The Shift OK: Thick Descriptions Newsletter

The “Oklahoma Standard” – A Cultural Dichotomy

Article by Jana Lewis Harkins, Oklahoma Community Activist and Thick Descriptions Board Member

Rarely am I at a loss for words. Much to the chagrin of my family, friends, and associates, I can often talk ad nauseum about a myriad of subjects. Just give me an opening and away I go! I guess you would say, I have a gift for gab.  My high school English teachers developed in me a skill and a love of expository writing. When I put pen to paper, the words just seem to flow—once I settle on a subject and develop an opening statement on said subject.  So, when I sat down last weekend to begin the first draft of my Thick Descriptions writing assignment, I was astonished when I realized that I had not been loosely crafting my paper in my thoughts since receiving my subject the week before!

Like a poet or rap artist, once I have a writing or speaking assignment—a subject, a destination; snatches of the finished product invade my thoughts over morning coffee, as I go about my day, in the middle of conversation (i.e., “I forgot what I was going to say” or “I lost my train of thought”), and in my dreams. When I finally sit down to bang on the keys, my article or speech flows; because bits and pieces are already in my head and are begging to unite with the other bits and pieces.

Astonished is really putting it mildly. I was truly shaken! Writer’s Block! Yikes! How many times had I chuckled to myself, when others lamented about their difficulty in completing a writing assignment? Now I am thinking, “…how arrogant of me. What was that my Grandmother Fannie cautioned about pride?” Did this have anything to do with my upcoming birthday and my advancing age? Perhaps that article I read last week about heart disease and the dreaded pump head syndrome was right! Have I overextended myself once again? Maybe—just maybe—my inability to center my thoughts were as a result of the deaths of Congressman John Lewis, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and my inability to participate in the public Black Lives Matter protests, because the Corona Virus has me stuck in the house consuming large amounts of sugar and fat!  After considerable thought on my dilemma, I happened upon the true culprit—the real reason why I could not coherently gather my thoughts around my topic. The mysterious and often misunderstood A-word was confounding my thoughts!

Anthropology! How in the world could I write about something so scholarly heavy as the science of human beings? Finding meaning in numbers is my passion. Sure, I appreciate all the sciences and have also developed a passionate appreciation of the arts, but ANTHROPOLOGY! Anthropology is based in biology, society, language, and culture. Was it the luck of the draw that I was assigned CULTURE?   How can an accountant add value to such an intricate discussion? As usual, my Grandma Wisdom came to the rescue! “Don’t try to be someone or something you are not.” “Be YOU, Baby!” “Tell them what’s on YOUR mind.” Thanks to my Grandma Gray and my Grandmother Burleigh, my thoughts and my fingers synced on, “The Oklahoma Standard” and the words just seemed to flow! I think I may even have a Part II in these thoughts!

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