Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Healthy Crossroads

December 22... two months ago I didn't expect this to be the date of my next blog post. Nor did I expect to be reflecting on the home I've made in Northfield, and the world I'm about to encounter in Ghana. One year ago I had no idea that I'd be this mangled AND strong today. I had no idea that some of my relationships could grow even deeper; I barely knew seven people that I now hold in the warmest part of my heart; and I didn't know that I'd fall, in a strange way, for a not-so-strange stranger. But to situate this date in time... 5 years ago, when me and someone had our first kiss, I had no idea that I would become who I am now. And, perhaps more importantly, 5 years from now, I think I'll know that this time of my life was extremely important, but also that I was--in fact--very young.

At 7am this morning, I woke to a Christmas carol on my alarm clock. It took me a few moments to remember that I didn't have to get up for class, to finish a paper, or take an exam, but I did have to wake up to start moving out of my room. This semester I had a single in the honor house I live in, and next semester I'll be living in a different (double) room with my dear friend who's abroad right now.

Even though all I had to do was move all of my belongings roughly 12 feet across the second story of the house, and drive one hour back to my hometown... somehow it took 13 hours. Thinking about it more subjectively though, I think it's fitting that it took me so long to make this move.

I've been in Northfield, full time, since August 26th, 2009 and it has become 'home' in a way I never expected it would. I have street names memorized and know my favorite houses to walk by. I know what night sounds like during every season. I can guess peoples' social position in town in just a few moments (Olaf or Carleton student, grew up in town, professor, etc.). And several bartenders and alcohol vendors in town recognize me, and glance at my ID as a formality. More important than all this though, is that I feel at home here. Yet I recognize the terminal nature of this 'home,' and I see January as my first taste of separation from what this place has become for me.

Furthermore, this semester has been a challenging storm of different types of questions--conceptual, personal, academic, and romantic--and moving into this room is not a way to shed the past turbulent months, but it is a way to re-make my home. (Additionally, since I absolutely hate moving, I feel ridiculously accomplished for having successfully completed that task.) It is a physical change which helps to end one chapter, and begin a new one.

I know it's dangerous to build things up too much in advance, but anyone who's ever been to Ghana/or a developing country is telling me that it will change my life. I'm inclined to believe them. More than that, I feel that my internship in Ghana--I'll be writing for a free-trade, non-profit called Global Mamas, some of my projects will include writing descriptions of merchandise, updating the website, writing a quarterly update and an annual update, and interviewing the people involved with the org--will be one of the first times when my vocational interests and passion for social justice will be aligned with what I am actually doing. You see, Global Mamas is a microfinance operation, so women can take out small loans from this org and build their own small businesses making dresses, or soaps, or other hand-crafted items. This allows these women to work towards economic independence and thus, possibly improves the quality of their lives while giving them the opportunity to help themselves. I am so honored and thrilled to be a part of these efforts, because I believe that microfinance is a powerful method of empowerment and an effective vehicle for social change.

So here I am, in the present, looking back at 201o noting how much I have changed, and looking ahead at the upcoming 6 weeks and knowing that my life will change.

*deep breath and sigh* Here I go!

p.s. I know that I never go it alone and I'm acknowledging that here. What's more is that I'm shocked by the immense blessings I've received, and the gracefulness of my Creator.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Return To Me

I'm back.

Just finished my Fulbright interview and I finally feel like myself again for the first time since... well, that's a good question. I mean, I've been me, but I've had to ignore some of my own principles and that felt so wrong. I've been feeling embarrassed and hypocritical because I've been so over busy that I haven't taken care of my physical and psychological health. I've been ignoring my craft--writing--and that's wrong in so many ways. Writing means the world to me; it's what I want to do and partly, what I want to be. Most importantly, I've been inattentive to the people I've made implicit promises to, and this breaks my heart more than I can say. Relationships give my life meaning, and make it possible for me to do the impossible, but I've needed to be self-absorbed to get through this time, and now I'm done with that. I knew it would be temporary all along, but I want everyone to know that I'm back. I've landed.

This is like, the most successful break up I've ever had because it results in a completed grant application, self-awareness, and motivation to heal any collateral damage I've caused my loved ones.

So loved ones, readers, and Mother Earth...
I'm back, I promise.

Monday, August 2, 2010

just love this song right now...

Into the Spin - Dessa

So here we go back again
Slow climb but quick to descend
Arms out, arms out
Turn into the spin
It's lovely and brief
With just gravity and me

So here we go back again
Slow climb but quick to descend
Arms out, arms out
Turn into the spin
It's lovely and brief
With just gravity and me

And if we choose to fall
Who's to say it isn't flight

So here we go back again
It's lovely and brief
With just gravity and me

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"wild and precious life"

These days I feel so alive. As Thelma says, in my favorite movie Thelma and Louise, "I feel awake! I don't remember ever feelin' this awake!"

I can't even explain the feeling... it's emotional, physiological, spiritual... both ecstatic and agonizing. I feel both raw and energized... I feel unstoppable. And there's a sense of serenity that comes with all of this as well; it's a sense of assurance that this is genuine, this is life.

