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Month: August 2015

I thought I’d be shot. Dean Andy Andrews announced that, following the Wednesday morning service, he would be walking the neighborhood around St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. He invited us to join him. I attended the Wednesday service, but I believed if I walked in the neighborhood I’d be shot.

You need to know: Alabama Avenue, which runs directly behind the cathedral, was at one point called out as one of the most dangerous streets in the city. Cathedral staff regularly heard the pop! of gunfire. The Cathedral was predominantly white; the neighborhood predominantly black. But Andy was determined to get to know our neighbors, hence the walking-and-praying plan.

I prayed about whether to make the walk. At the end of the praying, I was no less convinced I’d be shot. But I figured we all had to die sometime, and I’d feel worse if Andy went by himself and got shot than I would if I went and got shot. So I showed up in the parking lot with the gaggle of white folks who agreed to walk. After a prayer, our ragtag group set out. We were led—thank you, Jesus—by an African-American congregant who was a local activist and schooled us on how not to rile up our more dangerous neighbors. “Pick up trash” she said. “That way they won’t be worried about what you’re up to, coming into their neighborhood.”

Cross from chip bags picked up in the neighborhood
Cross from chip bags picked up in the neighborhood

I didn’t get shot. No one got shot. No one even got accosted or yelled at. We got some hard stares until we became a fixture on Wednesday mornings. I kept it up until my hips gave out and I had to quit. Over the course of those walks the neighborhood morphed from something I drove quickly through to houses I recognized, store owners I’d bought chips from, a discovered tucked-away park.

Saturday morning, I was thinking about this episode of fear as I listened to the Very Reverend Mike Kinman from Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis speak. I was attending a St. Mary’s workshop with a really long title but, essentially, it concerned race, white privilege, and Ferguson.

I’ve been so several of these types of workshops, and sometimes they fall flat. This one didn’t. I wondered why. Maybe because the day began with love. The group was directed to remember love. To discuss with others at the table a specific instance of when you felt loved. Often, such workshops begin with a video or images designed to reveal white privilege. I find these exercises interesting, but even so they can come across with a kind of “gotcha” feel. Love is reassuring.

Flame in the Rock
Flame in the Rock

Significantly, we were also asked to share a time when we didn’t feel loved. It’s hard to be standoffish with another human being after you’ve revealed such a thing. Most interesting, the responses at my table—both loved and unloved—often went to community. Feeling loved: teams, classrooms, writing groups ( 🙂 ). Feeling unloved: school classes, work situations. We are a relationship species, and a workshop designed to build relationship had to be on the right track.

The day ended with relationship, too. The Dean asked us to covenant with one other person in the room to continue the conversation. The woman sitting next to me, a stranger, and I covenanted to get together. She’d responded when I blurted out that Saturday was the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and I was weepy about everything, so be prepared. This random confession—one I didn’t want to make—may have been the thing she most connected with.

Transformed
Transformed

So, anyway. I’ll add “Attend a workshop” to the list of things I’ve shared that you can do if your desire to address racism has been piqued by recent events. I’ll also pass along two websites the Dean recommended. Campaign Zero which breaks down problems and provides policy solutions for which you can volunteer. I haven’t studied it, but it looks good.

The other site he recommended was the fairly famous Harvard test for implicit racial bias, entitled (surprise, surprise) implicit.harvard.edu I took this online test 5 or more years ago and scored somewhat high on bias for European Americans, which, sadly, both whites and blacks frequently do.

This time I showed a moderate bias for African-Americans, which I found curious. The test is facial-recognition based, and perhaps I’ve spent more time in the company of African-American faces the last 5 years? I don’t know, but, honestly, it doesn’t much matter. I resolved many years ago to admit I have racial prejudice and to never forget it, or else my many years in a racist society (I grew up in Mississippi in the 1960s when racism was the law) would default me to a racist reaction more often than not.

