Tuesday, May 8, 2018


I got invited to the local senior center. Not because some organization I support was having an event there, or because the center was having a workshop on backpacking through Eastern Europe. Nope, I was invited because it's a SENIOR center, and I'm now, apparently, a senior. I'm 52 - I thought I wasn't a senior until 55, but I guess I look 55. Or older. The local senior center has free meals and bingo. That's what they think people 55 and over want to do. That's what this person thought I want to do.

It was a great day, truly.

I was angry at being thought of as a senior, it's true. I know I'm not young, but I don't feel ready for that label. But I was also angry that this person thought this is what I'm ready for: free meals and bingo.

Here's what I'd love instead: an energetic community center where adults of all ages come together and intentionally nurture trust and empathy through activities that allow us to interact with each other. A YMCA would be best, but since there's no money for sports courts or a pool, how about a place that has Tai Chi, yoga, Zumba, drumming, classes on investing, computer classes, bicycle safety classes, bocci, corn hole, pool, language classes, presentations by people that have traveled somewhere fascinating or returning Peace Corps volunteers, gardening workshops, cooking classes and a movie night? A place where I could sign up to go, as a group, to music programs in the larger city next door, or all the way to Portland for a professional touring theater show, or a canoeing trip. Even though I don't do either, have a knitting, crochet and/or quilting club.

Are there no nonprofits they could partner with so that they could host even some of those activities?

I'm not young anymore, but I'm not ready for free meals and bingo. I'm trying to improve my off-road motorcycle riding skills. The average age of a motorcycle owner is 48. 39% of motorcycle owners in the US are between the ages of 51-69. Those are my "seniors."

So, no thanks to the senior center. I'll check back in when I'm 80, but just so you know, I see me still listening to the Violent Femmes, not Perry Como.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My first off-road motorcycle riding class!

Are you getting the most out of your dualsport motorcycle? Have you ever wanted to improve your skills and take adventure riding to the next level? Is this the year you tackle a Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR)?

No to question one - but I'm trying!
Yes to question two.
No to question three - that's always going to be beyond me.

It's finally happening: I'm taking an off-road riding clinic! The BMW Adventure Off-Road Riding Clinic, in fact, on April 13, at Moulton Falls Winery & Cider House in Yacolt, Washington. It's sponsored by BMW Motorcycles of Western Oregon in Tigard, Oregon. It's an 8-hour clinic, and the claim is that it's happening rain or shine, and that all skill levels are welcomed.
We will have a training course set up on five acres adjacent to the winery where Shawn Thomas and Lance Thomas (aka the Adventure Brothers) will spend the entire day providing instruction and subsequent drills of best practice dualsport riding techniques.
The clinic bills itself as "open to dualsport enthusiasts that want to learn more about adventure off-road riding, regardless of skill level." I surely hope that's true...

Attendees are allowed to camp overnight at the winery, but as it's going to be rainy and near 40 Fahrenheit (about 4 Celsius) at night, so we'll be staying at a hotel in Cougar the night before and the night of the clinic. There's supposed to be "after clinic camaraderie at the winery", and we'll partake in that, without alcohol, at least a bit before we head to Cougar for the night and then home the next day.

I'M SO NERVOUS!! (and excited)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

For the record, March 17, 2018

A post I'm having to make only in case I need to refer to this information in a legal case and show my story hasn't changed:

5:30 this a.m., while letting my dog out to pee in my backyard and while standing in my living room, I saw through my window that looks out onto the intersection of 18th and Birch a woman in front of Church of Christ, at 1803 Birch Street. It was still dark outside, but the intersection is very bright because of the street light and all the lights on the church. She looked young - 20s or 30s and had dark hair. She was in front of the steps on the church's Birch Street entrance. She was standing and holding up two bicycles. There was an illegally parked SUV on the street next to the part of the sidewalk where she was standing. She stood there a few minutes, looking around. Then she put one bike next to the steps, behind some bushes, then the other bike. Then she began moving a large, dark object that had been on the sidewalk next to her, and I realized it was a large bicycle trailer with a cover over part of it. She stood on the sidewalk looking at the parked bikes and holding the handles of the trailer - I guessed she was trying to figure out how to get the trailer back with the bikes. I watched her for a while, then my dog came back inside from the backyard and I decided to go back to sleep, but on the couch in the living room instead of in the bedroom on the other side of the house.

