Privilege as Currency

Ijeoma Oluo writes ‘Every time you go through something, and it’s easy for you, look around and say, “Who is it not easy for? And what can I do to dismantle that system?”‘

While I would not classify the last couple of years as “easy,” Jason and I have identified that it’s in large part a function of our privilege that he’s still alive. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean everything is easy, or everything is handed to you…my friend Robert Caldwell of Answer Poverty gives this definition of privilege which I think is super useful:

Privilege is your access to the resources and opportunities necessary for achieving success in our socio-economic system AND…insulation from the impacts of systemic injustices that work against success in our socio-economic system because of your social location.

Social Location is your place or position in society (and history) as defined by your gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location.

For my family dealing with heart disease that looks like (among other things):
~Having the time to call doctors over and over until someone listened
~Having good health insurance so they could fight with the hospital about cost of treatment, and so he could receive treatment in the first place
~Having money to pay for medical costs
~Having time to figure out this whole food plant based thing (which is NOT easy at first, no matter what some blogger told you)
~Having money to buy good quality food
~not living in a food desert so we had access to nutritious foods
~other factors I didn’t even think of right now because they were not obstacles for us, and anyhow you get the point

I’ve been advised recently to think of privilege as a currency to spend. The question I keep hearing is “What do I do?”
Critical thinking is needed.
Shortly after the election a friend of mine came over. We sat at the dining room table and ate tacos (remember when everyone was sad there wouldn’t be a taco truck on every street corner?) and he asked me, “What do I do? I want to do racial justice work but I don’t know how to begin.”
“You should find a homeschooling co-op that is run by a black woman, and do the best you can to support her leadership.”
“Crap! I better find some kids to homeschool then!”
The thing is (as the snarky example above shows), I don’t know exactly how every person should engage with the work of dismantling white supremacy. When you have stage 4 metastatic cancer you don’t usually do one thing. You do all the things. You see an oncologist and a radiologist and a primary care doctor and you eat special food and you take care of your mental health however you can. Racial justice work in America is like that. We have to specialize, with the bigger picture in mind.

Critical thinking is needed.

There are common threads for sure, and if someone’s social location is similar to yours you may be able to glean from them. If someone’s social location is different from yours that can and should also inform your work. There are a lot of people writing about this. Try to find and read the work of people whose social location is different from yours (this is especially and incredibly important if you are a dominant paradigm person). Part of the way I’ve chosen to spend my privilege is to help make a way for others to tell their stories and be believed. That won’t fix everything, but it’s a necessary step.

The more privilege we have, the more opportunity we have to spend it to effect a change. Or not.

Critical thinking is needed.



New measure of thought quality: Thoughts Per Minute (TPM’S). Thinking a lot isn’t always bad. I like the way my brain works most of the time. But as my brain revs up when I get stressed, I think about something until I get stuck and can’t figure it out, then jump tracks and think about something else. The more the stress, the quicker my brain switches from item to item, without really ever finishing a thought. Too many TPM’S.

There are a variety of ways to address this, I think. Part of the solution is to do the work of thinking about hard things past the point that feels comfortable. I should probably come up with a list of the more productive…what’s that? Sure, I’ll get you a glass of water. Drinking a whole glass of water is good for refocusing, theoretically. Yes, and a snack. Yes, we can play Chutes and Ladders. Goodness the living room’s a mess. Are those bobby pins on the floor? My hair itches. I’m hungry. What are we having for dinner? Hey, groups of people cook dinner at the Ronald MacDonald House. That’s so cool. Wait, what was I doing…?

p.s.- I’ve been told by someone whose opinion I trust that this doesn’t even cover the half of it. “More isn’t always better Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”

A Princess Worth Mentioning: Irene

An excerpt from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

“She ran for some distance, turned several times, and then began to be afraid. Very soon she was sure that she had lost the way back. Rooms everywhere, and no stair! Her little heart beat as fast as her little feet ran, and a lump of tears was growing in her throat. But she was too eager and perhaps too frightened to cry for some time. At last her hope failed her. Nothing but passages and doors everywhere! She threw herself on the floor, and burst into a wailing cry broken by sobs.   She did not cry long, however, for she was as brave as could be expected of a princess of her age. After a good cry, she got up, and brushed the dust from her frock. Oh, what old dust it was! Then she wiped her eyes with her hands, for princesses don’t always have their handkerchiefs in their pockets, any more than some other little girls I know of. Next, like a true princess, she resolved on going wisely to work to find her way back: she would walk through the passages, and look in every direction for the stair. This she did, but without success. She went over the same ground again an again without knowing it, for the passages and doors were all alike. At last, in a corner, through a half-open door, she did see a stair. But alas! it went the wrong way: instead of going down, it went up. Frightened as she was, however, she could not help wishing to see where yet further the stair could lead. It was very narrow, and so steep that she went on like a four-legged creature on her hands and feet.”

Necessary Fun

Goodbye, 31. I will not miss you when you leave tomorrow.

To be frank, you were kind of an asshole. It’s not your fault, really. I know that. But the past year was long, and while clicking over to another number in my age obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, there is a certain relief in turning the page on everything that happened. Too much sickness. Too much anxiety. Too much cancer. Too much death. Just…too much.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to throw a party. I love cooking for people (I get that from my mom who is a beautiful cook), and have ever since I learned to put together simple recipes. In college there were friends who would just randomly show up at our apartment if they thought I was home and ask me to feed them something. The Jewish ladies at the preschool where I worked before E was born used to call me a “balabusta”.

