Reflecting on our June 19th Meeting

On June 19th, we were instructed to come together and work on our own individualized work plans for WWG3. I came (late, due to work), and when I got to the space, a conversation around Jeannie’s family history project for WWG4 was underway. From my perspective at the time, it seemed like an appropriate use of our time. It seemed like a study session used to help each other with our projects. Looking back, the most prominent problem that I saw was that time wasn’t made for everyone to have a chance to work on their own projects and ask for feedback. I can only speak for myself, but in that moment, I focused all of my energy into “helping” Jeannie, and none into thinking about my own project. In the moment, I didn’t really take the time to think about how Jeannie felt about the amount of help we were giving, or if she needed a break from the intense spotlight put upon her all night.  And if I’m being really honest with myself, I used the moment as an excuse to avoid doing my own work. And in thinking about accountability, how can I hold anyone else accountable to doing their family history work, if I’m not doing it myself?

There was definitely a case of helping/fixing/saving going on in myself, as well as some intellectualism (i.e. finding way too much glee in knowing the “right” answer to a question about Southern Italians). And, really, there was also a lot of defensiveness and denial when I received this prompt to reflect on that night – my first thought was an angry “we were just doing what we were told!” And recently, I’ve been having some complicated feelings of opting out, mixed with exhaustion and over-scheduling. I’m in the thick of a busy season in my life and have been neglecting this work, sometimes due to lack of time and sometimes due to conscious avoidance. So after thinking about this prompt for awhile, I asked myself, why was I so eager to focus on someone else’s project, and so unprepared to work on my own? I had approached the night thinking that I would make good headway on my own, unstarted work, but then I jumped at the first chance to not do that. The truth is that I should have had at least some of my work done by that time. I should have been working, or at least thinking more about my project’s next steps, but after I presented it, I compartmentalized it and didn’t touch it again. And that’s just white lady avoidance and opting-out.

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emotions & egos

I have complicated and conflicting feelings when reflecting on our last meeting. Part of me feels the time was well spent—that processing with Jeannie and the group led to new realizations for myself, especially when drawing connections between my own family’s impact in the U.S. on communities of color—and I also am holding the realization that I agreed to and fostered a conversation that was against our instructions for the night.

I’ll echo what others have written already: I embraced the opportunity, whether knowingly or subconsciously, to dive into someone else’s work. It was interesting and engaging and felt in some ways like a mirror to my own history, but with the comforting barrier of being less connected to me. It also fed my ego; I’m comfortable in the role of history buff, and it feels good to share that knowledge and make those connections. Sometimes that knowledge is useful (and I think it was helpful in the discussion we were having) but it also checks off that academic/intellectual/straight-A student box that I fit into so well.

I appreciated the chance to read everyone else’s responses before writing mine (which is a familiar feeling, too: not wanting to be the first to go; wanting a pattern to follow; shaping my responses by taking cues from others) and am feeling particularly grateful for Carrie’s reflection on our attitude of helping/fixing/saving towards Jeannie. It’s something Amanda and I discussed at our last check-in, which was after Jeannie shared her response to being cornered into closing out our session with WWG4. I told Amanda that I wanted to put a plan in place to prevent the same situation from happening again, and she reflected back to me that I can’t take responsibility for other people’s mental health, good or bad. I often struggle with finding the boundary between my emotions and others’. So with that context, it’s no surprise that I was extremely open to the chance of processing Jeannie’s family history project in our Amandaless WWG3 meeting and giving her all of my attention. Thanks, Carrie, for making the connection—I don’t think I would have without reading your response.

i took advantage of the situation.

a few weeks ago i shot a gun for the first time and it’s way easier to pull a trigger than it is to make a phone call.

it was so convenient having everybody there at the table.

paternalize me friends because i don’t want to see you outside of this kitchen: my spirituality is hypothetical.

Mother Teresa talked about seeing Jesus in everyone she served, i told my spiritual director. i think that’s another way of saying that the universal  is represented by every particular, like Howard Thurman talked about. i’ve been trying to do that with the residents at the nursing home.

your coworkers are also particular representatives of the universal, she said.

oh yeah, i said but i never think like that about them or the white women.

you don’t desire a relationship with them because you haven’t been wounded enough, she said.

a few years ago i heard about a woman in northern ireland who sees angels and she said God is literally pouring them onto the earth but no one is asking them for help.

i don’t ask the white women for help like i could, i told my therapist.  too much pride i guess.

i just keep measuring them and myself against some kind of white standard.

