Blame My Timid Soul

“A few months ago I thought the slaughter of the Civil War, and the agitation of the violent Abolitionists who helped bring it on, were evil. But possibly they had to be violent, because easy-going citizens like me couldn’t be stirred up otherwise. If our grandfathers had had the alertness and courage to see the evils of slavery and of a government conducted by gentlemen for gentlemen only, there wouldn’t have been any need of agitators and war and blood.

“It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt ourselves superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’ who brought on the Civil War, the French Revolution, and now the Fascist Dictatorship. It’s I who murdered Rabbi de Verez. It’s I who persecuted the Jews and the Negroes. I can blame no Aras Dilley, no Shad Ledue, no Buzz Windrip, but only my own timid soul and drowsy mind. Forgive, O Lord!

“Is it too late?”

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Radical Attorney

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Ahead of the crowd a lady with twists stands on top of a police car, holding a bullhorn. She turns toward us, her fist raised for black power. Khalil smiles on the front of her T-shirt.

“Ain’t that your attorney, Starr?” Seven asks.

“Yeah.”

Now I knew Ms. Ofrah was about that radical life, but when you think “attorney” you don’t really think “person standing on a police car with a bullhorn,” you know?

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Comfortable Ignorance

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Morningdale. There were other things at that time. That awful television series, for instance. All these things contributed, contributed to the turning of the tide. But I suppose when it comes down to it, the central flaw was this. Our little movement, we were always too fragile, always too dependent on the whims of our supporters. So long as the climate was in our favour, so long as a corporation or a politician could see a benefit in supporting us, then we were able to keep afloat. But it had always been a struggle, and after Morningdale, after the climate changed, we had no chance. The world didn’t want to be reminded how the donation programme really worked. They didn’t want to think about you students, or about the conditions you were brought up in. In other words, my dears, they wanted you back in the shadows. Back in the shadows where you’d been before the likes of Marie-Claude and myself ever came along. And all those influential people who’d once been so keen to help us, well of course, they all vanished.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

Book Review: Trump Is a Nasty Knight

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Nick and the Nasty Knight by Ute Krause was published in 2012. The book is not anti-Trump protest literature. It’s just a story about a boy who lives in an impoverished town where the political power (the nasty knight) uses taxes, sleazy political (legal) maneuvers and physical violence to drain every last penny out of the residents.

This knight lives in an enormous castle where he keeps all of the gold locked up, forces people to carry him around because he will not be bothered with walking and…get this…he uses a golden toilet.

Much like Maurizio Cattelan’s “America“, the similarities and political applicability are almost eerie. While it’s important to note that Trump’s golden toilet is an internet myth, it’s symbolism is very much a political reality.

When I first read this book to the children in my life, I was hoping for an anti-bullying or a problem solving story. Every once in a while I will come across a kids book with excellent pictures and some good hard advice for dealing with people – this is not that book.

The story is about Nick, a child who is taken from his family, by the nasty knight, as a slave (yes, he is actually taken as a slave) because his family is poor and had no more money to give to the knight when he came pounding on their door during one of the all-to-frequent tax-collecting tours. Nick is trapped in a never-ending cycle of work, the reality of which is well illustrated without being excessively scary.

He decides to escape his indentured bondage by climbing out a castle window and accidentally stumbles across the knight’s secret room full of (stolen) gold. Nick steals one coin and successfully escapes. Once in the woods beyond the city, he encounters a group of bandits and thieves who are just as horrible as the nasty knight – possibly worse.

At this point in the story I’m feeling both impressed by the realism and a bit disappointed in the lack of proactive resolution. The main character just can’t get a break.

The bandits find the single gold coin and Nick tricks them into returning to the castle. He leads them to the secret room filled with gold and sounds the alarm, causing an enormous brawl between the knight, his soldiers and all of the bandits.

Side note: the knight won’t walk to his golden toilet but he’ll jump into a potential bloodbath of a battle to protect his gold…interesting.

Ok, that was pretty good. Tricking bad guys into fighting bad guys is an impressive maneuver.

But then it turns out that the coin the boy stole was a magic coin, which ultimately transforms all of the bad guys into alligators. This saves the town and returns peace and prosperity to all. Here’s a quote:

When the people up in the castle saw what had happened, they began to cheer. Without the Nasty Knight, they were once again free!…From that day on, Nick made sure that at last his poor mother and his family had enough to eat every day.”

(sigh)

It’s a good story for kids. The ending to the plot is pretty standard in literature and film but…

I really wish the resolution hadn’t been reliant on a magic coin or the elimination of a handful of bad guys. Neither scenario is real and there are other ways to resolve the story.

Even so, this book remains on the family bookshelf and is pulled out from time to time because acts of bravery and defiance in the face of corrupt powers and politicians is a good place to begin. It’s an excellent story to enjoy and to talk about; because, sometimes, the flaws in stories lay the groundwork for excellent discussions about what is fun fiction vs effective in real life.

In this case, the symbolism is fitting and powerful: It’s a story about using money to take down a corrupt politician with a golden toilet.

There may be a few adults in your life who would appreciate listening to this story over the holiday break.

