Category: community

A New Beginning

It’s been over a month since my last post. A lot has happened since then. I got laid off. My last day at the Center for Small Towns was yesterday. I found a new job. I’ll be moving back to Wisconsin in a few weeks to direct Kinship Mentoring of Columbia County. I’ve found a place to live. I’ve been doing all the pieces that it takes to move from one place to another. All of this on top of my VNS implant, dad’s death, and just living in the reality of the COVID pandemic made for a very intense summer.

It’s been a challenging three years here in Morris. There are good people here, definitely some that I’ll miss. I loved working with my students and the community partners. But, the Center for Small Towns had been getting less and less university support for years. I was too optimistic thinking that it could be anything but frustrating to work in that type of situation. It feels freeing to be done and like I really am starting off on a new adventure and new phase in life.

It feels important to me to treat this moment like I would a new year and to name the things that I want to hold myself to as I launch this next phase. I don’t know that this list is complete or how long any of these things goes for. But, these are the things I’m thinking about to do for myself in this next phase.

  1. Getting back on track with my healthier eating habits (cut out that sugar)
  2. Getting the phone and computer out of my bedroom
  3. Learning guitar
  4. Learning Anishabemowin
  5. Becoming seizure-free
  6. Cutting my social media time and increasing my fun stuff time
  7. Keep my new home in a comfortable order
  8. Becoming an active part of my new community

I’m sure there will be more to add and to change as time passes, but that’s the list for now that I want to focus on for now. It feels good to be starting again.

Wishing you all good adventures!

Fears and Hopes

It’s been ten days now since I had my vagus nerve stimulator implanted. It will get turned on in just four more days. The healing has been smooth other than a little itchiness and redness from the surgical tape. The tape is now all gone, so hopefully the redness and itchiness will be gone soon too.

Such a small thing and such a huge thing at the same time. The device is only about the size of a half dollar. The surgery took less than two hours. The healing is going quickly and I keep hearing that there won’t be much scarring. I also keep seeing stories of how stimulating the vagus nerve does a boat load of amazing things. It lessens the severity of, stops, and prevents seizures. (That’s why I got it.) It also can apparently help with depression and anxiety, improve metabolism, lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve digestion, and just improve the body’s response to stress. It’s both really wonderful to hear all these things and frightening.

It’s been seven years since I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I suspect that it’s been closer to twenty years that I’ve been having seizures and all the stuff that goes with that– the stress, the depression, and growing anxiety and all of those pieces. So, I find myself both very much excited about the new adventure and all the possibilities and at the same time asking myself what happens if it works? Who will I be without these things to define me? And, of course, wondering about whether or not it will work or if all these great stories I’ve been hearing are only dreams for me.

I guess we’ll see. Some people say they see results quite quickly. For most it takes months. I’ll do my best to keep telling the story.

Where Strength Comes From

Laying here at Mayo on day seven of my epilepsy monitoring unit experience, waiting for seizures and wondering when I will get that heartbreaking message to let me know that my dad’s journey has taken him to the spirit world. I find myself thinking about the history that cradles me in its arms and provides me strength.

Our strength is not solely our own. It comes from the generations before us who have brought us to this place. These days I find myself thinking of many people, one is my great-aunt Sr. Christine.

Sr. Christine was born in 1898 in Wisconsin. She grew up on a farm in outside of Port Washington. Many Catholic families of that time were pleased to have children grow up to be nuns and priests. I don’t know if my great-grandparents wanted Sr. Christine to become a nun, but I do remember hearing that they were unhappy with her choice to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame. They had apparently wanted her to be a Franciscan. But, Sr. Christine was a determined young woman who’d heard her calling and followed it despite the unrest that it caused in her family.

My memories of her are of visits to the convent where she lived in her latter years. I think of that little blue room that she lived in. She had her bed, a small wardrobe, and her chair. I don’t remember any other furniture. I don’t remember if there were more chairs for guests. I suppose there were or maybe we brought them in from another room. Her life was simple. Yet every time we visited she had a smile on her face and was delighted to share in conversations with many questions about how all the family was doing. I remember too how every time we went to visit she would have me or maybe mom or dad go to her wardrobe to pull out a little gift for me, usually a prayer card though once she gave me a lovely heart shaped box that I kept for years.

I think of her now as I lay here in this hospital bed and I recognize who taught me and where my strength comes from. It is from Sr. Christine who lived a life of simplicity and faced many challenges with a joyous determination and simple understanding that things would be okay. It is also from many others in my ancestry who I love and revere, but those stories are for another time. For now, I simply thank that dear woman for teaching me and making me who I am. I hope that my actions in life can honor her.

Day Four at the EMU

It’s day four now. Still no seizures and no confirmed date to go home. I did get to sleep for almost eight hours last night though. My medications are done now for this trip in hopes of generating a seizure.

I don’t know if it was a good thing or not, but I read some posts on one of the epilepsy support groups that I am a part of on Facebook. Some poor soul is also in an EMU right now, bored, and anxiously waiting for some seizures. She asked others if they’d ever been in the EMU and not had a seizure. The stories were eye opening. That is for sure. Some people have stayed in their monitoring units for more than 20 days. I am going to need more crocheting yarn if that happens! Others have been given vodka to induce their seizures. I asked my nurse about that one. It is a possibility. When I suggested a brandy old fashioned instead she was apologetic and explained that unfortunately it’s not an open bar. Oh well.

Dr. Lagerland and team did their daily visit just a few minutes ago. He’s encouraging me to keep up with doing sleep deprivation, so I am back to the four hours a night if I don’t have some seizures before then. I’m to keep exercising too.

I can tell that my system is wearing down. I started to get twitches yesterday and words are just a little more difficult. Spelling is a bit more of a challenge. I brought out my Ojibwe language lessons this morning for the first time in quite a while and practiced for about an hour. Learning another language at any time is challenging, in a state of sleep deprivation and medication changes it’s a real trip. But, I suspect it’s good to challenge my mind especially now. Besides there’s only so many television reruns and movies that anyone should watch at one time. Maybe today I’ll go back to the Call the Midwife series though. I’ve seen them all, but they’re just comforting.

I put the message out to my online support groups asking what people would like me to share about my experience in the EMU in my blog. I would love for my writing to be more than just an online journal. I would love for it to be a support or guide for others in a similar space. I hope that my readers will share my blog with others facing similar situations, that you will tell me your stories, and that you’ll let me know what you’d like me to write about too. Thanks for reading!

When Will We Be Able to Breathe Again?

The Minneapolis police murdered another Black man last night. Mr. George Floyd died, his airway crushed under knee of racism.

I watched a press conference this afternoon about the event. It was gathering of mostly African American leaders with a sprinkling of other people as well. I was struck by an elder standing near the mic. I didn’t catch his name. I think it might have been Frank something. He was Native. I don’t know his tribe. He wore the AIM uniform, an AIM t-shirt, jean jacket, and cowboy hat. His look reminded me of a hundred other friends I’ve known along the way and of a story.

I was reminded that we all come from around the same fire. Someday, if we are to survive we have to come back together be that new people.

This man died because he couldn’t breathe through the hatred and fear that held him down. Not his hatred, not his fear, the hatred and fear that is white and monied. The hatred and fear that chokes the life out of all of us.

It’s been over 500 years now. It’s long enough. It’s time to step out and celebrate the beauty of our differences. We are more than black and white. I know we’re still social distancing, but in whatever way you can, hold each other in your hearts, raise up the beauty, celebrate the strength, honor the struggles. Do whatever it is that you can to make it possible for all who are being crushed to breathe again.

The Emotional Winter

This may just be a short post, but it is a thought that I wanted to share before it gets lost somewhere in the cobwebs of my mind.

I was talking with one of my students earlier today. We were just chatting a bit about school and life and just how things were going for them these days. They were feeling rather down. It seems right now that’s how a lot my students are feeling and how a lot of other people I know are feeling too.

The student told me something that I had heard before from several others. They said that they were just trying to keep things going, keep everything normal, and just push on through. I said to them that I respected that approach, but things aren’t normal right now, why would doing the same thing as we do in a normal situation work?

Then I suggested that it’s like the seasons. Right now we’re in a sort of midwestern winter of reality. We can’t walk out in it in only our summer of self-care and expect not to be frozen and in deep pain. We need to wrap ourselves up in caring and gentleness right now if we are to do our work and face our reality. Our reality is there and needs to be faced. There is work to be done. We just have to prepare ourselves for the weather and sometimes just sit by the fire to keep our beings warm.

Using Time Wisely

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the US as the most obese country in the world in 2019. The World Health Organization tells us that we are one of the most depressed countries in the world.

The US is among the highest CO2 producers in the world. We continually are dumping poisons everywhere. We are continually putting poisoning our own food and the water we drink. Why?

