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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I was picked up bright and early Saturday morning--a rainy Saturday morning--by my colleague Melissa and we drove to the meeting location. It was the lovely Victorian home of a Rochester member of SWAA. She is a photojournalist, and teaches at a local university. Her husband prepared breakfast and lunch for us and they were wonderful and gracious hosts. The home is like a museum, but one that feels cozy and warm and inviting. It is a museum of artifacts, pictures, and so many books a library would be jealous.
Lunch was a delightful meal called Cincinnati Chili, and is a vegetarian stew served over spaghetti with oyster crackers, cheese and onions. I had to forgo the onions as they do not agree with me, but otherwise, it was awesome. It includes cinnamon and cocoa, which gave it a unique flavor I could not identify, but knew it was different and asked Michael--the chef--about it.
Sunday morning, I had a few minutes to walk around my hotel and take a few pictures. I was on the river, and it was a stunning view on a cold and sunny fall morning. After the meeting was over at 1, we had a few minutes for a quick tour on the way to the airport. Melissa took us by the Mt. Hope Cemetery to see the graves of Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
The meeting itself was long, often contentious and tension-filled, but renews my faith and belief that there are caring and committed people who--no matter how imperfect and ornery by human nature--can and will do what it takes to both forge meaningful relationships and stand together for what is right and just and good.
I will open a window to my soul for a moment here. There had been much anger, arguing, and hurt during a heated discussion about an issue. Having just resolved some painful issues in my own life, it was especially a difficult moment, but I was determined to just listen and not say anything. Our facilitator of the discussion said he would like to hear from people who had not said anything, and one by one, those of us who had not spoken, did. I roughly paraphrase my comments in the following:
I am a social worker, and I am proud to identify myself as a social worker. I cannot separate who I am from who I am as a social worker. But, while social work is our roots, and thus our foundation, a tree is not just roots. A tree has branches, and leaves, and sap. And birds sit on the branches and roost on the branches and make nests in the branches. I am committed to standing in solidarity with people who are committed to social justice, whoever those people are. I am moved by the work of [our host the photojournalist] and what she brings to this work; I am moved by the work of [member who was committed to dealing with homelessness and his comment was "I am here because winter is coming on, and it's cold outside, and I am worried about my brothers"] and what he brings to this work; I am moved by [grassroots organizer who has risked jail over and over in building a movement for social justice] and what she does that I cannot do. We are part of the movement, but we are not THE movement and we need all of us.
[here, I lost control of my emotions and began to cry. They allowed a silence, and no one spoke. My brother reached out and handed me a Kleenex. My sister touched my arm comfortingly.]
I continued: I have dealt with some painful and difficult things in the past year, and I know these things are fueling my grief right now, but this is the third time I have been at this meeting and it is the same fricking thing every time. I don't see anything wrong with our mission and our values and what we stand for. I don't know why we continue to revisit it and to argue about it. I want to know where the action is in Social Welfare Action Alliance. And, that is all I have to say about that.
Rando gave Rex his new Mr. Pumpkin last night. Rex was so excited when he saw Mr. P, and had such a great time with him all evening. Mr. P was Rex's first squeaky chew toy and it seems that the imprint is still strong after al this time. I wanted to take his picture when he first got Mr. P tonight, but Rex hates his picture made and growls. I used the iPhone, which he does not yet associate with picture taking. LOL The first shot he was taking a break from squeaking, but by the second one, he had figured out something was real close to "picture taking" and began to growl. You can tell when his ears lay back (see picture one vs. picture two). It is amazing to me how if you pay attention, you can interpret the messages from animals. So, respecting Rex's boundaries, I took no more pictures, waited a respectful amount of time, and then scratched him behind his ears, which he likes.
If only all of us could do that: respect when we feel vulnerable, give us space, and approach us on our terms of feeling safe to further the relationship.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Well, Hidy Ho neighbors and friends. I got home from Rochester, NY this morning a bit after 12 midnight, and had to get up this AM and go to work. It was a bittersweet time--wanting to go, and dreading to go if you know how those things go. At any rate, it was nice to sleep in my own bed (and I slept for the first time in two nights) and have my doggies and husband in the same bed and room.
The emotions from the national steering committee meeting in Rochester are still running wild, and it was, to steal a phrase--"the best of times and the worst of times." Much like the last six months of my life, as far as that goes--the "blessings" that come in the disguise of pain. I do have some wonderful pictures which I will download and then upload, but alas, charging the iPhone has to take precedence at the moment.