Later, I heard yelling out in front of my house, I think a man's voice. Hearing yelling on or near the intersection of 18th and Birch is a common occurrence, including in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning, and it's so frequent that I don't always get up and look outside to see the source. I fell asleep before I could decide to get up and look.

Later, at around 9 a.m. I was in my kitchen and looked out of the window, and could two bikes and a trailer parked across the street from the Church of Christ, outside the Methodist Church parsonage that is directly across the street from my house. The bikes and trailer were parked next to a tree, on the city right of way on 18th Avenue. At about 10 a.m., my husband and I were leaving the house by our driveway door to walk our dog. We saw a broken, well-worn plastic purple box stuck in between our raised beds. We could see from walking over and looking down at it that the broken plastic bin was on the verge of completely falling part. Inside, we could see a dark backpack, some torn cardboard and plastic bags (looked like grocery bags). Next to the broken bin, a rack for our tomato plants had ripped out of the bed and was now on its side (it can't be knocked over - it would have to be picked up and ripped out of the ground with force).

We left for our walk down 17th Avenue and noticed some vandalism of various yard items - a decorative fence and some large rocks had been pulled out of the ground and turned over. We walked to the school and came back home, walking mostly on 15th.

We returned to our home at 11 a.m. As we are responsible for the property between the sidewalks and the street, and we can be fined by the city for not maintaining it, we decided to call police. Before the police arrived, I texted my neighbors in the Methodist parsonage house about the items left outside of their house and ours. She said that she saw the bikes being left there by a woman at around 7:30 a.m.

The police arrived - I don't remember what time, but it was before noon - and said that this broken plastic bin and items inside are not trash, but someone's property, and we are not allowed to touch the items. The police offered no information on how to determine if something is trash verses if it is someone's property - the officer just said that some things were "obviously" trash and some weren't. Because these items in the broken purple bin were left on this quasi city property, we can't do anything to it. No matter what's left, even if it looks like garbage, we are not allowed to touch it. So, by this police officer's description of the law, I would have been in violation of the law for recently throwing a very large rolled up carpet away if it had been left on the other side of the sidewalk near the street on the part of the yard we are responsible for instead of where it was, on the other side of the sidewalk - if someone returned later and said, "Where's my carpet?!?" I could have been arrested for theft, though the police said, in response to this scenario "That was obviously trash." I remain utterly confounded at how that was "obviously" trash but a broken plastic box full of what looks like trash isn't. I have found items of clothing in this part of the yard which I have also thrown away - were they "obviously" trash or, in fact, someone's property? We don't know.

The police did look through the bin, and as they did we observed more items under a backpack that looked wet - large piece of cardboard and plastic bags. The police said they were going through the bin to determine who the items belonged to. They found a piece of unopened mail, and said it was addressed to Virginia White. I said that Virginia White was our neighbor, who lived at what is called by neighbors as "The Meth House" at 2118 18th Street, on our same block, and that she had passed away in the Fall of 2014. He put our deceased neighbor's mail back into the bag and said nothing else about it.

So, in short, you can be fined by the city of Forest Grove, Oregon for anything left in that part of your yard if the city believes it is trash, or for not mowing it, but you can be arrested for throwing away anything left in that part of your yard if an individual claims it was his or her property, and there is no rule for determining what is trash, what has been abandoned or what is someone's personal property if it is returned.

March 18, 2018 update

When we left to walk downtown at 5:40 p.m. on March 17, the purple crate looked like it had not been touched since the police were here - the backpack, slightly open, now thoroughly soaked in the rain, was still visible on top of the things underneath it inside the crate. When we returned to our home at 9:15 p.m., the backpack was no longer visible in the crate, which was now stacked on top of one of our garden beds. Inside the crate, we could see red shoes, plastic bags, some papers and cigarette butts. On Sunday, March 18, at 11 a.m., we left to walk our dog, and the bin was now out on the street, next to the curb.

Saturday, February 24, 2018


I've been trying to write this blog for months. And then I find a meme that sums up everything I'm trying to say...

A hard lesson I learned even before the election of November 2017: people love a maverick... until they don't.

