Monday, January 2, 2017

Finding the light in 2016

I guess 2016 and I never did get things quite right between us.

The year brought challenges I did not imagine were coming, and felt unequipped to deal with: a scary health issue for my son (and a long recovery process); really, really scary health issues for three of my friends; a mysterious health issue for me that remains unresolved.

And David Bowie's death early in the year (January 10th) made it seem like 2016 started in grief, for me. I cried for days--literally. I cut my hair, and got it dyed pink & purple & blue. The passing of the wonderful weirdness that Bowie was made January seem like a giant ending rather than a beginning.

And then there was the avalanche of celebrity deaths that followed: Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, James Alan McPherson, Buckwheat Zydeco, Gloria Naylor, George Michael, Gwen Ifill, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher. And good lord, that's not even a complete list! Yes, there's always someone famous dying, but I felt genuine grief at these losses, that I wouldn't get to enjoy new work by them anymore, or just know that they were out there in the world seeing it through their artist eyes. Knowing that we lost them seemed so sad.

There were terrible deaths from gun violence--unthinkable, awful deaths. And we don't seem to know how to stop them, or be able to take the steps to do so.

The fall semester was, quite frankly, a struggle. My number one physical challenge was a near-constant feeling of exhaustion, like I was coming down with the flu every day. Every single day. I managed to do my job reasonably well (though I spent a lot more time sitting down while teaching than I ever remember doing before). The worn-out-ness meant giving up things that brought me joy. I stopped running. For a long while I stopped knitting. I haven't had the energy to sing with the band or go out dancing for a long, long while.

In the fall, one of my colleagues died--quite suddenly. I did not know him very well, as we worked in different departments and had not served on any committees together. But I knew his devotion to students, and to his family. I know that there are people who are devastated by this loss. He was only a few years older than me.

And amidst all this difficulty, the election happened. It brought me to a level of grief I didn't know was possible from an election. But it was so much more than that, of course; I wasn't just sad that the person I voted for didn't win. I was grieving the world I thought would be coming, the world I thought we were stepping into. Now we've stepped into a place I never wanted to live in, and I continue to grieve because the lives of my loved ones are put in danger by that man and his followers. Oh sure, I'll be fighting the things that are coming--the bad decisions, bad policies, harmful laws. In the meantime, knowing we're going down a wrong path is truly sad.

So it felt kind of difficult to turn to the positive at the close of 2016 as we hailed the arrival of a new year. But I had to remind myself: if 2016 was the year that my kid had a really scary surgical wound, it was also the year that that wound healed; his body performed its amazing, everyday miracle and grew tissue and created skin. My three friends are still here, more healthy than they were before their scary incidents, and doing amazingly well and looking beautiful.

Even in the face of 2016 hardships, I was thankful for the research and travel I was able to do to Portland, Neah Bay, and D.C. I got to see beloved friends, met people doing amazing work that makes our world better, and breathed in the beauty of the west coast--the ocean! the trees! the ferns!--and remembered how to navigate city life in D.C.

All through the fall semester, I was inspired and amazed by the work of the water protectors--people who came from all over the globe to stand with the Lakota people of the Standing Rock reservation and stop construction on an oil pipeline. No matter what the eventual outcome, here are the things I celebrate about Standing Rock: the people there were able to bring awareness to a "local" issue in such a way that people from all over the world cared about it; the water protectors were putting themselves in danger not only for their own access to clean water, but for millions of other people who need that water, too; they created a place where people were living in community, helping and serving one another; and in the face of increasing and terror-inducing violence being used against them, they maintained a prayerful resistance. What a beautiful and amazing and life-changing thing to witness.

And then recently as I was scrolling through Facebook and seeing all the holiday photos being posted, I realized something that finally convinced me that 2016 wasn't all bad: the babies. This year, there were babies arriving to friends who had hoped and wished for them, tried and prayed and struggled for them. The babies came, and made everyone fall in love, and became our best wish for the future, seeds that will carry us into a new world.

I'm not sure what 2017 will look like. I know it will bear some challenges, both personal and political, and that I should not count on it being any easier than 2016. Of course. But love continues on, that much I know. We will carry it forward.

