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20 Years

amywink June 7th, 2018

It has been twenty years since James Byrd was murdered in East Texas, when I was teaching at Stephen F. Austin State University. My memories of that time still cause a visceral reaction and my voice shakes when I tell about it, though I keep telling it. But it is different when I write and perhaps that is why I write instead. I originally published this piece in the Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning. 11(Winter 2005-06). I still remember holding her hand.

The Middle of Difficulty

Sometimes in my writing classes, I have asked my students to write about a community problem and determine what action they, individually, can take to affect change. In essence, what can an individual do on a personal level to solve a large, sometimes overwhelming, problem? They do very well describing and pointing out problems, writing ardently about things that need change. They flounder when describing what they can do, falling heavily into cynicism and ennui. It’s not that they don’t want to create change, it’s that they do not recognize how an individual continually creates and re-creates the world in which he or she lives. This year, I may tell this story:
In the summer James Byrd was dragged to death behind a pick-up truck outside of Jasper, Texas, many of us in the region were fixed in our horror. The heat was unbearable as well, rising to near 120 on many days, as if Hell had been invited in and decided to stay awhile. I was teaching an eight o’clock class to heat-exhausted undergraduates. One day, a colleague noticed one of her basic writing students, an African-American woman, nodding off in class. When she asked her if she was ill, her student replied that she was very tired because she had been walking to the university from her home . . . 30 miles away. Her story unfolded. She had been refused Medicaid benefits for her epileptic son because, when she’d gone to court in her clothes from Goodwill, the judge thought she dressed too well to need the money for medication. Because she didn’t have enough money to keep her car, and she knew that getting her education was the only path she had out of her life in poverty, she walked. Because she wanted to be in school, she walked, starting well before dawn so she could make it for her first class at 8:00. She walked in the dark, in the piney woods of Deep East Texas, which stretched on to the east, where her cousin James had recently been killed.

Profoundly troubled, my friend started to find assistance for her student, whose needs were so many. If nothing else, we will get her a ride, I said. I asked my class if anyone came from the same direction. My quietest student, her Irish ancestry clear in her red hair and porcelain skin, volunteered, her eyes widening when I told her why she was needed. We arranged for our students to meet and they began their daily commute together. When I met my colleague’s student that day, she could not speak but to this day, I can still feel her hand grasping mine. I had done a tiny thing, but the impact was great. Her world changed. My student later wrote how much she learned by talking with her new friend as they drove to campus, and I asked her if she ever thought about what she might be teaching with her own being. My friend and I continued to find help, and while we could not change everything– the history of racism and sexism compounding the difficulties of her personal life, the poverty she struggled to escape– we did help. And we found more help. No, this small connection did not end racism, did not cure her son of epilepsy, did not free her from poverty. But if we had thought only of solving these problems, we might never have solved the most immediate one. She needed a ride to school. We found her one.

I hope this is a story my students understand. I hope they learn to see solutions as easily as they see problems. I hope that they see how they might practice in their lives the small changes that affect the larger world. I hope they understand the necessary union of theory with practice. I hope they consider how their ordinary lives can exemplify larger ideals. I hope they understand that generosity blesses the giver and the gifted. I hope that they see in the middle of difficulty, there are many opportunities awaiting discovery.

Birds and Butterflies

amywink March 20th, 2013

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Sitting out in the yard in the more pleasant Spring weather, I’ve been lucky with a few photography targets. This past week, the Cedar Waxwings have been coming through. Their high peeeeping makes them a distinctive sound in the other bird calls but they are an elusive photography subject. High in our red oak tree, nearly at the top, I did manage to capture a few shots of them. They are such elegant birds and I’m always pleased to encounter them on their way through.

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Days Between

amywink January 23rd, 2013

I have been taking a generous amount of time off from this writing but I am trying to get back into the habit here in Mid-January. I have had a restful break between the semesters and have started back up again without issue. Lily is enjoying my schedule, which gives her mid afternoons for fun and play as well as the quiet days between teaching days. She seems to understand completely “go to school” and settles in quietly until I return home. Since I do not come home smelling of interesting things or horses, she seems fine with it all.

She is growing into a beautiful dog, at 9 months, and is moving away from her more puppy-ish looks. She still maintains her puppy attitude but she is more and more capable of mature behavior…if I let her know it’s completely required.

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In Other News, the Pair is back together again. Blessing came home mid-December and all went smoothly with her return.
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Here’s a brief video of them both as they run off into the sunset together that first day home.

She and Will are working things out and she is now kicking back when he tries to boss her around a bit too much. I did suspect she’d give him a bit more grief than she used to since she is now filled with the confidence of education and strength.

I had two excellent drives with her before the weather turned cold and wet–and I caught a cold. She was steady and perfect at home and Will was quite surprised and a wee bit irked that she knows what he knows! But he had a good drive after seeing that and I am glad to be driving my two horses at home. I will be working out how best to get two drives in each time I drive but I think I’ll be able to manage once I get back into the habit. And I like to try to imagine these two butts together at some point.

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On my second drive with Blessing, I brought Lily along for our first “Home Drive”. I fashioned a little “bumper” guard to keep her feet inside the carriage–using zip ties and corrugated plastic–and it worked perfectly, even if it’s not elegant for the turnout.

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We are still working out some “wait” issues but she did very well for me and as she matures, she’ll settle down perfectly into her appointed Carriage Dog roll. Doesn’t she look like she knows her work?

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So now, my work begins on getting both horses ready for driving. I’m thinking about trying the Pine Hill Driving Trial this spring, to do a dressage test and cones at least. Perhaps I can manage it this year. I have two good horses to choose from and I’m closing in on getting my turnout together. We shall see!!

Agility is in Our Future

amywink October 28th, 2012

This is Lily’s second day visiting the slide in our neighborhood park. She enjoyed it yesterday quite a bit, but today, she raced up the stairs to slide down the slide. I think I have an agility dog.

Day Four: Great American Dog Trip

amywink June 17th, 2012

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We made it!! Nashville to Houston on Sunday. 5 states, 4 days…and almost 2700 miles traveled. 50 hours in the car. But we did it.

And Lily now sleeps in her new state!

Final leg for us tomorrow, to Austin and home. I will be posting more from there.

Whoohoo!!!!

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