Admiration List: Jennifer Brea

Jennifer Brea has been suffering from an un-treatable and not-yet-properly-identified neurological disease. She has been given diagnosis (e.g.: chronic fatigue syndrome) that basically mean nothing and was told it was ‘all in her head.’ This woman has been through the proverbial fire.

Yet, despite extremely difficult physical and social barriers, she has persevered, created a film about her experiences and pursued a life of activism, acting as a voice for all people suffering from invisible and un-diagnosed illnesses.

From her TED talk, you can see her strength, attitude and remarkable good will, as she expresses her hope that one day the medical community will learn how to face a disease like her own and speak the honest truth: I don’t know what is wrong with you.

I have to agree with her statement that this ability to be able to admit to not having an answer is a key step in eventually finding an answer.

Admiration List: Alaa Murabit

Alaa Murabit has achieved some pretty amazing things. She’s championed the cause of women in countries where that sort of activism could get a person killed. She has lived through death threats and all sorts of challenges. She has also successfully improved the status of women, within Muslim countries, by leveraging the same tactics used  by her opposition – quotes from the Koran.

Her resilient personality, positive attitude and ability to take all of the challenges in stride are evident in her TED talk. There are many things to admire.

Having said that, I must admit that none of those accomplishments are the reason why she is included here. The primary reason for my own, personal, admiration is the fact that I watched this video and kept thinking: How do I expand my social circle to include more women like her? I need more friends like that.

 

The Best Life Advice I Ever Received

The best advice I ever received came in the form of a lesson in auto repair.

Auto Maintenance Lessons

One afternoon, many years ago, when I was a teenager living on (and working) the family farm, my father approached me and said that he had decided to teach me how to overhaul an engine. Now.

My father was not someone you spoke back to or questioned directly. When he made a decision and gave an order, you were expected to do as you were told. Period. (This was the late 1980s, it was a different world back then.) So, I followed him to the barn, which also acted as a garage, and he proceeded to show me how to overhaul the engine of one of the family cars.

For the sake of clarity, ‘overhaul’ literally meant: take the entire engine apart; clean everything; replace any parts that were malfunctioning, worn out, broken or questionable; and then put it all back together.

The lessons lasted a few weeks. I would join him in the barn and he would show me the official car manual, point to the page he was working with, pull apart that portion of the engine, point to the page again (read: this part is that picture), hand me a tool, flip to a new page and tell me to get to work (read: find this part and do what I did). Sometimes he would send me out to the garage by myself with instructions to locate a specific part in the book, locate it on the engine, and figure it out (remove, fix, whatever) alone.

(Side note: This was the most verbal interaction I had ever had with my father at that time – or since.)

When the car was complete, he called over a neighboring farmer and his sons so that all of us could use a winch, the tractor and sheer muscle to get the engine back into the car. This resulted in some snide remarks about girls overhauling engines and boys doing nothing…it was annoying (read: the boys and their father were angry with me for showing them up) but that’s how things were back then.

After the first car was finished, I was handed the same type of printed manual for the second car – a 1979 Ford Granada – and told to do the same. Alone.

As it happened, due to being blood relations to a member of the military I had full access to a nearby military base and all of the facilities, including the auto hobby shop. In the interests of avoiding another episode of moving car engines by calling on the neighbors (and all of those comments about girls who work on cars), I drove the Ford Granada to the auto hobby shop and availed myself of some wonderful equipment!

That is where I met Woody.

Woody ran the auto hobby shop. He controlled the tools (kept behind a locked door), kept the peace, and provided advice to everyone who used the shop – both the asked for and the unasked for kind.

At one point I was looking up the torque for specific bolts and trying to make sure I got everything tightened properly when he came over and interrupted my work by saying (loudly) – (paraphrased from memory):

NEVER memorize a torque! Always look it up EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. If you don’t then one day you’ll be tightening the bolt on an airplane, you’ll remember the wrong torque, the plane will go down and it will be YOUR FAULT.

Then he walked away.

My response was a dazed moment of ‘what just happened?’ followed by shrugging it off as ‘just Woody’ and making a mental note to NEVER memorize a torque.

Another time I went up to the tool cage and asked for a hammer. He came out with a sledgehammer and basically dared me to challenge him. I politely stated that I just needed a regular hammer, which resulted in a lecture about always knowing exactly which tool you need – including the size!

On one more occasion I was struggling to either get something apart or together (I no longer remember what). My hands hurt and I was getting really frustrated. Woody interrupted my task with the following – (paraphrased from memory):

When you just can’t get it to work, walk away, stare at the wall, swear up and down a blue streak, and when you come back it will work.

