Left-handed Lives Matter

My guy and I got into an argument at the breakfast table early one morning. I had asked the four-year-old at the table to please use her fork. She scrunched up her nose at me, picked the fork up with her un-practiced left hand and accidentally flipped scrambled eggs everywhere. “Sweetie, try using your other hand,” I suggested.

Since birth, she’s shown predominantly right-handed tendencies. I’m left-handed, and while it would have tickled my lefty-bone for her to have been also, I’m quite happy that she won’t have to deal with being left-handed in a right-handed world.

“Life is just easier if you’re right-handed,” I said nonchalantly while cleaning up scrambled eggs. I honestly believed the entire human species, or at least the people at the breakfast table, would concur disinterestedly.

Surprise. No.

My normally agreeable, right-handed partner became immediately defensive, and we had a heated volley with a little blonde referee interjecting as she could:

“Mama, don’t be mean to my papa.

“Papa, don’t yell at my mama.

“We’re not supposed to be loud at the dinner table.”

I had to stop and smile at that one; she still messes up the names of meals.

It wasn’t an ugly fight, more of a passionate debate. I was stunned to the point of silence that a right-hander would try to tell me what it was like to be a left-hander. (“Right-splaining?”) He doesn’t believe there’s any real difference or hardships, and as proof, he knows other left-handers who have never complained. In essence, he was calling me a whiner, a pessimist, and overly-dramatic. He assumed it must simply be my negativity and propensity to play the victim while blaming others that made me believe life was so much harder for lefties.

Of course, I hadn’t said that life was “so much harder”, but when I suggested righties might have it easier, that is what he heard.

Right-handed privilege may seem paltry, but it is in fact real. Lefties deal with uncomfortable school desks, unavailable or more expensive sporting equipment, our dominant hands being “unclean” in certain cultures, not to mention the countless everyday items built specifically for right-handers that often cause accidents and even death for lefties attempting to adapt. Lefties don’t live as long for this exact reason. Approximately one in ten people is left-handed; we are not a mass market. But our lives still matter, don’t they?

After the exchange ended, I felt slyly excited about what I had just witnessed. This was a cut and dry case of a societal privilege so ingrained that it had become invisible to someone who benefited from said privilege. And when it was called out, the privileged one basically exploded in defensiveness, blaming the minority who doesn’t benefit from said privilege for any discrimination they might face. My character, my beliefs and whole way of being were called into question simply because I dared to suggest he might have it a little bit easier.

See where I’m going with this?

We’re hearing a lot more about “privilege” these days…male privilege, white privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, cisgender privilege, and so on. None of these ideas are new, of course; it’s just that people of all walks of life are finally finding their voices and a more equitable platform on which to be heard.

But in large part, the comfortable majorities don’t like to talk about these kinds of topics. I get it. Hearing that others think we come from privilege makes us feel uncomfortable. We love our cozy bubbles and if we’re forced to look at those who aren’t so cozy, then darn it, we don’t feel as good about our cozy bubble anymore. We’re quick to pipe up about our tough lives while discounting the hardships of others. We all want the disadvantages we face to be recognized.

In truth, everyone falls somewhere along the broad spectrum of privilege, and frankly, it’s time to listen with compassion to those who don’t benefit where we do. On all fronts.

Acknowledging that I benefit from white privilege makes me feel, well, white. I haven’t had to “feel” my skin color before, and that’s exactly what privilege is. Simply being aware helps me see that there are a million examples throughout daily life where someone with a different skin tone would very much feel “not white”, not to mention be faced with pure discrimination. Especially now in the “get out of my country” Trump-era.

Speaking of male privilege, I am not male. Every single day I feel, in some minor or major way, the disadvantages of being female. This is not self-pity; I absolutely love being a woman. An unbroken woman has the fire and fight of a roaring lioness, beautiful in her power and cunning. Yet, undomesticated women are often vilified in their freedom, in their audacity to lead. They are torn down with a level of hate and vitriol male leaders simply don’t experience. (By the by, did you know that some research shows it is actually the alpha female who is the true leader of wolf packs observed in the wild?)

Women are turned into objects, possessions, and domestic role-fillers. We are diminished, discounted, and passed-over in ways that men will never have to worry about. We are abused, assaulted and killed by those closest to us in numbers men will never match.

The patriarchy is very real and often overwhelming in both its overt and invisible oppressiveness.

If you’re dismissive of this idea right away, slow down and ask yourself why you might be resistant. If it’s true for some, does that make it generally true or generally false? Remember the Women’s March earlier this year? My Facebook feed was full of derogatory comments from both men and women who were mistaking benevolent sexism for gender equality. Putting a positive yet patronizing spin on how women are treated as compared to men still points to privilege.

