The World We Live In

Four Quotes From White Awake

“That’s why I’ve come to believe that a white person’s reaction to the term white supremacy is the most tangible sign of his or her being awake or not. Once white supremacy is understood as the evil and dangerous system it is, the common enemy becomes abundantly clear. The enemy is not each other; this is not white people versus people of color. No, the enemy is white supremacy, and the evil one leverages that system for destructive purposes. It’s a dark and dangerous system, and it must be opposed and dismantled at all costs.” p. 148

This one is pretty straight forward. How we respond to the term white supremacy says a lot about our views of ourselves, our culture, and others. Hill writes a lot about why this is and how we can move from fragility towards resilience.

 

“Consistent with in-group/out-group behavior, I worked hard to prove that I belonged to this group that I deemed to be awakened to race and active to address it . So I became borderline obsessive about achieving the approval o those whose opinion on race mattered to me. This included just about every person of color I knew and white people I admired who are doing the work of reconciliation and justice.” p. 128-129

This one was especially clarifying for me-I related so much to wanting to show I was on the ”right team”. Hill references Christ’s parable of the  Pharisee who assumed his righteousness based on his separation from “other people”-such as the tax collector who humbly pleaded with God for mercy.  He talks about how easy it is to identify ourselves with those whom we perceive are enlightened, educated or ‘right’ people and distance ourselves from people who are not in order to bolster our own worthiness.  But if Christ is the root of our identity and our worth is unshaken in him, then we are free both to love people we  disagree with and to work alongside those we admire doing needed work. One reason Christ was so radical was that he befriended and spent time with the social outcasts. As white people wanting to learn about and dismantle white supremacy, we can forget that today’s social outcasts might include that person making racist comments on Facebook. I’m not saying don’t challenge racism and I certainly don’t mean that boundaries aren’t important; I mean that we don’t have to unfriend everyone who doesn’t think like us just so that we can feel secure in our efforts or our image.

 

“it’s impossible to have your eyes opened to the history of race in our country without experiencing “psychological discomfort” and “cognitive dissonance”, both terms that Brown uses in her descriptions above. When the feelings come, we can choose how we will process and internally categorize them. […] When we recognize the building blocks of race-the ideology of white supremacy, the narrative of racial difference, ongoing systemic oppression, etc.- we must learn to avoid falling into a shame spiral and instead appropriate the guilt of our discoveries in a way that yields healthy outcomes.” p. 104-105

Shame is something I’ve struggled with deeply my whole life. It’s so helpful to understand that shame is counter-productive and simply not needed. As a Christian, I relinquish my shame to Christ, and that empowers me to move forward when faced with the “psychological discomfort” of learning our nation’s history of racism and the terrible things listed above.

Hill also warns that if we desire to increase diversity among our social groups (friendships, businesses, etc), we must be willing and able to recognize and name white supremacy where we see it. “When our first attempt is to pursue diversity, we risk prioritizing the secondary problem (lack of relationship) over the primary and most threatening problem (white supremacy. […] Transformative revelation allows us to see that the lack of diversity is not and never was the result of a random set of social factors; instead it’s a direct fruit of the legacy of white supremacy.” (p 150)

 

As white people, this cultural identity journey, as he puts it, is a life-long process of growing in sight, lament, and action.

There is so much in the whole book and in the quotes I’ve chosen that it seems impossible to summarize it or them adequately. Hopefully, you can read the book yourself and be helped along the way of your cultural identity journey, or receive the grace to begin.

As a follower of Christ, this journey for me is rooted in my identity in him: a radical, marginalized, brown-skinned teacher who came to break barriers and affirm that we are all made in the image of God, ultimately suffering and dying for our sin, including the sins of white supremacy.

 

 

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Books and Stories · The World We Live In

Through the Magnifying Glass: Racism in Beloved Books

I have been thinking about and writing this post for about a month and a half. As a reader, parent, and writer, it’s one of the biggest elephants in the room when it comes to books. Racism and xenophobia are prevalent amongst some of my favorite authors, but what do we do about it? Chuck them in the burning pile?

This post really began back in March when I read L.M. Montgomery’s Further Chronicles of Avonlea. I have read and loved many of her books, but this one short story collection I hadn’t read before. In it I revisited not just one of my favorite author’s delightful writing style, but prejudices and xenophobia as well.

At the end of the book, full of Montgomery’s humorous mishaps, reunited lovers, and a few other items that belong in their own class, Tannis of the Flats is the tale of a woman in the wilds of Canadian frontier who falls in love with the man who spurns her for a Canadian-born woman.

