A day of resistance and lessons

SEED logoThe SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) Showcase: Tools of Resistance is the first educational conference I’ve been to in many years, and I was excited. Since it was held just 20 minutes away at the First Congregational Church in Oakland (affectionately called First Congo by its parishioners), I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to drive there. I found parking right away—because, for once, I was early!—and entered through the blue door as specifically instructed on our pre-conference materials.

Loud rap music was coming over the loudspeakers in the main hall, setting a distinctly different atmosphere from any educational conferences I’d ever been to. I gathered various free materials (a mainstay of any teachers’ workshop), made my way over to get a bagel and coffee (also an important component of any teachers’ workshop), and grabbed a seat in the front row for the whole-group event.

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My paper haul from the conference. I resisted buying the got privilege? T-shirt.

After a brief mindfulness exercise to get us all centered, Dr. Eddie Moore, founder of the White Privilege Conference, took the stage. He began by telling us he was an emotional mess and has been since November. (Nobody in our progressive Bay Area crowd had to ask what he was referring to.) I listened eagerly, expecting to agree with everything he said, and I appreciated his energy and passion. He compared our struggle with racism to the relationship between the dominant lion and the innocent lamb. While I didn’t entirely understand his metaphor, it made for a striking visual.

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The slide Dr. Moore used to illustrate his Theory of Incapability.

He stirred us up with a rousing call to action, and I found myself nodding a lot. Yes, it is scary knowing that white supremacists have the presidents’ ear. No, we can’t be complacent and accept this as normal. Yes, we must do what we can to resist!

Then he mentioned that even well-meaning white teachers did not see future doctors and lawyers when they saw black boys in their classrooms, and he bemoaned the fact that he had to send his son—a black boy—to kindergarten where his teacher was a white woman.

It was as if a fully saturated roll of paper towels had hit me in the chest. I’m a white woman who has taught black boys, and I sincerely hoped that none of their parents felt that way about me. I know in my heart I never expected less of any of my students based on their race. Don’t I?

I was feeling resistance, but it was not in the way I’d expected. I let that sit with me for a while and consciously worked against my gut reaction. Somewhere in the back of my head I heard my daughter telling me that this was tough work and in order to make progress, I was going to be uncomfortable sometimes.

Then it was time for small-group work. Our name tags were color coded to divide us into groups of ten to twelve. (Go Team Red!) Our leaders went over the procedures for SEED meetings and gave us a question as a writing prompt, after which, we took turns in triads sharing our responses in precisely timed three-minute segments. I went last and finished in under sixty seconds. Although the SEED way is to embrace any silence that occurs before the timer goes off, it is not in my nature to sit quietly. So I just kept adding thoughts until it was time for crosstalk, which is SEED’s term for discussion among the triad members. Then it was time for popcorn (which, as it turns out, did not mean it was snack break.) Apparently popcorn is the term used for the discussion that happens in the small group (bigger than the triad, smaller than the whole group). People shared thoughts and feelings that had come up for them during Dr. Moore’s talk.

And out of nowhere I shared something I had not ever planned to talk about, all in the spirit of being open, I guess. Even as I was blathering, I began to worry that I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. What would my Team Red colleagues think? Immediately afterward, a kind soul reminded us that this was a safe space and thanked us for being willing to share feelings that might make us uncomfortable. I knew she was thanking me because, as far as I could tell, nobody else had said anything they wouldn’t be perfectly fine announcing to a crowd of strangers. I appreciated that and no longer worried about consequent judgments.

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Dr. Flyswithhawks presents Dr. Moore with a Tsalagi blanket, which he proudly wears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a break, we reassembled in the main hall to hear Santa Rosa Junior College psych professor and former co-director of SEED, Dr. Brenda Flyswithhawks. A member of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) tribe, she started her presentation with a mini-lesson on the recent events at Standing Rock. A warm, funny woman who credits her grandmother as being her greatest teacher, Dr. Flyswithhawks shared several personal anecdotes about her experiences with and reactions to racism.

The most incredible story dated back to an incident that happened when she was a child. She remembers her grandmother hurrying all the children to the back of her house one day to hide. And when they emerged, little Brenda went out to the front yard, where she found her uncle hanging dead from a tree, the victim of hooded Klan members, who wanted to show Native people just what they thought of them. Years later, when she working toward her doctorate, she persistently made efforts to sit down with the grand dragon of the KKK. When she finally got a meeting with him, she told him she forgave him and told him about that traumatic day from her childhood. I have no idea what that meant to him, but she explained that the forgiveness was for her, not for him.

I could not relate. I don’t possess that kind of forgiveness, and I was floored to hear of someone who did.

We wrote our evaluations and jotted down questions on cards that were not quite 3 x 5 to submit to our speakers for an end-of-the-day conversation. Although the schedule claimed that the conference closed with a mindfulness exercise, I think that got skipped in favor of letting the Q&A time go longer. Even so, they got around to only a fraction of the questions, so I felt fortunate that both of mine were answered.

boy-cryingI’d asked Dr. Moore how he reconciled leaving his boy in the hands of a white woman every day, knowing he preferred not to. He replied honestly that it wasn’t a matter of reconciling it, that he still has a hard time with it. And I could hear the pain in his voice as he picked up a piece of paper and replied, “Every day, I hand my boy over whole.” Then he ripped the paper into strips, letting them fall to the floor as he said, “And every day, this is what I get back.” He proceeded to piece the strips back together on the ground and added that even after this process, his son was never as whole, that creases remained.

That is when I understood his side of the story. I may do the best job I can do as a white woman, but I could never be the perfect teacher for his son. Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect teacher, but a parent always wants the best for his or her child. And he was speaking as a parent.

My question for Dr. Flyswithhawks was “How were you able to get to a place where you could forgive the grand dragon of the KKK for the death of your uncle, even understanding that the forgiveness was for you?” Her answer: grace–the grace she has as a spiritual woman, the grace she learned from her grandmother. She was a great believer in prayer, even as she conceded that some of us in that room would be uncomfortable with the concept of prayer.

There was that idea again—being uncomfortable. Here I was, a devout atheist since the age of 11, looking up to a woman of faith and appreciating her for all that she was. This by no means changed my thoughts on God, but I didn’t have that automatic reaction to discount what else she said, as–I admit–I might have before.

So the day was full of lessons: I learned that I could be vulnerable without negative consequences. I learned that I could listen and hold onto ideas that were contrary to my own without having to argue against them. I learned that I could accept wisdom from someone whom I truly admired but wasn’t completely aligned with ideologically.

And I needed to work on being comfortable with silence. That one might be tough.

A different kind of urban hike

 

img_2698The night before the march we got out the poster board and broad-tipped Sharpies in five different colors. I spent way too much time looking for catchy phrases to put on my sign. We’d heard that in New York no rulers–or anything that could be used as a weapon–were allowed to hold signs. So I punched tiny holes in mine, inserted string, and planned on wearing mine sandwich-board style. In the time it took me to make one sign, Dave had made six–enough to make three two-sided signs so that he’d have some to give away to people who didn’t have any. Dave’s two-sided ones were “Ally/No Bully,” “Resist/Fight,” and “Free Melania/No Country for Old, White Men.” Mine was “No Hate. No Fear. Everyone Is Welcome Here.”

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The day began with scattered showers, so we wore our raincoats and put clear packing tape on our protest signs to protect them from the rain. I’d looked online for what to pack for a protest march, but it wasn’t actually that helpful. I already wear sunscreen every day, and I generally carry a water bottle. I honestly didn’t expect to get pepper-sprayed, so the suggestion for vinyl gloves (so you won’t spread the pepper spray via your hands) didn’t seem relevant to me. And writing your emergency contact number on your arm in Sharpie (because they take your phone away from you in the slammer) seemed like overkill. Besides, I know Dave’s number, and if I got carted off to the hoosegow, he probably would be too.

I packed some Band-aids, a portable container of hand sanitizer, an ear-warmer, and a kazoo. Dave was really smart and brought cashews. We picked up our friends at their house and headed for the North Berkeley BART station. By the time we were halfway there (near Monterey Market), we were already seeing people walking with their signs toward the station. So we parked and walked the last half-mile to the station. It was early in the day, and we had energy to spare, so why not?

