Feminist Poet: Hollie Poetry

Feminist Poet: Hollie Poetry

Hollie Poetry, who was born Hollie McNish, is a British slam poet. In “Mathematics” she is having at go at anti-immigration math. She is worth a listen.

‘And when I meet these paper claims

That one of every new that came

Takes away ones daily wage

I desperately want to scream

‘Your maths is stuck in primary’

She also has her own YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/user/holliemcnish/feed

And her website can be found at:

https://holliepoetry.com

I am working on a poem, but it is not done. Despite my singing, the woodland creatures have not appeared to help with my housework.

lazy squirrels not cleaning the house and this has nothing to do with Feminist Poet: Hollie Poetry

Badass Feminist Poet: Qiu Jin

Badass Feminist Poet: Qiu Jin

I am going to have to circle back and write a full blog post about Qiu Jin because she was an extraordinary woman who earned the badass name “Female Knight of Mirror Lake”. For now I am going to post one of her poems titled “Capping Rhymes With Sir Shih Ching From Sun’s Root Land – Poem by Qiu Jin”.

Capping Rhymes With Sir Shih Ching From Sun’s Root Land – Poem by Qiu Jin

Don’t tell me women

are not the stuff of heroes,

I alone rode over the East Sea’s

winds for ten thousand leagues.

My poetic thoughts ever expand,

like a sail between ocean and heaven.

I dreamed of your three islands,

all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.

I grieve to think of the bronze camels,

guardians of China, lost in thorns.

Ashamed, I have done nothing;

not one victory to my name.

I simply make my war horse sweat.

Grieving over my native land

hurts my heart. So tell me;

how can I spend these days here?

A guest enjoying your spring winds?

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed, photo of Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

Cooking, cleaning, laundry and making a little music have eaten my weekend. I am exhausted from fighting off a winter sickness and cleaning my basement. Forgive me for not presenting a researched and original written piece this day. Instead I would like to present a poem, “We Sinful Women”,  from one of the “badass” feminist poets: Kishwar Naheed.  Naheed is an Urdu poet from Pakistan. She is the founder of the Hawwa Foundation that supports women who do not have an independent source of income. A copy of this poem in English and its original can be found in We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry by Rukhsana Ahmad.

We Sinful Women

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women

while those who sell the harvests of our bodies

become exalted

become distinguished

become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women

who come out raising the banner of truth

up against barricades of lies on the highways

who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold

who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.

Now, even if the night gives chase

these eyes shall not be put out.

For the wall which has been razed

don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

Uppity Women: The Women’s March

Uppity Women: The Women's March

Uppity Women: The Women’s March

At this moment in time, it would not be appropriate to write about any other uppity women than the women who took part in The Women’s March. Or should I say Women’s Marches because there were marches all over the globe. Women and men took part in marches to express their concerns regarding women’s rights, civil rights, climate change and other issues they fear could be under threat from Donald Trump’s presidency. There were marches in such far flung places as Cape Town, Sydney, Berlin, London, Paris, Nairobi and Antarctica. And women marched across the United States. In Washington D.C. the Women’s March turned into a rally because marchers simply could not march due to there were so many people. Meanwhile an estimated 250,000 people rallied in Chicago. In New York approximately 100,000 people marched past Mr. Trump’s home in the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Marches also occurred in state capitals such as St. Paul where an estimated 100,000 people turned out to express their concern over a Trump presidency. Thousands gathered in Lansing. About 50,000 marchers participated in Portland, Oregon.

 

Pink Pussy Hats

During the marches many women wore pink, knitted hats with cat corners– the pussyhats. The homemade hats referenced a video from 2005 where Donald Trump described how he assaults women by grabbing them by the genitals. The PussyHat Project started in Los Angeles, originating from Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman. Suh has said she wanted to visually show solidarity among women in regards to Trump’s attitude towards women. Being from California, she also wanted to stay warm. What began as a knitting project among friends at the Little Knittery, spread. Soon knitting groups all across the United States began churning out the hats and craft stores reported shortages of pink yarn. Knitters in places such as Australia and Austria made hats. The goal was to knit 1.1 million hats. Many pink hats sprinkled the photos of the D.C. march.

Speakers

Not only did ordinary people march to show their concerns, many prominent celebrities and politician’s spoke at the Women’s March yesterday.  Speaking first, America Ferrera energized the crowd by saying:

“We march today for the moral core of this nation, against which our new president is waging a war. Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack, and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday. But the president is not America. … We are America, and we are here to stay.”