Before I sign off, an even simpler thing you can do is create a #BlackLivesMatter list on Twitter. It’s an easy way to keep up with what’s going on in the movement, and if you’re like me, you’ll learn immeasurably from it. If you want a harder schooling, tweet something in support of the movement, using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Then wait for the deluge of racists who troll this conversation to flood forth, calling you and the #BlackLIvesMatter supporters every ugly name in the book. Never again will you believe we live in a post-racial America. You’ll also develop immense respect for those who are courageous enough to do this work.

Rehab: Week 1

For the first fifteen minutes, I had to hold back tears. No way I could stand in the gym where once I loved to balance on my forearms while lifting my legs to a ninety-degree angle or stretch out for an inverted sit up or smoothly move the hip abductor machine and not realize the dramatic decline in my health. Thanks to my crappy hips, for two years I’ve been unable to do significant leg exercises, or even arm exercises—the resulting imbalance in my pelvis quickly led to lower back pain. Yes, I’d biked and swum laps, and I really enjoyed that. But the gym . . . .

Those of you following this blog know my hips have slowly and inexorably gone downhill. This hasn’t much impacted my weight or body shape, which has allowed me to lie to myself about my muscle health. This week, all lies were exposed.

I'm about the same size I've ever been
I’m about the same size I’ve ever been but I’m weak as a kitten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m using a trainer who has extensive experience with joint patients; he previously worked at a rehab hospital. He began our relationship with an assessment—no working out the first session—and some type of body scan that measured the atrophication of my muscle. Yep, it’s now a scientific fact: I’m a marshmallow. Not surprisingly, my greatest muscle loss exists around my hips, but nothing was at 100% where it’s supposed to be. That, in the parlance of society’s ever-present pressure to remain positive, means I’ve got a lot of really good goals.

The trainer is having me do exercises I’ve never done before, and I worked with a trainer who came to my house for almost five years. It’s a whole new ballgame that feels like a Never-Never Land between physical therapy and working out. Rehab, I guess. The exercises are deceptively simple with deceptively light weights and resistance. So far, we have not repeated a single exercise. My favorite one is the Farmer’s Walk. You walk carrying weights. That’s it. And it is—am I repeating myself here?—deceptively hard.

This afternoon I completed my first week. That was three one-hour sessions. After the first session I came home and went sound asleep. The second session, stretching out but no sleep. This session, I’m typing up this post. That’s progress.

The trainer says it will take 90 days for me to see any result from our efforts. That’s okay. I have the world’s most popular motivator for getting in shape: we have a family wedding in almost exactly 90 days. Tomorrow when I do my walking session, I’ll carry tiny weights and shift them from hand to hand. He says that will accelerate the strengthening of all my muscles.

I can hardly weight. 🙂

 

Day Tripping: The Old Forest

My husband and I have brought our Day Tripping act to Memphis. We’ve walked the Green Line where an old railroad track once traversed the city. Bikers tore up and down the asphalt, calling, “To your left!” while Tom and I plodded along. We were the only walkers, though one lone rollerblader silently glided past.

Today, we walked the Old Forest at Overton Park.

Nature lovers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Overton Park. There, in 1971, when the federal government proposed splitting the park in two with an interstate, a brigade of women laced on their tennis shoes and protested. The group also sued to stop the highway, and the case went to the United State Supreme Court. The result was one of the early decisions holding that a collection of citizens and environmental groups had standing to protect public green space.

The Park has myriad features, many of which we passed during our walk. A public golf course and an off-leash dog walk and several children’s playgrounds and lots of picnic areas. Also the amazing outdoor amphitheater of Levitt Shell and Memphis College of Art where, were I starting my life over again, I’d be a student. But the gem, to me, is the Old Forest.

