Learning Autobiography


Magic Forest, Isla Vista, California

Young, toughened feet run,
Through the matrix of apartment buildings,
Staying on the hot cement squares, no seams no bad luck, then
Across the haphazard garden beds of thirsty weeds and tomatoes,
Down the dusty, dirt road,
occasional rock singeing tender skin between the toes,
Flying across the narrow, long, rickety wooden bridge,
Into my Magic Forest,
Onto soft pine needles, with the occasional prickle,
To the bristly short aromatic tree, tire swing hanging off
Olive, grey splotchy bark branch stretched out, as if summoning.
Hands up to the rope, jump into the secure, black rubber,
and feet stretch to the sky,
Swinging this way and that, back and forth, up and down, time dissolves,
Then the salty, dry wind whispers, “Come,”
And off running again, this time over dunes,
avoiding the sticky tar patty obstacles,
To the encompassing ocean, which, wave crashing down on waves.
Swallows me whole.



Remember the Feeling?

My youngest daughter was in third grade. To a circle of parents her teacher smoothly but assertively asked “Remember the feeling?.”  “The feeling of ‘I can do this, and I can do it well’.”  My eyes well up.  “No, I can’t remember that,” my mind responds. “Nope, that memory was washed away, with who knows how many others.” I attempt to nonchalantly wipe the tears onto my shoulder.

I’m 13, in 8th grade, my first and last year living in University City, Missouri (snuggled up to St. Louis). It was a hit and run.  I have been told it went like this: I left home after dinner April 2nd, on a mission to buy ice cream. I imagine I straddled my bike, pushed off on the pedals, and zoom I turned from our low-key neighborhood road onto the busier one with many fast cars.  The grocery store was maybe 3 light signals away.

They told me it was a black Cadillac that hit me. Or maybe they told me it was a black man driving a Cadillac. I can’t remember. They told me it took 5 days to come out of the coma.  My first words were “colored ice,” because I was asking for a frozen pop, and the bright color must have left an impression. Somehow I learned to talk again, enough to get by anyway. I don’t remember how I learned to talk again.

I remember sitting in the wide wheelchair, then I remember holding myself up between parallel bars, I remember barely stumbling between them. And then, maybe a month later, I could walk, well, kind of.  Six months after that, in a new school in upper state New York, every now and again I tripped over my left foot, and the inevitable quick tease from a 9th grade classmate came out and hit me.

And memory? What’s that? (Just kidding.) I didn’t remember much of my life, before 13. I still don’t.  Photos have given the past signposts for moments of reality. I build my past from there. My parents’ stories have provided some paths between the signposts, from their memories. And then it all gets mixed up.  I believe my memory is bits of truth and bits of fiction mixed together, and it’s not always clear which is which anymore, besides the photo signposts.

Possible memory from third grade: Isla Vista, southern California, out in a mobile with Mr. Marcus, my favorite teacher.  I was with my best friends, Brooke in 2nd grade and Beth in 3rd, and at recess we jumped up on the bars, arms straightened, then whoosh, head down, feet up, head up, feet down, head down, feet up. Spinning as many times around as we could. That’s it.  Maybe that was, “I can do this, and I can do it well.”



Scattered -

A Collection of Disorganized Learning Adventures


Repeat, repeat, repeat, oops,
And again, again, again,
Playing the C major scale, my fingers, my ears and my eyes want really learn it.   
Fingers, physical memory, consuming.
Ears, hearing and listening work, internalizing.
Eyes are the hardest to train.
Meld, mesh, make it happen.
This, my guess, is similar to what my young students experience when learning how to read.
Eyes see words made of letters.
Mouth, tongue, breath form the sounds.
Ear hears and mind says them internally.
Then put the words, sentences and whole story together.
And then the wow, the aha, the laughter, the tears.
The heart responds to the story, and to the success of figuring it all out.  
I feel this joy too, when a repetitively practiced piece all comes together, and my fingers won’t forget it.


Try to understand this community: their natural rhythms, their intuition of how to best meet the community needs, the non-verbal sharing of information. Can this learning transfer to human communities?

Be a scientist - Record what I see - the sound of the buzz, the temperature, the way they move, honey or brood on the frames, the blooming flowers.

Getting stung is not all that bad.

Be with the bee-u-ti-ful bees.


Be Close - How can I get so close…                                                                                       it’s uncomfortable, because that’s

                    when the unknown shows itself.

Falling into my Fear of Falling…

then Rising with Laughter and

a Limp that will Heal over Time.


  • Boredom gets creativity going.” Siegrun Price 1998
  • “There’s always going to be a tension.” Ayesha Farag-Davis 2008
  • “My bad,” (comfortably admitting mistakes). Angie Taylor 2012

Three previously avoided concepts turned around.


One of my worst parent memories (aka best moments of tension and learning) was when my second daughter was three. We were at a neighboring mother-friends’ backyard.

The mother and I had spent hours together the past year, in community meetings, watching our kids play together, laughing through truncated conversations and sharing dreams.  