We have a fascinating opportunity right now. At other times people might pay thousands of dollars to go on retreats to step away from their regular day to day lives and step into something new. We’ve all been given the opportunity for free. Sure, maybe it doesn’t come with an exotic vacation spot or maybe we’re still doing a lot of our work from before and some new jobs too, but we’ve got something here. How can we use it?

I keep thinking of something a friend use to say. He’d be presenting to groups, talking about all sorts of important environmental issues of the day and he’d tell people. “Don’t worry about protecting the earth. The earth, she’ll be fine. It’s us that we need to that we need to be concerned about. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to drink the water. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to breathe the air. We’re the ones who will no longer have food to eat.”

He was right. I suspect that this virus is simply another warning. The warnings are getting bigger and more intense each one after the other. We need to figure this out. What can we do?

You are there in your personal retreat. How can you take this time to care for yourself body, mind, spirit, soul? How does your relationship to this place where we live, this earth change? How do we show her respect? How do we stop poisoning her and poisoning ourselves in the process? When we walk together again who will you be? Who will we all be?

The Place I Am Today

I used to be a community organizer. I like to believe some days that I still am, but other days I wonder especially as I sit here writing in my bed, alone, with my dog laying on my feet, and not knowing how to impact the place where I live.

I began as a student back in the 1990’s with the fire of a teenager and the wisdom of someone who’d seen almost nothing beyond her own home. I got a lot shocks and a great deal of love. I fell often. My teachers helped me find my footing and brush myself off over and over again. We got a lot done and I found a place where I belonged. I’m still in touch with people from those days. Some, I would say, count among my closest friends.

After my years as a student, I took on being an organizer professionally. I learned the ideas of Myles Horton. I came to understand that it isn’t my job to solve the problems that a community faces, but to ask the questions, to hold up the mirror so that the community members might see the answers that they hold and find the solutions for the themselves. It was in asking the questions that I made connections and built friendships.

I’ve moved from here to there over the years, but so many connections remain along with the lessons we’ve learned together along the way and all the struggles that we’ve won and lost. It sometimes seems that I might reach out almost anywhere and find some connection, someone that I’ve known or someone who’s connected to someone I’ve known.

Yet, here where I am right now it seems the connections are tenuous at best. I can see the challenges. But I am in a strange place. It is one of those places where two communities share the same space and are in some sense tied together, yet in deny each other and I don’t know how to change that. Maybe it is what life is in a small town with a university. There is the university and there is the town. There are some who are really part of both and there are some who just live or work in one and are part of the other. Then there are a few like myself who work here and reside here, but don’t really belong to either. I am not sure what to do with that. This is an interesting time and place to look at it. I wonder if it would be different in a larger town or a larger university? My suspicion is that it would, but I can only hope to someday see.

I wonder how many of us there are in these situations. These places where we work and reside and yet are not a part. How does this change? Can it change with time? What does it take to be in the community and not the organizer or what does it take to be an organizer in a community that has two or maybe more personalities?

How are the Neighbors Surviving?

Morris is a small town, only a bit over 5,000 people when students are on campus. Still we are a diverse community with a large portion of our students coming from outside of the United States or from the nations within our nation particularly the Lakota/ Dakota and Anishanaabe peoples and a large Latino community, many of whom work for the Riverview Dairy.

Many of our international students are Asian. Many of them have found themselves navigating the unexpected experience of living in Minnesota while not attending classes on campus. Some are living on campus yet. Others live in town or have found other places to stay. I haven’t heard any reports directly about how they are being treated in our small community during this time of crisis that has become known for its tinge of racism.

I did see something interesting today though that made me wonder. I was shopping at the local Town and Country for some pet supplies. It was a fascinating day to shop. The store had just moved to complete curbside service. I stood outside, phoned in my order, and waited for a staff person inside to do my shopping for me.

As I waited two Latino gentlemen came to do their shopping. I wondered how this might work as I suspected that they may be new immigrants working for the dairy. A staff person came to the door to assist them. It was clear that he wasn’t fully bilingual. Still, his Spanish was better than mine and they managed with just small errors in conversation that were quickly handled.

It made me think though of my own privilege. It’s easy in this place to find everything I need in the language that I understand. I look around though and see next to nothing for my Spanish speaking neighbors. I know that there is a small team working to rectify this and to address at least the most essential needs, but I find it hard to imagine the every day.

Some years ago I had the good fortune to travel to Guatemala to study Spanish in an immersion school for several weeks. I was exhausted by the end of each day from the mental energy of just the simplest acts of living in a language that wasn’t my own. I was safe. There was no threat of illness or changes in access to any sort of resources. Yet, I was exhausted. I wonder how my neighbors survive?