27 July 2015

This is Goodbye

Thank you for reading.  I'll leave the posts up for a few more weeks before archiving them with my personal papers. They will not be available after 1 October 2015.

Safe journey and meaningful sojourns to you.

20 July 2015

Lessons in a Charmed and Imperfect Life

Living the last 30 days has been like skipping through a sun-drenched field of flowers -- and stepping on a nail.

Three nails, to be accurate. If I expand the time frame to include C_____'s betrayal, four nails.

Last night I dreamed that one of two friends who were living with me invited an "enemy" into the house without my permission. I exploded in highly articulate passion. "Don't ever bring anyone into my house who does not love me as I am!"

Today I am still walking in the after glow of the dream's exhilarating moment. Feeling tall and clear and certain.

I relish energetic exchanges sparked by a difference of opinion. I am a would-be lawyer. This is not about wishing that everyone saw things my way.

This is about people who want to see themselves as friends of mine, who would say with pride that they are good people and they care about me.  This is about those people, upon discovering something about me that conflicts with their projections and idealized views of me, deciding to either attack, criticize or jump ship.  They reject dialogue as an option. They reject empathy. They reject compromise.

Today, I erase the board: I've been using the wrong symbols to solve the problem. I've been trying to find a way to maintain intimate relationship with people who perceive a fatal flaw in me. They insist that I be some way other than I am...or else. No more cookies. No more peace.  No more love. For them, something I am or something I said or did presents as a mortal threat so dire as to justify attack.

If this is Love....  Intimacy is not possible under these conditions.

I understand their behavior is a commentary on the state of their own hearts and minds. I wish them well in their lives. I am moving on. I divest interest in finding a way to prove myself to them, finding a way to keep them in my heart.

This decision will change the flavor of our interactions from this point on. I accept them where they are -- people who find me flawed -- and will proceed accordingly.

14 July 2015

Eyes Wide Shut

For over a decade I have consistently declined to participate in conversations about "race" or "racism." In 2003, I watched the compelling PBS series "RACE: The Power of an Illusion" and was inspired to design a workshop entitled "Final Conversations on Race in America." The creators of the series were diligent and provided a wealth of supplemental teaching and research resources, available free from their website. The film and those resources provided the primary thematic content of my workshop.

A lot of people took issue with the workshop title. "Final conversations?! Race is still a huge problem," I heard from people of all colors. "It's naive/callous/arrogant/insulting/premature/etc. to think it's time to stop talking about it."

Sometimes, in response, I would explain that the title reflected my exhaustion with conversations about race. Yes, I agreed, there is something to be talked about but it isn't "race." Yes, it's a cultural thing but not a culture based on human ethnicity or skin color.

The workshop sought to expose people to the irrefutable science disavowing the existence of the thing we've been talking about for over a century; to allow space and time to process what might have been new information for some participants; to support integration of the ideas with facilitated dialogue and theatre games; and, to encourage participants toward continued contemplation and activism in their day-to-day lives based on insights gained during the workshop.

Today, the video at the head of this post appeared in my FB news feed. I watched it and a light went on in my head:  Yes!!!  We keep talking about "race" when what we need to talk about and act upon is "racism." Conversations about race miss the point. "Race" is an illusion; "racism" is the rampant, voracious cancer responsible for the corrosive malaise gripping the American psyche. Talking about "race" is talking around the edges, talking in circles at the periphery of the real problem.

All my life I've heard black people, some but not all of them oppressed and suffering, talk about "how white people are." Earlier in my adult life I endured queries by white people, most with good intentions, about why "black people are so...." this or that. Everybody talking about race, framing their comments and questions inside an assumption that we are different from each other as people, accepting as a given that "race" defines some fundamental, measurable, immutable difference.

It is and always was a flawed, and hence, irrelevant, premise.

I think I knew this unconsciously back when I was designing the workshop. I was exhausted with race talk because it never went anywhere, never produced any results, and never solved any problems. Things were the same after every workshop, sermon, seminar, keynote address, retreat and training.

Then Barack Obama was elected President.  Race talk had always been tense, delicate work. I think now that underlying and unaddressed issues contributed to the trickiness of those discussions. Sort of like when there's an elephant in the room that everyone agrees to ignore except that the elephant in this case is the systemic racism the entire nation bumps into and dances with every day. We had been talking about race, skin color, black culture and white culture for decades and then boom! a "black" man and his "black" family were living in the "White" House.  The sound of mental constructs shattering across the country was deafening.

The existence of President Barack Obama disrupted the flow of the race talk. The simplistic contexts for conversations about monolithic "white" people and "black" people were undone: there had never been valid bases for these conversations but we'd agreed to pretend there were. Not willfully, really; it is the nature of illusion to pervade perception and cloak alternative ways of seeing.

But the dissonance between reality/truth and illusion increased as time went on. Some people broke along that fault line. Their "true colors" began to show after years of being socially shamed into suppressing race bigotry or blatant, ostentatious exploitation of privilege. From politicians to plain
folk, they became bold and vocal and shameless:  unarmed black people were shot in the streets, black churches were torched, the President and his family were regularly disrespected, threatened and maligned. Elected officials resorted to acts of treason against the country and disregard for their constituencies. Mayhem!

Throughout the years of the Obama administration, people of conscience have sought to shame the hooligans back into silence with public accusations of "racism."  Years of talk about race and racism had at least managed to establish a fairly universal agreement that it's bad to be called a racist.

But something was wrong. The shaming wasn't working any more. In some cases, the accusations only stirred the accused to more vociferous expressions of bigotry as they sought to defend themselves against the accusations.

One had to wonder:  How could such ignorance and hatred persist in the land of the free and the home of brave? We have a Constitution. We have well-meaning white people. We've been talking earnestly about race for a long time. How can things be so awful?

Race-based ignorance and hatred is a mental illness.  It thrives on 1) failure, through inability or unwillingness, to diagnose and treat it; and 2) denial of the systemic supports that nurture and sustain the illness. Bipolar disorder, manic depression, schizophrenia, male erectile disorder...all acknowledged as mental disorders and energetically attacked with education campaigns, vigorous drug and psycho-social therapies, and well-funded pharmaceutical research.
But not, yet, racism.

Civil rights activism and legislative reform notwithstanding, we have not yet fully acknowledged the systemic nature of racism in the USA. Because conversations about "race" (the Illusion) continue to haunt and color conversations about racism, these discussions are still highly emotional encounters and, consequently, often and easily devolve into non-productive, circular discourse. Everybody takes everything personally.

We are all personally impacted by racism, yes. Racism is a contagion, coursing through the nation, a disease unchecked. It's like cancer in the way it adapts to its host:  it can thrive in school cells or church cells or the cells of financial institutions or governmental bodies. It's like herpes in the way it can lie dormant or flare up without completely debilitating the carrier.

One of the most striking points Laci makes in the video is that we've been "sick" with this disease for centuries. It will not be eradicated quickly.

But it will not be eradicated at all without our calling it what it is, acknowledging it is a sickness and deciding to treat it aggressively and relentlessly. There must be a national consensus that we want to get well. And we will each have to get over ourselves and let go of personal sensitivities.

The cure will require more than individual actions like inviting black people to your white church; more than passing desegregation legislation; more than affirmative action and Black Studies courses in our universities. It is about how many people of a certain color are in any given room or neighborhood or prison cell AND it is about more than that. It is about stereotyping and discrimination and prejudice wherever any of these occur AND it is about more than that.

Electing a "black" President did not eradicate racism. In a way, it only poked a hole in the thin containment seal formed by decades of race talk. And I suppose that's a good thing -- or it will be if it leads to transformation at the deepest levels of the American psyche. If we are awakened to the magnitude of the problem and see the way a hallucination has become the paradigm that has created and sustained a systemic web of racism,

if we are moved to bring a diligence on a par with the spirit of the "war on drugs" to the Remaking of America, then the suffering of the last few years will have been of some value.

As with so much that I rail against here at Sojourner in the 21st Century, the outcome remains to be seen.

13 July 2015

The Bright Side

What good is motivation if it doesn't spring from truth?  -- Chris Hedges in a post by Pallas this morning on FB

29 June 2015

Thank You....and I'm Sorry

For many years I have acknowledged without reserve two gifts from my mother:  teaching me to type and footing the bill for me to study piano from grade school through high school.  Each skill complemented the other, generously supporting acquisition and mastery. And, because of that, I developed exceptional eye-hand coordination, becoming a demon-fast typist and an accomplished pianist in the process. Both skills have at various times put food on the table and a roof over my head.

Two new insights today.

I didn't need to go to college. The staggering student loan debt I took on, that I will never have means to repay, was an unnecessary move. I have, to date, never had a job that required either of my college degrees.

Granted, my experiences in college led to adventures and being introduced to ideas I might not have encountered otherwise. I say, might not.

And the years I spent in classrooms also delayed commencement of the series of mind-numbing jobs I held after college. College was, hands down, a heck of a lot more fun than any job I've ever had working for someone else. It was a very expensive Good Time.

But the whole "go to college so you can get a good job" thing never panned out for me.

The second insight comes as I juggle my teaching schedule to accommodate the goings and comings of my students. Their lives encroach upon and collide with their music studies. This did not happen for me. My mother insisted, with very little resistance from me, that my piano lessons were a priority. Everything else came second. In the absence of debilitating illness, there were no acceptable reasons for missing a piano lesson. Period.

What drove her? It dawns on me today that she probably nurtured a dream of playing piano herself. A dream deferred -- realized vicariously. I benefited greatly from that situation and continue to benefit.

She frequently assured me, 'You have no talent. No more than anyone else. Anyone can play piano." Now I see that her sour-grapes attitude was an expression of a lifelong disappointment that she did not have/make a chance to play piano. In the lean years of my adulthood, when I could not afford to purchase or rent an instrument, she adamantly refused to store the family's piano with me and was staunchly uncooperative in working out a schedule so I could practice at her house.

Such mean-spirited-ness makes sense at last to me. It was a highly emotional issue for her. I didn't get what I wanted. I sacrificed so that you could have what I wanted. It hurts....

17 June 2015

Inadvertent Courage

Things are moving along. Progress is Happening.

One of the boys, D____, started work for hire today with my dear friend and comrade, Ms. Genna. The other boy, S_______, younger of the two, has had some difficulty honoring commitments and following through generally. They both have really; but D____'s challenges have not directly challenged either of the two specific agreements we made that day in the police station.

I requested and they agreed to keep in touch with me. Dates and times were left open. A fluid, organic, getting acquainted. Spending time together. Learning about each other. And, at least as it is turning out for me, also learning about myself.

I requested and they agreed to attend at least the next six sessions of the mentoring group that meets every second Saturday morning at the police station. The Chief mentioned it the day the boys were caught and I thought it sounded like a great idea.

D____ has been loose with regard to the first agreement but he has stayed in touch. Neither of the boys has a cell phone or access to land line. School is out and there is nothing to do in Holly Springs so they float around town. Hanging out. I reach them through somebody else's cell.

Last Saturday was the first mentoring session. D_____ showed and S________ did not.

They were to begin work with Ms. Genna today after ironing out schedule and pay arrangements yesterday afternoon at 2:30. Neither of them was here at 2:45 yesterday so I drove to Ms. Gemma's alone.  

I'd been there less than 15 minutes when D________ arrived. He remembered where she lived from when I took them for pizza and pointed at the house as we drove by. (The attention span of an adolescent boy fluctuates; hard to know whether they heard you...) I was delightfully surprised to see him. We hammered out details and he left, promising to be punctual the next morning.

He was punctual.

Around noon today, as I escorted a piano student to her car, S___________ arrived. "I'm ready to work Miss Alex."

That's great, I said. We need to talk first.

We sat on the front porch and I restated the provisions of our agreement. I asked if he remembered those provisions and he said he did. "Have you honored the agreement?" I asked.

"No," he almost wailed, "but I have an excuse. I overslept. I woke up at 6 and went back to sleep and then I woke up and it was 10."

"Thanks for that. I wondered what happened. Now I know. It's good to hear that you intended to honor the agreement.

"But you didn't honor the agreement. That's my point. And because of that, I don't feel good about approaching Ms. Genna, three hours late, and presenting you as a person I trust to do the work she has available. Can you understand that?"

He could but he was furious. Outraged that D______ was on the job today, MAKING MONEY -- and he was not. "It's not fair!! I'm the one who mowed your lawn that time!"

"Yes. I thanked and praised you for that when it happened.

"Defaulting on our agreement is what's happening now and I have no praise. I'm disappointed.


"if you can help me see you as work-ready and trustworthy, I will be happy to ask Ms. Genna if she's still interested in hiring you. Maybe she'll let you start work next week. Between now and then, your unpaid job and mission is to become a work-ready, dependable young man in Miss Alex' eyes. Can you do that?"

I told him that I care deeply about him and see this situation as an opportunity to facilitate a lesson about life in the "real world", the "adult world" (he is newly 16). A place where employees who oversleep, completely skip coming in that day, or calling in that day...then show up four days later saying they are ready to work are rarely allowed to keep that job. Second chances do happen in the Adult World but they're not guaranteed and the employment arena can be an especially unforgiving setting in the current job market.


He cooled down eventually and his complaints dwindled. We spent most of the afternoon together. Trying and failing to get the lawn mower working. Borrowing another only to have it also break down. Which required a trip to the repair shop.

His anger flared with each malfunctioning lawn mower and he would toss in a line like ...."I wouldn't even be bothering with this if I was at Ms. Gemma's working...."

"Yeah, you right," I admitted and moved the conversation back to whatever we were doing. I think he learned a lot this afternoon. At the repair shop, I asked if we could watch him work, so that S_______ could learn more about mower repair. The repairman agreed and we followed him to the rear of the shop where we entered a very, very male space:  lots of things made of iron lying about on the floor and on workbenches and in cabinets; huge floor fan blowing at hurricane strength and volume. The repairman even spat on the floor several different times, the last time into a puddle of motor oil.

Very different feel from my kitchen. Today was the first time S________ visited my kitchen. "You have little kitchen, Miss Alex," he said and laughed a little. "And clean."


Later I posted a brief report of today's events to Facebook and was again praised in a Comment for
my "courage." It looks brave from someone else's perspective but for me "courage" is about facing danger and feeling fear. I am not afraid and I do not sense danger in my relationships with D_____ and S_____________.

I feel unsure sometimes, like I'm doing things I've never done before. I feel the incline of the learning curve as I climb. It's steep but I am right where I am, with my feet right where they are....and so I'm OK. I don't have all the answers but I'm finding them. 

And finding people. And people are finding me. 

Progress is Happening. 

And it takes Time. Which means patience. I am patient. I am learning patience. 

I would say, "...among other things" but pressed to make a list of "things" I could not. It feels more like I am growing, experiencing simultaneous expansion and shrinking.  The circle of like-minded people and interested people and people in need of something I can offer and people who want to DO something is expanding. So many business cards and scraps of paper with email&phone and texts and Shares....

Simultaneously, my life focus is tightening. And brightening. I can see what I'm doing and I am all about doing what I'm doing. Paying attention.  Full attention.


all drop away, swirling off into the infinite black waters beyond the brilliant brightness of The Present Moment, the tempestuous currents of the Lost Past and the Unknowable Future.

This is a time of lessons in Attention and Patience. It is deeply spiritual work...which sometimes resembles courage.

12 June 2015

Ready for Close Up

The name for this blog was largely inspired by years of research into the life of the 18th century feminist lecturer, spiritual leader and social activist, Sojourner Truth. I admire and respect her personal integrity and spiritual passion. I feel a resonant kinship with her where our life paths trace similar arcs:  name change, social confusion about our genders and being often mistaken for a man, separation from her son, and a lifelong yearning for a place of her own, to name a few.

I was living without lease or keys or fixed address during most of the years of actively researching her life. I was physically relocating on an irregular and unpredictable schedule. Carrying what I needed in a backpack.

Sojourning. In the homes of friends or friends of friends or people I only knew through email. Playing "hello, new space" and "...my last night in this room..." scenes over and over.

I was the constant in those scenes. I like to say I learned a lot about myself and about human nature during those years. The solitude of "wandering" allows much time for reflection, which can benefit spiritual growth; but the impermanence of nomadic living frustrates other potential growth. Most plants have roots. 


Some things -- gardening and community, for instance  -- demand presence. Some evolution of consciousness is only accomplished in relationship. Some understandings about the journey of life are only acquired through intimate, ongoing, physical interactions with other humans.

These are not new ideas to me. For many years I have observed married people or people in other kinds of long-term relationships with an acute awareness that they at least had the potential to grow in ways that I could not. I did not find the situation distressing usually but I wondered "What does that kind of life feel like? How did they create that kind of life for themselves? Will I ever live that way?"

"Sojourn" contains a sense of imminent relocation. There is a farewell soon to come.

The sense of imminent relocation is fading within me. For the first time in 11 years, I am not thinking about where I'll be next.

It's not an "I love Holly Springs! I want to stay here forever," type feeling; but I'm not thinking about the future or yearning to move on.

It is a bit disconcerting. I am not anxious to get the hell out of Holly Springs?! What is happening to me?! I'm melting...........

 I love my house.
I love the things I do each day.
I feel loved and admired by the people around me.

Certainly not by design, but suddenly it is easier and more interesting to stop moving. I am not between sojourns. I am where I am. And there are people here.... And I am learning.

30 May 2015

For the Children...and the Artist

Life is strange. A week after chasing these boys to get my purse back -- a theft they perpetrated about 3 feet away from where they're sitting in this photo, I was serving them pizza on the same front porch. Some folks now describe me as heroic, a mensch, an inspiration. High praise...  And you know how difficult it can be to accept praise.

Honestly, it was never a choice between heroism and cowardice. I will allow that somewhere in me there must exist the capacity to press criminal charges against children; but that day in the police station, pressing charges was beyond me. It was out of reach. It was somebody else's movie.

I've spent a good bit of energy this week trying to find work for these two ready, willing and able candidates. Their stated reason for stealing my purse was "We weren't thinking. It was just something to do." I'm trying to find them something else to do -- and it is not easy.

Chores around my place require a financial investment I can't make yet:  cleaning supplies, a ladder, tools, lawn mower, etc. Chores somewhere else in the community require getting the word out -- and that takes time. Two possibilities have presented but one is an opportunity that won't begin for another two weeks. The other is a secondhand offer that has not yet been substantiated...though I've called at least once a day, leaving voicemail, for the last 4 days.

The summer youth program accepted applications in March and final placements were completed this week. All 30 of them. According to latest statistics, nearly 50% of the population here is under the age of 22. Judging from what I see, most of them are unemployed.

I don't know what I want. As I chased the boys, I wanted my purse back. By the time I was standing in the police station, embracing them, I wanted a productive outlet for two bored adolescents; a few days later, the objective had become paid summer employment for them and as many other Holly Springs youth as possible.

In pursuit of that objective, I've had conversations around town with identified adult power brokers. My inquiry about summer jobs has provoked long-winded diatribes about rampant irresponsibility and lack of ambition among (variously):

  •  young people generally, 
  • single mothers, 
  • all young black males, and 
  • black people generally 
I've heard self-righteous umbrage at the ungrateful behavior of people the speaker has"tried to help." And I've received sharp warnings from people who recognize the family names of the boys that my goodwill is sure to end badly.

It's been a disheartening and exhausting week on this front. I recognize that I cannot find or create work for the boys -- and the other unemployed youth in the community -- by myself. Yet, I don't yet see much assistance in the vicinity.

If I were to mount a bully pulpit today, I would express my dismay and disappointment that the community finds resources to sustain a church on every other street but can only muster summer jobs for 30 kids. I am asked over and over "What church do you attend?" as proof of my character; but, to my eye, folks are long on thumping the Bible and short on living its precepts.

Placing blame on people who need help (and who among us does not need help?), can allow a tiny clearance for wiggling away from our human responsibility to help; but for Christians, there is no such clearance available because the basis for the practice is the life of Christ, a man notorious for opening his arms and his life to people rejected by their communities for one reason or another.

I don't know exactly what I want. I know I don't want to talk to any more people unwilling to look beyond their own needs or relinquish their death-grip on well-rehearsed tirades about people who (they think) need to change their ways and attitudes. (Am I talking about myself?)


I accept there's no way to avoid interactions with such people. I can't do this alone. I'm not "from here" so my personal influence is limited.

I feel out of my element. If I could tackle this thing with purely artistic intention...

27 May 2015


Last week I submitted a piece for the Letters to the Editor page of the South Reporter, the local weekly newspaper. A combination thank-you letter to all the people who have come to my rescue in the last two weeks and love letter to Holly Springs for its recent affectionate regard, it began: 
On Monday 11 May,  a few minutes before noon, a “friend” who had hosted me in his home for nearly three years, handed me a court-issued Removal Order giving me 5 hours to vacate.  There was no advance warning, no explanation, no day in court. Because of my work schedule, I actually had only two hours to find boxes, pack my belongings, hire a truck and transport everything – somewhere. I was shocked, distraught and heartbroken.
The editor called me yesterday afternoon. He thanked me for the submission, complimented the writing and, in response to my concern about the length, assured me there was no problem with the length.

"But," he said, "I think it's better not to include that first paragraph. This is a small town and people might not like that kind of thing. Too personal. Everybody knows everybody around here and they'd rather not get involved in your personal affairs." He suggested an edit along the lines of "On Monday 11 May I was given five hours to vacate my home. Because of my work schedule...."

I didn't quibble. Although I could argue that the first paragraph provides a context for the magnitude of my gratitude, it isn't essential.  I am grateful and, for the first time, genuinely happy in Holly Springs and my sentiment can be clearly understood without the original opening lines.

Besides noting the amusing irony of editing newspaper content to spare readers involvement in "personal affairs," in a town where talking about each others' personal affairs is the primary entertainment, I started thinking about social censorship and silences here, what's OK and not OK to say in Holly Springs.

It's OK, for example, to decry the constant persecution of the Christian minority in the U.S.by the unbelieving majority from any pulpit in town -- though there is little evidence in the "real world" to support such a statement; but it is not OK to recount the details of a real-life event in the local newspaper, even if you don't use names.

This is, of course, a problematic comparison since the Church, here and around the world, is often exempt from many of the social, political and cultural restrictions that apply in secular life. I employ it, however, because  conservative Christian values are primary and pervasive determiners of culture in Holly Springs.

To a large degree, standards governing day-to-day behavior in Holly Springs -- everything from dreams to jokes to fashion, education to commerce to  interpersonal relationships -- are set by a generic Church with specific denominational tweaks in effect here and there. The standards might as well be written in the sky or tattooed on every resident's body. Believer or non-believer:  you feel it when you've broken a rule.

In place of skywriting or body-writing, the Upcoming Events section of each week's edition of the newspaper is given over to church-related events. When I last attended a city government meeting, it opened with prayer -- Christian prayer. Store clerks regularly close transactions with "Have a blessed day."

A window in the entryway to the only grocery store has become by default a community bulletin board. The typical "roommate wanted," "car for sale," and "drum circle forming" notices found on such boards in other places I've lived, are replaced here by Church anniversary, Bible study group, Praise group meeting and "Repent and Be Saved!" announcements.

The "Writers Group" notice I posted during my first summer in town mysteriously disappeared after a few days. I got the message and didn't even consider posting a "Piano Lessons" flyer when I opened a piano studio soon after.

I feel better about living here now than I have at any time since arriving. Still, as I observed social censorship (in the guise of "etiquette" especially) a perception formed that persists even now.

Secrecy and certain kinds of silence are social toxins. A contaminant in the water of community. Applauding and celebrating openly when a celebrity comes to town. No comment or critique of the generally inadequate public schools. No comment or critique of public officials whose corruption and unresponsiveness are common knowledge among the people they serve. 

The culture and psyche of a community where free speech and thought are suppressed or proscribed are necessarily malformed. Philanthropy, innovation, historic preservation and entrepreneurship are just a few of the civic impulses desirable and necessary for a thriving community; all of them are diminished and damaged when free speech and thought are prohibited.

There is a contest in progress here. "Outsiders" like myself who see ourselves as residents of Holly Springs for the foreseeable future tread lightly, carrying big sticks of possibility and change. We arrived as free thinkers and make every effort to persist without wounding others or becoming martyrs ourselves. In every "what to do about Holly Springs" conversation, someone says "The town needs an influx of new blood, new people with new ideas and strategies." The outsiders are the new blood. We are outnumbered by "insiders" and outweighed by their collective memory.

Sometimes things change. Sometimes places change.

But sometimes they don't. They just die. The algorithm of why and which places is somewhat mysterious.

We do what we can. And hope it works out.

[Here's a link to the letter in it's entirety: The full edited letter]

22 May 2015

Clairvoyance: The Move to Yellow Fever House, Part 2

2.     quick, intuitive knowledge of things and people; sagacity.

a digital representation of Rene Magritte's painting 'La Clairvoyance';
harvested from Google Images search results

 The second day after the move, a Saturday, my purse was snatched from my front porch by two adolescent males. Don't ask what I was thinking:  I couldn't tell you. But I took off in hot pursuit. A 60-year-old smoker, I chased these boys. Reflecting on the whole episode a few days later, I thought "Wow! Adrenaline is real!"

Here's an excerpt of my FaceBook post (FaceBook, the record of human history not told in History Books):

So much for a relaxing rainy Saturday. ... I sat an armload of bags and my purse on the porch and turned to retrieve the things from the trunk of the car. I was about 10 or 11 feet away from my bags when two young males dashed onto the porch, snatched my bag and started running. I yelled "Stop! Stop them! They snatched my purse" and started running after them. "Stop! Just drop it, it's OK. Just drop it!" I screamed but they did not drop it.

A driver on the next street over saw and heard what was happening and set out in pursuit. ...another car pulled up, ..and shouted "Get in! We'll get them!"

We called the police while in pursuit and chased until we hit a dead end. The boys had cut across the graveyard and run into the adjacent woods. Within 5 minutes HS police, Officer Glover, was on the scene. My driver let me out when the police arrived and the other driver jumped out of his car and ran a short way into the field/woods before returning. "I know one of those boys, " he said. ...

...The policeman took me home and ...I went ...to the library to use internet and cancel cards, phone, etc.

Back on my front porch with friends ...I was into the story when Chief Harris pulled up. "We caught them. We got your purse. Can you follow me to the station?"

..."Do you want to press charges?" I started crying. "No, I don't. Like we need two more black boys dropped into the justice system..."

"Well, do you want an apology?" "Yes!" I followed him to his office. The boys were there. ... One 15 years old and the other 18. The grandmother who has custody of the older boy was there. The mother of the other arrived a little later. They apologized. We talked. We all cried at some point. Even the boys. I hugged them both, a lot. ...

Chief Harris mentioned a mentoring program that meets every second Saturday. The boys apologized ..and I asked them to promise me to attend at least the next six sessions ...I also asked them to keep in touch with me. ...

I told them they have power and choice. "Holly Springs is your home, babies. You have power to make this community. You can live like you want a Miss Alex Piano Teacher's house, where you can stop by and get a coke or help with homework or talk about your girlfriend; or you can live like you want Miss Alex to start carrying a gun and looking at you and every other young man with suspicion." ...