We saw the lines around the BART station from the moment we turned the corner onto Virginia Street around 10:20 a.m. I wish I’d thought to take a picture, but I was focused on getting to the march. Luckily, Berkeleyside did it for me. The pic below was taken just a few minutes before we arrived there. We were so glad that we had clipper cards and got to bypass the lines buying tickets. Apparently there were still lines to board BART an hour later.

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North Berkeley BART station @10:05 a.m. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cardozo

Once inside, the atmosphere was festive–people reading each other’s posters and discovering friends among the crowds on the stairs and platforms. I heard my name called from above the escalator and turned to see a friend who’d moved to Connecticut years ago!

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photo courtesy of Berkeleyside

Unbelievably we snatched some seats in the last car of a train that was heading toward San Francisco but stopping at Oakland’s 12th Street station. Many people had stayed on the platform to wait for a train that would head further east and drop them off at the Lake Merritt station, which was closer to the beginning of the march route. But it turns out that the train that followed us couldn’t even stop at its scheduled drop-off point because of overcrowding at the station; so I guess we were lucky we’d gotten on the car we were on. With each stop, protesters piled in until we were surely beyond any capacity that train had ever seen. But everyone was kind and cheerful.

We emerged from the 12th Street station and set out to join the march already in progress. Streets were closed to traffic to allow the hoards of protesters to march down the middle of Oak Street up to Grand Avenue and along Lake Merritt. The march’s destination point was Oscar Grant Plaza (officially Frank Ogawa Plaza), where a rally would feature speakers, music, and other performers at 12:30.

img_2685It was really less a march and more a shuffle as thousands of people came together as one to take to the streets and express our deep disappointment in the presidential election’s outcome. But rather than spouting rage, we were espousing peace in a hundred different ways. The variety of signage was a testament to our boundless creativity and was evidence of our various passions. There were humorous ones (e.g., We Shall Overcomb), and the ones children carried (e.g., Be Nice), were the sweetest. Some used Trump’s own words against him (This Pussy Grabs Back!), and some relied on wordplay (Truck Fump). Some stated what should be obvious but isn’t (Women’s Rights Are Human Rights), and more than a few depicted ovaries and vaginas. I personally liked the alliteration in Viva la Vulva! As an editor, I also appreciated that 99 percent of the ones I saw were spelled correctly. And as Dave pointed out, maybe “facism” is a thing.

img_2691I was impressed by the range of people represented–women and men; infants to senior citizens; humans of every ethnicity and religion; folks in wheelchairs; some with canine companions; some with musical instruments; and lots with pink pussy hats. We were chanting, laughing, even dancing. We were all in such a good mood, so happy to be surrounded with like-minded people who might not have identical political views but who all agreed on one thing: we were mortified that Donald Trump was our newly elected president. For some, it was their first march; for others, it was the latest of many.

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There were those who staked out a spots along the route and watched the parade go by rather than become part of the swarm, but we all waved to each other. Several people lined up along the Oakland Museum, and many cheered us on from the second and third stories of their apartment buildings along Oak Street. We passed the courthouse, the library, the Scottish Rite Temple, and hugged the north shore of Lake Merritt. As some marchers split off down other streets to take shortcuts to the rally, the crowds thinned enough that we were able to pick up the pace a bit.

Around 1:30, when we turned from Grand Avenue onto Broadway, I was ravenous, so we stopped at The Old Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery for sustenance. The little corner shop was filled with other similarly hungry protesters, and we all made room for each other. Dave and I got two of the last three bagels and gobbled them as we rested briefly.

img_2693On our way out of the bakery, we ran into friends who were coming from the rally. Was it over already? It was supposed to go until 3:00. They said they enjoyed the music and the dancers, but they couldn’t really hear the speeches from  where they stood. So they decided it was time to grab a late lunch and march back home.

It was 2:00, and we were four blocks away from our destination. We could definitely still make it before it was over. But if we weren’t going to be able to hear the speakers, did we still want to go? Of course, if getting to Oscar Grant Plaza was really our goal, we could have walked the one block from the 12th street station and arrived there long before the rally began. Dave’s back ached and my feet hurt from all the standing on pavement. What can I say? We’re getting old.

