I’ve Never Been a Daredevil, But . . .

As I settled into my seat at the movie theater and muted my phone, an unwelcome thought sneaked in, “Is going out to the movies risky behavior?” I stifled it quickly, “A crazed gunman in the old-fashioned Edina Theater? That’s silly.” Worrying about my safety at movie theaters never used to cross my mind. I resent having to consider it now.

It’s disturbing to realize so many of the ordinary things I do put me in the kinds of places where mentally ill people or terrorists choose to murder and wreak havoc. However, I have no intention of curtailing my activities.

Shopping at malls – I don’t spend much time in malls, but while there, I have never worried about my safety. However, the shoppers in the mall in St. Cloud, Minn. or near Seattle, Wash. probably didn’t give it a second thought either.

Tutoring at the high school – I love the work I do tutoring adult immigrants and have never felt remotely threatened by any of them. The students I know are hardworking and determined to learn, get better jobs, and live the American Dream. But schools and colleges have been the scene of mass shootings in recent years. Perhaps I should be worried, but I refuse to be.

 Visiting international cities – I enjoy traveling overseas, but because of the history of terrorism in London, Brussels, and Paris, I will have to consider my safety in airports as well as in the cities themselves when I go. Losing my luggage or getting pickpocketed seem like more realistic threats than terrorism, but I can’t help being aware of the potential for an attack.

Often, public places happen to be the settings where a personal grudge is played out—I might not be the target—but I still could be injured or killed by a stray bullet. The issue is not that one middle class white person has to think harder about her safety. It’s that no matter who you are or where you live in America, you are at risk of mass shootings, because of our gun laws and cultural tolerance of violence.

Equally troubling is that zealots with knives, trucks, and bombs threaten people across the world, not just Americans.

I remain defiant. There are no easy solutions to gun violence and terrorism. But part of the solution has to be resistance—resisting the impulse to hide and resisting the impulse to shrug and say, “Oh well, what can you do?” We have to keep fighting for change.

Although terrorism and acts of mass violence are now part of our reality, I refuse to give in to fear. I’ve never been a daredevil, but I have no intention of giving up activities I love like movies, shopping malls, tutoring, or traveling.

No Merit Badge For This

davannis“After Penn Fest, Ryan wants me to come over and hang out and then we’ll go to the Mall of  America”, Juan said.

Juan would be finishing up his shift at Davanni’s. His second job. He was a line judge for soccer over the summer. A fellow cross-country runner told him that Davanni’s hired 14-year-old’s. His cross-country coach introduced him to the hiring manager.

I gave him a sideways look. “Who else are you going with? Who are you going to meet up with? I’ll need more information.”

“Just us,” he said.

I gave Juan the usual response. “I’ll have to check with his parents.”

We were driving home from Boy Scouts. Juan had hoped to have his final three merit badges checked off. (I was, too. If he’s in scouts, I’m in scouts.) He’s aiming to get his Eagle Scout by the end of this year.

Turning on Penn Avenue from 50th Street, I asked him. “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

He dodged, displaying a typical defensive teenage move. “Ryan and I won’t be in the food court.”

I persisted. “Still, what if you were and a fight broke out?”

Juan described some superhero ninja moves he’d make leaping over railings, running faster than the speed of light. Then he paused, “Ryan isn’t as fast as me, though.”

I didn’t tell him that Ryan was white and didn’t need to be as fast as him.

Instead, I said, “You’re Hispanic. If you’re running from a fight, police could think you were a part of it. If the police ever stop you, you stop. You don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I went on to tell him that there were at least 10 teens arrested at the Mall of America the day before. All were juveniles, ranging in age from 12 to 15.

Juan is 14.

He doesn’t have any fear of the police. He shouldn’t. I’m a volunteer Police Reserve Officer, Jody is currently going through orientation to be a Police Reserve, and he’s never been in trouble.

He’s known to the Richfield police because he’s helped me with police patrol, vehicle maintenance on police cars, and wrapping gifts with the police at holiday time for Heroes and Helpers.

After his eight grade school year, he’s planning on becoming a police explorer.

Juan has no thought of being concerned. He’s an A/B student and active in three sports. All of his interactions with police have been positive.

