Voted. Wept. Rose. Got to Work.

Another guest post by my sister Wingfield:

Yesterday, I voted.

Last night, I wept.

I wept for the Khan family who bravely told their story and white America didn’t care.

I wept for immigrants that struggle day after day to make a better life for themselves and to build a new home for their families and again heard that they are not valued.

I wept for the disabled, mocked for their struggles, who are reminded that they are still pushing their chairs uphill.

I wept for same-sex couples, told that their deep love is a threat to family values while a man married three times with countless accusations of sexual assault celebrates as the torch-bearer of Evangelical values.

I wept for girls who yet again see that even if they loyally uphold their marital vows, work tirelessly for the public good, and strive to put forth a positive agenda, they are not good enough if a charismatic man comes along to challenge their accomplishments and grade their physical appearance.

I wept for boys who are presented with a model of success built upon rising higher by knocking others down.

I wept for women who have been groped by strangers and then told that they did something to bring it on or that they lied when they dared to come forward.

I wept for rural Americans who feel do disillusioned that their best hope comes in the form of walls and insults and instability.

I wept for the Earth, threatened by human unwillingness to face the reality of our collective impact.

I wept for those who seek to tell the truth as they watch boldly stated lies overshadow the plainly spoken truth.

I wept for African Americans when the answer to systemic bias is stop and frisk, law and order.

I wept for young women facing horrible choices.

I wept for Christianity.

I wept for religious freedom.

I wept for humility and justice and mercy.

I even wept for a man whose sense of self is so fragile that he must paint his name in gold letters on everything he touches and who lashes at any who threaten his position.

The election might not have been about these things, but is was all of them.
And so I wept and as the tears fell, the rain washed over me as the skies joined in my sorrow.

Last night I wept, and I wept, and I wept.

This morning, I rise.

I rise no longer complacent that good will prevail simply because it is good.

I rise aware that democracy is fragile and difficult and worth fighting for.

I rise in solidarity with all who felt belittled by a campaign built on the cornerstones of hate and fear.

I rise unwilling to remain silent in the face of injustice.

I rise with gratitude for our Founding Fathers whose wisdom built checks and balances into our government.

I rise having heard the suffering of small town Americans and wanting to listen to what their vote is saying about their concerns.

I rise with faith that God is with us, even at the worst of times.

I rise knowing that no matter how dark the skies, the sun will break through, that a small candle can light a dark room and ready to hold that candle.

I rise with forgiveness for all the pain we humans have inflicted on each other.

I rise with profound love for my partner, my children, my family, my friends, my community and my country.

I rise determined to fight for a different vision. A vision of a world in balance, a world of enough, a world of opportunity for all people and respect for others, a world of hope and peace and justice and meaning.

Yesterday, I voted. Last night, I wept. This morning, I rise. Tomorrow, I must get to work.


How my big sister voted, and why.

Guest post by my sister, Wingfield Ellis Rehmus.  She is a pediatric dermatologist from Atlanta, GA, who currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Nov 2, 2016

I have just cast my ballot in the 2016 presidential election.  Never has voting ever felt so momentous or my one vote so important.

I have been wondering since last spring how I could respond to the presidential election situation in the US and have found myself paralyzed and unsure what I could do to make a difference.  What could I say about this election to my grandchildren and how could I justify my actions or lack thereof years from now?  Will I be forced, at the end of it all, to admit that I have fallen into the “appalling silence of good people” as MLK has called it?

I have considered writing my thoughts on the matter, but wonder to whom I would write and who would listen in the end anyway…and do I have enough strength in my convictions to stand for something instead of merely against something else.  Can I offer any thought that would hold any weight or does my background and experience make my thoughts so obviously tilted one direction that they are easily cast aside?  I am a member of the educated elite. I no longer even live in the United States.  I naturally lean to the left politically and no longer consider “liberal” to be a pejorative name.  I have not lost a job due to globalization.  I do not worry that I will be out of work next month. For a hundred reasons, my voice feels useless in the context of what I perceive to be the profound disillusionment in the United States.

And yet, I feel that I need to do something, to say something. To only vote feels like an important, but insufficient response in the face of this election.  And so, I write as an American, as an immigrant, as a Christian, as a mother – and I have decided to light a candle each day from now until the election for the country, for vision, and for healing.

