Japanese Style, An A to Z Guide of Attention to Detail

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YArrows on painted on sidewalks or floors of tourist attractions or crowded train stations steer walkers in the right direction, and prevent unnecessary jostling on stairs or other crowded areas. 

 

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Baskets tucked under chairs in coffee shops and restaurants provide a tidy spot for patrons to stow bags, purses, and coats. Belongings don’t spill sloppily over chairs or touch the floor.

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YColor Hunting, the Japanese expression for leaf peeping, is a national sport. Judging from the many shrines and temples with trees arrayed so their leaves compose an autumn rainbow of reds, oranges, and yellows, Japan earns the gold medal in color hunting.

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YDust doesn’t stand a chance in germaphobe Japan. Each night at closing time, store clerks at little shops and big department stores drape cloth over merchandise to guard against dust. 

 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YEggs, hard-boiled, come pre-seasoned and seemingly, almost buttered through the shell.  This Japanese recipe involves soaking boiled eggs in a salty brine for 24 hours or more. It takes loads more salt to flavors eggs this way, but taste a Japanese egg, and you may find it’s worth the sodium. Eggs-cellent idea!

 

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Fortune, good luck talismans dangle from purses and backpacks and adorn doorways and corners. Smiling Buddhas, waving cats, owls and frogs are some of the many engimono, lucky charms, marshalled to herald good fortune. Superstitions pop up often: Odd numbers are good; even numbers are unlucky because they can be divided. Not much is left to chance.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YGardens are as precisely designed as every other treasured art form. Trees, grasses, moss, sand, and stone are arranged to create harmonious landscapes. Japan’s respect for nature shows in its many descriptive words which English lacks: Kogarashi, leaf-wilting wind; shinrinyoku, forest bath komorebi, sunlight filtering through trees; ; and mono no aware, the fleeting nature of beauty. 

95686-201505.zoom.aHello Kitty looms larger than Godzilla in Japan. Sanrio’s cute cartoons should nibble on caviar cat-chow, considering that the franchise nabs nearly a billion dollars in worldwide sales each year. Need a toaster to imprint Hello Kitty on your morning toast? How about individually wrapped Hello Kitty prunes? Flip pancakes with a heart-shaped Hello Kitty spatula!

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YInemuri, to be asleep while present, is socially acceptable  napping in trains, classrooms and other public places. A Japanese friend insists that people never sleep on trains. Instead, she says, they’re simply closing their eyes to meditate and seek solitude in crowded spaces. Ohmm.

japan, a lowercase word meaning lacquerware. What other country can boast its name is also an artform? japanning, a 17th century term first used in Europe, describes the art of varnishing metal, wood and other surfaces in the renowned Japanese way.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YKawaii, the Japanese word for cuteness and the appetite for that cuteness, sums up a national obsession that’s gone global. In Japan, kawaii is ubiquitous, from adorable baked goods shaped like bears, cotton-candy soft sweaters with fuzzy pockets and 12th century Scrolls of Frolicking Animals featuring manga-like rabbits, frogs and monkeys. A museum exhibit in Tokyo, the Untamed Mind, explains kawaii as Japan’s love of things natural, spiritual, and playful.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YLeaf cleaning doesn’t require a rake in Japan. A young guy at a Tokyo car-wash used a pair of tongs, the kind Americans use to BBQ, to patiently remove one leaf at a time from a narrow channel along the sidewalk where water from the car wash would flow. At public gardens, workers rhythmically swept leaves with rustic twig brooms, as if they were doing tai chi. A custodian outside a popular shrine ignored the set of twig brooms in his cart in favor of a loud leaf blower. Piles of ways to remove leaves so gardens, doorways, and even car wash sidewalks look meticulous.

20171101_173126Manners matter, at the table, on the street, really, every part of Japanese life. At restaurants, the first items servers offer are hot towels for guests to clean their hands. Before the first bite, even at a snack stand, it’s polite to give thanks for the food by quietly saying, “Itadakimasu,” “I humbly receive.” After eating, it’s custom to say “Gochisousama” — thank you for the delicious meal. One more etiquette tidbit: It’s rude to offer tips to a server, bellhop, or taxi driver. 

“No tattoos” Don’t try to go to a public hot bath if you’ve got tattoos. Inked skin is considered a sign of the Yakuza, Japanese mafia, so tattoos convey an unsavory reputation. Hot spas’ websites and walls include numerous “No tattoo” warnings.

Onsen, Google onson, Japan’s hot spa baths,  and you may see this prompt, “How do you take a bath in Japan?” Japanese people rinse their bodies before they enter baths. Immerse yourself in the Official Tokyo Travel Guide’s pool of facts about the correct way to bathe

20171030_074208Punctuality appears to be a national past-time. Omnipresent clocks in parks, malls, and other public places help people stay fashionably on schedule. Even young kids wear watches. Note, punctuality does not mean being early. When a Tokyo train left 20 seconds ahead of schedule, it made national news. The company apologized for “the tremendous nuisance.” 

Quiet.That’s the sound you’ll hear in Japan’s airports, trains, busy streets and cafes. People talk softly and are far less likely to gab on cell phones in public. TVs and radios don’t blare at every airport terminal, restaurant and mall. Intentional sounds of silence. 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YRules, tacit and written, structure life in Japan.Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:Y A cute sign at a local Tokyo playground warns children about ten potential hazards of the swings and slide. “Never play with your jacket flapping.” “Don’t play on equipment wearing a backpack. Never use the play structure when it is wet. Never tie any rope or string to the play structure….” Remember to play by the rules!

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Synchronized cleaning, epitomized by Japanese Railway crews whose coordinated cleaning routines keeps bullet trains rolling on schedule. The crews perform in team colors, women in peach, men in light blue, wrist watches pinned to their smocks. Once passengers step off a JR train, crews sweep in, each worker intent on his or her task: remove fabric headrest covers, flip seats forward, smooth fresh headrest covers in place, sweep and bag debris. When the train car passes inspection, the crew gathers and bows. As they leave, each worker methodically touches the right, then left, then right, frame of the train’s door. Once the synchronized show ends, the next set of passengers, in an orderly queue on the platform, quickly boards and the train departs, spruced up and on time.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YToilets, Japanese style, include more buttons and settings than some microwaves I’ve used. Most toilets feature at least three options: a gush of warm water, with choices for temperature and flow, to rinse the front and back of a person’s seat; air, again with controls for temperature and flow, to blow-dry wetness; and chimes, burbling water or gentle melodies, to muffle any unpleasant noises that might occur while going to the bathroom. The water and air wash and dry bodies better than toilet paper, but it’s another element of Japanese toilets that wowed me. Heated seats. As I write this, clenched in a sub-zero Minnesota winter, I long for the warmth of those seats. I need to go back to Japan. Soon.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YUniforms  So many matching outfits! Students, starting in kindergarten, are easy to spot in identical shirts, shorts, pants or skirts, sweaters, coats, hats, and backpacks. School kids aren’t the only whose clothes signal their role. Trains full of ordinary workers dress almost in unison: Men in white shirts and dark trousers, often with jackets and ties; even cab drivers wear suits. Women dress in dark skirts with muted tops. Casual Fridays are a foreign concept. On Saturdays, many students don school uniforms headed to cram schools. In three weeks, I saw just one Japanese woman in a revealing outfit. Modesty is the uniform for all.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YVending machines dispense cold and hot coffee, soft drinks, cigarettes, candy and even batteries in Japan. Yet despite the convenience of 5.5 million sidewalk vending machines, few Japanese eat or drink as they walk. Noshing or sipping on the go is considered poor manners. Japanese people bring their tasty and cheap can of vending machine coffee where they can sit and drink properly then bring the empty can home. Trash cans are rare on Japanese streets. People are expected to be responsible for their own trash, instead of ditching it in public.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YWashi, the craft of Japan’s handmade paper traces back at least 1,300 years and makes UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This ultra thin paper has been used for ledgers and stationery, lanterns, umbrellas, window panels and paper mache dolls. Washi is resistant to bugs, water and rips. Crafting handmade paper one sheet at a time is a painstaking process, truly. Papermakers’ hands are plunged in chilly water for hours. No wonder one craftsman says it’s hard to find young people who want to make washi. They’d rather work with computers than have chronically cold, wet hands.

X doesn’t exist in any of Japan’s three alphabets: Kanji, pictographs of characters, originally from Chinese; Romaji, the Romanized version of Japanese; and Kana, the combination of two phonetic alphabets, Hiragana, for Japanese words, and Katakana, mostly words borrowed from other languages. X-tra credit if you can keep that straight. 

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YYellow sidewalk strips snake along entire blocks of Japanese city sidewalks and through train stations, offering a tactile guide for people who are blind or have vision problems. The bright bumpy paths are another harbinger of Japan’s intentional efforts to shepherd all who live or visit here.  

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-27,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:YZoto, Japanese gift giving, isn’t just for holidays, birthdays, and weddings. Presents are also given in mid-July, in mid-December (to co-workers or bosses); after New Year’s (to children). Japanese people are expected to bring back souvenirs, omiyage, anytime they take even a short trip. Those who receive gifts are expected to reciprocate, giving a smaller gift, okaeshi, to show their thanks. All gifts should be nicely wrapped, except for money, which is folded three times and placed in special envelopes, noshibukuro. Decorum requires specific kinds of envelopes for different gift-giving occasions, just as there are different kinds of wrapping, and different numbers and colors of wrapping strings for presents based on the various kinds of gifts one is giving. Did I mention there are different kinds of knots for the strings around presents, also based on what kind of gift? Just remember, if you’re going to Japan, bring gifts. And expect to get gifts in return. You’re welcome! 

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No More Moments of Silence

Five years ago today, 20 first graders and six teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

So, what’s happened since Newtown? We’ve seen mass shootings in churches, movie theaters, an outdoor concert, a nightclub, a county social service office.* We’ve had a lot of moments of silence.

We don’t silence. We need change.

Tonight, I’ll go to a Protect MN workshop, No More Moments of Silence, to learn about ways people can work to prevent gun violence. The only way we can prevent gun violence is if more people demand change. So I will keep showing up at the State Legislature, keep calling and writing elected officials, keep protesting and donating.

We can’t keep ignoring gun violence, hoping it will go away, hoping our families will never be touched by gun violence.

Today, five years after Sandy Hook, we need to do something to stop gun violence. Please, please, do something. Donate. Get involved. Don’t be silent.

If we stay silent, get ready for  Tomorrow’s News, the next shooting,

Protect Minnesota

Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence

Everytown for Gun Safety

Sandy Hook Promise

*Las Vegas, 58 dead, 546 wounded at an outdoor music festival, what’s now the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, 2017

Sutherland Springs, TX, 25 dead, 20 wounded in a church shooting, 2017

Orlando, 49 dead, 58 wounded in a nightclub shooting, 2016

San Bernardino, 14 killed, 22 wounded in a county office, 2015

Charleston, SC, 9 killed in a church shooting, 2015

 

 

Why I blocked a freeway

Your honor, I respect how you have listened to all of us protesters. You have said freeways aren’t safe places to protest. I went on Interstate 94 not to put my life in danger but because other people’s lives are in danger. I don’t think freeways, roads, really anyplace in America, are safe for people of color. Philando Castile was not safe here, in Ramsey County.

The prosecutor has said we protesters destroyed “the peace and tranquility of the interstate.” What kind of peace and tranquility did Philando have while driving? It’s likely he felt fear, rather than peace and tranquility, during the more than four dozen traffic stops he endured.

Last July, Officer Jeronimo Yanez panicked and killed a compliant driver. This June, Yanez was acquitted by a legal system that respects people who wear blue more than they protect people who are black.

We who have power– because of the color of our skin or the authority of our jobs—allow separate and unequal law enforcement and separate and unequal courts.

We allow officers to pull over people of color for unnecessary traffic stops. We allow cops who kill civilians to walk free.

Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds live-streamed racial injustice as vivid and painful to see as civil rights protesters being attacked by dogs and water cannons.

We watched a man bleeding, dying. What did we do?

Philando shrine BIGGER

Many of us rose up. We went to the Governor’s Mansion, an urgent and spontaneous vigil, using our bodies more than our voices to demand justice.

Your honor, you have spoken of police mistakes. When we repeat actions hundreds of times, they can no longer be considered mistakes. Police shootings of civilians are not mistakes. Police shootings are racial injustice which we who have power allow to continue. We need to change laws. We need to change ourselves. We who have power, because of the color of our skin color or the authority of our jobs– judges, prosecutors, lawmakers— we need to accept our responsibility for allowing racism.

Until Philando’s killing, I had been silent about racial injustice. I watched Philando’s blood seeping across his body. I cannot unsee it. I cannot unsee the racism seeping across our history, staining America, for longer than we have been a nation.

Philando died because we who have power did not demand justice for all.  I will stand with and behind people of color. They have spoken out for centuries against the injustices by my people.

John Lewis calls protest “necessary trouble.”  We need to stand up, sit in, kneel on a sideline, block a freeway. Civil disobedience is as serious, as patriotic, and as necessary as voting.

I cast my ballot for justice standing outside the Governor’s Mansion. I cast my ballot for justice blocking Interstate 94. I cast my ballot for justice this morning in court.

We watched a man bleeding, dying. We need to make necessary trouble.

 

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Poster by Leon Wang

Renting happiness by the hour

Through this sultry September, a steady chantey lulls me.

Once more to the lake.

The words propel me to finish tasks so I can once more settle into a kayak and paddle toward peace.

It’s been a summer of rented happiness. I don’t own a kayak or any kind of vessel. But I’ve found my pleasure craft: rental single and tandem kayaks at lakes in the Twin Cities and Madison, as well as along the Mississippi River. I pay by the hour for my cheap and legal delight. I thought about calling this piece The Joy of Paddling, but figured that title could disappoint readers looking for something more salacious than a damp kayak.

Every outing on the water has been salvation. Before I started paddling, I’d been in the doldrums, adrift, a longtime runner no longer able to run. In a kayak, my balky knee relaxes while I skim through water and air, once more savoring the bliss of moving.

Once more to the lake.

Yesterday, I shoved off the sandy beach just half an hour before rentals closed. I paddled hard through the channel, intent on getting to my heron.

IMG_20170910_164842She stood, placid, in her usual island spot at Lake of the Isles, by a Wildlife Refuge sign. Less than two feet away, a young couple in a canoe fished by the island’s edge. I silently begged them to give her space, to let her be. They looked at me but didn’t budge. The heron spread her wings and glided to a nearby tree on the refuge. From a respectful distance, I contemplated her, soaking in every chance to see another slender gray-blue wading bird or a stylish white egret.

This summer of rented happiness has given me new vantage points to see the world. Not far from the heron’s island, I gaze up at a graceful curving sculpture in a hilltop yard overlooking the lake. The lofty artwork isn’t visible from Isle’s well-trod paths.

IMG_20170910_170020On Nokomis, I stop paddling to watch a gull dip into the murky lake and pop up with a fish, then take flight, winging by me, with silvery fish squirming in its beak. None of my many runs around Nokomis included that vision of lunch-to-go.

Balanced in my kayak, I coast mid-lake and observe the afternoon sun glistening on calm water, a sudden splash nearby as a fish jumps, and in a blink of my eye, slips underwater. Along the willow-lined shore, turtles bask on logs. I spot two, no, there’s three, or is it four, hard-shelled sun-worshippers.

I’m learning to see life on the water. A flock of geese squawk overhead, seeming to bicker over which way to head, until one settles the argument, taking a sharp turn north, then another follows and another and in a flash, all are in formation, flying in the familiar V, soon out of sight, their squawks lingering. Walking or running, I seldom stopped to see what was up. In a kayak, it’s natural to survey the scene, going with the flow of the current and the scattered thoughts and songs in my head.

I spy sailboats bobbing, stand-up paddle boarders chatting, laughing, striking a yoga pose.

