Learning About the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

Several things can be true at the same time.

She had every right to interpret my surprised look the way she did. I cried in the bathroom because I didn’t mean to be racist; a Black coworker consoled me. “That woman was taking it to extremes,” she said. Later, I would learn about the way white women sometimes weaponize their tears.

I was a teenager working at McDonald’s and I’d never seen a $100 bill at a McDonald’s before. The woman said, “now, why is my money looked at like that?” I stammered; I was sorry.

I had a lot to learn.


I graduated from high school in Tulsa in 1995. I watched the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing on my classroom TV in April of my senior year. I had not learned – not in middle school or in high school – about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. All I’d ever been told, or at least what I remember, was that there were rumors of a mass grave in the cemetery you could see from the highway.

My best friend in high school was a Native American who’d been adopted off an Omaha reservation by a white family – illegally, it turned out. Her parents were evangelicals. We met at a summer camp the church sponsored.

(Oh, I’d learned about the Trail of Tears. When you live in Oklahoma, you learn about that. It’s history, and Oklahomans are proud of their history as former Indian Territory.)

I was a teenager, a white girl, a quiet, good girl who went to church every Sunday. I didn’t think I was a racist. I barely spoke in high school. (I hated it, to tell the truth. There, the pretty blond cheerleaders all thanked “their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” whenever they won an award. I always rolled my eyes at that. The few African-American students at my high school sat at their own lunch table.)

My best friend went to a different school, and I usually dated boys from different schools. One boy (who was white but part Choctaw with olive skin and green eyes – he was dreamy) went to Booker T Washington High School, which was primarily African-American. I was supposed to meet him at a football game. I stood in a crowd looking for him. I was surrounded by Black teen boys, all taller than I was, and I must have shown my discomfort. One said to me, “don’t be scared, little white girl,” and laughed. Not unkindly.


When I went to college, I lost some of my shyness. I found friends. I studied abroad twice. I learned.

I moved to Phoenix and taught middle-schoolers whose parents had come up from Mexico, whether legally or not. I loved them. I learned.

I moved to St. Louis and taught Black high-schoolers. I learned about Pruitt-Igoe, where many of their grandparents had lived. I learned how they felt when Michael Brown was killed. I cried with them, and I learned.

I thought back on my sheltered teenage years in Tulsa. Whenever I visited extended family members in Independence, Missouri, it was like nothing had changed! And even though I loved them, visiting them made me feel like I was in high school again.


I am still learning about white privilege and Black trauma. I know it’s not any Black person’s job to educate me – I have to do the work.

I’m still coming to terms with what it means to be raised as a Christian and still believe in God when, to be honest, many evangelical Christians make me uncomfortable. I’m angry when politicians (who depend on the evangelical vote) try to block the teaching of race in classrooms – but I have to laugh, too.

How can you block what’s in all of us – all over this country – California to Tulsa and St. Louis to the Florida coast? What was in me, an unhappy white teenager; in the Black students at a mostly-white school who sat in a circle around their lunch table; in the Omaha-Sioux girl with white brothers and sisters; in the pretty cheerleaders and the tall young men at Booker T. Washington High? How can you?

How can you block our own history when we all have so much more to learn?

The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Poet to be Your Content Marketer

Pro: We care about language. A lot. We choose our words carefully, and they’ll convey – precisely – the message we want them to convey.

Con: We’ll sometimes spend 10 minutes pondering the denotation and connotation of a single word in a 1200 word article.

Pro: We’re great at synthesizing disparate pieces of information.

Con: We may make connections that no one asked for, and then write a blog about these connections that few will read.

Pro: We understand the constraints of formal verse and the fact that structural constraints often make writing better. So, fitting our prose into a scaffold of SEO best practices won’t be too difficult for us.

Con: We may enjoy constraints so much that we begin writing our web copy in iambic pentameter – just for fun.

Pro: We see life from a different perspective, and we’re sure to bring up interesting ideas in a brainstorming session.

Con: We see life from a different perspective, and we’re sure to bring up completely bonkers, irrelevant ideas in a brainstorming session.