I understand the appeal of Trump’s message – the desire to “clean the swamp”, to start fresh and to speak plainly.  It feels like a chance of new life or a potential return to something simpler and more straightforward (though I’m not sure that life really ever existed). I agree that partisan politics and big money lobbying have run amok in Washington.  The consolidation of wealth has brought challenges that we as a people have not yet learned to manage.  Some old social problems feel so entrenched that it seems difficult to know how to fix them without a complete make-over and new threats appear that are borne of situations too complex for simple answers.    Yet, a hateful and isolationist approach cannot be the solution. Additionally, there is nothing that I see in the record of Mr. Trump as a businessman that leads me to believe that he is a person who is capable of the extreme makeover that he has proposed.

In my work as a doctor, I have the privilege of meeting people from all positions in society.  In the exam room, it matters not whether a patient is a billionaire, unemployed, artist, computer executive, teacher, plumber, doctor, refugee, immigrant or native-born.  When a family steps into my clinic with a sick child, each is worried and loving and hopeful and each stands naked facing an issue over which they have little control not matter what brand of purse lies on the floor next to their chair.  All want the best for their families and for their children.  In my line of work, I see the struggles people of all incomes and backgrounds deal with as they face illness or, heaven forbid, the death of a child.  Life is difficult, and we do not need to make it more difficult for each other by calling names or allowing hateful rhetoric to be given legitimate voice.  Doing so does not only belittle the other, but we belittle ourselves in the process.

I believe that we all have biases that are natural given our fragility as people, and they lead us to favor those like ourselves and make us somewhat distrustful of those who are different, and it is important that we recognize these biases.  Taking care not to act on them, is not just political correctness, but is appreciation that some of our natural instincts are not particularly helpful.  Speaking these biases openly and using them as justification for hateful action does not make us authentic people so much as it minimizes our shared humanity.

As much as I understand the sentiment that we need something different, I have to respond by saying, not this way.  I too have had concerns about Secretary Clinton as a candidate, though I am not sure on what basis.  I do not worry about the concerns of her having public and private thoughts/conversations.  We all have them and few of us would be happy for everything that we have ever said or written to be tried in the court of social media.  I wonder whether even I, as an educated woman who has faced my own hurdles and gender challenges, carries an odd deep bias against having a female president.  Clearly, there are justifiable concerns and she does not get a free pass merely because of the temperament of her opponent. I appreciate the concerns of thoughtful conservatives who worry about the impact on the Supreme Court and I feel the difficulty of the situation in which they have been put.  I have no easy answer, but know that allowing hate to become the voice of their agenda cannot be the best way forward.  As I have carried these reservations into the election season, I have surprisingly found that I have largely been reassured, on those occasions when I have listened to Secretary Clinton herself speak, rather than relying on second hand reports and analysis of the situation.  I am impressed by her thoughtfulness, her courage, and her strength as she continues to calmly respond to questions and often to reflect on her own actions and the import and complexities of the situations she faces.

And so, today I cast my vote – for the first female candidate in US history, for a long-time public servant and for a vision of a country made better by our differences and our shared community.  In casting this vote I am hoping both for a landslide victory and for humility and hard work from the victor.  A landslide victory will send the message to the world that the United States of America is not a country of crass language and hateful rhetoric.  We are not a country that cares only position in the world or abandons those in need when we can help, even if it is at personal sacrifice.  And at the same time I pray that in the aftermath of that landslide victory, the winners will not forget to listen to what this season has said about where we are as a society today and to the valid concerns of all citizens – including those who have so vehemently voted the other way.   We have a difficult path ahead, but the nation and indeed the world depend on our efforts.  I don’t know what my role will be beginning on Nov 9th, but am ready to search for it no matter what occurs.  If you have thoughts or ideas on how we do move forward together and what I can do as a single individual or what we can do as a community, please let me know.  For now, I light my candle with a prayer for the county and for healing when it is all over.  May we find a way forward together as a nation that respects the dignity of all who call the US home and honors the great traditions of our country.

“Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together.  Our future and the wellbeing of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.” Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation


What I read this summer

In the LMWP Institute, we read books about teaching writing and drafted reviews for each other.  Here’s my review of one of the books I chose to read this summer, focusing particularly on the concluding, “so what” chapter.  Our discussion of this text threatened to divide our otherwise warm community, so I offer this as one turn of talk in an ongoing conversation.  I’m a White professor listening closely to the research of two Black scholars.

Alim, H. S., & Smitherman, G. (2012). Articulate while black: Barack Obama, language, and race in the U.S. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Should students’ Black Language be accepted in school?  Should we correct sentences that don’t follow the rules of standard English when students are talking to us, talking to each other, writing first drafts, or editing final drafts?  Alim and Smitherman tackle this question head on.  In their last chapter, they even use the verb “should” to speak directly to educators: “Rather than interpreting Black language behavior through the lens of Black inferiority, ignorance, or violence, these creative language practices should be utilized for educational purposes” (177).  Are they advocating that students be encouraged to express themselves using the very strongest “creative language practices” that their home languages have to offer?  Sometimes, but not all the time.  They insist that students of all backgrounds be taught the rules of Standard Written English, and we all know that good teaching involves lots of practice.  What Alim and Smitherman want is for students to “be fluent in multiple language varieties, including Black Language and ‘standard English’” (168), and they lament that “schools continue to fail in their teaching of ‘standard English’ to Black students” (168).

What accounts for this failure?  Alim and Smitherman argue that “many youth can learn ‘standard English’ grammar, [but] they resist the constant and unrelenting imposition of White linguistic norms by their teachers.”  They continue, “It’s one thing to learn grammar rules but quite another to be rewarded for ‘sounding White’ (as if there is something inherently wrong with ‘sounding Black’)” (175).  As a White teacher, I was convicted by Toni Morrison’s words that open chapter six:

The language, only the language….It is the thing that black people love so much–the saying of words, holding them on the tongue, experimenting with them, playing with them.  It’s a love, a passion….The worst of all possible things that could happen would be to lose that language….It’s terrible to think that a child with five different present tenses comes to school to be faced with books that are less than his own language.  And then to be told things about his language, which is him, that are sometimes permanently damaging….This is a really cruel fallout of racism.  (The New Republic, March 1981)

What are the se “five different present tenses” that Morrison references?  I don’t know exactly, and that’s part of the problem.  I know a lot about the rules of Standard Written English, but not so many of the rules that make Black Language so resonant, so poetic.  Alim and Smitherman outline some of the linguistic strengths of Black language in this chapter, not only explaining twelve rules of the Black language syntactic system (copula absence, use of equatives, and negative inversion, for example) but also artistic and creative cultural modes of discourse.  

So what teaching practices does this suggest, exactly? How do we teach the rules of Standard Written English while honoring the strengths of Black language?  Teach them both.  Teach a critical awareness of the two dialects side by side–all of the dialects, actually, that circulate in students’ subcultures.  Teachers, they suggest, need to educate ourselves, not only about what standard verb tenses are (what is the present perfect tense again?) but also about the rules that govern the dialects that our students speak–because there are rules (see the examples above).  We do not need to pretend to be experts of any of it, but to model a meta-linguistic curiosity for our students; model being sleuths of language variety in our world.  Alim and Smitherman argue that this stance of humble curiosity and attentive study of the grammar rules not just of White English but also Black Language can have an influence for good in our society weakened by social inequity: “The critical linguistic perspective that we adopt in this book should be taught in schools in order to bring about social change” (169).

Life (in memory) is beautiful.

After a week in France with my friend Anne and her family and a week with my parents, I found it difficult to come back to work. It felt like the first half mile of a run, when my heart rate is still so slow that my muscles are begging for more oxygen. The pace felt too fast. People seemed to be talking too much about too many things. One week later, I’m moving at the same speed as the work, so it’s fine. I’m over jet lag, and the memory of a vacation continues to bring almost as much pleasure as the vacation itself. That’s one of the benefits to having an imagination as vivid as my actual senses.

Our three days with Anne and Eric in Ansouis are now like a perfectly smooth, giant pearl in my pocket. I can wrap the fingers of my memory around it and admire its beauty.

Just now, our children are laughing. They are trying to learn how to do a somersault in the water, but they turn catawampus and come up wiping the pool from their faces. They are holding hands and jumping in, blue and green sunbursts of flowers opening just behind their shoulders.

On the bulwark of the castle behind us, our husbands lean over the wall. Steve is saying “Hey, look at me! See what I did?” because he climbed part of the tower to get a better view.

Now, you are noticing that there is lavender growing by the side of the pool. You say, “Wouldn’t it be great to drive through lavender fields?”

We walk past a festival of Porches to reach the farmers’ market, where you and B buy radishes to make a French side dish. The men are giddy to buy un poulet entier for dinner. We wash our hands with a lavender soap stone, rinsing them with water the seller pumps from a jug with her foot. My children beg to buy colored pencils, and I let them.

In the afternoon, we walk out of the village and look back on it, sun slanting across the blonde stone walls of the castle and church. We know what is inside the rectory: red poppies, wild flowers bending thickly over streams, and a few naked women painted by the man in the corner. His art is on display annually in the region. The posters are a year or two old, announcing the show’s location.