Continuing the rally, women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem spoke and said,

“We have people power and we will use it.”

In addition, other speakers included Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, Madonna, actresses Ashley Judd and Scarlett Johansson and director Michael Moore among others. At one point a group of senators and house representatives took the stage together. This group included Kirsten Gillibrand, Claire McCaskill, Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, Maxine Waters, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Cory Booker.

Where Do We Go From Here?

While the Women’s Marches yesterday demonstrated the power of people acting and speaking together, we aren’t done. Continuing, we have more work to do. Activities, such as watching our elected officials, writing to them, and making sure they act in our best interests. Each of us needs to stay informed — including critically evaluating news sources and not allowing “alternative facts” from Trump’s administration to gaslight us into tyranny. Further, we need to identify people we can run for local, state and national elected positions.

We also need to caucus and create a list of positive goals– goals such as equal rights and equal pay for women, funding of Planned Parenthood, funding of research and initiatives for women’s health, funding and continued protection for parental leave, an examination and reform of our tax structure to more equally distribute wealth, protection for our National Parks, creating legislation to address climate change, protection for immigrants from xenophobia, addressing civil rights concerns regarding police actions, raising minimum wage, funding education, …

In conclusion, let’s keep the momentum going!

 

 

 

Uppity Women: Wangari Maathai

Uppity Women: Wangari Maathai

Uppity Women: Wangari Maathai

We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk! –Wangari Maathai

Maathai, A Champion of Peace and the Environment

Wangari Maathai was a woman of renown. She was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. In 2009 the United Nations Secretary-General named Wangari Maathai a UN Messenger of Peace with a focus on the environment and climate change because of her deep commitment to the environment. In 2010 Maathai was appointed to the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group. That same year Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, which was established to safeguard the public land for whose protection she had fought for almost twenty years and, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies.

Early Life, A Seed is Planted

Maathai was born in the Nyeri District in the central highlands of the colony of Kenya on April 1, 1940. When she was still a small child, her family moved to the Rift Valley. Her father worked on a farm owned by white land owners. During her childhood, the Mau Mau uprising occurred in which native Kenyans sought independence from the British. Maathai was safe from the violence because she had been sent to a Catholic boarding school at the age of 11 called St. Cecilia’s. Her family members were forced to move from their home to an emergency village in Ihithe.

While Maathai was at St. Cecilia’s she became fluent in English and converted to Catholicism. She also a member of the Legion of Mary. The group’s members vowed “to serve God by serving fellow human beings.”

Education First

Maathai was the first East African woman to receive a Ph.D. As colonialism came to an end in East Africa, Kenyan politicians looked for ways to make education available to promising students as an investment in the country’s future. They understood that education was necessary to build peace and prosperity. Senator John F. Kennedy agreed to work with Tom Mboya’s proposals and agreed to fund such a program through the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Airlift Africa was born.

An exemplary student, in 1960 Maathai was given a scholarship to study biology at Mount St. Scholastica College in the US through Airlift Africa. She earned her masters of science degree at the University of Pittsburgh in biological sciences. While in Pittsburgh she learned about environmental restoration when local environmentalists advocated to reduce the levels of air pollution in the city.

Returning to Nairobi

Initially, after her masters degree Maathai returned to Nairobi to work as a research assistant to a professor of zoology at the University College of Nairobi. Upon her arrival in Nairobi she discovered her promised position had been given to someone else. Maathai speculated in her memoir titled “Unbowed” that this was due to her gender and tribal affiliations. Rather than beginning work in Nairobi, Maathai went to Munich where she worked as a research assistant in the microanatomy section in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Giessen in Germany. Maathai also continued her studies and obtained her Ph.D in 1971 in veterinary anatomy from the University of Nairobi after studying at the University of Munich.

Because of her academic achievements, Maathai was appointed to several positions of seniority at Nairobi University. Maathai served as the chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy in 1976. She also taught at the university and held the position of associate professor. During this time period Maathai campaigned for equal benefits for women who worked for the University. She tried to change the academic staff association into a union to negotiate better benefits, but this effort was squashed.

She speaks for the Trees and People

During this time, Maathai noticed that environmental degradation negatively impacted the economic and social fortunes of Kenya. Not only was the deforestation responsible for landslips and droughts, the poor harvests and lack of rainwater in deforested areas created inter-tribal conflict as people fought for meager resources. She became convinced that protecting the environment would promote peace and solve economic problems. Wangari Maathai proposed creating a foundation to plant trees.

Maathai’s ideas led to the founding of Envirocare Ltd., a business that involved planting trees by ordinary people to conserve the environment. Her first tree nursery, Karura Forest, was created. Unfortunately Envirocare ran into funding problems. While her first attempt to create such a foundation was unsuccessful, Maathai’s efforts paid off in that she gained admittance to the 1976 UN conference on human settlements. At the conference, she advocated planting more trees to improve environmental, social and economic conditions.

Green Belt Movement

Upon returning to Kenya, Maathai led a movement to plant trees throughout Kenya which was at first known as the “Save the Land Harambee”. This movement became known as the Green Belt movement. Maathai encouraged the women of Kenya to plant tree nurseries throughout the country, searching nearby forests for seeds to grow native trees. She agreed to pay the women a small stipend for each seedling which was later planted elsewhere. The Green Belt movement has become a prominent environmental organization supporting the planting and conservation of trees. In her book, “Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World” Maathai wrote about, “the importance of communities taking responsibility for their actions and mobilizing to address their local needs.” She further added,

“We all need to work hard to make a difference in our neighborhoods, regions, and countries, and in the world as a whole. That means making sure we work hard, collaborate with each other, and make ourselves better agents to change.”

Pro-Democracy

In January 1992, Maathai and other pro-democracy activists in Kenya learned they were on a list and targeted to be assassinated. A government sponsored coup was possible. Frightened, but undaunted, the pro-democracy group Maathai belonged to, which was known as the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy, took the information they had to the international media and called for a general election. As a result one of the members of the group was immediately arrested. Maathai barricaded herself in her house and was besieged for three days. At the end of the three days, the police cut through the bars on Maathai’s windows and arrested her. She and the other pro-democracy advocates were charged with spreading malicious rumors, sedition and treason. They were brought to “trial” and then released on bail.

While on bail, Maathai, along with other protesters, went on hunger strike to protest the government building on Uhuru Park. After a few days the protesters were violently removed. Maathai was hospitalized. The attack on the protesters drew international criticism. The protest grew and continued. Moving to the All Saints Cathedral across from Uhuru Park, the protest continued until the original protesters were all released in early 1993. In her memoir titled “Unbowed” Maathai wrote:

“It is often difficult to describe to those who live in a free society what life is like in an authoritarian regime. You don’t know who to trust. You worry that you, your family, or your friends will be arrested and jailed without due process. The fear of political violence or death, whether through direct assassinations or targeted “accidents”, is constant. Such was the case in Kenya, especially during the 1990s.

Praise for Her Activism

While Kenya was still in turmoil, the country was not ignore and neither were Maathai’s efforts. From 1991 through 1992, Maathai received international praise for her activism in Kenya. She received the Goldman Environmental Prize and the Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership in 1991. In June 1992, during the protests at Uhuru Park, Maathai was chosen to be a chief spokesperson at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro despite the Kenyan government’s accusation that Maathai incited women and encouraged them to strip. The Kenyan government wanted her silenced.

Free, Multi-Party Elections

Throughout the 1990s, Wangari Maathai and others protested for peace. Maathai opposed more than once the seizure of public lands by the government who wished to give the lands to private, corporate interests. Once, she and her followers were attacked during such a protest as they planted a tree on public land that the government wished to give to private interests to develop a golf course. While the police refused to arrest the individuals who attacked Maathai and her group, the attack had been filmed and was released to the international press.

During these troubles, Maathai recognized the importance of environmentalism and democracy. Unrelenting and holding on to her vision, Maathai continued on. She planted trees. And she was beaten and arrested. And she planted more trees.

As a result of her efforts, democracy in Kenya grew. Wangari Maathai served first as a vice president for the Movement for Free and Fair Elections and then campaigned for the Kenyan parliament in the 2002 elections as a candidate for the National Rainbow Coalition. Her party won, defeating the Kenyan African National Union.  Maathai was appointed Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

2004 Nobel Peace Prize

After so many years of conflict and perseverance, Wangari Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. She became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the prize.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Wangari Maathai died on September 25, 2011. In her lifetime she spearheaded the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. She was a founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Ever planting trees, she planted a tree in Uhuru Park with President Obama as he called for the freedom of the press to be respected. She was a peace hero.