That particular day my daughter got upset, really upset. This happened now and again with little Lia.  She was inconsolable. After a few minutes of trying to figure out the problem, a few more minutes of wiping tears, I bent down and she climbed on my back, breathing through sobs, and we headed home.

Later that day, the mother called to let me know that it was not right for her son to have to deal with my daughter getting so upset. Wow, take my breath away. What a shot at my ability to be a good mother from someone I respected on one hand, and on the other, a stab at my daughter - she had committed a crime, and I dare not bring her to that backyard to play again.

“Where had I gone wrong?” my insecure mother-self asked.  I cried a good long time, trying to reckon with the mother’s betrayal and opinion. I hurt for my daughter.

How could it have been different? Parents, in these social constructs, can be there
to help each other out. On hindsight, I felt the mother could have shared kind words of support or offered kind suggestions, or distractions, or even made a joke of the matter.
Kids get upset and cry. This is a reality of childhood and parenthood.

I recently read about a similar tension on a Southwest Airline flight. A two year old boy
was having a hard time on the long trip. He was on Dad’s lap, next to big sister and he had had enough. Mom’s songs and finger games no longer sufficed.

Throughout the plane trip whenever the stewardess happened to walk by his distress momentarily subsided and he gave her a big snotty grin, and she brightly smiled back. After these brief encounters, his squirms and squeals would begin again.

Then the stewardess just picked the boy up, put him on her hip, and did her rounds up and down the aisle. His sobs stopped.  

The happiness and relief that this stewardess’ one kind gesture brought to the parents, the sister I’m sure, the other passengers, and the 2 year old was giant. From reading the comments below the article, it turns out this incident proved to make stewardess’ day too.

So back to little Lia, she’s fine, she’s a strong one, as well as  a sensitive one. Now and again she cries long and hard. And my lesson? Appreciate good times with friends, allow friendships to pass and be there to help another mother/father friend out should the situation present itself. Spread the love.




Titus Kaphar

The Jerome Project 

(Asphalt and Chalk) XI


A Poem and a Project

Racial justice has long been a topic that pulls me, hurts me and one I will continue to learn from. Recently I came across Titus Kaphar's depiction of three young black men that were shot unarmed in the past few years - Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.  Titus' work and life inspired me to write this poem. 


Don’t bother apologizing
for what your ancestors did;
Take action to demolish
the degrading system they created.

Making dolls, wool, felt, yarn, needles, thimbles.
Chocolate brown cotton skin, pulled tight around the ball,
My “mother” found, for eight dollars.
Quiet, like my white one.
Comforting, soft pink warmth swirling around inside,
She’s watching over me, pouring sweet rhythms into my life.
She loves me. She knows I am trying.

Feel the large dark man trudging, in my dream,
Damp, dark forest,
Trudging through shadowed pain.
With each step the earth bruises,
A steady beat, inhale,
Fiery exhale, anger,
Steady. Breathe. Anger.

Maroon and neon pink, pain swirling, my heart constricting,
My breath faltering,
My eyes swelling, then gushing, nose and all,
“This just isn’t right.”

Ferguson, you know, another kid shot,
He’s hooded, he’s black,
He’s holding a bb gun, he’s black,
He’s running away, he’s black,
He’s raising his arms, he’s black,
He’s pulling away, he’s black.
He’s arguing, he’s black,
He’s dead, he’s black.

“I’ll fly away, oh darling, I’ll fly away,
When I die, Hallelujah by and by,
I’ll fly away.”


What Color is My Skin? - a writing project

I want to work on the big, worldly tension related to skin color.  

  1. Ask lots of people, from many backgrounds and ethnicities to write a short, direct piece describing themselves. Who are you? What do you value most? What and who do you love? What are your tendencies? What principles to you live by? What do you aspire to? What are some important moments that have happened to you? What hard times have you encountered? Share bits that describe you to the core. 150 words or less. (Example at the end.) (Some people might want to identify with their skin color. I am still figuring out how I can work this into the project.)
  2. Take photos of contributor’s foreheads or backs or feet or soles of feet or faces.  Create a slideshow with the photos.
  3. Add “What color is my skin?” to the beginning and the end of each written piece.  Enlarge to fit in a 11x14 frame.
  4. Display slideshow and written pieces.
  5. End result - one cannot match people’s descriptions with photos.


What color is my skin? I grew up in many places. I was in a near-death accident when I was a teenager. I avoid doing things I will regret later. I make mistakes. I try to see positives in challenging situations. I love my partner. I laugh hard. I appreciate growing friendships. I hike for hours. I am creative with whatever I do: making meals, shooting photos, drawing, writing, singing, dancing, playing music, making our home, planting our garden. I have a hard time thinning seedlings.  Colors intrigue me. I thrive on watching children learn. I appreciate the act of attempting to solve problems, on my own and/or with others. My love for my daughters is limitless. I am a growing person. I am glad I am alive. What is the color of my skin?

1 comment: