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.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Moving forward, or trying to...

Our house is full of the "stuff" of our lives. We are ready, and in fact we have begun, to divest ourselves of this stuff--clothing we no longer wear, papers we no longer need, possessions that are cluttering up the place so there's little space for new endeavors. But it's slow going.

Inside my head, this clearing is a rite of passage, part of my continuing transition from working (and heavily volunteering) to retirement, or the next phase of retirement. Last week, for example, I finally tossed the last of the work-related files I'd been saving. I suppose I always knew I wouldn't need them, but they represented so much thought and effort that it was impossible to walk away without at least a few. Now retired five years, I was happy to march those papers out to the recycling barrel. Similarly, I had stockpiled a resume and work samples in case I wanted, or needed, to freelance. Opportunities were out there, but I decided almost immediately that I was no longer interested. Tossing the stack of samples--five years later--made it official.

The thing about sorting papers is that it's almost impossible to do without reading through them. So we are reminded of triumphs and struggles, of people who helped us and people who didn't, of projects we intended to undertake once we retired. Having walked down memory lane, as contained in my desk and file cabinet, I've learned two main lessons.

I have very little interest in keeping records of my past life, be they related to work, finances, health, whatever. Of course I keep what I might need, but my definition of "need" is a lot stricter than it used to be.

I am ready to get on with my life, and one big commitment seems to be standing in the way. I have projects all over the place, in various stages of readiness, and they all require two things: space and time. I have sewing projects promised to the grandchildren; boxes of old photos to scan, color-correct, and share; a counted cross-stitch I started a dozen years ago; a new interest in knitting and crochet; a back porch to design; music playlists to organize; birds to discover; a blog to rejuvenate, and so much more. Plus a growing stock of items I plan to sell on eBay, some of which I've already photographed and written up.

All these projects are calling to me. But before I can respond I have to make space and time. And the element taking up the biggest share of my office space, energy, and time is my commitment to the carousel and the nonprofit organization that cares for it.

When I wrote last week's post about the graphic design project from hell, my frustration was only partly with the technical difficulty of the work. The project had gone on, episodically, for weeks. How-to books and sample pages and notes buried everything else on my desk. I became resentful. I began to rail against it. I wanted to walk away. I wanted to sew and knit and clean out closets, and get on with getting on, and let somebody else worry about promoting the carousel. And in fact, I will--but not today. Peter and I will both retire and our executive director, in the job for a year now, will take on or delegate work we have been doing. But there is much to be done before we retire, and in the meantime I really do enjoy working collaboratively with our staff person. For a while yet, I will do whatever it takes to get the project done.

In the past several days I have finally cleared the scrambled piles on my desk, arranging things in folders: red for carousel projects (e.g., display panels, Facebook page, new website) and yellow for personal ones (e.g., porch, taxes, eBay). 

When the time does come to walk away from the carousel's management, I will be a little sad to leave behind what has been a consuming and highly rewarding family commitment. But I'll be ready for all the new projects in their newly organized spaces. In fact, having cleared a bit of space, I'm pretty sure I'll find some time for new projects as well as old ones.

Spring flowers above from Como Park conservatory 2013

Saturday, March 12, 2016

There must be 50 ways....

"There must be 50 ways to leave your lover." Paul Simon said so in a song I loved, though I rarely had occasion to use the advice.

Now the song is stuck in my head. No, I'm not leaving anybody. I'm just trying to finish a project for the carousel* and what seemed relatively easy and fun has turned into The Really Hard and Frustrating Project From Hell. Or maybe The Project That I Can't Figure Out And It's Driving Me Crazy.

We are creating new display panels for the carousel pavilion telling some of its story--its history and restoration, how volunteers can help, etc. When we opened the carousel in Como Park 16 years ago, Peter and I created six panels using lots of newspaper clippings (now yellow) and photos (now faded). Our new executive director and I decided to make new printed panels with sepia-toned images very light in the background, and with type over the images. Everything was going well until I tried to screen the images to be really light.

If there are 50 ways to leave your lover, there must be 250 ways to take a color photo, turn it into a black-and-white in Photoshop, add a sepia tint, and screen it way back to a ghost image. I've tried them all. I spent days experimenting to get a result I liked...and the file was so huge it crashed my computer WITHOUT being saved. I have spent long, frustrating days getting back to that place while keeping the file size manageable. As of today, after trying about 50 more ways, I think I've got it. Which is good, because I am very ready to move on to other things.

There's a hitch, though. When I print a version on my ink-jet printer, I like the results. But how will it look when a commercial printer uses my files to create a panel 34 by 40 inches? I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If all goes well, I get to do this five more times for the other panels. Let's hope I can learn from my mistakes!

* In case you don't know, my husband and I founded a nonprofit organization in 1988, saved the old Minnesota State Fair Carousel from being auctioned to collectors, and have operated the carousel with volunteers ever since. A year ago we hired an executive director so we can cut back on our own volunteer involvement. Clearly, we haven't walked away just yet.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Overthinking the Obvious

A funny thing happens when I step away from blogging for a while.

When I decide it's time to post again, I feel as though the new post has to be fabulous--good enough to make up for all those posts I didn't write. I begin to think I have to explain what I've been doing, what I've learned, what on earth could possibly have taken me away from the keyboard for all this time (more than two months, in this case). I want to be witty and charming and full of wisdom so that if you really do decide to read my post after all this time, you'll be delighted that I'm back. That's pressure!

And that phrase--"I'm back"--implies that I'll be posting regularly again, so now, in some part of my brain, I have added pressure to come up with a handful of topics for the immediate future and the discipline to address them in a timely fashion.

In other words, I've been overthinking it. I've started three different posts. But each one was burdened with too much information, too many competing goals, too many words.

So here's the simple truth. I've been busy, I've had a whole lot of other commitments, and I haven't been able to write. I have some stories to share with you, mostly about my delightful grandkids, of course, and I'll be back in this space again soon. Meanwhile I have enjoyed your posts on a fairly regular basis and it seems that, as the Beatles once said, "Life goes on."  Oh-bla-di bla-da.

Happy to be back.


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