~black and white wednesday~ feather light

“Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore”

~Edgar Allan Poe

 

“Blackbird fly, blackbird fly

Into the light of a dark black night”

~Paul McCartney

~summer shorts~ wilderness wandering

“It lives in my imagination strongly that the black oak is pleased to be a black oak. I mean of all them, but in particular one tree that is as shapely as a flower, that I have often hugged and put my lips to. Maybe it is a hundred years old. And who knows what it dreamed of in the first springs of its life, escaping the cottontail’s teeth and everything dangerous else? Who knows when supreme patience took hold, and the wind’s wandering among its leaves was enough of motion, of travel?”

~Mary Oliver

The day is hot and lazy, and my mind wades around the meandering bend of the river I sat on the bank of with Quinn just a few days ago, gazing at the leaf boats of that singular day as they begin to drift towards the horizon of memory. Downstream around a few more bends, more memories swirl around an eddy on the edge of consciousness, and I just catch a glimpse of him with pinchable cheeks, stacking river rocks into “snowmen” to match the snowman pajama pants he wore. The size of him in my backpack on this same riverbank stands back-to-back in contrast with how he has drawn up even in height with his dad.

(still life with sippy cup, May, 2009)

His voice then was a giddy gurgling over the river rocks, while his voice now glugs into a much deeper gully. I can hear this in person in a way I cannot hear it through the screen of our pandemic parenting paradigm.

We hike all the way down the switchbacks to the river. Beside a grove of giant cedar trees, we perch on separate rocks, and do not come close enough for me to smell the top of his head, to see if his scalp still carries the scent of a pinch of cinnamon. What does reach me is the zest of the tangerine he is peeling with his large, capable hands, and this scent, too, tethers me to him briefly, remembering how I ate my pregnant body weight in clementines in my third trimester, the memory only eclipsed by the thought that I should not tell him I can smell his lunch, or he will suggest we sit farther apart.

The hands get me, they have changed so much since he grappled with stacking those stones, when the river had swallowed less rain, on a different lazy summer day over a decade ago. I think about those hands, the way they would still reach for mine on the way up to the school building in fifth grade, the way they slid over slippery gray clay making a pinch pot in second grade, the glazed surface of which now preserves the texture only a six-year-old’s fingers could produce. The necklace my Mom gave to me and I wore for my wedding shines in a silver puddle in its shallow cavity. The destiny of many a child’s pinch pot is to perfectly contain treasures as precious as themselves.

Wandering in a wilderness area together all day is unlike our hour-long video calls in all ways, but most acutely in that I am positioned beside the waterfall of his imagination like I have not been in months. The story comes spilling forth of a pod of whimsical dragons hatched out of colorful eggs, each with powerful attributes perfectly complementing those of their teammates. Once we found our first wild rose, we found many. It was in a rose bush that I found my first dragon egg, of the species Photosynthesim draconis. Once we spotted our first crayfish, we found many, and this time a water dragon was hatched. Once we found one dragon egg, we found more, as it is with many wild things for which one wasn’t even necessarily looking. All day, the tale flows in between the huge trunks of the trees we pass by, a comfortable third companion on the journey. Unlooked for, it simply appears like a rainbow where the sunlight refracts in the droplets splashing over the rapids, though the sun and the water never touch.

The last time we hiked all the way to this river, Quinn napped on my back most of the way. Before we built rock snowmen, we threw rocks in the water (splash) for a long time (the name of the activity was throw-rocks-in-the-water-splash!). At one point he looked up at me and said, “I love the water! I love the water!!!” He was just barely two, but he wove a story through the trees that day, too. “I am going to grow big and tall. And when I get older and big, I’ll drive my garbage truck and come and pick up the garbage cans and dump them into the truck!”

I told him, “When you are big and drive your garbage truck to come pick up my garbage, I will come out to watch you dump the garbage cans into the truck, and I will clap for you!” (Luckily some bff emails get hastily etched into the mud beside the riverbank for me to find again years later.)

He has grown so big and tall. The wilderness within him is green and lush as ever, also having grown, expanded in all the ways a teen’s mind does.

Our video calls are now routine, comfortably structured around a game and a book. The book helps us remember wild places, but it isn’t the same as being in one together, with dragons for company. Like the night wakings I didn’t realize I was missing until a stray one reoccurred after months of unbroken sleep, this reintroduction to the storytelling magic of his mind in unstructured moments after months apart catches me off guard. What is this pang of guilt? I had not been grieving the lack of back stage access to his imagination until I got a fresh taste. It tastes like chocolate, mostly sweetness to savor but with an edge of bitter brevity and longing for it to last.

