Coming to Reflection “On Slant” (S.3, Ep.9)

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About this episode

In this episode, we share the year-end reflections of some of our past collaborators. Inspired by our conversation with  Bjørn Peterson in a previous episode, we asked our contributors to share something that helped inspire their reflection; a piece of art or poetry, a song, a quote or whatever inspired them. The episode features the reflections of Allison DeMarco, Kalin Goble, Bjørn Peterson, and podcast hosts Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Allison DeMarco

Bjørn Peterson

Kalin Goble

  • Kalin was inspired by:

Bob Bertsch

Jessica Beckendorf

Transcript

[music]

Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Jessica Beckendorf: Welcome to our annual reflections episode. Each year, we invite some of our podcast collaborators in the past year to share reflection with us. The reason we do this is that central to connection and communication and collaboration with others is knowing yourself, learning, and growing. Regular reflection practice can help with that.

Bob Bertsch: This year, we were inspired by the conversation that we had with Bjørn Peterson. In that conversation, Bjørn mentioned using art to approach topics “on slant”, not directly. We thought that would be a good way to approach the reflections this year, we invited our collaborators to share a quote, a poem, a song, or other work of art or creativity that inspired their reflection for the year. You’re going to hear our guests share what inspired them, and what it caused them to reflect on, and Jessica and I will be doing the same.

Jessica: Our first reflection is from Allison De Marco. We spoke with Allison earlier this year. Allison is one of the authors of the courses for the Military Family Readiness Academy. She authored the course, what can family service providers do to recognize and respond to inequities. She’s an advanced research scientist at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and adjunct faculty at the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research focuses on racial equity, poverty, neighborhood effects, work and family, and wellbeing for residents of rural communities.

Allison De Marco: Practicing Connection listeners, this is Allison De Marco from UNC Chapel Hill. I’m happy to be with you today to share some end-of-the-year reflections for 2022. I’m sitting here with some things that inspire me surrounding me. I particularly chose some spoken word, written word. I’m going to share both. As I was thinking about what I wanted to share I was thinking about connections. That’s the theme of my reflection. I was recently in a space in our community and I was looking around and I realized that the entire room was wallpapered with maps. It was really interesting to me because I like to travel but it also made me think about the way in which we come together, and we’re all connected.

It was just a really cool space that was related to this theme of reflection, too. Then that made me think of some ways that I’ve really appreciated, our outgoing Poet Laureate in the Town of Carrboro, North Carolina. His name is Fred Joiner. I really appreciated the work he’s done in our community. I also really appreciate the way that he shows up in our space when he is serving in his official capacity. He often shares works that inspire him. That’s the inspiration that I’m using today to reflect on connections in this world. I’m just going to share some things that inspire me.

I was at a conference earlier this year, and we were joined by a professor who’s a member of the Lakota Nation. After he gave his talk, and I’m talking about indigenous healing and some of the work that he does in his professional capacity, he ended by saying, “Be kind to my people. You’re all my people.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot and how the work that we do to dismantle systems of oppression is so difficult, and it is really helpful when we’re thinking about doing that work, how we are all connected. I really appreciated his reminder of that.

I’ve also had for a long time, I can’t even remember where I found it, but a teaching that I had printed out maybe from Pinterest, not even sure now, in my wall in my office. I recently brought it home so now I keep it in my bedroom. It’s just a picture of an African American man holding a duckling, I think, and it says, “Questioner, how are we to treat others?” Then it has a response by Ramana Maharshi, and I forgot to look up who that was, but this person says, “There are no others.”

I remember sharing that with a friend a while back when we were doing some hard work in our community together, and just sharing, thinking about the work that we do in this community together and how we need to come together and think across lines of difference, and there are no others. I really, really appreciate that. In this work-from-home time, during the pandemic, I had not had that with me. I have it with me again, now. Just taking some deep breaths and to make sure I do that when I’m thinking and reflecting on our connections.

Another thing that I like to do in my free time is make collages. I usually send to them around some written word poetry, something that I like, and I recently re-discovered one that I made several years ago, and the poem that’s on it is by Pavana, and it says, “Things that break: flowers, dawn, the ocean, our hearts. This is how gardens grow. This is how the sun blossoms. This is how we make it home. This is how we learn to love.” It’s short, and I like to just read that sometimes in the morning.

