Thursday, April 24, 2008

Speaking of Gender

“Girls can’t do that!” exclaimed my then four-year-old son, Grange. “Who told you such a thing?” I asked. “No-one, I just know that only boys are . . . architects, lawyers, doctors, fill in the blank."

Kira & Grange Simpson with their medals
Kira & Grange Simpson at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

How had this happened? How had this son of mine, the son of a woman who had learned the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat because of Title IX; a woman hired into the Procter and Gamble sales organization, that staid company’s last bastion of WASPishness; and the first female Indian trader in three generations of Kennedys. Grange again assured me that no-one had taught him this supposed truth, he just knew. At that moment, I realized it was going to take a lot of nurture to help him understand the complexities of what he understood to be nature.

Title IX, now known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, was enacted June 23, 1972. The following year, Gallup’s first girls basketball team was formed and my best buddy, Robyn, and I joined. We had funny red uniforms, white tube socks with red stripes and Converse low tops; the basketball shoe of our day.

As I progressed into playing basketball and volleyball, running track, and playing tennis, my parents were certain I was going to “Hades in a hand basket”. Each of my older sisters had been a cheerleader, an acceptable activity, not yet filled with the hip-gyrating, gymnastically challenging routines of today’s ultra-competitive squads. My sister, Chris, admitted to never being able to do the splits, but she did have a mean Herkie in her repertoire. Nope, it was sports for me all the way.

Title IX means little to my daughter, Kira. Solid girls sports programming is now the norm. Our local communities have well developed volleyball, basketball, softball and track teams for the girls. Kira enjoys each activity, but our son Grange loves sports. Baseball, football, basketball, wrestling; he attacks each of them with the fervor of the true enthusiast. When he was six years old, in his very first wrestling match, Title IX took him to the mat and pinned him. That’s right. His first match was with a girl and she won. He did not like it one bit. In that millisecond, a substantial crack formed in his male/female classification system.

My first serious foray into the gender minefields came when I accepted a position with Procter and Gamble, at that time, an almost 150 year old company with its mores set in soap, if not in stone. Sales was the last organization within the company to fully integrate. They were a hard-charging bunch in both work and play. Women were so new to this branch of the organization that sufficient mentoring had not yet developed. Male managers within and without the company turned away from me with the knowledge that this tough business was going to metamorphize me into a monster (they had a different term for it.) When attending sales meetings which included spouses, the wives gazed upon me with suspicion. We were struggling to relate with each other’s choices. The one manual available, Women in Sales is one of the funniest treatises I have ever read . . . and could not possibly have been written by a woman.

The same battle I had with my parents about sports again raised its head when, after six years, I decided to leave Procter and Gamble and follow my passion into the family trading business. My dad, a man who had personal experience with the harshness of the Great Depression, said, “What are you thinking?! You have a great job, benefits, a company car”. He saw secure trappings; I saw a trap. Looking him in the eye, I said, “You succeeded and you always made trading look fun.” At 95 years of age, he still makes trading look fun.

Twenty years ago, I entered the trading business and have never looked back. Every day is filled with beautiful art and interesting people. Best of all, it led me to my husband, Steve and the Four Corners lifestyle I deeply desired.

While attaining the freedom to live and work as I had hoped, gender identification issues persisted. I remember my multifaceted personality dropping to a single dimension when I became pregnant. “Oh, you’re just a mother.” Just?! It is one of the most difficult and beautiful assignments on this planet. Just?! In the news today, Spain’s prime minister Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recently appointed a majority female cabinet, including Carme’ Chacon, the new Defense Minister who is, gasp, seven months pregnant. The news bulletin stated that Spain, the inventor of macho, was in an uproar. Every successful, multitasking mother is probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? She can handle it.”

About a week ago, I had a conversation with a woman who recently relocated with her husband to Durango, Colorado. At one point, she mentioned her financially fruitful career in Northern California real estate. Her husband was a successful doctor, but she was the major money producer in their pairing. She related how often upon meeting her, both men and women declared, “Oh, you’re the doctor’s wife.” She cannot recall a single time when someone said to her husband, “Oh, you’re the broker’s husband.” I told her, “I know. I am the lawyer or trader’s wife”. I have never heard Steve referred to as the trader’s husband.

