Tag Archives: politics

How Do We Learn Understanding: Read

Monument of Mary Jemison @ St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church

I asked my students to write speeches to become the President of our Fascist country.  One of my students stood up at the front of the classroom and discussed the problems with white people.  There was anger in her tone, she was blushing, but with heat, not bloom.   She listed Ms. M specifically as “that kind.”

Now this was the assignment I had asked my students to do on the day that they became Fascist.  They needed to blame someone.  We were outlining the steps it took for Germany to become Nazi using our country, Manneslovokia.  I pinned my classroom against the other 9th grade classes and for four days we were a different type of German government leading to Naziism.  This sounds bad, but I needed my students to desperately understand why people put up with this behavior, what mob mentality is, and how ruling by fear dictates the action of millions of people.  It’s a complicated history and a complicated assignment for understanding, comprehension, and empathy.

Mary Jemison Grave Site / NY

My student who hunched over at the front of my classroom, calling me out as a white woman who pushed her views on those around her was speaking from the truth and from the lies.  I teach in a county full of displaced First Nation people.  I call them displaced because the Native American people of this region have not been given full First Nation rights like other tribes.  They are a mixed blend of the Six Nations and therefore can’t be determined to be “full blood.”  It’s another complicated story of history and blood lines and governments denial and stance.  For this purpose, I teach to a crowd of people who are born broken.  If you are displaced, if you are unsure of your real home, if you aren’t granted access into the rights of your people, or you aren’t granted a place to practice your true beliefs as been passed down than you have to born broken, born with a limp wing.

My school does a lot to heal that heartbreak.  We have “Indian Education” and performances by the local tribe for all of the student population so that they can understand the stories, dances, songs, instruments, and ideas of the tribal people living in their neighborhood.  It’s actually one of the most entertaining and inviting shows at school.  It is my job as an educator to know my student’s homes.  I may not have ever traveled down the dirt road where their parents keep a home, one lone tire swing and a broken screen door, but I’ve heard their stories even when not directly told to me.

Taking of Mary Jemison by Robert Griffing

I once called home to a student’s father and he cried at the news that his daughter was amazing and I was giving her an award for being an overall wonderful student.  He cried to me on the phone saying he had never heard a teacher’s voice, let alone praise for his only daughter, who happened to be the first redheaded Native American girl that I had ever met.  She looked like me, freckled and unpolished.  That’s what I try to teach my students, it isn’t what we look like, but who we are on the inside, these stories we keep folded into the space between our fingers that teach us about others and about ourselves.

Because I teach that beautiful redhead and many other First Nation students, I like to read a lot of Native American literature.  I read it for my own education and for the education of my students.  I tend to mow-down young adult First Nation literature the most because I know when I ask my students to take a book from the classroom shelf that they will see a story about themselves in the binding.  Now, I’m not talking about Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich although they’re both GREAT AUTHORS.  I’m talking true accounts, or accounts that have been fictionalized from true knowledge, accounts that feel true, not true to the white person who as my students put it “aren’t about that life,” but accounts from the mouths of Native people themselves.

The White by Deborah Lawson

When I was in Williamsburg, I had to search through the bookstore to see if there was anything worth grabbing up for my students.  I was lucky enough to find a book titled The White by Deborah Larsen.  The White is a fictionalized story of Mary Jemison whose true story was that she was taken as a young adult female into a Seneca tribe as a replacement soul for the soul of a brother taken by whites.  Larsen does an adequate job of interweaving the true account as told by a physician who listened to Mary’s story and wrote the words for her, and Larsen’s fictionalized vision of who this young girl was and grew up to be.   It’s that perfect blend of two cultures, it’s what my students are.  Mary realizes throughout the story the different parts of herself and what she’s decided to keep from each upbringing.  She realizes she’s unable to read at one point and makes it her mission to learn every new word she comes across to teach to her children.

“Pardon me. What are ‘dregs’?”

Mary never forgets the day she was taken, her study of snow with her British family, or the shadows of the scalping that killed all of her younger brothers and sisters, but she also learns to embrace Seneca life and marries two strong Seneca men.  To be honest, I was in love with Sheninjee.  He was so respectful of Mary’s lack of affection towards him and finally when they did become husband and wife in the biblical sense, it was told in the slight brushing of fingertips against a collarbone.  That is beautiful young adult literature, just a pebble thrown in water with the page’s white space as all the small circles that wake out.

The Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison by James Seaver

“Let her leave if she wishes,’ Sheninjee said. ‘My first act as her husband would be to set her free.  If she passed from our village, I would ask our people not to pursue her” (59).

The White shows the acceptance and deep warmth of the Seneca towards Mary and her growth towards loving them.  By the end of the book, it’s safe to say that Mary is neither Seneca, nor white, but she’s what the character’s call a “white witch,” a woman who lives in both worlds, both languages, and has both spirits.  I hope this story, though fictionalized, helps my students break boundaries.  It’s written with very poetic language, lots of white space, lots of things go unspoken as the people of the Seneca choose wisely where to put words.  I’ve never had to choose wisely where to put words, or choose when to speak really unless it’s in interrupting someone else, but I like the idea of a choice.  Now we just talk to talk.  We talk on the phone, through instant social media and text message, letter-writing.  I’m talking right now as I write this and the words move bumbling on my lips. Just imagine if we started choosing when to speak, it became a choice.  Maybe we’d create a generation of listeners, or just a generation that tries harder to understand.

Here is a chapter from the physician’s account of Captivity Narrative about Mary Jemison.

About my thoughts on talking by choice, Ted Talk: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz


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Project 365 | Week 41

Guys, my blog has been sucking.  Don’t worry, this week there will be book reviews and bookgasms and bookishness.  I’m finally getting used to my schedule of taking classes and teaching classes and grocery shopping.

LET THERE BE BOOKS!

289:

Sunday Drive

This week is going to be a drive through my small town.

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Wires & Land

This is one of my favorite places on my drive home.  It’s where the farms are mixed with a bit of wire.

I read this poem this week and it’s what reminded me that I can find something beautiful in something ugly.

Valentine for Ernest Mann – Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

291:

Shower Curtain Light

Ignore the claw marks.  That would be my kitten, Fromage.  She not only likes cheese, but curtains, blankets, decorative chairs, etc.

292:

My little town involves their secret cuddles.

Secret Canoodling!

I can’t help but take these photos.

They should be on that new Animal Planet show dedicated to cuteness.

293:

Slash & Burn

This is good for the harvest.  This is good for the harvest.  This is good for the harvest.

294:

Children’s Section of The Country Bookshop

I went to get the next book in The Wildwood Chronicles because it’s written for 24-year-olds and fifth graders.   I happened upon this chalk door, (like a gate into the secret garden).   Don’t worry, I didn’t break the seal of childhood by selecting a chunk of chalk and scribbling a 24-year-old heart onto the door.  I really wanted to though, maybe next time.

PS. This is The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines.  Their motto is “Bringing the World to Southern Pines.” 

295:

“We like big bird….with ranch & hot sauce.”

Political voice in small town America.

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Poe looks dashing in blue.

Somehow, I managed to mix Lewis and Edgar in one Creative Writing Club flyer.


“Lincoln was always scribbling notes and putting them into his hat.” – Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

* I can’t say the grammar in this is at its finest.  I am exhausted.  I had to let out some word beauty though, my sweet outlet.

It’s an election year. It’s a love letter to democracy (democrazy).  It’s a story about men and their hats, or the tallness that sits upon their heads.  It makes me feel dumb because I can’t speak 9 languages and don’t collect paintings, or keep charts about my farm.  I don’t even have a farm or a garden.  I can barely rake the leaves in my backyard and remember to feed the birds.

Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness is a graphic novel about the history of the US.  What men were important and what is more important than their wars and the parchment they signed in their thick oak chairs?   It is a love letter to freedom, liberty, constitutional declarations.  A sweet swirly handwriting, a drawing of Abraham Lincoln that isn’t a stick figure with a large hat and hair combed-over.  It’s a history class in a graphic novel.   I wish I could teach her in my classroom, let my students see that people wish they could sleep in history, rather than sleep through it.  Go back and sit in balconies, invent electricity, write love letters to their wives over gunshots and tent flaps.

Maira Kalman isn’t a historian, but she’s an American and at some point we all become tiny historians on our tiny piece of the world.  I am the historian of my mother’s spoon and bowl upbringing of my brother, my father’s bald spot, the short history of my cats as they scale curtains and scratch furniture.  I am the historian of this bedroom covered in flowers and robins egg blue.  The teacher, the historian of my classroom with its sit down, stand up rules, its copies of worksheets that kill forests, and the smart board that will forever be my mortal enemy.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

Think about it.  We’re all historians.  Our tweets will build history books for our children’s children.  People will ask what the War in Iraq was like and we will tell them dusty, too many bombs, too many lost limbs and young men left broken.  Too many things no one told us before this started.   What was 9/11 like? Terrifying.  What was that town like that you lived in when you were small, the neighborhood pool, the fence built by hand up the alley of the main street.  You are the historian, you are the story teller, you are the voice for this bit part.  

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“I would confess to him that I would love to live in the Lincoln Memorial.  Just a simple cot in the center of the space.  I would make my bed and sweep.  Drink tea.  My neatness and happy aspect would amuse him. In the evening I would embroider his words onto fabric.  Words that seem so apt today” (90). I would confess to Ben Franklin that I would love to own a pair of bifocals to make me look smarter in snob coffee houses, when I snap my fingers to the stanzas.  I would wear loafers, penny loafers, and float in on pear perfume and fancy.

I think this book reminded me how much I love the superstars of history and literature.  Aren’t we all obsessed with some bearded man, someone who sweat over notes of declarations, or two scores, or the figures for electricity?

I have a special place in my heart for George Washington and his wooden teeth.  In middle school, I was picked on for my buck teeth, my fingernail gap.  I look at people’s teeth when they smile in the street, as they shake my hand.  I prayed for braces into my pillow and then I grew up and my teeth got coffee stains and floss.  There’s something special about a man who just filled his teeth with ivory (or wood)  and went on conquering.

I also adore John Adams.  I’ve read the letters between his wife and him.  Their romance was one for the storybooks, literally.  When I picture widows standing guard on the railings of Antellbellum homes, I think of Abigal Adams.  Abigal must be a close relative to Alice with their names being so similar, and their dresses frilled with petticoat lace.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“After the 1850’s, thanks in part to Franklin’s influence, America became the land of ingenuity.  Here, in 1898, is Nikola Tesla, who talked to pigeons and worked with electricity, while calmly reading a book. I wish I knew what he was reading” (237).

I’m such an angry feminist.  Sometimes I forget all the gifts that men gave our culture when they weren’t busy being barbarians.  I didn’t know who Nikola Tesla was before this book, but I do love a man who talks to the birds.  Then, there’s Thomas Edison who “invented naps” because he was inventing so many things he needed to get into bed every afternoon at approximately 3pm just after a late tea.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“Everything is invented. Language. Childhood.  Careers.  Relationships.  Religion. Philosophy.  The Future.  They are not there for the plucking.  They don’t exist in some natural state.  They must be invented by people.  And that, of course, is a great thing.  Don’t mope in your room.  Go invent something.”

GO. INVENT. SOMETHING.

You have a blog, write it.  You have a voice, sing.  How do you carve a bird with two stones?  How do you wrap an adult hand around the small pinky of a newborn baby?

For that matter, how do you answer a student who tells you on college ruled paper that he didn’t read, and he didn’t understand any of the stories, that he’s lost hope in ever passing your class? You pinky promise.  You invent handshakes and lessons.  You invent hope where there isn’t any and you create this small flame in his eyes.  You rest everything in your life on that one short sentence, a sentence that means hope in every way you say it….a pinky wrapped around the pink middle of another pinky, the inside of a heart, hanging open.


Why Are You in my Uterus?

It’s time for the inevitable people.  You knew this was coming: The War on Women.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

Earlier in February, Virginia lawmakers and their governor (notice the blatant lack of capitalization) thought it was appropriate to enter a bill for transvaginal ultrasounds pre-abortion.  Side note: I’m a Catholic woman, would I ever be able to get an abortion?  Probably not.  Does that mean I need to dictate how every other woman’s decision needs to be made on the subject? Absolutely not.  Your body, your decision.

A transvaginal ultrasound is defined as this: Transvaginal ultrasound is a type of pelvic ultrasound. It is used to look at a woman’s reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina. Transvaginal means across or through the vagina. (Medicine Plus)

Now, here is the definition of rape: Forcible Sex Offense: Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly or against that person’s will. Includes forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual asualt with an object, and forcible fondling.

Here is another definition of sexual battery (for those of you who like to argue):  Sexual Battery: Forced oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by any object, except when these acts are performed for bona fide medical purposes.

I’m not sure forcing women to have a vaginal ultrasound is “bona fide medical purposes,” however penetrating a woman with or without medical purpose against their will isn’t acceptable.  It isn’t acceptable to write into law any type of entrance into a woman’s private parts, ever.  I like to choose what goes into my vagina thank you, and an ultrasound probe for whatever reason is not on the top of my list.

