Oakland Museum of California

Once again we went to the Oakland Museum of California … and failed to make it through the whole thing. This isn’t even because they keep changing out the exhibits, either – this is because there’s just so much there, and it’s all so fascinating!

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We met up with one of D’s former coworkers there, had a good wander, and D and J had a good chat about all of the craziness that working in biotech seems to entail. For example, D has now had 2 layers of management removed from above him (in less than 3 months) so he currently reports directly to a VP. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but both D and J have job options and good names in the business, so they’re not worried exactly … but the chaos has both of them wondering whether they want to stay in this industry much longer.

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On the other hand, with Halloween coming up there will be a pumpkin carving competition at D’s work and he’s going to see what kind of pictures he can get. Hopefully people will dress for the occasion.

Have a good week!

-D & T

Christmas Choir Concert

Our choir is having a Christmas concert, December 2nd and 3rd. We are (as always) required to sell tickets. Please let us know if you’d like to come and we’ll be happy to have you along! (You can buy tickets through us, or online, but if you buy from us then we’ll get rid of the 20 we’re required to sell.)

We’re told that the Sunday concert is always more full than the Saturday one, by the way. We hope to see you there!

-D & T

Gum Wrappers & Silver Linings

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There are banks of giant Maxfield Parrish clouds blowing up just now, while we have a pause in the rain. Like most Californians, we are doubly grateful for the precipitation which clear away the last of the smoke. The fires were ghastly and not just for those who lost loved ones and property. For those of us breathing the smoke hours away, it produced some of the same anxious restlessness as the oppressive heat wave; trapped indoors, we checked the news upon waking each morning, hoping for some change, and for news from dear friends in the North Bay. (Everyone is well – even those for whom the fire damage stopped seventy-five feet away from their front door, which is miraculous when so many lost so much.)

To make an anxious situation more fraught, T was diagnosed that week with multiple overlapping autoimmune disorders. What was thought to be a wildly early onset of osteoarthritis turned out to be something we’d never even heard of – too many consonants, most of them with the same -myositis suffixes. The symptoms list was long and horrible. For a while, the smoke in the sky seemed to match the smoke in our minds, as we struggled to see past the moment. But, smoke clears, as it always does.

The premise of the fairly stupid but beautifully named Silver Linings Playbook (it was a novel, and then a film, and apologies if it’s your adored favorite) was that a man who had come away from a stint in a mental institution was going to focus himself on the positives in the world, in order to avoid a relapse. Adjacent to the secondary and tertiary plotline nonsense, this seems like a reasonable goal – to accentuate the positive. It actually becomes easier when one does this on purpose. T remembers working as program co-director for a Youth Director at summer camp, and always having on hand during campfire programs wads of the horrible Bazooka Joe bubble gum, so she could handily unwrap a piece and insert the cement-hard, sugary sweetness between his teeth, to remind him inaudibly to keep his jaws clenched if he couldn’t say anything nice. The bad jokes and cartoons in the wrappers are still a favorite of hers to this day.

Deliberate, mindful silver-lining seeking.

The stairs in this new house are a bit steep, with risers a crucial three-quarters-inch higher than the US standard 7 inches vertical. Both T and D remarked on how dire that extra lift could be, when one is tired or in a hurry, but both quickly became accustomed to the extra lift, and even fond of the clatter of uncarpeted stairs. While racing isn’t possible every day, it is now an automatic mindfulness to be thankful on the trips when it doesn’t hurt.

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Sometimes it takes a lot to remember to be grateful for everything.

While there is nothing to cure autoimmune disorders, there is management. Several of the drugs under consideration are immune suppressants – possibly some of the same ones T’s sister is on after her kidney transplant at eighteen. Some of the drugs have mind-boggling side effects, and we are struck with extra compassion for our little sister, who is making the best of a bad lot of medications. We have more options than she does – including the option to delay medication altogether until there’s proof of irreparable harm – and so see our increased empathy as a silver lining, too. The girl is a trooper.