...I have two new princes in my circle of acquaintance. I care about these boys. They said they "just weren't thinking" when they snatched the purse. The opportunity presented and they took it.

I got everything but my phone back. This is how bright these youngsters are: they figured the phone would have GPS so they tossed it wide into the woods first thing. I'll have to buy a new phone but, otherwise, what a happy ending? Who knew I could run two blocks?
 I thought this blog post was about clairvoyance. About seeing. The crystal clear view I experienced during the adrenaline rush of chasing the boys. My self perspective one morning this week when the boys stopped by unexpectedly: I was still in pajamas, uncombed and unwashed, with coffee. A little embarrassed but very glad to see them. I wanted to write about how I felt this morning when D___ (one of the boys; they're both minors so I won't use their names) dropped by. In search of a pencil sharpener.

I was in pajamas again. This time pre-coffee even. I was glad to see him. Also felt a tinge of suspicion and fear -- he came specifically to my house? to sharpen a pencil?  Alone?  Also excited:  I asked him what he was working on and he mumbled something about a Spanish project. I said, "Bueno! Tu hablas espanol?" Blank stare and something mumbled about not knowing about "all that." I told him it sounded like an exciting project and offered whatever assistance he needed since I speak Spanish fairly fluently.

Yeah, I wanted to write about how my view of the boys, as well as the view of myself, is changing through encounter.

But I ran a Google Image search on "boys will be boys" and found so many intriguing images, I decided to devote the rest of the post to sharing some of the ones that piqued my interest. Enjoy!

21 May 2015

Lies and promises: The Move to Yellow Fever House, Part 1

Exodus 20:3-17 (Holy Bible, NRSV)

1.       You shall have no other gods before me
2.       You shall not make idols (“…whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Note: verses 4-6 are potent and provocative.)
3.       You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord
4.       Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
5.       Honor your father and your mother
6.       You shall not murder
7.       You shall not commit adultery
8.       You shall not steal
9.       You shall not bear false witness (against your neighbor)
10.    You shall not covet (you neighbor’s house…wife, male or female slaves, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor)

There’s so much bad behavior not mentioned in the Ten Commandments...

It is a little strange to find myself sitting before an open Bible at 7 a.m. But I have a new address. A new home. New rooms. New views from new windows. I’m in a new space, doing new things and everything is a little strange. Not unpleasant or frightening. Just…..new.

The events precipitating my relocation were also strange. Sudden and unexpected and unexplained. There is some chance that I will eventually file a detailed written account of the whole “episode”; but the task is not a high priority. I posted an S.O.S. on FaceBook early (during the first — and only --  moment of panic I have felt since my mother died in 2012).   That post generated many Comments and I engaged with them briefly and sporadically; but the moving process required vigorous mental, intellectual, physical and spiritual attention. There was little energy leftover for interactions on FaceBook.

It’s been eight days since that Monday morning when I stood in pajamas making coffee and heard the front door open. The night before, I’d had the dream about losing teeth again. In the dream, as usually happens, I am startled to find teeth, unanchored, in my mouth. New in this edition of the dream:  they are not my teeth. My teeth are all anchored evenly in my gums, bright white and shiny. I am deeply amused by the situation. I feel fat and solid and content. I am about to spit the loose, alien teeth out into my palm to take a closer
look when I wake up.

An hour later, a few minutes before noon, a troubled man who has been my housemate for over a year and was a friend for ten years before that, walked through the house and into the kitchen, said “Good morning” for the first (and possibly only) time since I returned from Brazil at the end of March, and handed me a Removal Order from the Justice Court of Marshall County, Mississippi. “The Court says you have to be out of here by 5 p.m,” he said.

We had the briefest of eye contact before he turned and walked out of the house. We had had infrequent eye contact for a long time. His eyes that morning were disturbing; I saw coldness, death, fear, bondage, hatred and confusion there. I saw sickness and suffering. 

Days later, I would remember the dream and think “Those were Troubled Man’s teeth!”


It took less than 72 hours to travel from receiving the Removal Order to receiving the keys to my beautiful new home but a lot happened in that time.  Three days of Amazing Grace:  rescue and resources from trusted friends, surprising support from acquaintances and strangers, fortuitous serendipity and coincidence, profound experiences of gratitude washing over and within me.

Unpacking and settling into the new house has gradually revealed “what I lost in the move.” I had students scheduled the day of the Removal Order so five hours was in actuality less than three. I loaded what I could into my car and relocated Piano Studio to the Episcopal church for the afternoon. At 5:00 p.m., I started my final lesson for the day but back on Johnson Park, I imagine Troubled man began feverishly dumping my belongings on the curb. By the time I arrived over an hour later, with Angels of Mercy, there was  a jumbled mess on the sidewalks of 216 Johnson Park. 