Service Project Ideas: Helping the Homeless

If you really want to use your service project to help the homeless, then consider doing the following:

  1. Make a List About YOU: Make a list of all of the key characteristics that describe you, right now, as a person. Try to make it as exhaustive as possible.
    1. What categories do you fit into? For example: race, gender, religion, sexual identity, family situation (e.g.: kids, no kids, married, single), education level, health status (e.g.: healthy, diabetes, food allergies, disabled, etc.)
    2. Identify those categories that you think are most important during homelessness. For example: Diabetes is potentially deadly without proper diet and/or medical care, adult shelters will not take anyone under age 21, and caring for children while homeless is extremely difficult.
  2. Imagine Yourself Homeless: Picture yourself facing some catastrophic financial or physical emergency that leaves you instantly homeless right now. What would you do? Where would you go?
  3. Research: Do a little research and identify those resources that you would attempt to utilize in that situation.
  4. Make Contact: Contact those organizations and tell them you are looking for:
    1. Volunteer work to complete a service project.
    2. Opportunities to meet and work with people who are currently homeless and similar to yourself in a few key ways. Example short lists:
      1. 21 years old, female, no children.
      2. Over 50 with diabetes
      3. 35 years old, male, single parent, 3 kids
      4. 26 years old, lesbian, 2 dogs
  5. Listen: Let the organization tell you what they need help with and then do your best to provide assistance.
  6. Reflect: After a few weeks of volunteer work, sit down and re-imagine yourself homeless. Based on what you now know, what would you do? What are the dangers and challenges other people, just like you, are facing? Are any of those things particularly surprising? What is your biggest fear?

All of this will provide some real insight into what it feels like to be homeless AND the many unique and often maddeningly difficult challenges people surviving homelessness are forced to face.

Follow up that experience by pursuing some tools to help you make a positive impact on poverty and homelessness in the future:

  1. Social Justice: Take a social justice workshop (if you can) and pay particular attention to the justice issues faced by poverty survivors (homeless included).
  2. Mentoring/Internship: If you complete the first part of this plan and decide that you really want to do more – contact the non-profit and ask for a mentor or an internship. Getting to know people who’ve built a career out of fighting poverty and homelessness is far more important and useful than any number of textbooks, news articles, books, workshops, etc.
  3. Emergency Plan: If you were facing a serious emergency that would place you into a homeless situation, what would you do. Take some time with this, really identify the financial and physical needs that would have to be addressed. How can you plan for the worst right now? How can you face a catastrophic financial emergency and get through it? What is your plan? Keeping yourself out of homelessness is important! It’s extremely difficult to survive homelessness, much less combat it while trying to survive. It’s also important to remember…ALWAYS remember!…that anyone can experience homelessness at any time. Poverty is an equal opportunity employer.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question: What can I do as a service project to help out the homeless?

Originally published: 03/22/2017

Standing Right Side Up in an Upsidedown World

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Gylfie’s directness shocked Soren. He stopped blinking and looked straight at the Elf Owl. “Look. What did I just tell you? Everything here at St. Aggie’s is upside down and inside out. It’s our job not to get moon blinked and to stand right side up in an upsidedown world. If we don’t do that we’ll never be able to escape. We’ll never be able to think. And thinking is the only way we’ll be able to plan an escape.”

 

 

The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Book One: The Capture, by Kathryn N Lasky

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Nothing Can Stop Us

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It was a case of women coming together at the right time and deciding that we were going to stand up for ourselves and stand up for other women. Once we coalesced for action it felt like nothing could stop us.

-Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Admiration List: Monica Lewinsky

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Monica Lewinsky is someone most people would not include on an admiration list because of her connection to President Clinton and the scandal that brought the White House under investigation and significant political fire.

She was 22 when her affair with President Clinton was revealed and exploited by both the Republican party and the news media (read: ratings, revenue, non-stop-sensationalist ‘news’ stories about every possible sexually graphic detail…you get the idea).

I was also in my twenties at the time and, as details about the investigation hit the news media, all I could think about was how this women was a victim. She was seduced by the most powerful man in the world. He was her boss, a career politician and a well known serial-seducer. By all accounts, she was neither his first, nor his last, conquest. This was predatory manipulation of a naive young women and, possibly, harassment.

Unfortunately, the scandal occurred during the 1990s, which was also when the details of the Anita Hill vs Clarence Thomas trial were frequently challenged as ‘not really harassment’ by most of the adults I knew. That trial outlined a situation that could be defined as workplace rape, yet people continued to justify it. As for Monica Lewinsky – presenting her as a potential victim was incomprehensible.

Not surprisingly, Monica Lewinsky faced a level of public humiliation, shame and ostracism that is hard to comprehend. She was publicly cast as a home wrecker, a whore and a litany of other things; while Clinton was…you know….a powerful man. You can’t blame him, it was that woman.

Fast forward many years and Ms. Lewinsky has resurfaced as a strong, confident woman. She is an anti-bullying activist, putting her own experiences with public humiliation to good use as she works to prevent suicide and fight cyber-bullying, face-to-face bullying and mobbing.

I admire all people who have faced incredibly difficult experiences and, somehow, managed to reach the other side. I have great admiration for people who use those experiences to become stronger and more determined to help others who have also been through the proverbial fire. Monica Lewinsky has done that.

Ms. Lewinsky has been added to my admiration list because, frankly, she deserves it.

ReBlog: A #NoDAPL Map

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This blog post about the importance of maps and the Standing Rock protests is worth a read.

When I decided to become a cartographer, I didn’t just want to make pretty and useful maps. I became a cartographer to make maps that change the world for the better. Right now, no situation …

Source: A #NoDAPL Map

Little Fish Co-operative Action

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Swimmy thought and thought. Then suddenly he said “I have it! We are going to swim all together like the biggest fish in the sea!…When they had learned to swim like one giant fish in the sea, he said, “I’ll be the eye!” And so they swam in the cool morning water and in the midday sun and chased the big fish away.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni