For over 40 years, my family has been going to Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. Last week, for the first time, I traversed its length.
My goal, since my hip surgeries, had been to walk to the east end of the island where the beachfront road gives way from 1st Street to 2nd Street to 3rd street, the streets victims of erosion, a traditional journey fondly known as “the death march.”
Instead, I set off with my sister and brother-in-law in the other direction, and we walked to the west end of the island where the tip merges with the Intracoastal waterway.
That was about six miles.
But I don’t give up goals easily (okay, sometimes I do, but not this time.) So a couple of days later I set out on my own to the east end of the island, walking the beach by myself.
I was gone two hours.
The traversing didn’t happen in one go. But it happened. For once, I exceeded my goals.
Luanne Castle at Writer Site is a poet and essayist working on her memoir. As she considers the best structure for her story (Scrap: Salvaging a Family—she’s the daughter of a garbage man), she’s reading memoirs by other gifted writers to see how those authors chose to organize their mini-lives between the pages. Best of all, she then turns around and offers us, her readers, thoughtful critiques of what she has read. Her own memoir is sure to be dynamite. Her writing is lovely, and she’s digging deeply into the best way for presenting her unique story.
The memoir featured on her blog this week is our very own Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness. If I could, I’d reblog the whole thing because it’s just wonderful, but technical differences don’t allow me to do that (if any of you readers know who to reblog a WordPress hosted site to a self-hosted site, I’d be glad to know the secret.) So here are a few highlights:
If you have ever—even once–looked at a homeless person and forgot that he or she has a whole history of living, relations, emotions, and past belongings, as well as current needs, hop over to Amazon and pick up a copy of this book! If you want to find out if you should give a handout to someone who asks, you will find eleven answers.
Now that I’ve read Writing our Way Home and had time to let it settle into my bones, I feel it’s permanently changed me. A big thanks to Roderick Baldwin, Donna Connie, Cynthia Crawford, Jacqueline Crowder, Veyshon Hall, Tamara Hendrix, William L. Hogan, Jr., Latasha Jackson, Anthony Johnston, Robbin K., Rhonda Lay, Jockluss Thomas Payne, Leroy Scott, WJS, and Master Major Joshua Williams for inviting me into your lives.
When someone commits a crime, do you respond with “thugs”?
James Deke Pope, who has served on the Community Advisory Board of Memphis’s Africa in April, suggests we pay attention to the language we use and change it if necessary. Mr. Pope attended the race and power workshop at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral last weekend, which I wrote about here. At the end of the gathering when the time came to offer comments, Mr. Pope suggested we quit saying “police force” and rename them “peace keepers.”
Can you feel the shift that occurs with that change?
Another reaction might occur too. Maybe you don’t fundamentally agree with the implication of the change. “Well, they aren’t peace keepers. They’re enforcers of the law.” As they say, it’s not just semantics.
Whether you see reactions as “riots” or “uprisings”—another Mr. Pope suggestion—will, in fact depend on your world view. The point, of course, is to be aware of your world view and use language accordingly.
I’m sure Mr. Pope’s suggestion resonated with me because I am a writer. I deal in words. But the truth is, we all deal in words. Every day. We choose how to characterize something. If you share my frequent laziness, you might go with the flow and use whatever words everyone else is using. Or you might roll your eyes at this focus on words as political correctness. (The Tennessee legislature so objected to a non-gendered pronoun they’re holding hearings on it.) But remember the shift from police force to peacekeepers. It’s not just words. Beneath the words lie positions. We should all respect ourselves well enough to think about whether our words properly reflect our positions.
If you believe there is no such thing as a monolithic bloc known as “the homeless,” you might want to say “men and women experiencing homelessness,” in recognition that this is a time in a person’s life, not the person.
If you believe that those receiving assistance paid taxes for many, many years before needing some help, you might not want to call them “entitlements.”
If you decry broad brush racial stereotyping that effectively dehumanizes people, “thugs” might not be your go-to word.
You probably have your own suggested word changes. Mine, obviously, come from my own world view and life experiences. Words. Help me to thoughtfully set them adrift in the world.