Image 1
The Old Forest in Overton Park

The Old Forest is a sanctuary. The trees are hundreds of years old in an ecosystem that dates back 10,000 years. The paths in this designated state natural area devolve from asphalt to strewn gravel to dirt. You can choose which you prefer depending on your level of fear of poison ivy and copperheads—Tom informed me as we walked between lush trees that a lively, well-populated band of copperheads calls the Forest home, but not the truly venomous type. Frankly, I’ve never heard of non-venemous copperheads, but thankfully we found not one snake. As to the poison ivy, we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

As for the humans in the Old Forest, they’re friendly, no ogres or witches with tempting candy-covered houses. Everyone speaks or at least nods. We were a diverse bunch, young and old, mooning teenage couples and chatty Hispanic families. Some walkers, some bikers—about evenly divided, it appeared.

One of the several mini-bridges along the path
One of the several mini-bridges along the path

The temperature was cool, as you would expect in the dappled shade of a deep forest. I needed this assistance: the path itself, in defiance of gravity, was one long, slow upwards incline. Thus the walk was the hardest I’ve done physically since the surgery. But I made it—45 minutes—and Tom didn’t have to carry me any of the way.

 

Brain Health and Otherwise

A friend of mine inspired me to quit checking my phone while driving. By “driving” I mean looking at my phone at any point between turning the key in the ignition and turning off the engine. Before, I never texted while driving or checked emails or anything else. I did it at stoplights. I wasn’t driving, right? But a few times I misinterpreted what the cars around me at the stoplight were doing. I braked or accelerated when I should have been doing the opposite. Of course, I caught myself.

Then my friend posted a piece about her son being hit by a car. The child’s doctor said the family was lucky the driver was paying attention. Too often the driver’s attention level, the doctor said, made the difference between a very good outcome and a very bad one. Her family had a very good outcome.

My vow wasn’t easy to keep. I’d find my gaze drifting to my phone lying on the passenger seat. What I’ve had to do is put the phone out of sight. Zip it in my backpack. Tuck it in my pocketbook and snap the closure. Who knows, after I’ve done this for a while, maybe I will have broken a habit and it won’t be so tempting. In the meantime, ya do what ya gotta do.

Here’s another change I’ve made. I’m trying to quit multi-tasking. No more surfing the web while watching TV. Why not? I heard an NPR piece on your brain. You know what they said was the quickest way to weaken the brain? Multi-tasking.

To me, this is counterintuitive. The contrary seems true—look how strong my brain is! It can do lots of things at once! But the piece said multi-tasking weakens the neural connections on which a nimble brain depends. Deep concentration, on the other hand, strengthens the brain.

So I’m trying to break the habit of multi-tasking. Also to quit scanning an article, reading the first sentence of each paragraph to see if it might contain whatever attracted me to the article in the first place, and ignoring the rest.

This is all is quite hard. So much of TV doesn’t deserve your entire attention. So many articles go on and on and on. It’s boring driving thirty minutes out East and never checking my phone.

Hopefully it will be worth it.

Day Tripper

I swore, when I realized I was destined to replace both my God-given hips with two metal cyborg stand-ins, to make the absolute most of my upgrade. I decided (after consulting with my husband) to become an intentional walker.

What this means is walking not as exercise, but walking to a destination, with hints of pilgrimaging and contemplative movement thrown in. I cast around for a name for this new endeavor, but anything using “walker” conjured up images of The Walking Dead with its disgusting soundtrack (which you notice more when you’re simply listening, not watching, but that’s another post all together.) It took me a while, but finally I landed on a winner: day-tripper.

We (because my husband is nothing if not a trooper) began our new day-tripping life with Crescent Park.

Crescent Park, the name of which is a play on New Orleans’ Crescent City nickname, runs along the Mississippi River. The park is identified by its own crescent, an image I’ll share later. We’ve walked sections of the park before (Evangeline’s favorite off-leash dog park is along the walkway) but today we did the whole enchilada.

We began at the beginning.