At the church where scenes from Manon des Source was filmed, a baptism takes place on Saturday morning. French families navigate their cars up the narrow streets (as we did looking for our hotel) and park by the entrance to the castle, taking the final climb to the church on foot.

We walk the steep angle of the streets for the pleasure of the views, vinyards stretching to the feet of forested hills in the distance. I hope we will walk up the closest hill and look back on the village, and we do. We slowly learn to read the trail signage through trial and error. We scramble over fallen trunks to a vista on a rocky outcrop. I take a photo of Caroline taking a photo.

At night, we let the light fade around us on the patio. Our children sleep nearby together, while we lament and laugh at politics. In our hands are French wine and chocolate. We have no papers to grade, no lessons to prepare. The next day will be like this one.

So, when I want to feel relaxed, to be convinced that life is beautiful, I’m going back to Ansouis with you. I can rearrange the chronology, erase the travel discomfort, and stretch it out as long as I like. Memory is good like that.

Why write?

As the 2016 LMWP ISI ramps up, it’s time to begin at the beginning again.

“Let us remember…that in the end we [write] for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”
~Christian Wiman

Midwest Climate Ride 2015

I’m going on a bike ride.  Grand Rapids to Chicago.  That’s a long way for these legs to take me, from our home in Heritage Hill to the windy city, assisted only by two pedals and some gears.  I anticipate some aching muscles and a sore seat, but I’m committed to trying to make it for two reasons.  First, it’s an adventure with my husband, Steve, for whom this will be his third Climate Ride.  Last year on sabbatical in Europe, we lived without a car and loved it.  The photo above is me and our kids taking our weekly bike ride to the local farm to buy our produce directly from the grower.  Yes, it was idyllic.  Bike paths made it possible.  This brings me to number two.  Going on Climate Ride allows me to help raise awareness of the dire need for more sustainable solutions for global transportation.  People, our use of fossil fuels is a problem that we need to solve with the best minds of this generation.  I don’t have one of those minds, but I do have a love of exercise and adventure, so here I go.

Not only am I hoping to raise awareness about the need for sustainable solutions to the host of issues affecting the health of our planet, economy, and communities, but I’m also trying to raise some money for a few organizations that are doing front line work.   If you’re also interested in a green future, you can help me to support these organizations.  I’ve designated that all of the money I raise for Climate Ride goes to West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC)Grand Rapids Bicycle CoalitionNational Parks Conservation Association, and Wellhouse.   Giving to my fundraising goal for Climate Ride is giving to these local and national advocates for sustainability.

You can make a secure online donation by clicking on the “Support Me” icon above. Both of us will be notified by email of your advocacy.

Thank you for your love and support!

Climate Ride Support Page

Writing Territories

This week I have been leading the LMWP institute fellows into a writing life.  On day 1, I ask them to consider the fundamental question:  why do humans write?  What purposes motivate us to write?  What verbs do we use to describe what we hope to accomplish with the variety of types of texts?  On day 2, I lead a discussion of audience.  For whom do we write?  Does it help or hinder writers to hold their imagined audience in mind as they draft?  Should we, as Peter Elbow recommends, “close our eyes as we write” the first draft, and only revise with audience in mind.  We also discussed the difficulty of writing for audiences who we don’t know very well.  Kids who write for adult teachers.  College freshmen who write for faculty.  New faculty who write for scholarly journals.    I modeled making a list of audience that inspire me to write.  I realized that even the same people, like LMWP TCs, are two different audiences when I think of them as teachers and as researchers.  Similarly, I want to write advice about how to improve the teaching of writing for an audience of GVSU SWS instructors and for those GVSU instructors as potential research partners.  I also want to write to my children, but my purpose changes (and thereby my topics, tone, and diction) according to the age at which I want them to read the text.  Am I writing for Caroline to read now as a 6 year old?  Or am I writing to her as a 16 year old trying to figure out how to be a a healthy adult?  These same physical people can be different audiences.

I also have a couple of aspirational literary journals (Fourth Genre and Brevity) to which I would like to send essays.

With my writing group today, I realized that my most pressing purpose is to entertain this audience of 2015 LMWP fellows.  I want to write something to read aloud (tomorrow and on our final Thursday) that will delight in some way.  I asked my writing group to flood me with questions about living in Utrecht last year.  I want to know what is of interest to them.  Having an immediate and familiar exigence is helpful.