What Did You Notice When You Were in Love?

Once, I heard from an ex-lover who was upset with me about something that I had said and done,

And he asked me, “Did you notice this or that?”

However, when I thought about it, I realized that my ex did not realize the times that he said and did the very same things, and much worse.

He did not notice or recall the times that his behavior was painfully abusive and absent: totally unacceptable.

He did not notice that he was hurting me and the future of our relationship beyond comprehension.

He did not notice how dishonest he was about his feelings and about his concern for my life, or my well-being.

He did not notice how unwilling he was to change and grow.

These are the things that he did not notice when we were together and in love.

And, these are the things that he probably will not notice until he finally realizes that I am no longer in his orbit or a vital part of his life and safely in the arms of someone who notices love.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

“Thanksgiving” Should Give Us Reason to Fast, Not Eat

Last year, I watched one of the best challenges to the United States’ Thanksgiving holiday that I have ever seen. In this video, Sandy Grande, an activist, gave three ways to focus on the recent struggles of North American indigenous peoples. Here, I have embedded the video so that you can see her recommendations for yourself.

So, indeed it is that in North America, and specifically in the United States, land that is or was occupied by indigenous peoples is still being taken, and cultural genocide is still happening to them (yes, even as it is happening to others). It has been estimated that as many as 54 million North American indigenous peoples lost their lives as a result of their encounter with European invaders and settlers. As far as I am concerned, there is no amount of sitting down with family, friends, and being thankful that is going to change or erase the fact that here, on this continent, and in this country, the descendants of indigenous peoples are still in danger of losing their lives and their livelihoods due to the greed of some very powerful white men who have institutionalized and accelerated their love of money. Yet, a diversity of people celebrate and commemorate Thanksgiving as this were not happening. Many of those who dismiss this genocide are those who also escaped some form of persecution or dispossession of land, and that perplexes me. It is hard for me to understand how those who also experienced persecution or cultural annihilation on other continents and in other countries, or even in this country, can sit down for a celebratory dinner that is tied to the gradual extermination of indigenous people. Over the years, I have heard many justifications from those who gleefully look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday; they divorce themselves from the history of Thanksgiving and they reposition it as an apolitical, ahistorical event. And, they teach their children to do the same – to celebrate Thanksgiving as merely a day to be thankful. No amount of forgetting, erasing, whitewashing or flat-out denying it will change the fact that what has happened to the indigenous peoples of North America was genocide.

And, if you talk with many conscious indigenous peoples, versus the ones that have forgotten the whitewashing of their own people, they will tell you that that genocide is still happening today. As for those of us who are not directly affected by these acts, the last thing we should be doing is getting together on Thanksgiving without an accurate understanding of what has happened to indigenous tribes who once lived on the land on which we now call home. In other words, the systematic killing off of any group of people should never be something that we forget or celebrate. We must approach the day that is known as “Thanksgiving” with honesty and with the courage to call it for what it is: a reminder of a national disgrace.

Why do I say that what has happened to indigenous people of North America was a disgrace? Well, because that is what I feel about it, and I am entitled to express that feeling. I owe that to a concept that we value and that is called the “freedom of speech.” In addition, I believe that it is the responsibility of the American people to educate and enlighten ourselves on the role that the U.S. government continues to play in this country and beyond. We, as citizens and residents, do NOT have to agree or support anything and everything our government does. In fact, rarely do I meet anyone who goes along with all the laws, treaties, policies and ordinances that we are made to adhere to, and on a daily basis. That also means that we do not have to celebrate or participate in each and every holiday set forth by our government, many of which have been put in place to boost the economy. Everyone will not celebrate Thanksgiving, just like everyone will not celebrate Christmas, Easter, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and even Martin Luther King Jr. Day (yes, it is a national holiday whether your city, town, or employer gives you the day off). There are many holidays that I do not celebrate, and Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that I care not to celebrate because it is a holiday that was established at the deadly expense of indigenous people.

Everyone that I know kinda-sorta knows that, but, unfortunately, and much to my disappointment, their attitudes towards indigenous people is often very dismissive and apathetic. On the one hand, they acknowledge that a genocide took place; on the other hand, that does not seem to bother them one bit. Most of the people that I know who celebrate Thanksgiving say very little about the genocide of millions of indigenous North Americans; they act as if that genocide had to happen. And, many of the people that I know live on lands once occupied by whole groups of indigenous people. They seem to care less that land theft, and the forcible removal of people from those lands even happened, and that it was done to enrich other groups of people, such as the European settlers and colonizers. Some of this nations most revered peoples and families were the direct beneficiaries of the genocide of the native people of this land. Many of our nation’s richest families and tribes, so to speak, now live exclusively on lands formerly occupied by indigenous populations who were the first occupants of those lands. I was especially made aware of this fact when I lived in Massachusetts, and when I traveled to exclusive communities or properties in the mountains between Massachusetts and Vermont. I also felt this when I visited the wealthy resort islands off the coast of South Carolina. Those who benefited from their forefathers and foremothers violent actions against the indigenous peoples of the land; the ones who removed them from their lands and then constructed their homes and enterprises in their place cannot afford to remember the genocide of natives peoples; they cannot afford to admit that there is blood on their hands. So, the story about being thankful becomes an escape, a way to ignore that their family members did not earn their wealth or gain it legitimately: they pirated it. If these wealthy families and tribes were to admit that they had a part in the slaughter and enslavement of indigenous tribes, then – realistically – they would have to do something about it. And that amounts to giving up some of their wealth.

Let me make it plain on another level: urban and regional planners talk often about gentrification and eminent domain. And, they frequently do so in negative tones or connotations. For sure, there are some really good arguments against gentrification and eminent domain (and thus urban renewal) written by planners and architects, but, by and large, the talk or discourse of gentrification is also expressed as a given, or as something that must happen. On the contrary, I do not believe that gentrification must happen, rather, it happens because many urban and regional planners, city officials, neighborhood residents, and developers enable it to happen. In fact, some want it to happen; they acquiesce to its prevalence, although though they may speak about it as if they do not want it to happen. As far as urban planners and architects are concerned, it is their actions and governmental practices that reveal what they feel is important. And, often, as professional planners, their actions say that they believe in development at all costs; or, at least they work for people who do. Thus, if tearing down a historical neighborhood landmark or building on top of a cemetery is what the local government is willing to support, it is what those in their employ will be required to do. Those who worship and believe in the supremacy of the dollar will demonstrate that they will do just about anything to get it. They will show that profit is more important that human life and cultural preservation. Similarly, the establishment of “Thanksgiving” was set in motion with the same sort of beliefs and practices: and it was codified and institutionalized at the expense of the indigenous peoples of North America, whose lands were taken by force and to please the gods of profit. Today, many, like the Pilgrims, they “want their turkey and they want to eat it too.” And, they demonstrate to us that their beliefs about profits and progress supersede their beliefs about human life and our shared existence on planet Earth.

This is very sad to me, because I know a lot of people who claim to be “woke” and justice-loving people. I also know many who claim to have indigenous ancestry, especially many African-Americans. Yet, if asked or challenged about the history of Thanksgiving and its impact upon the indigenous peoples of North America, they are often silent or they look away. Thus, with their silence and their overt participation in the Thanksgiving holiday, despite their knowing the damage that it did to many tribes of indigenous peoples, they continue to legitimate the dominant narrative about “Thanksgiving” – the one that was constructed by our government to justify cultural genocide against native peoples in an effort to gain their land and its resources. Each year, since 1789, Thanksgiving is celebrated with an official government-sponsored narrative – which it is simply about getting together with family. And, each year the power and dominance of that narrative grows stronger and stronger. Never mind, that millions lost their lives in the wake of such thanksgivings. Who cares that America celebrates family and nation when it came into being at the genocide of one group (indigenous North American peoples) and the enslavement of others (indigenous African and Caribbean peoples forcibly taken from their lands)?

For me, nothing about the official Thanksgiving narrative is happy or worth a national day of thanks. And, I definitely support the recommendations of Sandy Grande, but, before we even get to her recommendations, I believe that the first step in supporting the struggles of indigenous peoples lies in the undoing of the official government-sponsored narrative. The first step in doing something in support of indigenous people is to stop legitimating or enabling the narrative by 1) recognizing the humanity and dignity of indigenous North American tribes by acknowledging and mourning their losses. The second thing that I believe that we need to do is to decrease the spending for the Thanksgiving holiday. Last year, it was estimated that the average American will spend about $160 on the Thanksgiving holiday, but overall, Americans spend MASSIVE amounts of money on and around the Thanksgiving holiday. That spending includes travel costs (air, fuel, and transportation overall); food costs; the costs of readying one’s home and decorating for the Christmas holiday – and Thanksgiving sets the stage for that holiday; restaurant dinners; holiday parties, etcetera, etcetera. All of this spending enables local, state, and federal governments to keep crafting narratives that will support development at all costs, which means that neighborhoods will be compromised by the development of high-end rental properties, school closures, and the gentrifying of urban areas. All of this will be done in the name of progress and profit. Never mind who gets hurt or pushed out in the process. This is why I say that an undoing of the narrative is a necessary first. Americans must begin to see that while you personally were not removed from your land, a day is coming when it might happen to you because governments specialize in land control and with land control comes the condemnation and destruction of minority cultures, heritages, and ultimately their lives.

On the other hand, I grew up in a household that celebrated Thanksgiving on a yearly basis. And, I grew up in a family that has indigenous ancestry. It was not until I became conscious of the counter narrative to the official Thanksgiving narrative that I grew up with that I began to distance myself from the observation of the Thanksgiving holiday. During the past five years or so, I have grown much more resistant to the idea of Thanksgiving. Do I get together with family to eat dinner? Sometimes, as I did last year when my mother was alone following her husband’s death. But, it is often not without expressing myself about the troubling history of Thanksgiving. I know that many will not do away with the official narrative that is told about Thanksgiving, but I do believe that there will be some who gradually chip away at the official narrative. There will be some who decide not to spend so much for the Thanksgiving holiday, which only enables the official narrative to gain more power and authority. And, I am most inspired by the fact that there are many who already stand in opposition against the whole idea of Thanksgiving because it is also a reminder of their own personal and cultural losses. Indigenous peoples are not the only ones who lost and who have to worry about their loss of land, culture, and heritage. But, it is their image that informs the backdrop of the Thanksgiving holiday. And, I think that that is something that we must acknowledge and remember.

On the other hand, I also know that there are many people who could care less, and will continue to support the official Thanksgiving narrative, even as their own people suffered under persecution of this government and others. Knowing this causes me to mourn, not celebrate, because as I see it, they are truly the ones that have lost. While they may have plenty on Thanksgiving Day, they have lost the ability to think of those who do not, and to consider that not that long ago, in the history of human peoples, there were those who were systematically killed by others for what they had and for who they were. That is a real tragedy to me. Because while now they may have plenty, there may come a day when the ones who give thanks may be in need. Perhaps it will be due to a wildfire; a hurricane; a tornado; a volcanic eruption; or tsunami. Or, it may be because their local government decides to condemn their land to build a sports stadium or a residential complex, or suburb/neighborhood that they could never afford to live in. One day it may happen to them, and I am pretty confident that the last thing that they would want to see is others giving thanks while they or their loved ones suffered.

Thanksgiving was established on the genocide of millions of indigenous people, and no amount of turkey or giving thanks for you and yours will change or make up for that. It took me more than half of my life to undo what I learned in childhood in terms of celebrating “Thanksgiving”, and I believe that with any luck, and with a little bit of education others will do the same. Therefore, in conclusion, my recommendation is this: on Thanksgiving Day, perhaps we should consider fasting, not eating to commemorate the fact that we still live in a world where the powers that be will not think twice about destroying whole groups of people to make a profit. And that is something that I will never take the time, the money, or the use of my energy to celebrate.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

When You Are Loved

You will know when someone loves you and wants you in their life

When they make themselves present and available to you,

When they tell you about their day and how it went, but they also want to hear about you and your feelings;

They will want to be there for you, emotionally

Because the power of love makes room for reciprocity.

Most of all, when you are loved, they will show you that they care about you in word and in deed.

When you are loved, you will be a priority:

The first thing in the morning, and the last on their mind at night.

You will be to them like a light at the end of a dark tunnel,

Like an oasis in the middle of the desert or a dry place.

And, when you are loved it will be hard to go for a day without you.

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Please Don’t Tell Me You Love Me

Please don’t tell me you love me when you could care less about my feelings, my work, my life, my day, and my accomplishments,

Please don’t tell me you love me and you want to be with me, but you really don’t. That’s just what you say because you think I want to hear it,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you always run and hide behind your phone and all your other material possessions, especially when you know you have disappointed or hurt me,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you have rejected and scared away dang near every well-intentioned woman who has come into your life with deception and abuse,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you are more than willing to lie to get what you want or need (even when you don’t have to), and even if you know your lies will hurt others,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you prostitute yourself daily with people that you say do not care about you, yet they are the ones you run to for attention and affection,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you constantly abandon yourself and the ones you claim to love (yet you cling to the ones you despise),

Please don’t tell me you love me when you destroy the love that we have made with out-of-control drinking and anger that belong to a past that continues to define and control you,

Please don’t tell me that you love me when the only things that matter to you are your feelings, your work, your life, your day and your accomplishments,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you know that you are not the person that you say you are,

Please don’t tell me you love me when you are not willing to be honest and ask for the help that you know you desperately need, and for the help that will potentially bring you to what you need and want,

Please don’t tell me you love me until you can muster the strength and the courage to forgive and ultimately love yourself,

And please don’t tell me you love me until you know, for yourself, what love really is.

©2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

My First (Self-Published) Book is Now Available!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Writing has become a central part of who I am and recently I published my first book! You may find it by clicking on this link.

This brief book, which is published in digital format, will soon be available to library patrons as well. It is a womanist planning proposal, and it summarizes what I have learned (over the last twenty years) about the rebuilding of former black ghettos and predominantly black neighborhoods and communities in urban cities. It is both, a proposal and a love letter, as I reflect on the motivations and business legacy of Ollie Gates in Kansas City, Missouri.

It is also a book that I have dedicated to the memory of John Lee Johnson, who was a major catalytic force in redeveloping the North End of Champaign-Urbana, or an area where black residents of Champaign-Urbana were “allowed” to live. The North End is/was also spatially situated right across the street from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). I had the privilege of following Mr. Johnson for about two years, when I was working on my master’s degree in urban and regional planning at UIUC. I learned so much from him, first-hand, about community and economic development.

If the development of former black ghettos, or predominantly black communities and neighborhoods is something that interests you, then this is definitely worth the read. And, it should not take you more than an hour to read it!

In addition, if you are someone who has supported my writing over the years, thank you, once again, for taking an interest in what I have to say. If you are new to this blog, then welcome to my world!

I look forward to publishing more in the future!

©2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Life: Gentle or Painful Teacher?

Recently, during a morning meditation, I read something that said that life is a “painful teacher”. On the other hand – and on many occasions – I have heard people say that life is a “gentle teacher”. As I reflected on these two competing assertions, I thought to myself: which one is it? And, is life really a teacher?

In pondering this question, I also remembered what happened just the night before, as I was lying in the bed about to go sleep and thinking over my day. That night, as I lie there, I heard the sound of a bad car accident on the road below and outside my window. After it happened, I also heard the faint cry of a woman. As I got up to look out the window, there were soon many police cars swarming the area. I imagined, for those persons involved in that accident (on both sides of the equation), that in that moment they were experiencing life as very painful. And, perhaps, each one was asking herself or himself, “Why me?”

On other occasions, life can be sweet and gentle, especially if you have no fear of running out of money. Money can make life much more pleasant for all of us; so when a person is born into a family with money or prestige or power, he might feel good about life, and most of the time. Or, if somehow you hit the lottery; if you come upon some kind of good fortune and you are in a position where you do not lack money to pay for what you want and need, life can be sweet. Perhaps these monied persons, or the rich, believe that they deserve such things.

Yet, there are many with money, prestige, power, and all the material things they could ever need or want, and still they are very unhappy with life, and they feel very lonely. For example, the well-known comedian Robin Williams seemed to have it all, and he was in the business of making many others laugh and smile. But, deep down, he was a very sad man, and to the extent that he eventually decided to end his life by suicide. And, there are many that seem to “have it all”, but they slowly but surely destroy their otherwise comfortable lives, bodies, and relationships with others with the irresponsible use of drugs, alcohol, and all other kinds of compulsive abuses.

By contrast, what happens when things seem to be going well, but then life changes abruptly, and you get some bad news, like your newborn is soon to die, or you are diagnosed with cancer, or you lose your primary source of income? Last year, in 2018, I was involved in an unexpected hit-and-run accident. The person who caused this accident was able to get away and leave three totaled cars behind, including my car and a car belonging to one of my loved ones (who was there merely there to help me). Getting through that life experience was very difficult. Similarly, I imagine that those who are enduring the General Motors-UAW strike are questioning life right about now. Going weeks with little to no pay is something that most of us would not want to volunteer for, at least not willingly (by the way, it makes me sad to see that the national media sites are spending so little time reporting on such an important strike), and definitely not without other concessions in place.

Life is constantly changing and causing us to reassess what we feel about ourselves, about others, about the places where we live and work, and about life in general. Because of life’s constant changing (e.g., evolution), are we to think that life is purposefully being “a teacher”? As much as we try to deny it, life is very unpredictable and uncontrollable (and truth be told, we do not have control over the people in our lives). Sometimes things work out, even when it did not seem like they would in the beginning. And, it doesn’t happen all the time, but what seems like a bad experience can turn into something very positive, and even very good. Personally, I have known some people who have endured some very difficult life circumstances, and I stand in awe of them and their ability to go on without much resentment and bitterness. Their courage always gives me strength and hope, and they have helped me to believe in the goodness of life, and in the goodness of human beings.

Thus far, I don’t think life is either a gentle or a painful teacher. I believe that life is very random, and sometimes things happen with no plausible rhyme or reason. Often, we find out what we’re made of and what we think of ourselves when we are forced to go through difficult times in life. Years ago, I decided to stop imagining life as a teacher or as a being with any human-like attributes. Once I stopped believing in gods and supernatural beings, I also stopped anthropomorphicizing things that I could not explain. I stopped giving false meaning to stuff or events that have happened just so that I could feel better about my own reality. My philosophy is that life just is, and, most of the time we have no choice but to accept life on life’s terms. We do NOT control life or its many circumstances, and frankly I do not believe that anything does, and that includes me. Life happens. It is a power bigger and greater than we humans, and the sooner that we accept that, I believe, the better off we will be. As much as we might want to say that life is “all good”, the truth is that we do not know what will happen from one minute to the next, or even from one second to the next. Life can be good, but there are times when it can be or it actually feels bad, and very bad at that. Unfortunately, we are often at the mercy of life, and thus powerless over our circumstances and those of the people around us, including the ones that we know intimately. The choices that we make in life, in response to life, and all that we experience ( the good, bad, and the ugly), will, consequently, have some kind of affect upon the quality of our lives, but that is another blog topic in and of itself.

That being said, my philosophy is also that we have life inside of us, and therefore, we are a part of the power that life has to offer. Furthermore, I believe that we humans – as a species – have what it takes to endure many of life’s challenges, whether we realize that or not. We humans, and all species for that matter, are part of the same life that befalls us all and, if we are lucky, we will have something to do with how it all turns out. At times, we will tap that power and face life with a courage that we never knew that we had, and we will succeed; but, there are times that we will fail: utterly. There are also times that we may lose faith in ourselves and others, and we may choose to give up our power or to succumb to the power that life and others have over us, whether we realize that or not. This is often not good, and I have seen this have devastating consequences for the loved ones in my life. Indeed, those are difficult and sometimes hopeless-feeling times. If we get to that point, or if they get to that point, it is important to be honest with those we trust and to ask for the help if needed, and if help is wanted (because everyone has the right to reject help if they so desire). On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying I cannot do this alone or all by myself.

So, is life gentle or full of pain and suffering? Moreover, is life a teacher? Well, only you can be the judge and perhaps the jury of what you experience in life. What we each think about life has so very much to do with the social construction of our lives as we know them (indeed, I am a social scientist!). In other words, we are largely products of our environments and the people around us. Therefore, if from your social world you learned that you could survive just about anything you put your mind to, or if you learned that life and most of the people in it were out to get you, then that will have some bearing on how you face the inevitable and evolutionary changes of life. So far, my approach to life has been informed by many philosophies, people, and experiences (including the ones I rejected, or by the ones who rejected me). In my book, it is definitely okay to reject ideas and philosophies when they no longer hold true for me. It is also okay to learn important life lessons when I am forced to face the rejection or betrayal of others. In writing this blog, I am hopeful that you will find the philosophies that make your life worth living. Because, after all, what is the alternative?

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.