Comets and Uppity Women

woodcut comet image, Comets and Uppity Women

Comets and Uppity Women

Comets and Uppity Women. The thought might arise these two things have little in common, but Bathsua Makin said,

“A learned woman is thought to be a comet, that bodes mischief whenever it appears.”

Hunter-Gatherer Egalitarianism?

I recently read an article in The Guardian about a study of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies conducted by anthropologists at University College London. I still need to track down the paper the article was based on. The Guardian quoted one of the authors of the study as saying, “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Anthropologists for a long time have puzzled over why while people in hunter-gatherer societies show strong preferences for living with family members, in practice few closely related individuals make up the groups they live in. The study focused on computer simulations based on the assumption people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin– siblings, parents and children. When the choice was male dominated, the simulation showed a pattern closer to male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies. When the choice was more sexually egalitarian, a pattern closely resembling the observed pattern of the contemporary hunter-gatherers emerged. And each hunter-gatherer group has far flung connections with many different hunter-gatherer groups.

The authors of the paper make a case for sexual equality as an evolutionary advantage for humans because then early humans would have had wider networks to interact with. With the advent of agriculture, our species skewed towards male dominance.  Agriculture brought with it the opportunity to accumulate possessions and wealth. It also meant groupings with men living with their brothers. The men’s wives were at the fringes of the group. A man’s children and relatives would be more numerous than the relatives within the group of any adult female member. And women lost their voices.

Losing Our Voices

Women lost their voices and many were forgotten through history. How many other Boudica lead armies? What female leaders and advisors’ names have been lost? What tales of adventuresome women are no longer told? How many inventive women’s engineering accomplishments were ascribed to men? How many women writers’ works have been lost? Can we continue with only a portion of the story? Can we survive with only a portion of humanity’s possible contributions?

Women in History and Feminism

I don’t have time or space in this one post to write a history of feminism. There have been powerful women, strong feminine voices, and human females all through out history. And not all of them are famous like Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic pharaoh of Egypt before Egypt became a Roman province. Or Queen Elizabeth I who was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Most of the women in history who were accomplished, outspoken, adventuresome, powerful or extraordinary in other ways are not routinely mentioned in history books. I have written posts about several of them in the past on this blog. Women such as Ching Shih, Ada Lovelace, Grandy Nanny, and Queen Nzinga Mbande.

Further, there is a tradition of female intellectual resistance to oppression and repressive cultural norms that goes back centuries and includes women such as Christine de Pizan, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf and many others. I opened this post with a quote from Bathsua Makin.

Bathsua Makin

Bathsua Makin was the daughter of a schoolmaster named Henry Reginald. Bathsua’s father was enlightened in an age when it was considered that girls should only learn “feminine” arts such as dancing, singing and needle crafts. He trained his daughter in classical and modern languages. Bathsua Makin wrote a book of poetry at the age of sixteen that included passages in Greek, Latin and French.

During the seventeenth century in English culture, women were subject to men. Family, education and religion were all male dominated institutions. Queen Elizabeth’s reign shook things up and women had enjoyed more freedoms during her lifetime, but with the ascendancy to the throne of James I previous societal patterns returned. With one exception, Protestantism encouraged everyone to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, including women. More women were taught to read. While women were relegated to the private, domestic sphere where they were under the governance of the men of the household, there was an undercurrent to challenge norms. While it was lauded for a man to publish his writings and take on a public voice, women were scorned for such an action. And still women such as Makin published.

Makin’s life was never easy. While she was considered “England’s most learned lady”, she struggled financially. Her husband, Richard Makin, was a minor court servant. When he lost his position, Bathsua petitioned for a position and was successful. She was a tutor to Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Charles I, and taught the girl mathematics, reading, writing and languages. After the death of the princess, Makin tutored Lucy Hastings, Dowager Countess of Huntingdon.

The Whole Nation Advantage

Makin understood the power of educating women. For ten years she ran a school at Tottenham High Cross. She advocated for teaching women a broad range of subjects including mathematics, history, science and languages. Dying at the age of 75, her life may have influenced many others in small and important ways. It’s hard to know what the impact of her work was in its totality. She wrote that educating women would give “the whole nation advantage”.

