Because Someone’s Listening

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The sign that’s not on my fridge but should be:

“Don’t go there.”

Of course, I go.

Damn social media. Damn me.

The time I spend in my own head is no longer solitary.

I can hear myself think (still)

but

my voice is tempered for your possible reception;

my words carefully tested for palatability

before they can be released.

And I keep writing, writing, writing

straight onto the screen, so few

filters between this thought

and what you might make of it.

 

But let me say this:

I have an Alice Walker T-shirt from the Writing Project and the quote says:

“Writing has saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.”

And every day that I come to terms with concentrated power

in the (tiny) hands of a federal administration bent on

harm, revenge and unmitigated selfishness,

I thank God for writing saving me from the sin and inconvenience

of violence.

 

My moral outrage is but a drop in the bucket of

untold suffering among

too many.

Some of whom understand what is in the making and many more

who have no inkling that they will not be spared

the pain and humiliation

of being discarded, dismissed, and annulled.

 

I regret to inform you that

I have spent time reading the incomprehensible

transcripts of a figurehead

who struggles to express one thought

coherently.

 

I regret to inform you that

these elementary and primitive

patterns of speech

appeal to some,

to many, in fact.

The joke that was now lays like detrimental oil spill

over the gulf of what we thought

was a semi-functioning democracy.

 

The bill for the clean up will be paid

by our children and grandchildren

But the spill is ongoing,

widening its toxic reach

seeping and tumbling past each new measure

designed to contain it.

 

I can be angry about social media

about myself on social media

and I can write

because someone, somewhere

is listening.

and sometimes that is just enough

of what is needed.

 

 

Deciding to Race When I Thought I Was Done

I recently decided to enter some races on the track. A good friend encouraged me to try coming back to sprinting and I did. He’s 55+ and I’m 52. For our respective ages, we’re in pretty good shape. I hadn’t run a track race in about 15 years.

So yes, I reactivated my track club membership and signed up to run the 100m and 200m sprints in the Vienna Masters championships. Here are some of my observations from the experience:

  • When we say age is nothing but a number it’s true and it is also true that numbers can have meaning.
  • Running at 50 for me is very different from how I ran at the end of my competitive middle and long distance career at 36. My body doesn’t want to go too hard or too long. Recovery gets priority.
  • As an older athlete, enhancing performance = staving off and postponing decline. I won’t get faster, per se, so the trick is to avoid getting much slower.
  • I prepared for these races by aiming to do ‘just enough’ and not more.
  • Instead of running all the time I opted for inline skating or walking while adding some technique drills along the way.
  • It is a reality that I wake up stiff and my first steps out of bed are tentative and cautious. This is true whether I work out quite a lot or very little.
  • Arm flexibility and strength will likely be a greater factor in racing success than leg speed over the long haul.
  • My goal going into this was to race without getting injured and I almost made it.

     

     

     

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Hitchhiking or just ambivalent?

I don’t have any previous experience with this aging game; I’m just feeling my way. So far, so good. One of the highlights of participating this weekend was seeing folks (mostly men) much older, 70 – 80, running, jumping and throwing, too.  You see what’s possible and what the sport, the camaraderie can give a person.

Meanwhile, my spunky super athletic 9 year old proved to be a vocal and somewhat critical spectator. That said,  I don’t doubt that it made him proud to see his mom step up onto the top spot and receive a medal. According to him my start in the 200 wasn’t so great but then I was really fast in the curve but at the very end I looked like Voldemort, so yeah. Modeling takes many forms. Impression made.

On the first day I was nervous – like ‘had to go potty numerous times’ nervous. It was a strange throwback – to feel that physical expression of performance anxiety, before a ridiculous 100m race! And in the blocks I messed around with different settings which prompted the starter to give me a few tips. (Mind you, I have been teaching block starts to athletes for over 20 years.)  And then it was, “Auf die Plaetze, Fertig, *boom*.  Behold, I started just fine.

Gearing up for the 200 on Sunday I took a second to think of one of my most coachable athletes who has stellar starts. I was channeling “KL cool” stepping into the blocks and that gave me a little smile. It also reminded me how wonderful and fulfilling it can be to know something so well – this process, the commands, my response, the tension, the release – even after all these years it is still a mystery and an intimacy. That was a gift.

To sum up I want to borrow some words I read in the New York Times recently:

“…that was super-duper…that was very much more than normal…and do you know what else was nice? – It was limited. You know, it was two hours…It didn’t go a whole day. … You don’t want to leave but you have to … the whole thing, it was an incredible thing.”