IMG_20170829_182506 (1)I’ve study clouds, grabbing my phone to snap a multitude of airy scenes: puffs, billows, wisps, contrails, fluffy whites and menacing grays, skies blue, white, pink, peach, and violet.

Of course, kayaks offer more than reverie. My arms, shoulders and core are stronger from hours of dipping and pulling a paddle, making leeway through smooth or squally waters. By the time I navigate back to shore, I’ve had a workout as well as an escape.

Soon, though, my summer of buoyant happiness will cease. Rentals close for the season next month. Until then, I think of E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake.” His 1941 essay, a melancholy reflection on returning with his young son to the camp where he had summered as a child. White sees his son and imagines himself as a both the child and the father, years and roles overlapping, I was a teenager when I first read White’s elegy. Now, four decades older, I recall his pensive prose on time and memory, the lulling title a siren’s song lapping over me.

Once more to the lake.

Wheel Fun Rentals

http://paddleshare.org/

http://www.brittinghamboats.com/

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When Home Won’t Let You Stay

I saw their faces at the library last week. Minnesotans born in Myanmar, Iraq, Somalia, and Laos.  The boy in a football T-shirt who played in the mud in a refugee camp and now plays soccer here. The young woman whose dream is to get a job so she can begin taking care of the parents who carried her on their backs when they fled Myanmar.

Those refugee stories are part of compelling exhibit by Winona photographer James A. Bowey. The exhibit’s title sticks in my mind.

When Home Won’t Let You Stay.

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Our government is telling young people who were born elsewhere but have spent much of their lives here that they may not be able to stay.

When Home Won’t Let You Stay.

Today, people around country will rise up, rallying for young undocumented people going to school and working here, young people who consider this country their only home. We will defend 11 million Dreams.

I think of stories of people whose pictures I saw at the library– Mohanad, Dissel, Ahmay, Eh, Bway, Yatha, Zaina– people forced to flee their homes.

Sawlwin, forced to leave Myanmar, told photographer James A. Bowey that, “A refugee is someone who cannot depend on anyone.”

Leng, forced to leave Laos, told the photographer that, “My English is not good. I don’t have much friends. But I can get my children a better life.”

How many parents struggled to get here so their kids could have a better life? Today, our government announced plans to close the door on thousands of young people.

When Home Won’t Let You Stay.

What you can do to Let Dreamers Stay.

https://dreamacttoolkit.org/

Tell your senator to co-sponsor DACA

Robert Reich’s myths & facts about immigration

 

 

 

A car-free year

Some people trade in their old cars for the latest model. Last year, I donated my 1993 Honda, swapping it for a new car-free way of life.

Fourteen months later, I’m happy to report that stepping out of the driver’s seat suits me.

The best part of being car-free? I see the Twin Cities as bigger and more diverse. Outside the metal and glass bubble of an automobile, I’m less insulated and more connected. I talk and ride with people from more races, ages and classes.

This summer, as I stopped at a red light on my bike, a young African-American skateboarder rode up and started chatting. We commiserated about the lack of a bike path, and the pros and cons of riding on sidewalk. That pleasant commuter conversation between a 20-something black man and a 56-year-old white woman wouldn’t happen if I was driving solo.

Sitting on an East Side bus bench, the woman next to me drinking a midday malt beverage chatted me up. “Baby Girl,” she said, “I like your hat.” We talked a bit and she patted my hand, then leaned in closer, to exchange an air kiss. When her friend arrived, she invited me to join them for a drink. I demurred, and they wandered off.

For years, I’ve dreamed of living in New York. I crave the big city. This year of car-less commuting shows me that the Twin Cities are more urban than I had appreciated.

I’ve ridden crosstown busses packed with people speaking Spanish, Somali, and languages I don’t recognize. I hear what’s on the minds of more Minnesotans, not just what’s on MPR.

Walt Whitman exalted, “I Hear America singing… the strong, melodious sounds.” I hear America on the bus: Other people’s music, singing, chatting, laughing, muttering and fighting. I hear an irate man yell at a young mother to get her stroller out of the bus aisle or he’ll report her. I hear small civilities—the chorus of riders calling in unison alerting the bus driver to stop so some frantic latecomer can board, the passenger who digs for change to pay another rider’s fare. I hear– and am part of– city life.
Continue reading “A car-free year”

Stories rise up at East Side Freedom Library

Anchored firmly on the corner of Greenbrier and Jessamine Streets, this brick and mortar Beaux Arts building looks traditional, even staid.

Step inside, and you’ll see and hear a vigorous world of faces and stories, more lefty than stuffy. I hear the urgency of ardent voices– union organizers, community activists, and immigrant neighbors– demanding their stories be heard.

Funded by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, this library, built in 1917, a year of revolution, reverberates with robust stories.

A blue sign proclaims, “Rebellion to Tyrants, Democracy for Workers.” Posters hang like fresh laundry, an open-air display of the issues of the day: “PHILANDO MATTERS,” “CLERGY STANDING WITH STANDING ROCK,” “RESISTANCE IS IMPERATIVE,” “WE STAND TOGETHER.”

IMG_20170809_155245The walls and stairwell shine with vivid murals of Minnesotans: Immigrants from Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America, along with African Americans, building a community here on the East Side.

The library’s collection of books, art, music and other items highlight peoples whose stories and songs have often been ignored by traditional history books and libraries.

An East Sider couple, labor historian Peter Rachleff and theater and dance professor Beth Cleary, transformed the old Arlington Hills Branch Library into this theater of stories. When Saint Paul opened the new Arlington Hills branch nearby in 2014, Rachleff and Cleary’s nonprofit signed a 15-year lease for this space and launched the East Side Freedom Library. The lease is $1 a year, but it costs $1,200 a month just to maintain lights and heat.

The old building bristles with the energy and heat of activism. This library is more non-conformist than conventional. None of the 18,000 books filling the tall wood shelves can be checked out. Instead, the public are invited to use the books and other research materials here. This is a community space, with movies and weaving, meditation and meetings, including a union job fair.

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A crowded Lemonade and Listening session with elected officials at East Side Freedom Library

One recent rainy afternoon, the library was standing room only. More than 150 people wedged in for a Lemonade and Listening session with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and local legislators. Stories rang out.

An Iraq War veteran asked McCollum why the VA won’t provide health care for trans people. People talked about climate change, water quality, net neutrality and the healthcare marketplace. McCollum told people they had collective power about health care and other issues. “You have a voice,” she reminded the audience. “That is powerful. The fact that you showed up, spoke out, wrote out…”

An angry man interrupted the congresswoman, outshouting all other voices—disrupting the session until eventually, collective voices won out, and the listening session resumed, with talk about pipelines, broadband, Islamophobia and the need for unity.

Rep. Tim Mahoney joked, “Mr. Carnegie is rolling in his grave…”  about the pro-union, left-wing views of this Freedom space. Managers at the Carnegie Steel Corporation triggered the bloody 1892 Homestead strike. Carnegie emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland at age 13 with his family and became one of the 19th century’s richest businessmen then spent years giving away most of his wealth, launching more than 2,000 libraries, along with what’s now Carnegie-Mellon University, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

IMG_20170809_154716So perhaps it’s fitting that the immigrant tycoon’s traditional library is home to stories of other immigrants. The Freedom Library’s collections include the African diaspora and Hmong Archives. The library organizes monthly Neighbors meet Neighbors sessions. This month, Somalis shared their stories, history and culture. In September, Karen immigrants take the stage.

On summer Tuesdays, I’ve had the joy of sitting in this library of stories, finding my own words, then sharing lunch and conversation with fellow women writers. We’ve sat on the steps outside, talking about our work, families, places we’ve been and want to visit. Next week, we’ll read from our summer’s work.

One afternoon, a construction worker repairing alley potholes stopped by. His crewmates took their lunch break in the truck parked in the library’s tranquil shade. He made himself at home by us, each woman with our organic veggies and fruit packed in re-usable containers. He started talking, telling his opinions about city projects and politics. We hadn’t invited him, he just came. Needing to talk, a blue-collar worker saying what was on his mind, on the steps of a community library that embraces so many stories.

This brawny building is packed with stories of people, their voices rising up.