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Call for Submissions: Root

Drafts and proposals due November 30

For the spring 2016 issue of Oregon Humanities, we want to hear your stories, ideas, thoughts, and arguments on the word “root.” Tell us about rooting around, taking root, being uprooted or root-bound, getting to the root of a problem, being the root of the problem, rooting someone on. Share stories and ideas about beginnings, origins, and foundations. Analyze a historical or contemporary grassroots effort. Describe the tension between staying put and being stuck.

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11/10/15 | 1 Comment about: Call for Submissions: Root

  • 1.

    I hope for future submission calls you consider asking not just for writing, but also still and/or motion imagery.  Paul Sivley

    Paul Sivley Photography | November 2015 | Lake Oswego OR

Oregon Humanities magazine

Oregon Humanities magazine is a triannual publication devoted to exploring important and timely ideas from a variety of perspectives and to stimulating reflection and public conversation. The magazine is distributed for free to more than 12,000 readers in Oregon. Articles and essays from the magazine have been reprinted in several textbooks, the Pushcart Prize anthology, Utne Reader, and Best American Essays, and featured on public radio programs Think Out Loud and This American Life.

10/08/14 | Be first to comment on: Oregon Humanities magazine

Safely and Bravely

Kathleen Holt, editor

This summer, my daughter learned self-defense at a music camp for girls. At the weeklong camp, kids form bands, compose music, write songs, play music, make zines and T-shirts, and revel in girl power, but they also take a workshop on how to physically protect themselves.
      “If someone comes up to you and grabs your throat,” my daughter said, pretending to reach for me, “you make your arm really straight and shove your fingers right here.” She gestured to the vulnerable hollow at the base of her neck. She showed me a couple of other techniques, each detailing how to escape from various attacks. Watching her move clumsily from one pretend scenario to the next, I felt my heart break a little bit.

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08/17/15 | Be first to comment on: Safely and Bravely

Plague Fears

Eula Biss

Shortly after he turned four, my son slept in my arms like a heavy newborn baby while a doctor impressed on me that his allergies, which now included some food allergies, could pose a serious threat to his health. My observations, in part, had brought us to this diagnosis, but I doubted both myself and the doctor as I looked down at my son, who appeared perfectly unthreatened in his sleep. After the doctor left the room, a nurse demonstrated the EpiPen I would need to use if my son ever had a life-threatening reaction to nuts. “I know,” she said when she saw tears well up in my eyes while she pretended to jab herself forcefully in the thigh with the syringe. “I hope you never have to do this.” Later I would dutifully read all the information the doctor had given me, while still maintaining the secret belief that none of it was true and that food could not hurt my child.
      In the lists upon lists of things my son was advised by the doctor to avoid, one item in particular caught my attention—the seasonal flu shot. Children with egg allergies can react to this particular vaccine, which is grown in eggs. My son had already been vaccinated against the flu, just as he had already eaten many eggs, but I could see the irony in the possibility that a vaccine posed him special danger. Thinking with the logic of a Greek myth, I wondered if my interest in immunity had somehow invited immune dysfunction for him. Maybe I had given him, like poor Icarus, fragile wings.

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09/22/15 | Be first to comment on: Plague Fears

Trademark Offense

How I named my band “The Slants” and got into trouble with the government.
Simon Tam

The Slants
A few years ago, my band, the Slants, was invited to perform at the Oregon State Penitentiary. To many, sending an all-Asian American dance rock band into a prison with a significant neo-Nazi population seemed like an invitation for disaster. However, I didn’t question the decision until we actually showed up and were handed bright-orange vests to wear over our clothes. Our singer asked if it would be okay to take them off mid-concert, since our suits and vests could get quite warm.
      “Sure,” the guard said, “but if an incident occurs, the orange vests let the sentry towers know who to avoid shooting.” Got it: keep the safety gear on.
      We continued through security with significant precautions at every step. There were bars and armed guards everywhere. The clanging of the doors would echo loudly for a while every time one was opened or shut. It was a place designed for containment, not comfort.