Back near the trailhead, he finds me a butterfly, and beckons me to pause and take photos. We both know his dad is probably waiting, but we stop anyway, not ready to be done. The black-speckled orange wings flit among buttercups and daisies, our eyes dazzled by its color, adjusting to the bright sunlight out from under the old growth canopy. We smile behind our masks at each other; him at the knowledge that his mama is pleased to see butterflies, me at the idea that this could be one of the silverspot butterflies I had read about, and even just the potential of finding something uncommonly rare and endemic to this place helps me alight on the flower of this moment a bit longer, not fly off just yet to what it will feel like to ache for him again for another unknown length of time.

A day lingering among the biggest trees I can find seems a good way to study their supreme patience which I have by no means acquired, even as this wandering quenches the thirst for motion, for travel, for a day set apart from the many days with just the wilderness within to wander. I breathe a prayer on the breeze in the branches, the light on the droplets, the eddies on the edges, for a measure of that patience, that this day may be enough for me and for him of what we have been lacking. Enough of a glimpse at something rare, beautiful, endemic to this place.

 

~rainbow mondays~ raining roses

I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose

~Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls)

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ the morphometrics of distance learning

~3-23 to 4-23~

Quull School

At the end of March we started what we called Quull School, a self-directed version of the supplemental learning of the school district. I did show Quinn the lists of projects and learning tools from the school, but after a glance at it, he decided his focus would be on his own pursuits, and I supported him on that. By design, the school’s supplemental learning could not delve into new territory beyond what the students have already learned, as not all students had gained access by just a couple of weeks into the stay-at-home order. The IT personnel of the school had been delivering chrome books and the bus drivers had been delivering supplemental learning packets along with lunches, but it would be a few more weeks until Distance Learning For All could be implemented, new material could be provided, or grades could be back in play. I support the equity of this, and at the same time, I would not require Quinn to review topics he already knows, as that is a particularly painful form of torture to kids with his neural wiring.

We launched Quull School with a game of scattergories. I had him come up with the categories based on areas of learning he would like to dive into more, so we ended up with categories of Music, Programming, Math, Periodic Table, Dinosaurs, Marsupials, and Mythology and played several rounds. For the letter E, I recalled Eoraptor from Quinn’s days of pre-reading when I would draw dinosaurs starting with each letter of the alphabet for him to color, along with the letter. When I told him about that phase of his learning career, he did not remember, so I showed him the sketchbook from that era. We discussed what would work for planning and reflecting on the learning he would be doing, and he decided on a few organizational tools and accountability measures. We planned an extra hangout later in the afternoon each day of Quull School to touch base on how his school day went. I walked him through using google calendar for initiating the meeting, which he called “school with mama.” No time like the present to acquire these extremely relevant skills; like so many life skills, he and I are learning concurrently.

I saw an example of a basic planner where each day of the week had two boxes: 1. the plan and 2. what I did. I showed it to him as a potential idea for how to track his learning goals and progress. From here, he developed his own Quull school log/table in a google doc; it started the same way with the plan/what I did (reflection) and for that first day, his entries were “make a plan” and “made a plan.” His resulting schedule slides ultimately ended up several steps more detailed than the original example. An extra slide contained his list of ideas in case of days when he wasn’t sure what he felt like learning: Math, Electronics, Music, Computer Programming, Italian, Chemistry.

As for the content of the schedule, it started filling in rapidly. Quinn’s paleontology camp director set up Paleontology lectures on zoom for every Tuesday and Thursday; Q agreed to write a paragraph summary of each one, to keep his writing skills sharp. He also spent a fair amount of time learning more computer programming on khan academy. He had been chipping away at the html section, having finished animation in javascript, but now he has moved deeper into advanced javascript because “I want to really start making games.” I helped him set up to use zoom for his paleontology lectures. I can’t help but notice that Quull school is allowing us the opportunity to actively tackle some big executive functioning skills that don’t easily fit into the normal schedule of school and life.

screensharing: check.

Geometric morphometrics

After his first zoom lecture he told me about geometric morphometrics, which he explained very eloquently and I recorded on my audio recorder. I know he found that area of study quite intriguing – math plus fossils. Quinn was munching on cherries on the hangout, or I bet he would have said a lot more!

“If you take two faces, like yours and mine, and you compare segments of them, like say between nose and earlobes and chin, for example, uh, then the overall shape formed by that is going to be different for you than for me,” said Quinn.