I am going to delay my comments about Rochester, the meeting, all my new best friends from there, etc, until I have the pictures ready to go. However, I find it necessary for myself to acknowledge a couple of things in this entry, regardless of who reads them or not. I guess it is a bit like a prayer--it just has to go out there on faith that it matters that you said it.
I posted in the entry on Friday night about the obnoxious dude in the first seat of business class. I noted to my husband, Rando, that people in business class were in general not fun. In all the travel I have done, (all in coach class) at the least, I spoke to people and they spoke if we were seated next to each other. At times, we struck up intense and interesting conversations, and I would have to say that never did I experience rudeness from my fellow travelers. Annoyance, maybe, but not rudeness. I found as I traveled in business class on this trip (I upgraded as it was nice at my age and infirmity to have the comfort and space) that it was not the same. Even though I spoke to each of my seat mates (there were only 12 seats total in the section, so not that many of "us") not ONE of them responded, acknowledged or replied. I found that odd, but then, I can "go with the flow." LOL So, I immersed myself in my book, enjoying my comforts. I made 4 legs of this trip (Memphis to Atlanta, Atlanta to Rochester, Rochester to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Memphis) and at no leg of the trip did the person sitting next to me acknowledge my existence or respond to my greeting or acknowledge the one comment I made to each of them before interpreting that ignoring was the soup of the day.
Okay, here is the part where you look at the learning and the meaning. I did not sleep well Friday night, and Saturday night was worse, and less sleep. By the time I boarded my flight to Atlanta at 6 pm on Sunday night after 2 nights of little to no sleep, I was not in the best frame of mind. Luckily, I slept an hour of the 2 hours flight time.
In Atlanta, I had a 2 hour layover, so got food, and then made my way to my gate, which had been confirmed by the attendant after departing from the plane. I tried to read, tried to nap, nothing worked. At the time that I knew boarding should be occurring, nothing was posted on the board and no one was at the gate, so I went to check the board. Yes, they had changed the gates (excuse me, does anyone ever think to post that change AT THE GATE WHERE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SENT?) and I barely made my flight ( and my upgrade to business class) on the LAST flight of the night. A short flight to Memphis and because I am on the first row of business class, and thus the first row of the plane and the first person due to exit, I stand up and reach for my bag in the overhead bin. The man behind me is in the way, and looks at me as if to say he was not going to move. I cannot reach my bag, he refuses to move, even though a mere step of 3 inches or shifting his head 2 inches to the left would enable me. He does not help (I am limping of course due to broken toe and 2 days of trekking through airports, etc.) but worse, when he sees I cannot get my bag as he is in the way, does not step back.) I have to say at this point, that in the hundreds of flights I have taken and flown coach, NEVER have I encountered someone who would not voluntarily help someone (not just me, but anyone) retrieve a bag, step back, offer to help or at least get out of the way.
My head, skills, and higher self tells me "Say, excuse me, could you step back so I can retrieve my bag?" My baser instinct and emotions of the moment tell me "He can CLEARLY SEE YOU ARE TRYING TO GET YOUR BAG." So, I just pull my bag out and because he does not move, I hit him in the face with my bag.
Now again, my higher self said "Say I'm so sorry. Please forgive me." But he looked at me with such anger, and animosity, and arrogance, and my emotions said, "xj;ithy usr" and took my bag and LIMPED off in front of him, and blocked the departure ramp and LIMPED slowly along until he rushed past me with no backward glance nor thought.
Immediately, I felt contrite and guilty. I could not undo it, and no matter how I tried, it really could not be justified. It did not matter that I was emotionally and physically drained. It did not matter if he was "wrong." I came home and told the story to Rando, and before I even finished it, he knew what I was going to say and he said, "Did you at least apologize?" I said no. He said, "So, it's true. You became an asshole in business class, too." I could only say Yes, I did.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I left home early this morning, before 8 a.m. and finally arrived at my hotel room in Rochester at 8 p.m. It was an uneventful drive to the airport, where I parked my car to save the double drive since I was only going to be gone for 3 days. Alas, but we were delayed out of Memphis due to storms in Atlanta, my plane change stop.
However, I was able to upgrade to business class for a mere $49, so I did. :) Finally, we left Memphis at the time I was supposed to be in Atlanta. It was a great flight and lovely to have all the room and first class service. I could get used to that!
Fortunately, I had a long layover in Atlanta, so got there in plenty of time, though of course, that flight was delayed too. We finally started to taxi out at the time I was supposed to be in Rochester. So much for arriving early enough to see something of Rochester before starting my marathon working weekend. Once again, it was great to have all the room and the first class service, and since it was now 5:30, nice to have complimentary wine. As always, though, there is the obnoxious dude on the first row. He was complaining about our delay; we had to wait for our pilots to arrive as they were on another flight and delayed arriving. Some people do not seem to grasp the concept of flight crew schedules and assume that you just call down to the day labor pool for pilots to pick up an extra. He asked the flight attendant, "Would you hold the plane for one of us passengers?" with a smirk. She said, "Yes, we would, if you were driving."
