Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Oklahoma Spirit


     Been up since 5 a.m. working on this novel. This is the best part, when I can't lie in bed, eyes flying open with an idea at the crack of dawn. So, I take my cup of coffee out to the porch, while the dogs (and one crazy ass cat that I can't leave alone because he beats up the neighbor dog,) wander around eating grass that I know I will clean up from the floor later. It's quiet in the morning, even in the middle of a major metropolitan area. I always say, Oklahoma City is the smallest little big town you'll ever see. It has that feel about it. People are generally nice, especially fully rooted, honest to goodness, Oklahomans from way back. It was no surprise that this state would embrace an NBA team, not just because they are pros and winning (the arena was full when they weren’t winning,) but because these folks appreciate hard work and team play.
     It’s in the nature of Oklahomans to be helpful and supportive in the community. We may not all agree with the politics of the state, but in a time of need, no one asks what you do for a living, what church you go to, or whom you’re sleeping with. Just read stories of how this community pulled together after the bombing downtown. It was a miracle to behold. It’s no wonder that this state fell in love with a basketball franchise, whose motto is “TEAM.” That unselfish, we are one people theme is repeated throughout this territory’s history. They may squabble amongst themselves, but when faced with a communal need, rise together as one. It began a long time ago with the people from which the state gets its name, Oklahoma, a combination of the Choctaw Indian words "okla" meaning people and "humma" meaning red. The American Indian valued community and family above all else.
     I guess when you live in a state where your house could be there one minute and gone the next, people learned to depend on one another. Weathermen out here are like rock stars and get plenty of face time. My recent wrangling with an Oklahoma storm was an experience I do not want to repeat. Yesterday, the weathermen called for a “windy” day. A simply “windy” day out here was tossing my Hummer around like a hot wheel car. The weather is unpredictable even with the best in weather technology. I went to work one day in shorts and came home that evening to six inches of snow on the ground. Will Rogers, a native son, said, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it’ll change.” Every year communities are devastated by storms, and every year folks rally and build them back. It’s in their nature, this hearty stock, a mixture of Native Americans and pioneers. Perseverance is part of their ancestral inheritance. They call it the "Oklahoma Spirit."
     Anyway, early in the morning and at dusk, it's quiet around here. I guess I’ve learned to tune out the highway just a block away, but even the tire and muffler noises are diminished at those hours. There are lots of trees in my neighborhood; big, old growth trees that somehow manage to keep growing back in the wake of the storms screaming in from the plains, ravaging them repeatedly. The trees around here are full of all types of birds. I regularly see Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pigeons, Finches, Sparrows, Black and Red birds, many I don’t know the names of, and am entertained daily by the antics of the Great Tailed Grackles that have taken up residence in the tree across the street. Then there are a plethora of squirrels. I’m not a fuzzy tailed rodent fan, but they are funny, chasing each other through the trees, tight walking down the power lines, taunting the dogs from tree trunks, chattering at them from just out of reach.
     Late at night, it’s eerily quite. Trains, unheard in the daytime, wail their lonesome calls into the night sky, where it is carried on the wind, echoing through the sleeping town. The raccoons, skunks, and possums come out to play, foraging for a nightly snack. It’s in those moments of quiet, the sounds of man a distant humming, that I find myself wondering what it was like to be here before the settlers came. If I close my eyes, I can imagine I’m in the wilderness, listening to nature all around me. As we drove away from the city yesterday, out into the rolling hills, I imagined what a magnificent land this must have been once, before modern humanity left its mark. There is an old American Indian proverb, attributed to no tribe in particular, that states, "Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
     As I sat on the porch this morning, I thought about the Native American people I’ve been researching for this next novel. I wondered what they would think of us now. If some of the legends are true, these “beloved,” those that have gone on before us, are here in the land, the trees, the grasses, and flowers that bend in the wind. What must they think of a people who are so divided down political lines that they’ve lost sight of the real message of faith, love one another. I wonder why it is only in times of great struggle that we put aside our differences and work as one for a common cause. Shouldn’t our cause be to leave a better world for our children? If only we could stop yelling at each other and begin to listen, we might actually accomplish something.
