Category: community

New Life

The pandemic has provided its challenges and gifts. A lot of people seem to be looking at this past year as having been all about struggle and loss. A year that we’ll look back on with horror or at least deep sadness. I’m not so sure, at least not for myself.

Sure, there has been sadness. My Dad died last July. He was 92 years old. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. But, sadness at the passing of someone who is elderly and in the grips of dementia is always mixed. I will miss him, but I am also joyful that he could let go, move on, and no longer be held by the pain and fear that had become his life. Yeah, I got laid off. But, I got laid off from a job in Minnesota at a really unhealthy workplace where rumors, put downs, lying, and just generally disrespectful behaviors were the norm and wound up through a series of events finding myself working for a good friend on an incredible creative project and back home in Wisconsin.

It’s been a year for being open to possibilities. Last January a severe allergic reaction to a new medication for my epilepsy led to my doctor and I pursuing options beyond medications. In July I found myself at Mayo in the epilepsy monitoring unit. I started my visit on the anniversary of my Mom’s passing. I ended it a week later just after my Dad died by making the decision to honor them both by getting a vagus nerve stimulator implanted. I came back a week later and had the little device that is changing my life implanted close to my heart, reminding me of them. Now, it sends a stimulus through my vagus nerve every three minutes and, along with my medication, is controlling my seizures and making life normal again. My energy is back. It’s been months since I’ve woken up in the morning to a headache and sore tongue, and best of all my doctors and the state of Wisconsin agree that it’s safe for me to drive and live with the independence that a car provides when one lives in a small town.

A lot of people have gone on about boredom and loneliness because of the pandemic and I confess that I’ve had some moments of wanting to get out too, but mostly I have to admit I’ve appreciated this time alone. I’ve been reminded of the joy in slowness and the importance of creative space. I took guitar lesson for awhile, long enough to give me some basics to work with and to continue to teach myself. I’ve started to work on becoming an author of children’s books. Now that it’s spring I just started doing a little volunteering at Taliesin. I’ve been reading a lot more, continuing to write here, doing a little drawing too. How could I be bored or seeking something else when I am given the opportunity to find the creative space? The world runs us too fast and I am thankful that we’ve slowed down for the moment. It is sad that it took a pandemic to slow us, but I can only hope that we find some lessons about caring for our creative selves from this experience.

It’s not been all bad. It’s been a year for staying home and eating home cooking, a year for being creative, a year for relaxing and getting to know ourselves, a year for embarking on a new stage of life in so many ways. What lessons have we learned? What will we carry forth? What possibilities have we opened ourselves to? What is this new life that we are embarking on as this pandemic, hopefully, begins to draw to a close?

Ladybugs

My words feel clunky today. I’m sitting here listening to The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection in part because I’m trying to inspire my own writing of children’s literature and am hopeful that listening to some of my own childhood favorites might help and in part because it feels like about all my brain might handle. Sometimes the mind is just simply slow.

I wonder how to inspire the flow of words? There are so many stories to tell. How do they come to light? It seems like it should be easier, not to write a final product but to create an initial draft to simply gather ideas and set them to paper.

Yesterday, I spent the morning at Taliesin. Thursdays are their day for gardening. Yesterday was my first day to join the gardening volunteers. We spent a few hours weeding the rhubarb then headed on to Tan-y-Deri and the Engineer’s Cottage for an hour or so of cleaning the patio and garden around the cottage of weeds. It was just a small group of us, three volunteers and two staff together on a beautiful day enjoying the perfect weather, light conversation, stories of the buildings, the residents, and the artist who’d designed them–Frank Lloyd Wright. There were stories of what brought each of us to volunteer. A fellow doing service hours, a woman enjoying the beginning of her retirement, and me. It seems that there should be so much to write here and maybe there is. I’m sure that there is, but the words seem tired today.

The only piece that seems even a bit alive came near the end of the morning. I was sitting on the steps near the Engineer’s Cottage trying to figure out which plants were weeds to pull and which were meant to be in the overgrown patch I sat beside. It was then that I saw the tiny pinkish red fellow with the black spots. It was a ladybug, an actual ladybug, not one of those evil Asian lady beetles that have invaded my house. I was so struck that I had to call over one of my fellow volunteers to take a look and confirm my analysis. Yes, it was a ladybug. There were a whole crew of them there crawling amidst the leaves. It seems both sad and strange that such a thing would be the highest moment of life in an otherwise lovely and enjoyable morning. Still, they were ladybugs, meant to be there and too often no longer seen. So seldom seen, at least by me, that I was surprised by the shape of their bodies and the pinkish tint to their shells. I stopped pulling weeds there lest I take anything that they need to survive. I can only hope that they find the food and shelter that they need. They gave me hope. They still give me hope.

I don’t know why the words are clunky and tired today or when the stories will come to life, but the ladybugs survive and with work and good fortune so will I.