No, being part of the march was our true aim. We were among the thousands in Oakland and over a million nation-wide that marched on Saturday. I didn’t know it at the time, but people marched all over the globe in solidarity. We are part of a movement that is going to fight back. We didn’t need to stand at the rally to prove that.

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We passed the Paramount Theatre and entered the 19th Street station, where many marchers had propped up their signs in a row as a visual record that they had been there. We waited on the platform  with dozens of others who were done protesting for the day. When the train’s door slid open, and nobody in the packed car seemed to be exiting, I asked if anyone was getting off. A voice behind me urged me to get on, so I started to step inside the car. Just then a man emerged from the crowd and pushed me angrily back onto the platform. I wish I could say I channeled Gandhi and practiced passive resistance.

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But I pushed back. And I may have said a bad word. Luckily, it ended with him grumbling under his breath that I was there for a stupid reason as he brushed past me and went on his way, apparently to accomplish something more important than defending women’s rights. In my head I had a few more choice words for him, but I ignored them and made my way onto the train to take us back to Berkeley, a little shaken and steamed but too tired to care about one dissenter in such a positive group.

Once on the train, a dad discovered that his toddler had lost a shoe and nicely asked if we could all look on the floor around us. Packed too tight for people to bend over, I assumed the shoe was gone-daddy-gone. But seconds later, an arm shot up holding a tiny sneaker, and everyone around us cheered. We were a team, a force to be reckoned with, a finder of shoes, and advocates for justice. We were a part of history, dammit!

If Saturday’s protest was any indication of the passion, resolve, and cooperation we are capable of, we have a good chance of making our voices heard.

It sure feels better than doing nothing.

A forager’s delight & some historical women

stoddard pathMy trusty Berkeley Path Wanderers map shows that Tilden Path (#65) and Hill Path (#66) are not built yet, which means I got to skip those two and head over to Stoddard Path (#67) on Grizzly Peak, Betty Olds Path (#68), and Anne Brower Path (#70). Inexplicably, no path with the number 69 is listed, built or unbuilt. Does that mean it existed once but was lost? This is not the first instance of a missing path. How would one lose a path exactly? Or was the person in charge of naming paths for the City of Berkeley at the time just not very  good with math?IMG_1861

In any case the three paths are close to each other, so it made for a simple itinerary.

Stoddard Path begins at Miller Avenue. If I’d been hungry, I’d have been in luck because the path is bordered by wild raspberry plants (to the observant forager) and an apple tree.

IMG_1860The scent of jasmine made for a pleasant walk. The last stretch–an easy stroll on fairly level ground–brings you to Grizzly Peak Boulevard.

From there it was a short distance to the Anne Brower Path, where I headed back down the hill along the shrub-and-ivy-lined dirt trail dotted with railroad ties. A tree with several intertwined branches provides shade as it reaches across to the tall wooden fence. Anne Brower ends on Miller at a fire hydrant.

The Betty Olds Path picks up just below Miller on Whitaker. As I embarked upon IMG_1872on the narrow path, I heard wind chimes off to the left. Further down, I noticed the fence on one side was essentially some light-colored heavy-duty cloth stretched between wooden frames and connected by posts. This arrangement allowed sunlight onto the path without sacrificing any privacy. It looked to me like a series of canvases awaiting painters to come through and turn the path into a gallery. Some peeling manzanita hugged the wooden fence on the right. Below my feet were the smashed remains of what looked like cherries, but I was never able to identify any cherry trees. I exited the Betty Olds Path Sterling onto Sterling, where I walked until I revisited the top half of Stevenson Path to get back to my starting point.

Anne Brower
Anne Brower

For today’s walk, I decided to do a little research.

Anne Brower, according to the Daily Planet, was a local environmentalist who frequented the walkway that was originally named Twain Path but was later referred to as Twin Path. (Somewhere the “a” got lost, I guess.) Berkeley City Council member Betty Olds worked to get the upper half of the path renamed to honor Brower after her death in 2001.

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Betty Olds next to the path named for her

This same Betty Olds, known as queen of common sense, retired from public service in 2008 at the age of 88, and the path was named to honor her in 2014. According to Berkeleyside, Olds was “instrumental in securing city funds to finance the first map of the Berkeley pathways.” The walkway that is now called Betty Olds Path was the lower half of the same Twain Path that was renamed for Brower. (But fear not, Twain fans, there is a Twain Way on the map that looks like it may be built in the future.)