Crescent Park at Elysian Fields
Crescent Park at Elysian Fields

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately, the stairs have a convenient alarm in case you pass out
fire

 

 

 

 

which I didn’t—I made it over and arrived on the river side of the levee

NOLA likes to leave things natural
NOLA likes to leave things natural

where we watched the mammoth ships pass

Ships on the Mississippi
Ships on the Mississippi

and walked to directly behind our apartment

Can you read the You Are Beautiful tag on the side of the building? I told Tom to get in the pic then it'd be true times two.
Can you read the You Are Beautiful tag on the side of our building? I told Tom to get in the pic then it’d be true.

Did I mention the temperature was in the upper 90s? It was hot. The air descended on you like a blanket; a searing wind dried the sweat from your skin. I remembered that heat could kill you—overheat your brain, zap you into oblivion before you knew what hit you. I prayed for stamina, aided by a street sign:

Piety Street marker
Piety Street marker

My prayers were fervent . . . those steps in the background were how you exited the park.

The Crescent
The Crescent

 

 

 

 

 

 

An ending that sent me scurrying to the air-conditioned, coke-serving, shaded Markey’s Bar

The oasis
The oasis with a photo of Mr. Markey on the wall

and finally home. A successful beginning, I thought. After all, I was still alive, wasn’t I?

Do You Know New Orleans?

Do you know the French Quarter?

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square
St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square

Do you know it more than Mardis Gras Day?

Learning
Learning
Learning more
Learning more
learning still
Learning still

Do you know it as a literary place?

literary
Faulkner House Books
Pirate's Alley
Pirate’s Alley where William Faulkner lived and wrote
Bookstore in Pirate's Alley
The city of Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy O’Toole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your images of Katrina? Do you know how quickly the danger arose? Do you know over half of those who died in New Orleans were over 75 years old? Do you know how New Orleanians sprang into action to save themselves?

k a

kat oldheroes

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our day spent in the Quarter, we learned. We were reminded of what we already knew. We had fun. We fell more in love with New Orleans.

The famous cornstalk fence, even more famous for being the place my husband stayed when he ran away from home at age 16 and rode the train to New Orleans
The famous cornstalk fence, even more famous for being the place where my husband stayed when he ran away from home at age 16 and rode the train to New Orleans

 

 

 

Laissez le bon temps rouler

We leave New Orleans in a week. We’ve spent a lot of time here this year as I’ve gone through two (yikes!) hip replacements. To say our time hasn’t been optimized for fun is an understatement. But last week I was released from outpatient therapy, and it was as if the PT had yelled, “Ready, set, go!” We’ve taken off, visiting Chalmette Battlefield of the War of 1812 as part of my research for a novel revision

The Rodriquez Canal that, dry, was used as protection behind the ramparts for those who didn't quite yet identify as American
The Rodriquez Canal that, dry, was used as protection behind the ramparts for those defending the city, who didn’t quite yet identify as American

exploring along the way

A "potato po-boy" turns out to be a french fry po-boy; at least I ordered the red gravy
A “potato po-boy” at Rocky and Carlo’s turns out to be a french fry po-boy; at least I ordered the red gravy

Yesterday we did Algiers

The Algiers Courthouse in Old Algiers that advertises wedding services
The Algiers Courthouse on Algiers Point that advertises wedding services

which is still New Orleans but on the west bank of the Mississippi

The Central Business District as seen from the other side of the river
The Central Business District as seen from the other side of the river

This week, we’ll travel to the Barataria Basin and search out the little town of Jean Lafitte—yes, my research involves pirates—and later in the week we’ll do an intentional walking tour of Jackson Square, a place we’ve been a million times, but this trip the focus will be the history of the Cabildo, St. Louis Cathedral, Pirate’s Alley, etc. We’ll, of course, take a detour to find Jean Lafitte’s blacksmith shop. After this arduous exploring, we’ll visit the Napoleon House with its great tile floor, because we love it and haven’t been in so very long.

In between, we’ll do another Magazine Street day, good food, salvage hunting, and other fun New Orleans stuff. Oh, and I want to buy a hat I saw at the Whole Foods on Broad—grocery stores are great places for hats.