Still, when there’s a melee involving 200 juveniles, he’s just another Hispanic. I thought of him getting thrown to the ground, kneed in the back, his arm twisted behind him.

I repeated, “If you’re ever told to stop, you stop, you don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I left him with these words, “What the police see is a Hispanic running away.”

 

Back To School Blues

For 22 years—first as a student and later as a college instructor—the school year framed my days. Consequently, the first day of school still evokes strong feelings.

red-plaid-lunch-boxWhen I was younger, heading back to school touched off a prowling anxiety. Worries stalked me at odd moments—What if I can’t find my room? What if none of my friends are in my class? What if the teacher is picky and mean? Once classes were underway, anxiety gave way to feeling trapped. Oh God, I’m stuck in school for months on end. Lectures, homework, tests. Somewhere between Day 1 and Day 2, I accepted my fate and began to acknowledge bright spots—a teacher who liked to joke, Oreos in my plaid lunchbox, or a book I didn’t mind reading.

 

When I began teaching college English, I discovered teachers often dread the start of school, too. For me, it was a sinking feeling that began several weeks before school started. Oh, God, I need to make a syllabus, which means I have to decide exactly what I’m covering: choose readings, dream up in-class exercises, and plan the assignments. What if I get a handful of surly students? They could completely undermine the class dynamic for 10 weeks. tan-brief-bag

My anxiety culminated in a night-before-the-first-day-of-class nightmare. Every quarter, I dreamed a variation of this dream: I’m 20 minutes late to class. I’m walking down an endless corridor and can’t find the room I’m supposed to be in. I finally arrive only to realize that I’m in my pink chenille bathrobe and the students have given up on me. Some of them are already in the English department office complaining about me. My stomach would be roiling when I woke up. As I stuffed my leather briefbag with mimeographed syllabi, lecture notes, and my grade book, I laughed at how ludicrous the nightmare was.

 

This fall, on the first day of class, I was surprised to again feel a frisson of nerves. What if I got lost or showed up late? Just to be sure, I double checked the transit routes and downloaded a campus map. What if the professor thinks retirees are cranky know-it-alls? Do I really want to show up twice a week and sit through lectures?

Wait. Yeah, I do. Anxiety about the first day of school may be deep-seated, but it no longer makes sense. I’m only auditing a history class at the University of Minnesota. There’s no pressure to perform as a teacher or as a student. In the rush of those habitual feelings, I’d nearly forgotten that the beginning of school also sparks an invigorating sense of a fresh start.

backpackI loaded up my backpack with the three heavy textbooks—ooof—and set off.

The Book That Needed to be Written

Elizabeth di Grazia

Elizabeth di Grazia

House of Fire,is a book that needed to be written. I was the one to write it. I didn’t ask for sexual abuse to happen to me. I didn’t ask to get pregnant from brothers. But, I did. Who else could write this book but me? Who else to tell the story of how I came out of the hell that I lived as a teenager? Who else to tell the story of how I created a loving family? Who else to say to others who have gone through similar hells that they, too, can survive and have a good life? Who else to tell them that trauma doesn’t need to define them, that they are bigger than their stories?

The fact is many of us could have written this book. The next time you see a group of children, consider this: 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are a victim of sexual abuse. When a child is raped, 46 percent of the time, the perpetrator is a family member, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. Those statistics suggest many stories. I hope to open a dialogue to change those statistics – and innocent lives – for the better.

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.

House of Fire took me over twenty years to write. It took a lot longer than that for ink to meet paper. But, it did. I tried many forms to tell this story: poetry, fiction, and essays. I kept coming back to nonfiction. This story did happen. This story happened to me.

Healing takes time and work. When the day arrived that House of Fire was to be published, I was ready to stand at the podium as a statement that people can and do survive trauma and their dreams can come true. When you look at me, you won’t see the sexual abuse, the pregnancies, or the trauma. I don’t wear my past as a tattoo. You’ll see me in my allness. My smile, my kindness, my gentleness, and my happiness. You’ll see the peace that I have found.

House of Fire is not a tale of woe. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most of all you will be left with hopefulness.

I invite you join me on September 30th for a powerful night of stories and to celebrate the publication of House of Fire. Sharing the platform with me is a range of successful artists. When I first talked with Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, program director, of the Loft Literary Center she suggested I curate an event to celebrate my publication. I chose the title, Finding Your Bones. Sometimes the only thing of substance left after trauma is you, the bones of who you are. The artists who will be with me have in their own right found their bones and their stories. Wine and appetizers will follow the event.

Keno Evol

Keno Evol

Below are the artists’ bios:

An active force in the Twin Cities artistic community, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. has received numerous literary awards and fellowships for his writing and live performances. The current and reigning IWPS Indigenous SLAM champion, he has performed spoken word all over the country, and parts unknown. A Nu’Eta enrolled citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes located on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Vincent was raised in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis in the long long ago in the before time.

Poet, essayist and activist Keno Evol is a six year educator having taught at nineteen institutions across the state of Minnesota. He has served as the chair of the Youth Advisory Board for TruArtSpeaks. A nonprofit in St Paul, dedicating to cultivating literacy, leadership and social justice through Hip Hop.

Evol has received numerous grants and competed nationally as a spoken word artist. Evol has been published in Poetry Behind The Walls and on platforms such as Gazillion Voices Magazine , Black Girl In Om, and TC Organizer.

Christine Stark

Christine Stark

Evol has performed, taught workshops and led professional development in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Washington DC, Arkansas, Minnesota and New York. He has gone on to teach Spoken Word poetry in high schools such as Washburn High, Brooklyn Center High, MNIC High, PYC, Paladin Academy, Creative Arts and John Glenn Middle School.

He has appeared on TPT and Urban Perspectives. He navigates noting Patricia Hill Collins as she has stated “My work has always been bigger than my job.”

Writer, visual artist, and organizer, Christine Stark’s first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her writing has appeared in periodicals and books, including Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prize-Winning Essays; When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience; The Florida Review, and many others. A Loft Mentor Series winner, Stark is currently completing her second novel and conducting research for a nonfiction book.

I hope you’ll join us for an evening of powerful truth-telling.

September 30, 2016 at the Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Ave. S, Minneapolis

Goodwill, Here I Come

It seemed like a great plan: I’d take my no-longer-needed work clothes to a consignment shop and make a little money. Consignment store clothes are already inexpensive, and consignees only get a cut of the price—say 40 percent. So maybe I’d make $20. Then I’d use the cash for something fun—a little treat.

Choosing what to discard (a la Marie Kondo) was hard. I liked the clothes, felt good in them, and had enjoyed wearing them. But it didn’t make sense to keep them, since I no longer needed business attire. Maybe somebody else could use them. Last winter, I came up with a pile of about 15 pieces—jackets, tops, and pants. I washed them, hung them on hangers, and tried to keep the cat and his walking cloud of cat hair away from them.

Feeling virtuous and lighter, I called around and learned that the stores don’t want winter clothes in the winter. August is when I should bring in my fall and winter items. So I moved the clothes to the back of the closet and made a note on my calendar.

Last week, I loaded up the items and drove them to a nearby consignment shop. The sales associate said it would take an hour or so to go through my stuff. I assumed that meant deciding how to price everything. I took off to run some errands.

When I returned, I warned myself that the prices for my things might be lower than I expected. My cut might be small. Oh well, it was just meant to be fun money. No big deal.

When I found the sales associate, she said, “We are only able to accept a few of your clothes. Everything else is more than three years old.” In other words, my stuff was too out-of-style. I have never considered myself to be a fashion maven, but I thought my clothes were within acceptable limits for middle-aged business style. It’s not like I brought in a bunch of 1980’s power suits with jumbo shoulder pads.Power Suit pattern

“Do you want to take them back with you? If not, we can donate them,” the sales associate suggested. After making the decision to part with the clothes, I wasn’t bringing them home again. “No, go ahead and donate them,” I told her. I glanced at the three things she was keeping for sale and thought, “I’ll be lucky if I get $5 out of this. That’s a lot of work for a cappuccino!”

I laughed as I left the store and mentally paraphrased David Foster Wallace, “That’s another supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.”

Next time I clean out my closet, I’ll go directly to Goodwill!