Sunday, January 1, 2017

Letting go, saying Yes, and choosing wisely

Last year at this time I found myself slip-sliding into 2016 with almost none of the thought and intention that I usually had brought to the process each year. A couple of months in, I could see where the year was taking me, so I declared a Word of the Year and a general goal: this would be the year I divested myself of belongings, activities, attitudes, or goals that no longer served me well.

Some of that happened, and not by accident. I cleaned out closets and cabinets, tossing clothes I no longer needed. I leafed through and then tossed large boxes of publications and documents that once were valued evidence of my work or markers of battles won and lost. (There is plenty more clearing to do!)

After a long and frustrating struggle to achieve a smooth transition to new leadership for our 28-year commitment to save and operate a historic carousel, Peter and I announced our planned departure--and then quit in November a few months sooner than we'd planned. It was the best, most freeing decision we've ever made, and we believe it cleared the way for new leaders to step forward in ways they weren't doing while we were still in place.

While we were at it, we finally pulled the plug on our long-standing support for St. Paul Saints minor-league baseball. Charter season-ticket holders since 1993, we were no longer enjoying the experience as we once had, and neither were our kids and grandkids. We'd already cut down on the number of games we attended (from 50 to 6 or 8). Next year we'll go to 2 games followed by fireworks.

Quicker than I'd expected, new priorities rushed in to fill the void. And it turns out that life brought them to me, without my planning for them. All I had to do was say Yes.

This year I'm much more aware of my need to reflect and deliberate about my goals and interests. I'm already finding I'll be much more effective if I focus on a few rather than try to do them all. The coming of a new year--and all that it implies--makes me determined to choose wisely for this new stage of life.

I promise I'll be back soon to talk about it. Meanwhile I'd love to hear what's on your mind as we enter 2017.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Now It's Personal

I live in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Yes, that Falcon Heights.

Last Wednesday night, six blocks from my house, Philando Castile was pulled over for what a Saint Anthony, Minn., police officer called a broken taillight. Within minutes, four powerful, close-range shots left Castile fatally wounded. That's when Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, began to livestream the scene to Facebook. We see Castile slip into unconsciousness, his bloody shot-up arm hanging useless. We hear Reynolds' four-year-old daughter crying in the back seat. We see the officer's gun still trained on Castile and we hear him screaming, almost pleading: "I told him to get his hands up." "No sir," Reynolds says very calmly, "you told him to get out his ID and that's what he was doing." At the end of the video, Reynolds is crying, handcuffed in the back seat of a police car, and her daughter comforts her. "It's okay, Mommy, I'm here." 

But it's not okay. There are many details under investigation, and there is competing testimony from Reynolds and the officer. I want to know the truth, but I also know that there's a larger truth. I finally know that it's not only police officers and people of color who are put in jeopardy and pain from this all-too-common kind of encounter. It's all of us.

This time it happened in my neighborhood. The Saint Anthony Police Department is my local police force, operating under contract with Falcon Heights.

What's more, my daughter Abby and her two children knew Phil Castile. He managed the food service at the kids' school. A few years ago, he helped solve a bureaucratic problem that had been driving Abby crazy. Every day, he greeted all the kids by name and helped make sure they were making good food choices. When Abby broke the news of his death, Augie and Vi were devastated. They talked about what people could do to prevent this kind of thing. Vi suggested a poster campaign, and Augie proposed educating people about all the different groups who have come to live in Minnesota since its earliest days.

I, too, have been thinking. Day and night, SAPD patrols slowly down the alley and up the street. I've seen them respond to emergencies at neighbors' homes, and even my own when we thought I was having a heart attack. I have always felt they are looking out for us, but now, finally, I wonder at what cost? Yes, I want to be protected from actual criminals. What's more, I want my neighbors and friends and people passing through to enjoy the same protection. I don't want terrible mistakes made in haste and fear. I don't want racial profiling. I don't want our community to rely on traffic stops to generate a big portion of the city budget. I have benefited from this system without even knowing it. So yes, I want police officers to be accountable for their actions, but it turns out that we the people have to be accountable for what we ask of them. We need justice for Philando and others like him. We need justice for all the people of color who any day of the week can and do get pulled over for minor and sometimes imaginary offenses. But no matter how this case turns out after the legal process plays out, we still have work to do, to rethink and restructure our systems.

It turns out I accidentally posted before this was done. I know that previous paragraph is breathless and overwrought and will benefit from a bit of judicious editing, but I'm going to post now rather than leave the original incomplete post in place. Can you tell this has become more than just another cause to "like" on Facebook? I want change, and I will be part of it to the extent that I can. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Clearing I: Sometimes you just step away

A couple of months ago I wrote that lots of home projects were calling to me, but I couldn't get to them because of my obligations to the nonprofit group that rescued and now cares for Cafesjian's Carousel in St. Paul's Como Park. Peter and I founded the group in 1988 and have led the work since then. There was no other group exactly like it, before or since. We were hugely successful in saving the carousel, restoring it, housing it, operating it with volunteers, and engaging one individual mega-donor and hundreds of others. It has been a major part of our identities, individually and as a couple.

We had begun to plan for others to succeed us, and we had cleared much of the paperwork and memorabilia that we'd amassed at home. Most important papers were already filed at the carousel office, but we moved anything we thought necessary and tossed the rest. It felt good, and it began to change our thinking.

We had initiated a succession plan, but we'd begun to fret that it might not be working, that people we'd identified could not or would not step up. We were feeling trapped--how could we leave if there were no clear successors for our roles, Peter as president and me as board secretary and marketing-communications director? And one day it came to us:

We had done all we could, given everything we could, for nearly 30 years. It was up to others to figure out next steps. It's not like this was a surprise; we'd been saying for two years that we were looking to retire. So in June we sent a letter to the board of directors and other key partners of the carousel to say that our current term of office, which ends in February 2017, is our last. We said we hoped candidates for our positions would surface by early October, and if not the board would need to find new people or new solutions. We said we'd be around to provide advice or information to anyone who asked for it. (We promised each other to keep our mouths shut if nobody asks!)

Whew. A huge burden lifted off our shoulders, simply because we realized we can't and DON'T HAVE TO solve every problem. I think that realization was helped along by clearing things out: reading old papers that reminded us of 29 years of hard work, taking pleasure in what we've achieved, knowing we no longer have that kind of energy and no longer want either the responsibility or the recognition. In short, we were processing our departure.

I'm still working on a couple of carousel projects, and we will have things to deal with as we move forward. But we've made our decision and the date is set. It feels right.

And now that I'm clearing this big responsibility from my agenda? There's already a new activity taking its place. More later, I promise.

P.S. You can find more about the carousel here.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Bobbily-Boo and Wollypotump

When my sister and I were little girls, our dad used to read us a short bedtime story each night. Many came from a 1950s collection of nursery rhymes, and one stuck with me.

Bobbily-Boo, the king so free,
He used to drink the mango tea.
Mango tea and coffee, too,
he drank them both 'til his nose was blue. 

Wollypotump, the queen so high,
She used to eat the gumbo pie.
Gumbo pie and gumbo cake,
she ate them both 'til her teeth did break.

Bobbily-Boo and Wollypotump
each called the other a greedy frump.
And when these terrible words were said,
They both sat and laughed until time for bed.

These verses stayed in my head, and at some point I began to recite them for friends, trying without success to find someone else who remembered them.

About ten years ago, I googled the names. I got nowhere, so I googled gumbo pie. And after I scrolled past a few recipes, there was the rhyme, credited to one Laura E. Richards, in a nursery rhyme collection from the 1800s! But there's one difference. The original version is much darker. No more laughing:

They both sat and cried until they were dead. 

I don't think my grandkids were even born yet, but I immediately bought the book that contained this and other old nursery rhymes. I just knew it would be a great conversation piece some day. And it would be right now, if only I could find it. Both kids have a great sense of point-of-view and mood-setting and "darkness" and other aspects of things they read. (Given the adults in their lives, that was inevitable.)

Today I googled again and was directed to four different collections including The Nursery, Volumes 19-20, edited by John L. Shorey, published in 1876. I'm pretty sure it's the one I bought, and it's now available free as an e-book. I'm still going to try to find my copy.

This rhyme comes to mind almost daily in the past few months, since Abby bought us some wonderfully high quality teas, including green tea with mango. Every time I brew that one, a voice in my head says, with much delight, "Mango tea and coffee too, She drank them both til her nose was blue."

My nose is still fine, thanks.


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