They love the person that is direct and outspoken - forthright - when the person is saying things they want to say but are too afraid to, because they are afraid of what people will say, or that they will pay a work, family or social penalty. They text that person that has spoken truth to power - or just said something in plain language that pulls apart a tower of bullshit - and say, "Thank you for saying that!" They may even text the person and say, "Would you go debate my cousin on my Facebook page? He's being outrageous."

But then the maverick says something that makes that one person, that supposed biggest fan, uncomfortable. Never mind that the maverick ALWAYS makes SOMEONE uncomfortable - this time, it's someone who never thought it would happen to him or her. The fan feels uncomfortable for the first time and then, suddenly, the maverick's straightforward, unfettered opinions are over-the-line. "Couldn't you have said that more nicely? Did you have to make the person feel stupid?"

There are people who have sent me a direct message on Facebook to thank me for my political posts, who have told me to me face-to-face they wish they could post the same things, who have taken my hand (yes, really) and said they are too afraid to even "like" the posts for fear of retribution from friends and family but they so appreciate what I say.

And there are people that unfollow and unfriend me for those exact same posts, and roll their eyes when they see me coming.

Some love what I do and who I am. They are comforted by it and tell me so.

Some hate it, and so never respond online, and actively avoid me in cyberspace. And, I've noticed, offline as well.

I wish the people that found me annoying didn't bother me. But they do.

In grade school, when I would study slavery in the USA, and the Holocaust in Europe in the 1930s an 40s, and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, I would wonder why more people during those times didn't speak out about the oppression, the violations of human rights, the murders, the injustice, and I would think, well, if I had lived there and then, I would spoken out, I would have marched, I would have worked to change things, I would have been Victor Laszlo.

Welp, here's my opportunity - and everyone else's - to see just what kind of people we would have been in those times. We now have THIS time, now, with women's clinics being forced to close by state legislatures and women being forced to carry all pregnancies to term as a result, with people not being able to afford to rent even a tiny apartment, with people working 40 hours or more a week and still not having enough money to feed and house their families, with a man in the White House who is an admitted sexual predator teasing that he wants nuclear war and regularly insulting black Americans, with millions of people losing their health care, with public schools further under attack and further under-funded, with white men shooting up concerts and clinics while the President refuses to condemn their actions or their politics, with neo Nazis marching in the streets, with families are being torn apart and children left without parents via deportations, and on and on.

I have a lot of friends, associates and neighbors who haven't at all been affected by what's happening politically - they still have their health care insurance and access to health care, their pension is protected, their families aren't in danger of being stopped by police for no good reason or any family members being deported, they won't be targeted by predatory lenders, they don't have family members in jail for minor drug offenses, they don't have family members addicted to opiates and with no access to treatment, they would have access to abortion services if they need them, they have access to birth control, they have access to high-quality education for their kids, they own their homes and can make mortgage payments, and on and on. Some of them do speak out. Most don't. Some who are silent seem to flaunt the fact that they are able to not worry about politics.

To not have to be worried about what's happening in the White House, Congress and the state legislature is a privilege. That's what privilege is. You can't bristle at the idea that you are privileged if your health, safety, economic prosperity and future are safe under Donald Trump.

I'm not asking anyone to embrace the words of Jesus Christ and give up their homes, their wealth and jobs and spend their time 24 hours a day working for the sick and the poor. I notice there aren't many Christians asking for that either, BTW. I'm not asking that both because it's not practical and because I'm an athiest. But if you are being silent about what is going on right now, if you are smirking "I just don't want to be political right now, it's so exhausting," then you ARE part of the problem. And you can't sit this one out and think that's okay and then balk when someone calls you privileged.

But enough about you. Let's talk about me again.

I'm ardent. That's my word. Ardent. Until I was 30, I would say my word was confused, because that's how I felt most of the time. I still feel confused a lot of the time. And insecure. But the word that feels like me the most these days, and has for many years, is ardent. And I want that word to be mine for the rest of my life. Because when I decide I want to dial it back, that I want to be quieter, and less outspoken, and when I avoid confrontation at all costs, I end up being MISERABLE.