After that, we’ll be gone from this fabulous city until October, then November when our younger son marries in this fabulous city. Then Christmas and a new year. Time rolls on, but, as they say in New Orleans, laissez le bon temps rouler—let the good times roll!

 

 

 

“Yes, I Mind!”

So, here’s a story, one of my favorite from my young adult years. My sister went to visit her husband’s constitutional law class. The class is full of first year law students at a prestigious law school. Big bombastic law professor (this is the way I remember it.) Anyway, the professor leads the class in a call-and-response. He says, “When the police knock on your door and ask, ‘Mind if we look around?’, you say?”

And the entire class shouts back, “Yes! I! Mind!”

It so tickled me, this professor and his preppy law students. All of these wet-behind-the-ears men and women learning to become big fancy lawyers, and he’s re-training them like kindergarteners (“Please.” “Thank you.” “May I be excused?”) about their constitutional rights.

That’s the story, and here’s the question: you think he’s still doing it? Do you think the professor today leads his class in the call-and-response, “When the police pull you over and ask, “Mind putting out your cigarette?’, you say?”

Do you think the class still gleefully responds “Yes! I! Mind!”?

If the professor has kept up his rights training, do you think maybe one day the Dean of the law school pays him a visit? “Now, George, (or Garret or Gerald or whoever he was),” the Dean says, “do you think this talk about constitutional rights is a good idea? I mean, we all know theoretically it’s correct. But what if some of these students actually put these ideas into action? What if they start asserting their rights, and the police turn them around, slap them down, and arrest them? If that happens, we’ll be deluged with calls from angry parents, tuition-paying parents—we’ll be sued! Would you mind laying off that kind of talk?”

And the professor says, “Yes, I mind. It’s their right to know their rights.”

At which point the Dean turns him around, smacks him down, and fires him, because he’s one of those wild-ass, bad-apple Deans.

Did I mention the professor was Black? Okay, I just made him Black because he stood up for his rights, and it seems to me Black folks are the only ones standing up for their rights. Whether it’s through words or actions, Black folk are like, “What the hell are you talking about? I know my rights,” while white folks are like, “It’s cool, it’s cool. I ain’t got no rights. Just let me go, and I won’t complain.” I’m reading all over the internet this “just keep your mouth shut” advice from white folks to Black folks. Rational? Or simply unwilling to go Bob Marley and stand up for your rights?

Please don’t think I’m being flip about this. I understand that traffic stops are highly unpredictable and at any one of them the officer might encounter some sovereign citizen crazy person who pulls out a shotgun; I remember the police officers killed right across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas. What I’m trying to talk about is when police don’t do the job they are supposedly trained to do and infringe on constitutional rights left and, well, right.

Total aside: do you know your rights? Do you have faith that the policeman who stops you knows your rights? Do you wonder how many billions of dollars we pay out in lawsuit settlements because cops don’t respect your rights? If you don’t know your rights, and you don’t exercise them, the Supreme Court one day will say, look, no one’s exercising their rights—guess they don’t care about them; let’s just give the police all the rights. True story; or at least a prediction.

And, by the way, what’s going on with this rogue Dean of the law school? What happened to the accreditation agencies that are supposed to make sure Deans don’t act like nut-jobs? Why are the oversight agencies saying, well, that’s just how some Deans are?

What I’m asking is, how did we get to this place where police are viewed, even by their defenders, as a crap shoot? Where you don’t know which officer you might encounter, the amazing one that goes over and beyond in doing his or her job, or the one that will arrest your ass because your attitude sucks? We should respect our police officers, we’re told, but when did “respect” become a euphemism for fear?

I don’t know about you, but I’m figuring we need better training—rogue Deans can’t be slapping down beloved professors, willy-nilly. I’m not saying this only because I’ve had some great law professors—my grandfather was the Dean of the University of North Carolina Law School. I grew up full of admiration for Deans—you could achieve no higher pinnacle in my estimation. Deans hold a special place in my heart, and I admire those who defend them. I care about too many great Deans to see them defined by those who don’t know what the crap they’re doing.

For the sake of the good Deans, we have to better train our Deans to eliminate the disparity in Dean competence. We gotta insist on better review of our Deans so we don’t tolerate incompetence. We gotta better discipline our Deans so we don’t retain Deans who simply don’t have what it takes to be a Dean. We must institute civilian review boards and support their efforts to oversee our Deans.

The last thing I want is for a wonderful Dean—or policeman—to be doing an excellent job, bettering the future of America, only to have all hell rain down on his or her head because nobody trusts them anymore.

Making Paper

You start with scrap paper. In my limited experience, you must be very intentional or scrap paper will turn out grey. So I focused on bright yellow papers and collected the gold foil off Hershey candies. In the service of my latest adventure, I ate a lot of Hershey candies.

I'm such a selfless person
I’m such a selfless person!

I ripped the paper into shreds, whereupon I discovered I’d eaten more candies than I thought, so I added them in too

Tearing paper
Tearing paper

I then filled the blender ¾ full of water

Getting the blender ready
Getting the blender ready

and arranged my other tools. This is a screen, an old picture frame, and switch plates I bought at the Green Project for a couple of dollars.

Recycled paper-making tools
Recycled paper-making tools

The screen is positioned over the sink for drainage purposes. The frame et al are to provide shapes for the paper to conform to after you whir up the watery bits, pour it in the molds, and press it around to smooth it out, a step I forgot to take a picture of so we will cut to a commercial.

The paper I made at Uptown Craft and Needleworks, whom you can follow here
The paper I made at Uptown Needle and Craftworks, whom you can follow here

After using a towel to press out as much water as possible, I removed the to-be-paper by turning the screen upside down while holding a hand on the paper to gently ease it onto a towel which I had arranged on the window sill.

The slightly damp paper
Slightly damp paper

You will note one switch plate and the small circles didn’t make it into the picture. That’s because they were so small the end product was gonna be blobs, and I abandoned that choice—as always for me, this is a learning process. Also, I don’t know if you can tell, but the large square is fairly thick. This is because I intend to use it as a mat for a something-or-other I made from paper clay and want to frame.

Finally, I folded the tail of the towel over the paper and smoothed it out again, leaving it to dry

The drying paper
The drying paper

only to back up a step the next morning. I’d been monitoring the paper, smoothing it out, but overnight as it dried it curled a bit. So I sprinkled water on the paper to re-wet it and laid heavy blocks of paper clay on it to make it lie flat, hoping this correction would work. If not, I’d put it all back in the blender and start over, seeing if THAT would work.

a slight do-over
A slight do-over

As we wait for the final product, because I’m the person who cleans up the kitchen, I’m always interested in how much mess an activity makes. Not a lot:

An easy cleanup job
An easy cleanup job

The spatula I used because I failed to blend the paper enough the first go-round. When I poured the results into the molds, I realized it was too watery and not pulpy enough—the lumps weren’t going to smooth out into a cohesive sheet of paper.  So I lifted the pulp off the screen with the spatula, put it back in the blender, and found a better setting (Grind). If I were to take up this hobby in earnest, I’d probably buy a cheap blender so as not to be using the same blender to mix both ink of unknown origin and foodstuff, but this time I simply washed the blender out well.

And—ta-da!—my paper.

The final product
The final product

I was wondering how much color the paper would lose as it dried. The answer is not much. The dry paper has more of a matte finish than when wet but it retained the bright yellow . . .  thanks to all my Hershey chocolate eating.

So that’s it. They call it “handmade paper,” but it feels more like reconstituted paper to me. You basically break down various pieces of existing paper and re-mold it into a new unit. Maybe reincarnated or resurrected paper is better. But you get the idea.

 

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