I thought this was funny but Woody insisted it was true and encouraged me to try. After he left (and I’d taken a break) my mechanical problem magically resolved itself.

Auto Maintenance Fails and Wins

As you may imagine, I had both success and failure with these projects. A few significant fails include:

  • Forgetting to unplug the battery while working on the alternator. I connected some wires, dropped a metal tool (with rubber handles) which hit the side of the (metal) car and caused an enormous FLASH BANG. I stared at the car in that state of terror that comes from barely sidestepping death – I was lucky to be alive. The brand new alternator was NOT so lucky. I had to replace it…again.
  • Forgetting to tighten the bolts on the flywheel. Every other dern bolt in that engine was perfectly tightened according to appropriate torque, but a small handful of little bolts at the center of the engine were loose. The car won’t work if the flywheel isn’t bolted down. We had to pry open the engine, just enough to slide in a tool and tighten those stupid things. My father fixed this mistake. I handed him tools while learning a long list of brand new ways to curse life the universe and auto repair.

My massive success came in the form of a 79 Ford Granada with a newly cleaned up engine, done entirely by me!

What Does This Have to Do With Life and Advice?

The following lessons were learned from the experience, and every single one of them has not only stuck with me but has served me well across the decades:

  1. Look it up. Find a reliable, accurate source of information and use it. It could be a book. It could be the guy running the auto hobby shop or a parent. Whatever the source may be – USE it.
  2. Verify – ALWAYS verify. Whether it’s a torque, gossip or a news article, never assume that you just know the truth – verify it!
  3. Communicate. Whether it’s a hammer or the specification for a project at work or your concerns with the current political system, it is extremely important to clearly communicate your needs, concerns and demands. You will never get past the sledgehammer until you learn how to ask for the hammer size you actually need.
  4. Details! Absolutely everything can be perfect, but miss a few bolts on the flywheel and you might as well have never touched the engine. Forget to remove two clamps on a battery and you’ll be lucky to survive! All of the details are important. Pay attention, complete each step before moving on, and double check your work.
  5. Take a break. Trying to force something to work (or happen) just isn’t realistic. When you’re frustrated, tired, hungry or just beating your head against the proverbial wall, it’s time to walk away from the situation and take a break (swear if you need to – or just take a nap or a walk or…whatever). When you come back, there’s a strong possibility that the problem will look different and you will get closer to a solution.
  6. Both Failure and Success are Powerful Teachers. Both the massive fails and the huge successes in this process taught me things about both cars and life. Things that I have never forgotten. It can be painful to fail, but it’s all a learning process.
  7. Haters will Hate, Do It Anyway. The neighbors who felt threatened by a ‘girl’ doing auto repair weren’t the only people with commentary. My female friends from high school also made it clear that what I was doing was ‘weird’ and potentially proved I was a lesbian (this was the late 1980s in VERY rural Wisconsin farm country, on a military base – lesbian was a dangerous word.) Yet, I completed the project and found pride in that fact. Even though my father had made the decision for me (and there was no getting around that) I enjoyed the process and consciously chose to disregard the haters, defy society’s stupidity and do it anyway. In life that is often the best…or only…choice a person can make.
  8. Reaching a Goal is it’s Own Reward. Because of the culture of the times, I couldn’t brag about my success to many, if any, people and it didn’t matter. I’d done it, I knew I’d done it and I was proud of that fact. I didn’t need to tell anyone else about it because I was driving the car that was the (literal) symbol of my success.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question What is the best life advice you have ever received?

Activism Alphabet

Quote

“Equal rights
black, brown, or white.
Clean and healthy is a right.
Every place we live and play
Environmental justice is the way!”

“F is for feminist.
For Fairness in our pay.
For freedom to Flourish
and choose our own way.”

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Admiration List: Ani DiFranco

I have been a fan of Ani DiFranco‘s life story since 1992. I was working in radio as a copy writer and part-time (weekend) DJ when I stumbled across a magazine/catalog of up-and-coming artists. It consisted of artist photographs, a brief categorical description of music style (e.g.: folk, R&B, rock, etc.) and a short biography. The magazine targeted station employees in charge of selecting music, with the objective of enticing the decision maker to listen to a sample and consider adding the featured musicians to the playlist. It probably came with a CD or cassette tape (cassettes were still regularly used back then), but I only saw the magazine.

The magazine is important because the biography is what attracted me to this artist. She not only writes and performs her own music, she also runs her own recording studio and is known for refusing to take potentially lucrative contracts that go against her political/ethical beliefs. In short, she defied the music industry’s standard operating procedures – and won!

