Reflections on Independence Day


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When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually.  On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun.  Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message.  Still do.

Now I live where it is hot and dry.  The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country.  I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.

For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day.  Why?

Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred.  Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.

Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited.  It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago.  People need to learn from the history most do not even know:

-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal.  What did he do to deserve this?  He tried to save his Native people.  Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.

-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks.  They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.

-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading.  He refused to believe any African  could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this.  Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”

-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.

The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country.  It continues to poison progress and hope.  It never seems to end.  I am tired of it.  Enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Covid19–4


The cases and deaths rise; yet I see positives in all this mess. People are posting photos of food they are cooking at home for the first time in years, families sitting down and eating together.  Neighbors are keeping their distance but talking to each other.  People call friends to check on them.  Others are using the Internet to communicate with friends they rarely see or cannot see now, in some cases people they are too busy to connect with on a regular basis.  Some work on the stack of books they never had time to read before.  Several of my musician friends are posting concerts online.

Many of us who teach may be learning new skills like using all aspects of Google Classroom, searching the Internet for innovative ideas to use in our online classrooms. I used to play the piano daily, even competed in high school.  Then I quit.  My current goal is to relearn a piece, Fuer Elise, that only ten years ago I could play from memory effortlessly.  The music I am using is the same I used in high school, decades ago.  It is discolored, edges torn.

I do know how to sew but rarely do. This weekend I will get out the sewing machine my parents gave me more than four decades ago and make a mask.  I printed out a page of directions yesterday.  To be safe, I work from home, rarely leave my property except to go to the mailbox at the end of a long drive.  Luckily, I live in the country, have horses, and a lot of space.  It is easy for me to get out and exercise. Added to that I joined an online Zumba class with an invitation from someone I met years ago, a horn player in a mariachi band in San Antonio–I love mariachi.

Going to and from work took 1.5 hours each day so now I have all that extra time.  In the last three weeks I have read two books and started a third, caught up with magazine reading, and started FaceTime with my college roommate and her husband in California and also my daughter and grandson who live nearby but I cannot visit now. I have gardened, mowed, hiked, and photographed spring flowers and sunsets.

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Yes, living in the country with space makes this easier I rather imagine, but I feel confident if people really search, they can find new and interesting adventures inside themselves and around them.

Be safe, take care, dream.

 

Covid19–2


The saga of staying sane, learning new skills, keeping occupied continues.  When I posted Covid19–1 a couple of days ago, the Panhandle of Texas had two cases, now we have ten, one of whom, at the age of 39, has died.  Another 30 something is in critical condition.  A case was announced this morning at Cannon Air Force Base just across the state line.

Yet, I can think of positives arriving from this:  people at home reading, spending more time with family, cooking, playing games, relearning old skills.

What have I done recently?  I teach high school English and Spanish.  Starting Monday, we will be teaching online using Google Classroom.  I have used it before but not for over a year.  Probably overkill, but yesterday I spent something like four hours taking a class on how to use it and relearning.  More to come today.  I have the English lessons hand written, all planned out.  Now I have to convert them to Google Classroom. Perhaps with Spanish I will change course totally and use Duo Lingo for many of the lessons.  Did that last year, but not this one.

Luckily, living out in country, having horses, having lots of gardening to accomplish makes this quite a bit easier.  Horses have to be fed and cared for, weeds require hoeing or mulching, dead wood must be cut out of woody plants, the tasks seem endless.  Since we are having a heatwave and temperatures are considerably above normal, I can hike, walk the long drive to the mailbox, eat lunch on the patio as I did yesterday.  The mustard weeds out by the barn suddenly grew more than two feet tall; it was driving me nuts–I cannot stand mustard weeds.  Yesterday afternoon, I got out the tractor and mowed.  They are tough.  When I fed the horses this morning, I saw a few had regenerated themselves and were sticking up again. I might have to do this over.

In the midst of this crisis, I have noticed far too many people around here seem not to take this seriously.  It appears, looking at the news, that this is a problem in many parts of the country.  Do we want to be like Italy?  I received a message from Martina there.  More and more dying and no end in site.  When I stepped out on the patio this morning to take the photo that appears below, the traffic on the main road was as loud as it is when nothing is happening, when people are not asked to stay home.  Is no one complying?  Why?

Meanwhile I will take advantage of all the positive things I can find in this–communicate with friends and family all over the world, garden, cook, learn more Google Classroom, relearn some pieces on the piano, water before the predicted wind for tomorrow occurs, brush the shedding hair off my horses, read, and perhaps join the online Zumba class in San Antonio at 4.  Life, even in times of crisis, is what you make of it.

