July, 2010

Got a Problem? Get in Line.

There’s a big risk I will start sounding like Lewis Black in this post.  I have had it up to here with ho-hum service providers who haven’t felt a sense of urgency since the last time they stood in a slow fast food lane.

It’s one thing when the waiting customers are adults.  Another matter altogether when we’re talking about children.  Because children – you see – live in a different time dimension, sort of like dogs.  Every hour is a day, every day is a month – waiting ticks away on a bigger clock for kids.  At the same time kids’ brains are developing at warp speed and their emotions are careening around street lights and space shuttles, adults are yawning their way through the 3 hour process necessary to schedule the next meeting in six months.

And kids?  They don’t really complain about it.  They don’t know too much about consumer hotlines and ombudsman programs.  They show up where the adults take them.  And use the only tools they have to make themselves heard including silence, ‘acting out’, and taking off, if they’re older.  They don’t know what they need and they don’t get it about taking a number.  They are told to rely on adults to figure it out but the adults have a lot of other pressing matters like referral forms and reports and collaborative team meetings.

The cynical part of me thinks that this dull, uninspired, limp culture is part and parcel of the for-profit helping industry whose interests are better served by kids staying a mess rather than getting healthy.  Maybe I’m wrong — everyone’s really super committed but it’s just hard to move quickly and affirmatively.  Sure.

Maybe it’ll all work out.  I just have to be patient.

I Get It


This week someone thought they had to explain to me that ‘kickin’ it’ meant hanging out.  Thanks.  Gee, I thought people were actually going out back and kicking something.  Each other?  A ball?  Please.

One thing I know about — is ‘kickin’ it.’  Chillaxin’ – I’m pretty good at that, too. I’m also not bad at hangin’ loose (when I’m not hangin’ tight) and just plain chillin’. 

I got my start early.

In a real inner tube.

From a tractor.

So there.

Deep Thoughts in the Garden

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post.  You see, the post was going to be about gardening – about how some people are good gardeners because they can commit to consistent effort and other people are, well, like me.  But I write about what I’m thinking about and what I’m thinking about is race.

So.  Cultural competence.  Does it go both ways?  If I am the only white person in a training program or a job or a school, do people worry about dealing with me in a culturally competent way?  And if they did (worry, that is), what would that mean?  What would be done differently?  In what ways would people take my white origins into account and how would they, or would they, modify their language or behavior? Can a white person wonder if something is culturally competent for him or herself?  Does the concept have validity for a white person in an African American world, say?

Of course, the issue of cultural competence is very difficult, made more complex by institutional racism and the pervasiveness and persistence of white privilege.  Thinking historically, it would be nonsensical to assume that the need for cultural competence runs both ways for that very reason — the embeddedness of racism in American society.  But what about in in a day to day sense, in the sense of a white teenager, who because of a variety of factors, is plucked from her family in a white environment and placed in an African American home, school, and neighborhood? 

Is it safe to assume that this kid will be well-received and that any feelings of fear or apartness or differentness will be quickly abated by people’s kindness?  That’s what I’m hoping.  And that years from now when she recounts the experience she had living in the African American community, it will be with pride and fond memories.  I want to believe that she won’t feel judged or marginalized and that her entire cultural identity won’t be comprised of stereotypes about white people.

I don’t have any answers and I’m not judging anybody.  I’m just wondering, that’s all – mostly because I know this kid and really care about her, but also because I think it’s an interesting and challenging set of questions to ponder.

And the picture?  It’s the product of one of the two days a year that I garden.  Day one is when I go to Stein’s and buy a bunch of plants.  Day two is when I find the machete and clear out the garden on the side of our house which looks spectacular at the moment…..although I have notoriously low standards in this field of endeavor.

Good Enough

A project is a thing of beauty in your mind’s eye.  It’s the implementation of it that’s the bear.  Yesterday’s project was repainting our sauna.   It looks like a little house – about 9′ by 15′ with a peak that you need an extension ladder to reach. 

The project started out hopeful and cheery like most projects do.  Using red paint helped.  Looks new.  Going fast.  Lots of jokes between me and my painting partner.  This is great – we’re going to be out of here in an hour. 

Dry wood sucking up paint like crazy.  Very hot sun and hotter wind that blows the paint off our brushes on to our arms.  Weeds in the way.  And so are the remnants of a Northwest Indian tribe totem pole which fell over in a Lake Superior storm about ten years ago. (Is this an odd story yet?)

Anyway, so we’re getting tired and very hot.  Painting partner sees a little hornet’s nest.  Good reason to skip the two slats right below.  First shortcut.  Last side has the weeds and the totem which of course we shouldn’t move out of respect to its what? imminent total deterioration? Second shortcut.

Now at least one of us is nearing heat stroke.  Spectator saunters over and suggests we just paint the bare spots.  “That’s crazy.  It’ll look like polka dots.”  The sauna was already red, so I actually considered that option. The two of us are now slapping paint on the last side wherever we can reach and starting a little chorus of “nobody’s going to see this side anyway.”  Which is perilously close to a really defeated “who gives a crap, haven’t we worked hard enough, the rest of it looks ok, let’s just bag it.”

And I realize that this surrender to good enough happens a lot when two people are working together.  It’s like cutting class — it’s contagious.  What the heck?  We could be drinking a beer and admiring the front of this damn sauna – where it actually looks pretty good.  If one person isn’t a high quality hardliner, two people will talk themselves into doing just enough to get by. 

Does it matter?  Sometimes.  Not everything needs to be perfect.  But some things do.

Still.  Sauna looks pretty good.  Don’t you think?

Jan Wilberg Janice Wilberg