Pro: We have an impeccable sense of timing in verse, though our sense of actual, recordable time can be… skewed.

Con: Logging time – what’s that? Wait, how much time did we spend on this task?

Pro: We write persona poems, so creating customer personas are a piece of cake.

Con: We may enjoy imagining the internal lives of customers a little TOO much.

Pro: As employees, we’re curious, imaginative, flexible, and dedicated to craft.

Con: If we stare off into space for minutes at a time, don’t be alarmed. We’ll come back to Earth soon.


The iceberg blinked
And the sailors squinted against the cold.
It couldn't be seen, with the sky so full of stars
And ice splinters making halos around the lamps.

Things seem to disappear,
Just so. You say you should have known,
But you were in the bracing wind or 
Sweat was dripping into your eyes
Or something. Whatever it was, it meant

That what happened next felt inevitable.
Felt like Zeus aiming his bolt at your heart.
Felt like time buckling 
Or your soul from a forgotten past life
Shoving you--go on, now. Go. 

Traveling In Spite Of

When some people think of travel, they imagine setting aside several hundred dollars to visit an all-inclusive resort. They imagine a river cruise they’ll take once they retire—once the bills are paid, the responsibilities handled, the day-to-day toil done. 

But travel isn’t really like that, not for everyone. I think of my traveling adventures as “in spite of.” That is, in spite of heartbreak, in spite of poverty, in spite of direction or expectation. 

Travel, for me, has always been a gift, bestowed whether the time was right or not. Inserted into my days to teach me something or take me out of my head. It’s always been something like grace: I never deserved it, but there it was, to make me humble and bring me joy. 


I was a student on a scholarship in Vienna when my parents called, long distance, to tell me they were getting a divorce. I remember walking along the Ringstrasse that night, processing the news in the solipsistic way a 20-year-old processes news. Yet, feeling safe. 

It was safe to walk the damp cobblestones. It was a wonder to be there—my first trip abroad. 

I walked, looking up at the imposing buildings, feeling far away from my siblings and sad (though not surprised) about what had broken back home. 

I think I cried, but I remember the misty evening more than my tears. I remember looking through the light rain under the streetlights at the historicist architecture that was bigger, older, and grander than I was. Everything was all right, I thought, because I was in Vienna. 


The next divorce was my own. And thanks to the generosity of my father and brother, I booked a flight to Peru. 

There’s a picture of me from that trip, at the top of a viewing tower above the Nasca lines. I’m wearing a hat—I don’t think I’d bothered to get a haircut in weeks. I’m also wearing a wry smile on my face, and my eyes are not focused on anything. That picture probably reflects, pretty accurately, my state of mind at the time. I did spend much of that trip in the backseat of a car or bus, lost in a miasma of confusion and regret. 

But then there was Machu Picchu! And I found myself staring in wonder at ancient stones joined  together as if they’d grown there. 

There were the Andes, a herd of llama on the side of the road, a flat blue lake that seemed as cold and remote as the mountains. There was the ocean, and the fish prepared in tiny villages, and the wonderful variety at the marketplace. 

I was rescued again. Everything was okay because I was in Cusco. In Lima.  


There’s a reason we love travel narratives, and it’s the same reason we somehow find the courage to leave a job, fall in love, or pull ourselves out of bed to take a shower after a deep depression. It’s the same thing Joseph Campbell writes about: it’s the way we find our bliss. Even at the lowest times, and even when we don’t expect it. 

There’s that memory of standing on the St. Charles Bridge in Prague and being in love with someone who’s in love with someone else. 

The 15 hour drive to Austin or to the Gulf with my dog in the passenger seat, just to get out on the road and feel young again. 

There’s the trip to New York when my brother and I argued with our mother and then roamed Avenue A in Manhattan, looking for a good bar.  

And the camping trip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the experience of feeling, rather than seeing, the depth of that enormous gorge at night. 