He then refused to turn off his cell phone, even though asked. In a few minutes, the captain came on and said for passengers to comply with the flight attendants request to turn off electronic equipment or we would have to return to the terminal, which would cause us to lose our place in line. Read between the lines: And some of you will not be making the return taxi trip. Too bad they didn't do that--I would have loved seeing him get escorted off. Sure enough, when we come in to descend at Rochester, dude won't turn off his cell phone. Asked 3 times, he finally pretended to, and since he is sitting front right and right in front of the attendant, obviously was intentionally being obnoxious as he turned it right back on. That time, a different attendant yelled "Turn off the cell phone, now, sir. Power it off." He said something and she again yelled, "Power it off now." Everyone around us was so ticked at him, and one man referred to him as "asshole of the month" and expressed the desire that Air Tran would have removed him in Atlanta. So then, he proceeds to open the overhead bin before we get to the gate. I am not sure what kind of look he got from the attendant, but he shut it again, though he was up and off the plane first. Now there is a guy who deserves to be on a no fly list. LOL
After a long walk on my broken toe which was pretty painful by the end of the day, I finally found the baggage claim. It took forever for that to come up, and then I called the shuttle and it took another duration of forever for the hotel shuttle to arrive. Luckily I had a nice driver and we had a pleasant visit on the way to the hotel, which is downtown. We had to drive through a working class neighborhood, which was where he said he was from, and I saw a lot of Obama yard signs.
Finally at last I made it to the room and ordered some room service as it was late and I was too tired to worry about anything else. I ordered something called Penne Sinclair, and I don't know if it is a typical dish, or something from here. It is wonderful, surprisingly. It is penne pasta with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, garlic, and fresh olive oil and pecorrina. Simple, but incredibly delicious. I guess I should be like Jane and Rich and take pictures of my food to post, but I did not bring the card reader with me to upload to the computer!
Off to bed for now and try to sleep before the grueling all day long board meeting tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I was appalled to read this morning's news about Gov. Palin charging her daughters' travel to the state of Alaska budget.
While working in Alaska last summer in a remote village, it was generally impossible to locate social services for people in need of help. Time after time, I was told "Gov. Palin cut the funds for those services."
So, let me get this straight: Gov. Palin can reduce funding for social services for the most vulnerable populations in Alaska, while using those "saved" tax dollars to pay for her children to accompany her on official business? I'm sure it will be a heart-warming story to all those folks out on St. Paul Island struggling with 700 a month fuel bills to know that Gov. Palin spent 700 a night for hotel stays--with Alaskans' money.
Monday, October 20, 2008
I teach social work practice with groups and communities. Today, we did our first intervention with a group of students from Job Corps. I was so excited to see social work students "turning the corner to becoming a professional" as one of my former colleagues, Doris Thornton, used to say. Because 4 of the students live in or near the town where Job Corps is located, they all met us there at the appointed time. Two students who live in or near the university rode over with me. It was great fun to talk with the students on the way over.
When we arrived, a student from Job Corps was waiting to escort us to the room in which we would be presenting. She was smartly dressed in the latest fashion, smiling and welcoming.As we chatted on the way to the room, she talked about college and we encouraged her to come visit us at Ole Miss. Two of our group were there already and beginning to set up, and the remaining two came shortly after. I was impressed with how the social work students looked professional (I am so used to them coming to class in jeans and tee shirts). They had decided to divide the Job Corps students into 3 groups who would rotate from station to station.
My task for the day was to observe the social work students as they did their first group intervention, and assess their performance, so understandably, they were all a bit nervous about it. I love seeing how the students begin to find their own styles and use their strengths in relating to people. I was so proud to see one group do what I have stressed: adjust to meet the needs of the group. What they had "planned" was not comfortable for the students of Job Corps and they revised it to do something that was. I was so happy to see them be able to make that adjustment and to do so with confidence.
The students from Job Corps seemed to really enjoy each of the three different groups, and to respond in positive ways. They continued to come interact with us after the session was over, and asked us to come back again and many hugs were exchanged.
Now this is a feel good story for me, who has the privilege to teach the social work students. And it is a feel good story for me who has the privilege to volunteer at Job Corps and interact on a somewhat regular basis with the students who attend the program. But more than that, it is a window into the kind of society that I think we need.
What if every child had committed adults in their lives who cared about their self-esteem, about if they heard positive things about themselves on a daily basis, and if they could freely talk about the problems they faced? What if you could share what you thought with someone who would not judge you, but would encourage you, and ask you to explain, and listen with respect when you did?
Today, I got a small vision of what Mississippi can look like if all the future social workers here have their say.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Today was puppy kennel cleaning day and it was my turn. We still have the kennel on the porch for the time being, though I have hopes of soon being able to acclimate them into the house and routine--since it looks like we are not going to be able to find them a forever home anywhere else.
My Grandma was poor and grew up and lived her whole adult life "making do" with what she had or found someone else didn't want. Give her a hammer and nails, some baling wire, and she would figure out some way to make it work, and then paint it with whatever color she happened to have--again, something someone else did not want. You always knew when Grandma had gotten a left over can of paint as you would go out to the house and she'd have everything repainted red, or green, or whatever.
Well, I find that I must have a little bit of Grandma in me. I have rigged up a kennel on the porch that would make even the worst thing Grandma ever made look great! Not having access to baling wire, I have found that wire coat hangers serve the same purpose. The first half of the kennel was really not bad, but once they outgrew it and I had to add another layer, the creative necessity of no supplies and immediate need kicked in. Rando came out and inspected it, laughed and said, "Grandma would be proud."
My son, on the other hand, is less gracious about it. He said you have gone over the line when you have more dogs than humans in the house. He may be right, but then, once you rescue it is hardly fair to say "Changed my mind." Dogs and kids are a lot alike: You can't just take them back and exchange them for a different size or color. What you get is what you get.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
A few of my colleagues and I gathered to watch the final presidential debate this week. Since Mississippi is a red state, it has been quite exciting to see the activity for Obama here--which is not surprising given that almost half of the population is African American. Combine that with progressives and we have a strong base to support Obama. He easily took the Democratic primary in Mississippi, with almost 3/4 of the vote.
Not long ago, I read Alice Walker's essay about wanting a leader who loves the people. When I see Obama and listen to him, I see a leader who loves the people. One does not choose the profession of community organizer if one does not have a deep and abiding concern for the conditions in which people live, and a desire to see those conditions change.
I recall one of my professors--and also a former community organizer himself--say that the "revolution" would not be led by the poor. He believed that when one is close to achievement and then loses that, such as the middle class right now, with the high foreclosures and home loss, job loss, and loss of retirement savings due to the current economic system, that action will fuel the "revolution", that is, the insistence of a reformed system. Certainly the fact that large numbers of people who played by the rules are losing their homes, jobs, and investments makes one think that we will insist on a change rather than more of the same system that got us here to begin with.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Yesterday was Barktoberfest in Oxford. The Library, a local pub, hosted a beer tasting to benefit the animal shelter and my son and I went to enjoy a few world and national beers for a good cause. Oxford in the fall is lovely weather, and the windows were opened onto the street to enjoy the evening air on a beautiful day. Beer distributors had stations set up for beers from Colorado, California, and Mississippi, joined by Canada, Germany, and European beers. Your entrance fee and wristband entitled you to saunter from station to station and ask for a 2 oz. pour of beers of your choice. Pizza, Philly cheese steaks, and barbeque brisket sandwiches ensured folks were not tasting on an empty stomach.
Of course, what fund raiser for an animal shelter could be held without having a slide show of adoptable puppies, and we have some cuties out there right now. The sad news of course, is that many of them will not be adopted and there are only so many spots in our tiny little shelter--built years ago as a "temporary" shelter and way underfunded for the job they have to do. If only people could get the importance of having dogs spayed and neutered to prevent the thousand of dogs that are unwanted!
One of the highlights of the evening for me was discovering that Mississippi brews a beer, and it is actually quite good! The Southern Magnolia Brewing Company is located on the coast and produces 4 ales. I started (on the recommendation of my son) with the Rebel Ale, named no doubt for the thousands of Ole Miss college students who patronize the Southern Magnolia keg for their parties. It was a little bitter for me, but after a sip or two, I grew accustomed to the taste. (Not much of a beer drinker these days.) The Golden Ale was a little smoother and probably my favorite of the Southern Magnolia brews. I also tried a Canadian (LaBatt) which was definitely not my cup of brew, but enjoyed Colorado's Irish Red and Harvest Moon. Europe's Bass was a new one as well, and I would have to say it was my favorite.
I would have to say that is my way to enjoy a pub, as it was still daylight with the windows open, no smoking in the bars in Oxford, and a nice friendly atmosphere where everyone in there was there for support of the Oxford Lafayette Humane Society, so quite a nice group of folks.