In thinking about collages, there’s another one that I had made a number of years ago. I had seen Zoe Leonard’s ’92 poem called I Want A Dyke For President. It had been printed out and plastered up on a bridge in New York City. I hadn’t read it before. I took a picture of it, and it was really powerful to me to think about all these different ways that we want to see ourselves reflected in our elected officials.

I just wanted to end with that because I had taken that which I found really moving to think about and made a collage with it. It felt like it belonged to a friend of mine who is a community leader in our community, and I gave it to him. It lives in his home. I hope that he looks at it and thinks about our connections across our community when he’s doing the work that he does. That is just some reflection that I wanted to share with us that we are all connected, and hope that moves us to think about the work that we do to make the world a better place. Thank you.

Bob: Thank you, Allison, for that beautiful reflection. Allison had wanted to share with us the audio from Mykki Blanco reciting Zoe Leonard’s poem, I Want A Dyke For President, but we weren’t able to share that audio with you in the podcast. We will be linking to the video of Mykki Blanco reciting Zoe Leonard’s poem on the show notes. For this episode, we’ll provide links to as many of the inspiring items and artworks that have been shared in all of our guests’ reflections on the show notes page. Please check that out at oneop.org/practicingconnection.

Our next reflection comes from Bjørn Peterson who had mentioned earlier in the episode as the inspiration for how we approached this year’s reflections episode. Bjørn helps social change agents find and sustain clarity, courage, and creativity in his role as consultant speaker and facilitator with Looking Bear Leadership. He holds a PhD in community resources and development and has studied communication and group identity and transformational leadership. We were joined by Bjørn for a two-part conversation earlier this season on Practicing Connection. Here’s Bjørn’s reflection.

Bjørn Peterson: Hello to all of you practitioners of connection and greetings at the end of this calendar year. I wanted to say a hearty thank you to each and every one of you who are part of the practicing connections community, new or old, because you give me a lot of hope and a lot of grounding, that the work that’s in front of us, the work that we are trying to do to make the world a more just, equitable, sustainable place, a place that works for everyone is really within our grasp, despite the massive challenges that stand in our way.

I was reminded, as I thought about this community, of the words of Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone in their book, Active Hope, where they write that the desire to take part in the healing of our world seems to be just below the surface waiting for an opportunity and outlet for expression. Whenever we bring the desire for the world’s healing out into the open, whether through our individual actions or through the groups we are a part of, we help others do this too. The power of example is contagious. This is how cultures change.

It’s thinking about these words and all of you that remind me that this is something greater than any one of us that we’re a part of, but that is also so incredibly defined by the fine grain detail of each and every one of us. It is not a question of either the individual or the collective. It is both. That is so incredibly rich and gives me courage and joy to continue to try to play my part, however small in the healing of the world.

A few months ago, I was reflecting on the sometimes desperate or unsure way in which I feel I’m trying to participate in this work. It came out in the form of a poem, as a lot of my work does, that I’ve called a broken refrain, and I’d like to share it with you. It goes like this. Let me repeat, like those calling out a long line, spread out shouting distance, the wisdom faintly rising in this stormy wilderness. I say only what I’ve heard of truth as it tumbles toward me in airy cries. Be sure it is truth I am relaying even if I have heard it wrong. But be wary, some of my sounds will be that of wind rather than word for I have not fully known the truths I pass along. In this, I hope for grace. With feet firm upon layers of decaying forebearers and fore us, I scream about truth so that you may hear in the tempest relentless sounds a broken refrain of enlivening courage. You all, for me, are a part of that larger refrain of enlivening courage that goes far beyond this year, next year, and any of our lives.

There is a tradition, a practice that goes throughout the history of our species and beyond. It is one that is sacred, and important, and not that way because of its perfection or because of its imminent success, but because it’s made up of this incredible connection between people time after time, generation after generation. I’m reminded of that at the end of another year where we could and rightly will critically reflect on what we haven’t accomplished and what we still are reaching for in front of us. I think it’s also not only okay but important for us to look around and thank one another for the enlivening courage that we find in one another’s example because your work in creating connection is contagious for me. I’m grateful to have you leading me and teaching me, and hopefully, to be a teacher and a leader alongside you from time to time.

Thank you and best wishes in this next year.

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Bob: Our next reflection is from Kalin Goble. Kalin is a fellow team member in OneOp with Jessica and me. She’s the announcer for this podcast. You hear her voice at the beginning and at the end of every episode of Practicing Connection. She’s really a valued collaborator and friend. She’s the co-leader of the family development team within OneOp, and she works at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. Here’s Kalin.