     People often ask me why I don’t move out of the reddest state in the union, because I’ll never be treated as equal due to my sexuality. I am planning to retire back to North Carolina, but not because I feel defeated here amidst the predominately extreme right wing politics. North Carolina has its own conservative problems to clean up. It simply is my homeland, and I am privileged to be able to go back there. I will stay here in Oklahoma for the time being and make the best of it. Just living my life is an example to those who would condemn me to hell. The more Oklahomans that know me as a real person, with a loving family, the more of them we sway to look beyond the offensive, archaic dogma. Not too many years ago, people stood on this same soil and called for the extermination of the entire native population, deemed savage and unholy. Now, people proudly proclaim any minute blood relation with the tribes and an American Indian warrior sits proudly on the top of the Oklahoma State Capital building. If the Native Americans could learn to love their white brothers, after years of broken promises, displacement from their homelands, and the loss of an entire way of life, then anything is possible. I believe that one day, (Okay, I'm not naive. It will take a long time,) these people will join together and find the peace in simply learning to live together, one family, one community. I believe in the Oklahoma Spirit.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dicks, Weenies, and Ding Dongs


     Reading the article about Rep. Lisa Brown being banned indefinitely from speaking in the Michigan house brought back memories. Rep. Brown made the mistake of using the medically accurate, anatomically correct word "vagina" during an impassioned speech objecting to Michigan’s new abortion law. I’m not going to talk about how ludicrous all the debates about women’s reproductive rights in the US are. We all know these laws are being written and passed by men with very little input from women, but it did remind me of an incident when my son was four years old.
     Jon was attending a Montessori kindergarten at the time. Now, you must understand that Jon was a precocious little boy, never afraid to speak his mind, and always a bit mentally older than his peers. I didn’t baby talk to him and spent the time to explain things, never wanting to use the phrase, “Because I said so.” I wanted him to learn to reason and think for himself, seek answers and not be afraid to ask why. He bought into that pretty quickly and was forever questioning things, but respectfully. He was just one of those kids that had to know why. Once explained, he would generally go on about his business with no argument. Then I got the call from the school to come right away. Jon was in big trouble. You may ask, how much trouble could a four-year-old get into at school?
     When I arrived in the principal’s office, the staff was in a tizzy. Displayed prominently on the desk was a Gingerbread Man. Now, this was no ordinary Gingerbread Man. This particular confection was displaying a male appendage not often found in your local bakery. It seems the class had made the cookies that afternoon. Upon hearing that they were to make a man out of the cookie dough, my son, God love him, made an anatomically correct man. I could not help but laugh as the principal, very seriously explained that Jon’s behavior was inappropriate and she was very concerned.
     When I asked why she was so upset, the principal stated, “We are concerned because he not only put the appendage on the cookie, but he also used the word ‘penis’ when he was asked what it was.”
     I nearly lost it, not angry, but trying to hold back my laughter.
     “Why does his use of the word penis disturb you?” I asked.
     “Because boys his age do not use the word penis. We are afraid that he has been abused and taught this word by his abuser,” the principal responded.
     I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. The principal, who I had known nearly all my life growing up, (we were the same age,) was not happy with my reaction.
     “This is a very serious matter,” she said.
     I asked that my son be brought into the room. When he arrived, I told him that it wasn’t appropriate to put a penis on the cookie.
     To which he replied, “Why? It’s a man. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas.”
     I thought the principal was going to come out of her skin. I smiled at my son and offered this explanation, “In the cookie world, boys and girls do not have sexual organs, so although you are correct, we just don’t put them on cookies.”
     “Okay, Mom.”
     “Tell the teacher you understand now and that you won’t put penises on the cookies anymore.”
     Jon apologized and then I asked him to leave and wait for me outside. The principal was still gape-mouthed at the exchange between my son and I. She was not satisfied with what had just transpired in her office.
     She began to explain, “Often when young children are abused they become fixated on sexual organs, and they use anatomically correct terms as taught by the abuser.”
     My answer to this was not what she expected. I stood up and said, “I’m not sure what the problem is. You are concerned that my son is being abused because he knows the correct terms for body parts? I’m assuming I would not be in your office if he had called it a dick, a tee-tommy, a willy-wacker, his little man, a weewee, a ding dong or a weenie. We don’t use those terms at our house. We use the correct medical terms for them. To assume he is being abused because I taught him those terms is just about as funny as seeing the penis on the cookie man. If there is nothing else, I’ll be taking my son out of school for the rest of the day and rewarding him for using the correct words. Y’all have a nice day.”
     My son grew up to be a wonderful man, kind and gentle, and respectful of women. So, when Rep. Brown was silenced for using the correct medical term for the female anatomy, I started laughing.  Maybe if the dicks, weewees, and ding dongs she offended had been taught the correct anatomical terms as four year olds, they would have more respect for women in general.