See, this isn’t an uplifting Eat, Pray, Love thing. You still go home, or to a new place, wherever you find one. You still get in your own way and have to take care of your own shit. I still don’t make enough money to travel the way I’d like to. I still sink into ennui, forgetting to enjoy the little wonders of my own town. 

When my family visited Scotland together, we journeyed to the northernmost point of the highlands to see what we imagined were our “ancestral lands.” There, we learned that Sinclair was pronounced less like sin-CLAIRE and more like SINKler. We also got to know a village called Kiess. 

This place was little more than a crossroads with a hotel on one side of the street and a cemetery on the other. As we sat in what appeared to be the only bar in town, the bar at the hotel, we noticed folks coming in wearing 80s prom dresses and wedding gowns. Well, this was strange—

They explained that they were hosting a themed fundraiser, and would we like to join them? We walked a block or so up the road to a large hall where they were selling raffle tickets, drinking Irn Bru, and dancing to—I swear to God—country western music played by a quartet of high school kids wearing identical black suits and skinny ties. 

Well, what else was there to do? We jumped right in. 

I’ll admit to not remembering many of the details of that night. I drank plenty of beer, then scotch, then more beer. I do remember dancing with Simon, a builder who was an inch or so shorter than I was and who gave off an adorable Martin Freeman vibe. He was kind enough to walk us back to our hotel at the end of the night. 


The next morning came very early. I shoved my belongings into my bag and stumbled after the family members who’d been smart enough to turn in early. All together, we climbed into the back of an SUV. We were off to visit the nearby ruins of the Sinclair-Girnigoe castle that day, and we couldn’t miss it. 

We were the only ones on the site when we arrived, and it was a clear, beautiful morning. Despite my headache and queasy stomach, I was enchanted. We walked around the ruins. Took photos. Walked down the rocky slope to the North Sea, and back up again to that edge-of-the-world view. 

My hangover caught up with me at one point and I lay down. The tufted grass held me and I remember little gusts of wind and the sound of birds. 

Everything was all right. Everything would be okay. 

My Complicated Journey to a Child-Free Middle Age

When I was twelve years old and my little cousin Morgan was two, we took a walk on my uncle’s farm. There was an electrified cattle fence — a wire, really — that wound around the property, some distance from the house. My cousin toddled up to it, but I didn’t worry because it was normally turned off when family came over. Only this time it wasn’t. My cousin touched the wire with one hand, stood in shock for a moment, and then started to howl. I hurried over to her. She took a stumbling step toward me and as I scooped her up, she wrapped all four limbs around me and held on tight. A sort of jolt went through me, a jolt I recognized as that mysterious thing older women talked about: a maternal instinct. I rushed to the house with that baby in my arms, our hearts beating close together, and my mind empty of everything but protection. She stopped crying by the time we reached the house, and she was fine after a few kisses from her mother.

I thought about that experience recently when a coworker asked me why I didn’t have kids. I explained to him that while I had a maternal instinct, I did not have a maternal desire. This coworker, a father of three, tilted his head and looked genuinely perplexed.

I was never like the girls who always knew they’d be mothers. My relatives (seven aunts!) had started asking me when I’d have children by the time I was old enough to menstruate. It was always “when,” by the way. Never “if.” My answer was always a firm… “meh?”

I grew up going to church and was a teenage counselor at a summer camp a couple years in a row. I’d make up silly stories for my seven- and eight-year-old campers. I remember once a little girl leaned against my knee, sighed, and said, “You’d make a good mom.” At the time, I thought it was the nicest compliment I’d ever received.

By college, though, I’d placed myself firmly in the Never Kids camp. My fellow ’90s-era Riot Girrrl feminists and I would get annoyed when kid talk interrupted our discussions of art, music, and other Deep Things.

That didn’t stop my Midwestern relatives from asking. For a long time, I’d answer that I was waiting for the right partner. But when I did partner up, I realized that not only had that maternal desire NOT materialized, but that the man I’d shacked up with wouldn’t make a very good father. While he could be charming and generous, he could also be self-centered and lazy. I was content to love him and continue to have the kind of adventures we’d always had together. We were in agreement about a child-free life. So, we confidently told our 20-something friends that we weren’t having children, even as couple after couple began having baby showers. Our marriage ran into trouble within three years, and when it did, I learned something about myself and about a man’s ideations about fatherhood. You see, when my husband cheated and subsequently admitted his affair, he followed his admission up with: “I think I’ll only feel whole again if we have a child.”

Reader, I laughed at him.

I realized right away that these sudden ideas about fatherhood were either the result of his girlfriend’s whispers or a grasping for a sense of self that would help him justify his actions. I mean, this was a man who once thought potty training ended at six months! A man who refused to clean the cat’s litter box! That break-up was my first inkling that a man’s fantasies of fatherhood were vastly different than my own considerations about carrying, giving birth to, and raising a messy little human. His idea of it — before the reality of childcare set in — was clearly a dream into which he was projecting himself. We divorced.

Over the next few years, I got my graduate degree and changed careers from an unfulfilling cubicle job to a teaching job. I also drank, flirted, and dated like a 23-year-old without a thought of motherhood, even though I was nearing 30 and my friends were busy diapering infants and chasing toddlers. I loved my friends’ children! I felt privileged to sit in a hospital room with a close friend, to hold her newborn — that tender creature with soft tufts of hair and infinite potential. To this day, every time I experience it, it is holy. But I was focused on other things.

It doesn’t take long for a new teacher to realize that an educator is also called upon to be a counselor. Soon, I was listening to a kid talk about the problems he was having with his boyfriend. I was patiently giving a short-skirted, heavily made-up young woman space to rant angrily before calmly redirecting her. I learned that to be a teacher is to create an alternative family. We forgive mistakes with every new class period. We lead and comfort and encourage and scold — just like parents. We allow creativity while reinforcing manners. We facilitate practice and breakthroughs, outbursts and growth. As I’ve continued my teaching career I’ve realized that I’m doing a job that, perhaps, my students’ mothers cannot always do. I had a weird jolt of recognition once when a shy young man said, “I wish you were my mom.” I went home that night like I often did — exhausted, but with tears in my eyes and a new bruise on my heart.

My next big lesson about motherhood came along when I nearly became a step-mother. My boyfriend (and then fiancee) had two young daughters with whom I bonded quickly. Here was an option I hadn’t considered! I could be a mother figure to two school-age girls who were so creative, so unique, so wonderful! I l fell in love with a darling eight-year-old who dressed up in a princess dress to meet me, with a punky 13-year-old who giggled with me on the couch like we had a secret. My partner and I did everything the “correct” way: I got to know my future step-daughters slowly. They only stayed with him for two and a half months during the summer, after all. And we didn’t move in together until a few weeks before the planned wedding. (Clearly, we weren’t thinking things through.)

When my fiancé-almost-husband expressed giddy anticipation at the thought of having a third child — with me! — I believed in his excitement. I had a family of my own! Almost. So maybe it was time. For once, I threw caution to the wind. We got tipsy and I encouraged him to — you know — without a condom while I was between birth control. At age 32 I thought I’d give this “not being careful” thing a try. It had worked out for my friends, right? We were in love, right? Was I thoughtlessly following a path my aunts and mother and decades of patriarchy wanted for me? Maybe. I don’t know.

Luckily, I did not become pregnant. A mere two months later he had second thoughts about our wedding. He became erratic and accused me of trying to trap him. He decided he couldn’t live with anyone but himself. He wasn’t as keen on marriage, or second fatherhood, as he had pretended. Maybe his past haunted him. Maybe we were both following some script. Or maybe his cruelty was my liberation. Anyway, my almost-but-never-husband left without an explanation and told our friends that I was the type of woman who skipped her birth control on purpose (and was deeply in debt, too). I felt humiliated and ashamed. That was the year the reality of the Great Recession hit me.