Comets and Uppity Women

It has been a while since I wrote about women through history who did unexpected, extraordinary, revolutionary things. Everybody needs role models. I feel society has taken steps backwards towards less egalitarianism and moved towards being more male dominated. In my opinion this development hurts our species. The challenges of our current time period require all the talent, hearts and minds available to us. As women we need to know women before us pushed boundaries, spoke out, and contributed. If writing about these women is mischief, then I will strive to be a maker of such. Look for another post next Sunday.

This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie, This Machine Kills Fascists

This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie wrote “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. Steve Earl once said of Guthrie, “I don’t think of Woody Guthrie as a political writer. He was a writer who lived in very political times.”

This Land Is Your Land

“This Land is Your Land” was Guthrie’s answer to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”. He was so tired of hearing “God Bless America” constantly played on the radio, he wrote “This Land is Your Land”. I remember listening to a recording of this song when I was in elementary school. The song spoke of ribbons of highway, sparkling sands, and waving wheat fields. A land that was for you and me.

But Guthrie’s songs reflected what he saw around him. He signed the manuscript for “This Land is Your Land” with the comment, “All you can write is what you see, Woody G., N.Y., N.Y., N.Y.” The song originally included the following in the fourth and sixth verses:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing”.
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

These verses were often omitted in subsequent recordings, sometimes by Guthrie.

Protest and Peace Songs

While in California during the Dust Bowl era, Guthrie was among the Okies who flooded into California. The Californians did not want these immigrants. Employed by a leftwing radio host, Guthrie identified himself as an “outsider”. He spoke and sang of the travails of immigrants with such songs as “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, “Talking Dust Bowl Blues”, “Tom Joad” and “Hard Travelin’”. All of these songs gave voice to those who had been disenfranchised.

When Guthrie moved to New York, he met Lead Belly, Cisco Houston, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Josh White, Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, Sis Cunningham, and others. This group became his close friends and musical collaborators, forming The Almanac Singers. They wrote songs for social causes such as union organizing, anti-Fascism, peace, and generally fighting for the things they believed in. They wrote songs of political protest and activism.

During World War II, Guthrie served in the merchant marines. At first he tried to argue he could serve better by staying in the US and singing to inspire people. Friends persuaded him to join the merchant marines where he composed and sang songs to bolster moral. He composed hundreds of anti-Hitler, pro-war, and historic ballads to rally the troops, such as “All You Fascists Bound To Lose”, “Talking Merchant Marine,” and “The Sinking of the Reuben James.”

Guthrie influenced the musicians of the American Folk Revival– people such as Bob Dylan, the Weavers, and Pete Seeger. His son Arlo Guthrie wrote and sang “Alice’s Restaurant” which protested the war in Vietnam.

Songs For Our Time

I am tired of songs about dysfunctional love, random sex and the cache of trivialities most rock and pop songs litter our air waves with. I remember the first time I heard Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. And “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”. They weren’t spun fluff. They felt solid and spoke from the heart. We are living in political times. I think we need songs that reflect the world around us. And we need a singer like Woody Guthrie who can see the world, sing about it in a real way, and give us our songs of peace and protest.

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions happy new year

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions.

I have been thinking about these thought forms we live by. The planet has rotated on its axises and spun around our yellow sun, landing once more in this spot. An arbitrary place in its orbit that we have designated the start of… something… a new year.

This is a mutually agreed upon idea–like money. It holds meaning because we give it meaning. I could decide I like some day in spring better to be the start of a new year, but if I shouted “Happy New Year” from the mountain tops on that day, people would look at me like I was crazy. Just as if I took out my markers and made “money”, it wouldn’t pass for currency and might get me locked up.

We humans are social beasts. Not a very revolutionary statement. We as a collective, and more and more this collective is global, create these “notions”, “expectations”, and useful fictions that a huge proportion of us just go along with. And they continue.

Some of these useful fictions as collective agreements are useful– like money and the calendar. Others are not.

Let’s consider some of the metaphors, expectations, and fictions…

More is Better

First, the idea more is better. This idea is so embedded as a metaphor in the English language our brains are wired to think more is better. But is more better?

Can our planet handle more people? People wanting more and more stuff, eating more and more, and needing more and more water?

The Free Market Will Solve Everything

Secondly, how about the idea that free market capitalism is the magic solution to improve any situation?