The final two lines of the poem are perhaps the wisest words I've heard strung together, and I want to ask myself this question every morning and most moments of everyday!


The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?



Until next time, I remain the amorphous fuchsia dye that's waiting to stain skin between your fingers

Monday, July 19, 2010

News about the News

I want to share some links to stories in recent news that are related to one another. Whether these stories involve censorship, limitation of press coverage, or violence towards journalists it seems to me that--WORLDWIDE--the freedom of press is under target. And while I take issue with the quality and integrity of many news sources in the United States, I still think that unfiltered access to individuals, events, and operations worldwide is essential for us, as global citizens and as siblings, to hold each other accountable for our actions.

Headline: "Sudan's 'brutal' war on dissent"
The Sudanese government has been accused by human rights campaigners of running a brutal campaign of torture and intimidation against dissenting voices in the country.

Headline: "Photographer Harassed by BP Security, Detained by Police While on Assignment at BP Texas Refinery"
We speak with Lance Rosenfield, a freelance photographer who was hired by ProPublica to take pictures of BP’s Texas City refinery that had spewed thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies. While on assignment Rosenfield was followed by BP Security and then detained by local police.


Headline: "Journalist gunned down in Athens"
A Greek journalist has been shot dead outside his home in Athens, the first murder of a reporter in the country in more than 20 years.


Headline: "Scientist Working With Government Says BP Restricting Access to Study Gushing Oil Well"
As the BP oil disaster enters its 77th Day we speak to a scientist leading a team of researchers trying to get access to the well to better study what is happening at the site. Dr. Ira Leifer, who’s on the federally appointed Flow Rate Technical Group, says BP is restricting his access to study the gushing oil well.


If you have time to read these articles, I highly suggest it. If not, just please keep your eye out for corporate or legal entanglement with the sources we heavily rely on for truthful portrayal of happenings worldwide.

Until next time I remain a clamoring mammal gnawing on the gristle of injustice

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Relative Illumination

It requires a certain sense of inner peace to sleep in the light. I mean relative illumination... when the moonlight peers in at your eyelashes or the streetlight presses it's way through your un-curtained window, or the hallway lights seeps beneath the door to you. I used to cover every last ounce of light in the room, so microfocused on the darkness that I couldn't shut my eyes and relax. Now I briefly appreciate the earliest hint of sunrise and go back to sleep.

It requires a sense of inner confidence when you do not meet someone's expectations for you. So when my grandma asked me if there was anyone "special" I was spending time with, I answered, "Nope! Just you!" And I really meant it.

It requires a sense of inner beauty to give yourself permission to reinterpret your own body, and then to live into that interpretation. So I think of the slight convex curve of my tummy as sexy and move like it is.

It requires a sense of inner love to enjoy a sunset by yourself. So I gathered a blanket, a beer, and a chocolate bar and watched the color wheel in the sky spin the day into night on the western horizon.

These inner senses are neither gifts, nor merits. They're somewhere in between. Their cultivation is effortful, but we are able to contain them only by grace. Therefore only by grace do we know the inner strength and serenity that illuminates our lives in this world.

Until next time,
Sovereign Lady

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chronicles of Ovarian Fortitude: I

I've decided to begin a weekly series entitled "Chronicles of Ovarian Fortitude." What I hope to do with these weekly posts is to lift up the names of inspiring women who've made a change in the world. I want to honor some women who you've never heard of, and also give tribute to a few of the greats who must always be remembered. Hopefully this will be inspiring reading for you, because I find that I am never quite as energized as when I consider the great and positive work of some of the most humble and wise women who have come before me.

I'd like to begin with Helen Thomas. Born August 4, 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky, she was raised in Detroit at a time when she and her family faced discrimination for their Arabic ethnicity. Helen served on the White House Press Corps for almost sixty years and covered U.S. presidents Eisenhower through Obama. She completes the phrase "First Woman to...." in many respects. She has also written several books including her memoir and a children's book.

What's most remarkable about this woman is that she asked the toughest questions of the highest ranking leaders of this country for almost sixty years. She was dedicated to getting real answers and to keeping people informed. A legend in terms of the White House Press Corps, she was referred to as 'the Dean.' Throughout her career and her life she has been a beacon of boldness... of Ovarian Fortitude. Earlier this month, Thomas was forced to retire after receiving violent backlash for some comments she made in an interview. I take a risk in writing what I'm about to write, but I'll choose to be encouraged by this intrepid woman. On May 27th Rabbi David Nesenoff asked Helen Thomas, "Any comments on Israel?" She answered, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine." She went on to explain that the people of Palestine, who have lived there for centuries, are being occupied.