I did not get the opportunity to hear her music until about 8 years later. 

Frankly, while I admire her skills as a lyricist and include a few of her songs in my private list of top-50-favorites, it was never the music that earned my admiration – it’s her actions as a small business owner, an activist and a person.

I would welcome the opportunity to hear her play live in concert but I would LOVE to hear her talk about her journey as a small business owner and an activist.

Fight For Your Right To Vote

Quote

Wordery.com

Elizabeth had learned long ago that only men could change laws. Because only men could vote. That was the one thing that could change everything. If women could vote, they could change all kinds of laws!

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote, written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Election day is November 8! Get out and vote!

Definition and Purpose of Marriage

Quote

Barnes & Noble

The following quotes all occur within a few pages (or paragraphs) of each other.

Quote 1:

The territorial, state, and federal governments of the United States were built upon a particular vision of civic responsibility—that men, as heads of households, entered civic life on behalf of their dependents: wives, children, servants, and slaves. The political system of the United States was predicated upon this vision, overwhelmingly reserving suffrage, jury service, elected office, membership before the bar, and judicial appointments to white male heads of household and limiting the legal rights of all others by their degree of separation from that ideal.

Quote 2:

These ideas clashed forcibly with the conceptions of kinship and social order that existed among the Upper Midwest’s long-established Dakota, Ojibwe, and mixed-heritage communities.

Quote 3:

Marriages of all kinds, and the households that marriages created, were inextricably bound up with questions of nation and identity for the Dakota, the Ojibwe, mixed-heritage individuals, and Americans alike.

Making Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and the American State in Dakota and Ojibwe Country by Catherine J. Denial

Article about this book: There’s never been ‘traditional marriage’ in Minnesota, says author Catherine Denial, Minn Post, Amy Goetzman | 09/27/13

Jane’s Book

Quote

Calling Invisible Women

Image Source: Wordery.com

I suggest you take a page from Jane’s book. Seize the day. Go out there and do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Don’t sit around hoping that someone’s going to notice that you’re missing. Invisibility can be an impediment or a power depending on what you decide to do with it.

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Racism in the Midwest

The following article is created from (and inspired by) a collection of answers to questions originally posted to Quora.

Racism and Narcissism

People who perpetrate hate crimes do so based solely on their own interpretation of race. If the perpetrator hates community X and you are a member of community Y but, according to the perpetrator’s definition of X, you ‘look like x’ then you will experience the full brunt of hate crimes committed by the perpetrator against community X. In other words, when faced with race-based crime, ‘race’ is defined by the perpetrator’s perceptions.

Racism At A Wisconsin Roller Rink

I was in the 7th grade, so it was the 81-82 school year (if my math serves me). All of the girls in the 6th-8th grade classes were going on a field trip with the 6th-8th grade teachers, who were also all-female. It was an official girls-night out! The plan was to go roller skating and out to eat (pizza, if I remember correctly).

I was attending a small private school, so this was a rather small group. The racial makeup of the group was white women, white girls, 1 black girl and me.

We were standing in line at the roller rink, waiting to buy tickets to get into the building, rent our skates and hit the rink. The man selling the tickets leaned out the window. He was a white man with blond hair, angry eyes and one of those no-one-gets-anything-past-me smirks. His eyes fell on the black girl…and me.

His faced twisted in disgust when he looked at the black girl. He stared at me for a long time. He had very angry eyes. He turned to the nearest teacher, pointed to the black girl and said she couldn’t enter the roller rink. No blacks allowed.

Then he stared at me for a long time…again. The other girls physically stepped away. It was an instinctual action on their part. I had no choice but to face this man down, alone. Fear compounded by confusion was tangible. He made another face of disgust. Less twisted but no less ugly, and gave his permission. I could enter.

The teachers looked at each other, clearly stunned, confused and completely at a loss for what to do. One of the teachers volunteered to take the black girl home. The rest put not-real smiles on their faces and returned to ushering the remaining girls into the rink.

I spent the rest of the evening skating with the feeling of eyes glaring at my back. It was just a feeling. I don’t know if I was actually being watched. I also spent most of the evening skating alone. I wasn’t the only one feeling the fear and it directly and negatively affected the experience for everyone involved.

How This Illustrates White Privilege

  • The undeniably white girls got in without question.
  • I got in after uncomfortable scrutiny.
  • The black girl went home.

Midwestern Mores

What the teachers did in this situation was wrong, there is no denying that, but I hold no ill-will towards them. I do not condone the choice they made but my memory of these events is one of floundering not malice – they really and truly did not know what to do.