The idea of Christian privilege is sure to set some of us off like errant bottle rockets in a dry field. Mind you, I’m not saying you don’t have it rough, but faith-based persecution does not disprove Christian privilege. Your religion gets away with making laws out of your beliefs while other religions do not have that luxury. You get your religious holidays off, while Jews, Muslims and basically all other religions don’t. Your places of worship (except black churches) don’t get bombed, set on fire, surrounded by people openly carrying guns, and many other forms of targeted hate. Your religion isn’t seen as radical or inferior by school teachers who often openly normalize and subtly preach their own. You aren’t viewed by the general public as needing to be saved.

Before you fire off another Letter to the Editor cancelling your subscription because some woman dared to have an opinion, please know that I’m not saying it is wrong or bad to have privilege. All I’m saying is that life would be easier if you’re a right-handed straight white male who calls himself a Christian. Wouldn’t we live in a better world if we recognized our privilege and helped make it easier for those who don’t benefit where we do?

Perhaps you could let yourself sit in your discomfort for a little bit. Pray, maybe. At least just feel it. Hopefully own it. The unprivileged have to. Every day of their lives.

Or, you can bash about angrily, displaying your fragility for all to see, railing against the inevitable tides of positive change all these types of conversations point to. We all have a choice.

As for my family and me, we’re uncomfortable a lot. And that’s perfect; we want to grow in love and compassion. Even though it’s still a right-handed house, in doing research for this column, I learned that female cats are largely left-handed and since we have two, lefties are now the majority. Take that.

(Published in the April 2nd issue of the Warroad Pioneer. 120th Year, Issue 34)

Conditions at NW Angle School worsen; state reps, district 690 take note

On any given weekday throughout our long Minnesota winter, ten young elementary school students ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade take their spelling tests, work on math problems and eat their lunches all while wearing their winter jackets. During power outages, which are regular occurrences in this area of the state, they bring out the blankets and keep on learning.

During the spring rains, the students make a game of filling cups with the water that runs through the window frames and into their classroom. The many mold spots on the ceiling and in the stained fluorescent light fixtures don’t drip water; they pour water like a spigot. Buckets sitting beside desks and a constant mildew smell are barely blinked at.

When the weather is finally warm enough, the boys go to the bathroom outside to save on flushing. When the plumbing isn’t working at all, they use a portable toilet – the kind you might see on a big boat. Their teacher then carts the waste home to empty it into her own septic system.

Yes, over the last many years an unacceptable new normal has taken root at the quaint and often-lauded Angle Inlet School, Minnesota’s last one-room public school house.

Teacher Linda LaMie, who has been devoted to the school for thirty-odd years, and her students, and paraprofessional teacher’s assistant, Mrs. Samantha Shoen, have learned to adapt.

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Teacher’s Aid Samantha Shoen routinely works in her jacket and with a blanket.

“Living at The Angle is more challenging in a lot of ways than most other places in Minnesota,” said Mrs. LaMie. “We’re not complainers. We’ve adapted and learned to put up with a lot, but now that I see more and more how the building’s condition is impacting the kids’ ability to learn and do what kids need to do every day, well, it’s time to make some noise.”

For Mrs. LaMie, it has become normal to squeeze around the rows of plastic storage bins stacked seven-high beside her desk due to lack of closet space for materials and supplies.

It doesn’t faze anyone except visitors when an errant dodgeball during indoor Phy. Ed. knocks over stacks of books, scatters the in-process art projects or sends the spare boxes of tissues flying. The students adore their time to move and play, as all kids do, and in this small space, they’ve become as nimble as billy goats. No one has crashed into the piano. No one has hit their head on one of the aging desks. No one has been seriously injured tripping over the loose and wrinkled threadbare carpet.

Yet.

On Monday, April 10, State Representatives Dan Fabian and Matt Grossell made the long trek north to the top of Minnesota’s “chimney” to visit the small school. Co-authors of HF 1089, a bond bill that may finally provide funds for repairs and updates, legislative veteran Fabian and newly elected Grossell crossed the Canadian border and wound along the final 20 miles of bumpy gravel roads, all with the goal of touring the functioning-but-rundown school, meeting the students and talking to the community they’ve vowed to fight for.

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Rep. Grossell speaks to the children about his job while Rep. Fabian and Mrs. LaMie look on.

Remote and often overlooked, the Northwest Angle is on the map as a fishing destination. According to the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, the area brings in excess of $10M in economic impact to the state. And the community is growing. From 2014 to 2015, lodging expenditures rose 15%. And for the second year in a row, attendance at the small Angle school has measured in the double-digits.

The growth is highly significant in the life of Mrs. LaMie. She teaches all subjects to seven different grade levels, which is over 70 lesson plans each day. Last year, the school district (Warroad 690) brought on a part-time teacher’s assistant to help out with the workload. Mrs. Shoen, who graduated from UND with a double major in English and History is working towards her education degree and was once a student at The Angle School herself. The extra help came none too soon, especially considering that for years Mrs. LaMie’s job has also included responsibilities that teachers in nearby Baudette, Warroad, or Roseau, not to mention in the metropolitan areas south of here, would never be asked to complete.

She shovels snow and throws salt. She pulls weeds and trims the trees. She rolls out the septic blanket in the fall and puts it away in the spring. She maintains the water softener, adding salt and making minor repairs as needed. She functions in an IT roll, trouble-shooting the printer, fax machine, copier and student computers. She is a front desk receptionist, answering the school phone and all the correspondence received by visitors inquiring about the unique history of the area. She is the school nurse, the music instructor, art teacher, Phy. Ed. coach and so much more.

When it comes to building maintenance, often, if she doesn’t do these chores, they simply don’t get done. We all know that teachers across the country use their own resources to ensure their classrooms are fully stocked, which, in its broad acceptability, clearly speaks to the broken education system in our country. But, in Mrs. LaMie’s case at the Angle School, it’s reached an unacceptable standard far beyond what is experienced elsewhere.

School Damage Collage
There are many visible damage spots to the school; however, it is the decay and damage that can’t be seen that is the real concern.

Representative Fabian has been visiting The Angle for over thirty years, but this recent trip was the first time he’d been inside the school building. Warroad Public Schools, which encompasses The Angle, fall within his district. Representative Grossell held a campaign goal of visiting The Angle, and after he received letters from each of the students, he set a date.  Entering the school together for the first time, both had no difficulty seeing and smelling what all the current concerns stem from. The air exchanger hasn’t worked for years. The roof recently had tarpaulins nailed to it in several places. The bathrooms smell of must and mold. The classroom, while bright and bustling, is cramped and cluttered.

School health is traditionally an indicator of community health but not in this case, and perhaps that’s why the thriving Angle community has begun to stand-up as a group to get their message across. The condition of the building has been steadily deteriorating for years, and with the growth of the student body the extra use adds to the current strain on an already appalling facility.

State representatives have visited in the past, but this is the first time the community jumped into full-fledged action. They organized a full agenda, starting with a traditional Angle shore-lunch. The reps then spent time with the students and Mrs. LaMie, touring the school and noting building conditions. Later in the afternoon, the community gathered in St. Luke’s Church, the only other public building open during ice-out, and heard a brief legislative update from both reps as well participated in a Q&A session about the school and other community concerns.

The goal was to leave a lasting impression with Fabian and Grossell, who returned to their capitol jobs and other more pressing issues the next day. Despite bellies full of fried walleye and wild blueberry dessert, an earful of parent concerns and the sweet and subtle pleas of a humble study body asking for help, if history is any indicator, the reps will make promises onsite, but the dilapidated school and ten determined students will quickly be forgotten.

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The Angle school students and teacher Mrs. LaMie pose for a group picture with Reps Grossell and Fabian on their April 10th visit.

But the hardworking community doesn’t seem to be willing to stand for that any longer. “We are vote-casting, tax-paying members of 690 and want to see equal representation up here,” Angle resident and parent Lisa Goulet said. “We’re looking forward to seeing real results, not just the proverbial pat on the head that we’ve been getting for so many years.”

Four members of Warroad Public School District 690 were also present on Monday’s meetings with the students and State Representatives. Bearing school supply gifts for the kids, board members Brian Hontvet and Laurie Thompson, Building Facilitator Kelly Klein and Superintendent Paula Foley spent time listening and answering questions as needed.

It was the seventh trip that Foley had made to The Angle in her 1 1/2 years with the district. In the past, concerns have been raised regarding the school district’s financial status, which Foley has been addressing since coming on board in 2015. She also committed to a better accounting in the future of how the Northwest Angle’s levied tax dollars are being spent, and the matter is on the agenda for the Warroad School Board meeting on May 15.

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Superintendent Paula Foley reads to the Angle School kids on her recent visit. (Photo by Sam Shoen.)

The NW Angle is part of Lake of the Woods County but sends its kids to the Warroad schools due to proximity. Based on NW Angle real estate tax revenue over the last five years, an average of $377,216 has been transferred from Lake of the Woods County to District 690.

“Of these years checked, NWA residents assume 15-17% of the total dollars levied by the Warroad school district each year,” Stacy Novak wrote in answer to an email enquiry. Novak is the Lake of the Woods Property Tax Administrator and Deputy Auditor/Treasurer.

What this all means is that Angle residents’ concerns about adequate tax representation are absolutely valid. The Angle doesn’t make up 15-17% of the Warroad student body, and yet 15-17% of district dollars levied come from The Angle. That said, it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible or even possible to put that much money back into the Angle School each year. The district divides by student and by need not by big houses on expensive shoreline. Also, many of The Angle 7-12 graders are bussed into town and are part of the bigger Warroad School complex and all of its many activities and programs.

Still, The Angle school needs funds now. Quick fixes aren’t working any longer. It would be a boon to the district if the state bond bill would come through, but if it doesn’t, the district needs to step up and reallocate funds to make thorough renovations.

Back to the bond bill, the visiting representatives were genuine in their promises to do all they could to push it forward. Frustration was palpable in many voices during the community meeting, but ultimately the words of Representative Grossell rang loud and clear. “This is an absolute need. I’ve promised to fight for those in need, and this, to me, is a clear one.”