Oh my.

If I wasn’t aware of Montgomery’s xenophobia before (such as Marilla’s insistence that they only get a Canadian boy, and I’m paraphrasing), this story couldn’t leave anyone in the dark. In the small town where the story takes place, the native peoples are called breeds, or half-breeds if their origin is mixed. There is the stereotypically lazy, no-good native man. Tannis is the ‘heroine’ of the story, referred to as a ‘half-breed’, and has been distinguished by some education in Prince Albert, but it has only served to add

[…] a very thin, but very deceptive, veneer of culture and civilization overlaying the primitive passions and ideas of her nature.

The next paragraph is worse and further illustrates the fact that even a good education cannot make one of these “breeds” into a respectable person, and that their intelligence and value is already determined by their ancestry. They are not the white person’s equal.

Notice how the white woman in the story, at her point of choice, is portrayed:

The good, old Island blood in Elinor’s veins showed to some purpose. “Yes,” she answered firmly. “No, Tom, don’t object-I must go. Get my horse-and yours.”

I’m not sure if that “Island blood” is Great Britain or P.E.I.(probably Great Britain), but it makes the point.

Tannis is the hero of the story, not primarily because of her deeds, but because she overcomes her nature, her ethnicity, which is apparently the source of her evilness:

In a white woman, the deed would have been commendable. In Tannis of the Flats, with her ancestry and tradition, it was lofty self-sacrifice.

Anybody ever said that about a white person’s ancestry? With the possible exceptions of references to socio-economic class, I don’t think so.

Now the first time or two I read Anne of Green Gables, Marilla’s comments went over my head. That’s not really surprising as I’m privileged, and it took a few more obvious examples of racism for me to pick up on it in Montgomery’s stories. I think it was Alicia Montressor from the story “The Red Room” in Among the Shadows that first opened my eyes. The brooding Italian boy Neil Gordon in Kilmeny of the Orchard is another glaring example.

You know the saying, the victor writes the history? I’d say the same is true for much of literature.

Little House in the Big Woods and all Laura Ingalls Wilders’ books hold a place in my heart as the first novels I ever read. Pa and Ma’s pioneer spirit is admirable and inspiring. But what kind of language is used to describe the Native Americans? It’s the kind that caused her name to be removed from a children’s literature award.

I love many of the characters in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, but have you noticed that an entire nation marked as the enemies of Aslan’s country are identified by their brown skin and culture reminiscent of Middle Eastern countries?

Likewise, the breathtakingly vast and detailed world of Middle Earth inspires many imaginations including mine. But what about the fact that, again, many of the human-like enemies of the good guys (who also happen to be referred to as “Men of the West”) are dark-skinned?

Sometimes people say that these authors were simply a product of their time, and we shouldn’t take these elements too seriously. If Montgomery and Tolkien are products of their time, well, so are we. Today, we know better. Try putting yourself in the shoes of someone of a different culture or with darker skin than yours and then try not to take seriously the fact that books with protagonists like you seem to be the development of recent decades or less, rather than centuries. Try to overlook the fact that most books written about people of color aren’t actually written by people of color.

As a mother and reader, I can think of two things we can do to address this. First of all, welcome and pursue people of different backgrounds. On social media, in stories, person to person. Listen to their voices. It’s not something to check off our list. And obviously you don’t have to be either a mother or a reader to do these things!

Secondly, I think we need to employ critical thinking skills when we read. I’m not going to hide Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books from my children. I’m not going to throw out Tolkien, Lewis, or Montgomery. But understanding how characters are portrayed is important. Understanding cultural context from the author’s point, even in fantasy worlds, is important. My friend and elementary teacher Tamara Russell offers three simple questions to consider when it comes to the voices present in any story. Even if you are not a teacher, you’ll find this (and her blog) to be informative and challenging.

You guys, I still have so much to learn. Sometimes I’m terrified of saying ‘the wrong thing’. I’ll admit I was sad, deeply grieved, when I began to see evidence of  racism in literature. I’d be lying if I said part of that wasn’t  because it be so much nicer/easier if life were simple and racism weren’t a thing? But it is real, people deal with it daily, and I can’t look away. If Jesus came with a message that included liberty for the captives and oppressed (Luke 4:18-19), then I cannot pretend to be blind to systems of thought and acton that uphold oppression. (There’s a lot to unpack there and I don’t have all my thoughts put together yet, but I’m not arguing that Jesus simply came to improve our life’s conditions. I hope that makes sense, but shoot me a question in the comments if it doesn’t.)

Later I’ll write about how these discoveries are influencing me as a writer. For now, here’s a fantastic article written by a woman and mother of color: Does Race Matter if Books, Like Anne of Green Gables, Touch Your Heart? 

As always, I welcome thoughtful, respectful comments and discussions.

Books and Stories · The World We Live In

Phyllis Wheatley

(I know today is President’s Day, but in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share a bit about this remarkable woman.)

The last time we went to the library, I found a fantastic book for kids on Black History Month and brought it home. I plan on reading some of it with them today since they’re off from school. One of the first people I looked for was Phyllis Wheatley, America’s first female African poet. I had been introduced to her beautifully stirring poetry last year. America’s Black Founders by Nancy I. Sanders provides a few brief but vivid insights into the poet’s life and times.

Phyllis Wheatley was separated from her family and enslaved in America as a young child. Intelligent and creative, her short life was full of unusual triumphs and devastating hardships.

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She wrote poetry inspired by religious subjects and nature, including several poems addressed to people who had lost loved ones. Her first poem was published when she was a young teen. Not many years later, an entire book of her poetry was published. She corresponded with abolitionists and became friends with them, playing a role in the fight for the freedom she did not know herself in her entrance to the country. Phyllis eventually gained her freedom and married, but even as a published poet, their lives were anything but illustrious or comfortable. Indeed, the skill and feeling that endure in her poems illustrate the kind of faith and vigor that must have sustained her in a painful and obstacle-filled life.

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You can read more about Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry, her involvement in abolition and her family, here.

Maybe in light of the fact that it is President’s Day, learning about these unsung, forgotten heroes who fought so hard for our country is just what America needs.

 

A Writer's Journey · The World We Live In

Writing Lessons of 2017

Happy New Year, friends! I wanted to take some time to appreciate 2017 before jumping in to my goals for this year. I wrote about small goals for 2017, since we’d just welcomed our fourth child in to the family. In simple terms, they worked. They gave me something to work towards. They helped my mindset. They gave me the freedom to dabble in some small projects. Flash fiction and poetry are such fun, creative challenges. There is something freeing about distilling words into something small. With such a busy year as a mom, I enjoyed flexing my writing muscles in sprint format rather than the marathon of trying to revise my novel.

All those prompts I tracked down? Those turned out to be fun at times, but I didn’t use them as often as I’d thought.  I enjoyed the prompts shared by other bloggers that I did participate in. Blogging started out as a way for me to practice writing more often. Daily or weekly prompts just weren’t what I needed when I had my own surfeit of ideas, too many to pursue.

Not surprisingly, in October, I couldn’t escape the itch for a longer project any longer. I chose a story idea based on a map I’d drawn some time ago. I outlined, free wrote, and did character sketches. By mid November, I started the first draft of a children’s novel, Fences and Forest. Then in December, my mom gave me the idea of finishing a collection of short stories I’d handwritten earlier in the year as a gift for my grandfather. Lightbulb! Thanks, Momma. I typed up, revised and edited A Year with the NimblePaws, a collection of stories about a family of mice, sending it off (nearly) in time for Christmas. I finished the bare-bones draft of Fences and Forest at 11:57, New Year’s Eve.

Those last two stories taught me a lot. I loved writing for my grandfather. When I was little, I would send him cartoons that he loved. My children have provided me a lot of materials for cartoons in recent years, but I don’t make them as often anymore. My grandfather makes a special appearance (as a mouse, of course) in A Year with the Nimblepaws. Including someone you love in a story is very satisfying, especially if you know that person will enjoy it. There are so many possibilities there that I haven’t fully comprehended yet, but I know there is more of that in my future.

These stories began as my way of coping with the fact that I was expecting our fourth child: the Nimblepaws are based on our family of six. Turns out, I’m pretty good at semi-autobiographical writing. AYWTN brought me the closest I’ve ever come to finding my true writer’s voice in ‘longer’ fiction. Write what you know- isn’t that the advice we hear?

Fences and Forest is my first attempt at an adventure story. Big stakes, large cast of characters, the rule of three, all that. And also, more mice. I may write more about Henry’s adventures in a future post.

Meet Henry, the protagonist in Fences and Forest.

Oh! I had the honor of having two of my poems published by Prolific Press. Who would have thought that my first successful venture into publishing would have been through haikus! You can read one of my poems here, in issue 55 of Haiku Journal.

My first poem appeared in Issue 12 of the 50 Haikus publication.