I have no idea who Stoddard Path was named for. The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association‘s website offered no information on the person. The only person I was able to dig up was a Herbert Stoddard, who was a conservationist from the South. But there’s no evidence that he had any connection to Berkeley, so he probably isn’t the Stoddard for whom the path was named. If anyone out there has an idea of who this Stoddard is, please write it in the comments section.

 

Remembering Mom and the Change

momWhen my mother was several years younger than I am now and she felt warmer than she thought she logically should be or, for that matter, displayed any number of symptoms, she’d sigh in this resigned way and utter in her slow Oklahoma drawl, “I guess I’m going through the Change.” That’s Change with a capital “C.”

At that point I’d abandoned my hometown of Oklahoma City and gone to school in California. The first time I recall her saying this was after my freshman year of college, and I really didn’t know what she was talking about. I’m a pretty straightforward person who doesn’t bother with euphemisms. When people are no longer living, I say they are dead—none of this passing on business for me. I never got a “visit from my Aunt Flo.” I got my period. Period.

Which segues me right back into Mom’s constant proclamations that she was going through the Change. All I know is that her transformation seemed to be taking a long time. I heard about it every time I was home for the summer until I graduated. And when I got my first apartment in Oakland and Mom came to visit, she still wasn’t done. In fact, I’m pretty sure she still hadn’t passed that milestone when I got married. Of course, she was only 49 then, so it’s conceivable that she had not yet crossed that bridge, but I wasn’t versed in the ways of menopause because it was so far in my own future as to seem irrelevant. I guess I don’t actually know when she technically went through menopause.

When I was a child, Mom was at home. She was always first in line to pick me up from school. She was the assistant coach for my sister’s softball team. She sewed dresses for me, drove us kids to piano and guitar lessons, and had dinner on the table every night at 6:00.

But while I was away, she became active in the Oklahoma Women’s Indian Federation and rose in the ranks to become president—this from a woman who rarely mentioned her Choctaw blood the whole time I was growing up in her house.

And she became an advocate for rape survivors, which means that when a rape was reported, she was called in to be with the victim and explain her rights and options before, during, and after she was examined. Mom held the hands of a lot of traumatized women in pain and shock. And if the survivor chose to testify at trial, she’d accompany her.

Mom also taught herself how to use a computer and got her GED. She took up beading, went to powwows, and probably did a lot of other things I didn’t even know about.

On second thought, maybe when I went off to college, she did go through Changes with a capital “C.” And she just kept evolving. Maybe she never was talking about menopause…

 

A month of scarves: New Year’s Day

Alice's scarfTechnically this is not part of a month of scarves because it is January 1, and therefore no longer December. But today we scatter the ashes of Alice and Mark, my in-laws, near the home where Mark grew up in Montecito in Santa Barbara County, and I thought it was fitting to wear one of Alice’s scarves for the occasion. They were my stand-in parents after both of mine died, and now Dave and I are both orphans (though at age 52, I don’t know if that’s an accurate term to describe us).

Rest in peace, Mark R. Peattie and Alice June Richmond Peattie. You were very loved.

Chirp, chirp!*

Cecil & Dave @the Wash
Cecil & Dave @the Wash

It was a gorgeous, sunny day  when Dave and I drove down Highway 101 toward Pomona College in Claremont for our 30th class reunion. On the way, we stopped to have a long, leisurely lunch with our friend Fred in San Luis Obispo and avoided traffic by reaching L.A. long after rush hour. We stayed at Hotel Claremont & Tennis Club, which is actually just a motel right off the San Bernardino freeway with some tennis courts. The next morning we had what they call continental breakfast on paper plates in the “clubhouse,” where the water dispenser was broken, and the coffee was awful and only tepid, but Maria made us some Belgian waffles and the bananas were too green for Dave but perfect for me.

