Monthly Archives: November 2016

Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

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A Circle

We once vehemently thought the world was flat. Wrong.

We thought the world revolved around us. Wrong.

We shift as we discover we are wrong. We rewrite the history of our mistakes and move on. Yet, we keep using the same tools to make new mistakes.

As The Who most succinctly wrote in 1971’s We Won’t Get Fooled Again,  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”.

We have our mistakes playing on repeat.

  • Manifest Destiny.
  • Our current United States polarized political climate.
  • Climate change (yes, it is a real, scientific thing.)
  • Cultural disrespect.

We continue to think of ourselves as masters instead of as members. In our psyche, we are the whole part, not part of the whole.

Maybe it’s time to flip our approach. Maybe it’s time to go team first. We all win when we all win. THIS is the way we “Make America Great Again”.

Either way, we need to make a long overdue switch from the flat-world philosophy to a philosophy of the circle.  Social, political, economical, educational, institutional. You name it, we can make it better. And make it better for generations to come. 

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk spoke to Joseph Epes Brown about the peace and fulfillment within the sacred philosophy of the circle.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Every-thing the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

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1763

We know all about the American Revolution, right? Did not we dashing, young American children learn every important date, battle, and character of our nation’s fight for independence from British tyranny?

Huzzah!

We are such bright children. We know about the Boston Tea Party, Washington crossing the Potomac, and Jefferson and the Founding Father’s passionate Declaration of Independence. I bet most of us can recite the first line of Paul Revere’s Ride (which is probably the only thing besides his name we know of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

Though all these things sit prominently in the psyche of the American-educated child, they are not the things at the core of our struggle for independence in 1776. As is common in history, recorded history is in the eyes of the recorder—the information deemed vital usually results in making one group look like heroes while making another, antagonistic group look like pure evil.

My interest in this subject was prompted recently by the intersection of the PBS Hamilton Documentary, the 2016 Presidential Election, and background research of the Wyandot Indian Tribe of Kansas for a book I’m working on. Through all this information, I’ve discovered a fact that should really not be such a surprise, but it still hit me like a bat to the head.

Our Founding Fathers were imperfect human beings. The people who run our modern country are imperfect human beings. There exists both a good side and a dark side to our national heroes. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” in the Declaration of Independence and then went home to the slaves he owned on his Monticello plantation.

Imperfect human beings.

So what the hell happened in 1763?

The American Revolution started.

Well, maybe not officially but that was the year the bellwether event that instigated the colonies to eventually declare their freedom occurred. On October 7, 1763, triggered by the loss of many strategic forts in the Ohio Valley that year to a loosely bound confederation of Indian tribes led by the Odawa leader, Pontiac, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. After obtaining the land west of the Appalachian Mountains as part of their victory over the French in the French and Indian War, Great Britain attempted to appease and stop further confrontation with the Native tribes of the Ohio Valley, outlawed white settlement in those regions. The white British colonists were furious. King George III, sitting on his throne an ocean away, outlawed their expansion to the prime real estate of the frontier.  

Taxation without representation and freedom from tyranny are just a few examples we were given in history class as directly leading to the Revolution. These, however, seem to take a back seat to the accumulation of wealth emphasis by the colonists. They looked out over all those raw resources available in the new world and wanted them. Things really weren’t much different then than what we see today in America. Economics, especially lassoing as many of this new continent’s economic resources into one’s own possession, played an equal or greater role than the altruistic fight for our freedom from the oppression of King George III.

1776 was just the culmination of 13 years of frustration in the New World. 13 long years of watching the ripe apple just sit there on the western frontier inhabited by the “uncivilized” Native tribes.  

History. It’s much more fascinating when we step behind the curtain and get a look at the mechanisms behind the singular event.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

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