I can see how the entire interview could be read as abrasive, particularly to the Jewish population in Israel/Palestine; however, I think that Thomas speaks truthfully and rightly. The U.S. has been politically and militaristically aligned with Israel since WWII, but I argue that this country has turned a blind and even dismissive eye to the injustice and ethnocide committed by the Israeli leadership for over half of a century. It's also important to keep in mind that in almost every other country in the world, Helen Thomas' bold statement about Israelis in Palestine would be lauded and acclaimed. BUT this is the United States of America and diseased, poorly informed, and desperate media ignites and explodes comments like Thomas' and she was forced to retire and apologize for her words. I include her apology here, because like Helen Thomas, I understand the experience of speaking too caustically up front and I understand that it's sometimes important to clarify your truest hopes and impulses. She said, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

I'd just like to say that I believe that speaking out and speaking honestly as Helen Thomas did for her entire life is an appropriate approach to peace and conflict resolution. Even in the final moments of her career, this woman was still informing the country about important world news. The final message we can take from this? Listen to opposing view points and seek to understand their meaning; then we can work together to foster tolerance and mutual respect, and eventually peace.

Thank you Helen Thomas for your dauntless quest for answers,

Your student and your sister in social justice


I heard about Helen on the June 8 "Democracy Now!" podcast and I read more about her life on these sites:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Essential TED talk...

Do you like jazz?
Do you break rules?
Want to get paid for doing good?
... then please listen to this talk.

If you're obsessed with TED talks perhaps you've already listened to this podcast, but I'm just discovering this wonderful resource and this particular podcast ("The real crisis? We stopped being wise" by Barry Schwartz) strikes me as relevant and important.

I may eventually comment on the content of this talk, but right now I'm still soaking it up and I just want to share it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"What's your spirit animal?"

... a popular question I've been posed several times in the last five months, and I still don't have a definite answer. I'm not writing out of frustration though because I'm still wondering, 'what is a spirit animal?'

Are our spirit animals somehow one with us? Like, in times of trouble will the owl or the hawk come swooping in to assist its 'spirit human'? Or is the connection like he or she was a raccoon in another life? Or is a spirit animal more of a teacher/mentor/patron saint? I've also wondered, do we look like specific animals and that's how our spirits are discerned? (That would be pretty silly to interpret the 'spiritual' purely from the physical, but... I digress.)

At first, this seems like a New-Age, peace-loving jab at personality psychology which offers a creative way to imagine our traits as the characteristics of another being on earth. Naming a spirit animal also gives us an opportunity to fabricate some kind of connection with a fuzzy/slimy/majestic friend, thus giving us some sort of animal-sibling that we mysteriously embody. Perhaps we long to do this because we lack connection to nature in our daily lives; we symbolically turn ourselves into animals in order to re-enter the natural world. What's strange about the "natural world" we create is that it knows no ecological boundaries; when we select a spirit animal we can chose from the entire animal kingdom--bunnies, wildebeest, iguanas, stingrays--you get the picture. We can even chose animals we have no first-hand experience with! I'm guilty of this. I recently suggested that my friend might be a zebra, but what the hell do I know about zebras?! The closest I've been to one was at the Como Zoo in St Paul, MN last summer. So no, I don't understand zebra psychology at all, but I also don't mean to diminish the whimsical, and Noah's Ark-ish quality of Spirit Animal Science.

Actually, I love the image of walking into my workplace in the morning only to find: an ocelot, a ferret, a beaver, a beluga whale, a bison, and an armadillo toiling away at their respective desks. This notion is very much like Isaiah 11: 6-9--"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." I've always loved this verse for its utopic and peace-drenched portrayal of a place and a time that is so difficult to imagine right now.

Maybe we use animals to represent our spirits because we believe they are more noble and pure than humans; HOWEVER, briefly allow me to recall the earliest anthropological work which referred to indigenous peoples as 'exotic others' who purely exemplified human desires and impulses. Indigenous communities were seen as laboratories in which to study the basics of human psychology and sociology unsullied, as it were, but the industrialized West. Yes, animals are animals. Humans are humans. But I still cringe to think of the way we anthropomorphize wild creatures by assigning specific virtues to them and simultaneously elevate them as noble not-humans, and then claim the rights to those creatures as spirit animals.

I also want to recognize that naming spirit animals can be a part of friendship/relationship formation; people help each other discern their spirit animals and this indicates how well they know each other. A group of my friends recently chose spirit animals for each other and it has given them a whole new conversation to continue as they live and work together. Again, this is a fun and whimsical activity and no one means any harm by it, but I think it's important to take a very close look at the implications of this fad.

I have no concrete idea about who, or which community, was the first to talk about spirit animals, but I'm willing to bet it was not the small liberal arts college I attend. So let's imagine, just for a paragraph, that spirit animals are a very sacred idea/practice for a group of people with a very particular history and a very sovereign culture. Here we are, taking this belief out of context and stretching/morphing it to fit our personal needs. I cannot condemn too harshly though (Afterall, this is the age of mash-ups, rampant borrowing, and BLOGGING for heaven's sake!), but it seems to me that this sort of plagiarism and contortion of other peoples' cultural beliefs is definitely disrespectful and even violent.

So now I've said my piece. I don't mean to ruin anyone's fun, but I also think it is important to be aware of the roots of notions like spirit animals and the complicated layers of a, seemingly, simple game.

Until next time,
The Rookie Anthropologist

Saturday, May 29, 2010