Be safe!  Learn something new!  Laugh out loud!

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Covid19–1


Will many record their experiences during this difficult time?  I have no idea.  However, a thought came to me yesterday that I should–not sure why, just that this is something I should do.  Interesting because I am not really into “shoulds.”

Because Martina, the exchange student who lived with me this time last year, lives n Milano, I have realized the seriousness of this for weeks.  She and her family have been quarantined for so long that I have lost track of just how long.  A couple of days ago her mother had to go to the grocery.  It took her four hours to get through the line.  She has a grandfather over 90; they worry about him; he is scared.

Yet, here in the Panhandle of Texas, many fail to realize just how awful this can get.  Until yesterday, when they had no choice due to the statewide mandate, they went out to eat, exercised at the gym, congregated in mass at bars, you name it. Now schools are closed until April 3 when the situation will be re-evaluated.

In the last ten days the only places I have gone are the grocery, the doctor’s office–for an awful allergy attack.  Luckily, I live out in the country, have horses.  They have to be fed twice a day, their runs cleaned.  Today it is 70, the patio doors are open; I might even take a little hike later.  Just me and Athena, my black, standard poodle.

Luckily, it has been spring break so I have had plenty of time to think about what to do with myself as I keep myself quarantined–I am not even going to my daughter and grandson’s house–I really miss seeing them.  What do I do:  have read two books, almost finished crocheting a poncho, worked one warm day in the garden, graded all the papers I brought home and posted them, cared for the horses, cooked, communicated with friends worldwide–Covid19 is everywhere, watched some TV, mostly news and documentaries.  One thing I will do every day is act as if I am actually going somewhere, put on my makeup, get dressed, have a plan for the day.

This morning I went to the grocery.  What did I do when I returned home?  I left the bag outside to air–will disinfect it shortly, I took off my clothes in the laundry room and put them to wash.  Then I took a hot shower.  Why all this you ask?  The virus can stay in your clothes for 24 hours.  There were more people in the store in the morning than I expected.  Are they healthy, virus free?  No idea.  In the county where I live, there have been two cases already.  I do not want to risk it.  Although I am healthy, I am in one of the higher risk categories due to my age.  I do not mind dying, but who wants to die from this?  I don’t.

It is a nice spring day outside, the wild flowers are starting to bloom, and I need to relearn how to use Google Classroom because that is how I will be teaching English and Spanish until who knows exactly when.  I have used it before over a year ago.  I need to refresh myself.

Here are a few pictures of the wild flowers around my house.  After this, review Google Classroom and maybe play the piano for a bit.

Take care of yourselves.  Be safe. Be wise.

 

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Beauty


Once I was married to a man who sarcastically commented that I could find beauty anywhere.  It’s probably true.  Taking a hike in semi-arid country, I find tiny flowers, hidden lichens, cactus the size of my thumbnail.  I keep thinking of the miniscule lavender flowers near the rock walkway by the garage.  They only appear briefly in the spring.  They are so tiny, tinier than my pinkie nail.  How can I see them?  They stand out so brightly against the rocks, they’re hard to miss.  Well, hard for me to miss.

Every natural place has its own beauty.  I can only think of one place I’ve been where I questioned this:  a place on the Interstate east of LA next to the Arizona border.  In June when it was 118 and the hot wind nearly knocked me over, I recall asking myself, “How can anyone live here?”  Yet I’ve seen photos of the same desert carpeted with hot pink flowers in the spring.

Every natural place has its own beauty.  You just have to be open to seeing., feeling, experiencing  its magic.

 

Note:  This essay was part of an assignment for a writing class from the Story Circle Network.  The assignment is to write six minutes each day using just one word to get you started and writing about that word. You can make a list of topics or just pick a word out of a book.  The teacher is Yesim Cimcoz. It would seem I never took of photo of the tiny flower mentioned above.  Below are photos of native flowers taken around my house.

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Taking a Knee?


When I read this post, I kept think the other times in life when people as he puts it, “take the knee”: when men propose, when people pray. No one see those as signs of disrespect or do they? For all those who think it is disrespectful, try reading every verse of the national anthem. Hint: the author was a pro-slavery slave owner.