I said, “Ok and so you could go by the length of the segments or you could go by the area or the volume or other geometry… So then if you find a new fossil of us, of our group of beings, then you measure it and you can kind of place it in sort of the timeline of age? And or gender, or whatever it is that you’re able to find out? Uh, that is awesome. That sounds really Quinn-like, like a Quinn thing.”

“What’s just morphometrics?” he asked.

“I guess it would just be comparing without the geometry of it, just comparing features… hmm, so morphology is like the shape of things, like when I do parasitology there are different worms that I identify. I can identify them by genetics but a lot of times I do it by morphology which means I’m looking for certain features like the shape of the mouth or suckers or spines or things that a parasite can have. But just descriptively instead of measured. So presence or absence of a spine is not geometric morphometrics – morphology is what I’ve always called that. -metrics by definition is measuring, so morphometrics is maybe measuring the lengths of the features but not necessarily calculating the geometry in terms of angles and area and volume… of the snout or whatever. That’s a really cool topic. I could see you getting into that.”

Quinn’s paleontology lecture summaries contain some real gems of wisdom:

3/31/2020

Geometric morphology is where you take a series of points on a subject and only look at them, and do the same for a different subject, then compare the shape or the distance between certain points and see how, say, some animal’s shoulders get broader as it ages or that in that species, the females have smaller feet than the males, or something like that. Also, as a side note, make sure to take at least one or two classes on public speaking and presenting and other things like that. The last thing that I learned is that sometimes, political arguments between countries can block off certain areas to fossil hunting.

4/2/2020

Elytra are the wings on the inside of a beetle’s husk, folding into the shell when they stop flying and land. Also, here are some tips for doing destructive analysis if you have low sample size: do some other destructive analysis on a different fossil type that has higher sample size and keep doing it as practice until you are sure that you will not only do the destructive analysis correctly and not mess it up and that you will gain valuable knowledge from the research.

4/7/2020

Hippidion was an ice age horse that scientists are pretty sure had a trunk because of how long the nasal passages are on the skull. Also, some hooved animals that are ice age and older had three toes and some even had five toes extending off of their hooves. These are believed by some to be proto-hooves that later evolved into the one and two “digit” hooves of modern animals. Another thing is that sometimes there can be things that conflict with everything that you have studied and learned thus far, and if this happens just know that there are a lot of things we haven’t learned yet even on well studied subjects. Also, side note: never discount data just because you don’t like it or because it conflicts with what you found in your studies.

4/9/2020

There are many different types of cells in the brain and they all have very different functions. Four specific types are trained to let loose certain hormones in the brain like fear.

4/14/2020

Networking can help get you into the job you want. Also, just a note think outside the box if/when you are getting fossils out. Some weird things can be useful.

4/16/2020

Antivenom comes from mixing the venom of different snakes and injecting enough to be noticeable by the immune system of, but not deadly to, sheep. Then you collect the antibodies made by the sheep, and mix them together. Side note: if there is no job that matches the thing you want to do, make the job up, because then not only will you get to do what you want, but it makes space for more of those below you in the ranking of the business as well.

4/21/2020

If you are trying to get a job as a federal worker, make sure you did everything right (i.e. your resume is PERFECT), otherwise you won’t usually get the job. And if something says “PHD preferred” treat it as “PHD required”, because it probably basically is. Another thing, make sure to never turn down any math classes for science careers, because it might be useful.

4/23/2020

Science is not a good subject to frontload on, because it will be painful to go through as you go through the classes you picked for science. Also, try visiting different universities to narrow down which one you want to go to, but don’t go out of your way and spend $200 to go visit one thing.

In-person paleontology camp has been canceled for 2020, but online camps are being invented. I am so thankful Quinn is already hooked into such a cool paleontology community and grateful for the opportunity he has had to immerse a little more in learning on a favorite subject.

Distance learning for all

Quinn had a bit of an emotional response to the idea of school starting up online. He said, “there is a pandemic going on and if they think I am just going to do school, they’re wrong.” Distance learning for all started April 15th, and part of the resistance was, I knew, not knowing what it would really entail. The arrangements were: two half hour sessions with their homeroom teacher per week, with teachers available by appointment for other time slots for additional help. Assignments and quizzes were administered through google classroom… periods 1 and 2 released the week’s assigned work on Mondays (Language arts social studies), 3 and 4 on Tuesday (PE and band) and 5-6-7 on Wednesday (algebra, video production, science) and so he had a week to turn in the work for each class. He ultimately ended up being much more flexible, and it was a nice enough format so he could plan his time how it works for him, not be expected to be in a seat from 8:05 to 3:05 each day and tune into certain classes at specific times (he could still attend his paleontology zooms, and so on). The chance to virtually see some of his peeps for homeroom was nice (but with no pressure to – live classes could not be graded since they can’t ensure all kids can attend.) For his elective, there was a list of projects to choose from, and he chose some of the robotics-related ones first.