It was all “an incredible thing” and probably worth attempting again. I learned that I enjoy the tension of competing. I can be “in it to win it” but winning is broadly defined: finishing, staying healthy, following through.

If this is what I’m saying at 50+, I can only wonder what my next decades may bring.

If I’m lucky, more of this.  (Humblebrag, I made my very first GIF!)

 

image: (c) Me, my, mine. Thanks.

The Archive Project

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I was looking for some information in my archives. I’ve written and kept a lot: Workshop descriptions and agendas, decades of report card comments, professional letters, application essays, you name it. In the process I have come across some documents that remind me of what’s important still. Here are a couple of brief examples.

This is from a workshop introduction I did in 2014. The topic is trust.

 If the members of a large organization are surveyed, among the most common wishes expressed are those for better communication and greater trust. Not surprisingly these two aspects go hand in hand.  As members of an organization and community, we seek belonging and purpose. We join forces, bundle our resources, commit our energies, share our results and take pride in our accomplishments.  When our channels of communication are clogged, crossed or even haywire, we suffer.  Our contributions may be squandered, go unnoticed, never reach fruition.  What is our response? We doubt our leaders, withhold our best efforts and bemoan our organizational dysfunction.  In short, we lose trust in the very organization and community which we sought support and improve.

So often we wait for our organizations to finally change. We find new leaders. We restructure our staff. We announce sweeping reforms and initiate widespread training initiatives. And once again, the critical ingredient of trust remains outside these bargains, and the desired change almost never takes hold.

I also found this gem in a letter about professional development to an author educator, not sure that I even sent the letter, though.

The more I think of it, the more convinced I become that we only improve our educational offerings at the rate at which we improve ourselves by becoming students – struggling students, in fact. We need to spend more time not just attending PD, we need to be creating, reinventing, challenging the very notion of PD. Frankly, I’m tired of sit and (for)get. I’m in for get up, get busy and take charge of your own experience. That’s the direction we need to be moving as educators and our kids are already paving the way a million times over.

What sorts of treasures are in your archive? Just because it wasn’t written or created last week or last year doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

Think about this with me. Dive into your archives and find out who you were, what you prioritized, how you’ve grown. Share out on your blog, in a reply, on Twitter or anywhere else. I wanted to give this idea a more formal kick-off because it’s been rattling around in my brain for a while. This will have to suffice for now. It probably needs a hashtag. Maybe #ArchiveProject?

The hard part

Planning is something I do with varying degrees of success.

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I’m scheduled to race on the track at the weekend. I have planned and prepared. My goal is to run fast and not get hurt.

As a fellow at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute in Vancouver next week I have the honor of being able to give a workshop. I am planning and preparing. My goal is to provoke some fresh thinking about games and what they can be good for. It is also my goal to not waste anyone’s time.

At my school I serve as the new teacher liaison. Because we’re an international school, new teachers are not simply taking a position in a new school. For most it means adapting to a new country, a new apartment, and a new language on top of a new job. My assistant and I meet people upon arrival, help them settle into their apartments and run administrative and shopping errands with them. It’s a wonderful way to get to know new colleagues and it requires some planning and preparation on our part. My goal is to make life a little bit easier for folks coming in and to not lose track of the rest of my life at the same time.

I have experience in all of these things. I have run plenty of track races before. I have successfully designed and delivered workshops before. I have welcomed cohorts of new colleagues to Vienna before. But planning and preparation offer no guarantees. The outcomes are probable in most cases but not entirely predictable. Stuff can come up: Delays, missed appointments, illness, sudden brain freeze… And my job is to work with and around those hiccups and glitches.

The point of writing all this… is to say that I am nervous and watchful and also distracted and temporarily overwhelmed. And maybe that’s the hard part. Being in this space of having planned and prepared but staying flexible enough to accommodate the unanticipated and still leave space for wonder, beauty and serendipity.

Tall order. Top delivery.

The hard part is right there in the middle. Must be where I am about now.

 

image via Pixabay.com CC0

 

A ‘What’ or A ‘Who’ Struggle?

Struggle.

I have used that word quite a bit as an educator, as a parent, as a committee member – most often to describe other people’s experiences. I’ve probably even written about what struggle can be good for, how it can shape and grow us. I believe all that. I don’t always enjoy it so much when it’s my turn, however.