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Institute of American Indian Arts (Photo compliments of Moni)

Not everyone really appreciates just how powerful the ritual of standing for the National Anthem really can be. I got a real sense of this when I was 14. My Jr. rifle team won the Wyoming-state BB-Gun finals, which earned our way to the International BB-Gun Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky. …on July 4th. As the child of a career military officer, I was always happy to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing there during the final ceremonies, the whole thing took on a whole new layer of meaning for me. That time, I had my heart in my throat. That time, the whole ritual moved me nearly to tears. I loved my country so much, and at that moment, putting my hand over my heart for that beautiful song was absolutely the…

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The Motherhood of God by Mary Sharratt


The first woman to write a book in English–in the 1300s.

Doing a recent talk on pioneering woman writers, I like to do the Before Jane Austen test with my audience. Who can name a single woman writer in the English language before Jane Austen? Alas, because woman have been written out of history to such a large extent, most people come up blank. Then we talk about pioneering Renaissance authors, such as Aemilia Bassano Lanier, the subject of my recent novel, THE DARK LADY’S MASK, or her mentor, Anne Locke, the first person of either sex to write a sonnet sequence in the English language.

But my next question takes us even further back into history. Who was the first woman to write a book in English?

The answer is Julian of Norwich, who wrote Revelations of Divine Love.

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Make America Great Again?


Although few argue with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, few look long and hard at the history and life then.  Unless you owned land, were male, were white, nothing for you.  Most of the founding fathers still held, tacitly or openly, to the old English class system.  Many owned slaves even when they claimed to dislike it.  Throughout United States history,  a small group of high status, white men have controlled the country.

More recently during WWII, we imprisoned Japanese Americans but not Germans.  The Japanese were often seen as ruthless, barbaric while the Aryan German remained quite close to the idealized, white, patriotic American ideal.

Today when people read about white men murdering large numbers of people, the news and the comments indicate that most think these people are abnormal, not like the rest of us.  This is a country fascinated with hate.  For many in the last couple of years this has taken the form of hatred of outsiders, refugees, dark people.  This has brought a new wave of tough on crime mentality.  People who think differently, more welcoming, more critical, are seen as subversive, anti-patriotic.  Much of the public sees certain groups, e.g. black men, as criminals, wicked, violent, groups to be feared.  Any research contrary to these prevalent views tends to be hidden, pushed away, unreported.  One example is a report by Homeland Security in 2009 which warned law enforcement agencies about the dangers of right-wing conservatism.  Certain conservative groups demanded the withdrawal of this report and succeeded.

Certain Christian groups push for a return to Christian values not realizing perhaps the origin of some of these values.  The word, evil, provides an excellent example.  This word goes back to Saint Augustine who defined it as a refusal to act morally, a refusal to do good.  While Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazism have been associated with evil, interestingly fascism has not. Franco in Spain escaped the evil label probably because the Vatican, the US government, and US businesses supported him.  The word evil is rarely used to describe state sanctioned violence as in the US support of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile.  It appears we pick and choose the evil label to suit certain purposes.  Powerful groups are rarely labeled evil and therefore do not become targets of general hatred.

Fear relates to hate.  People hate what they fear.  Some media play on these fears to incite hate to suit their own goals and philosophies.  Certain talk radio hosts use their rants to further their goals in this manner.  They want people who do not think like they do to incite fear which leads to hate. These media can easily inflame the public fears about crime, refugees, drug usage.  They also rely on the often hidden preexisting prejudices that many deny they have, e.g. racism, fear of outsiders, fear of differences.

The ultimate end of these prejudices is war.  The often popular belief remains:  justice and goodness can be attained via violence, force.  We are good and everyone against us is evil and therefore to be hated.  The war vocabulary remains part of common everyday language:  War on Women, Drug War, War on Poverty.  Our language remains full of these types of communications.  It expresses a common worldview. Problems can be solved by force.  This continues in spite of enormous evidence that it does not work.  The War on Drugs never attained success, our economic and social problems remain.  Even efforts at containment frequently fail, e.g. the current opioid epidemic.  Many schools currently hire police officers and sometimes students are arrested for relatively minor infractions.  Often those arrested are students with certain types of disabilities or from certain minority groups.  Our prison population has increased by 500% over the last thirty years with the increased imprisonment of women double that of men, mainly due to drug related crimes.  Obviously, these “wars” are failing. Because of the “cult” of individuality and freedom, people in the US often see these failures as the result of individuals acting irresponsibly rather than societal failures.  Although these factors do not force an individual to behave in certain ways, they do affect a person’s psychological makeup, opportunities for betterment, and mental and physical health.

We have become a society possessed with fear and hatred caused by a profound mistrust of others.  Contrary to what many wish to believe this nation has a long history of obsession with perceived enemies and evil.  Some see threats everywhere, liberals hate conservatives and vice versa, some fear and hate those with different sexual orientations, the list seems endless.  Many see the solution as one form of war or another either through violence, incarceration, or laws.