We had no boxes. We worked fast to cram everything into my VW and the two vehicles of the Angels. By Wednesday, things had been sorted and boxed and made for transport from the fancy front rooms of the Angels to my new home.

Thoughts of Troubled Man and Johnson Park now arise most often when I need something and discover it is no longer in my possession. It might be a knife – carefully chosen and preferentially used for three years…and “lost in the move” (LIM). Or the matching chopstick to the surviving singleton of a cherished pair. Or the beautiful wooden linen shelf from the bathroom. Or the handy undulating floor fan. Or a set of plastic nesting containers for leftovers. Or measuring cups, brandy snifters, champagne glasses, cherry-red barbecue grill…  Can goods and spices and cooking oil. All LIM.

Each instance produces a tiny psychic stab and, for a couple of days, elicited an automatic “Fuck you, C______.” The utterance happens less and less often as a) feelings of annoyance are overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude and contentment; and b) remembrance and reflection on the final days of our relationship reveal the sad underlying dis-ease compelling his actions.  It is within these reflections that the issue of “lies and promises” occurs. 

I would rather receive scathing criticism or outright argument than be ignored. I would rather hear hard truth than a lie. I prefer being flatly denied a request to being belatedly betrayed. 

Troubled Man preferred non-communication and betrayal. In retrospect, (see "Both Sides Now" post here at SITC) signs of the likelihood of the failure of our friendship were in evidence from the beginning. Recurrent pangs of “Ah! I should have known. I should have listened to my gut…” have been features of this transition. 

An essential and enduring mystery at the center of this story is “Why did he kick me out?”  Additional questions include:

·         Why is he angry?
·         Why did he stop talking to me?
·         Why did he deposit his mother on the front porch to watch the eviction?
…all of which can be distilled to “What happened?”

And then I remember his eyes. And the answer is right there:  Something broke.

It is frightening to think about it too often or for too long. I imagine the psychic and physical condition associated with eyes that gleam with such hostile confusion. 

I shudder…and willfully turn my attention away from such imaginings.


Through silence, cowardice and passivity, the Troubled Man avoided outright lying. The Ten Commandments include no specific prohibition against the default lying that results from omission or silence, for example. Or lies of denial or deception. The Removal Order permitted him to passively withdraw his hospitality (“The Court [‘not me’] says you have to be out of here by 5 p.m.”). 

Back in August 2012, the first or second night I was in Holly Springs, before Troubled Man flew back to his pastoral duties on the East Coast, he said “As long as you live in Holly Springs, you will always have a home on Johnson Park.” It sounded like a promise. My gut clenched. These almost-three years later, I can admit that that clenching sensation was the physical expression of instinctual distrust; I did not believe his words. 

It was embarrassing. I did not say “I don’t believe you.” (In my memory, only once have I ever told someone to their face “I don’t believe you.” Contemporary social culture seems to generally regard it as rude to say such a thing outright. In my lexicon it is akin to throwing a drink in someone’s face….which I also remember doing only once in my life. I confess experiencing supreme satisfaction after each faux pas.) I remember he also shed tears during this conversation. The whole thing was rare and embarrassing and memorable.

I shudder now…and willfully turn my attention away from such memories.


I am happier now than I have been since my first days in Holly Springs. The undergirding of this joy is different from those first happy days fueled by anticipation and curiosity. This joy is sparked by the blatant and relentless generosity and goodwill I have received from members of a community I thought despised me. I feel at last the dawning embrace of acceptance. A hundred times a day, I stop in my tracks and gaze around me and say aloud “I love my home!” All anxiousness to “get out of Holly Springs” has disappeared. 

I want to take on more piano students. I want to make this house a home. I want to attend a City Council meeting and research the history of this house, the other “named” houses on the street and the town in general and share the stories with tourists (I’ve done a bit of this already after living here for only five days!) I want to maintain a relationship with the young men who stole my purse Saturday (that story for another post). I can imagine a future of unspecified duration here in Holly Springs. 

My gut is not clenched. A thrum of  “possibility” winds through me. Mornings glow. The breeze at dawn has a secret again….”Don’t go back to sleep.”

[Note:  This posting was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was those boys who stole my purse last weekend, plus a friend! They came to visit and talk about what they could do to make amends. The Future and Possibility came to my door this morning. Amazing Grace!!! Who would have imagined I would end up in  MS playing Debussy on piano for adolescents I met for the first time at the police station?]