Hence, I am particularly thankful for the men and women of Virginia’s silent protest.

In the history of language/the first obscenity was silence.” – Christina Davis

Here is where I always turn to the literature.  Last night I was reading Christina Davis’ brilliant collection of poems, Forth a Raven.  Whenever I’m in a moment where I don’t have the language or words, I go to the literature.  This is a quote I found in the poem, “The Primer” which is about love, and language, and usage.  It is the perfect tune for the Virginia protests.  What is grander than silence?  What is worse than yelling, and pitch forks, and gangs of human beings hooked together at the elbows with signs of hate in bold black marker? Silence.  Silence is the greatest power we have as human beings: to choose when and if to speak, or just to coat the air with the remarkableness of nothing.  It’s enough that we have language to argue, to write, to form a voice for our bodies and soul, but it’s even more to have the chance and the power to stop that voice and let the noiseless emotion fill the blue air.

Thank you, Virginians.

And then we come to the reason why I’m a slut: the pimple of politics, Rush Limbaugh.

If you watch the news, or you listen to NPR, or God-help-us you listen to Rush Limbaugh in the mornings then you’ve already heard about the comments he’s made to and about Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke.  If you haven’t heard the comments, here are just a few remarks:

  • “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
  • “She was not allowed to testify because it was not about women at Georgetown who have so much sex they can’t afford birth control…”
  • “if we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” (Yes, he did say porn was acceptable, but for women to have contraceptives, not so much…)
This isn’t an argument about whether the government should subsidize birth control anymore, it’s an argument against women’s rights and women’s value.

And here is my open letter to Rush Limbaugh.

Dear Rush,

Hello from the inner world of my brain which does not reside in the deep red depths of my vagina.  This is Slut # 273,483,212 speaking from North Carolina (yes, the Bible Belt).  Thank you dearly for calling me a slut on Friday from the smooth reclining chair and empty airspace of your cubicle radio room.  It’s easy, isn’t it, to sit behind a microphone and let your thunderous voice boom out to millions of people (if in fact that many people actually listen to you seriously).  Unlike the Virginia protesters you can’t look anyone in the eye with your comments, can you?

I’m not angry that you called me a slut.  You’re right, I do have free choice on who and what goes into my vagina.  I do have the right to protect myself from STD’s through use of grocery store birth control methods, and medically prescribed pills that I oh, so love, to take at the same time everyday.  Did you know that I got on birth control to stop heavy flow, not because I was bringing all the boys to the yard.  I’m a bookish nerd, I clean up pretty, but I’m not exactly a sexual beast.  And if I were, why is that your business?  I do hope your wife has since thrown away her 30 days of pills in their purple packet and stuck the “two aspirins between her legs.”  Sorry honey, no sex tonight.  Maybe she can give YOU recommendations on which birth control method would suit your heavy flow, and also make sure you don’t gain weight (because that’s certainly a side effect).

I think my favorite part of your broadcast was this:

“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

I know your game is to objectify and continue the rape-culture.  The culture where advertisements picture women in scantily clad clothes serving their men beer on a platter.  In fact, here is where I think you and Chris Brown would definitely get along.  You both prefer women bent over and quiet.  It’s men like you that make it okay for women to be door mats, vacuum cleaners, punching bags, trash bins, just another pair of legs.

I’m sure your mother would be proud.  Not only did she fit your big head through that birth canal, but she created a balding, middle-aged man that doesn’t respect the very mind that made him.  Your mother did all the right things during pregnancy and was lucky enough to have the miracle of a healthy baby boy in her arms when you were born.  But, let’s not forget, she’s a slut.  Your sister’s a slut.  I’m a slut.  My mom’s a slut.  Plenty of women reading this blog are sluts.

Thank you for making me proud to use this word. No longer will I feel offended being called this by sidewalk preachers and back woods conservatives.  If being a slut means having total control of my body, and the welfare of any child born within, I’m a total slutbag.

Just remember, in 1920, I was given the right to vote.  It may have taken us an 18 year movement and a history of domesticity, but somehow (maybe with intelligence…just maybe) we managed to collectively earn that right.  If you think I’ll ever vote for someone, or something that lets a man’s heavy hands into my vagina, you’re dead wrong.  Welcome to the female nation.  Welcome to democracy.

Sincerely,

A Feminazi

My dear blogger friend has had an amazing idea to write his sponsors or at least boycott them.  Here is the list of Rush’s radio sponsors.


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