Save A Walleye, An Ongoing Lie

It was in 1974 that two brothers went fishing. Mike and Fred Tribble, two Anishanabe men from the La Court Oreille reservation in Wisconsin had called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to inform them of the fishing trip and then went out on Chief Lake, crossed the imaginary reservation line, cut a hole in the ice, and speared a fish off the reservation.

This small action would lead to more than decade in the courts resulting in the historic Voigt decision which acknowledged the Chippewa’s (name used for Anishanabe in legal records) right to 1) harvest fish, game, and plants off-reservation on public lands (and on private lands if proven necessary to provide a modest living); 2) use both traditional and modern methods in the hunting and gathering; and 3) barter or sell the harvest.

The decision took the hood off a long simmering Klan-like hatred in the Northwoods. The boat landings were filled with protesters like those in the photo above. Still, despite threats to their lives the Anishanabe stood strong and fished. Over four years, a Witness for Nonviolence made of allies from around the state grew to stand a peaceful guard along the landings.

Over time, the protestors drew their Klan hood back over their being and things quieted. Many who weren’t Anishanabe started to believe that the struggle was over, that it had become safe again. That wasn’t the reality. Whether the protests are small and quiet, not magnified by the media or loud and in the light of the cameras, they are there and they are threatening.

Just yesterday I learned of a family who were out spearfishing and attacked by white men. The men threw things and harassed the family with racial slurs and threats and one of the white men pulled down his pants exposing himself to the children who were fishing with their father and other family. This is nothing new. Some fishers can tell stories of being shot at every year. Yet they continue because they are Anishanabe and they must be who they are.

When will we learn? The Anishanabe have hunted, fished, and gathered here since the great spirit guided them to this place. Their harvest is miniscule in comparison to that of those who sports fish and the tribes work hard to care for the environment and replenish the fishing stock. This isn’t an issue about fish. This is Wisconsin’s version of the Klan and it is simply wrong and needs to stop.

Want to really save a walleye? Support Native spear fishers and keep the racist freaks off the water.

Looking Back at the Grassroots Leadership College

From 2003 to 2012 I ran a small nonprofit in Madison, Wisconsin called the Grassroots Leadership College. Our work was based in the idea that everyone is a learner, everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a leader. Starting with that idea in mind we created a coach/leader/ project based leadership education program for adults.

Over the nine years that the GLC operated we provided training to more than 500 people through our core program, workshops, and our Spanish language series. Those program participants led more than 120 different community organizing projects in the Madison area. Many of those efforts continue today.

The GLC was an amazing experience, not only for the projects that our participants led, but because of who our participants were and the community that they created by coming together to learn from each other. Madison has historically been a very liberal community. However, like many liberal towns, it has always been very much divided by race and class as well as other differences. Through very intentional work the Grassroots Leadership College was able to break down those barriers, even if only just for a moment, and bring people together. Our class groups would typically include homeless individuals, former felons, retirees, university faculty and staff, students, and professionals. The groups would often have an age range of thirty or more years. We simply created a space in which all voices were heard and honored for the knowledge and experience that they carried.

One of the people who had a great impact on me was a woman in our first class group. I’d only just begun as the director a few weeks before receiving her application. In that application she acknowledge that she had schizophrenia. I wasn’t sure of what to do, but our vision statement “everyone a learner, everyone a teacher, everyone a leader” played through my mind. Did we really mean everyone? I took the issue to my executive committee and we agreed that I would meet with her to learn more and determine whether she’d be a good fit for the program. Mona and I met at the Yahara House, a clubhouse for individuals seeking support with mental health issues. We discussed the program and her health. She explained to me her illness and told me about the others in the room that I couldn’t see, but she could. It was a wonderful conversation. She was a gifted teacher. My decision was easy and she joined the program, helping break down the fear of mental illnesses for many of our participants that semester.

After nine years of successful teaching coupled with financial struggles, it became clear that the Grassroots Leadership College wasn’t economically sustainable regardless of the good we did or the love we had for the program and we had to close the doors.

Now, it’s almost nine years later and so much has changed politically, socially, and economically both locally and on the grander scale. Still, I see good energy out there to do great things and some really good organizing going on. I think about the GLC and believe that what we did almost a decade ago could serve those doing the good work today. I don’t think that it’s up to us who led it then to rebuild it, but I wonder about how we might share the stories? What tools might be of value? How can we or should we hand on what we learned? We are in a different time with new leaders rising from the grassroots, but many of the needs remain the same and it seems there is little need to start over completely when there are models to build from. Still, one must also honor the new leaders and allow them their space to grow. It’s a delicate balance and one that I am trying to figure out.

Restart

I wonder what it is about January that makes it such a challenge? There seems to be something maybe in the air or in my being or maybe just in the cold that makes my body reject the entire month. This year it seems the entire country is having to scrape its way out of 2020 to make an attempt to start again and we’ve not quite made it there yet.

I often look back at my memories on Facebook and I’ve learned from this practice that somewhere right around Christmas or shortly after is often time for a seizure. January is time for a nice head cold that’s bad enough to put me in bed for a few days. It’s also a time for dreams and nightmares. A few years ago I also threw in the excitement of appendicitis. Last year I spent New Year’s at the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at the Mayo Clinic hoping for seizures and asking for cold medicine.

This year I’m laying in bed waiting for my COVID test results and hoping it’s just another head cold and pondering the meanings of my most recent nightmares. I don’t normally have a lot of bad dreams, but I’ve had three in the past week. I suspect it’s both the powers of January and the changes in my life once again.

I’d thought I’d found the perfect job a few months back, but it became clear pretty quickly that the organization wasn’t ready for staff yet and that there were some people in leadership holding views that I believe to be quite harmful especially when mentoring children. I love mentoring, but not at the cost of any child. So, I had to leave. I was extremely lucky to land on my feet. Some friends of mine run The Memory Project and offered me a role which allowed me to leave the group that I was with.

So, after two intense dreams that might be called nightmares, the first of which I found myself I found myself at a circus with a tiger and a panther sniffing at my feet as I sat on a bench unable to move and the second of which I found myself again unable to move in my bed with an intruder coming in and about to rape me, I made the decision to quit my last job and start my new one.

The circus dream was an interesting one. The ringmaster was there and he told me that I didn’t have to fear the tiger and the panther. He told me that they were mine, wouldn’t hurt me, and that I had the power to move if I chose. It was interesting doing a bit of research later to find that the panther and tiger tend to be symbols of feminine power, creativity, strength, and positive change.

The rape dream was another recognition of my own choices and power. As the perpetrator attempted to attack me, my inner being assured me that this wasn’t real, told me that I had the power to move. It took great strength, as if I were breaking handcuffs holding my wrists, but I moved my arms and I awoke and was safe again.

Sometimes dreams tell us a lot. I decided I had the strength to take the leap into a new world. For the next six months or so, I’ll be sorting student art work, seeking out some freelance writing, working on a book, and deciding what I want to do next as my role with the Memory Project is just short term.

Still, my dreams aren’t gone. There’s still something figuring itself out. In last night’s dream, an intruder had again broken into the house. This time a friend told me she found my dog Buddy locked in the bathroom with a loaded handgun and an open window. She was worried that the intruder was still on the premises. The house filled with neighbors, most of whom I didn’t know as I tried to call the police. Buddy wasn’t hurt. I lost track of him for a few moments and was worried he might be, but then I saw him playing happily in the growing crowd.

I woke puzzled, but realized that in my current rental it would be impossible to lock poor Buddy in the bathroom with a loaded handgun since one of my bathroom doors is actually a shower curtain. Ah, the wonders of rental living. But, it does help me recognize the impossibility of the dream and go with Buddy’s joyous innocence approach instead.

With that, I will lay here and rest a bit more, build up my energy and get ready to leap into the next new adventure with faith that the tiger and panther and Buddy will all celebrate with me this new chapter in life with joy, fun, love, creativity, and all else it offers. Take good care and stay well my friends!

Starting the New Year

For the last few years I’ve posted my New Year’s resolutions here. This year I am a bit late, but that’s okay. 2021 seems to be getting a slow start separating itself from 2020, I can do the same. We humans have a strange time to start a new year these days anyway. It’s not the solstice or the equinox. It’s not the beginning of a new season. It’s just a day it seems to me. Anyway, moving into the goals for the upcoming. First, we start with my resolutions from last year.

  1. Getting my seizures to stop
  2. Getting to my goal weight
  3. Reading at least 12 books
  4. Cutting my screen time

Well, I got my VNS and my seizures have been been roughly cut in half and those I have seem to be less intense. So, I’d say I did pretty good with that one. On getting to my goal weight, honestly, I haven’t really worked on it. I feel pretty good about not gaining any weight and actually losing a couple of pounds during COVID. I think it’s a goal that I can let go of. I think I’m on book 15 or 16 now. A few of those were ones I read before, but they were good enough to read again. So, success on that goal. I can’t say the number of hours by which I’ve cut my screen time, but I feel certain that I have cut it. I took Facebook off my phone. I go out hiking and to dog parks more often. I’ve made a regular practice of daily guitar and piano practice, time for household tasks, and reading time all of which take me away from the screen. I’m guessing that I’m probably dropping 1-3 hours a day. I’d say I did pretty well in 2020 toward reaching my goals.

I think 2021 will be for continuing some these goals and adding in a few new ones.

  1. Becoming seizure free
  2. Reading at least 12 books
  3. Continuing to keep my screen time in check
  4. Writing a children’s book
  5. Finding my Ikigai (Japanese concept meaning reason for being)
  6. Getting back to being intentional about exercise 3-5 times a week

This should keep me going and keep me flowing. Wishing you all well in this year to come. Take good care.

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!