May your year be beautiful.

Cheers,
Karen

P.S. If you're looking for a way to learn more about Standing Rock and its historical contexts, here's a great online resource: the Standing Rock syllabus. And here's an article that made me think that perhaps Standing Rock could teach us how to resist oppression in the near future by some very scary, rich, and powerful entities.

Friday, August 26, 2016

We are GO for launch

It's official: the Fall 2016 semester has begun!

(I think it's apropos that Arcade Fire's "Ready to Start" came up in my random shuffle yesterday...)

I've gone to meetings, taught all of my classes once, and counseled my new advisees. I've reacquainted myself with the online registration system and the new version of the Blackboard site. I'm remembering how to use the photocopier. I've tidied up my office.

Aside from the logistics, I've been wondering for the past week or so whether I'm really ready to start--emotionally, physically. I kept thinking about our recent trip to Cape Canaveral, about our visit to the Launch Command Center, and the checklist they would go through to see if each department would sign off on being ready: GO or NO GO for launch.

(This is the Launch Control Center, the REAL THING. We were thrilled.)
I'm still having struggles with fatigue; at the end of a day of work, I feel as if I've got a low-grade fever. (I'm on it, don't worry--more doctor's appointments next week, more ideas for addressing this issue. And I've got a totally different attitude about saying no to things I just can't do. I have to take care of my body, or none of what I do will be feasible.)

(My heart is open; I hope its wings are ready.)
I wasn't sure if I could transition out of the dreamy, thinking-big-thoughts, how-are-these-ideas-related-and-why-does-it-all-matter mindset I've been walking around in while working on my writing projects. As of right now, I'm still in that transition, remembering how to attend to the mundane (but important) daily tasks necessary for teaching while also occasionally ruminating over a writing issue. I hope I can hold onto some of that dreaminess, actually. And if it means that on some days I get to campus and realize my shoes are probably wrong for my outfit, that's okay. (That happened on Wednesday, and really, it was fine, we all survived.)

One good sign: I loved being back in the classroom. Just loved it. I think the classes went well--even the one we had to kind of limp through because it was 3:00 in the afternoon and 90 degrees outside and stiflingly hot in our classroom (no air conditioning) and everyone was sleepy. Even that one had some bright and brilliant moments.

Another good sign: I've decided to continue my multicolored sabbatical hair. This time around I was going for a slightly different color scheme. I think it's a song about peacock mermaids.

(green, teal, blue, purple)
So, even though I've got some worries about what's to come and how I will handle it, I feel optimistic and even excited. It's a new semester; the world starts over now. Let's go.

(They call this the rocket garden. I was fascinated, as we toured the visitor's center,
at the combination of striving for technological achievement/exploration with
a love and yearning for the stars. It was an interesting combination.)

I hope you find you're ready to start something new and exciting.

Love,
Karen
xoxo

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meeting Hokule'a


I'm in the D.C. area right now to do some field research for my project on museums, objects in museums, and Native artists and writers. I'm learning a lot, and having some good experiences, mostly thanks to Lakota artist and teacher Steve Tamayo. (Once again, I should express my gratitude for the Ohio Wesleyan University Theory to Practice grant that made this trip financially possible.)

Steve left a few days ago for his next adventure, curating an exhibit at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, NY. Exciting! We had various excellent experiences (at least some of which I hope end up in the book project), but one highlight of our time in D.C. was our trip to the Smithsonian's Cultural Resources Center, where objects for the National Museum of the American Indian are stored, restored, and studied.

OR RATHER, inspired by the museum staff and their approach to the objects they take care of, here's another way I could write it: this is the place where things like baskets become participants in research, where they become teachers and storytellers and help the humans learn. Artist Teri Rofkar, who works with the museum staff, suggested that they think about CRC standing for Cultural Relationships Center, because that's what the place is really about, making and enhancing relationships where the knowledge and value travel in all directions. (In the book project, I will be doing my best to convey WHAT AN AMAZINGLY REVOLUTIONARY SHIFT this language and approach represents in the world of museum studies; I need to figure out how to do that more gracefully--i.e., without resorting to all caps... )

Steve Tamayo and CRC textile conservator Susan Heald
look at some of the baskets from a recent study.

Another highlight of the trip happened on the day Steve and his wife Susan (not the CRC staff member, that's another Susan) were leaving town: the sea-going Hawai'ian wa'a (canoe) Hokule'a arrived in the D.C. area. The crew aboard Hokule'a use only Indigenous methods of wayfinding--reading the stars and sky and seas to figure out where they are and where they're going. She has been traveling around the world--the entire globe!--since 2014. I had been tracking Hokule'a's World Wide Voyage for Malama Honua (caring for the Earth), and was really excited she'd be in town at the same time I was. (Click around the website for lots more information about Hokule'a and her project: crew member blogs, materials for use in classrooms, navigation reports and updates. You can even track her trip on a map! And support the voyage by buying a t-shirt or bag!)

Hokule'a's front mast


On our way to the airport, we went down to Alexandria's waterfront park, expecting to maybe look at her docked at a pier, and maybe say hello to one of the crew members, whoever was around. When we got there, I spotted a woman in a hula outfit that I recognized from last year's Hawai'ian festival at the NMAI; she said that Hokule'a was going to arrive within the half hour, and that official protocols would take place followed by dancing. Essentially, we accidentally got there just in time to see a full-on welcoming ceremony, with blessings offered in the form of chants, singing, dancing, and speeches. It was amazing and beautiful and heart-opening.

Some members of the Piscataway nation being interviewed before the ceremony


Whenever Hokule'a arrives to dock, she is welcomed by the Indigenous people of that place, who participate in the protocol that is followed whenever a voyaging canoe lands. In Alexandria, members of the Piscataway tribe offered welcoming songs. Once ashore, Hokule'a's crew members gave their chant. After that, there were more dances, singing, official speeches... which might sound a bit dry. But the feeling moved from one that was serious and respectful (more like a state visit) to one that was full of happiness and fun--more like a party, a celebration of people who were glad to see each other, meet each other, enjoy each other's company.

Here she comes! 


This is part of the chant that crew members performed.

Halau Nohona Hawai'i present a dance to the crew of Hokule'a


Susan and Steve and I had to leave after a while to get them to the airport (in a huge traffic jam, which made me think maybe we should have hired a boat to get them up the river!). But I made it back to the park again in time for the last dances and songs of the day: the "end of the party goodbye song" "Hawai'i Aloha," and a big round dance song sung by the Piscataway people; during each one, everyone joined hands in a circle and danced. It was good to hold hands with strangers, laughing and smiling and dancing and singing and putting lots of good, happy energy into the air and ground and water where Hokule'a is docked for a few days.

The next day (Monday), I made the trek back down to take a tour of Hokule'a. I could not pass up the chance to go aboard!

There was a long line, but I passed the time by talking to the couple behind me, who were from Maui. As Hokule'a crew members passed by, they kept stopping and greeting the man. It turns out that he and a group of others are constructing a voyaging canoe on Maui. It was good to talk with him about a bunch of issues: how awareness of Hawai'i's history has changed, how language learning has changed, how traditional knowledge is being shared with a new generation. All the work in the 1970s is bearing fruit now; the world is so different--so much better--because of it.

The previous group disembarked and it was our turn. We handed over our waivers and climbed aboard, stepping carefully across the gap between the dock and the canoe. We gathered on the deck, people sitting on coolers and leaning on rails. I was overcome with emotion, so thankful to be on Hokule'a--she and her builders and navigators have done so much amazing work, that has meant so much to cultural revitalization. What a gift!

Linda Furuto tells us about the boat, navigation, and ancestors...

Crew member Linda Furuto talked about what it means to be doing the work of sailing Hokule'a around the world to raise awareness about the health of our planet. Not only do they talk to visitors who come to the boat, they also broadcast to schools, and prepare materials that can be used in classrooms.

The ki'i wahine (female figure)

The ki'i kane (male figure)

The bow of Hokule'a, with garlands

The part I found most moving was when she talked about links between the past and future, all on board that small boat. The master navigator who taught the 1970s crew how to use Indigenous methods of navigation had taught them: you need to know where you come from in order to know where you are, and where you're going. You need to honor and acknowledge your ancestors.