Oh whiteness, always here to hang out.

WWG3 came together to independently work on our individualized work plans and family history projects.  After a check-in, Jeannie expressed that she would like some support around her family history project that she is doing for WWG4.   I also expressed wanting some support around my project and some of the thoughts and ideas floating in my head.  It felt like we would have time for both of these things and then some space to work separately on our own projects.  We didn’t agree on any amounts of time nor did anyone, including myself, agree to keep time.

it is rare for Jeannie to ask for support in the space, so when she did, i honestly felt excited.  I enjoy the moments where I get to know Jeannie a little better.  Her reflections often make me see things in a new way.   Jeannie and i have some similarities in our family histories- mining, farming, and growing up in Wilkinsburg being a big part of some of my family’s story.  As we were working through her history, it was also making me think back to my family and revisit some parts there that i have not in a while.  The conversation and sharing of history around it helped me to put some of  my family history into a larger context.

i think what is coming up for me as far as whiteness is how sneaky it can be (for white people…).  How, until Amanda sent us an email prompting us to think about it, i didn’t think about how my whiteness was showing up that night.  in a space where we are intentionally investigating and breaking patterns of whiteness.  I’m thinking about intention vs. impact and how i don’t think any of us intended on spending the majority of our evening on Jeannie’s project, but the reality is that we did.  The impact of that is that we were not doing our own work and remaining accountable to ourselves, each other, and Amanda.

I looked up around 8:30 and saw that it was 8:30, and I did not mention to the group the time check.  it felt easier to go with the flow of where we were than to pause for accountability.  I did not want to cut Jeannie short, cause, you know, that pause or speaking my own needs may have hurt her feelings.  And a part of me, by this point, felt okay not working on my own project once we started exploring hers.  Because it’s easier to do her work than my own.

This has prompted me to also think about the difference between support and helping/fixing/saving.  Where is that line.  Because we are here to support each other, we are in this together.  To me at the time and still looking back, the general energy of the night did not feel helping/fixing/saving towards Jeannie.  But i think the point where it slipped in for me personally was that 8:30 point.  When i looked up and saw the time and chose to ignore it. And part of what made it go there was my ease and willingness to put her project before mine.  Making sure her needs were met while at the same time not being accountable to doing my own work.

polite older sister

WWG3 came together with the instructions to work on our individualized work plans/study session for family history 2.0. While I was serving myself food and anticipating working on family history mapping, I had the realization that I was worried about messing up. A fairly simple acknowledgement of perfectionism playing out, I had not seen it so clearly until then. I continue to struggle with correction, and one way of avoiding correction is avoiding completing and sharing tasks. It feels risky in some ways and I am used to feeling safe and expect the comfort of not being corrected.

While we ate, Jeannie said she would appreciate some feedback on her family history project. I feel especially precious about opportunities to connect with Jeannie. When she expressed a willingness and desire to share her process, I made a judgment that should be prioritized. When we made the group decision to focus on Jeannie’s work, I thought we would have time for that in addition to our individualized work plans, though I didn’t take initiative to keep track of time. In the decision making moment, white ladyness in terms of politeness and maternalism came up – a desire to be tender with Jeannie and not deny a request for help along with going along with the group flow because that is easier and more polite.

I rationalized and justified that building relationship and intimacy with Jeannie was more important (with a sense of urgency for it – like, if not now, when?) than holding ourselves accountable to each other and myself in terms of directly working on our individualized work plans. I see that it’s not one or the other, and holding each other accountable IS relationship building. In that moment, the rationalization/justification played out like that and also giving myself permission to be disobedient – flexing that muscle with shaky discernment.

I have felt a dynamic in the group before of helping, fixing, saving directed toward Jeannie, both from me and others (I have not named it in the space at the moments I witness it). This time did not feel like that. It felt collaborative, like we were all working through things and learning together. Jeannie’s project gave us opportunities to reflect on our family histories, the history in this country, and how our family’s paths supported/were supported by/are deeply intertwined with institutional racism.