Navajo Rug Weaver Allison Billy

Our artist spotlight this past week focused on my dear friend, Allison Billy. He attempted Navajo rugs at the age of nine. Unlike other young weavers who are taken under the wing of a mother, an aunt or a grandmother, Allison started weaving in secret, hiding his small loom whenever family drew near. As a young boy, the prevailing Navajo traditions and taboos prescribed that a male should not weave. Watching closely as his female relatives were weaving, however, Allison was compelled to learn this beautiful craft, so he snatched opportunities at his secret loom whenever possible.

One day, his grandmother, Gladys Yellowman, discovered his crooked hourglass weaving. Rather than reprimand him, she sat down and started working with him in the open and the promising career of one of only a handful of Navajo male weavers commenced. She told Allison that their clan, Kinlichinii, the Red House clan, derives from the Hopi people. In the Hopi way, it is the men who weave and she believed that explained his desire to pursue Navajo rug weaving.

Allison has his mother, his grandmother and ten aunts who all stand firm in their support of his weaving. The journey requires courage. He is often told that he should not be weaving. He said, “As long as my family stands behind me, I have the strength to continue forward with my work”.

. . . and that is what I hope to teach my children; to follow their dreams, to honor all people and to believe in themselves. If achieved, I believe Kira will handle anyone who says, “you cannot because you are a girl” and Grange, well, he has already gained strength and grace knowing a little more about what girls can and will do.

With warm regards,
Georgiana, Steve, Barry and the Team.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

You Say Katsina, I say Kachina

Okay, I have to admit it, lately I am feeling a bit put off; cranky, crabby and more than a little cross. I have become confused about how to compose myself in modern society. After all, wasn’t I, a middle-aged white male, supposed to have answers to all those socially difficult questions, and shouldn’t I be in control of my own life at this point? I have realized, however, that this ideal is in fact a fiction; I have no answers and no direction. I fear something has gone desperately wrong for all the white bread, milquetoast, over-the-hill men like me.

Hopi Koshare
Pueblo Katsina

This is not, as you may think, a new realization, it began to dawn on me in the mid-1970s, and has been building ever since. First came Title IX, then Affirmative Action. It wasn’t enough that the girls took all the athletic funding, they soon got all the jobs too. What was an unqualified, unskilled guy with unsightly legs to do?

Now, you may wonder why it has taken me so long to gin up the steam to complain. Well, I have never been very clever, so these complex questions take time for me to sort out; sometimes decades.

Okay, I agree the guys had it pretty darn good for quite a while. Never mind that the girls had been neglected from the beginning of time, that they had been oppressed and depressed; this was not about them, it was about time-tested institutions that were under siege and beginning to crumble. The girls has stormed the Bastille, and the guys were being cast into the streets to shift for ourselves.

This is not, however, what has gotten my goat, no pun intended, lately. My latest paranoia is that those same individuals who were responsible for Title IX and Affirmative Action have taken aim at the Native American community, and are bent on remedying generations of missteps associated with tribal members. The problem, of course, is that as I near the age of 50, my ability to adapt to new situations has become ossified and mortified; I am no longer able to easily adapt to a rapidly changing world.

Peace Koshare
Hopi Kachinas

This latest round of problems began several years ago, when all of us with pale faces were informed we could no longer support athletic teams with names like the Chiefs, Braves, Indians, Runnin’ Utes and such. Hoping to be sensitive to these new philosophies, I asked many of my Indian pals what they were feeling about this situation. “Nuts,” they responded, refusing to trade in their old ball caps and comfortable shirts for new ones that had nothing to do with tribal affiliation and everything to do with political sensibility. Thinking I was on firm ground, I continued my support of those insensitive sporting institutions. That was my first mistake. Well, maybe not the first, but surely the most significant.

Next came the directive that we could no longer refer to our indigenous acquaintances as Indians; Native American was the term of choice. I did wonder where that left me, since I am in fact native to America. That oversight was soon corrected, and we were notified that American Indian was the proper term. All that was okay with me, so long as everyone agreed and we didn’t have too many amendments to the phraseology of choice. Oddly, my Native pals seemed to be singularly uninterested in these discussions.

And, what were we supposed to do about the Anasazi, who had recently become the Ancient Puebloans. Unfortunately, I was having a difficult time making that transition. I liked the old term, and it was firmly embedded in my vocabulary. After a few sidelong glances and impassioned lectures from my archaeology buddies, however, I did finally get that one right, but not without significant fussing. But now I have come to the end of my ethnographic rope.