So, it’s not a new thing in my life to be gathering groups of people together. What’s new is how it feels now. Until the past year, I mostly loved having people around just for the joy of it. A couple of us would decide to do something and invite whomever we could think of who would enjoy that thing and our company. Even if it was just taking pictures of each other in silly poses (we used to call it “performance sculpture”) in the flower section at Walmart, we knew how to have a good time.

The past year, the push to gather people together has taken on an aspect of needing to huddle together for a bit in a storm. Instead of just being so taken up with the fun of things that I can’t help but invite people along, I find myself going into a gathering thinking of how much every single person I know is dealing with. The First World does a tolerable job for a while of disguising that fact that life is hard. But all the smartphone apps in the Google Store can’t disguise the fact that people get cancer. They have miscarriages. Marriages are threatened. People need transplants, or they die suddenly of heart attacks or strokes. They have crises of faith and of identity.

And I’m continually struck by how brave it is to come, with all of your Stuff, to be with others. I know how much courage that can take sometimes, because even extroverts get overrun by their thoughts sometimes (contrary to what you’ll read on some of the more absurd “23 signs you’re an introvert” Facebook lists–but I digress).

So we gather. We invite a few friends so that all the pressure isn’t on one person to Show Up. We laugh, we cry, sometimes we talk about our Stuff, sometimes we talk about the price of tomatoes at the market or how to keep our kids from pooping on the carpet so much during potty training. And it’s fun. The fact that people Have Stuff doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their company, but informs and enriches it. To be human is to Have Stuff (sometimes this is uncharitably called “crazy”); to have a really great friend is to have a sufficiently safe space to show enough of your crazy that maybe you can eventually let a bit of it go.

Life is hard and confusing, and we are all doing our best. But in doing life together, the group lends a sense of respite, strength, and safety that can help prepare us to face what we must.

It’s fun, I promise. But Important Fun. Necessary Fun.


“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 


Thanksgiving Recipe Link Roundup

I like things a certain way. And every year, if I find a recipe for a Thanksgiving staple that I really like, I tend to want to keep it in mind. But for some reason, I’ve not catalogued them all in one place, so I end up googling them over and over during this week.

So I submit for your convenience (but mostly for mine):

My favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

I will try to faithfully note modifications to each recipe, as I rarely make a recipe just exactly as it’s written. I’m not a rule-follower all the time. Things like “All-purpose” usually translate to “whole spelt” in my kitchen. and “shortening” really means “butter” or very occasionally “lard”. You’ll probably also notice that many of these recipes are Alton Brown. He’s a genius. Even if I change some of the ingredients, or even use a different cookbook entirely, I usually use his methods. He’s our science teacher too…is there a better way to teach a four year old about chemical reactions than to make brownies while listening to Alton Brown describe the reaction that’s happening?! You know you were successful because of, you know, the deliciousness. But I digress. Without further ado,

Turkey Brine-by Alton Brown or Turkey Brine– The Pioneer Woman- I haven’t entirely settled on a brine recipe yet. But I know I don’t want candied ginger, and I do want apple cider, peppercorns, and lots of salt. I’ll update if I make one this year and love it. You know, for posterity. It should also be noted that I fundamentally disagree with Alton Brown about the usefulness of stuffing in to mankind.

Tart Cranberry Dipping Sauce-though the version I make is simpler- a package of fresh cranberries, a couple of bottles of all-natural ginger ale, some maple syrup and some dried orange zest.

Green Bean Casserole– didn’t know this could be delicious, or made without a lot of crap ingredients. Turns out greenbeans don’t have to be mushy.

Potato Refrigerator Rolls (or these self-proclaimed “southern” ones)- I usually use some mix of the recipes and use freshly ground spelt flour for ours.

Viv’s Stuffing- This woman named Viv lived here for a bit a few years back, and she made us a Thanksgiving meal. Her stuffing was very simple, and I loved the big chunks of bread. I have to say, it feels a bit heretical to be admitting publicly that I like another stuffing besides my mom’s. I think, to be fair, that my tastes changed and I like most stuffing now, and I’ve since had my mom’s and it is very delicious too (we will be having both this weekend at some point), but this is the first time I remember eating stuffing and liking it, so it’s what I make. You make a broth with the giblets, saute up some onions and celery, season with a mix of poultry-type spices like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Then you can sing that song. But use whatever you want. Moisten the bread (not too much…if you’ve brined you’ll have a juicy bird anyway!)  and stuff. That’s it!

Candied Yams-My mom’s recipe. Until I got married I didn’t know that Thanksgiving sweet potatoes came without marshmallows. Huh. If you like that, then good for you. But this recipe is really important to me so I tend to make it no matter where we end up on or around Thanksgiving.- bake the sweet potatoes (apparently ‘yams’ are what grow primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, while ‘sweet potatoes’ are what grow here. The more you know) until a fork goes in easily. Peel, cut up into chunks, top with chunks of butter, sugar, cinnamon or whatever spices you like, and marshmallows. If you have a four-year-old, do not let her eat all the marshmallows. But let her eat some of them. ‘Cause you’re not a big meanie or a Thanksgiving bah-humbug. Or save the sugar consumption for pie. You’re smart. I know you’ll do the right thing for your kid.

Apple Pie and Pumpkin Pie- no link for this one….my mom recently switched to an all-butter crust. This feels like a really big deal to me as I’ve never really felt confident making pie crust, despite having several friends who make really delicious ones. There’s this mental disconnect because I didn’t want to use Crisco and figured I wouldn’t be able to duplicate her crust so why bother? Anyway she has promised to teach me this weekend so maybe after that I’ll finally be able to get my head around it. All the other teachers in the world are great, but this is My. Mom. and I have super high hopes that it’ll sink in after this. No pressure, Mom. 😉