We grabbed some real coffee at 42nd St. Bagels in the Village, which is the tiny downtown area of Claremont, before arriving on campus. But walking up to Seaver House to register, I realized that I probably should have opted for iced coffee because the temperature was climbing rapidly. We received our blue bags with the Pomona symbol proudly displayed on the side, and inside was a booklet outlining the weekend’s events and a three-page list of all the Pomona alum who had died in the last few years. Luckily I saw no names from the class of ’84. Despite that somewhat depressing note, we ventured onto campus, eager to begin reunion festivities.

The first thing on my list was to visit the Challah for Hunger table at the student union. One of my former first graders, Rachel Hamburg, had started this Friday tradition of selling challah and donating the proceeds to organizations that feed the hungry back when she was at Pomona, and even though she has since graduated, I wanted to support her efforts. And, hey, the challah was delicious! We made a stop at each of my dorm rooms (outside only—I didn’t disturb their current residents) and walked the campus, surveying the many changes that had occurred even just since our 25th reunion. We stopped by the new Student Life office (which I realize sounds like a student center but is actually the school newspaper) to get the latest issue, but it was all closed up. Luckily, a friendly student offered us his copy that Dave noticed tucked under his arm. Then we stopped by the Senior Art Show where a very talkative woman from the class of ’64 showed me a quilt she’d made and brought with her. (I guess she thought it was that kind of senior art show…) Dave got to visit with the prof that took a group of students to Florence, which reminds me that I still regret not studying abroad when I had the chance….

Brian Dunbar trying to do mouth trick
Brian trying to do mouth trick

The first official reunion function we attended was the Mexican buffet, where we saw Gina, who had made the trip from New York; Ken and his husband Theo, all the way from Amsterdam!; and Carol, who had flown in from Piedmont which of course is about twenty minutes away from Berkeley, but we never see each other. As we ate dessert, Richard and Patty found us, having flown in from New Jersey. I immediately made Richard do that amazing trick he does with his lips. Because that’s what you do at reunions.The English department was co-hosting a wine and cheese gathering at Crookshank Hall where I had spent many hours in lit classes, so I dragged my history major husband and bio major friend along with me, since their departments weren’t doing anything. It was a pretty small crowd and none of my former teachers was there, but I spotted Mac Barnett, class of ’04 and noted children’s author! I chatted with him a bit and enjoyed some yummy fruit tarts. And I talked with Jimmy, Suzy, Dayna, and even the prof I didn’t know.

Since we had a few hours until the next event, we hung out in the courtyard outside the student union, where Dave befriended Bob, class of ’54. Bob had known Dave’s dad and uncle Noel (classes of ’51 and ’54) and talked about the old days until it was time to head over to Frary Dining Hall for the wine tasting. Of course there was food there too, and I realized that what with the challah, the cookies at the art show, the Mexican buffet, and the wine and cheese from the English Department tea, this was the fifth time we’d been presented with food since our clubhouse waffles, and we hadn’t even had dinner yet! All the wineries represented there belonged to Pomona grads and poured wine freely. More friends, lots of wine, tiny quiches, and chocolate-covered strawberries—it really doesn’t get better than that!

Except it did. The slide show highlighting music and school photos from the last seventy-five years played on either end of the gym while we ate our dinner. Each class cheered louder than the last when its year was represented. We drank more wine. (And I definitely ate more than one macaroon.) Then we went to a party in the basement of the student union where there was more wine and beer and lots of chips and cookies. In case we hadn’t gotten enough to eat….

Saturday was spent mostly on Marston Quad eating even more and seeing even more classmates. Brian wore a shirt that Patty and I insisted was green and Brian just as vehemently insisted was yellow. Or maybe it was the other way around….I teased Robin about her title as the “appliance queen” junior year. (She had a microwave, hot curlers, and a food dehydrator in her dorm room!) Ross and Dennis arrived between meals. And Susie and Jim and Charna and Grant and Jon and Bill and Julie and Karen and Sue and Paul and lots of others showed up too.

The parade of classes began with the golf carts carrying the eldest alum, followed by increasingly younger folks, all of us displaying our class banners, some classes prouder than others of their chosen mottoes. Because we were the class of 1984, we were always under an Orwellian shadow and had a pretty lame banner that proclaims us to be “Class with a Vision.” As each class passed, the younger classes waved and cheered them on, except of course for the class of 2009 because there was nobody left to clap for them. As everyone else paraded into Big Bridges Auditorium to listen to the inevitable pitch for the alumni fund, our bunch wandered back to our tented table on the quad. We already gave, and it’s the same spiel every five years, so we figured we’d heard it already. The only really fun time was our 25th, when Don and Brian dressed up as a horse and our class all wore glow sticks.

