Tag Archives: thoughts

#changeforCHANGEinSTL – why we give

download
When I moved to St. Louis twenty years ago this fall, I was excited to move to a midsized Midwestern city with beautiful neighborhoods and museums and gardens and parks. I still remember looking for my first studio apartment, settling into the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood within walking distance of Washington University where I would complete my graduate studies in architecture two years later.

Even now I can distinctly remember many of those first conversations I had with St. Louisans. Oftentimes, within five minutes of meeting someone, I was already schooled on this city – where to live, where to eat, where to explore – and, where NOT to go. I knew about the Delmar Divide long before I ever signed that first lease or walked into my first classroom. St. Louis sized me up upon arrival and presented itself to me in a neat little compartmentalized package. There was an organization to this city, and rules that should be followed.

When I think back to those early days, I force myself to imagine a variety of responses that I could have had to those initial interactions regarding how this city draws its boundaries along racial lines. I could have been grateful for the free advice. I could have allowed that insider information to guide my future choices, to shape my social circles, to inform me as I moved out of academia and into my early adulthood. I could have drawn upon it when making that initial call to a realtor, or when we filled out that first application for kindergarten. I’m grateful for that buffer period that graduate school afforded me – it gave me the space to listen and observe and draw my own conclusions about how this region is divided and what my role in that division could be, for better or for worse.

I draw on the language that was used in my family growing up that pointed out or explained these institutional and historical patterns of segregation and racism. These weren’t always lengthy in-depth discussions – oftentimes they were just observations (and statements) of our privilege – when pulled over erroneously by a state trooper on a Florida highway, or when noticing the redline lending maps framed and displayed on the wall of my grandparents’ bank. They were snippets of history pointed out on our annual trips to visit family in the south, and sometimes they were more heated discussions following the vitriol spewed from a visiting pulpit.

I draw on the friendships that I had in my later high school years, in a majority white school, but within a relatively diverse tightknit group of students in the college track classes, conversations around academics and affirmative action and race. I draw on the experiences at a large public university in the south, the way my ears were listening, the very names on the buildings giving me pause and then a reason to dig deeper into the history of the institution. I draw deeply on the mentor relationships that I had in the summers of my undergraduate education – strong women who invited me into their circles and conversations that brought a level of awareness and openness that really pushed me in ways I needed to be pushed.

These conversations might seem like small things on paper – bits and pieces here and there, insignificant. But they weren’t. In a childhood that offered me plenty of mirrors – reflections of what talent and success and hard work and passion could look like for people that looked just like me – I was also given windows to a bigger story beyond the small towns where I lived and traveled and studied. I craved the world outside those windows and knew that the only way I could be part of that was to understand the role I play in how those barriers are either strengthened or weakened / replaced.

…..

Our family supports We Stories because we see it as an actionable extension of our family’s mission to live within, and learn from, diverse communities. We live in a hyper-segregated city and region, and research tells us that conversations about race and racism are not happening equally across the board. The most important thing that we can do for our two girls is to challenge this system of division by rooting ourselves in diverse communities, teaching them to notice the systems of power and priority within them, and arming them to work diligently at breaking down those systems that divide us.

And as a white family, that work begins first and foremost within our own home; it sits squarely on us. Supporting We Stories means supporting this work in living rooms and kitchen tables and bedtime rituals throughout our region. The work can feel small in the moment, but I am a firm believer that those conversations are vital and lasting and important and necessary to changing the conversation in St. Louis. It challenges those very rules that were presented to me twenty years ago as a new arrival. It sets the stage for a more equitable future in the city where my girls were born. They will be the ones greeting newcomers to this place one day. I believe in them and the new story they will tell.

I hope you’ll join our family in supporting We Stories today.

#changeforCHANGEinSTL

Celebrate and learn more during this Give STL Day on the We Stories Facebook Page.

since we last talked

IMG_4220 (1)

I didn’t mean to let the silence linger here – I was on a roll, but one of the first things to go when I get busy is that tiny little sliver of early morning time to write. Sometimes I just need to hit the snooze button. In my absence I turned forty-two, in what turned out to be a really lovely, low-key kind of way. The sun came out and the temperatures rose. My garden membership was renewed, the most beautiful flowers arrived at my desk, new books arrived in my lap, and family also donated to We Stories in honor of my day. I met up with M and the girls on Friday afternoon to meet Chelsea Clinton (a real birthday highlight), and then we ate late night tacos across the street to continue the celebration.

I was still riding pretty high on the birthday vibes that weekend, and then we suffered a pretty significant setback on the house project. One week out, and it feels manageable, doable, a bit more hopeful. But in the moment it felt like a suckerpunch. Insurmountable and gut-wrenching.

That pendulum swing can be difficult to navigate – it always is for me. I’m pretty good at giving a challenge all I’ve got, but it’s far more difficult for me to revisit a challenge that I thought was behind me. I move on, I’ve moved on. I’m not always willing (or optimistic) about stepping back a few steps.

I went for a long run on that following Sunday night, and I really turned my thoughts (and myself) over to the idea of revisiting. Linear progressions are much more predictable, which makes emotions (and reactions) easier to modulate. Even a birthday weekend is a linear thing – another year completed, a new one begun. But if I’m honest with myself, and I look at the things in my life that are the most meaningful and long lasting, I have to acknowledge that none of those things turned out exactly as planned or along a predescribed timeline. As M pointed out to me – we have the tools in our toolbelt to handle this – this is what we do. And he’s right. This is what we do.

forethought

IMG_3677

I had a board meeting last night and I brought a cake. It was a celebratory cake, in honor of the award this organization is receiving, and it was planned as a welcome cake for our two new board members. It’s also my birthday week, and so it seems a fitting week to consume more cake. On the way to the meeting I was thinking about cake. I was thinking about our upcoming house project and the dismantling and rebuilding of our kitchen. I was thinking that I’d love to be the kind of person who always has a cake on the counter – stopping in to pick up your kid or to drop off some materials for a meeting? Come in, have a cup coffee, would you like a slice of cake?

This could be that cake. It’s the Gateau Breton from last month’s Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I’ve made it twice now, the second time greatly benefitted from not having an oven temperature snafu in the middle of baking. It’s a sturdy cake, and an elegant one. It’s not overly sweet, and I increased the filling by a tablespoon or two and it’s nearly perfection. I have a large bottle of expensive dark rum, so at two tablespoons per cake, it seems like I could be set for awhile. It fits perfectly on my small marble cake stand, and it slices and plates easily. I served it at the start of the meeting, and that simple act spawned an energetic conversation on the act of making, and serving, a cake.

I do this a lot. I make things in my kitchen, I bring them places to share. I run the sort of committees that serve receptions and organize menus and feed people. I think in terms of serving sizes, fresh flowers, punch ingredients. I have a lot of practice at this, it’s fairly second nature at this point. I love to eat, but even more than that, I love to feed others.

The conversation that developed eventually centered around the idea of forethought. I believe it became a hashtag moment at some point. It was used to describe the differences between those who love the idea of cake, and the person (me) who plans the cake a week in advance, shops for the ingredients, makes the cake, packages the cake, remembers the serving silver and the napkins. #forethought was thrown out several more times, as the conversation moved into menu planning and dinner recipes, shopping lists, project planning and note-taking. It was my instinct to pull away from this and retreat – I just do what I do, and I don’t find it exceptional or unique or particularly praiseworthy. I do find this particular group of women exceptional, unique and praiseworthy, so why wouldn’t I make them a cake, and serve it with the silver?

On the way home from the meeting I thought a lot about the idea of forethought, and getting past my initial instinct to deflect attention away from me, I decided to claim it. It’s a good descriptor for me, and it’s how I operate best. It doesn’t mean that I never do things at the last minute – I often do – but my wheels are always spinning on the tasks that I have ahead of me. There are so many people and organizations that inspire and motivate me, and sharing something that brings me joy to them is my best way of honoring them.

Maybe I’m already that person with the cake on the counter. Have a seat for a moment in your busy day and have a slice. Let me tell you how much I love you in the currency of butter and sliced fruit. Let me reconnect to you again while the vegetables roast, let the scent of fresh flowers remind you that you are home.