On days when he had trouble bringing himself to do school work (and these were not rare) I reminded Quinn to prioritize self care. That YES, we are in the middle of a pandemic and sometimes we won’t feel resilient enough to do our work. I told him I feel like that, too. We have to get our work done in good moments between now and when the work is due, but it is okay to have down time when you just don’t do any work. I think he works through these intense emotions more quickly for the lack of push back from me. I try to reflect his feelings, rather than fighting them, and I think he feels validated and can let them go.

Electronics, pi, volume of sphere, wau, frequency and pitch, volume of an icosahedron, waves and particles, extra dimensions

The sweet spot of this month was, however, that space prior to the implementation of Distance Learning. Always self-directed lifelong learners at heart….

Quinn sent me a photo of his organized resistors for making a foot pedal for his dad’s guitar. “Electronics day 1” was his caption. This is something he’s interested in, without being interested in playing guitar, just for the electronics learning. So quull.

I showed him what I have been working on- measuring the diameters of arctic cod eggs, and how I measure them in ImageJ software, based on setting a scale in the program to a known number of pixels per millimeter taken by the microscope camera; then we went over how I go from diameter to volume of an egg (sphere) and he was all over that four-thirds-pi-r-cubed math. Then we reviewed where pi came from, and how round things have pi inherent in them, and you can measure the circumference and diameter of a bunch of objects and average that ratio and you will approach 3.14159… Then I taught him a few tricks with calculations in google sheets for this, after he measured a few circles. Tricks I learned in a basement computer lab as a college freshman; how to click and drag to fill a formula down a column. We also discussed how the average will approach pi more quickly/closely for larger objects because the measurement errors would be more diluted.

We watched Vi Hart’s the science and math of frequency and pitch together at his request. She zooms in on the sine waves of each overtone of her own voice in Audacity software (which Quinn has been using to record music with his dad) to help understand how we experience sound, including nuances like why a middle C is always the same note but sounds different coming from different instruments or voices; along with a playground swinging metaphor and her excellent logical thought progression, I think we both learned a lot.

Audible made it free to listen to Harry Potter book 1, so I emailed that link to Quinn, and then realized he can also listen to it in Italian! We’ll see if he takes me up on it.  “Harry Potter, il ragazzo che ha vissuto.”

On our hangouts, we verbally reviewed wau; I used the end of my bokchoy to do an ink print on a piece of paper and then measured the angles and we were happy to see the phi angles of Fibonacci. We worked on math doodles like netted spirals, impossible triangles, fractals, Pascal’s triangles, and tesselated fish.

We played Uno and made hexaflexagons together. Then he wanted to do a project where we each made a set of D&D dice out of paper, so we did. I had Quinn look up the formula for volume of an icosahedron, aka a 20-sided dice. Quinn also worked on creating his own version of the card game mentioned in Percy Jackson called Mythomagic.

I sent Q photos of hummingbird babies enjoying multiple dinners. I miss feeding him multiple dinners. Also this month, we hiked on the beach together for my birthday and saw squid eggs and a green worm.

Reading this month: Quinn read The Parrot’s Lament and shared with me something he learned about dolphins collaborating with humans in fishing endeavors. I began reading to him Zero: the biography of a dangerous idea by Charles Seife. Sometimes a word or phrase would get him to interrupt and reveal some secret knowledge – he knew all about triangular numbers, for instance. We learned new words like flinders. He seems not only undaunted, but energized, by the necessity of additional dimensions to scaffold string theory in order to bridge the seemingly infinite chasm between quantum physics and relativity.

~thankful thursday~ if the weather holds

A non-exhaustive list of classes I’m currently not getting an A in:

Gratitude

Being a friend

Parenting

Meditating

Karate

The list goes on. Good thing I’m not taking any of these classes for a grade. This will be my last thankful Thursday post for a while. It was helpful for me to document the fast-moving current events of the early phase of the pandemic as a way to keep myself integrated, and now I feel like I’m past the urgent-care emotional triage stage and moving beyond it into that more integrated place. How I write tends to shift with the changing seasons and this year is no different, even though 2020 is very, very different, as years go. Stay tuned for summer, which will not be devoid of gratitude, but will most likely be its flighty, fickle self, rushing by much too quickly for my liking, but I will do my best to still stuff a few of its choicest fruits into the canning jars here.