Mass rallies on both sides further incite this sort of mass mentality.  History remains full of disastrous consequences of such behavior.  The Nazis came to power this way and killed millions of Jews via such strategies.  The genocide in Rwanda is another example. We see the perpetrators of such as monsters, but common, ordinary men and women made the Holocaust possible.  Good, decent people engage in horrible crimes.  The Ku Klux Klan continues with membership of otherwise ordinary, upstanding citizens. Doctors in Nazi Germany rationalized their help with exterminations and experimentations as part of German nationalism to save their country.

In the US racism is not the sole purview of white bigots.  Just recently someone commented to me about being colorblind.  Such is a form of denial.  When people see another person, they notice how they look, eyes, height, etc.  Most white people in the US today never choose to recall, if alive then, and acknowledge, if not,  the millions of black people (mostly men) lynched, most of whom were raped, tortured and castrated before they were killed.  When someone commits these types of atrocities today, we often refer to him as a monster.  We conveniently forget the long history of atrocities against all people of color in this country, atrocities deemed perfectly normal at the time.

As noted in the examples above, much of the violence and hatred and injustice currently seen in this country has a long history.  We have not been able to even come close to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Instead of talking about Making American Great Again, we need to change the conversation into a future vision of making the US like the vision detailed in this document, a place where justice and the hope of equality can be attained by all, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion.

 

 

 

 

Note:  Recommended readings include “Considering Hate” by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski and “White Trash:  the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg.

 

 

 

Respect


Because I teach high school, I am accustomed to teenagers, their loudness and capacity for rude behavior.  Nevertheless, because I live in ranching country with fences and gates, most know you do not go through another person’s fence or leave gates open.  The former is called trespassing.  The latter can thoughtlessly let out livestock and maybe get them killed.  If your neighbor’s dog keeps coming to your property and you call the sheriff’s office, they will simply tell you to shoot it.

Respect applies.  If you do not want people running over your property, obviously do not trespass on another’s.  Have respect for others as you would want them to respect you.

A big party full of teens started at my neighbor’s about five hours ago.  I watched them throwing rocks, running hither and yon,  like caged animals on the loose. A fence exists between my property and hers, a very obvious, country style fence with cedar and T-posts and five strands of wire.  It is not invisible.  I never installed no trespassing signs  because they would face her property and in some places exist at the edge of her back yard.  I would not be able to see them from my house or barn.  After this evening, I will reconsider.

Luckily, I was out feeding horses, doing chores, when several of the teens apparently decided to crawl through the fence and walk toward my house.  Because I was outside, I saw them and was able to tell them to get back across the fence.  If I had not been home, would they have kept walking, what might they have done?  Nothing, hopefully, but with 25 or perhaps more running around, who knows.  I kept thinking surely these young people know better.  Have they not been taught to respect others?  Where were the adults?  Did they even care?

This week I will go buy several no trespassing signs and install them at various places along the fence.  I feel sad to think I find this necessary.

Religion and Politics


The two things some of us were taught never to discuss in social situations.  Reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, simply reaffirms why those who wrote the United States Constitution insisted on separating religion and politics.  Mixing the two leads to tyranny, war, misunderstanding, and a host of other ills. When did this mixture start?  Prehistory or at least the early recorded history.

Constantine, the Roman emperor,  converted for political purposes.  The Persians tolerated a wide variety of religions until it was no longer politically expedient; then they decided to persecute Christians and declare Zoastrianism as official.  When the barbarian hoards from the steppes started to overrun both the Roman and Persian Empires, they decided to cooperate–a huge change–and actually built a wall between the Black and Caspian Seas to stop the uncivilized.  Roman soldiers guarded the wall.  This helped Rome little, however, because the Visigoths sacked Rome.  The barbarians won.

And then there was Constantine’s Counsel of Nicea, held in 410, 420, 424.  The “eastern” bishops were not invited.  Therefore, the results applied only to what later became known as Roman Catholicism. Infighting among bishops, arguments over who was right and wrong continued, and on and on.  Eastern bishops saw the western teachings as heresy. The arguments mainly centered on the divinity, or lack thereof, of Jesus.

The western church focused on rooting out unofficial religious views, while the east focused on missionary activity.  The king of Yemen even became a Christian. Rulers converted, shifted allegiances, persecuted or tolerated, according to political expediency.

Little seems to have changed in 1500 years.