While the community has advocates in Reps Grossell and Fabian, the challenge remains to convince other members of the Capitol Investment and Education & Finance committees. The Speaker of the House needs to hear voices raised in unison. Voting members of the House and Senate who represent districts hours south of here have no concept of the school’s conditions, that the boys each have their own chosen tree to use when the plumbing isn’t working, that the girls sit huddled in snow gear to keep warm, and that the unseen mold may be causing health concerns.

In the past, teacher, students and community have tolerated the deplorable condition of their school because they must, and because they know with all certainty that this unique schooling experience is helping their community churn out a completely different brand of child.  There is no sense of entitlement among these kids. Bullying doesn’t exist. Their levels of adaptability, resourcefulness and resolve, as well as negotiation skills, are well above average. Measuring this is, of course, arbitrary, but one conversation with these kids, where first-graders are chiming in right beside sixth-graders, proves the case. Constant interaction with older students builds confidence and self-esteem, while day-to-day exposure to the younger ones grows them into helpful, compassionate individuals who know how to serve.

This community grows kids who are going to be part of a problem-solving shift that desperately needs to take place in our country and beyond. Very big real-world problems stem from an education system in chaos, from under-paid and under-appreciated teachers, from standardized testing that lumps all kids into one category.

And while the Angle Inlet School adheres to all Minnesota public school policy, it is the unique environment that makes up for it. These students foster a decade-long relationship with one teacher. They learn and benefit from the contributions of community members near and far. They turn into teachers themselves, college professors, principals, assistant principals, law assistants, lawyers, physical therapists, graphic designers, nurses, members of the armed forces, fishing guides, stay-at-home moms – the ultimate teacher, and so much more.

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With aging playground equipment as the backdrop, teacher Linda LaMie speaks with State Representative Matt Grossell, school board member Laurie Thompson and Warroad Community Partners board member Cyndy Renfrow.

During that Monday town hall Q&A with the state reps, “plan B” was brought up quite quickly. Though the words weren’t spoken, Representative Fabian didn’t appear confident that the bond bill would even make it to the floor.

“I’m hopeful that we have a bonding bill this year. I really, really am,” Fabian said, before expounding for several minutes on the merits of a possible philanthropic drive to raise money for the school. “There’s some discussion about whether we will [have a bonding bill] this year or not, but I think that it’s absolutely vital that we do. People like Matt and myself have spoken up a number of times in the caucus meetings about the importance of a bonding bill especially with regards to projects like this.”

If the worst happens and the bill is tabled, it would be the second year in a row that the NW Angle school, which is asking for $700K out of an $800 million bond bill, would get the shaft. The students would suffer in silence for another long winter. The building, under the care of an over-worked, retirement-age school teacher who earns no more than other teachers of her tenure, will continue to fall-apart.

If the worst happens, the students will keep on growing into responsible contributing adults, but it won’t be because our state proved they cared for them by funding an adequate facility. It’ll be because the community then had to resort to a herculean fundraising drive. It’ll be because their teacher never gave up and always went the extra mile. It’ll be because an already -strained school district pulled together and found pennies here and there.

The community cares and is determined to make it work, but more than anything they want their elected government, from school board members up to the state reps and senators, to do this work for them. It’s why the system exists in the first place. No matter what, we fight for our kids because students who are well-provided for become adults who make a difference. And those are the adults who are going to change the world.

This isn’t just for the kids; it’s for all of us.

(Published in the April 18 issue of the Warroad Pioneer )

(A shorter version was published in the April 12th issue of Williams/Baudette Northern Light Region.)

(Featured intro photo by Sam Shoen.)

Peace vs. Prosperity

From time to time, I forget that life is about service.

I get caught up in how I want it to look, in my attachments to how this world and this life are “supposed” to behave for my benefit and pleasure. It’s especially visible when a grudge that I didn’t even realize I was holding lifts suddenly…like knowing that on a gray and rainy day the sun is still shining behind the clouds.

I’ve been holding a mini grudge against The Angle, and a bigger one against our country. Of course, the places are inanimate; they are man-made locations on a map that wouldn’t exist but for the take-and-delineate desires of humankind.

Still, I built a beef in my mind against some perceived wrong-doing I had to endure, next the people started representing the place as a whole, and then I set about suffering as if it were my lifelong ambition.

It started with dollars and cents, as it often does in our money-hungry capitalistic culture. Previously, I had always believed I was the type who put people before money. I even passionately declared as much to a group of us at a recent meeting of our non-profit snowmobile club. I was voicing dissent over a string of decisions that I thought had put dollars and cents before people, before community.

The voice that rang loud and clear in my mind after the confrontation ended was a direct quote, “Why should we pay the money if we don’t have to?”

I interpreted it as “why, if no one is going to legally force us, should we do the right thing?”

And as a result of my intense focus on that negativity, a few weeks later my family’s personal business took a financial hit from the same direction for the same reason. In the messy cluster that was my relationship over the last two years, which I’ve written about very openly in the past, here, here, and here, certain business obligations went by the wayside. As in, we failed to bill for services rendered for 2.5 years. It was a source of plenty of shame and embarrassment.

We make the often-arduous trek to town five days a week, and as a service we run errands for people and businesses across The Angle and islands. We also do a lot unbilled personal favors because it’s the right thing to do. Once life got organized (and sober), it was time to deal with what we had put off. My beautiful man, in his quiet, unselfish way, would have kept on serving, asking nothing in return. But me, well, I guess I’m more money-hungry. We had done the work, and though we were late, we finally sent a bill.

The statute of limitations for billing is six years in the state of Minnesota, but as a professional courtesy, and mostly to alleviate my shame, we gave people the option to “pay what you think is fair” for anything over one year old. Every single business but one paid in full and with kind regards. The largest check, however, the one that, as it turns out, would have bought my family two acres of land, didn’t arrive.

And the words began to ring louder in my mind’s ears: “why should we pay the money if we don’t have to”.

I gave them an “out,” and then I held it against them when they took it. I judged them, and then I became them. I had put money before people. Even this writing about it feels like a selfish venting of the perceived slight. My ego needs checking. My money-hunger is getting the better of me. And it all feels so sleazy.

It feels similar to the grudge I was holding against our country for constantly electing politicians who seem to put money before people and who spread the fear-based message that “others” are looking to disrupt our comfort. It feels like the resentment I held against my neighbors who seemed more apt to defend a billion-dollar oil corporation over a down-trodden minority protecting their only water source. Or, it is like the contempt I fostered towards those who focused, for example, on the overflowing garbage cans that the Women’s March left behind instead of the message of love, equality and empowerment it was trying to spread. I’ve been unhealthily internalizing all types of these “bad guys vs. good guys” battles, always assuming I was on the right side.

But in going to battle, in creating the battle in the first place, I can see that I alone am responsible for setting up my world in an “us against them” manner. I’m judging others and then doing the exact same thing. I’m blaming others for my discomfort and turning life into victimhood. I’m putting perceived slights above relationships, money before people, and grudges in front of my desire to serve community and country.

I don’t want to be that person.

I want to be someone who serves selflessly. I want to make the world more beautiful for having been here. I want to get back to my dreams about building a public park here at The Angle. I want to tell the survival stories of the elders and adventurers here. I want to help The Angle’s one-room school house build another room so we can better prepare our children to go out and give back. I want to be a giver not a taker.

Mother Teresa once said, “A life not lived for others is not a life.”

I want those words to ring in my head, not the ones about money. I don’t want some corporatized definition of prosperity. I want a real life, not a never-ending battle. In all regards, I just want peace.

(Published in the April 4th Warroad Pioneer)

Bringing the Light

(Column 49 – published in the Jan 31st Warroad Pioneer)

My time for despair is over.

Several times in previous columns I have said that this writing-it-down, this metabolizing it onto paper through my soul’s fingers is my therapy. Like walking or talking or exercise, it is the way I work through the suffering, coming out leaner, stronger, more open to the grace that is my everyday compass.

My previous column entitled “Not Ready to Make Nice” was written through the lens of despair, and surprisingly, to no one more than me, it was well-read. It was called both “hate-filled” and “inspiring.” I was called both “courageous” and “a petulant child.”

January 24th edition of the Warroad Pioneer

My intention now isn’t to rebut the rebuttal, but I do think it’s vitally important to continue the conversation. It must start in towns like ours, between disagreeing neighbors like us, about issues that seem so irreconcilable now. If not here in our home, than where? If we cannot heal the great divide even in our small communities, how will we fix the very big and very real problems facing humanity and our planet?

The divide is real and scary ugly, as we can all feel. Both sides believe they are standing in Truth. Both sides feel attacked and denigrated. Both sides, in the end, want the same things: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But I don’t want that for just some of us…I want it for All.

All beating hearts deserve a comfortable life, freedom to be who they are, and a chance at happiness. White males are not more deserving than brown. Men are not more deserving than women. Soldiers are not more deserving than struggling welfare moms.

Once upon a time, I stood in line with my WIC coupons clutched tightly to my chest, and my daughter visits the local dentist and optometrist thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Am I any less deserving of happiness than anyone else?

Simplified to the utmost: God loves his children as one.

We are more than just Angleites or Warroadians or Minnesotans. We are more than Americans. Those of us on the “left,” the ones being called snowflakes and elitests and libtards, seem to feel the call to a global citizenship more keenly than others. But that is how some of us are meant to serve the greater good. We are the tender-minded and the kind-hearted, and it is our place to bring empathy and teach compassion to those who do not come by those qualities as easily.

There are some very tough-minded and hard-hearted people in charge now. It is a different brand of leadership than the US has known in many decades. We all have a responsibility to ensure the marginalized members of our society and our planet do not get pushed aside (or worse) in the name of profit or false patriotism.

A child starves to death every four seconds, and we are wrong if we think it doesn’t impact every single one of us. The suffering is collective. The pain and misery and the need to blame has become epidemic. But even acid rain can transform into snowflakes.

I know my language is that of an idealist. And I’m not ashamed. I will always write what I am called to. I will always ask God to guide my words. I will always be grateful to a community that doesn’t throw literal rocks.

To the brave few, specifically Paul King, Brenda McFarlane and Ron Storey, who publicly voiced their opposition to my viewpoints, I am grateful and I forgive you. I hope you will forgive me when you are ready.

January 24th edition of the Warroad Pioneer

Forgiveness is where it begins.

We needn’t try to change each other; that would only be messing with God’s creations.

My hope is that through our disagreements and our despair, through our words that land so differently depending on the ears, that we can come to truly “see” and appreciate each other. I have not seen you and you do not see me. That, in large part, is the root of my despair. We are utterly disconnected.

This is far more than a political battle. This is spiritual warfare, and it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

We as individuals will never be “whole” while we cannot see each other.

I once expressed my belief that we don’t need the right to own the kind of guns that were designed solely for the mass slaughter of human beings. My brother, whom I love dearly but completely disagree with, then labeled me as one of those people who “lay down and die.”

I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but I assume it’s something akin to “snowflake.” If you are inclined to read the thoughts of an 18-year ministry veteran on that term, search for John Pavlovitz and “A Snowflake Manifesto.”

My brother’s words “lay down and die” have stayed with me, teaching me. When my ego is not smarting from his intentions to injure me, my thoughts often turn to the old story about a marauding overlord and his followers who swept through the land raping, killing and plundering. They came to a monastery high in the mountains and demanded that all the monks leave or be killed at once. Grateful to be spared, every monk did so except for one. When the men reported to their leader that there was one monk who refused to leave, the overlord became enraged. Never having been disobeyed before, the furious overlord made his way to the seated monk, held his sword at the man’s throat and screamed, “Don’t you know that I can kill you at this moment?”

The monk calmly replied, “Don’t you know that I can let you?”

In that instant, the overlord dropped his sword and fell to his knees, transformed.

That is what I pray for. That is what I will fight towards. Yes, the time for despair has passed. Now it’s time to get back to bringing the light.

January 31 edition of the Warroad Pioneer

A Minority Victory

(Column 41 – Published November 15th in the Warroad Pioneer)

It has been a tough week to stay positive. Trumpers everywhere are telling us to quit whining and to accept defeat with grace and dignity – in less kind words, of course, and just as they would have if Hillary had won, no doubt.

It was a cruel election season, and though the election is over the cruelty isn’t. It’s as if Trump’s indecency has given anyone who wants it the permission to be just as awful.

An acquaintance found out I was for Hillary and told me because of all the Trump flags and signage he had assumed “The Angle was safe” from the likes of me. A brother called me stupid for voting for her and said he was “pissed-off that I didn’t think like him.” A brother-in-law unleashed a whole smelly stream of vitriol on my Facebook page and when I asked him to take his negativity elsewhere, he flat out refused. He was the first person I unfriended. A sister texted me a propaganda video entitled The Clinton Pedophile Satanic Network with a cover photo of a presumably dead woman smeared in entrails and floating in a tub of blood. A sister-in-law posted dozens of cruel and hateful memes about Hillary Clinton and her supporters – as if there were still voting going on. She was the second person I unfriended.

These are all from what I would have called good, hard-working Christian folk. Golden Rule, much?

Being white, I haven’t been subjected to one of the hundreds of acts of blatant racism and violence happening around the country in the wake of the election.

It is not a good time to be anything other than white, Christian and conservative in this country.

So, fall in line, folks. Support our new president, Dems. Quit whining, bitches. Pull up your big girl britches and get back to work, sweetheart.

But I can’t.

And I won’t.

My little Hillary yard sign remains. Not because I think she should be president, but because I want everyone to know that I proudly did not vote for what is about to ensue in this country. And because I’m going to hold everyone who voted for him accountable.

You need to make sure that he “will create jobs like no one else.” You need to make sure that he provides something “better” than the Affordable Care Act. You need to make sure he makes life better for inner city blacks, where he assumes they all live. You need to make certain he fulfills all of his positive campaign promises. Were there any? Oh yeah, he’s going to bring the production of Oreos back to the States. That’s a good one. Let’s make sure we are making all of our sugary, fatty poisons right here in our own promised land.

If you wanted the wall and for Hillary to be locked up, sorry to disappoint you, but he’s already capitulated on those – just good campaign tactics, no doubt. They made for good rally chants, at the least.

After the election, I listened again to the book “The Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz on my long and lonely daily drive to town. It’s a quick read and an even quicker listen; I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to live with integrity. It helped me remember to have hope in humanity, even the indecent ones, even the cruel ones.

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We are diseased, we humans. Sick in the head. We have all made a million little agreements about how to be and how to act. And, all our resulting beliefs stem from a fear that we will be judged for not meeting those millions of agreements. In truth, we are sleeping behind a functioning façade. But we can wake up, and I intend to.