I never bring up politics in face-to-face settings unless someone else does. Never. But I will respond if someone else brings it up. Sometimes, my response is, "I can't listen to this" and I walk away. Sometimes it's looking something up online on my smartphone to counter an argument. But I still believe that silence means approval. And I will not be silent.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I don't want to believe

I have a family member back in Kentucky who is very close to me. I'm not going to say which one, to protect her identity.

This family member is not stupid - in fact, professionally, she's my idol. The way she has approached her work is the way I try to approach my work. She has read newspapers and watched 60 Minutes all of her life, and encouraged me to do so as well. But she is easily swayed by urban legends. It affects her worldview, her social interactions and how she votes. I didn't worry about it too much - until November 2018. Now I know there are millions and millions like her.

When I was a kid, this family member told me that a woman had been bitten by a poisonous snake in her Aigner coat pocket, and that it had turned out snake eggs had been sewn into the lining of her jacket in the Asian country where the coat was made. Years later, in my Urban Folklore class at Western Kentucky University, I heard this story again - as the entirely false urban legend it was all along. She made comments implying that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist or, at least, a sympathizer, despite his staunch and frequently espoused Christian beliefs. She thought the Beatles were Soviet sympathizers and communist sympathizers, despite their songs like "Revolution." All of those stories and more were obviously bollocks to me, a pre-teen and then a teen. I would sit quietly as she espoused this stuff and think, "Wow. That's just SAD."

She was terrified I would become a communist or, worse, a cult member. She saw my explorations of other religions and frequent questions about the Bible's origins as a danger, not as a comforting sign that I was not swayed by the this-is-just-how-it-is-believe-it philosophy.

I remember how disturbed she was when I latched on to the horror of the McCarthy era. She would note that many of the people that were blacklisted were, indeed, communists or former communists, or had attended a meeting of such, and that many had complimented the Soviet Union. And while I knew that was true, I also knew, even as a teen, that I would have too, if I, too, hadn't known the horrific reality. She couldn't see the bigger picture: people were persecuted because they wanted social justice, not because of communism.

I didn't become a communist. I didn't join a cult. By the time I was 16, I had realized I was an Atheist, and, even worse: a skeptic. I question every philosophy, every diet - every commercial. If anything sounds too good to be true, I automatically think it is.

It's now decades later, and I'm sorry to say this family member is still oh-so-easily swayed by fake news. For instance, she doesn't believe that climate change is caused by humans - a difference in her long-held belief that climate change wasn't happening at all.

But it's a conversation I had with her when I was last in Kentucky a few months ago that really illustrates the danger of her, and those like her:

A friend was with us and talked about how she missed the Crazy Tomato, an Italian restaurant in Evansville, Indiana that was run by group of men from Egypt. It was a beloved restaurant - I heard about it many times from family and friends, but never had time to try it when I visited the area. But almost immediately after September 11, 2001, the Crazy Tomato's four Muslim restaurant workers and five of their Muslim friends were paraded in prison stripes, leg irons and manacles across the front page of the Evansville Courier Journal and newspapers across the country, in a photo opportunity arranged by law-enforcement officials. They were flown to Chicago for questioning in another show of SWAT-team force. They had been arrested as alleged terrorists plotting attacks against the United States.

The roundup, in fact, had been brought about by a lovers' quarrel: out of anger, the angry woman told the police that one of the nine had talked threateningly of suicide and terrorist acts. They never had done such a thing, and when the truth was revealed, the men were, eventually, released. No charges were ever filed. But the damage was done. The restaurant floundered. Two years later, at an October 2003 meeting with more than 100 people in the Muslim community in Evansville, the FBI offered a rare public apology. "The situation that happened to you was horrible," Thomas V. Fuentes, the FBI's agent in charge in Indiana, said during a meeting at the Islamic Center of Evansville. "On behalf of the FBI, I will apologize. . . ." Later, in an interview, Fuentes said, "They were wrongly accused... This is something that has affected them in every possible way. Anybody being accused falsely of something that serious is like a teacher being accused of molesting a child. It's hard to come back from that. You can see . . . months later, the tears are still ready to flow."

The restaurant limped along, but the customers didn't return. The owners and staff were ridiculed and shunned by people who assumed their guilt. Whispers about flying lessons and money trails from Evansville to Egypt continued to be repeated and believed. The restaurant closed.