2017 was a good writing year. I learned what gave me freedom in writing: writing what I like, writing for people I love, writing for the joy of it. It was good to be a little less bound by expectations of what I ‘should’ be producing and write a little more fully from my heart.

How was your 2017 writing life? What did you learn, gain, and lose?

The World We Live In

Art and Money

“The trouble with art is, you still have to make a living.” I don’t remember where I heard this, but it’s true that artistic ability or production does not guarantee a job. While people used to be almost guaranteed a job once they graduated with a degree, artistic skill typically has not enjoyed the same level of prestige.  It seems in order to be considered a ‘real’ artist, you have to be a national bestseller. Or have your paintings hanging in museums. At the very least, artwork is validated by the amount of income you generate with it. That’s what I used to think.

But I was never interested in monetizing my blog. When I do publish my novel, it likely won’t be bringing in a six figure income…probably not even a four figure income! (Still researching that one, though.) As a writer, it took a lot of time for me to shake the notion that writing-and not getting paid for it-wasn’t a waste of my time.

But as any writer will tell you, we first of all write because a story within us has to come out.

We may not be able to give up our day jobs, but let’s not allow our art’s lack of income stop us from creating. I know it won’t stop me from writing. Whether you do earn your living from your art or not, it’s so worth investing the time.

The World We Live In

Sometimes It’s Not Giving Up

When I started writing “seriously”, I was taking a course on writing magazine stories and articles for children. After market research, writing, editing and more editing, I submitted several stories to markets. Years later I have a file of still unpublished children’s stories on my computer.

Over the years, I’ll take one of those stories out, analyze it from every angle I can find, and edit it. Is it too long? Too dated? The right target age? What grammar and punctuation problems did I miss? Is there a different market it’s better suited for? Then the question arises: do I submit it again, or move on?

That last question used to trip me up the most. I love starting projects. Finishing them takes more steam. (This is one reason I love taking writing classes-I have to finish them.) So whenever I’m faced with a revise or abandon situation regarding a story, giving up always looms large in the equation. When should writers abandon projects? Here are a few things I’ve learned about this.

  1. Recognize the mark on the trail. Sometimes I go back to a story and realize, this was great practice.  I learned  _____  while I wrote this story. That in itself is valuable, even if I don’t get a published story out of the process.  Many early efforts probably aren’t publish-able anyway. These stories (articles, etc) may be jumping off points for later projects. I often discover favorite themes from older writings that I resurrect in new stories.
  2. Some projects need a deadline extension. Have you ever begun a project enthusiastically, only to find as it developed, that your timeframe was off by a few weeks? Maybe months? Four years ago, I started writing what I thought would be a short story. Instead it turned into a full-length young adult novel. This is a project that needs more time to reach its full potential, and this meant lots and lots of drafts. Well, ok, five so far.
  3. Some projects need a little simmer time. By this, I mean you’ve written and written, maybe even edited, and then think you need a break from your work. Maybe you need to put it down for a set time and look at it again with fresh eyes. Maybe you’ve discovered  you need to gather more information. Maybe it’s time to send it out into the big wide world and get feedback from a beta group or a writing friend or two. For me, last December marked a stopping point in my novel. My fourth child was about to arrive, and I knew that reaching the end of an era in my novel writing would be helpful mentally. So I sent my novel out to a few friends and closed that chapter. Meanwhile I’ve been working on shorter projects, which are much more feasible with an infant (and three older children). My perspective and editing skills will be all the better for it when I take another stab at my novel in a year.

Sometimes what looks like giving up on a project may actually be wisdom. It’s not laziness or being scatter-brained to set something down for a time. Set a time to revisit it. When you can’t pound out a project from start to finish, work is sometimes more a rhythm and flow than a race to the finish line.

How about you? Do you find you work best tackling one project til it’s completed, or do you let your projects simmer?

The World We Live In

A Quiet Growth

This year so far I’ve mostly focused on writing quantity over quality. At least, it looks that way by what I’ve published.

The benefits of this are many. I’ve bulldozed roadblocks of fear to creativity. Stifling thoughts, all things related to “not good enough”, all things that make me think my idea isn’t worth sharing or, even worse, not worth writing at all, have started to break down. It just feels good to create. It’s similar to my doodling: I may be years away from selling my drawings; maybe I never will. (Here’s where the similarities end because one day I will be a published author.) But I feel a little more like myself when I get out my colored pencils, and that’s good.