She told a story. She was asked once: how many people are on Hokule'a? She counted 12. But her teacher said: no, there are thousands. Every person on the boat has generation after generation of ancestors that they carry with them when they come aboard.

Check out the masts and rigging! So many ropes!
She continued, asking a child if he could find a motor on board; he looked around, and answered no. She said: that's right. Our power to sail comes from the wind, the ocean, the universe, and the mana, or life force, of every person who comes aboard Hokule'a. When we're out on the ocean, we feel the prayers and support of all our visitors, and all the people thinking about us.

My heart felt full as I stood on the deck of Hokule'a, shifting with the rocking of the water. I felt the ancestors--how proud they are, how much love they feel for this boat and her crew. I felt the love of the crew for their teachers and ancestors, and for the next generation, who are the whole point of their enduring difficult conditions (being cold and wet, facing storms). I felt the love and admiration of the people visiting the boat, amazed by her journey so far and cheering her on for all the work she does.

Kapu Na Keiki: for the children
I felt the connections between ancestors and grandchildren--between my great-grandmother, whose house steps I'd stood on two days ago, and my son, who never met her but who knows of her through my stories. I felt the connections between people from places far away--momentary meetings, reunions, exchanges of news and knowledge and stories. I felt excited about the possibility that each person who saw Hokule'a on her journey would tell a friend about her, and that so many people would think about all of us living on our island the Earth and think about ways of helping her take care of us. I felt filled with love and promise and possibility.

I am so happy!
It's a new world. We are all relatives.

Cheers,
Karen



P.S. Here is a post from our "Learning in Hawai'i" blog about what our visit to the islands taught me about Hokule'a. One important realization: when you bring back the boat, you bring back more than just the boat...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Life is what happens...

... while you're busy making other plans. At least that's what I've heard.

My sabbatical this semester has not gone at all like I had planned, mostly because I was so ill with the mystery whateveritwas. Sick for weeks in January became sick again in February, which then became "what the hell I'm sick again" in March. I haven't gotten as much done as I'd envisioned: cleaning out offices (home and on campus), reading, writing, reporting my goings-on in this here blog. All was halved, it seems, while I tried to figure out how to take care of my body, how to just be still and rest, how to forgive myself for not being able to perform to expectations.

So I haven't gotten as much done as I'd hoped or planned. BUT I'm just back from the west coast, where I visited museums and talked to people about their work. I've had moments that make me stop in my tracks to admire beauty, or marvel at words. I've seen and heard how making art, sometimes the kind that comes in everyday objects, connects people and place and time.

A display of Native-made baskets at the Portland Art Museum--
among them, a contemporary piece made out of film
rather than plant material!


Some meetings have gone as planned (like talking with poet Trevino Brings Plenty, whose brilliant work led me to the Portland Art Museum, and talking with Janine Ledford, executive director of the astounding Makah Cultural and Research Center); some have fallen through (Deana Dartt, curator at the Portland Art Museum, was out sick on the day I hoped to meet her, but we will talk by phone); and some have happened purely by luck (I dined with Makah carver Greg Colfax at his family's restaurant, where I got to see his latest sculpture and we talked about making art, writing, travel, and transformation; and my friend Kent Smith, an art expert and artist and former museum executive, opened my eyes to things I had overlooked). All in all, I have felt very grateful to be doing this work, and very lucky that travel funds from my university made all of it possible.

The welcoming figures
outside the Makah Cultural & Research Center


I don't think I can share much yet about what I'm researching and writing about; those pieces are still somewhat fragmented--scraps of ideas living in different pages of my project notebook as I wait to see what kind of structure might emerge to connect them. There's a chunk here, and another chunk over there, and another a ways off... how best to tell the story so that you feel them as part of a whole? We'll see.

A giant display of Wendy Red Star's art
on the outside of the Portland Art Museum


In the meantime, a smaller side-story: Last night I went down to the Columbus College of Art and Design to see Sherman Alexie give a reading; they had invited him because their first-year students read his book War Dances as their common text. (What an unusual choice!).