Another aspect of our time together is we recently stepped into the ‘big sister’ role with WWG4, sharing our experiences of the family history project and facilitating our night together. We were proud of our ability to model vulnerability and be easeful in relationship with each other. I am unsure where the balance of us recognizing our growth and that we met our goals for the eve and a sneaky ego/comparison with WWG4 lies. I think some of both was at play that night and in our reflection of the WWG3+WWG4 time together. And that feels good! To see we’re not only just messing up all the time, to be in some leadership role, to offer guidance. I think when Jeannie offered us the opportunity to be in that space again in some ways, we walked right in.

Ghostbusters 2 Slime and the Nonlinear Circular Pathways of History

Sitting with it. Today, in the sun with my eyes closed, feeling the breeze across my skin, my hair mimicking the ornamental grass swaying.

Considering that how I came to be is still happening, that time is not linear, that we are bound in ways to repeat and play out our history that is present in the present. It’s all happening at once.

I think of Ghostbusters 2 and the River of Slime. You know, how this River of Slime has formed, living underground in New York City. It grows and multiplies from the insidiousness of the people living there, and eventually pours out from underneath the city into the streets, causing chaos and havoc. Paranormal activity. The unresolved ghosts, demons, ghouls of past lives.

The River of Slime of white supremacy, of oppression, that perpetuates endlessly. Contained or spilling over? It takes over and controls us.

My family took land of the Iroquois. Juniata County. Juniata is the word meaning “people of the standing rock.” I was transported to Standing Rock, reading that as I dug further into my family history. To the action and my lack of action. To the circular pathway, the repetition, the ongoing slow-motion, real-time Family History in the making.

 

Overwhelming

This work to uncover ourselves, to uncover how we came to be, to uncover those who came before – it’s overwhelming. How do I make meaning of my adoptive family history, the ideologies that have been passed down, the patterns of abuse and secrecy disguised as niceness, how do I carry that in my heart/mind/body? How do I make meaning of my birth ancestors, my DNA, what’s in my body in another way, these people who I am only just now, at 43, learning my connections to? All of these people, including me, are settler colonizers – some longer than others. All of these people, including me, have bought fully into whiteness and all of its advantages. All of these people, including me, have internalized superiority that has manifested in an infinite number of ways. How to reckon with all of this. How to live in the world in a different anti-racist way now. These questions will never be fully answered.

It has been just two months since I learned I have a whole group of birth family ancestors who were English and came on the earliest ships, the Mayflower and others in fact, to Plymouth and other parts of the colony of Massachusetts. I had NO IDEA about this until now. I had no idea that there was any English in either my birth or adoptive family. This is the silence, the “norming” of the ethnicity that created whiteness/race/racial hierarchy and oppression to advantage their/ourselves.

I’m noticing my patterns of internalized racial superiority showing up in the doing of this work – how comforting and easy it is to get lost in the information gathering, the mystery solving, the fact gathering. It’s intellectual and emotionally distant. I see myself resisting finding the deeper, longer time it takes to move into a space of feeling, of grief, of reckoning.

See, like right there. I just lost an hour tracing more about some Irish birth ancestors.

My struggle is to figure out how to prioritize the myriad of questions, paths, moments in history that contributed to oppression, the lands (so many!), the cultures, the religions. For example, the story that has been passed down in our country’s mythology about these people who were later called Pilgrims was that they were escaping “religious persecution.” But the core of who they were was about separating because they thought themselves superior. They couldn’t stay in Holland partially because they saw that their children wanted to build lives and relationships with the people who were around them there. They feared “absorption”, “scattering”, “losing ahold [control] on children” and many other reasons that gives away their internalized superiority. I’m trying to find a way to hold that fact that I am likely a direct descent (along with 10 million others!) of some of the most powerful people of the time – the ones that were essential in founding the second colony here on Turtle Island, specifically on the land of the Patuxet, one of the Wampanoag tribes. They used the Patuxet’s abandoned village as the start of Plymouth. The village was abandoned, of course, because the native people of that land had already been decimated by plagues brought by earlier white explorers.

Like this project, this post is disjointed and jumbled. I will never be done doing this work.

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Screenshots from History and genealogy of the Mayflower planters and first comers to ye olde colonie – Vol. I. Why the Mayflower Planters and other pilgrims came to America