Having said that, I believe this is an opportunity to explore one of the reasons why racism and antisemitism are so difficult to address in the Midwest: Minnesota Nice.

Mid-westerners are highly non-demonstrative and indirect. People in general, and women in particular, do not make a spectacle of themselves. They do not (generally speaking) address problems in a forthright manner or say mean things to another person’s face. They put on a smile, drop hints, use Midwestern-talk to issue warnings or establish boundaries and talk behind closed doors (or gossip behind your back).

For example, among Midwesterner’s the word ‘different’ is an insult. If someone declares someone or something to be ‘different’ then (make no doubt about it) both an insult and a warning have been issued because you are standing right on the edge of the proverbial line. If a Midwesterner declares someone or something to be ‘weird’ then you have crossed the proverbial line and gone knee deep into the danger zone. For most of the rest of the United States ‘different’ and ‘weird’ barely register as insults, much less warnings.

This lends power to overt racism because people do not know how to handle someone being so…obvious. It also fosters a culture of racism that can be hard to see or define. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say dreadful things in private conversation and…when I called them on it…toss off my concern with comments like “we all know [nasty statement] is true but we’re not going to tell [race/community] that.”

As illustrated by the roller-skating story, some people express overt racism; but (generally speaking) this kind of behavior is discouraged because it is overt. Midwesterners don’t act like that in public. The knee-jerk cultural response to this kind of situation is to find a way to bring things back to acceptable non-demonstrative social behavior. Therefore, these teachers put on their smiles and did what it took to make it appear as though nothing was wrong.

Despite the name, Minnesota Nice is a cultural norm throughout the Midwest. The association with the state of Minnesota is primarily due to the popularity of the National Public Radio program Lake Wobegon Days.

For more information on Midwestern culture and racism see:

What Are You – Really?

adora

This is me in the late 1970s.

If you are looking at this photo and wondering how or why anyone would think I was anything but white – that’s good. Sit with that for a minute.

By Midwestern standards my physical appearance is considered borderline.

Another fact that the average Midwesterner will refuse to discuss: Those who don’t like People of Color (POC) almost invariably include Jewish people in the POC category. Anyone who is considered borderline (like myself) tends to be placed in the ‘Jewish’ category.

Many years ago I learned to never EVER bring up the hate crimes, racist activities or antisemitic actions I witnessed or direly experienced. Since my physical appearance is close enough to acceptable or “real white” (so I’m told) I am allowed to ‘pass’ as white most of the time. During those times when I was dealing with the aftermath of a negative experience I was always told that people are going to do these things to me (teachers and other adults: “Of course they did that!”) but it didn’t count because I’m not really Jewish or a Person of Color (POC).

I guess that makes me target practice. (Lucky me.)

Clearly placing some people into an in-between racial racial category, creates fertile ground for enforcing the particular type of racism that exists in the Midwest. This is done (very effectively) through surprising and terrorizing people who make the mistake of trying to befriend someone whose appearance is borderline. For example:

I was sitting at an outdoor picnic table, taking a lunch break at work, when a coworker sat down beside me and pulled out an envelope of family photos. She started showing them, one-by-one, and commenting on how similar I looked to her relatives. Honestly, she was right, I did look like many of her family members.

A secretary interrupted our pleasant conversation with some nasty commentary about my family lineage, implying both mixed racial heritage and Jewish culture. It was unusually overt for Iowa (where I lived at the time) but it was effective.

The woman with the photos got very nervous and started trying to discretely slip everything back into her purse. After getting everything packed, she made a stuttering denial of my physical similarity to her relatives and left the area as quickly as she could. No, my family isn’t that. No need to look here. she never spoke to me again.

Technically, I could have (and probably should have) reported this experience to my employer’s human resources department, but I was still operating under the belief that I was not allowed to address these things because I’m not ‘really’ a Person of Color (POC) or Jewish. Therefore, I did not have a right to report a problem because the problem couldn’t possibly exist.

Another fact about the Midwest: Violent hate crimes occur with far more regularity than anyone realizes and those crimes are perpetrated against anyone who is considered POC, including those who are perceived as being Jewish. These crimes frequently go unreported, or unrecognized (by the police and other authority figures), so they remain off the official books.

No REALLY…What ARE You?

For those who simply must know my ‘real’ racial identity, feel free to review the genealogy postings on this blog (Genealogy | Adora Myers) and make your own damned decision.

If you decide you hate ‘what I am’ then get in line.

(grumble)