black people.
Follow Ronda Racha Penrice on Twitter at @RondaRacha.
The drive is slower than usual. I weave the car between the abandoned vehicles on the highway as we all stare out into the woods. It’s daylight. We don’t have to worry about them but you can’t trust other humans nowadays either. Some will kill you over a bag of chips. There are no laws in this new world.
It takes three hours to get to the run-down Kroger on the edge of town. We all know how important this is. If we don’t find supplies soon, we’ll be starving in just a few weeks. Hunting has become more difficult. The deer and rabbit population has dwindled down to nothing. The idea of moving on to a new town is a difficult one to stomach. We’ve lost so many already. A move could mean death to them all.
I turn in my seat to stare at the four volunteers who agreed to come with me on the supply run. Lewis is only twelve years old. His knuckles gripping the shotgun are white and his smooth face has lost all its color. I give him a reassuring smile and the one he returns nearly breaks my heart.
“Okay, fellas,” I begin. “We each know what we need to get. Michael, Lewis, you two stick together. The rest are with me. Don’t split up, you hear me?” They all nod but I can tell they’re each nervous as hell. Only Michael has been on a run before. You never know who or what you will run into. Daylight is usually a safe place for humans but wandering into these buildings could be a death march if you’re not careful. Some of them had moved aboveground in the past year. It made supply runs like this even more dangerous.
The air is stifling hot as we step outside the car and move slowly toward the building. I pray there are even supplies left. Most stores were ransacked long ago. I take the lead and see Michael fall back to cover our rear. The last thing we need is someone sneaking up on us. The glass on the doors has long been broken. We duck inside and move into a line before the registers, scanning the aisles for any sign of movement. I turn to Michael and Lewis.
“Guys, it looks clear but stay alert. You two check the aisles for what we need and the rest of us will hit the storeroom in the back. Yell if you need us, okay?” Michael and Lewis move left to cover the aisles. I motion to Rick and John to follow me and they move quickly to stay close to my side. Light from outside makes it easy to see within the store but I can already tell the storeroom is pitch black. I ease the swinging door open with my foot and push inside, gun raised. I can’t see a damn thing.
I move to the right and place my hand on the wall to search for a light switch. A noise to my left makes me jump but I keep searching.
“Be ready, boys,” I say as my fingers find the panel on the wall. I flip them all and drop to the ground. Rick and John copy me. Beads of sweat drip down their faces. They have no idea what they’re doing.
“Don’t shoot,” a man says from the corner, throwing his hands up as the others with him cover their eyes and cower behind him. There are only four. I move slowly toward them. They don’t appear to be armed but I don’t trust them. I don’t trust anyone. The one who spoke is young, probably 18 or 19. The others appear even younger. He turns around and his eyes widen at the sight of me. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
His eyes. He’s one of them.
I move back slowly and watch as my own hands start shaking. I’ve never been in the same room as one before but I know he could kill me in an instant.
So why isn’t he?
I keep moving backward to where John and Rick are standing. To my left, I see a long pipe and an idea slowly forms in my brain.
“Boys, move slowly backward please, out the way we came, okay?” I lean down and pick up the pipe. I hear the boys hit the door behind me.
“We won’t hurt you,” he says suddenly, making me stop short of the door. He begins walking forward but I shake my head at him and move my finger to the trigger.
“You and I both know that won’t do anything to me,” he says. “I meant what I said. We’re not what you think we are. We’re different. In fact, we’re a lot like you.” He continues to walk forward and I know I have only one chance to get us out alive.
I turn and run through the door, grabbing it behind me to swing it shut. I push the pipe through the handles and pray it will hold long enough to get everyone out. He is suddenly peering at me through the window. I step back and raise my gun even though it’s useless.
“You don’t understand,” he says through the glass. “We need you to help us. We’re not them. We can end their reign but we have to do it together.”
I stare at the boy who is supposed to be my sworn enemy. His kind has killed everyone I love but he does seem different. His eyes aren’t quite the same. Michael and Lewis run up and gasp when they see his face.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take the chance of trusting you. Not with them,” I say, waving my hand at the boys behind me. We turn and begin running to the car. I hear him scream something behind me but I can’t make out the words.