Just when I thought all the past ills that had been visited upon the American Indian community since Columbus landed on these shores had been remedied, I learned that we had, once again, been wrong all these years and Hopi dolls were no longer called kachinas; they must now be referred to as katsina dolls or tithu. At this point I have become convinced I will surely be consigned to the political asylum for the chronically and criminally insensitive. Visitors will recognize me as the one wearing the Atlanta Braves ball cap and listening to Redskin Radio.

With warm regards,

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Twenty years ago, I acquired my first horse. I said I would never own a grey and I would never own an Arabian; so I purchased a grey Arabian.

Harry's Sketch by Georgiana Kennedy Simpson
Georgiana's sketch of her horse.

The opportunity was placed in front of me by my kind, logical friend, Mary, a dear buddy since my early corporate days in Phoenix. She mentioned having two horses, but only one fanny (Her husband, David, did not share her equine passion.) I offered my back side and our friendship blossomed during many fine desert wash rides.

After several years of riding companionship, Mary turned to me and said, “Jana, you could buy your own horse”. There I was at twenty-seven years of age and the idea had never occurred to me. No-one was holding me back. No-one need grant me permission. No-one else held the purse strings.

She had gone so far as to point out a good-looking, rose-grey, two-year-old Arabian stallion named Sahara Sir. He was a firecracker. Twenty years later, he still is.

Too often, we set our dreams aside while carrying out daily routines. Without my friend’s simple logic, the dream of horse ownership would have remained as such. I do, however, feel that with age and experience, I am getting better at grabbing life’s brass ring; most recently in the form of clogging.

“Clog” is a Gaelic word which means time. Clogging emphasizes the music’s downbeat, providing a percussive accent by way of “jingle” taps on each shoe. Originating in the Appalachian region of this country, exuberant footwork was accompanied by ‘old-time music’ , the predecessor to contemporary fiddle and bluegrass styles. Drawing from a melting pot of English, Irish, and Dutch-German step dances seasoned with African, Cherokee and Russian Gypsy rhythms, clogging evolved into an exciting American dance form. In the United States, it was originally known as flat-footing, foot-stomping, buck dancing or jigging. In a performance for the Queen of England, it is reported that Her Majesty remarked at the footwork being much like "clogging" in her own country and the term stuck.

Clogging was introduced to me on a visit to Swiss Days, an annual harvest celebration in Midway, Utah, honoring the heritage of early settlers of that region. Various dance groups were performing throughout the day. What caught my attention was two fiftyish women who stepped up to the platform. The sound created by their speedy footwork accompanied by their blithe expressions made it clear they were having an enormously good time. I then realized if the opportunity presented itself to learn this dance, I planned on taking full advantage.

That chance presented itself during a casual conversation with my friend, Beverly. She was participating in a group led by Jeanna Grover on Tuesday evenings. I started in January and quickly realized what a slow foot I was in this fast foot group. My official shoes; brilliant white with four taps which emit a concise clickity-clack would be available in a couple of weeks, so I soft-shoed along with the remainder of the dancers.

My introduction to clogging shoes made me believe I would step it up with the best River Dancer. I knew to the very fiber of my being that something special was about to happen. I flip-flapped toward the dance floor, conjuring up images of clogging legends, Bascam Lamar Lunsford and Dr. Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw. Jeanna set up the music for our first dance, George Strait’s “Blue Clear Sky”. I waited for the count...5...6...7...8.

While the rest of the class swung and chugged and double-toed, I flung and lugged and stumble-toed. While Jeanna, Christa, Julie and others floated and flashed; I slogged and mashed. Their sharp, clear tappity-taps were mangled by my slish-smooshes, a sound difficult to achieve with hard metal hitting a wood floor. I only slightly assuaged my disappointment with the fact that this was the advanced class and I might have a better shot with the beginning class on Thursday evening.
Georgiana's Clogs
Georgiana's clogging shoes.

Two days later, I showed up again with hope in my heart thinking, “Perhaps the moves will be presented a tad slower”. I soon learned there is nothing slow about clogging. The Thursday class was sailing along as quickly as the others and I found myself once again flailing uselessly in the back row. My right brain accused my left brain and my left brain returned its retorts. My hopes for a “Clogging for Slow People” class were dashed and I resigned myself to the fact that I had better figure out how to shift my posterior and the rest of me into a higher gear in order to keep up with everyone else’s flying feet.