My family member is one of the people who still believes these rumors even 17 years later. She started talking knowingly about money trails and flying lessons - her exact words - when my friend mentioned the Crazy Tomatoe. So I called up this Washington Post story on my phone and read it to her.

She stiffened and looked away. "Well," she said, "I never heard that." The conversation was over.

Did she hear me then? Did she really hear what I read to her? Or, in her mind, is it just "fake news", and the truth is, in fact, the rumors she's heard from people in the town where she lives? If I cannot get her to believe this truth, if one of the most respected newspapers in the world cannot, what hope do we have of fighting against Russian trolls that delight in swaying her beliefs?

I do not know how to fight this. She doesn't want to believe the truth. And I can't make her.

In response to this blog, three people on my Facebook page have commented to the effect that I shouldn't try anymore: "People believe what they want to believe. It is a losing battle to argue or try to convince those people..." and "Make peace, you will never change her, not she you..", etc. And I just want to say, NO! The takeaway from this blog was not supposed to be, "It's no use, stop trying." I was trying only to show what we're up against and how frustrated I get. Please, please, KEEP TALKING. Keep debating. Keep showing those newspaper articles and facts. Because repeated exposure to a narrative does make a difference - it's why Russian trolls are so successful! The point of this blog was to say, "Our counter narrative MUST be stronger." The point of this blog was to say, "Keep trying!" The point of this blog was not, "Give up." If you think this is a losing battle and we should just "make peace", then we should just welcome Donald Trump as President for eight years. And I'm not doing that.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Failure and triumph

In the 1990s, in my home office at the time, I had two paragraphs posted on a bulletin board near my desk, cut out of some newspaper article I'd read at some point. The first paragraph was a quote from Agnes De Mille, about her perspective when she was 36.

At night in the little personal hours I did the dreadful arithmetic. Youth gone. No husband. No child. No achievement in work. I used to wake up cold and consider the situation. Time was passing. My prospects had over a decade ago ceased to be bright.

The next paragraph noted that, a year after this thought, she was a legend because of Rodeo, and choreographing Oklahoma, which would cement her status as an icon of the arts.

I never knew Agnes de Mille was a failure before Rodeo. I grew up knowing that name as legend, as stellar success. The article had both jolted me and inspired me, as I was having a hard time of it myself right at that moment, so I had kept that quote nearby, to give me hope.

I lost that newspaper cut out in a move, and I couldn't remember the wording well enough to find it online. So I decided I would read her entire autobiography, Dance to the Piper, to find it.

I got so much more than that quote.

I'm not a dancer. When I was a little girl, I thought that people who became professional dancers were born into a family of dancers, and were born in New York, and as this wasn't my circumstance, it never, ever dawned on me that I could enjoy dancing, that it wasn't just some silly pretend thing. I thought people were born into their adult professions or college athletic aspirations – doctors were the sons and daughters of doctors, teachers were the children of teachers, basketball players came from families where others had played at the college level before them. My Mom put me into a dance school when I was young, probably about 6, but I thought it was just something she wanted me to do so I would be out of the house, and I thought I couldn't be a real dancer anymore than I could be a doctor – I wasn't born in the right place, to the right family. I didn't really try to do well in class, to learn anything or even to enjoy what I was doing, because I never knew that this is how you become a dancer: by dancing. In fact, I thought the people around me in my family and at school and in my neighborhood thought dancing was silly, and being young and profoundly insecure, what people might be thinking kept me from attempting oh-so-many things as a kid. I'm not sure I'd even seen ballet on TV at that point, other than as a joke on a variety show or daytime rerun. That this barre work in a little dance studio in a converted house on Main Street in Henderson, Kentucky was the same all over the world, and I could be part of a beautiful, glorious tradition merely if I wanted to be, at least while I was in these classes, never dawned on me. 

But, as a kid, I loved seeing live performance, and before I was a teen, those live performances were in grade school cafeterias and church fellowship halls and sanctuaries. I loved those simple shows about Jesus or history or whatever. When I was about 14, the Berea College Dancers and the Louisville Ballet company did performances in the gym at South Junior High School, and I sat trembling in the bleachers as I watched those dancers. I was realizing at last that, indeed, you could be a performer in Kentucky, an artist, even a dancer. But I was too old to think about studying dance, and I deeply regretted not knowing, not understanding, that I could have taken it seriously back when I was 6.

