Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

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Road Trip Stories in the South

April 8, 2019

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Last week, I had a most excellent adventure. First, I met my oldest and closest friends in New Orleans and then road-tripped with my 88-year-old mom through the South. Both pieces were extraordinary.

My friends never disappoint. Sure, we’ve grown older; our legs more tired and our wrinkles much deeper. We’ve raised kids and dogs and worked and suffered. We’ve become strong, independent women who know a thing or two, and yet, have plenty to learn. We’re a complicated crew. Because of my gals, I’ve learned that relationships take effort. I’ve also learned, the best ones are worth the investment.

As lives change, friendships shift; but once together, my friends and I remember. We remember big hair, Bon Jovi, shoulder pads, banana bike seats, pool parties, and Schaeffer Light. Now, we roll eyes, remembering the jocks and the burn-outs, the teachers and the coaches. We remember laughing. We remember predators. We remember love. Mostly, we remember our stories. Together; eating and drinking and dancing like fools, we make more moments to remember. Stories.

After my friends, dispersed, Mom arrived. Because her grandma was a suffragist and taught her to demand social justice, Mom taught me the same. We headed for Montgomery where much of our nation’s horrific history is recorded. We sat with ghosts. We studied at the Legacy Center, listening to stories of incarceration, injustice, lynching, and death. As white women raised in America, like it or not, we’ve benefited from slavery’s dark legacy and the Jim Crow laws that followed. After many museums, we sat with ourselves; sorry and ashamed. Mom and I had long talks about racism, social injustice, and the history that got us here. We committed ourselves to listen better. Act more. And to speak about what we learned; sharing both the stories that were told and the stories that disappeared.

By the end of my adventure, I realized, not for the first time, how quickly life moves; how tragic and joyful it can be. In the time we are given, relationships and stories transform life, making it either better or worse.

Stories.

For me, I hope to create a life where I live a good story, I write a good story, and I listen to all the stories I can.

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What Rudolph Taught Me

December 15, 2018
rudolph plush toy

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

It seems as though Rudolph has been thrown off the sleigh. In current times, some folks cry for the cartoon to be banned, claiming that it’s filled with prejudice and insensitive behaviors. If Rudolph were written today, I might agree.

But it wasn’t.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwas written in 1939 and first hit television in 1964. The show should be appreciated in the contextual times it was written.

When I was little, Rudolph was my favorite Christmas show. I loved the bouncing bumble who scared me and then endeared me. I loved the land of misfit toys. I loved the tiny cozy cabin and the terrible storm. I loved the jingle of Santa’s sleigh as he crossed the moon’s path.

But mostly, I loved Rudolph.

The heart of the story focuses on a character who doesn’t fit in, because he’s different. He’s teased and taunted and ridiculed because of his nose, but also, because he’s an independent thinker who believes in a greater truth than what’s been told. It’s a hero’s journey of perseverance and self-discovery. It’s a story about prejudice. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer helped me understand that being different can and should be championed. Rudolph resonated with me because even at a young age, I understood the inequity and unfairness in the world. Without realizing it, at age four, I became a champion of social justice.

We all have hidden and not so hidden obstacles to overcome. Some folks have harder lots than others. In a world that desperately needs more compassion and understanding, it’s important to fight for freedom for all. At least, that’s what Rudolph taught me.

 

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Arriving in Tunisia as a not-so-proud American

November 2, 2018

 

American passport on desktop

I arrive at night, not sure what to expect. All I know is that someone will meet me—I’m sure of it. Still, my nerves zap with unsettled energy. How will it feel to be back in this place, remembering pieces of my former self? Neither Tunisia or I am the same as we were 35 years ago, and these are unsettled times. Wars and bombs and tremendous upheaval have plagued our countries. Since my last return, Tunisia has had a revolution, and America has put into place a corrupt president. I wonder, with trepidation, how Tunisians will react to me. I’m ashamed of our country and no longer proud to be American.