The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

  1. Don’t Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

  1. Don’t Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

  1. Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

(The above summaries are not my own and I wasn’t able to find proper attribution as they are on numerous sites exactly as written.)

I break these agreements all the time, but with awareness I always come back to them and continue to grow in love and integrity. In a first draft of this column, I had outlined them using Trump as an example of what not to do, but that was not being impeccable with my word. I had to scrap it. I start over all the time.

Trumpers, you squeaked by in a minority victory. More people in this country voted for Hillary than for Trump. Please treat us with respect and dignity. You have extremists in your ranks, as do we. Let’s not judge the whole by the few.

If you voted for Trump, you now have a tremendous responsibility to hold him accountable, as we all do. I wish we could hope for a more presidential man, a man who would live by The Four Agreements, as if he’d magically change from campaign trail to Oval Office. But part of his appeal is “what you see is what you get.” He himself declared that he is very unpredictable, so that’s what we’ll deal with for the next four years. And believe you me, it’s only gonna be four years.

This too shall pass.

(Note: In print, the Pioneer substituted “horrifically graphic” for the phrase “presumably dead woman smeared in entrails and floating in a tub of blood.” They also edited out the profanity from “Quit whining, bitches.”)

“Don’t write about politics or religion,” they said

Column 34 Published in the September 6th issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Weeks come and go like the passing of a summer’s breeze. Tucked away in the happy hermitage of my Angle home, it’s challenging at times to remember what, if any, value the words I string together hold for anyone else.

Inspiration is everywhere, as a wise Warroad Pioneer editor once told me, and yet the questions remain in my ego’s mind: who cares? What is it all for? What does it matter what lessons any of us suffer through, what demons we wrestle on the quest for Truth?

Is everyone else on this same quest, I wonder. Are we born knowing Truth and then slowly forget as we are brutally “civilized” in whatever fashion our cultures dictate? Or are we born wicked and sinful – our inheritance – as the Bible’s Old Testament suggests?

I lean towards the former, of course. Any belief that fosters love over fear easily gets my vote.

If there is one truth I have come to accept over the past many years of searching and studying, it is that no one group of people or set of beliefs holds a monopoly on the Truth. Regardless of how fervently any religion defends their righteousness or for how many hundreds of years they have been doing so, it doesn’t change the fact that all of us have access to the Truth, to salvation, to the love of the divine. The opposite belief is the root of all wars, both individual and global. It has led to suffering and strife across all groups of people around the entire globe. And therefore, it cannot be Truth.

Only love can point to Truth.

I recognize this is not a popular belief to hold in the Midwest’s Bible Belt, nor here at The Angle where our only spiritual center is a happy little non-denominational, Bible-believing church. Many of us have been raised to believe that only our religion holds the key to salvation, and we can all point to our strict interpretations of certain passages from the religious books as “proof.”

Yet it is this imperialism that fosters intolerance, discrimination and outright violence – as it has done for centuries. Certainly Jesus didn’t teach exclusivity. His way was “the way” of forgiveness, “the truth” of inclusive love and “the life” of compassion.

I wonder if Jesus would have taught tolerance of intolerance…for that has been one of my hardest lessons: holding space and compassion for all those who fervently believe the rest of us are going to Hell in a hand basket because we don’t subscribe to their beliefs.

Certainly there is beauty and truth to behold in all faiths. And that is my pursuit now – learning all. I am fortunate in that the pace of life at The Angle allows me to both look for my life and for the Truth that all life holds.

I am also fortunate here at The Angle, because a small group of Bible-believing women put up with my “otherness” in their usually cozy Bible study. Yep, I am studying the Bible. We’ll read the whole darn thing in one short year and I’m on week 3.

At the same time, I’m studying A Course in Miracles, the principles of Buddhism and the wisdom of the ancient Toltecs, all interspersed with factual readings in contemporary science. I have not studied Aboriginal Spirituality, Islam or Hinduism in any depth, but those will be next on the great list.

My soul’s hope is that I will accept Truth in all its different forms and come to know peace. My ego’s hope is that I’ll open my eyes and the eyes of others to move beyond our limiting beliefs in order that our judgement of others will cease.

Peace most obviously cannot be ours while we judge others. A Course in Miracles teaches that the last judgement is actually “a final healing rather than a meting out of punishment.”

I like to picture all of us waiting beyond the veil of judgement, watching with love as the last one of us opens his eyes to a judgement he made of some other person or some situation or some poor inanimate object. When the false thoughts of that last judgement fall into nothingness, we will all finally see together the Truth of our beautiful reality and how it has had its loving arms wrapped around us this whole time whether we felt them or not.

Regardless of where we put our faith, we must believe that all things work together for good. And in fact, every single major religion and spirituality teaches this tenant. If we believe the opposite, fear will win. Peace will never be ours. And as such, until all of the world’s religions make peace with each other and work together for good, the world will never know peace. Another simple truth.

And so…here at The Angle, this tiny little forgotten pocket, there wrestles one child of God with all of the great questions of our time in search of Truth.

