Sunday, May 18, 2008

Top Ten Reasons to Stay in (Move to?) Bismarck, North Dakota

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

Are you ready? I'm about to reveal the top ten reasons to stay in (move to?) Bismarck, North Dakota. This is not a joke. Really. A few years ago, I would have burst out laughing at the title of this piece. Top reason I stayed in Bismarck in the mid-90s? I couldn't get a ride to the train station.

But isn't that how I've always been? As a teenager in Kankakee (KANG-kuh-kee) County, Illinois, I had a favorite nickname for the County: Skank-akee. (Skanky meaning something I didn't like...not interesting, not progressive, not vibrant enough.)

And I admit, Bismarck does have its share of skanky aspects. (I can hear certain voices enumerating them right now.) Still, I choose to live here, and in this place, I have a beautiful life.

As a matter of fact, I have moved to Bismarck three times already. This last time, it's as if I was running by, and Bismarck reached up and took me by the ankle. Nearly five years later, here I am. Which brings me back to my Top Ten list. In all honesty, these are only my reasons. (Feel free to comment with your own.) But if you're anything like me (a quirky, tree-hugging, peace-loving type), these reasons may apply. Here we go...

Number Ten:
Last winter, someone put smiley faces of snow on all the tree trunks in Hillside Park. (I've never found out who.)

Number Nine:
If there's such a thing as reincarnation, I plan to come back as the North Dakota Badlands.

Number Eight:
I like the dirt in my garden, and I'm convinced it likes me back.

Number Seven:
If there's such a place as heaven, it's streaming with rivers and kayaks.

Number Six:
As long as I have comfortable shoes and bicycle grease, I can hoof and pedal almost anyplace. And usually, a driver will stop and let me cross.

Number Five:
Does Welcoming Congregation mean anything to you? It does to me. (Thanks.)

Number Four:
There are these crazy, generous people (like the Archibald Bush Foundation, NDCA, and DWAC) who actually place value on the arts in North Dakota.

Number Three:
Urban Harvest has tossed me a life-line to the places I would move to, but now I don't have to.

Number Two:
Dragon Jane Performance Art Company pushes me to the edges of who I can be. (And somehow, I like that.)

Number One:
My North Dakota loved ones and friends nourish my wandering roots. And can you believe? Some of them read this blog!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

One Quick Recipe for Peace

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

I've heard it said a dozen times, a hundred times, a thousand times. As Cookie (age 7) said the other day, A million times. A google. Pretend I just said infinity. In other words, I've heard it said an infinite number of times:

Imagine peace. But I've never known for sure, what do other people imagine? Buffalo storming the prairie once more? Voices always singing? Streets remade into long community gardens?

Probably, we all have our recipes for peace. Christian's (age 10) goes like this:
1. Join the peace gang.
2. Stop mean people.
3. Love!

Most of the time, I use recipes for something yet to come, a dish I plan to make. Something in the future. Still, sometimes a recipe will be rooted in the past. I'll prepare a dish first; then I'll try to figure out how it happened. So here are some of last week's ingredients of peace...

Casting the only no vote in a roomful of yeses, and still feeling heard.

Brushing my furry dog (very!). Watching wisps of fur fly. Imagining birds who will claim it for their nests.

Gathering up the compost. Stink!

Laughing nicely about being nice girls while pushing each other (nicely of course) at Dragon Jane rehearsal.

Reflecting on words of wisdom I've gained from Ferne (age 99). Then hearing Ferne ask me, What are your words of wisdom?

Shaking a maraca in the Band Day Parade with Urban Harvest. Being a Sky Fairy with Aria (age 6), bringing enchantment from the sky.

Waking up to purring cats pressed against my side. Feeling as if my own body is purring.

Having this phone conversation...
Happy Mother's Day! I say to Ramona.
Knowing I want to adopt but don't have the funds yet, Ramona replies, Happy Mother's Day to you, too!
I say, laughing, I think.
Then Ramona says, We're all mothers, aren't we?

I like to see my week written down this way. It makes me want to ask you, How was your week? What was your recipe for peace?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Four Things I'm Not Going to Do with My Rebate Check

© 2008 Karen Van Fossan

Four things I'm not going to do with my rebate check:
1. Frame it.
2. Blow it all on Red Hots.
3. Fold it into an origami tanker.
4. Buy a Barbie.

You couldn't mistake me for a Barbie fan, not anymore. Judging by the news, I'm not alone on that. Barbie sales have fallen 12% in the US. Where did I hear this? From Mom. The same mom who wouldn't let her daughter have a Barbie.

This rule, which inspired plenty of stink eye (behind her back, of course), also gave me a glimpse of something way beyond Barbie. I learned, or at least I sensed:
1. Barbies don't look like women.
2. Women don't look like Barbies.
3. It's fine if I don't look like Barbie,
4. Because I can't.

Still, I was a child of the space age, forever awash in aphorisms proclaiming the human potential. School assemblies, pep rallies, graduation ceremonies, all taught me this: Aim high! You can do it! Be whatever you want to be! All you have to do is put your mind to it.

OK, that sounds bitchen! (I never really said bitchen. Not very much.) But who should we aim to be? At pep-rally age, my friends and I dreamed of being Barbie when we grew up. Interestingly enough: Breast augmentation is now the most popular cosmetic surgery in the nation. That's this year. In 2006, liposuction topped the list.

What would life be like, being Barbie? Can we do it?

Women with breast implants are three times more likely than the rest of us to kill themselves. (Not only that, they're three times more likely to die of alcohol and drug abuse.) Could it be that they've had cancer, and suicide seems like the only way out? Well, no. Women who get implants and kill themselves later aren't any more likely to have a history of cancer. The main difference between them and me is...tell me again?

Mom always hoped I'd have a healthy image of my body. I guess she never heard: You're supposed to set attainable goals for your kids.

Her no-Barbie policy (unaltered by the stink eye) was accompanied by others, equally as trying for a three-year-old:
1. Don't just run off to Danny's house. Ask your mother first.
2. Try to eat popcorn without plunging it down your throat.
3. Politely say, More milk, please? Don't slam your cup on the table.
4. No guns, ever, of any kind.

The first rules, though challenging, were doable with practice. But Rule Number Four! Mom, why?
1. Guns aren't toys.
2. Killing isn't a game.


I've heard it said that a nation is like a family. The federal budget is a checkbook for the entire US-family, all 300 million of us. I recently went to a program by WAND, a national women's peace organization, that came to Fargo and Bismarck. This is what I learned:

In the US-family checkbook...
For every $1 for education, 7 goes to weapons and war.
For every $1 for ag and the environment, 8 goes to weapons and war.
For every $1 for health, 9 goes to weapons and war.

I suppose the weapons are there so we feel safer. But I don't.

Maybe I'd feel safer with a Barbie.

Maybe not.