Currently I’m struggling with focus – having it, maintaining it, holding it steady. Confidence is another area that’s feeling a little wobbly these days. Not yet crisis worthy, but also not A-OK. There’s more than one struggle going on.

While I was away on vacation last week I felt an expanse of the imagination. I got curious about the mountains I have always driven past, around and sometimes over. Once you travel an hour south or two hours west of Vienna, foothills show up. Add on another hour in either of those directions and you are in Sound-Of-Music style Alps. I have known this set-up for a very long time. But I’m not really a hiker or camper or skier, for that matter.

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Look at those spaces! Feast your eyes!

This trip I made it a priority to investigate the surrounding hills. To get up a few more hundred meters and see what I could see. I was amazed, delighted and humbled by the intricacies of the journey, the variety of the landscapes, the views from below and above. All of it was there all along but I had not yet felt the need, or the calling to find out what these spaces held for me.

Even if I have lived in this Alpine country for the majority of my adult years, I never forget that I’m that skinny black girl who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.  I speak the language here, at times well enough to be mistaken for a native (by a non-native, mostly) and yet …

When I walk in these familiar unfamiliar places it’s as if I’m walking beside myself – not just looking, but gawking shamelessly – with an expression that says: “How on earth did you get here?” And the question is really about How and even if I deserve to be here – under whose auspices do I deign to claim these spaces as part of my story, of my becoming?

But I hiked up the mountain and experienced the spectacular view. And I’ll do it again because I can and because it was a missing piece and I didn’t know.  The struggle was never about the ability to climb. It was instead about me deciding to become and be the hiker; she who hikes up and down the mountain. Not an ability question, an identity question. In fact, an identity doubt.

Those mountains calling, the lake singing, expanding my imagination. And for a moment I had a bubbling wealth of creative ideas. I had new projects I wanted to explore and consider. I put out feelers for help and got some great responses. The fire was hot! The engine was running!

I’m back home now and hunched at my laptop producing very meager results if any. I came down from the mountain, left the expanse of the open water behind me. My brilliant ideas began to shrink and acquire dust at an alarming rate. Focus has felt hard to muster. Any sense of flow seems wildly distant. Struggle. It’s clearly my turn.

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On our last day I also did this: Stand-up paddling. You have to really zoom in to find me. I didn’t just do it, I loved it! I learned it by watching others, most notably my extremely confident 9 y-o.

That’s what I need to remember: I succeeded by trying. I endeavored without knowing the exact outcome to follow. Seeing, trying, testing, going ahead, succeeding. Sounds like a process. Sounds like a learning process.

So back to my struggle; it’s mine to hack. I’ve got some strategies and a little slack to work with now. Hiker, paddler, doer – I am the learner from Cleveland, here to slay.

The Last Day of 3rd Grade

My young son who is 9 years old had his last day of school today and has officially completed 3rd grade at his Austrian elementary school. Traditionally the first and last days of elementary school (perhaps even in secondary) are very short and sweet. A bit like a meet and greet, except on the last day it’s a meet-and-pick-up-that-all-important-report-card-for-which-I-hope-you-brought-a-plastic-sleeve-to-take-it-home-in. The teacher says some nice words to the kids while parents gather to enjoy a final burst of pre-vacation small talk which differs only slightly from first-day small talk. For the most part you can keep the same activities and just change the verb tense from future to past.

I actually kind of like this tradition. Probably because it’s tradition and I’m also reasonably chilled out because my school year ended two weeks ago. I have time, so of course, it’s no problem to wait outside while the teacher-student thing is happening and then pick a low stakes activity to do with a couple of other families who have time and kids on their hands.

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At any rate, the boy received his Zeugnis (report card) for the first time with “real” number grades. In Austria the scale goes from 1 – Excellent to 5- Not adequate (in between are 2-good, 3-satisfactory, 4-adequate). On our walk to school he was already speculating what his grades might look like. He was pretty confident they’d be good or better but also wondered what might happen if he got a 3.

That’s where I had to stop him and explain that exactly nothing happens. Nothing. No upset, no punishment, nothing. On the way back home I also put the idea out there that his report card tells me very little about how his school year was, what he learned, how he learned it, what he liked most and what he didn’t like at all. It doesn’t tell me what kind of person he is in his class group, where his special strengths are, where he might need more support and where he made the greatest efforts. Nope, the report card as is, is simply a sheet of paper which tells me the broad subjects in which he was instructed and provides a number sign for each one indicating to what degree he met the teacher’s expectations.

