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When expectations and what is collide
A storm, or at least the threat of one, is moving in across the lake this evening. The basswood trees are swaying with some urgency as leaves and sticks flutter to the ground. Thunder booms in the distance and there are ripples in all sorts of patterns moving quickly across the water as the wind tries to make up its mind. The screen tent that I put down by the shore a few days ago is also fluttering as the wind gusts through, and I wonder if I should have taken it down while I was flipping over the canoe earlier in the day. The sky is slate gray, and the heat of the day is just starting to give way as drops begin to fall. I’m glad for the pitter patter of precipitation, even with the bluster. After a dry few weeks, we could use the rain. At any rate, after a fair amount of back and forth, wondering what to do, and hashing things out, some sort of agreement has been made between the elements and the rain is now falling fast.
Earlier today I clicked into some reviews of my most recent book “just to see” what’s happening there. (The general consensus in author circles is, “Don’t read your reviews. Just don’t do it. Definitely do not engage with any reviewer, ever.”) Alas, curiosity sometimes wins, especially early in a book’s life, so I looked at a few of them. To my (initial) dismay, there was a dreaded ONE STAR. This particular reader didn’t like that I spend a bit of time in the pages discussing the concept of privilege. The book wasn’t what they were hoping it would be, but more of a “lecture” (on privilege). To be fair, if you weren't looking for that going in, well, that’s a recipe for feeling pretty uncomfortable. Or confused, or angry, or any other host of emotions that get churned up when a core belief gets challenged (or when expectations aren’t met). I’ve read my fair share of books that aren’t what I thought they were going to be, so I get it.
However, as a person with a fair bit of privilege and ears continually tuned to what folks in more historically marginalized groups are saying about privilege ... .not bringing it up would be like leaving out half of the story. (Hello, many American history classes.)
So….cue the celebration music. I’m taking this to mean that I’ve said enough to make someone sit up and say, “hey, wait a minute”...even if they didn’t like what I was saying. I’m taking this one, one star and all, as a sign that I’m doing something right. Truth be told, writing about delicate topics that tend to get people on one side of a fence or the other (like privilege tends to do), as a person who mostly writes about things like like mindfulness and connecting to nature, makes me uneasy–I worry that I’ll get it wrong, will somehow do harm in writing about it, won’t say enough, will say enough but not in the proper way, will make someone mad…and so on. But not including it in the in-depth way the topic calls for? Not an option. Privilege is a very real phenomenon in our world. It has to be in the story. Even–especially–if the story is about nature connection.
I’ll leave you with a slightly shortened excerpt from part of my lecture on privilege, from the chapter titled “Unlearning to Course Correct.” ;)
“I mess up and get things wrong, do things wrong, and slip back into old patterns on a regular basis. There are surely even things in this book that I’ll look back on as missteps, from microaggressions that I couldn’t identify because of my own bias to fragility that I thought I’d worked through already. As time continues, there will be myriad opportunities to continue to unlearn what growing up white in a culture that rewards whiteness has taught me. Being anti-racist isn’t just one piece of personal development. Anti-racism is a deconstruction of the systems of oppression from which I and other white folks benefit. It’s taking a hard look at the air we breathe, the food we eat, the education and experiences we provide our children, the entertainment and media we consume, the books and art we enjoy, the stories we tell. It requires us to turn a critical eye to how we live and make adjustments. Many people want to be thought of as a good ally. So do I. And I’ve learned that just like you don’t simply one day arrive at your anti-racism destination, ally status isn’t something you achieve and get to keep on your shelf. Allyship isn’t an identity I can assign myself—it’s something I need to earn over and over again, day after day after day. It’s a muscle you’ve got to flex to keep it in shape. It’s hard, humbling, and necessary work.”
For more of the lecture, please see the full work, which you can find at your favorite indie bookshop, online, or at your library. May be enjoyed before, after, or during a walk in the woods or any other preferred natural habitat.
The storm that’s been threatening moved on as I was writing this, leaving a bright stretch of sun-kissed, newly washed trees in its wake. There will be other storms, though, and each one will offer up an opportunity to be in the conversation, not the fight. Each one will offer a chance to unlearn and course correct. Each one will churn up stuff that I don’t want to hear. I definitely won’t always be right. Here’s to accepting the storms that come with living your life in ways that tell the truth.
Ordinary Collisions is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. I only lecture on privilege some of the time.
Perhaps I should not even mention it in this non specific way in a newsletter, but it feels like an important topic to continually bring to the table so here we are.