Me in collapsing castleThe temperature was up in the 90s, so when Patty and I spied someone dumping a huge container of melting ice out on the lawn, we immediately plopped our feet in the icy puddles for relief. And because most of the children of alum had already abandoned the bouncy house, Patty, Sue, and I decided it was our turn. We bounced for awhile and even went down the slide. But Patty and Sue got out before it started losing air and imploding. I did not. As the walls of the castle came down around me, Sue and Patty dragged me out. It was not a graceful dismount.

Chips, salsa, guac, and many kinds of beer awaited us at the Wash during cocktail hour. The Wash is an amphitheater that used to be sort of dilapidated back in the day, and it was the place to be every Friday afternoon where the kegs of cheap beer flowed. Now it has a nice lawn area and a fence around it, and the beers they served were premium beers. Sometimes change is good.

The word of the day was wenis, which nobody else there knew. (It’s the skin on your elbow. Go ahead—look it up.) I had learned it from my daughter, who said it was a big joke in elementary school, because pretty much any word that rhymes with penis is going to be funny in elementary school. Or to people celebrating their 30th year reunion…

For the final dinner, alum were scattered throughout the campus, each class eating with their own classmates, so it was rather a small grouping that ate dinner together that night. We were entertained by the Blue & White, a female a capella group who did a fun medley of California-themed songs among other pieces. Dave even bought one of their CDs. Our table definitely had the most fun. At one point I sort of realized that I was the only female seated among gay and bisexual men—there wasn’t a single straight person at our table. There was one almost tense moment when we got to reminiscing, and I referred to the two-week stint when Ross and I were a couple. Which apparently was news to his husband, even though he and Ross have been together probably twenty years. I think Ross still has the upper hand though. Four years into their relationship, Dennis accidentally referred to his ex-wife. I guess it had slipped his mind…

Seaver House brunch
Sunday brunch at Seaver House

I think my favorite moment came when we were saying our goodbyes. One of my former classmates, who was someone I knew to say hi to but didn’t know really well when we were in college, told me I was a lovely person with great sincerity and then said that he wished we’d known each other better when we were at school. I said, “It’s never too late!” And I mean it. I loved Pomona and a lot of people I knew then. But there are still alum that I’m getting to know thirty years later. Which is pretty cool, I think.

And I hope you and Theo were serious when you said we could stay with you in Amsterdam, Ken, because we might just take you up on it!

*Pomona’s mascot is the sagehen. I know it’s silly, but that’s why when alum run into each other, they say “chirp.”

Why I love public radio, part 1

cityartsandlecture-300x300On the way home from a friend’s book launch (that will have to be a separate post), I turned on the radio to one of my pre-tuned public radio stations, KQED, and heard part of an episode from the City Arts & Lecture series. I recognized Michael Krasny’s voice from KQED’s Forum and listened to him interview Helen E. Fisher, a biological anthropologist. The topic was the science of love and attraction, but the idea that I found the most thought provoking was one Fisher brought to light in response to Krasny’s question regarding nature versus nurture.Michael Krasny

Fisher said that the more we learn about biology, the more we can control our responses to it. Yes, we are born with tendencies, some of them quite strong. But our culture shapes what biology has given us. And because humans have free will, we can choose whether to passively become what is easier by nature or forge another path. Fisher said she thought it was time to throw out the old nature versus nurture paradigm because it set up a false dichotomy that didn’t take into account a third player—free will.

So biology is not destiny. But neither is culture. We are neither solely a product of our nature or our nurture. That’s not new—the obvious answer has always been that we are a combination of the two. But Fisher brazenly threw out the whole nature/nurture argument, which makes so much sense to me. It’s as if I’ve always felt this in my bones but assumed that there was only way that I was allowed to view it.

Helen Fisher
Helen Fisher

This little snippet of an interview that I just happened to hear gave me an entirely new lens on which to view life and the way the world works.

And that’s just one of the many reasons I love public radio.