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08/13/15 | 3 Comments about: Trademark Offense

  • 1.

    I really want to read this piece but the ever present O. Hmmm makes it difficult to see the text of the essay. Is there a way to click it off so the essays are more visible?

    Dmae | August 2015 | Portland

  • 2.

    Hi, Dmae, sorry you’re having trouble reading this. You should receive the print version in the mail in the next day or two.

    Kathleen Holt | August 2015

  • 3.

    Totally agree with Dmae. As a teacher, this would be great piece to share with my students. Having a printable version would be super helpful, get this work out to an even greater audience and provide for dynamic and be great content for secondary classrooms.

    Charles | September 2015 | Hubbard

Civil Rights with Guns

Alternatives to police in the Black Freedom Movement
Kristian Williams
Robert F. Williams, president of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP in the 1950s and early 1960s, and his wife, Mabel Williams. Photo: Collection of the Freedom Archives

There is a question that haunts every critic of police—namely, the question of crime, and what to do about it.
      Since the 1960s, the right wing has made crime a political issue and identified it with poor people and people of color. Because the left has largely refused to make crime an issue, it’s also failed to challenge this characterization. Successive waves of politicians—of both parties, at every level of government—have learned to stoke the public’s fears of rape, murder, drive-bys, carjackings, school shootings, and child abduction, as well as rioting and terrorism, and present themselves as heroes, as saviors, as tough-talking, hard-hitting, no-nonsense, real-life Dirty Harrys who will do whatever it takes to keep you and your family safe. The solutions they offer typically have the appeal of simplicity: more cops, more prisons, longer sentences. The unspoken costs come in the form of fewer rights, limited privacy, greater inequality, and a society ever less tolerant of minor disorder. These political tactics are nothing new, of course, but the scale of their effect—2.2 million inmates in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics—is unprecedented. And unless the left can do better, we have to expect that these same solutions will be the ones offered in the future.

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08/13/15 | Be first to comment on: Civil Rights with Guns

Group Therapy

Copping out at an uptown slumber party
Dionisia Morales

The six of us sat cross-legged in flannel nightgowns around the game board.
      “It’s my turn,” Susan said. She picked a card from one of the stacks in the middle of the board and read it out loud: Assume the fetal position, close your eyes, and rocking back and forth, make appropriate sounds.
      She got an easy one.
      It was a few months into the start of seventh grade. The week before, Susan had called to invite me to her sleepover. She had lots of plans for the party. She wanted to put on a cabaret where we made up the songs and dances. She thought we could build a stage using books and pillows, and make a curtain in the doorway. She wanted everyone to dress in men’s clothes as costumes.
      “Be sure to bring an oxford shirt and a necktie,” she’d said over the phone. “The shirt can be any color but needs to have little buttons on the collar. Okay?”
      “Okay,” I’d said.

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08/13/15 | 2 Comments about: Group Therapy

  • 1.

    I loved this piece - spoke to me about a singular experience for this young girl, and resonated because it seems like such a universally painful experience that I shared as a young girl at a sleep over caught between fear of discovery and the painful desire to be included.
    thank you!!

    Emma Coddington | September 2015 | Salem OR

  • 2.

    Dionisia gets a “with it” card for her clear, insightful description of how it feels to be the girl who doesn’t fit in. Her story conjured my own old, half-buried memories. I love her underlying sense of pride in her own family even while knowing they are outside Susan’s family’s sphere. Congratulations on such a well-written piece.

    Ariel Ginsburg | September 2015 | Corvallis, OR

This Is Not Just a Cloud

Embracing grief in the wilderness
Michael Heald

We’re camped on a bluff, and the early afternoon sun is unrelenting. In this kind of heat, everything looks sort of washed out. My tent shimmers a couple of feet from the chasm, or at least what feels like a chasm, a miniature gorge carved by the stream that empties from the lake. Over by the lake, the forest is too dense to spread out in, plus the bugs, plus the snakes, and the funny thing about old growth is that the trees have taken such a beating over the centuries and are missing so many limbs that they don’t provide the kind of shelter you’d find even in a stand of baby trees. So we’re out in the elements. On the other side of the clearing, Aly and Mollie are playing with the dogs. The others are bushwhacking somewhere above the lake, looking for a nine-hundred-year-old tree.

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08/13/15 | 2 Comments about: This Is Not Just a Cloud

  • 1.

    Tremendously moving and courageous.

    Peigi Huseby | August 2015

  • 2.

    To love deeply means you some day will feel, most deeply, the loss of the person you love.  Despite the pain, it is worth it—to have loved.  -  G. Beres

    george beres | August 2015 | Eugene, Ore.

The Rim of the Wound

An open letter to the students of Columbia University’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, with a special note to my daughters
Wendy Willis

I read with interest your recent op-ed in the Columbia Spectator arguing, among other things, that Ovid’s Metamorphoses should be assigned with a trigger warning because of the story “The Rape of Proserpina.” As you put it:

Metamorphoses is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

      You clearly struck a nerve, because there’s been a lot written about your letter and what it means for higher education. Some people are supportive and sympathetic to the experiences that might lead a young person to need a trigger warning in the first place, while others cluck-cluck over how thin-skinned and coddled kids are these days. They fret that your parents—and all contemporary parents, which I guess includes me—are so protective and overinvolved that students are unable to withstand even the slightest discomfort or intellectual challenge.

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09/22/15 | 12 Comments about: The Rim of the Wound

  • 1.

    Thank you, Wendy. I descended in this and came to the top and descended again. Beautiful.

    Tricia | August 2015 | Portland, Oregon

  • 2.

    Wendy, thank you for this - thoughtful, tender, fierce and most of all, wise.

    Karen | August 2015 | Portland

  • 3.

    As someone who continues to teach Ovid, Dante, and Blake to undergraduates—for some of the same reasons you voice eloquently and clearly here—and also has spent years working with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and as someone who also has a college-age daughter, I thank you for holding together the complexities and speaking your mind with passion, and in process, reminding me of why I do what I do.

    Wendy Petersen-Boring | August 2015 | Salem

  • 4.

    For another interesting take, see Madeleine Kahn’s article “Why Are We Reading a Handbook on Rape?” Young Women Transform a Classic,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language and Composition, 4.3, September 2004, 438-59, expanded in her 2005 book “Why Are We Reading Ovid’s Handbook on Rape? Teaching and Learning at a Women’s College.”

    Chris | September 2015 | Oakland, CA

  • 5.

    Beautifully spoken, Wendy…

    Tricia Snell | September 2015 | Portland

  • 6.

    I read this a few weeks back and loved it. However, since then I had a friend tell me she has been unable to finish her English degree because of courses where she read this kind of material and was assigned to write about “the loss of innocence” after a traumatic and brutal rape. My perspective is shifting slightly in the light of the knowledge that this kind of pain is real and affects real lives.

    Rhiannon | September 2015 | Portland, Oregon

  • 7.

    Thanks for writing this, Wendy, and for sharing it (with special thanks to “The Lorca.”)  Like so many complicated issues in the art of living, I see this as a yet another paradox. Because while I think it’s often critical to separate the personal from the universal/political/legal/administrative/what-have-you, it’s also comforting to enmesh ourselves with, as you call it so beautifully, “the arc of human experience,” both to find comfort and to establish our identity among humanity. We’re all wounded, and we all struggle. Some of us emerge more intact others, but 2 truths remain: shit happens and eventually we all die. I’m wondering what, ultimately, would be gained by putting a trigger warning on this or any other required reading? Or on anything—whether text or any other media? (Think: commercials, social media, video games, email, text msgs, movies, live theater, high school, network news…...presidential campaigns?) As an older woman, mother, and grandmother, so much of what I know now is a result of simply living on Earth so many damn years. As a younger woman, I often felt bullied and buffeted about by the cruelty, violence, and indifference of the world, often at the hands of men or persons with more power and authority. I’m sure I’m not alone, and I would love nothing more than to protect all the world’s vulnerable from such things. Clearly, the trauma of sexual assault, war, and all forms of trauma and loss should be acknowledged and its profound impact on its victims respected.  But to put a trigger warning on all that hot mess—“Warning: Life Can Really Suck”—would bring little comfort & most likely induce paranoia and fear of, well, everything. The students you address in this letter are fortunate to have the caring guidance you’ve offered here. I know when I was their age, such a letter would brought tons of comfort and encouragement to keep diving into the scary, beautiful unknown. More than anything, young people need hope and to know that what Mr. Rogers called “the helpers” are out there.

    Suzanne | September 2015 | Portland OR

  • 8.

    I liked your essay and I loved that you shared how you relate to the Metamorphosis over your lifetime and how it helped you. On its own this essay is well worth reading. This part struck me as odd, though: “And yet it made my heart sink to watch four bright, passionate young women toss Metamorphoses onto the bonfire and prepare to light the match.” I mean… that is not really what happened. I hadn’t read the op-ed until after I read your essay, but this description seemed rather alarmist and I went looking for it. Yes, I realize it’s a metaphor, but honestly, you’re arguing that Metamorphosis should be taught—and they didn’t recommend that it not be. What they actually mentioned in the op-ed is that they proposed that faculty be sent a letter about possibly implementing “potential trigger warnings.” You realize TV does this all the time, right? “Warning: What you are about to see contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised”—and then it goes ahead and plays the movie/show/whatever anyway. A scenario like this is actually what they advocated for. I’m…having a hard time seeing the problem. They’re not trying to take the Metamorphosis away; they’re trying to get faculty to teach it—with sensitivity. Why is that so bad? Why do you liken to book burning and intolerance?

    Paige | September 2015

  • 9.

    This is beautiful and powerful and smart, and full of compassion to so many, including yourself. I also was raped when I was a university student. Reading was a comfort. The metaphor of story let me go to dark and fearful places that I was not ready to go to directly, and there was a kind of repairing below the surface that carried me through.

    Jackie Shannon Hollis | September 2015 | Portland, Oregon

  • 10.

    Very well said, good argument.  My favorite part was when you said, “Shit happens, ladies. And it’s unfair. And I hate it. And I wish it weren’t that way. But I want you to have the full range of tools to keep becoming the badass women you are meant to be.”

    Yes, it is frightening reliving trauma, but coming out the other side makes it well worth it!

    Thanks for this :-)

    Badass Cat Names | October 2015

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Readers write about Safe

Baby on Board

I’m a first-time mom. My baby is still in my belly, so I guess some people would not identify me that way, but I am. And I’m accident-prone.
        I lost teeth at Southeast Thirty-Second and Lincoln a few years ago when I did a curb shot over the handlebars of my bike. I nearly broke my ankle running trails in the gorge. I slip in boots when it’s raining, and I’m an LA driver.
        I can be both reckless and sloppy. And now I am the temporary house of a dependent and fragile and scary-to-handle-for-the-first-time tiny human.
        I was an awful babysitter. The last time I had that job, a baby rolled off the sofa under the coffee table, and I think I was probably paid $12.
        On Mother’s Day I fell down a flight of stairs at an estate sale. I tumbled out of control and somehow continually fell on my back to protect my precious cargo. I had to be monitored for twenty-four hours. The hospital provided respite, the illusion of a guarantee of life, of immortality.
        Returning home I realized how unprepared I felt—I did not want to be left alone with the job of carrying this little one.  But I know that my baby is covered in prayer and amniotic fluid, and—even though I’m a klutz—I realize it will never be safer than it is floating in the space of my inner sanctum.

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08/13/15 | 1 Comment about: Posts

  • 1.

    Thanks to Paul Bascom for his joltingly honest piece. It’s hard enough to stand square and true in front of one’s own unknown, to be present in our own life moments. But to be charged with standing beside another person facing that fear, and then to have to do so in the company of supposed allies who choose to lie to a human at that most vulnerable time…well, no wonder he left that job. Thank you for your many years of real service to those who were ill or dying, and for writing about your experience with such heart.

    bija gutoff | August 2015 | portland