The truth in the fragile dust-covered wild flower blossom along our gravel roads. The truth in the wily smile of a three-year old when she answers common sense with perfectly wonderful nonsense. The truth in a commitment to a man, a family, sobriety, and this community. The truth in a metaphysical quest for open-hearted learning about forgiveness, inclusive love and compassion.

Come along for the ride. It’s sure to involve politics too.

Walk a mile in their shoes

Column 31 Published in the July 19, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

We zip around our little community here at The Angle on all types of wheels: strollers, bikes, golf carts and go-carts, three-wheelers and quads, Rangers and other branded ATVs. Our children ride on laps and learn to steer early. They are safe yet unrestrained, and are able to enjoy this unique way of life in many of the same ways adults do.

Once, when I admonished my 3-year old that she at least needed to be sitting down while we were moving, she looked back at me, her hair wild and wind-blown, her face alight with adrenalin and the summer sun, and said quite plainly to me, “But Mom, I just want to be free.”

Freedom is certainly something we take for granted in this little corner of the country.

It occurred to me while out boating on our Independence Day, July 4th, that despite where we live – with our backs to an international border – we are still relatively free to move in all directions.  I have felt very little “patriotic” pride of late, and yet there I was enjoying the sensation of feeling “American”.

For those of us who choose and/or were born into this way of life, being able to travel unimpinged, crossing international boundaries regularly and often daily or twice-daily for long stretches at a time, this freedom is hugely important.

What would happen to this freedom, if we as a country began treating (based on the actions of a few) whole nations of people, especially our next-door neighbors, like thugs, criminals or terrorists?

My daughter got to continue feeling the wind in her face that day, even though the parenting books collecting dust in my Kindle dictate that I should have enforced my “sit down” command, if only for consistencies’ sake.

But sometimes, …ok, a lot of the time…I just let her Be.

I let her Be, because I want her to have that and know it and live it as a Right. I want her to internalize what it is to feel absolute freedom of movement, of choice, of sensation, of joy and life. Yes, even at three. Her plea “I just want to be free” wasn’t manipulative or even whiny for once. It came from the seat of her soul, where all she knows is freedom.

I’ve written before that The Angle is a microcosm for the rest of the world. But that’s not true really at all. We don’t have much for variety in religion. We don’t have much for variety in culture. We don’t have much for variety in much of anything, except for maybe insects that bite or suck our blood.

Sure, yeah, we’re all beautiful, unique snowflakes, blah, blah, blah. But except for a brave few, we all look and talk about the same, follow similar political beliefs, and subscribe to the same old unquestioned self-righteousness.

The restaurants here all serve basically the same kind of frozen-then-fried American fat-food.  The resorts all bring in the same sort of sells-well stuff year after year after year. The work-force all makes our living by supporting tourism or supporting the community members who support tourism. And yes, in its own way, The Angle is a beautifully oiled little mechanism that runs well even when kinks are put in the cog, accidentally or otherwise.

But…Sameness.

After forty years of eating Manna, even God’s chosen people began to complain about the lack of variety.

Let me clarify that I’m not complaining about the Sameness.  I’m complaining about the lack-of-acceptance of Other. I would hope that I’m one more small headlamp shining a ray of light on a darkness inherent in every community, big or small.

Our transgender community member still has a tough time of it up here, but at least she’s having to “act” less and less. She chose this tiny, wayward community years and years ago because here she feels safe. And shouldn’t she have the right to feel safe, just like every other human being? (I wonder if men in general have any idea how often we as women fear for our safety. If they really knew, maybe they’d curtail the lewd stares and the rude catcalls disguised as compliments.)

Freedom aside, shouldn’t everyone have the basic right of safety?

And shouldn’t we all feel safe when we have the rare interaction with law enforcement?

Yes, all lives matter, but I think what this un-listened-to group of people is trying to say, and sometimes imperfectly, is that “hey, we’re people too and our lives matter TOO. We’re getting killed or receiving harsher sentences for causes that others don’t really have to worry about.”  The Black Lives Matter movement is yet another headlamp shining a light on a darkness that we’ve ignored for too long.

Our little community of freedom fighters, as I’ve labeled us before in this column, certainly hasn’t had to walk a mile in their shoes. We haven’t fought for anyone else’s freedom but our own, and someday that selfishness will come at a price. We have lived with white-privilege for a long time in this neck of the woods. Just ask our Native American and First Nations people.

It takes no small amount of courage to live true to who you are, to ask for your rights and your freedom in the face of fear and aggression.

This is my public apology for still calling you “Davie,” Nicole. You’ve told me your name is Nicole Annie and I will honor that from this day forward.

This is my public apology to everyone of color for letting those racist comments slide for fear of confrontation. I will honor us all as a people by remaining silent no longer.

We live on the outskirts of society here at The Angle and we feel different, special. For that and many other reasons, I expect better of us. We can start setting a better example for everyone in our community, for everyone who travels here, and for all the children who hang their heads out the window just to feel the wind and sky and freedom of this beautiful life.