Agnes de Mille, as a child, saw the legendary dancer Anna Pavolva. And, so, she understood the possibilities even at a tender age.

I had witnessed the power of beauty, and in some chamber of my heart I lost forever my irresponsibility. I was as clearly marked as though she had looked me in the face and called my name.

That moment as a child seeing such artistry set her on a path that brought her so, so much disappointment. She put on pageants in her backyard and committed to the craft completely, despite her parents, especially her father, trying to talk her out of it. She did not have a dancer's body by birth - so she created it by work and practice.

I bent to the discipline. I learned to relax with my head between my knees when I felt sick or faint. I learned how to rest my insteps by lying on my back with my feet vertically up against a wall. I learned to bind up my toes so that they would not bleed through the satin shoes. But I never sat down. I learned the first and all-important dictate of ballet dancing – never to miss the daily practice, hell or high water, sickness or health, never to miss the barre practice; to miss meals, sleep, rehearsals even but not the practice not for one day ever under any circumstances, except on Sundays and during childbirth... My calves used to ache until tears stuck in my eyes. I learned every possible manipulation of the shoe to ease the aching tendons of my insteps. I used to get abominable stitches in my sides from attempting continuous jumps. But I never sat down. I learned to cool my forehead against the plaster of the walls. I licked the perspiration off from my mouth. I breathed through my nose though my eyes bugged. But I did not sit and I did not stop.

She was a full-figured teen at a time when boyish figures were the rage. She had a head full of curls at a time when girls wore their hair as straight as possible.

I received an anonymous note at school suggesting I wear tighter underclothing. I was couched in French, in the interest of delicacy. I did not get over that note in a hurry.

The negative comments were crushing - but she persisted. She studied, she practiced every day, she traveled to London, she put together recitals, she collaborated, she performed, she experimented, she invented, and, again and again, she played to empty houses when she tried to put together a paying audience. She had newspapers praise her, but it never turned into a paid success. She would have a producer tell her she was brilliant and that he would bankroll a tour, and in the end, she would end up financing the entire production and tour and dance her heart out and lose all the money she had borrowed. She and her mother designed and sewed all of her costumes herself. She borrowed clothes to wear day-to-day outside of dancing. Yes, her uncle was Cecil de Mille, but Cecil wasn't rolling in dough, despite directing Hollywood spectacles. There was no fortune to back her. It is amazing to think of her and her mother mixing with Hollywood royalty and, yet, being on the brink financially.

Agnes de Mille was frequently cheated out of money. She was cold and hungry a lot. She kept dancing, but every promising career turn fizzled. She even landed a much-needed, high-profile job, choreographing the dance scenes in Romeo and Juliet starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer. But her hard work was largely ignored in the film, hidden in the closeups of the stars, and no one wanted to work with her again. She went back to trying to be a dancer. She made sure she was in the company of great dancers. She kept dancing and creating. She and her colleagues were creating amazing work – and no one was watching.

Let's repeat that thought of Agnes de Mille that opened this:

At night in the little personal hours I did the dreadful arithmetic. Youth gone. No husband. No child. No achievement in work. I used to wake up cold and consider the situation. Time was passing. My prospects had over a decade ago ceased to be bright.

It was 1942. She was giving up. Her mother had had a stroke and was barely getting by financially, largely because of the money she had given her daughter in pursuit of her dancing dream. As she notes in her autobiography:

I had been given a fair long chance to prove my mettle, and I seemed only to drain off her resources dollar. Plainly I hadn't made good. But I had done my utmost. I must rest on this and accept God's will. There was however one further thing I could do. I could quit.

I intended to go down to Macy's, where Mag (her sister), no divorced, had been learning merchandising, and get a job at a ribbon counter or wherever they'd take me and earn a stipulated weekly salary, no matter how small. I would not continue to wear my sister's cast-off clothes aas I had done for the past eight years. I would budget myself and live on my own earnings. At the end of a year I would be able to hand in an income tax – something I had done only one in my life. Or – I had heard there was to be a women's branch of the army – 

And here's what's so awesome about this moment when she gave up: this feeling of absolutely nothing left to lose gave her a mental and emotional freedom that allowed her, ultimately, to succeed. She stopped wondering about what people thought of her. She stopped being self-consciousness. She got a fuck it attitude. She continued to practice her craft, but it was more out of habit, and just to enjoy it. Her ambition was gone - only love of dance remained.