What he shared with us, though, was not really a reading; it was more like an evening of standup comedy through storytelling. I was smiling and laughing so much that my face hurt.

And the strangest part about his story producing face-hurting laughter? He was talking about having surgery to remove a brain tumor. He was telling us about the moments of fear, and anger, and shame, and ridiculousness that go along with such an episode, and how he found so many things hilariously funny (like when he found out his bladder was unusually large, kind of with an extra section to it, which he decided was his bladder's "man cave"; or how he had to cancel his family's "bucket list" burro ride down the Grand Canyon because they just couldn't, so some other family's vacation photos have four empty burros in them; or the way steroids made him horny and angry at the same time, so he was mad at his penis). We'd be laughing, and then he'd tell a detail about the surgery that made us gasp, and then we'd fall into silence as he talked about the kind of health care he'd received as a kid on a reservation.

He is a brilliant storyteller who had every person in that auditorium eating out of his hands; and he is also the chubby (his word), middle-aged guy walking back and forth on the stage with a kind of rolling gait, telling us about how he almost died, and what it felt like when he realized he'd survived. He was so very human. His story was funny and sad and awkward and scary and wondrous. It was a lot like life.

My face hurt. But I sure was happy.

I hope you hear a good story today--one that makes you glad to be here.

Cheers,
Karen

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A poem for St. Brigid's Day 2016

Every year at this time I post a poem in honor of St. Brigid, whose feast day is today. She is the saint (goddess) of poetry, midwifery, and blacksmithing. (How's that for an unexpected trio of life skills?)

This morning I read an email from my Mom about my great-grandmother, Leokadya Goralski (born Muczynski), whose birthday is today, and who was my Busia. She came to the U.S. from Poland and raised her family of eight kids in a tiny row house in Baltimore--no electricity, no indoor plumbing. She worked in a factory at some point. Her husband Anthony died following an accident in the factory where he worked. She must have had a hard life; in addition to losing her husband, she also endured the death of several children.

When I was little, every weekend that my sister and I spent at my Dad's, we went to visit Busia. I only remember her as an old woman who was ill and had to be taken care of by my (Great) Uncle Jim, but I see her now as an example of strength, determination, and kindness. She had welcomed my mother (not Polish) into the family; my Mom says Busia made the best chrusciki and paczski. Every weekend that we went to visit, my sister and I were given cookies and a little spending money, and she let us play with her ceramic figurines as long as we were careful and didn't hurt them. I remember a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the corner, presiding over Busia's home space, the mother's foot on a serpent, her veil a beautiful blue.

Since I'm thinking about Busia today, I thought I would share a poem by a Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1996. This poem comes from the book Here, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanslaw Baranczak. It reminds me of a time when my then-boss, Sherry Levy-Reiner, told me she had seen another me on her trip to Poland, a young woman crossing the street toward her, so very like me that she almost called my name.



"Thoughts that Visit Me on Busy Streets"

Faces.
Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
Each different, so we're told,
from those that have been and will be.
But Nature--since who really understands her?--
may grow tired of her ceaseless labors
and so repeats earlier ideas
by supplying us
with preworn faces.

Those passersby might be Archimedes in jeans,
Catherine the Great draped in resale,
some pharaoh with briefcase and glasses.

An unshod shoemaker's widow
from a still pint-sized Warsaw,
the master from the cave at Altamira
taking his grandkids to the zoo,
a shaggy Vandal en route to the museum
to gasp at past masters.

The fallen from two hundred centuries ago,
five centuries ago,
half a century ago.

One brought here in a golden carriage,
Another conveyed by extermination transport,
Montezuma, Confucius, Nebuchadnezzar,
their nannies, their laundresses, and Semiramida
who only speaks English.

Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
My face, yours, whose--
you'll never know.
Maybe Nature has to shortchange us,
and to keep up, meet demand,
she fishes up what's been sunk
in the mirror of oblivion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wait, what?