And finally, probably the funniest silver lining is that with these various autoimmune diseases, the body produces copious amounts of …collagen, that building-block protein of connective tissue which is prominent in skin and bones. It’s also what gives us hair and nails… and right now, T, whose horrible nails have always split and peeled, and which she has kept short her entire life – right now, she has the longest, hardest nails she’s ever had. Mind you, she can’t pick things up reliably – she’s as graceful with them as an 8th grader wearing ’80’s era Lee Press-On nails, but she’s delighting in buying ridiculous nail polish and tarting herself up each week like a dance hall floozy. Polka dots! Stripes! Questionable color combinations! She’s looking forward to amazing hair next – of course, Prednisone, one of the drug options, also makes it fall out… but we’ll enjoy it while we can.

Silver linings, friends. Silver linings edging the clouds in these dark days. Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, was timely this week. May we all remember light triumphs over darkness, every time.

Happy Weekend!

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Most of us studied, if only briefly, the poetry of Emily Dickinson of Amherst, Massachusetts. Born 1830, we know she wrote poetry in the imported-from-England-and-Isaac-Watts hymn meter; we know that any of her poems can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas or the theme to Gilligan’s Island, because hymn meter is a constant, rhythmic form. We know Emily Dickinson was sent to Mt. Holyoke Seminary, a very respectable, very religious ladies college. We know that Mt. Holyoke was all the organized education she ever received.

What we aren’t told in school is that, despite the Dickinson’s Puritan background and Emily’s lifelong habit of writing poetry that was spiritual in nature, her time at Mt. Holyoke didn’t “take.” She was categorized as a “no-hoper” at the school. At Mt. Holyoke, during the Second Great Awakening religious revival in American history, when Emily attended, the women were counseled,then categorized. They were divided up into three categories: those who were “established Christians,” those who “expressed hope,” of becoming so, and those who were “without hope.” They were met with continually for counsel, and Emily could find no objection — nor any interest, either, in joining a church. Emily Dickinson worried about this a great deal, but finished her first year in the “without hope” category, and never went back to school.

Our society is never very kind to those whose decisions take them out of step with the majority. Emily Dickinson chose not to marry, so she was isolated. She could not believe as others did, so chose not to join a church, limiting the already narrow circle of 19th century women’s interactions within her community to her parent’s home, where she helped her father after her mother’s nervous breakdown. And yet, she wrote:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

There is a sort of ease to her words, even as she sat out Sunday mornings, alone in the woods, while miles away, her brothers, sister, and father sat in the family pew, seeing and being seen. She’s not in step with the world, but she’s finding what she needs where she is. Being raised in faith, and attending church frequently, and having our community be largely church-y, possibly as church-y as the Dickinson’s lives in the 19th century, I can imagine that taking a step… away from all of that made Emily a different, different person. And yet, she was no rogue godless rebel, but a person who found her spirit fed by other means.

Our poetry group played with hymn meter this past week, and I won’t bore everyone with iambic tetrameter discussions (if you’re actually interested, they’re on the project post), but just for fun, I’m sharing a tribute to Emily’s 236:

Keeping Emily’s Sabbath

cathedral light abounds
through old growth canopy
as crows produce a raucous sound, as fog’s damp surges all around
and we breathe Autumn’s ease, in redwood panoply.

(no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long)

leaf-fall means death. Rejoice
in every dying tree
for Autumn leads to Winter’s choice. Then, ending, Winter gives Spring voice
and brings the honeybee, renewal’s guarantee.

(no chalice, no cantor: listen to the blue jay’s banter
the woodpecker’s rapping, its beats overlapping, and never is service too long)

scythe down, like Autumn’s weeds
what binds you to the pew
no dome nor chorister a need, that “all are loved,” be that the creed
which Sabbath-hearts pursue; may Light be found in you.

No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.

Bonus fact: you can sing this to the tune of one of Isaac Watts’ (I shan’t tell you which – guess) hymns, too. Because it’s a modified short meter, however, with an added refrain, it doesn’t work with The Yellow Rose of Texas OR that other earworm song which shall not be mentioned.
This, I count a victory.

May you find yourself, if not in the woods, by an estuary, near a reservoir, around a stand of willows — somewhere that there’s no internet connection, you can turn off the news, and try to recenter. There is good in the world, kind hearts and truth… but you won’t find it via newscasters and talking heads on TV. Get out.

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Muir Woods, unidentified pink wildflower


I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

– Langston Hughes

Ugly Food, Autumn Days, &tc.

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Oh, yes, turkeys. On a trip into town the other day, we saw these loudmouthed beasties. Along with the mobs of Canadian geese which are strutting through the elementary school field, we’re inundated with huge birds. We’re pretty sure they’re following us.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“We miss your food blogging,” people say from time to time, and we give them that patient, blank smile that has beneath it Many Thoughts.

Thing is, one, our lives have refocused from food and our slower lifestyle, which gave us time to do more cooking, has changed. We do assembly line types of things on the weekends, like so many people do. We’re both trying to shove more work into the days — D is burning his candle possibly at three points, for three different companies, all while covering three positions in his main, non-consultant job, while T is trying to finish a novel in ten weeks (a self-determined deadline she might actually make), before the madness of another Cybils Book Award cycle begins. Life has gotten busy — and while it’s not that we’re not looking or photographing food – because somehow we have that ridiculous tendency, despite not being Actual Millenials (TM), sometimes, we don’t post those pictures anywhere in particular, or share the recipes… because the food is… ugly.

Yes, okay. We’re not supposed to say that, we’re told. If we didn’t point it out, no one would notice, we’re told. Um… yeah. Right.

Quinoa Lentil Salad

A couple weeks ago we made an amazing salad of quinoa, brown lentils, fresh-from-the-cob white corn and juicy cherry tomatoes. We added chopped cilanto and a dressing made of …leftover guacamole, blended together with a little oil and vinegar. It was delicious; unctuous and rich and spicy — and if you’re looking for a non-dairy base for a salad dressing, you won’t do worse than mashed ‘cado. That aside, comfort foods, such as brown lentils, and the little squiggly tails of quinoa do not photograph well. Add to that a dressing that oxidizes into the color of things one would rather not discuss when found on or near an infant? So not pretty. To the point: T took a picture of it, and D deleted it from Flickr, saying it looked “like ugly mush.” She was most amused. “But, I took it that way on purpose,” she protested. “That’s what it looks like.” He claimed he’d return the photograph to the line up. He finally did, but not without Much Furrowing Of Brows.

Ugly food. Ugly words. Ugly actions. Ugly world. Nothing that would make the Instagram cut. Life lately has more than its share of things which do not bear scrutiny, and we are, these days, scraped raw and bruised. The things we need to do – and to eat – to keep body and soul together, to keep spirits nourished – often don’t photograph attractively. But we do them anyway. We walk and rage and donate and weep. We try not to eat our feelings. To fail to do so is to fail to thrive in this love-grown-cold world, and we all need to do the best we can to be ready when it’s time for us to play the parts we’re called to play. And we do have a part to play. Walk together, children. Don’t you get weary.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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Nighttime temps dropping abruptly into the forties after another bump into the nineties during the daytime has left our fig tree confused. It is still heavily laden with fruit, so much so that we have daily discussions with Sid, the 5 o’clock Squirrel and the sweet little black phoebe which has taken up residence nearby. Sid is not convinced that he should stay out of the figs, but he’s made it his life’s work lately to keep other squirrels out. And so The Wars Continue.

The geese continue to warn sharply of autumn’s arrival — sometimes it seems like they’re following us. The other night, on the way in to chamber rehearsal, a flight of them arrowed over our heads, flying low enough for us to see the sunset glinting off of belly feathers. We really are enjoying the variety of wildlife here; everyone has Canadian geese, but we never have lived in close enough proximity to egrets to know that they, too, make sounds… mainly a harsh croaking noise that just echoes up and down the tidal marsh corridor, when they’re het up about something (one wonders what — an especially good frog? An annoying egret landing nearby? A boyfriend? WE WILL NEVER KNOW). Sleeping with the windows open isn’t working out anymore, which has its good and bad points – we’re not being wakened at the crack-of-smack anymore by the avian world, and the wind isn’t rattling down the hallway, either — but the smell of green swamp is not nearly as much fun as the smell of closed up house. Ah, well.

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Another funny little autumn thing is happening — in our old house, we often noticed ladybugs in our bedroom throughout the fall and winter. We thought that was over, when we moved miles away… um, not so much. The Ashy Gray Lady Beetle – ladybug 2.0, in other words – has found us again, and is trying to overwinter in our master bedroom… again. The more things change, the more they remain the same, etc. etc.

With so much busyness taking over, we haven’t had time to do much roaming, but are batting around the idea of visiting the Dark Sky Park in Death Valley – when it gets a bit more bearable there, temperature-wise. We haven’t had much chance to photograph really good stars since Iceland, and Death Valley is much, much closer. We’re still hoping to make it to the UK again someday, but our trip to Oaxaca is going to be put on hold for a long while, we’re afraid. We are still very much enjoying our Chamber group — more information to come on that — and had forgotten the little ins-and-outs of belonging to an organization which requires evening wear and fundraising, on top of memorizing tricky German vowel sounds for the Abendlied, but we are keeping heads above water there (though it’s a challenge – a good one, but still!).

Life moves on, and it’s lovely to hear that you are living, surviving, thriving. It’s been nice to hear from many of you. And to the rest – Hello! Be well! We miss you.

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The Drum Roll of Autumn

Peachtree 32Last Monday evening, we had a foretaste of autumn that whetted our appetites and encouraged us through the relentlessly sticky humidity here. Though it was nearly five, it was still 81°F with humidity in the 80% range, and the sky was all Heart of Darkness. We had to run errands after work hours, so dodged the odd sprinkle, and watched cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes on the way home. As we prepped dinner, the flurry of sprinkles turned on and off, and we heard grumbles of thunder that got closer and closer. Still didn’t think anything of it, though as a precaution brought our canvas chairs in from the yard. And then suddenly, while relaxing after supper – reading in front of a fan, with all the windows opened – we were blinded by a flash and the hair on our arms lifted. The supersonic BOOM chased a gust of cold wind through the house, and then the rain came just sluicing down. We stared at each other for a brief moment – T attempting to film the scene on her camera (which cheerfully began filming after she set it down) then said, “WINDOWS!” Yes. In a house without air conditioning, all of the windows in the house are generally open to catch any errant breeze… which wasn’t a problem on the front of the house, as the wind was coming form the other direction, but the back of the house gets the wind off the bay, and so we had water running through very dirty screens, bringing muddy spatters to light-colored wood flooring and white tile.

And may we just say that damp wool rugs smell a great deal like wet dog?

The rain, which lasted on and off for a couple of hours, with massive cloudbursts, finally broke the worst of the heat. Though the humidity lingered briefly, cooler winds prevailed, and ungainly egrets darted and flapped over the slough in seeming celebration (joining the REALLY LOUD GEESE, whose favorite time of day to practice flying in formation is the predawn hours, for some reason. The neighborhoods here are so, so quiet… and then there are the ducks. And the geese. And the rock doves. At least the egrets and herons, so far, are quiet. SO FAR). The National Weather Service reported Tuesday morning that 1,200 cloud-to-ground strikes and 5,800 in-cloud strikes hit the Bay Area Monday night, so that was a bit of excitement, as we got to see LOTS of them. We do wish our video had turned out, but T has since gotten a brief tutorial so subsequent videos should actually show scenes one wants to see, instead of a close-up of bedspreads and the floor. Le sigh.

Another harbinger of fall is the return of the chorale, and the vigorous humming of carols while showering, well before their time (but not, sadly, before some wrong-headed little drugstore has a Christmas tree display up in a back corner. People: can we get through school starting first? K, thanks). Last summer, T was invited to join a group of professional singers as their ringer soprano, but she declined – mostly because the chorus was made up of professionals – actors, singers, music professors, theater people – and she felt she’d be in over her head. After hearing of a chamber group holding auditions three miles from the house, she looked up the director… and discovered that he was one of the tenors in the group she’d been invited to join. She is much happier to meet him as an anonymous choir member, though the three-week audition period (!!!) is a bit nerve-wracking. Several chamber members sweetly refer to it as “letting us get comfortable before he turns the screws.”

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As the summer wanes, things are still unsettled at D’s job, but as audits come and their reverberations trickle down through the company, he soldiers on, getting fingerprinted and checked out so the CDC can decide he’s an asset to lab/manufacturing areas, hiring contractors, and enjoying getting to know folks with the weekly free lunch-and-socialize times. T is past the halfway point on a summer book project that started out as “just an idea,” which took on a life of its own, and is bracing herself for the onslaught of reading to come as a book award judge. Things in the house are nearly settled now, with the screens finally in place, rugs and towels coordinating, and – soon! – the last pictures hung or stored. The challenge of living with constant humidity is reminding us, oddly, of Glasgow, where we required a dehumidifier for the closet. The linen closet has wire racks, so there’s sufficient air circulation; however, the clothes closet is its own little walk-in room, and depending on how the rains go this year, we may find we have a little problem. Still, it will never be as exciting as finding all of our clothes mildewed together in the closet like they did in Glasgow …At least we hope it’ll not get that exciting…!

Enjoy the last sweet summer fruit – the times, they are a-changing at long last, to the favorite season of all. Bring out those decorative gourds, people.

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your long shadows on the sundials,
and on the meadows let the winds go free.

Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
urge them on to completion and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now, will never build one.
Who is alone now, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly up and down
the tree-lines streets, when the leaves are drifting.

– Rainier Maria Rilke, translated by E. Snow,

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Shortbread Shopping

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As the world goes up in flames, we carry on. This week’s hyperfocus on minutiae had us contemplating the grocery store…

One of the joys (?) of moving is finding all new everything – dentist, chiropractor, doctor, community… and it’s never an easy transition. We’ve been flailing, trying to find a decent place for groceries. We love the Farmer’s Market, but skipped during last weekend’s Journey to the Center of the Volcano, in no mood to brave the bowels of hell just for fresh peaches. One good thing is that we have great options for produce here – those peaches are a regular feature this summer at the market, and there’s usually decent produce at most stores, including the big box like Costco. However, Costco here is ridiculous – we were spoiled, living where we had access to one in Vallejo, one in Vacaville, and one in Fairfield, within close proximity. Now, we’re down to one SUPER busy one, and unless you like to play Cart Derby, it’s a lot to ask. We had known the staff of our local Raley’s since before we moved to Scotland and had our house in Benicia, and knowing the staff by name (hello, Bernadette at the pharmacy) made everything easier. The Raley’s here, though is downtown, which means that it’s busier, has a city-type population, and our first day there including a clerk dragging a homeless man out of the store, castigating him loudly for shoplifting. Um. Maybe not.

With a much greater Asian and South Asian population, there are tons of Indian groceries in the area, as well as a Ranch 99, which was pretty neat but probably only for occasional shopping, as it was super crowded and full of what we term “field trip” food, as in we buy it just because we want to try it. This past weekend we tried Trader Joe’s which was kind of a relief, as it always seems to be the same store, no matter its location. We laughed that they both stocked Walkers Shortbread – both Ranch 99 and Trader Joe’s. Just in case, you know, you felt the need for imported Scottish Shortbread with your bitter melon or two-buck-chuck.

We’ve been bemused by Sprouts (with their “vegan sugar” and bizarre layout), amused by Whole Paycheck which, now that it’s owned by Amazon, we’re not sure it’s going to be any better than it’s always been, and spooked and stunned by the Safeway which is OK but came with an overly inquisitive checker who wanted to know a.)if we were married, b.)how long we’d been married, c.) if we lived at home (?!) and d.) to tell us that her son had married a colored girl… Y’know, if it wasn’t a total lazy cop-out and basically unnecessary, we’d get groceries delivered.

The world continues strange. How are you?

-D & T

Living Life

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We have survived the heat wave, despite not having air conditioning. We’ve been in this house now for six weeks or so and are feeling more settled. Tomorrow we audition for a local choir – the first choir we’ve thought would at all compare to the choir in Glasgow… which means that it’s been over five years since we’ve been on a regular rehearsal schedule!

Today is a day to relax before the week – to put together casseroles, to make a batch of raisin bread, to read. Now that the heat has gone, it’s a day to sit with the door open and listen to the hummingbirds complain about the world. In awhile we’ll maybe sit out in our lounge chairs and listen to the fountain splash.

Enjoy your week and find time to listen to the ducks, geese, and other wild things!

-D & T

Crown Shyness & Intersections

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So, there’s this thing, this inexplicable phenomenon in trees called ‘crown shyness.’ It’s where, for reasons of either reluctance to spread organisms or compete too much for light, trees grow up…and spread their canopy only so far, so that their leaves don’t overlap with the trees next door. Looking up at these canopies from below is striking; those trees really are like, nu-uh, no thank you, stay in your lane. The spaces between the leaves are small, but distinct, and the whole thing is a little mind-boggling.

This phenomenon put us in mind of a few things — mainly how weird it is sometimes when one’s cultures and communities overlap. Or don’t.

Over the past weeks, we’ve seen blogger friends grapple with many Big Questions on their blogging platforms. Some of the big questions have had to do with what they ate this week, or what to make for dinner; others have tackled current events.

There’s never any requirement, per se, from our blogging communities to Say Something About Things, but there’s a certain feeling of… expectation(?) that we will have an opinion, in other circles. That we are happy to speak, if asked. That we will Have Some Wisdom To Share. And then there are the friends who definitely, definitively do NOT want us to say anything. They arrive with a Statement: Everything is Awful Right Now, And We Hate It, and then, they hold their out a hand, a visual time-out; signaling Stop… as if they have the right to tone police, word police, corral or contravene what we might have had to say.

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So, all that is… interesting.

There are deeply complex and complicated feelings surrounding one’s right or responsibility to speak or not speak. Especially right now, when we are a biracial couple with acquaintances of various races, eager for our countersignature on their opinions.

And yet, what is there to say? That everything is awful, and we hate it? Noted.

It’s easy to gasp and clutch pearls, but this is history on repeat… You’ll pardon us if we seem cynical about the reactions of the eternally surprised, who say “this is not us, our country isn’t like this!” It is easy to be impatient with the lachrymose, and allow ourselves and our feelings about things to be centered in a narrative that is not entirely about us, and yet, this is about us, about too many things, past, present, and ongoing, to disentangle. Where we are living, truly, where we always live is in history, though capital ‘h’ History is something we don’t always recognize. Yet, here it is: a messy and painful and real time… but for many people, there have been many, many times which are painful, messy, and real. As mentioned: history, on repeat.

Because of that, maybe this is a time for reading, thinking, and listening… and for thoughtful conversation. Perhaps this is not a time to command performance; not from your friends of color, especially. Perhaps the time is less for performative reaction or virtue signaling, and more for quiet decisions about how one will act when those Certain Topics come up, when Certain Situations are witnessed. Maybe now is the time to decide how you will move forward. How each person does this, what words and actions feel right is …as personal as speaking about religion and/or politics used to be.

Meanwhile, History is a daily event, as your conversations and communities intersect, or don’t. Looking up through the canopy of your friendships, you may see spaces between your communities and cultures. As the wind blows, however, those crown shy trees may end up touching anyway. How we deal with that feels like something it’s important to think about before it happens.

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