Esther Ouray: On the Origins of the Universe

Esther Ouray photo by Sarah Whiting

I am a performing and teaching artist. Over time I have taken on the role of actress, dancer, puppeteer, director, and more. A life engaged in the performing arts has afforded me the awesome privilege to explore and play within the realms of creative inspiration. Although I am required to keep one foot in the challenging everyday world, the other foot exists in a realm where unexpected connections are celebrated. For these fleeting moments of celebration, the many become one.

I prefer to work in concert with other people, in community. That way, the odds are increased that illumination will sneak through the cracks — or at least, with more of us, we might be able to locate a crack or two. My work has been driven forward by a yearning for connection, a desire for the manifestation of a world saturated in justice and sweetness.

Really, I just tell made-up stories. I say words and offer images about the origins of earth and universe and humans, in the hope that the craft I have been taught will set the stage for something to occur that coaxes hearts to awaken. I have been prompted by this month’s magazine topic to ponder questions about the origins of life, universe, and humans. However, I am content to never know the answers.

The yearning will suffice. Honestly, these days there is so little time to contemplate the origins of the universe.

Much of my work now is with Zamya Theater project, which creates work with those in our community who have or are experiencing homelessness. Simpler questions must be tended to, like ‘how are we going to house everybody?’ Can we crack that one open together?

Kao Kalia Yang: Losing Children

Kao Kalia Yang photo by Sarah Whiting

The book I co-edited, “What God is Honored Here?,” deals directly and honestly with Native women and women of colors’ feelings for our children — the immense love and the immense loss. Although the book offers personal stories about miscarriage and infant loss, it delicately speaks to me about the vast history of children being taken away. For Native women, it has been the forced removal of children to schools that separate them from their families and traditions. In the case of Hmong women, it is the enlistment of Hmong boy soldiers

(and girls who go missing) during the Secret War in Laos. In the case of African American women, it is the history of slavery in this country. There are women who are losing their children at our borders right now. These losses go on and on.

For so many of us, our children were taken by forces seemingly beyond our control at different points in our histories. The history books, if we exist in them at all, ignore our feelings. This book forces an acknowledgment — that women of color and Native women love our children intensely, love them always, and have never been blinded to the wretched history that forces so many of us to live without them. We live in these histories now.

Stephanie Jensen: Girl from Oklahoma

I don’t remember a lot of details about the Oklahoma City bombing. I can’t say I recall exact timelines of the few tornadoes I witnessed, and the countless ones that caused me to take cover. I do remember red dirt — I thought it was beautiful, even when it flew through the air like tiny needles, whether from a natural disaster or a bomb.

I grew up understanding things were going to explode somehow. They might be destroyed, and we could lose everything. But when it happened, folks would show up, roll up their sweaty sleeves, and help. Cases of water were donated. Families, firefighters, and farmers worked together to solve whatever the problem of the day was. No one had to tell me this was how to be a human. I forgot to hear them when they said I didn’t have to constantly be afraid of the next event.

We were always surrounded by the military, because I lived near an Air Force Base; the sound of planes overhead offered reassurance. When it was quiet, I worried more. It meant our helpers left to help someone else, and we needed to be ready to take over. It was unreasonable, but fear usually is.

These are little kid imaginings. As I look from nearly a thousand miles away, I can feel my proud roots frozen in a warmer climate, even as childhood anxieties thaw here in the black dirt north.

Mary Tjosvold: A Love Story

As a newlywed five years ago with my husband, we passed the familiar, and empty, Shorewood restaurant space on Central Avenue just north of downtown Minneapolis. We wandered in, took a tour, and made an offer to buy it.

Larry Dunsmore was a dapper British man entertaining guests at a piano bar on a cruise ship when we met in 2009. He was a veteran entertainer who had performed in The Carlyle Hotel in New York, to clubs in Singapore and Dubai, and at the star-studded engagement party of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He asked me to recline on the piano so he could serenade me. This was not something I would normally do, but I succumbed to his charm.

Our relationship blossomed quickly, although we were often apart. I did philanthropic work  with  women and children as chairwoman of the American Refugee Committee. Larry continued to play around the world. We married in 2013. While in Cameroon a few months later, I was sitting in a noisy disco when I called Larry, who was working in Australia, and said, “We should do a music club in Minnesota so we can be together.”

That is what we did, after a thorough remodeling of the empty restaurant on Moore Lake. We opened Crooner’s Supper Club on November 20, 2014.

Sadly, Larry passed away from cancer less than a year after the opening. Since then, I have been working to make Crooners, a world-class supper club. That is the story of how this unique, classic American night club — a throwback to the 1950s — came to be.

Marilyn Morrissette: Education

Marilyn Morrissette photo by Sarah Whiting

Like many people who were born in the 1930s, my life began on a farm. To a child, that was a bucolic setting of wide open spaces, fields of crops, wild asparagus, an orchard, and farm animals: cows, horses, chickens, sheep, pigs. My father was a farmer for a wealthy, absentee owner. My mother was a homemaker who taught her two children nursery rhymes. It was the Great Depression. We were lucky to be on a farm. My father prized education but had no money to pursue it.

That life changed drastically when my father died. I was nine; my brother six. My mother was forced to become a breadwinner and a single parent. Her resourcefulness and grit were monumental. She managed to go to beauty school. When she returned after a year, we lived together in a one room converted paint shack with no indoor plumbing. She started Jean’s Beauty Salon. After she eked out a living, we moved into a one-bedroom apartment. With no savings, I was off to nursing training with a state scholarship. After returning to school three more times, some of it with other scholarship money, I had a master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. Having a state nursing scholarship made all the difference.

My husband had a similar background. Minimal financial means and a mother’s death at age eleven. His opportunity was military service, which gave him the GI bill and a college education.

The moral of this story: pursue scholarships aggressively. The public library can be a great resource to help you find them.