Witness to a Year: Diverse Book Challenge--November
It is no longer summer. Snow fell today over orange leaves, although it is barely even fall. But, summer was when things appeared. I can only call them things today because I am not done untying their knotted clump. Still, there is a hardness inside, something substantial. Summer was when things that matter, could matter, would matter in terms of diversity narratives, had entwined for me.
The summer semester course, one of the only during my Masters’ coursework that I had embraced instead of endured, was called Globalization and Linguistic Human Rights. The pivotal document was a map that overlaid a reduction in biodiversity with cultural diversity. The professor’s words that framed the image were “find your corner of the world where you can make the most impact.” The Master’s coursework took place during one interlude in Wisconsin between Guatemalan lives, and I was sure I had found that corner nestled in a village on the shores of a mountain lake. However, ten years later I had retreated home. Each corner had been chosen more than once, but like the seasons each decision cycled into itself. Everyone knows the definition of insanity, after all, doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
“We must study madness in order to learn how to resist,” Professor Wiesel replies. “Madness holds the key to protest, to rebellion. Without it, if we are too ‘sane’ by the standards of our surroundings, we can be carried along with the world’s madness.”
The years that grew from weeks were the journey to find that corner. Those steps were their own type of swirling feverish dance, but more high pitched cackling laughter rose in mad frenzy at the realization of a journey only in my feet, but never in my head. In my head, I never went anywhere at all. So too is the case for readers.
I struggled with the theme for this month’s post.
Change? Yes. Maybe? It’s a verb not a noun.
I flip through a book’s pages.
One Plastic Bag
The book resonates with the folly of Peace Corps. The endless hours I spent picking up garbage that the villagers knew the paid muni staff would pick up. The counted breath of instructions that required tools no one had. Yet, the picture book reminder of my insanity also speaks to the capable analysis of the cultures at risk because they were never like me. The capacity I was sent to build that was already built as long as the people themselves choose to reveal their own protest.
Act. Could be? Can be? It’s a verb, more rooted. Practical.
At a conference another book is recommended by the same author as the book before.
I am Farmer
Farmer. The word is an insult to the young boy. Another kind of madness, to place a value on something green other than money. Insanity to settle in a lonely place because the place isn’t lonely but busy with interactions of another, less noticed, quieter so less important kind. Farmer, you can do better, you did better, and yet here you are. The water in Cameroon makes people sick. The water in Wisconsin does too.
So, I sit in my father’s grandfather’s farm house and wonder where I fit. My sister in law asks about a Carlos Castaneda book my mother read. In it I discover a reference to “nagual” the focus of my first novel. The pursuit of writing, my writing, is insanity too. Such a value placed in words, my own words. Folly.
Or, I twist my legs around themselves and lean forward towards the computer assigned to me in my office at work doubting the next step will reveal itself to me. But then, just beyond the stock photo of a beautiful Guatemalan lake is a newsletter in my inbox about the word “Ladino” that reveals a woven Jewish Spanish past. I embrace the endless oneness of the identities both given and chosen to me. My pockets clink with the richness of DNA destined to protest.
As I return from the non-fiction children’s stacks November’s theme calls to me from a final selection. My Corner of the Ring. This month’s theme comes to me at the end as another beginning of the same beginning and a reminder that words like "corner" and "community" open themselves up to broader definitions and combinations like the map I treasured. Fight.
The first two books referenced are picture books written by Wisconsin native Miranda Paul. As an educator always interested in environmental education and civic engagement, these two books are absolutely representative of battles in my fight. One Plastic Bag tells the story of how one African woman began a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community. In Guatemala I saw those plastic bags too, left along the road under the old custom of baskets and leaves and other protective materials that could decompose safely back into the nature from which they came. Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and fight for her community in a small way, a way so small, it must have appeared insane that it would make a difference.
I am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon is another story with the commonly crazy turn of belief in what others had stopped believing. When Tantoh Nforba was a child, he was ridiculed for an interest in something so poor, so likely to be a dead end, an interest in the knowledge of the earth. Yet, ending death is instead what Tantoh did by bringing clean water and bountiful gardens to the central African nation of Cameroon.
My Corner of the Ring: As Told to Brin Stevens, A Memoir from a Champ is a biography of Jesselyn Silva. I appreciate the Goodreads lead in that I must quote it here. “In this Lean-In style inspirational memoir, twelve-year-old Jesselyn Silva offers a ringside seat to girl power and what it takes to win in the ring and in life: punch by punch.” As one of the very few female boxers in the country, every pass of her hand wrap, every adjustment of her mouth guard or drop of blood must have seemed mad, and yet those small drops had big ripples. Yes, girls can fight, in every corner of the ring, in every corner of the world. For every girl, and especially every girl who was motivated by her father, a single father no less like my own, Jesselyn’s story was so crazy it worked.
Diverse book reads blog posts applied to my own life
Canaries in the Mine
If I Wasn’t a Girl
Steps Matter More Than Tracks
Burger, Ariel. (2018). Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom. Houghton Mifflin
Paul, Miranda. (2019) I am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon.
Millbrook Press: Minneapolis.
Paul, Miranda. (2015) One Plastic Bag. Millbrook Press: Minneapolis.
Silva, Jesselyn (2019). My Corner of the Ring: As Told to Brin Stevens, A Memoir from