When we make it back to the car, I stop and stare back at the empty store. I can still hear him screaming after me. We had all heard the rumors. I for one never believed them but what if they were true? What if the hybrids were real?
I roam the grocery store for food but every aisle yields only expired, inedible mush. I hear the kids playing in the back which only makes me more nervous. They’re getting hungrier by the day and soon they won’t be able to control the urges. God help any humans they come across if they don’t find food in the next day or two.
We had called the grocery store home for the past month. We had stumbled across it in the middle of the night after our escape. At first, I thought it was perfect; that it would last us for months, maybe even a year. The kids had been so happy to be free that they didn’t even notice the dwindling supplies. Now, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who is looking for us. Traveling by day or night is dangerous for us. We’re trapped.
My thoughts drift back to the dream I had the night before. I was always told to pay attention to my dreams; that they would show me things no others could see. I picture the girl as vividly as I can recall as I wander through the store. She’s beautiful and a fighter. I wish I knew who she is and what she is meant for. All I know is that she is important to my mission.
The sound of a car engine stops me in my tracks. I duck down and move slowly to the front of the store. Peering out the broken window, I see a large, black SUV coming straight for us. Panic immediately sets in. I’ve tried to teach the kids to be scared of humans and what they would do to us but their hunger could take over at any second.
I run back to the storeroom and corral the kids in a corner.
“You have to be quiet, no matter what, okay?” I say to them. Their eyes are wide and terrified but they nod slowly. I switch off the lights and we hide in the darkness. The littlest one fights back a sob.
There is only silence for the longest time but I soon see a shadow move before the storeroom door. I suck in a breath and pray they’ll move on but my prayers go unanswered. The door begins to slowly push inward and the gun is the first thing I see. They’re not expecting us. Otherwise, they’d have different weapons.
I watch the girl enter slowly and something about her stirs up the memory of my dream. Two boys follow behind her but she is all that I see.
“It can’t be,” I whisper. I immediately slap my hand over my mouth but it’s too late. I turn away from the humans and shield the kids. Light suddenly fills the storeroom and I groan.
“Don’t shoot,” I say, throwing my hands up as the kids cover their eyes and cower behind me. I hear her moving slowly toward us. I need to turn around and see if it’s really her but I know it’ll be over once she sees my eyes. I have to take the risk. I turn around slowly and raise my eyes to her face. It’s her. I can’t believe it.
She immediately moves away and I know I’ve made a mistake. She’s terrified of us. I stand still with my arms raised while she moves backward to the boys she arrived with. She speaks softly to them but I still hear every word. I watch as she picks up the pipe and I immediately know what she intends to do. I just wish she could understand that I would never hurt her but there is no way I’m gaining her trust in a single day.
“We won’t hurt you,” I say quietly. I begin to walk toward her but she shakes her head. Her finger moves to the trigger but I keep moving.
“You and I both know that won’t do anything to me,” I say. “I meant what I said. We’re not what you think we are. We’re different. In fact, we’re a lot like you.”
Before I can say anything further, she turns and runs out the door. I make no move to pursue her. While bullets won’t kill me, they sure do hurt like hell and I’d rather not have to endure that today. I move to the door and look at her through the glass. Two other boys are approaching as well. They all look to her for guidance. She is a leader. When she sees me staring through the window, she moves back and raises the gun again.
“You don’t understand,” I say in a last desperate plea. “We need you to help us. We’re not them. We can end their reign but we have to do it together.”
She stares at me. I allow myself to hope that she’ll believe me but I know it’s ludicrous. She’s smarter than that. All she does is shake her head.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take the chance of trusting you. Not with them,” she says, waving her hand at the boys behind her. She turns and runs past them back toward the exit. The boys quickly follow her.
“MAGGIE!” I scream, suddenly remembering her name from the dream. She doesn’t even turn around. I sink to the floor and the kids run over to me.
“Cole, what’s wrong?” the youngest one asks me. I look at each of them. They’re already over it. Kids are so resilient.
“Do you remember the girl I told you about? The one that will help us win this war?” I ask them. They all nod their heads and smiles creep across their tiny faces.
“That was her,” I say, standing back up to peer through the window.
“She’s the one.”
I wonder if other writers feel as though they are throwing words by the hopeful fistful into a void, into the place where an audience might be. This hoped-for-reader is on my mind because I feel I should apologise for having taken so long to think these thoughts and align them so that I can throw them into that void.
There is no reason for apologies, however, because my hoped-for-reader doesn’t know that my current thoughts are inspired by a planned but only partly written series of posts from two-and-a-half years ago. Yet I feel I am writing an overdue assignment on the last day of class.
My thoughts are not timely. I worry this means they are no good. This is a strange feeling, to worry not that the words that carry our thoughts are inadequate but rather that they have gestated too long, such that tossing them into the void ceases to be a hopeful act of communication and becomes rather like dropping a crumpled page into the nearest bin.
Those many months past I wanted to write more about the economic crisis, about the disaster in the making that was “austerity”. In particular I wanted to consider what virtues might help us to navigate what seemed an all-encompassing crisis. But the moment has passed, surely. Right? There’s talk now of recovery even in Britain and signs of changing attitudes in Europe.
The urgent need to respond seems to be gone, but I wonder how it passed. None of the economic inequalities that shocked us have changed. The people most affected by the events of the past several years are still suffering. There are no solutions being discussed, much less put to work. Like lovers drawn together by powerful chemistry but with terrible timing, common sense demands that we leave our passion to the past, with the fleeting moment unrealised.
But what determines the ripeness of any moment? Who blesses our words with timeliness?
The felt need to respond – that calling out of our conscience – can only occupy us so long before its power fades. Our moral outrage is replaced by other concerns. Our alarm at the state of the world is turned into a cynical acceptance of the unacceptable. We accept the unacceptable because if we do not habituate our selves to it we could hardly make our way through the world actively living such contradictions.
The wealthy and the powerful manipulated the system till it broke and once it broke they pushed the consequence of that breakdown on to those who were left out of their bonanza. They have not been held accountable.
Yet what once caused outrage in me now incites only a dull disgust. Why? It seems already too late for anger, and without the impetus provided by anger what hope is there for action? We all know how awful the world is and how hopeless we feel. Our inability to be timely or effective when our conscience is aroused is psychologically deadening. Again like lovers out of synch we dismiss the rush of emotion as memory, though remembering is actually an experience of the present by which we resign ourselves to keeping the inflamed moment of outrage in the muffled rooms of memory and the immediate experience that taught us so much about the disorder of things succumbs to the dampening weight of the order of things.
The injunction to be timely is oppressive. The events of the world rattle by with a speed and nearness that steals our breath like a train rushing past the platform. As an intellectual of some description I feel the demand for sound bites, policy relevance, clear messaging, instant commentary – IMPACT! Yet, it is not events that make these impatient demands. Who does? We make them of ourselves, as we’ve learned to make them of others.
The love of speed is swiftly (of course) becoming (has become) the desire that cannot be denied, even if we might hesitate to speak its name in rapturous timbre. I am embarrassed of the lust for speed that wells up in me, embarrassed because I do not feel worthy of this fast moving world and its shinning idols. There are too many articles, blogs and tweets for me to keep up with. The list of things to read only grows. I am sure everyone else is better informed and has formed their opinion already. They must already have achieved the clarity that always eludes me.
I also feel embarrassed by the libidinous energy swelling in me that is not mine. We have learned to desire speed the same way we have learned to desire coca cola, smart phones and the hairless silicone icons of impossible inhuman beauty – though repetition, shame and the promise of transcendence. The desire that wells up inside of me for this swift and shimmering world does not cause me shame because I believe in some natural or true set of desires but because the desire for that advertised world contradicts my overt desires, threatens to push other pleasures further from my attention.
I hate all this speed. I hate these demands to attend constantly to the ever-unfolding newness of the moment. I hate the psychic current that activates my desire, that distorts and overloads my desire for other things. I hate this because it makes immediacy impossible.