This is what it feels like to start a long-awaited sabbatical with being sick:

*sigh*

I'm spending my days mostly on the couch. This is week two of the festivities. I'm watching Netflix, reading (exclusively stuff I will most likely never teach). Not doing a lot of knitting--it feels too effortful. (That's how I know I'm really sick.) Cancelling plans a day at a time. Even stuff I really want/wanted to do.

Maximum cat snuggles potential is nice.
Even if they do give me looks like this.

I had already planned to start sabbatical with REST--desperately needed. And I was going to add into the early weeks some fun things to do--go to a museum, take my camera for a walk around the neighborhood, go pray by the river. My spirit needs some fluffing up, some nurturing. It needs space to expand into and beauty to look at. But the body makes its demands first, and this smart woman is going to listen (for a change).

We also have occasional five-minute bursts of David Bowie Dance Party
(including singing and sometimes crying, but that's getting better, at last).

On the good side: being on sabbatical means I can actually take sick days, time to recover and heal. Also on the good side: I am excited about my writing and research projects even though I don't know exactly the shape the final product will take and even though this not knowing is slightly terrifying.

For now, that's not up to me. For now, my job is to rest and heal. So that's what I'm doing.

May you feel well and whole.
Karen

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Off the couch (sometimes)

Dec. 28, 2015: a momentous run!

Dexter and I celebrated our "runniversary" just after Christmas, marking the date we started the "Couch to 5k" program a year ago. Woohoo!

Back in December 2014, I had seen a couple friends posting their C25k progress on FB, and Dexter and I both needed some exercise, so I thought: what the heck, let's give this a try. I downloaded the app onto my phone, and off we went. I wasn't sure we would stick to it. We even waited a few weeks before investing in good running shoes. (We eventually got them at Fleet Feet, which I loved. They watched our feet while we ran and had us try on different brands. We ended up with really great shoes.)

Brand new shoes on their first run.

When we started, just running for a minute and a half was a challenge. The brilliant thing about the C25k app is that it starts you off s-l-o-w, working up gradually to longer and longer intervals of running in between lots of walking. There were a couple of times when we repeated a particular week's training because we didn't feel like we'd really mastered it yet. And there were a couple of times where we took a week or so off for illness, then went back a couple weeks in the program. We made it work for us, and it worked great.

We ran outside a lot--even when it was snowing!

Though I definitely enjoyed the "getting fit" aspect of the program, even better was the fact that I was spending time with Dexter three times a week, talking about whatever for a half hour or so while we worked our way through the program. There was no agenda, and our topics ranged from silly to thoughtful. He put up with my penchant for post-run selfies, and I put up with his gaming stories. Ha!

Cheese!
Mwah!


We ran our first 5k in April (the Westerville Bunny Hop, on Easter weekend), and a couple more since then (the Music in Motion 5k in October, and the Delaware Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving). I'm hoping we'll do a few more in 2016.

After our first 5k: we were ecstatic about the fact that
a) we finished, and b) we ran the whole time!
He pulled way ahead of me after the first k. I was proud of both of us.


After our October 5k
In the summer months, Dexter and I started to run together less frequently--probably in part because he's less "into it" than I am, but also because our pace is so different. Being OLD and creaky, I like to go slow for a longer distance; being a teenager who is noticeably taller than me (with longer, younger legs), he likes to run the first mile pretty fast, and then he's done.

Our running shadows


These days, I am still doing my 2.5 miles three times a week, but he's back in school, taking p.e. class every day, and only running occasionally. Every once in a while we'll hit the road together, and spend at least the first mile keeping pace with each other, chatting. I miss this.

For the special occasion of our runniversary, we ran together again. It was not the best run... It had been raining incessantly for weeks (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but only slight). We waited until the rain stopped to venture out only to have the clouds dump buckets on us when we were about a half mile from home. Not a great run, but we made it.

Post runniversary run: soaking wet and fogged glasses, but done!


Here are our stats for Dec. 28, 2014 through Dec. 28, 2015:
Miles run: 232.5 (about 374 kilometers)
Time: 53:13:06
Workouts: 27

Not bad, if I do say so myself. Here's hoping I--and we--have some good runs in 2016!

Cheers,
Karen

Being... mysterious?