By Angela Noel
September 15, 2016
Jenelle Masterson, self-described do-gooder, recently saved a squirrel from a terrible fate.
Her squirrel story begins with a cold. Feeling yucky, she dropped her twin, third-grade boys off at school and looked forward to a long nap. As she pulled into her driveway, she noticed a little grey lump on the sidewalk. Curious, she parked her car and walked over to see what it was. A dead squirrel lay on the busy sidewalk where children regularly walked. Jenelle thought she ought to move it. But then she noticed something else. . . he was still breathing.
A fall from a nearby tree, she thought, might have caused it to break its little body. Just the day before, Jenelle had seen a story posted on the Next Door website for her neighborhood about the The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. “What luck!” she thought. “I know where to take him.” She retrieved a box and some gloves. Carefully. . . apologetically. . . Jenelle transferred the squirrel to the box for transport. She worried she had hurt him. During the 20 minute drive, she talked to the little guy. She told him she hoped he knew he wasn’t alone and that he was surrounded by love.
Jenelle arrived at the center and handed her wounded charge over to a staffer. She donated some money for good measure and drove home to get some rest.
When she isn’t saving squirrels, Jenelle’s busy life is filled with work, spending time with her husband and kids, the occasional kid-centric art project, and cultivating her butterfly garden. At one point, she even had a small business helping clients improve organization and efficiency in their lives. Equally attracted by order and beauty, Jenelle studied art and Japanese language in college. Among other things within Japanese culture, the characters that make up the language appealed to her. Not only do they stand for a word or concept, each character is also a picture with a relationship to the meaning it is intended to convey.
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, a well-known art historian born in 1877, had a similar affinity for form and function. Art must be useful, but it must also invite an understanding of something greater, he thought. It must point to a higher truth about the society or tradition from which it was created. “Art,” he wrote, “is nothing tangible. We cannot call a painting ‘art’ as the words ‘artifact’ and ‘artificial’ imply. The thing made is a work of art made by art, but not itself art. The art remains in the artist and is the knowledge by which things are made.” In other words, the artist’s knowledge of herself and the world around her are the means by which art is created. Whether tending her butterfly garden or making ingenious and useful candles meant to live a second life as picture frames, Jenelle’s knowledge fuels what she creates.
She recently recognized a need to improve her knowledge of social justice and racial inequality in our communities. Jenelle wanted to contribute to the conversation but was unsure how, she felt she needed more information. She enrolled in 24 hours of racial justice training led by Dr. Heather Hackman, a former professor in the Department of Human Relations and Multicultural Education at St. Cloud State University in St Cloud, Minnesota. Jenelle wrote a post for our company’s intranet about her experience:
“I used to think that since I am clearly not racist, I had no role in racism. However, after diving in these past few months, I have realized that every single person has a role in dismantling racism, not just people of color but white people too. All of us partake in the societal systems that may be advantageous to some or disadvantageous to others. I realized I need to be accountable to look at the full picture of those systems to see the root, origin and original intent of how those systems began and evolved over time, to understand how different groups may benefit, or not benefit, from them. And that is just the start.”
Jenelle joined a committee to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and regularly posts about her experiences as she continues to learn more about what it means to pay attention to others, and to their struggles and challenges, in a new way.
Jenelle feels an obligation to do good, but she isn’t trying to save every squirrel on her block. More importantly, she knows she won’t solve the problem of racial inequality on her own. But through her actions and through these conversations she hopes to be a catalyst for change in the world around her. Coomaraswamy didn’t think of artists as special people, but he thought every person was a special kind of artist. Jenelle creates change through simple, positive actions. She is a goodness artist. Nothing could be more practical, nor beautiful, nor special than that.
If Jenelle can do it, so can I. So can you.
Be awesome in real life.
Have you gone the extra mile to learn something new, or help someone (or a fellow creature) in need? What was the result?