Flush with energy, immediacy is not about speed or timeliness but rather fullness. Immediacy can as easily slow us and connect us to the distant past as it can hurriedly thrust into a future still to be made. All this panting for the new, this lusting after speed disconnects us from the world and ourselves; it is a love in which the self is abdicated and in which communion is aborted. Dwelling in immediacy is an ethical statement.
I think of what austerity has meant these past years. It is a memory made up of reports from Athens of failing hospitals and fascist street gangs killing helpless foreigners in the streets, of angry students smashing the windows of the Tory party’s headquarters because they knew their future was being made worse by those privileged man-boys, of walking among Skid Row’s deprived and homeless residents in Los Angeles feeling like an observer in a refugee camp, of community meetings in Chicago where people came together to share stories of abuse and plans for a future they know they will have to fight for every day.
It doesn’t make sense to me that I can know what has happened to so many blameless communities but my anger now feels excessive when I know it is as justified as ever.
The echo of the demand for speed is cynicism. Injunctions to attend to “now” reflect off of us and we reply with cynicism, with the quick and easy critique, with the ready-made world-weariness that belies our emptiness. We have nothing to say. We lack the time to absorb, reflect, or articulate. Worse still we lack the self-possession to call out, “Stop!”
And what do we stop for? We don’t even have time to know.
There is a film, “Boy Eating the Bird’s Food“, that follows a deprived young man as he survives on the streets of Athens. It is a heartbreaking film and I cannot describe its power here. I watched it at the London Film Festival in 2012 and what has stayed with me all that time was how it showed the activity of life as an exchange, as the conversion of matter into energy, of fuel into action.
The impoverished young man in the film must calculate carefully how much food he eats, how much water he uses, how much energy he expends. These calculations are vital because he has so little; he has no money, no resources, no relationships, no skills. He lives austerity and shows us its inevitable consequence, a state of equilibrium that is even less than death. Acts of kindness, moments of joy, fits of rage, the comfort of love are sacrificed. Life becomes a continuous moment of survival devoid of any immediacy.
And the young man knows he wants this constant exchange of bare survival to stop but it is not clear what stopping it could possible achieve. In the film he makes a romantic connection with a young woman but it provides no escape. Survival has no resources for love. And the speed of the world pushes us past each other long enough to exchange glances, to run hands briefly over bodies, to exchange fluids, but not to dwell in the immediacy of another human being’s needs and desires.
If we did slow ourselves what would we do?
The unfortunate and abused victims of austerity are still there, still struggling. The inequality of our world is as vicious as ever. The pernicious men and women who benefit from the order of things are as blithely indifferent to all this as they were before.
But does dwelling in immediacy threaten to overwhelm us with the hurt and unhappiness we experience? The only insight I have is that along with allowing us to see the unacceptable condition of things, slowing down makes space to move from an isolating and despondent anger to a careful and loving communion. These ideas of love, care and communion may generate a kind of embarrassment for many intellectuals (maybe especially for academics). They seem soft, naïve and ineffectual ideas but I think our ethical response to the disorder of things must start here.
I have sat in many classrooms, seminars and pubs with brilliant minds all too aware of how ugly the world has become, empowered with a knowledge of how it got that way, but that energy dissipates quickly because it is not sustaining. I take hope from having spent many days and evenings over the past two years with communities in opposition to the order of things, not merely surviving and resisting but caring and loving first and foremost, trying to build sustaining communities. In cluttered meeting rooms, church basements, backyards and crowded around tables to share a meal I have seen a different response to the challenge of maintaining immediacy that starts with love and care rather than anger or outrage – though those feelings are present the focus shifts to sustaining a sense of shared purpose and concern for others.
In August I was fortunate to see the final stages of One DC’s struggle to move displaced public housing residents back into their homes. The fight took 10 years and many of the displaced residents gave up in the process, some died before it was time to move back, but the former residents of Kelsey Gardens will be moving into new homes this year. It was powerful to see this small victory (small in scale but not significance), as the displaced residents were returning to new apartments, new amenities and to their community thanks to their own determination and the loving and sustaining community that made it possible to be so persistent for so long. This seems a vital lesson.