~Week of 5-22 to 5-29~

I am grateful for the return of beautiful weather. For time spent reading the Outsiders (which Q just finished for school) on the loveseat by the campfire in the yard, then as it got dark just leaning on Rich staring into the flames. I am grateful for the spontaneous dates of early summer: breakfasts, coffees, and cocktails with popcorn outside in our Adirondack chairs by wedding trees. I am grateful for my solid husband who lets me soak his shirt front in tears as needed, so I can get it out and go on. I am grateful for a lovely long weekend extra day – we had cabana coffee to start the day and Caribbean sunset cocktails to end it – a completely fictitious getaway. That evening we had our drink (I had made fruity syrup that day as part of my freezer clean-out effort and mixed it with our whiskey) and sat in the gathering dark watching bats. He got me laughing until we fell asleep. Laughter is antiviral, and has many more benefits besides.

I am grateful for Rich, that every time adversity comes along it makes Us stronger. You name it: moving, road trips, challenging coparents, unemployment, pandemics, everything that can be hard for couples.

I am grateful that every now and then Quinn wants to read to me, instead of the usual where he wants me to do the reading. Then I can just watch him and listen to his voice and soak him in.

During another cocktail hour in the Adirondack chairs by the wedding trees the western tanagers visited, flaunting their bright plumage. A new clutch of robin eggs is incubating under the mama in the nest. And I saw a baby rufous hummingbird in the bayou! I am pretty sure it had just fledged.

Pizza night, a ride on the bay road, gelato and a harry potter movie marathon. I am grateful for the simplicity of the days, the ease of the evenings.

I am grateful to be gardening a bit while the weather holds.

Speaking of if the weather holds… the Indigo Girls and Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach did a live feed together and it was magical. Holy. I have been watching the Indigo Girls do their music live feeds as well, and when they remarked that “this was the most requested song,” I was surprised that it hadn’t been Galileo or Closer to Fine or Power of Two… and then I realized it is also a favorite of this former wooden ship sailor: the Wood Song.

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear

My friends and I have had a tough time

Bruising our brains hard up against change

All the old dogs and the magician

Now I see we’re in the boat in two by twos

Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use

And the very close quarters are hard to get used to

Love weighs the hull down with its weight

But the wood is tired and the wood is old

And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds

But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point

That’s where I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan

Was built by other than a greater hand

With a love that passes all out understanding

Watching closely over the journey

Yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide

Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside

Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side

The prize is always worth the rocky ride

But the wood is tired and the wood is old

And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds

But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point

That’s where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look

Skip to the final chapter of the book

And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took

To get us where we are this far yeah

But the question drowns in it’s futility

And even I have got to laugh at me

No one gets to miss the storm of what will be

Just holding on for the ride

The wood is tired and the wood is old

We’ll make it fine if the weather holds

But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point

That’s where I need to go

 

~Week of 5-30 to 6-5~

I am grateful for:

More beautiful days! A butterfly sighting. My Dad’s birthday. A completely cleaned-out freezer. Rich and I on our knees, weeding together. Twelve quarts of chicken broth tucked in the freezer when I turned it back on.

My work contract is a source of stress. Even when I know there is funding for next year, I will expend an incredible amount of mental energy between now and September when the new one is set to begin, concerning whether I stay with the same or have to switch to a new contracting agency (fill out new hire paperwork, change health insurance plans, add another retirement fund to my already out-of-hand “portfolio”, none of which contains that much money), whether the new contract will go into play on time (or will I have a gap in employment, and health coverage), updating my resume (I save it for days I’m feeling like a badass scientist, and put it away on the days I feel resentful that NOAA doesn’t recognize this by offering me a permanent position). I am not grateful for this stress, but I am very grateful to have a job in these stressful times when so many are out of work.

On the anti-racism front, I am in that uncomfortable space between reading all I can and listening to Black voices more because I need to confront myself, but also needing to speak up, but also trying to keep silent so Black voices can be amplified, but also acting in solidarity. I really can overthink like it’s my job! But seriously, the one uncomfortable thing in my life should be this.

If the weather holds, we’ll have missed the point…

I am grateful the world is awake.

I decided not to do any posting this week at all, in #muted solidarity. Which means next week silence is out, because speaking up is necessary. Studying. Gathering resources.

Worked on my resume all day in between sending emails demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, shot in her own home on a no-knock warrant by police on March 13th. On June 5th, she would have been 27 years old.