My anxiety has now moved to a Fuchsia Alert level, the color of the blouses we will be wearing for our dance performance in early May. To add insult to injury, I must present my slogging brain and flailing steps to the entire community. I have images of such a decrepit performance that the three-year-old beginners will sit down and cry en masse. Jeanna said there is no position for curtain opener and closer available. I have attempted to hide in the back row, nudging the forward dancer rather than allowing myself the embarrassment of a front and center position. Unfortunately, the front row dancers are on to me.

I have one month to thrash away in our warehouse; in our kitchen; in Christa’s studio; in the Bluff Elementary multipurpose room; and Jeanna’s basement. I pray Steve and the children will not abandon me after my ignominious inaugural performance.

The funny thing is, beneath my hopelessly smoosh-footed despair, I am having the time of my life. I suppose sometimes when you grab that brass ring, you will fall flat on your face. Approaching my own mid-century, my wisened, if bruised, ego must confront that probability.

With warm regards,
Georgiana, Steve, Barry and the Team.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gems and Jewels

Royston turquoise
Royston Turquoise

At Twin Rocks, we sell gems. Yep, the trading post is loaded with them; turquoise, coral, sugilite, charoite, malachite, chrysoprase, gaspeite and many others too numerous to list. Our specialty is, however, another type of gem, people; yes, people of every size, shape, color, age, educational level, religious affiliation and social strata. Fat ones, skinny ones, short ones, tall ones, red ones, white ones; we love them all. Well, in truth, there are a few we aren’t really fond of, but for the most part we genuinely enjoy our neighbors, customers, artists, tourists and travelers.

It occurred to me several years ago that being a trading post operator is a lot like being a bartender. Not that I have first hand experience with bartending, but I did watch Cheers for several seasons. What I really mean, however, is that people wander into the store, and, if we listen carefully, they tell the most fantastic stories. They usually come through the door looking like ordinary quartz, but, as they begin to reveal their facets, we often discover they are absolute diamond.

When it comes right down to it, this geographic region is inundated with jewels of this type. Bluff, as it turns out, is one of the best places in the entire universe to prospect for these human treasures. I have long maintained that Bluff is the smartest community per capita in the United States, maybe the world; almost every resident has a degree, and many have several. In fact, some even have so many they are obtuse. As a result, the people in this small town are wildly entertaining, and they attract a correspondingly fascinating group of associates.

Surely, the Bluff resident we at the trading post enjoy most is Arthur Bailey. Art, sometimes Indigenous Art and other times Fine Art, is not just a gem, he is the crown jewel. I first met Art when Craig and I sold him a building lot on the west end of Bluff. At the time, he was a special education teacher, instructing at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Kayenta, Arizona.

Admittedly, at first, I wondered what this tall, rail thin man with a scraggly, graying ponytail and a raspy Southern drawl was all about. He stood grasping the lapels of his jacket in a way I had never witnessed. Although I have often tried to emulate that stance, I have never actually been able to pull it off. There is something southern about it that westerners can’t comprehend.

An evening with Art and his wife Linda is a storytelling adventure. Now, in truth, I have never known whether Art’s stories are fact or fiction, but it doesn’t really matter. For me, it is akin to trusting in God; if you believe, all the rest is details.

Kingman Turquoise
Kingman Turquoise

Stories of his time spent teaching young people in the Oregon forests, resulting in his son being named Abraham Oregon, give way to his early days working with the Florida legislature to secure all the political necessities; booze, cigars, smoked fish and women. Like a pinball bouncing from one bumper to another, you are shot from stories of hitchhiking around the country with only $25.00 in his pocket to tender tales of working with special needs children in Red Mesa, Arizona.

Once Art retired, he began stopping by the trading post more often to shoot the breeze and talk with Barry about Winky Crawford, Buddha, string theory, energy fields and other ethereal themes. They often regale each other with wild ideas about the universe and its meaning. At times, I have wondered when the mother ship will land and carry us all to a higher plane.

One day I would like to be the type of gem Art already is. For now, I will have to content myself with the words of singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, “I’m just an old lump of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond one day.” As Barry would say, “You better get at it, time is running out.”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.