It was 2010 and my house was so far “underwater” that my only reasonable option as a newly-single woman was to walk away. I pawned my engagement ring to pay homeowner association fees. I had paid off my undergraduate debt but couldn’t bear to start on my graduate school bills. I continued teaching while I consolidated credit card debt. My friends with children were going through their own struggles as their financial foundations fell out from under them, but I couldn’t acknowledge their pain. I was mourning the loss of what I thought would be my family. I realized I was myself at my worst, and I fell into the deepest depression of my life. I was in my mid-30s.

Thank goodness for all of this. Because it forced me to confront my own inherited ideas about motherhood. It forced me to put new foundations under my feet and define myself.

I was confronted with the realization that, as a careless, thoughtless or naïve young woman, any public judgment on having or not having a child was placed on me. And it was unforgiving. Never mind that it was the early 21st century. I was either a cold, child-hating divorcee or I was trying to trap a man! As a single young woman holding on to the status of Lower Middle Class with both hands, I knew it wasn’t practical to have a child on my own. I had discovered that, for the young men in my experience, pregnancy was merely a way to validate how they felt about themselves or their relationship. I learned that my male partners’ feelings or judgments about my uterus had nothing at all to do with the actual experience of motherhood. Because, for me, it was necessarily different.

Pregnancy was at once fraught with expectation — and terrifying. And I still didn’t feel that baby fever — that urge to be a mother — that my family and friends felt. As I paid bill after bill with no salary raise in sight, I wondered how young-ish Gen Xers like myself could afford motherhood anyway.

Since then, I have taken a more forgiving look at my past, and at my partners. I understand myself a little better. I can now count on my fingers the reasons I don’t have children. Let’s see: There’s the money reason. The demanding job reason. The history-of-depression reason. And maybe the best reason of all: the auntie reason.

My little sister had a child when I was 35: my first niece. Can I tell you how much I love her? She’s Elton John’s tiny dancer with a pirate smile. She’s a little CEO with an honest heart. And I get to be in her life! My niece’s mother will never teach her child to wave saucily and sing, “Bye, Felicia!” But I will. An auntie can play pretend when Mommy is too tired. An auntie can bring over a tent which becomes a princess tent which becomes a secret playhouse. An auntie can shower a child with love and teach her manners at the same time, because an auntie is both a buddy and a capable adult. To be an auntie is to create a safe space where a child can have fun and learn. An auntie isn’t a mother — is a sort-of friend — is an imaginary mother — is a brand new grown-up who cares.

I’m almost 40. Thankfully, I’m getting to the age where relatives, friends, and even strangers stop asking “when” I’ll have a child. To be honest, I wear my decision not to have children like a heavy coat — one I’ll be happy to discard once I’m finally beyond childbearing age. Nowadays, when asked, I say I never met the right partner. Or that my career and money and timing were never right for me. Often, I say that I prefer being a teacher and auntie to being a mother — and that’s the truth.

What I don’t say is this:

I love leaving a noisy classroom of teenagers, knowing that when I go home I can sit in silence, have a glass of wine, and watch a movie with subtitles. Or talk about politics with my new sweetheart.

I’m not immune to wistful regret. Sometimes, I’ll see a stocky little boy with mouse-brown hair, intense blue-gray eyes, and a proud little chin and I’ll think, my kid would look like that. I notice but ignore the automatic dismissal in another woman’s eyes when she learns I’m not a fellow parent. Although I feel the sting of not being recognized as quite grown up enough, I know she doesn’t know my history. It’s OK. Hell, I’ll probably teach her kids.

My partner now, at nearly middle age, understands. I can’t tell you how liberating that is. He has nieces and nephews, too. Sometimes we talk about fostering older kids who need a home. Sometimes we talk about buying an RV and being RV people — us, a couple of faithful dogs, the road. Sometimes we simply read books together, or decide to take a drive together. We don’t have much money, but it doesn’t matter, does it?

I’m an auntie. I’m a teacher. I’m a woman with a past. I don’t have to have children to be a whole, mature adult. I’ve lived life, and I’ll continue to with a perspective and unique gifts that busy mothers don’t always have time to cultivate. Don’t worry. We crazy aunties have those gifts. We conscientious teachers have those gifts. And we’ll share them with your kids. After all we love them, too.