I told Quinn I was thinking about going to the Black Lives Matter protest and explained my desire to support the movement. And while it is not entirely safe for us to go out in the world right now, we can do it relatively safely with a mask and while staying 10 feet apart, but Black people live in a world where they can’t go out safely every day. I explained to him that during the pandemic, the inequality that is already present in society only became more extreme, so they are even more unsafe now than they are “normally”‘ and how that version of “normal” isn’t right and never has been. I thought it would take some discussion, but he didn’t hesitate. He wanted to go.

I was selfishly excited to see him and thrilled that he was open to this change in perspective from “the only safe thing is to stay at home” to “some people are never safe and I can do this to show I care.”

So for my own part with educating myself… my normal way of handling uncomfortable feelings is to deal with them as fast as I can so I can put them behind me… I’m in the middle of a few things right now that don’t sit well but with this particular one, it is good and right to sit in the middle of being uncomfortable about it. It’s uncomfortable to think about a whole group of people living in fear and grief every day of their lives, but it’s imperative that I sit with that; it is what we’re being asked to do and I feel that it is quite literally the least we can do.

There are many opportunities for feeling uneasy, for self doubt. Staying open is the key. If we sit with feeling uncomfortable about not knowing how to do it right, and keep that awkward conversation going, maybe we get somewhere.

I stood and marched with Quinn. We held our signs.

I made that mask for him, and gave it to him when he and I hiked on my birthday… the last time I saw him… on April 3rd…

The protest was on June 3rd.

Two months…

It was way too short…. but I was a pretty proud mama to stand with him.

~black and white wednesday~ abide

“We live in a place where north meets south and many people are running for their lives, while many others rest easy with the embarrassments of privilege. Others still are trying to find a place in between, a place of honest living where they can abide themselves and one another without howling in the darkness. My way of finding a place in the world is to write one.”

~Barbara Kingsolver, Stealing Apples, from her book of collected essays Small Wonder

sitting with the uncomfortable truth of systemic racism

I am not here to teach anyone anything about racism, just to get that out of the way up front. I’m still learning a lot about myself when it comes to this subject, and I’m consciously, actively pursuing this learning. I know enough now to know that I have a long way to go, and while I will share some resources I’ve been using to do this learning, I have not researched extensively enough to know if they are the best or most thorough or accurate resources. Still, I share in case others are looking for a place to start.

I am posting from inside that place of discomfort, where there is a tension between, “I am not the right person to talk about this,” and “I must not be silent about this.” By not being silent, I am not trying to be an ally on a performative level, only speaking out to paint a rosy picture of myself and all the wonderful things I am doing for the cause. For show. Words without actions. I am saying something about striving to become a better anti-racist, because saying nothing makes me complicit in this moment in time when the world is paying attention to exactly how alive racism is in this country, in our communities, and in ourselves. We are either racist, or we are anti-racist.

I do not want to simply re-share others’ words without making it clear that I personally am saying these words. I am outraged by injustices that continue to occur to Black Americans based on race. Also, at the same time and as another source of tension, my words are irrelevant in this conversation, and amplifying the voices of Black Americans is one thing that is needed, so we can hear about the effects of racism from the voices of Black Americans themselves. Using my own voice is helpful only so long as it does not drown out the voices who matter on this subject: voices of people of color. And even so, I am hearing calls for both silence and non-silence by the Black voices I am turning up in my feed, and I have felt paralyzed about how to show up and show my support without making it about me, without being performative, without diluting Black voices, but also without being silent.

In an extremely low-risk setting, (minus the coronavirus concerns), Quinn and I marched in a local protest, where we had no real fear of violence or retaliation by law enforcement to our chants, from behind our masks, of “Black lives matter.” I want to be careful not to believe now that I’ve done this one action, that I have now done my part to end racism. Anti-racism is going to be a lifelong practice, and most of it will go on behind the scenes, in my own insides, where I have to find a way to stay in this zone of discomfort, knowing I can’t fix it, knowing it’s in me even though I reject it, knowing that I have benefited from it and finding a way to get curious about what racism still looks like in my own heart. My place in the conversation is primarily one of listening. Noticing when I feel defensive, taking that as a signal of where my garden has some weeds I need to pull. Digging in deeper. (Also, signing petitions for justice, emailing people in positions of power, showing up in my community, donating to organizations helping people of color.)

I have believed my whole life that I was not racist. Growing up, it was because we attended school with a Black family, The Walkers. My brothers and I each shared a classroom with one of the Walker boys, and their Dad was the baseball coach. We were definitely not racist because they were our friends.

I remember learning that the church I grew up in, the Free Methodist church, was founded in 1860 (and named “Free”) because their breakaway sect from the Methodist denomination was anti-slavery, and because they refused to charge a fee for sitting in pews, as this would exclude the poor. Despite this inclusive beginning, among the congregation I belonged to over a century later I heard many overtly racist attitudes verbalized, when such matters as interracial marriage arose, say, because someone’s daughter or son-in-law was Black. I heard how someone, “had no problem with Black people,” just so long as they didn’t mix in marriage with whites. It took a long time before I thought about how being anti-slavery as a denomination didn’t necessarily mean our church was welcoming to Black members, or actively fighting racism. I had learned about slavery in school, and knew it was wrong, and being on the right side of that issue was comfortable.

I nodded my head in agreement in 1992 when En Vogue played on the radio, “free your mind, and the rest will follow, be color blind, don’t be so shallow.” The next year Michael W. Smith, my favorite contemporary Christian musician, really got me on board with being color blind:

There’s not a world of difference

Out in the world tonight

Between this world of people

Red, Yellow, Black and White

But instead of riding a rainbow of love

We still are fighting with prejudice gloves

Of anger

With something to claim

But nothing to gain so

Why can’t we be color blind

You know we should

Be living together

And we’d find a reason and rhyme

I know we would

Cause we could see better

If we could be color blind

Being color blind was comfortable, because it meant that we were unable to see differences like skin color. The problem is, if we can’t see them, we can’t celebrate them, nor can we recognize how they are used as an excuse to oppress. There is no shortcut to erasing four centuries of oppression.

In college, I had friends and housemates with brown and black skin, and they were my friends. I was definitely not racist. I was a little miffed that some of them had been admitted to college on scholarships because of their skin color, because I had actually had to earn my scholarship through academic achievement. I wasn’t sure I liked Affirmative Action, because I felt the playing field should really be level and have nothing to do with the color of one’s skin. Wasn’t it just racism in reverse, if someone like me with good grades could be bumped out of a position by someone with grades not as good, who happened to be Black? I did not like to think my generation needed to pay the price for previous generations of white people who committed grievous acts like owning slaves. At that time I did not recognize how I started off life on second base simply by being born white, when my Black peers were trying to make it on base at all, just based on the difference in our skin color. I did not know that reverse racism cannot exist, because racism is prejudice plus power, and can only exist in one direction – coming from the people with the embedded power from a long history as a racial majority, aka white people.

I attended my friend’s graduation from University of Delaware, where Ben Carson delivered the commencement address, and I felt the surge of pride and hopefulness that a Black man could be so successful, could do groundbreaking conjoined-twins brain surgery and achieve so much. We really had come a long way since the olden days, a long, long time ago, when racism had been a thing. I did not realize that pointing at the token successes of a few wildly successful Black people such as Oprah and Obama and black ball players is just one of the many forms of covert racism, one of the many ways to stay comfortable in white supremacy.

(Source) Scaffolded racism resources – I really like this resource and the way it presents an easy grid to find your stage in confronting racism and access resources to help you move past it.

In graduate school I encountered for the first time the poisonous line of research known as eugenics, in which race inferiority was the a priori conclusion motivating a whole branch of “scientific” inquiry. I only discovered this because I was studying whale conservation genetics and looking at the concept of fitness in behavioral ecology. Until then, I had had no idea that science had been misused to justify slavery, segregation, the denial of voting rights. Luckily, that type of belief being underpinned by false scientific conclusions was a thing of the past. (I thought.) I did not know that the horrifying legacy of abuses of people of color in the name of “research” still pervades contemporary science and medicine.

I became a parent, and consciously included toys and books representing people with different skin colors in my son’s life, wanting to make sure he didn’t end up with any unconscious biases based on race. I think this is when I finally started to realize I, too, had biases to overcome, when I started to realize that actually, racism might not be totally in the past, that maybe some of my beliefs might have some evolving to do.

In kindergarten, Quinn had three teachers: a white lesbian, a Hispanic woman, and a Black woman, and I felt so great about providing such a diverse learning environment for him. Long time readers will remember Quinn spent exactly two weeks in kindergarten, but that was still plenty of time for me to realize my clumsiness in this area in which I had just gotten done congratulating myself about my enlightenment. The day Quinn described his teacher’s skin as chocolate, my post was entitled “diversity”. I’ll never delete this part of my process, though it is a tiny bit painful to read now. This post, in which I committed many of the faux-pas I am now learning to be aware of, such as “I’m so ashamed,” claims that I do not have a race bias, and the urge to “fix” anything to do with awkward feelings around the uncomfortable topic of race, depicts where I was truly at, and looking at it is uncomfortable because I kept going in the process and did not stop there. It is an insightful mile-marker for me to look back on. I’m starting to be able to see where those “I’m ashamed of my whiteness” thought patterns just center the conversation back around my white self, rather than keeping the spotlight on the very real, atrocious experiences of Black people. I’m uncomfortably aware that this current post centers very much around my own white process, and my goal is to show up and be accountable, not to make the story about me, but to hopefully highlight how everyone is at a different place in the process. I have been at a lot of different places in the process, too. I am 100% sure I am saying something now that in my ignorance I will look back on and wish I had known to say differently. Nevertheless…