Of course, meanwhile all these other desires keep tugging on me. This writing contest, that deeply rooted project-they sometimes demand my attention right now, clamoring for energy and cultivation that I don’t have yet. The time isn’t right and I’m learning that slow isn’t bad. “Just wait,” I tell my clamoring dreams. “Your time will come. I’ll plant a bit here, weed a bit there- I may have a black thumb when it comes to plants, but I can’t kill these dreams or these projects. One day you’ll come to fruition.”

I’m learning to quell thoughts like, “You posted WHAT?!” because art is not perfect and if it helps you to show up, I think you should just do it. I trust that there is more at work than what I can offer right now. Eventually, it’ll be ready.

Whatever your project is, you don’t have to be discouraged by slow progress. What’s worth doing takes time. And when it’s ready, it will be all the more beautiful for your honoring of every little step.

Can you see the tiny green oranges?
The World We Live In

A View of the Field 

You may remember from other posts that our backyard looks out over a field. After living in an apartment for ten and a half months, the freedom of not just a backyard but a backyard with a view has brought me so much peace and joy.

After moving in, we explored the little hills, circled the pond, and dug in the sand pits briefly before the summer heat set it.

Early in the morning, when the mist rises from the pond, I can usually be found curled up by a window in our library enjoying this view. Please note the prosaic plastic ‘toys’ in the grass.
Even earlier morning, perhaps during the fall? The lights are the only indication of houses across the field and glow like eery eyes possessed. 

 

My older kids would run to the ridge and back, even during the summer days. I’m glad the heat didn’t entirely squelch their spirit of adventure. From my kitchen window I can see them, two little dots, running down, then up, then back again to ice-cold drinks and air conditioning.

Summertime changed the field’s mood. It became distant and blinding as a green desert, stretching out as far as summer itself, unreachable in the stifling shimmer of heat waves. Hostile. Beautiful, still, but unreachable. By extension our backyard would have been pleasanter with a tree or two, anything to offer a little shelter from the sun.

But the sky was not always oppressive. Sunsets were glorious in pinks and blues, clouds billowing in white and pearl towers. We’d sit outside after dinner, savoring any humidity-chasing breeze, while the kids played on the slip-n-slide. On those afternoons that saw grey clouds rolling in, I felt the relief of dimmer skies and the excitement of approaching storms. Magnificence rolled and sparked in the pouring rain and lightning just outside our windows.

Then fall arrived, slowly. Once again mysteries half-seen and half-imagined floated about just out of grasp. The mists gathered heavily in the early morning, the perfect haunt for a headless horseman.  During the waking day, the grass traded its sweet summer fragrance for a  fragile straw scent. The sky became less harsh and the sun became more welcoming. Finally, we could walk in the field again and breathe.

A cloudy afternoon.
Sunset.

Winter as we know it approaches this month. I anticipate the changes January will bring to our field. I imagine there will be more trips to the giant sand box, lighter and brighter blue skies, and the brisk air that brings my bones to life. This view is changeable as the sea. Sometimes harsh, sometimes mysterious; welcoming or out of reach, it is our view.

The World We Live In

Christmas Wonder

A few weeks ago the kids and I were driving home from my mom’s house. It was just after Thanksgiving, and we spotted several houses bedecked in Christmas lights and yard decor. A surge of nostalgia and anticipation welled up within me as we talked about one of my favorite Christmas past times: driving slowly through neighborhoods in search of these Christmas outdoor lights.

Last year, we were in Asheville. We were loving the “cold” weather (by our standards), and despite the lack of snow yet, it felt more Christmassy than the usual Florida 70’s and (heaven forbid!) 80’s we usually experience on this winter holiday. But this year all the sentiment of the season that is so tied to this one place came back to me on that neighborhood road. And I realized how much fun it will be (and has been since) to share these memories and small rituals with my children.

Last year I had so much fun writing a post about different ancient rituals that have contributed to (or been denounced as horrible) the way we celebrate Christmas today in America. You can read it here. This year, I find myself revived by one narrative of Christmas: Emmanuel. Powerful  God became a crying baby to walk among us, know our pain, and live the life we cannot apart from him. Sometimes the simple, well-known stories breathe newness into what can be a cynical, complicated life in a way that brings glimpses of forgotten joy and anticipation.

I’m also reminded of another Christmas memory. Years ago, our church’s worship team was led by a talented, big-voiced and big-hearted musician who organized Christmas cantatas. I miss the joy of participating in something beautiful-the harmonizing of voices to create auditory texture and color. If you enjoy Christmas carols, then this clip is for you.