But on the street one day, before she'd made it to Macy's to apply for a job, she met someone who told her the oh-so-snooty Russian Ballet, ever-touring the USA, wanted the novelty of having an American ballet by an American, and they were considering her. And the fuck it attitude of Agnes de Mille, her I'm going to work at Macy's after this final failure belief, was her strength that lead to triumph. And it started in her first meeting with the Russians:

Although the situation I found myself in was ornate and rich with treacherous personalities, I had these advantages:

  1. I said just what I meant which baffled the Russians to a standstill and set them to figuring at length what lay behind my seeming Naïveté. Nothing lay behind it. But they didn't realize this for several years. I was to them a figure of mystery.
  2. They spoke Russian so I could not understand their objections
  3. I thought they were a down-at-heel, shabby company who had got by with hokum for far too long, so I was not hampered by awe or any such restricting emotion.
  4. I believed that I could do something good.
  5. This was to be my last job so it didn't matter anyway.
On the bus home from that first meeting with the Russians, she had a chance meeting with her friend, idol and mentor, Martha Graham. She told her what was happening. Here's what Martha told her:

You be arrogant. You're every bit the artist any one of them is. This they won't know because they don't know art from a split kick, but they will recognize arrogance, and for your sake, for our sakes, show them what it is like once in a way to be on the receiving end. They won't respect you unless you're rude.

Clearly, Martha would also know what it's like to work with Silicon Valley types – rich with treacherous personalities.

And Agnes was arrogant. She held completely closed rehearsals. If you weren't dancing in what she was choreographing at that moment, you were removed from the hall. If your heart didn't seem in it, you were fired, even if you were the best dancer in the troupe. She said, "No", over and over. 

And she triumphed.

I cried several times during this book, especially the last four chapters. 

There is nothing like professional failure to humble a person. Operas and country songs and ballets are about romance and heartbreak, and are incredibly comforting – but there's no work of art capturing the pain of repeated professional humiliation, no comfort for such. On top of the disapointment, I also am so shaken professionally - my confidence is shot. And I miss that confidence. But the years of rejections for jobs I really wanted and felt I could do, and the derisive comments I should have ignored but didn't, and the chance things like someone dying or an election changing the course of organizations I've counted on for contracts, ultimately take their toll.

At 52, I'm relatively sure I've peaked professionally and that there are no more high profile, highly-influential jobs before me. I don't think that, on my way to the movie theater in the next town to apply for a job tearing tickets and cleaning bathrooms, I'm going to run into a colleague I've worked with in the past who will say, “Hey, we're got this idea for a project and we think you would be great to run it.” In fact, that did happen to me, online, rather than on a bus, back in 1996, when I was offered the Virtual Volunteering Project, and a certain quote from Agnes de Mille was posted on the bulletin board next to my desk and computer.

My legacy is tiny compared to Agnes de Mille, and though it was every bit as pioneering as some of the people I see celebrated now as tech4good pioneers, it is largely forgotten. But I know what it did, I have heard the personal, sometimes emotional stories of people who feel my research and advocacy changed them and their organizations. And that's enough for me. I don't care if anyone else knows it - I know it. And I cherish it. 

Dance to the Piper has reminded me about the importance of personal and professional integrity, even when things aren't going so well personally and professionally. Of celebrating the good stuff, the daring stuff, you are doing in your work and life, even when no one else does. Agnes de Mille danced like the world was watching, even when the house was empty, and she worked to be the greatest dancer and choreographer – the greatest professional -- she could be. That hard work and dedication did pay off in the end, so while she was a professional failure for so many years, she was never an artistic or personal one. Had she not triumphed professionally in the end, had her genius not been recognized, would she have been in perpetual mourning for the rest of her life of what might have been? Maybe. I prefer to think she would she have looked back with fondness at the incredible experience she had, the time in rehearsals and on stage, and said, “I am glad I did it, nonetheless.”  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Racists who believe they aren't racists

I love language. I love English. Not in a "Everyone MUST speak English in the USA!" kind of way, but in a "Let's read aloud from Hamlet tonight!" kind of way. I like poetry. I like well-written narratives. I lose myself in a well-crafted novel. I love hearing a well-spoken person deliver a speech where every word feels perfectly, lovingly placed. I correct people speaking on TV, particularly newscasters, sometimes talking back to the TV and sometimes tweeting the channel (I'm sure they love that). I correct myself when I realize I have been using a word incorrectly, or not using proper grammar.