Right now where I am in the process is a place that is not nearly as comfortable as some of the other places leading up to this one. The more aware I become, the more uncomfortable the truth of the issues becomes, and the more unlearning I realize I have to do. My goal right now is to stay in that place of discomfort. I think that is how I will know if I am going in the right direction, because the more I know, the more I realize I should not be comfortable with anything to do with systemic racism in America. I should not work at becoming comfortable that a system that was established to catch slaves (the police) is committing violence against Black and Brown bodies every day. Even when they are not literally deprived of breath, they have to walk in fear, as described poignantly in a passage I stumbled across by Shola Richards about how he only walks his dog with one of his daughters along, never as a lone Black man, and his follow up post describing how everyday life events white people take for granted, for him, present a relentless stream of challenges; “death by a thousand papercuts.” My place in the conversation is as a listener. The links in this post are an effort to amplify a few black voices who have gotten through to me in some way. I am committed to continue listening. When I hear, “racism work is NOT a self improvement space for white people. If protecting bodies & empowering Black lives aren’t at the center of your work then you’re not here for Black people – you’re simply going through motions to make your white self feel better,” from a voice (Rachel Elizabeth Cargle) I am listening to, I am committed to noticing how uncomfortable that makes me feel, and pressing against that discomfort to be able to hear the truth in her words. And keep going to figure out how to protect bodies and empower Black lives in my community.

The framework of DARVO from which Rachel Elizabeth Cargle presents anti-racism work parallels something that I experienced in a domestic violence context. I’m saying that not to make this about me, but to say that her words turned on a light for me. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim/Offender.”

“White supremacy is being the ex boyfriend who somehow always came out of the argument as the one who was hurt.” ~ Rachel Elizabeth Cargle

Reconciliation is only possible when the abuser can get to a point where they can listen to the person they’ve hurt define the hurts they’ve delivered. Many of us never receive this from our abusers, even if the abuse stops. Even if the abuser has completed a searching and fearless moral inventory and enumerated for themselves the ways they think they abused us, it falls short.

When I hear, “all lives matter,” it sounds to me like a refusal to listen to the victims of abuse say in their own words how they have been abused. There are a million examples on the internet you can google of how this feels just like replying to your spouse asking if you love them with, “I love everybody,” or sharing about the loss of a loved one and being told, “all people die.” To say all lives matter in response to Black lives matter is a refusal to listen to someone who is in very real pain. I don’t get to tell them about the hurts I think I’ve delivered. They get to tell me. I’m listening.

The uncomfortable truth about systemic racism is that it’s inside me. Wanting to maintain comfort is a white supremacist yearning.

 

If that thought makes you squirm, find a way to enter the conversation as a listener. Do it as a sports fan. A history buff. A scientist. A Christian. Stay uncomfortable. Sit with it. Keep listening.

The truth of systemic racism is uncomfortable, but I’m not going to die from it; many, many Black people are dying from it. I am committed to staying awkward and vulnerable, and uncomfortable, because it’s the best indication I have that I’m going in the right direction, towards justice for their lives. I don’t want to get comfortable with this ever again. I appreciated the sign of one of the teens at the protest that read, “Don’t Look Away.”

~rainbow mondays~ change

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed

~thankful thursday~ entish

 

Quinn and I have reached the chapters in The Two Towers about the Ents (Shepherds of the Forest). I am grateful for the Ents, for Tolkien, for beautiful descriptive literature that whisks us off to places alive with memory, where we are nourished with lush greenery, replenished from our weariness with a long drink of restorative running water. Treebeard shares with the hobbits how the Ents famously do not say anything in their language unless it is worth taking a long time to say. I would like to be more like the Ents, whether the topic is antibody testing, homework resistance, or a friend’s profound grief. I also think the Ents have something to teach me about listening, long and patiently. I am grateful that some of my slow words come through how I intended, though I am still much too hasty and imprecise, and sometimes my lack of words may be taken to mean I don’t care. This could not be farther from the truth about me.

~rainbow mondays~ adapt

~rainbow mondays~

a splash of color on monday morning

a photo study documenting the colors of the spectrum: the balance points between light reflected and light absorbed