I search for my suitcase as others, speaking Arabic and French, sweep their bags away. I wait and wait and wait; my anxiety increasing. Finally, the last load emerges on the conveyer belt, and although I spot my suitcase, the woman searching bags pulls it aside. She raises her eyebrows and clucks. The hair on the back of my neck prickles as she calls for another customs officer to join her. They rifle through the gifts I’ve brought for my family, and when they spot my toy drone, I know I’m in trouble.

More officers surround me, and they take my toy. Then, when my passport is confiscated, something inside of me drops. My identity to the United States; the only legal link to my homeland is gone. My bones shift, cracking with concern. In spite of my shame for our current government, the United States is still a great democracy built on the backs of strong women and determined men. In America, I have the freedom to speak my mind and the choice to resist.

The customs officers whisk me away and ask more questions, but I don’t speak French well and know even less Arabic. They shout and wave their hands as my own shake the tiniest bit. It sinks in. I am alone in North Africa.

With my passport gone and the drone appropriated, I cross my fingers and sing silent prayers. Maybe they think I’m a spy. Perhaps they think I’m a scout. Maybe they think I like Donald Trump. I bite my lip and plan my defense. As I do, my host sister, Sonia, and her husband, Sami, burst through the door. I jump toward them grinning. It’s been eight years since my last visit. Between hugs and kisses and many tears, they ask what has delayed me. They’ve been waiting two hours, but because Sami works at the airport, he’s been allowed to come find me. He speaks with the officers, clarifying that he knows me and that I’ve been to Tunisia many times. Sami argues hard, and the officers reluctantly agree to let me go—minus the drone. I’m instructed to return 20 hours before my departing flight to sign more papers. Fine, I say. I’ll do anything to get my passport back.

When the woman hands me the little blue book with the United States emblem printed on the front, relief washes across my face. We hurry away before they change their minds.

The night air assaults me with petrol and jasmine. Sonia has prepared a feast for my arrival, and their two adult children join us in celebration. I devour couscous and spicy fish as we review the past few years. We laugh and cry, and as we talk late into the night, the conversation drifts toward politics. The Tunisians, at least the ones in my family, are incredibly knowledgeable about global issues. They are fiercely proud of their country, and as we talk, I realize I’m proud of mine, too. I don’t like our current government and say so many times. But I am proud to be American. I have the freedom to vote, the freedom to travel, and the freedom to rant and rave and protest our president. I whisper thanks, aishik. I’m grateful for my family in the States. I’m grateful for my Tunisian clan. I’m grateful to have my passport back. And I know without a doubt; America is a country worth fighting for—she makes me proud.

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Best Books and Reading Lists

January 19, 2017

Last year I started a list, cataloging all the books I read in 2016. I won’t give the number because it’s a lot, and I don’t want to come across as a braggart. I’m a writer, and all writers should be reading. It’s part of my work. By making a list, I review what genres I read most (YA) as well as what I lacked (poetry), and it helps determine what to read this year. There are SOOOOOO many books and only so much time, right?

A lot of people ask me for suggestions, which I always find hard to do. However, now that I have my list, it’s a little easier.

Here are a few of my favorites from 2016 (some were published before 2016- it just took me until 2016 to read them).

Picture Book:

Last Stop on Market Street; Matt De La Pena         

Middle Grade:                                                           

5 Times Revenge; Lindsay Eland

The Thing About Jellyfish: Ali Benjamin 

Young Adult:

Girl in Pieces; Kathleen Glasgow

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Bone Gap, Laura Ruby          

I will Save You: Matt de la Pena

Adult Fiction:

God Help the Child: Toni Morrison   

Tell the Wolves I’m Home: Carol Rifka Brunt

Everything I Ever Knew: Celeste NG

A Man Called Ove: Fredrik Backman

Trans-Sister Radio; Chris Bohjalian

Short Story:

A Manual For Cleaning Woman: Lucia Berlin

Essay:

Far and Away: selected stories: Andrew Solomon

Non-Fiction:

Between the World and Me; Ta-Nehisi Coates

READ ON!

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March #RESIST

January 4, 2017

 

 

I plan to march. On January 21, 2017, millions of women across the country will be marching to express their voice and taking part in the Women’s March on Washington, while other will march in sister cities around the world. Some people criticize us for being anti-democratic, sore losers, and pinheads, but none of those tags are true. I won’t be marching to protest the vote. I will be marching because women matter. I will be marching because I’m half the planet’s population, and I’m not going away. I choose to march because…

I march because I matter.

I march because I believe in freedom.

I march because I have a voice.

I march because I love my country.

I march because I have daughters.

I march because I have a son.

I march because I have a mother.

I march because I have sisters, a brother, a husband, nieces and nephews and cousins.

I march for my grandmothers and great grandmothers who marched before me.

I march for my father, brothers, grandfathers and ancestors who’ve past and can’t march.

I march because I represent marginalized voices.

I march because we matter.

I march because I love pure democracy.

I march because I choose to march.

I march because I believe choice matters.

I march because I am tired of people telling me how to feel and how to act.

I march because women should not be called fat, or ugly, or pussies.

I march because assault is not okay.

I march because women are more than contestants in a beauty pageant.

I march because I don’t want to be ranked by my looks or my f!#*$@ability.

I march because women have brains.

I march because I believe in good and right and equality.

I march because we need to heal.

I march because women should not be marginalized or minimalized to objects.

I march because women are not lesser human beings.

I march because women should not be afraid to be women.

I march because I love.

I march because I care.

I march because I am not afraid.

I march because I want others to know women matter.

I march because women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies.

I march because when the environment is ignored, women suffer first.

I march because women should not die in backroom, coat hanger abortions.

I march because I care about early childcare initiatives that help women.

I march because locker room talk hurts women.

I march because I have a right to feel safe.

I march because women should not be thrown into poverty because men got them pregnant.

I march because I have a vagina and am not embarrassed or ashamed to say it.

I march because women should be paid what men are paid.

I march because it is time to move forward, move beyond sexism.

I march because I need to feel hopeful about my future.

I march because I don’t want to feel terrified alone.

I march because women working together can transform the planet.

I march because I love and stand with my LGBTQIA, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Black, Brown, indigenous, disabled, ethnic, hurt, abused, and all of my sisters.

I march because we won’t move backward.

I march because we matter.

I march because I matter.

Join me. The organizers for the Women’s March on Washington posted this statement; “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families—recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

If you can’t get to Washington DC, go local! There are over 30 states planning sister marches, including in Colorado. The event in Denver will be 9 am- 3 pm on January 21, 2017 at Denver’s Civic Center Park. For more information and other marches, check out: https://www.womensmarch.com/colorado/

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Ants, Honey, and Human Dependency

May 31, 2016

There is a tree in Nicaragua that is not the tallest tree. It is not the most beautiful tree. It is not a sweet smelling tree. And yet, it is a powerful tree; one that offers wisdom, as all plants do, if one is willing to listen.

Like miniature swords, long spiky thorns poke from the branches of the tree, swearing off enemies. They do their job well. The barbs are sharp and painful, and they hurt. They are also full of honey. Because of the honey, the tree is covered with ants, which bury in the thorns to feed on sweet nectar. In return, the ants pee (ecosystems at their most sophisticated are also often at their most basic) on the tree, offering much-needed liquid, fuel to carry itself through a long dry season. The tree gives food; the ant gives drink.

Magic.

But sadly, perhaps terrifyingly, enchanting global ecosystems are in danger, becoming bewitched. Until I ventured to Central America, I had no idea jungles turn brown. They do. They remind me of Ohio in November, not the most stunning time of the year. The tropical trees drop their leaves, leaving barren branches and matted, crunched-up grasses below. In a perfect world, the rains begin in May, and within a few short weeks, the landscape becomes lush. However, because of global warming, the six-month rainy season has been shortened; hurting crops, farmers, plants, and animals.

But why should we care? We have nothing to worry about: we can buy our bananas at Safeway.

With an increasingly long dry season (I’m sure the same could be said for an extended rainy season), ecosystems all over the world are in danger. John Muir once said, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” ‘Tis true: we are responsible for the future. Will we act the fool? Turn our heads? Or will we come to the realization that although we can buy bananas at Safeway, we share one planet?

Like it or not, we depend on a healthy structured environment, and our world is contingent on a balanced system. Ants and the thorny tree rely on each other to survive. Not only is it a fine balance, but it is also their relationship that makes it work. Many people talk about the need for relationships: with God, families, peers, and partners. And I agree: relationships are essential components to a healthy, vibrant life. I would also add that a strong and equal relationship with our environment is essential.

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The thorn tree might not be the most beautiful or popular tree in the jungle, but it knows it can’t stand alone. It survives by sharing its nectar with ants. Their relationship is key to their survival. Likewise, our survival as humans is dependent on our relationship with the environment, not just on ‘earth day’ but on all days.

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Books in Nica

May 17, 2016

Choosing a book, or many books, to read on vacation can be challenging. Will I be in the mood for a mindless beach read? Will I want to learn something and discover personal growth? Should the book be work related? Completely literary? In the end, I almost always choose a bit of everything. In my line of work, reading is as important as writing.

In April, my family traveled to Nicaragua for two weeks. We had lots of time on planes, in the airport, on the beach, waiting at restaurants, siesta-ing, and even during the middle of the night when temperatures hovered near 90 with no air-conditioning. Thank God for e-readers!

Lots of people ask me for reading suggestions, so I’ve listed what I read in Nicaragua. However, I think it’s important to prepare for a trip and read a related book or two before arrival. I began with The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War by Gioconda Belli, and while on the plane I devoured a collection of short stories set in Panama: Come Together, Fall Apart, by Cristina Henriquez.

This next selection was chosen because I wanted to read adult literary fiction. I picked A 100 Foot Journey by Richard Morais because it’s set in three different countries. Because I was traveling to a foreign land, I could appreciate the nuances that come with cross-cultural living. Next, I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, which is new and on many best seller lists. I love Elizabeth Strout, and the book did not disappoint. I also love Chris Bohjalian’s and was surprised to find Trans-Sister Radio, a book of his that I hadn’t yet read. Given the debate about gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s a book that everyone should read RIGHT NOW.

By reading, 250 Things you Should Know about Writing by Chuck Wendig, I did a little work, right? And because reading middle grade and young adult is also part of my job, I read I will Save You: Matt de la Pena, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky: Heidi Durrow, and This is Where it Ends; Marieke Nijkamp, but they were all so good that I can’t call it work.

Personal growth and well-being are always part of my routine, and I read parts and pieces of these four books: Awakening the Energy Body: Kenneth Smith, Defy Gravity: Caroline Myss, Courageous Dreaming: Alberto Villoldo, and Dark Nights of the Soul: Thomas Moore.

Did I have a favorite? Nope. Each served their purpose for different reasons, and I enjoyed them all. Developing a selection of books to read takes a bit of planning, but it’s well worth it.

We also took phones away from our kids, and they balked as only teenagers can. But guess what? They read—a couple of books each! Parents shouldn’t be afraid to pull technology from their children. Of course, kids will complain; that’s their job. No one said parenting was easy. But here’s the upshot: reading improves writing skills ten-fold, triggers receptors in the brain, and offers new worlds, an escape, a welcome respite from an overly stimulated world. Parents can’t mandate books like teachers can, but if kids don’t have an alternative; they’ll read. And odds are? They’ll like it.

Happy reading on your next vacation! Summer anyone?