Politicians and some economists frequently trot out free market capitalism as the way to improve everything from public education to healthcare to janitorial services in public institutions. As if competition along narrowly designated criteria always makes things better. While I think free market capitalism can improve some situations, I am not so certain I want healthcare or education decisions made without regulations.

I offer as an example the time when a local university switched its security personnel from being employed by the university and given a fair wage to outsourcing to a private company. All the computers in the library were stolen. Within a few weeks. I could elaborate on this one more, but I want to move on.

Party!

Further, what about the expectation that New Year’s Eve should be celebrated as a wild drunken party? Beyond far too many people who normally don’t drink much getting behind the wheel of their cars all on one night, maybe this expectation hurts folks in small ways? Like the poisonous cocktail of expectations that surrounds St. Valentine’s Day.

I can count on my hands the number of times I have gone out on New Year’s Eve for a party. Here are a few of those memories: 1. with a friend in college who proceeded to get uproariously drunk and puked everywhere; 2. with a former partner who took me to a party to “celebrate” the year 2000 coming in at his nutty friend’s house who wanted to have my preschool aged son sleep in a room with all of his guns; and 3. with a different partner at a botanical garden in Cape Town (lovely night, too bad the guy is an ass and this memory has turned to shit).

I sat last night and thought this one through. Being home and rejecting the expectation I “should” be out at a party was a much better way to spend the evening. A mini revolution. I am tired of the fictions.

Good People

Lastly, how about the notion “good people will have good things come to them”? When tragedy happens to good people, everyone is shocked. Why? We can certainly have empathy, but bad stuff happens and being a good person is no shield.

Conversely, when someone has horrible stuff happen to them we think somehow they deserved it. Why? Sometimes, stuff just happens.

Also wrapped into our notions of what makes a “good” person are weird things like attractiveness, race, religion, education, and economic class. Too often poor people are considered “low life” and hence deserving of horrible maladies. Why? Also, being a Christian does not automatically make someone better. Again, perhaps actions should determine if the title of “good person” should be bestowed. Nothing else.

Further, it’s great if we are good people, but this has nothing to do with what we might get. As I said at the start of this post, we are social animals. We are all interconnected. Each of us “needs” and each of us has skills we contribute to the whole of humanity. We get according to what we have to offer, what we do, what skills we have, etc. Turning up to a job interview and insisting you be hired because you are a good person won’t cut it. Showing up on a date and expecting the other person to fall in love because you are a good person won’t happen. Groundhog Day kind of springs to mind.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am offering these thoughts as examples. There are many more possible examples that I could have used to illustrate our personal and societal thought forms. I am offering these because for me this is the year to cut through the collective notions getting in the way. So…

Do you want a better job? Develop your skills.

Do you want your novel published? Write. Get critiqued. Keep writing. Saying you are an author, but showing no written work? This won’t cut it.

Are we going to oppose a potentially fascist regime? Take apart the propaganda. Lay bare the fictions. Be critical. Create a plan. Find doable today actions.

Do you want to get in shape? Take apart your actions– are you working hard enough? Are you sweating? What’s your heart rate?

Let’s make 2017 the year of clarity. A year we examine our collective fictions, the expectations upon us, and our personal stories we tell ourselves.

 

In my cells, water of the lakes

bowman_20140622_0147

In my cells, water of the lakes

In my bones, the minerals of the soil

My heart beats like a butterfly’s wings

Yesterday my daughter and I drove to Elderly instruments in Lansing, Michigan. We listened to Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellies, The California Feetwarmers, Dervish, and Blind Boy Jerome Paxton while we drove winding back roads to get there. The trees were green. Everything was lush. We saw a coyote.

I grew up predominantly on the western side of Michigan along Lake Michigan. As a high schooler, I walked the ecological progression from dune to scrub to pines to hard woods. When I walk in Michigan now there is an underlying expectation of what the plants and the landscape should look like. It is present in me. It is the most spiritual aspect of me.

bowman_20140622_0143

I remember when I first moved to Woody Creek, Colorado, seeing the shadows of clouds moving across the mountains startled me. The wide open views shocked me. The landscape was arid, sometimes rocky, sometimes the soil was red. The plants were different. I loved watching the animals from the bedroom windows that faced over a large field. I remember seeing coyotes, fox, deer, and even a mountain lion. The elk were majestic. I loved seeing the elk. They moved with such grace and elegance for an animal as tall as my car. I loved to see the vapor of an elk breathing in and out in the cold. And the edge of ice and frost over the grasses on a cold morning.

