Long before each soul was laid

Now hushed, fields once green;
stained crimson by those that paid
the greatest price, their fate foreseen
long before each soul was laid,
screams dissolve, the cannons fade

bodies clad in rival dye
together form more fertile ground,
so under kindly azure sky,
gleeful daisies now abound
the tragic scene their joy surrounds.

The first day of the rest of your life

Yesterday the last of my college responses came. For the last four years I’ve been in and out of junior college, dealing with a bipolar disorder that was resisting treatment. Besides that, I realized in the fall of 2009 that the prep school utopia was not for me- I couldn’t switch from pressure cooker high school to a pressure cooker college, on to a pressure cooker career. That was a road with an unhappy conclusion. But I felt ready to try to transfer.

I got into all the places I had applied. When I first applied to colleges out of high school, I visited one and bought a lovely heavy long-sleeved shirt with the name on the front. When I did not get into that particular school, it always felt a bit strange (though the shirt was lovely and I couldn’t throw it away). This year when I visited my favored place I got a hoodie and played the same game of chicken. I’m glad it’s a reminder of what could be in the future, rather than a past hope.

There’s a comforting haze when the schools have yet to respond. The paperwork for the next step of my life was filed, but the mystery keeps it all from sinking in. I’m going somewhere in September to try for a degree. The junior college limbo period has ended; I’ve picked up enough pieces now, and in the process figured out what I need and what I can live without.

The commencement speech cliche that ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life’ hits home. Of course, that’s true for every day, but only at certain points does the perspective of that quote resonate.

Thick-set sentinels

forest

A thousand winters
come and gone
thick-set sentinels no longer pay
each more than casual attention;
snowmelt slides downslope,
each rivulet latches to newly-found
kin
their meandering journey to
water’s grand community
has begun

Drinking deep, the soil
run through with the needle gifts
of geriatric conifers
each new sprout could,
if lucky,
grow as old and numb
as the sentinel trees
their roots ground into
the forest floor.

As the sand falls

If I came upon an hourglass;
Where time flowed from what could;
To what is, then to what was once;
And held in my open palm the sand;
Of joy, sadness, loss, and redemption;
Would I want to know what story the grains;
Yet to fall would tell?;
Or would I wait for time to etch;
The story of my life, where each chapter;
Held but mere foreshadowing of the next;
And was the author, the emperor of recluses, preparing for an;
Eleventh-hour twist?

Hate is societal, not genetic

Hate is societal, not genetic

This photo was taken at a Klan rally on September 5th, 1992 in the town of Gainsville, Georgia on September. The rally was the usual fare for modern-day white supremacists- a few people trying to rile the town up, a huge amount of police, and the media looking for a story.

Todd Robertson took the photo, as the backup photographer for the local daily. It was a late addition to section B of the paper, and though it was never published widely, it has endured. The Southern Poverty Law Center resurrected it for a booklet about combating hate, and it’s finally gained currency on the internet. Though it will never the kind of legacy that MLK pulling a burning cross out of his lawn or other iconic photos of the 1960s, it has a clear and immediate visual message.

The young boy, who was “Josh” according to his mother, embodies how hate is passed down through generations of social reinforcement, not a “bigotry gene” or such. A young child is not a racist nor a chauvinist. They are not a Christian nor an atheist nor a Muslim. They are not libertarians nor paleo-conservatives nor communists. These identifiers are formed over the course of a lifetime- by parents, the community, the church, the school. Some are raised by Klan members, others by tolerant and open-minded individuals. The path to being accepting and embracing diversity is not the same for everyone. While some people are raised and educated in a way that makes such behavior natural and easy, others have to break through years of lies and vitriol.

The journey is a park stroll, or a marathon. And where you start is just chance.

When I entered junior college in 2010, it required a radical shift in perspective. I attended an independent secular school K-8 and then an independent Benedictine catholic school for high school. This trend of insular schools of little diversity was to continue when I arrived at a liberal arts college in rural Washington state. It had become a lifelong routine. You pursue your degree surrounded by people your age, mostly white, and not filled with wisdom. It’s an environment of smart neophytes. What you can and cannot do as a college student is four years of trial and error, where there are thankfully little of consequence if you screw up.

That college spit me out in a couple of months. I didn’t have the skills, and more importantly didn’t have the sanity to get through it. I came home in November, and almost intermediately applied for junior college starting in January.

For someone who grew up in the white middle-upper class suburban mindset, there are three big things to confront when making a big shift in schools.

1. The diversity. Yes there were blacks and Latinos in prior school, but they were often alone and did not have any kind of ethnic identity in the school. To fit in, they had to acclimate to white expectations. Large social science classes at this college are at least half non-white, you notice a pan-racial tone to develop. A huge portion of clubs are for social and person growth of various groups- like Asian/Pacific Islanders or Latinos. There are also groups involved in dialogue and conquering stereotypes and being academically successful. Also while at previous schools there were ethnic holidays celebrated (like Dia de los Muertos), California colleges use diversity months to have lots of time for pride and education.

It also can make for compelling presentations and classtime. The college has people taken over the border as kids, living and studying while undocumented. Teen mothers, trying to gain the education that had become a secondary priority. Public speaking class had people who were involved in fights and gangs, but turned to martial arts to keep their rage productive. Each class is a wildcard, and you’re not sure who has an amazing story to tell.

2. The public school shock. As a 19 year old who had never been outside of a well-planned private curriculum, it takes some getting used to. Getting help with disability accommodations requires research and patience. Most of the student services are under budget cuts, and the lines can be insane if you don’t start on the first day of term. For so long I took for granted that teachers knew my name, yet even though I speak in class quite often it can take months.  There’s rarely coordination between faculty make sure a particular day isn’t just a six-hour test for some students. Keeping things sane may require actively talking to the professors.

3. The age gap. At an undergrad-only liberal arts school (where I briefly was, and my sister did about two years at), almost everyone is the same age. If you’re a freshman you’re 18 or 19. And very few people are over thirty. Continuing education is not a priority, it’s about getting information to the new generation.

In almost every day class, there will be someone in the ballpark of 50 years old. In one case, it was the mother of another student- they were taking the class together. The two evening class I’ve taken skew way towards greybeards. In public speaking, four or so of the initial group were over forty. And since one can gain prerequisites at junior college for graduate education, there are plenty of people in their mid 20s planning to become a nurse or go into graduate science.

Overall, a junior college is a place where many different agenda exist at the same time. 19 year olds studying to get into University of California branch. 25 year olds looking for credits to get into grad school. 35 year olds attempting to make a change to a better and more rewarding job. And 55 year olds maybe just curious about the subject matter.