Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I wrote the last entry on Saturday night. I am still working on loading my already-written posts...

Maybe we all need tinted glasses

For the second time in a 24-hour period, I encountered racism and I am ashamed of both of my responses: I did nothing. I think my shock of each situation locked my tongue in place. Of course, I think of clever replies AFTER the conversations have ended.
Yesterday, a neighbor was standing outside the apartment complex, smoking a cigarette, when I pulled up. I had just gotten off work, still in my uniform, ready to take a load off, when he asked about Murfreesboro (my car tag still has a frame that says "Murfreesboro, though I have Louisiana tags now). We talked for a few minutes and in that time he mentioned his son just graduated from MTSU, he used to live in Memphis, and how the blacks were ruining this nation.
Excuse me?
Nervous laughter tried to hide my awkward response as we parted ways. He was wrong. And I didn't stand up for what I believe in.
Then today, a lady came into the visitor center. She announced that she was there to see the art since she knew the artist personally. We have several amazing artwork pieces on display by a local artist. He is a man of color and many of his pieces include historical references to African American history. This piece is hand-carved and painted with historical scenes; it is moving, especially to consider the details that went into it:

From researching family history to reading about local experiences, I can only imagine the fullness of emotions that he must have felt while creating the piece. The piece displays vignettes of the Middle Passage, slavery, freedom, lynching, the KKK, soldiers from the United States Colored Troops, among other scenes.
The lady who announced that she knew the artist personally, looked at the pieces and stated, "the blacks need to come in here more." I was about to agree, especially considering we very rarely get any visitors who are not white. I was also about to mention how the artwork draws a crowd that does not traditionally visit, too. Before I could say anything, the lady continued. "The blacks need to come in here and see this place. They need to know they aren't the only people that suffered. My people suffered, too. Maybe if they saw that, they wouldn't complain about their rights so much. They just need to get over themselves."
My mouth mimicked that of a fish. I didn't know to respond, in part because I felt angry, in part because I felt shocked, and in part because it hurt me to know that here in 2012, we still have to grapple with something so petty as the color of skin. "right! I totally forgot that part of your people's story! How they were kidnapped, enslaved, beaten, raped, stripped of all basic human rights for centuries based entirely on their skin color! Oh, wait. That wasn't you..." No, I didn't say it. And no, it isn't right of me to compare the mistreatment of one people group to another. But there is a lot more to the story than "my people were once a victim" for many cultures/regions/populaces.
I felt it ironic that she made her claim next to one of the strongest pieces of the art collection: a carved foot with a shackle bound around the ankle. The artist found a story in the slave narrative of a slave who had been shackled to a tree. The slave cut off his own foot so he could be free. The point of the collection is to inspire thought, provoke questions. What does it mean to be free? What does freedom mean to me? What would I be willing to pay for it? Would I cut off my own foot for freedom? The collection is well recieved BECAUSE there is no finger pointing or blame. It inspires.
So I let another opportunity pass me by. An opportunity for engagement. Maybe an opportunity to enlighten. An opportunity to listen and share. Instead, I just stood there as the lady finished looking and didn't talk to her before she left. I live in an often candy-coated world, viewing my world with rose-colored glasses, forgetting about the ugliness that sometimes exists. And that monster hiding under America's bed, that horrible, snarling thing called "racism," won't go away if people do nothing. Neither will it go away if people lash out all angry-like. So I will use today as a valuable lesson. I know I will encounter racism again. But this time, I will gird myself with patience and diplomacy and ferocity. I will patiently listen and not respond out of anger. I will diplomatically approach the situation and encourage new thought. And I will ferociously stand up for what is right.
Of course, I say those things in preparation of this happening again, hoping that it won't (there are my rose-colored glasses, again).
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It's all mental

In four days, I will be running my second half marathon ever in New Orleans. I will be running it in a tutu. I've been training for months. I've done this before. AND YET. I still have a massive amount of butterflies when I stop and think about it. Why? I have no idea.

My friend and partner in crime who is running it with me (also in a tutu) agreed that if anything, we can walk it out and it won't be the end of the world. At this point in time, no zombies will be chasing us, so it won't be the end of the world if we have to walk the last mile or so. In our tutus. But it is a mental thing. Mentally, I am tripping myself out enough to have had a "what if we don't finish" conversation. Mentally, I will have to push myself when my legs feel the burning with every step, hips throbbing, and energy stores plummeting. And ultimately, if I do have to walk it out (in my tutu), it won't be the end of the world, but mentally I will have to overcome a notion of failure.

It won't be failure, though. I will have lapped (several times) kid me: the one who opted to volunteer in the library than play kickball at recess. I have aleady conquered old me who could not hardly jog a quarter mile without gasping for oxygen. And I won't even say how I have treated vain me; I will be wearing a frilly purple and green tutu for a 13.1 mile run in public. Any self-consciousness I once had I have kicked in the rear end.

It turns out confidence is one of the top three problems that the majority of top athletes (like those who probably liked to play kickball at recess and now get paid for playing professionally) deal with. They are the good ones! People look up to them! Why would they have confidence issues?? It's all mental. It's about making the "I can do it" yell louder than the "No, I can't!" I just have to keep race day in perspective. In my tutu.

PS. I have written like three posts since I last published but my phone has not been agreeable so they haven't all posted. Bummer.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nerd Alert

I am on my lunch break. After finishing a delicious meal of southwestern chicken and rice soup, wheat crackers, and clementines, I settled into reading a chapter from a book about the Reconstruction era in Louisiana's sugar cane fields.

Because, as it turns out, you can take the girl out of school but you can't stop her from learning.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Memories of Iwo Jima

With the constant that has been my life these past few days, I did not have a chance to share about my encounter with a veteran last week. And seeing as today is the anniversary of the Marines flying the American flag over Mt. Suribachi, I feel today is a good day to share about my experience.

Last week, an older gentleman (probably in his nineties) visited the center wearing a hat that read "Iwo Jima Survivor." I greeted him and his son like I do with all visitors, let them look around. Before he left, however, I commented on his hat, thanked him for his service, and asked him who did he serve with? "The Marines," he responded. I smiled and said that I had visited a number of islands in the Pacific including Iwo Jima, and was familiar with many of the actions in the Pacific theater. He had more questions about what the islands were like now than answers for my questions. He shared several light-hearted stories about his time overseas, not focusing too much on the fighting. I didn't think to ask his name. But I feel very fortunate that I got to speak to him, albeit briefly.

The generation that lived during World War II continues to pass away at rates faster than even I can fathom. Unfortunately, so do their stories. Soon enough, we will be scrambling to capture memories of those who lived through the Korean War, through the 1950s and 1960s, our engagement with Vietnam, the Civil Rights movements, and well, time keeps marching on. My historian self wants to capture it all! But I can't. So I work to preserve that of which I can in the ways I know best. And I keep sharing my passion with others in hopes to spark interest, too.

I also wistfully dream of returning to the Pacific. Probably because my interest in history is tied to both the people and the places of history. And the scattering of islands spread throughout that expansive, brilliantly blue ocean call my name. Hmm, maybe one day I will have the opportunity to go back. I think it's time for me to start rereading my books on the Pacific theater...

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Le Courir de Mardi Gras

I am plumb wore out from a long week at work. Seeing as it was my day off, I decided to not set an alarm and sleep in. My body is so used to waking up at 5AM on work days that evidently, 5:45AM is "sleeping in." Oh, well. It will give me a chance to blog!

Yesterday, I spent the day in Eunice to help the Prarie Acadian Cultural Center staff with the influx of crowds. Mardi Gras is celebrated differently in Cajun Country. The "Courir de Mardi Gras" involves horseback runs, chicken chasing, ceremonial begging rituals that come from Medieval France, and, of course, music, dancing, and food.

The "run" starts in the morning. Participants are required to wear traditional costumes (I'll get to that in a minute). They travel from house to house in the countryside, essentially begging for whatever they can get to contribute to the communal gumbo that will be served later in the evening. What tends to happen is the house will contribute some form of live poultry (today more for the sport of the holiday). Chickens, guineas, or even ducks, are thrown into the wildly dressed crowds and they must catch the chicken. Bragging rights and more food for the gumbo follow. The afternoon parade through Eunice had hundreds of horses, several folks in their traditional costumes riding or walking, and some of the trailers that were used to transport the participants in the run earlier in the day.

These Mardi Gras celebrations are hundreds of years old. In Medieval France, as the winter was ending and peasant were running out of their winter stores (on the verge of starving), they had a day of communal begging. The peasants would go around and beg for whatever they could get to gather a last supply of food before Spring. Lent eventually comes into play, as the Catholic church assimilated the local tradtions of lack-of-food into a church holiday. Some Catholic churches practice Shrove Tuesday and some practice Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). One last day of feasting before a forty-day fasting period (tradtionally forty days before Springtime abundance in crops, eventually the Church incorporates Easter into the Springtime renewal as well... I am a little fuzzy where the egg-producing-bunny comes into play). I am getting sidetracked!!

These begging days would be days to diguise fully a person to be a better begger. You don't want a neighbor to know you were begging! Full costumes, hats, and masks would be a part of the day.

These costumes are on display at the Prarie Acadian Cultural Center.

Eventually, the begging rituals evolved into a holiday that included mockery of royalty, of wealthy, and of those in power. The pointy, fringed hats (called "capuchon") that are still used today, descend from Medieval courtly women's dress (think "Camelot"). The day was accepted as a celebration between classes; the peasants could beg from the rich while mocking them and the rich provided the beggars with something.

Today, modern innovations (like the refridgerated section at the grocery store) eliminates the whole life-dependency-on-seasons for first world countries. But the traditions remain. In fact, these types of celebrations can be found in several pockets throughout North America- all places where French populations settled.

Now the following forty days is supposed to be a sacrificial time, traditionally a time where no meat is allowed. I have had some older Cajuns tell me, however, that their seafood gumbo is so good that it is hard to think of it as a sacrifice. The joie de vivre (joy of living) can't be suppressed by even the somberest of holidays around here.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

More Louisiana Experiences

Some friends of mine invited me out last night to experience a hole-in-the-wall dining place called "Myran's." They were excited to eat crawfish and I... was not. After assuring me that there was lots of other good food (and that the waitress greets you with cold beer cans in her apron pocket- oh, the novelty!), I agreed.

I was late getting to dinner because of the traffice stopped by a Mardi Gras parade. What was I thinking!? But I impressed myself by navigating an alternative route without the help of any maps. After many dark, winding roads, I found the place. It rested on the edge of a bayou and the parking lot was packed. Clearly, this was where it was at for a Saturday night!

Indeed. The locals were out en masse for this:

Pounds and pounds of boiled crawfish. Ew. Just thinking about the critters makes my stomach flip. My friends insisted that I needed to try one. "I'll even peel it for you so you don't have to touch it," she offered. After convincing myself that I would not die after eating one, I agreed. She peeled it for me and put it on my plate. I put it in my mouth and chewed it really fast to just get it over with. As it turned out, I did not die. It didn't taste too seafoody and the texture wasn't so bad. I don't know if I will willingly eat another one, but now I can say I tried.

Since one friend was in the bathroom, we decided to take a picture to prove that I really did eat a mudbug. We started with this:

but I was told that with that piece of the crawfish I was holding that I would actually suck the juice out (gross) so I tried again:

Yuck. Ultimately, however, this is how I felt:

Ta da! I think I will stick with my chicken tenders.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Full Steam Ahead

I have made it back to Louisiana from my jamb-packed week of training, networking, bonding, discovering, and traveling. Some might say "whew" and take a minute to chill. But that's not my style. I spent the afternoon pumping momentum into a variety of projects I have going at work with a flurry of emails. Then last night I unpacked, did laundry, addressed the most serious of chores, and started a new art project (we'll call it "wall art"). Eventually, I realized I had been up for nearly twenty hours and should probably contemplate sleeping. What did I used to say while in school? I'll have plenty of time to sleep when I die.

It dawned on me today as I was reading policies and memorandums about civic engagement (and listening to our dulcimer-playing volunteers strum the tune of "Wayfaring Stranger") that I have found it. I have found that which I was meant to do. I love my work and pull massive amounts of satisfaction from it. I also pull satisfaction from the thought that I am making an impact (positively); knowing my efforts are not for naught is important to me. Now, I am not wearing rose-colored glasses and I know I will encounter life's hiccups (stress, etc). But it is almost difficult for me to accept how excellent things in my life seem to be going. I'll take it! I'll take it at full-steam ahead.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Mothership

Twice I have had near-completed blog posts erased (human error); I apologize for my lack of writing. I won't write much now, for I only have a moment before dinner. I am currently in Washington D.C. for training. I absolutely love to visit this nation's capital- it is one of my favorite cities. We are training at the Department of the Interior buildings, and being the history nerd that I am, I love considering the significance of these places. Major decisions have been made here, continue to be made here. And yes, I see myself working here one day.

The weather has been delightful (though it is supposed to turn foul tomorrow) and the training has been refreshing. I still have two more days here before I fly back to Louisiana. Maybe I will have some time during my travels to write more about my trip.

The Mothership (Department of the Interior)

A mural of national parks inside the Department of the Interior building

Another mural inside the building (there are a total of 47 murals, most dating from the 1930s)

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