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It is so easy to forget what is everyday in the background. The explosion of green that happens in two weeks in Michigan sometime near the end of April or beginning of May. It is easy to forget from year to year the blooming of the orange ditch lilies that grow everywhere in Michigan so when you see them again it is like a surprise. It is so easy to forget the ash trees that died because of the ash borers because we still have the maples and box elders. It is easy to believe that the great lakes will never change, the Michigan snows will always come, the monarchs will return, the apples will grow, etc.

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When I take a moment to stop. Just stop. Sit in the screen house under the shade of the ever growing maple trees, under the climbing grape leaves, under the clouds… when I am still for a minute, it reminds I am not separate from the landscape. I love to go camping and just sit in the mornings with a cup of tea and watch the area around me. I love to see the deer walking through the ferns. I love to hear the birds. The sight of a heron overhead catches my breath because it is so primal. My heartbeat is reflected in the flutter of a butterfly on the dunes. I am at peace at the edge of Lake Michigan.

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How will climate change shift our sense of self? What will we trust if we cannot trust the air we breathe? Or the water we drink? What will happen to our sense of self, an underlying sense of ourselves that we are increasingly out of touch with?

In the midst

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In The Midst

It has been awhile since I wrote anything on this blog. I have been “in the midst”. I have been working to learn how to code in Java, C#, and PHP. And using some SQL, Linux and Git along the way. And learning about servers and protocols and networking and… I feel very much a novice and like there is an ocean of information to learn. Each topic to learn has an eight hundred page book, several hours of tutorials, and spawns a dozen other topics with as much information to learn. Learning computer science and programming often means chaining topics in an ever widening pool and then swimming back to the original subject. The more I know the more I realize I know very little. Sometimes it feels invigorating and sometimes not so much. Sometimes it is overwhelming.

In the Past

For a profession in the past, I was a special education teacher. I like working with children very much. I like teaching children to read. I always cheer the underdogs because an inspired and motivated underdog will work harder and they know they have to get beyond the obstacles. When things come easy to people, they don’t learn the important lessons of getting beyond the obstacles. I went from a profession I worked in for twenty years and was good at to once again learning from the ground up. It is hard to let go of the past, hard to accept that past accomplishments mean little in the new endeavor, hard to hold a beginner’s framework of mind, hard to keep preserving. And the subject matter is difficult.

I have written in the past about my decision to change careers. I don’t think I have talked about what it is like to be in the midst of changing careers.

Everyone is SO Smart

I work with many incredibly intelligent people. Their problem solving abilities frequently leave me in awe. I try to learn from them as much as I can and watch how they problem solve. I have to stay on my toes. Sometimes this is exhausting. I often feel five years old trying to keep up with my teenage brothers. Typically I am very tired when I get home.

I try hard to optimize my time and keep working on learning every day. I often feel I have a lot of ground to cover and not enough time. I spend about 20-30 hours per week outside of work working on learning new skills. I have reached the point where the things I want to learn and to code cannot always be done in an afternoon. Sometimes this desire to learn and swallow the ocean leaves me a tad burnt out, I have to recognize this when it creeps up and take some time to do other stuff, go outside, play music, or actually make contact with other people.

Someone In Your Corner

Having at least one person in your corner who believes in you is crucial. There are always folks who will say you cannot do something or act in such a way they let you know they don’t expect you to succeed or they have a pigeonhole for you they are certain is a correct fit. Staying tough of mind and focused on your goals against this when things are already challenging is tough. That one person who believes you can do stuff? They are… amazing. Beyond value. If there is one thing you can do for another person, it is this. Thank you Colum.

Problem Solving

When I am working on coding something or trying to figure out some bug or reason something won’t work, it often takes my breath away at first. There is always a brief moment at the onset of taking on the challenge where I have to make the decision to really commit to solving it. Two years ago, it didn’t feel risky. This decision had no emotions tied to it. Then I went through enough cycles of coding/problem solving that the dimensions of this as a challenge began to form.

Coding, tracking a bug, or figuring out why some piece of networking isn’t working frequently starts out routine. Go through everything, look for obvious mistakes. Read the stack trace. Look at the error. Code in some outputs. Then systematically start changing things and see what impact these changes have. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. And that is when things begin to get tough. So you dig in and start googling. StackOverflow with all those people out there who have written questions about similar issues and the kind folks who responded are where you look for help. Along the way you swallow teaspoons of the ocean of computer science information, sometimes you swallow huge gulps that leave you gasping. You keep working through the problem and you cheer when you get a different error message. Woohoo– it doesn’t work but it did something! You keep going. Inevitably you get to a point where throwing the laptop out the window is poking around in your mind as a viable choice. I once went for a walk at this frustrated point and yelled at the birds on my walk to keep problem solving. Over time you learn to not stop because you will get through this and there is this unbelievably awesome feeling when you solve the issue and get things to work.

What It All Feels Like

Sometimes I am left absolutely giddy when I figure a problem out or code something and it works. I am often in a state of wonderment about just how cool some of the things I am learning are. I am also a bit blown away by how much I have learned since May 2014 when I started down this path.

So there are moments that are not feel good moments– like when I have to ask for help on something and wish I just knew how to do it; when a co-worker says something that hurts about my skill level and I wish I knew more; or when I want to spend time and take on a new tutorial but I am just too tired. And sometimes I get real self-conscious and I don’t want to embarrass myself– I’d rather figure things out on my own and work on my own so nobody can see that I am scrambling to figure things out. And when I realize that I cannot do things on my own yet because I am still learning. All of these are just a different type of problem I have to solve. Sometimes the solution is remembering all the really cool folk who have taught me stuff– like Dan who taught me about MVC, David who I first worked out GIT with, Rachel and James who have both been patient with my popping up over the cubicle to ask questions, Gabby who pair programmed with me, Drew who helped me get through the first JSP training project, LeeAnn who has helped me understand how to test things, Jason who taught me Linux commands, and Colum who has taught me so much that I cannot even approach listing everything. Sometimes the solution is to remember I get to decided how I will respond to things– fold or keep learning. Sometimes the solution is to remember tomorrow is another day.

I have learnt I have to accept that there is no way to know everything within computer science. It is just too large of a subject. It means there is always going to be something new to learn. I will never master the totality of it. There is no way. And that is very cool.

Aspects of Programming Beyond Code

There are so many aspects to programming– political, creative, and humanitarian. When I first started I didn’t see all these aspects, now they are among the things that keep me learning. There is an entire community of hackers/programmers/developers all over the world. Many want to keep the internet free. Many want intellectual freedom. Many write code in their spare time and post it to be used for free on places like GitHub. Linux is an open source operating system. The political ramifications of this are staggering. People like Linus Torvalds, Edward Snowden and Cory Doctorow are among my heroes.

Programs can be written to do anything one can think of. I didn’t really consider this when I started down this path. I like math and began this because it involved analytical thinking, but I have an arts background and have done creative writing for many years. The creative aspect of coding kind of gives me incentive to keep learning because my skill level at this time is not where I can create some of the programs I am envisioning. I have ideas for simulation games– games to illustrate ecological/permaculture principles, to show the impact of rising populations interacting with a food distribution system that isn’t designed to feed everyone, to reframe math concepts, etc. I have ideas for programs to help people to learn, to help schools to track progress and write individual education plans, to help people with autism to expand their activities, etc.

A handful of years ago I learned about an academic in Newcastle, UK named Sugata Mitra. He did work putting computer kiosks in slums in India. People said that the kiosks would be destroyed but that wasn’t what happened. People taught themselves how to use the browsers and began using the computers for all sorts of things. He also recruited 200 British grandmothers and had them teach children across the globe English via skype. The results were impressive. A few years ago I applied to two different Phd programs in information sciences with an emphasis on social change because I believed then, I as do now, that the UN Millennium Development Goals around literacy could be addressed using a combination of online education and cellular phone applications. Computers and the internet offer some unique opportunities to solve issues by making information available. This very much excites me.

Being in the midst of a career change is… humbling, exhilarating, difficult, terrifying, exhausting, and so much more. I am proud of how much I have learned to date. I can see I have much more to learn. I am excited about learning more– even knowing there are going to obstacles as well as accomplishments. This has continued to be a risky endeavor for many reasons, not the least of which is financial. I have learned a good deal about many things including myself, how to problem solve, how to persevere, and about programming.