If I really want to know about his learning then I have to ask him. And listen to his responses. I need to pay attention to what happens when we read a story together, to the questions that come up for him pretty much any time we are together. If I really want a picture of his progress then I can pour over the stacks of individual papers he has brought home all year long. I can read the stories he writes for homework. If I really want to know how the school year is and was, the most I can do and perhaps also the best, is to be available, open, present.

Report cards are what they are: institutional records of school attendance and academic…achievement? maybe.  Academic clearing (like clearing the bar in high jump)? Closer perhaps.  Let’s say “clearing” for now (yes, I just made that up). It’s about fulfilling external criteria and being judged on that. OK. Report cards are an institutional tradition. The weight and significance we assign to this tradition and the actual document will vary – among families, between kids, within a school, across school levels and types. My hope is that I can convey to my son that we have choices in deciding how big a deal it is in the grand scheme of things.

My 9 year old is not too bothered about any of this now. He has moved on to video games, read aloud time and a big long stretch of summer plans.  I bet he’d be alarmed to know I just spent almost 700 words on it right now.  Srsly, mom? Yup.

 

Guest Post On Charleena Lyles

In a recent family correspondence, my Uncle, Dr. Thaddeus Spratlen, a long time Seattle resident, shared his thoughts on the recent killing of Charleena Lyles by police in her home in front of her children. He kindly gave me permission to post his letter here.

 By now you probably have seen some reference to last Sunday’s police shooting here in Seattle of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year old, pregnant and mentally ill African American, mother of four children.   Two White officers were responding to a reported theft of an X-box and jewelry at a public housing complex for previously homeless people. There had been previous calls from the victim regarding burglary or other disturbances that resulted in two officers being assigned to respond to the call for help.  On previous occasions the victim had been armed with some sharp shears. On Sunday she was holding two knives.  In the verbal exchange between the officers and Charleena, she mixed phrases that were incoherent with others that reflected the need for help. It has been suggested that she was experiencing hallucinations.  Details on why the interactions became life-threatening and violent are not clear.  But one of the officers shot and killed Charleena when she apparently was moving toward them and would not drop the knives.  Voice interactions are not clear as to whether any of her other behavior was physically menacing to the officers.

 

Why guns and deadly force in a situation that did not appear to be life-threatening to the officers?  As the law requires there is a Police Department investigation underway.  Tragically, there have been no convictions in the 13 or so nationally-reported cases in which police officers have been charged with wrongful death.  Charleena’s death is likely to be another one in which police who kill are exonerated.  It has just been revealed that cameras outside her fourth floor apartment recorded no entry or activity during the time when she was away from her apartment shopping before she called for  help.  The officers were not wearing body cameras.  So except for the voice recordings we are left with the officers account of  what happened.

 

This is likely to be a worse case than the deadly encounter between St. Paul, MN police and Philando Castile.  Recently, his killer, Jeronimo Yanez, was found innocent of second degree manslaughter.  In this instance a standard of “culpable negligence” was the threshold for conviction. In video footage it seems clear that the officer was negligent and created avoidable risks.  They did not require the victim or other occupants to get out of the car.  There seemed to be negligent disregard for the a child and Philando’s girl friend who were in the car.  The officer fired several shots into the car. Philando was shot three or four times.  Miraculously neither the child nor Philando’s girl friend were hurt. This trauma and tragedy started with a stop because of a broken tail light on the car that Philando was driving.

 

In the case of Charleena, the responding officers did not have tasers with them (despite having information from previous responses at this address).  So far it has not been indicated why they did not use pepper spray or their batons. Also, it is not clear how far away Charleena was from the officers when she started moving towards them.  According to Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large, the likely standard for conviction for the killing of Charleena would be “evil intent.” And so it goes for one more tragic tale of White police officers panicking in the face of carrying out their responsibilities of providing protection or help from crime.  The police officer ended up being  a killer instead of protector. Grim statistics also reported by Jerry Large were that for 2017 there are almost three police killings per day in the United States! As he put it, Charleena was the 451st person killed by police in the United States during the first 169 days of 2017.  That should be a national disgrace for violence against people that police are being paid to help and protect.

 

Sadly, Philando, Charleena and thousands of other victims of police killings could not stay out of the way of the police. Back to my starting point, the nation must find more humane and effective ways of dealing with mentally ill people and the use of deadly force by police.  This is another instance in which we lead the world in infamy.

Thaddeus Spratlen, Seattle, WA