Kalin: Hello, Practicing Connection Community. I am happy to share with you a poet that has truly inspired me this past year as we wrap up 2022. I selected this particular artist because she really spoke to me when I began my mental health journey a few years ago. This year I’ve continued to delve into her work and I’ve selected a few of her pieces that resonate with me. I actually have quite a few of these poems and illustrations printed out and up around different areas of my home and office. The first one I’m going to begin with, I actually have up in my bedroom on my bedroom window. I look at it very regularly. It is by Rupi Kaur, and it is from the book The Sun and Her Flowers.

The poem reads, “It is when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundations of home within myself, I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.” This poem really speaks to me, particularly as I have taken a personally holistic approach to my mental wellness. I think specifically with this podcast being about community and connection, that it’s also so important to do the N-word work before we go outward. This past year I have focused a lot on self-reflection and self-understanding. To me this poem really speaks to that understanding the foundations that you have within, and understanding the relationships, the community, the interactions that have made me who I am.

This year I’ve done a lot of reflection and particularly looking at patterns in my life and in my behaviors and who I am, my character, and how those who’ve been informed by my history, my past, those in my past and those relationships, those connections that I’ve had. Specifically, as I reflect on 2022, one of the main things that I have worked on is our boundaries, and that is at an individual level, at a relationship level, at a community level, at a professional level, and really looking within at what I have the capacity for and also doing that inner work and then pulling it without and outside of my relationships, of my professional interactions.

This has really spoken to me because this year I have, I would say, become a lot more outdoorsy as well. I have started spending a lot more weekends out on the river and getting connected with nature in a new way. That has also influenced my perception, I think, of this poem and understanding the intricacies of myself and what roots I have in my person and how those roots are, what I believe, who I have relationships with, how I have those relationships.

As I reflect on this past year, that poem really spoke to me and I want to share another one that, to me, is very impactful in its simplicity just as I reflect on this past year, and specifically in a lot of projects I’ve worked on professionally with my OneOp family development team as we’ve created new courses, as we’ve worked on some new projects that I’ve never done before, especially as OneOp has focused a lot on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and creating safe spaces for our communities.

I want to just share this other poem by Rupi Kaur. “You do not just wake up and become the butterfly. Growth is a process.” Again, kind of a reflection of all of those self-reflection work and journaling and sitting there and thinking and reflecting on my self, my actions, my reactions, and also understanding that the whole point of it, of all these relationships, is growth. As I reflect, specifically, on my professional work, I think one of the things I’ve learned this year and really will take with me into 2023 is asking questions and being open and actively listening to those responses, and knowing that everyone brings value to a project. It may not be clear right away. It may be something that they don’t have as much experience with, but there’s value in that. There’s value in also understanding myself and asking questions of myself in those roles and in those relationships.

I think that simplicity of growth is a process and constantly remembering that, remembering that there’s room for growth in everything, in all of my projects, in all of my professional relationships, as well as my personal relationships. As I reflect back on this past year, I think that evolution is important in understanding the continuation of learning and growth and that there’s always so much out there and so many people to learn from. Even if it’s someone that you’ve been working with years and years and years, there’s still so much to learn and so much to listen for.

As I wrap that up, one last piece, in our work at OneOp, specifically this year, we’ve had our Military Family Readiness Academy that was focused on social justice. We’ve done a lot of internal work and a lot of internal conversations on that topic and understanding where we can support our communities, where we can lift up our communities, where we can bridge gaps for our communities, and listen, and provide resources, and how we can utilize our work and our roles in that greater landscape of a safe space for all and paving a safe way that can open conversations and can lean into growth and building that resilience for our communities. We work specifically, of course, with military-connected folks, military youth, active duty service members, military spouses.

This specific poem speaks to women but I think that this poem that I’m going to close with is also applicable to all of the work that we’re doing and the foundations that we’re continuing to create with our programming, with our collaborations, with our projects. This last poem is also by Rupi Kaur, and it reads, “Our work should equip the next generation of women to outdo us in every field. This is the legacy we’ll leave behind, progress.” As we reflect on 2022, I’ve shared a little bit about what I’ve learned from this past year and it’s definitely to go into it being inquisitive, being ready to speak and to bring the knowledge that I have to the table, but also to open up the field to others and to know that there’s value in everyone in the room.

As we look forward into 2023, I think that that poem really captures the work that we’re doing and the hope in the work that we’re doing to leave a legacy behind that will allow the next generation of folks or those that are seeking our resources, our assistance, our information, our practices that we are sharing that are seeking that to pave the way for them to have more accessibility to those things, to have more of a platform to speak to.

Thank you for listening to me share. Again, the artist is Rupi Kaur and this has really inspired me over this past year as I’ve done my own personal growth, as I’ve done my intentional journey of self-reflection and taking that and figuring out how to be a better advocate, how to be a better coordinator, how to be a better colleague, and how to be a better friend and coworker, how to be just a better person all around. I think it is paving that way as we head into 2023. I thank you all so much for allowing me to share with you today.

Jessica: Thanks so much to Kalin for sharing her reflection with us. Now, Bob, I believe we are up to you. What do you have for us? What inspired you?

Bob: The inspiration for this reflection is a song actually. It’s called Helplessness Blues, written by Robin Pecknold and recorded by his band, Fleet Foxes. It’s a song that has been important to me for so long. It’s really, kind of in a special way, captures the tension I feel between individuality and collective action. That’s something I’m thinking about all the time. As I’ve probably shared on the podcast with our listeners, and I know I’ve shared with you, Jessica, I struggle with this idea of maybe not always being the leader or the fixer or taking individual action for stuff even though I crave the attention that comes with those roles, and I really want to be that person. On the flip side of that, I think a lot about how do I see myself as part of something bigger without ignoring my individual responsibility to take action and getting lost in the mass of that something bigger and ceding my control and responsibility.

The other thing that I’m going to be talking about this particular song is that it also includes a call for the simplicity of manual labor or lending your efforts to the land. That’s something else that I’ve been reflecting more and more on as I learn more about traditions in which people are integrated into the natural systems of the earth, rather than set apart from what– In the past, I guess in America, especially, we refer to as “nature” as something separate from us.

Anyway, the song begins with these lines, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see. And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” I really love those lines. It sounds to me like the narrator in the song is letting go of their savior complex, their hero complex, and surrendering their power to the collective, but maybe not for all the right reasons because some of those reasons might include fatigue or even despair.

I guess I shouldn’t judge whether there’s right or wrong reasons, but we might not see it as completely selfless reasons. That is fatigue and despair is nodded to in the line that begins the next verse of the song. That line is, “What’s my name? What’s my station? Oh, just tell me what I should do,” like, “I’m giving up.” That’s the act of surrendering yourself to something bigger can be about self-preservation or just being over it and letting go of your individual responsibility.

As the song comes back around in the third verse, it acknowledges that. There’s a line in that third verse that goes like this, “What good is it to sing Helplessness Blues? Why should I wait for anyone else?” Why should I, in the act of surrendering myself to something bigger, of being this functioning cog in the great machinery, am I giving myself the excuse to sing about my helplessness and not act and wait for someone else to act? All that tension is just really built up. At that point in the song, it kind of lets go of all that tension.

The tempo slows down and the key changes and the melody opens up and the band sings together, “If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m raw. If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore.” They repeat that. It feels like all that tension is let go, but I think there’s tension there in those lines as well because it seems to be saying I do the work. “I’d work till I’m raw work, I’d work till I’m sore if only I had a place to do it.” I’m just feeling all of that. I think all of that rings true to me. All the tension in it rings true to me even if a lot of it sounds in Congress at times.

I’ve just been thinking a lot about that this year, thinking about where I am on my journey towards finding peace and comfort in being just a functioning cog without losing sight of the thing beyond me that I’m serving, and also, thinking about what are the orchards that I’m tending or have tended this year, which ones have I neglected, and how can I find a way in the coming year to find my orchard, my place to work till I’m raw, till I’m sore, serving something beyond me. How can I find that orchard each day in the coming year?

Jessica: Thank you so much for that, Bob. I noticed in my own reflection that there’s some connection between what you said. Let’s explore that now. I was inspired by a quote from Richard Wagamese, who was an author and journalist from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in Northwestern Ontario. I heard it during a class and I have since shared it several times, and I’ve reflected on it often.

What really sticks out to me is the idea of being separate and being independent of each other and coming together at some point, and that there’s some magic. Essentially, he doesn’t use that word, but there’s some magic when we come together and everyone can feel it, and that it’s sometimes only fleeting, and I feel that. I feel that even in just simple little encounters at a grocery store and– Let me get into this and I’ll debrief it a little bit more on the other side because, otherwise, I’ll end up reading the whole thing without giving it to you in its entirety. I think to me, the whole thing in its entirety, the first time I heard it, was magical for me.

Here it is. “We approach our lives on different trajectories, each of us spinning in our own separate shining orbits. What gives this life its resonance is when those trajectories cross and we become engaged with each other for as long or as fleetingly as we do. There’s a shared energy then, and it can feel as though the whole universe is in the process of coming together. I live for those times. No one is truly ever just passing through. Every encounter has within it the power of enchantment, if we’re willing to look for it.”

To me, I see so many connections to the idea and the practice of connection. He says that sometimes when we become engaged it might be fleetingly or it might be longer than that. Exactly, I think, connection works that way. Some things are just little moments. I can’t tell you how many moments I’ve had while just out and about doing errands where sometimes I wished that I had been the weirdo that asks the person if we can get together, the person I just met for five minutes and we had such a great rapport in only those five minutes. We had this great connection. Who knows, in the end, it might still have been fleetingly. We might have gone out for one cup of coffee and it wouldn’t have worked out and that would be fine but we have that moment.

When I think about practicing connection in the context of collaborations and doing collaborative work and working together sometimes for very long periods of time I see this need, it was within this quote, one of the things I was inspired by, I see this need for us to– Here we are spinning in our separate shining orbits and I see this need to pause for a moment when we’re with each other. Like he says, there’s a shared energy then. We’re not spinning separately anymore. Maybe we’re working more like cogs, like in the reflection you had, Bob, but, yes, there’s a shared energy and it really can feel as though the whole universe is coming together in those moments.

When I think about that, I see this idea of a sense of wonder in our connections. This quote reminded me of that. I’m the kind of person that can see a sense of wonder or can conjure, I should say, a sense of wonder in a lot of things. I love that about myself. It feels good. I love to be delighted and surprised and I love to feel connected because when I’m delighted and surprised by something out in the universe that I’m noticing, I feel connected to it. This reminded me that I do feel that sense of wonder in my encounters with people and in my work with people.

I think that I’ve forgotten it a little bit. I can’t blame the pandemic for this, but I would say that a lot of it did happen over the pandemic. I think though I was on a path of forgetting, [laughs] forgetting the sense of wonder. To me, the sense of wonder has a little bit to do with my sense of curiosity. I think that I used to be much more curious about people and about everything around me. I feel like that had gotten chipped away out a little bit and so to me, it’s a beautiful thing to know, and to remember, and to look for a sense of wonder in other people and in your encounters with them.

To me, the practice of this comes out when I notice it in my encounters with new people because that’s where I tend to notice it the most. When I have not become used to the person that I’m talking with, it’s easier for me to notice that sense of wonder, but my plan is to start looking for it more in the people that I’m working with on longer-term collaborations or the people that I know really well because I think it’s easy to miss, but I 100% believe that it’s there.

I think it’s so important to me to feel this, like Richard says, to feel that every encounter has within it the power of enchantment. I want to feel enchantment and I want to be enchanted with my encounters, all of them, whether it’s a long-term collaborative project where many sectors are coming together trying to solve a fairly large issue and there’s contention there, there’s still enchantment, and I want to remember that, and I want to look for it.

Bob: Thanks so much for sharing that reflection, Jessica. Let me express our extreme gratitude to our collaborators for today’s episode. Allison De Marco, Kalin Goble, and the inspiration for the episode, Bjørn Peterson. Our reflections episode marks the end of a year for us and the end of a podcast season. Thank you so much, Jessica, for your collaboration this year. I think it’s been a very good year for our collaboration, for the Practicing Connection podcast. I hope listeners, I hope you guys feel the same way. While I’m rambling on and on, let me express our appreciation for you for listening, for sticking by the podcast, for sharing it with your friends, and we’re really looking forward to the next season.

Jessica: Yes, thank you, everyone. I’m going to just express quick gratitude back to Bob as well, one of the things that I very much enjoy and I do find a sense of enchantment and wonder in a lot of our conversations. I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Thanks again so much for joining us for this episode. We hope this episode inspires your own reflections. We’d also like to thank our contributors today one more time. We also like to thank Hannah Hyde and Terry Meisenbach for their help with marketing and Nathan Grimm, of course, who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. Please join us again soon. In the meantime, keep practicing.

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Kalin: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award number 2019-48770-30366.

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