A friend posted a photo on Facebook that had this caption:

This pic of the openly gay son of Alabama’s new senator, staring defiantly into the eyes of the outrageously homophobic VP who’s swearing in his dad, is everything! 

A friend of his commented:

I’m sorry, but just because someone holds a religious opposition to homosexuality does not mean they are homophonic, nor does it mean they hate anyone who is homosexual. This rhetoric and word twisting is infuriating.

So I responded:

"homophobic | ˌhōməˈfōbik | adjective having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people: homophobic remarks." Pence is against allowing gay people to marry, for conversion therapy to 'change' gay people to straight, for allowing businesses to be able to fire people who are gay, and against gay couples from adopting children. If we are English speakers and understand the meaning of words as they are defined in the dictionary, yes, the vice-President is homophobic. Were he against all of those same things for black Americans, he would be racist. That's how words work.

And it dawned on me yet again that not only do homophobic people in the USA not want to be called homophobic, but racist people in the USA don't want to be called racist. And I wonder - why?

Homophobic people in the USA say, "I don't HATE gay people. I just don't want them to marry, to adopt children, to be my doctor, to rent an apartment from me, to ask me to dry clean their clothes from their wedding, or to ever mention anything all of the rest of us are allowed to mention - like 'I had a date last night' or 'I think I'm in love' or 'my boyfriend and I just made plans for a vacation to Mexico.' And if my child said he was gay, I want to be able to take him to a counselor who says he can change him and make him straight. But I don't HATE gay people. Jesus tells us to love the sinner, hate the sin! In fact, I have gay friends!"

And racist people in the USA, say, "I don't HATE black people. I just don't want them to date or marry white people, to be my doctor, to be my massage therapist or to rent an apartment from me. I don't want their kids in my kids' schools because they will bring down test scores because most of them can't be as smart or well-behaved as white kids - it's just their biology, they can't really help it. I don't want one as my mayor, or sheriff, or governor, or President. But I don't hate black people! I love their music! And I have black friends!"

I've heard almost all of those actual statements from real people, particularly back in Kentucky. Some of the comments have come from relatives. And I love my family, and I love Kentucky, but, yes, a lot of people there are racists. You might "have black friends", you might not march with the Klan, you might not want to bring back slavery, you might never, ever use racial slurs, you might have black co-workers and you all use the same bathrooms, you might prefer a certain bank teller because she is the nicest of everyone at your bank and she also happens to be black, but, yes, you can still be racist.

Did you see the movie Get Out? If you didn't, stop reading and SEE THAT MOVIE. If you did, keep reading: I loved that movie. I cannot get that movie out of my head. The white characters in that movie, in response to the question, "Are you racist?" would say no. Seriously. They would say no, with great sincerity. When the dad says he would have voted Obama a third term? He means that. Yeah, I know the movie is fiction, but those white characters rang true for me on a level that shakes me to my core. I know those people. They don't lure black people to their homes and steal their souls, but they feel entitled to exploit black Americans economically, to make voting difficult for them, to defund their schools, to pollute their water - and that sense of entitlement makes them RACISTS.

And I know I've singled out racism against black Americans. I fully acknowledge the racism against other perceived races - Arab people, indigenous people of the Americas, Asian people, and on and on. I hear people try to attribute biological traits to Eastern Europeans, to Irish people, to people from a specific province of a country. I've heard Africans from one country disparage as biologically inferior Africans that are also from that same country, but are from a different "tribe." It's all JUST as offensive as any racism, of course. It's just that racism against black Americans is the racism that jumps out at me the most, the one I grew up with.

Racism. Racist. Homophobia. Homophobic. These words have specific meanings. And if the meaning describes you, why not own it? If you don't want to own it, maybe the problem isn't the word - maybe it's you.