Where I am could be where I am also not My boundless ignorance offers the negative space of my knowledge How I seem continues to vary even when I am still so much the same Off one platform while hanging onto another and another salt will dissolve in water until the sodiumnity of it takes over and the water becomes something else no longer potable How I consume becomes the feature and I let the bug consume me I am an animal, a creature not lost but amply surviving Instinct matters as much as genius especially when I have neither Creativity sparks interest but is actually an uneaten crust of who I might be You cannot trouble me If I flock I am open to flounder do I need wings or gills or legs when I come to my senses which ones will be denied access? Knowing that to fit magnifies the jest of our striving In the saltiest sea, one cannot swim only float.
Can't talk about exhaustion or talk about grief or talk about
being neither here nor there
you're an echo, a shadow, a shifting fog
a scattershot, detritus, an abandonment
Can't talk about what you miss, where it hurts, what the damage
you're a stalwart, an anchor, the guardrail
the glue, the elastic, the duct tape
You keep holding on, holding up, holding it
Can't talk about what's up, what's brewing, what's
You buck up, stand tall, fix your face
plant your feet, stand your ground, dig your heels
What is loss? What is grief? What is it? You don't say.
*Original draft, 11 Sept. 2021
Every single time
laying claim proves fraught
Belonging can feel like battle
without a winner
Familiarity think it be knowing,
says go here, x marks the spot
Not home, not ours, not only
where arrival meets departure
every single time
guessing that here and mine go hand
Praying that here and mine stick
together like sisters
just passing fancies
strangers who stay that way
here, not mine
Not from here
comer and goer
I am strange and familiar
every single time
*Original draft, Jan 1, 2022
A few thoughts, in no particular order, following the inaugural meeting of the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force called together by AIELOC (Assoc. of International Educators and Leaders of Color) in cooperation with ECIS (Education Collaborative of International Schools), IBO (International Baccelauriate Organization) and hosted by the International School of Geneva (Ecolint).
- The things that we most hope for require active choice by the people involved.
- The things we most hope for which involve other people require the most patience, persistence and clarity of purpose that we can muster.
- Because it’s rarely effective to rely on individuals, groups or institutions to consistently act in favor of the greater good without the promise of clear beneficial outcomes, we often try to build forms of compliance and accountability to incentivize positive participation.
- A demand is an imperative. A request is not.
- The pace of change may not be up to us but it can be influenced by us and our coordinated efforts.
- We cannot wordsmith our way to equity.
- I am not convinced that we as individuals or as group members are naturally inclined towards equity. We appreciate fairness when we experience it; may not be equally prepared, however, to sacrifice our own comfort, ease or privilege in the service of fairness towards others, especially over an extended period.
- Backlash is a message in response to change. It’s a sign to press on.
- When we are preaching to the choir, at least we have an idea about who’s in church.
- We anticipate, plan and prepare for resistance which makes it hard to dream big at the same time.
- When asked how I was entering the space, my response was: tempering my cynicism.
- I am not sure what motivates humans to prioritize and enact equity as a rule rather than a rare exception.
- I do not consider myself a hopeful person but a trusting one. I believe in people’s capacity to do good and hard things, even when many things are both.
- I have said before that I am an impoverished radical dreamer. Given that, I look and listen for radical dreams voiced by others. If I balk immediately, it’s a sign that I need to move in that direction.
- I have stopped worrying about getting people on board. I’m on the crew of those who have already set sail. I’m learning the ropes as we press on.
- When in doubt about what I’m doing, where we’re going, what good it’s doing – I need to listen to students, to colleagues on the margins, to voices from backgrounds different from my own.
- Certain structures I imagined to be compulsory are, in fact, voluntary (i.e., accreditation).
- Pay attention to the most radical messengers, they tend to be ahead of their time.
- Joy is revolutionary.
- Whenever the conversation turns to harm in schools I am reminded that not all harms must be experienced directly for their effects to continue to reverberate.
- Although we may come together in a shared space, based on our identities and contextual status profiles, we may not all have the same assignment. Developing the awareness and capacity to recognize and successfully negotiate those differences is everyone’s work, however.
- Role authority must not be mistaken for universal awareness, competency or knowledge.
- Blowing up our traditional notions of leadership seems absolutely necessary.
- The wisest/ most radical/ most generative among us may not be the most vocal – how many avenues are we using to elicit participation?
- In any identity-related exercise, try to spot which aspects of identity are missing. Make this a habit.
- We can hold multiple truths at one time; identity is never singular or an isolated constant.
- Interrupting harmful behaviors is something we all need to practice. It can also be done with grace; clarity is the prerequisite. Notice an exemplary model when it occurs; discuss and elevate it.
- Strong allies, reliable accomplices foreground listening, learning, and recognizing when and how to open doors and pave ways.
- While much can be accomplished in short time frames, some things need lots of repetition over a long time. Other strategies require steady nudging, trustworthy feedback loops and adaptive timelines.
- Love is tangible. Care is tangible. We know it, we feel it when they are present in the community and in our institutions.
- Re-entry into our respective contexts demands sensitivity and care. The temptation to overwhelm others with our new perspectives will be strong. Resist the tendency, circle back later, share in manageable doses.
- Keep showing up as you are, as we are.
- We are not done and we are also beyond beginning.
- I am tired and energized; proud and equally humbled. Extremely grateful to have been a part of this event and connected to the outstanding membership of participants. Thank you.
Tired is not the word you use when you really mean weary when you really mean tapped out when you really mean that you just don't have the words or the patience or the foresight or the wherewithal. Tired is not the word you use. When they ask how it's going you say that it is, going which is true because in fact there is no stop, no pause, no break in the action, it's going as you said, there are no lies, it's going and hardly matters how just that it's going and we see that's going and we ask how it's going as a courtesy not an investigation. It keeps going and I keep saying so. Tired is not a word you use when you really mean overextended when you really mean depleted when you really mean imbalanced when you really mean that you are no longer sure what counts as any of those things only that you expect to keep going until you can't because if you can't find the word, how can you possibly define the reality? When they ask you if this is the best you've got and if this is what it's going to be and if you're planning to send it out like that and if you're sure this is how you want it to look and you don't say, you just stare and stare and stare. Tired is not the word you use. Tired is not the word.
Anne Helen Petersen hosts a community publication, Culture Study. I suppose one could call it a newsletter since it’s on the Substack platform, but in fact, it is so much more. Not too long ago I dubbed it “my new intellectual hub.” Anne-Helen posts at least two discussion prompts per week, some of which arise from community members and others that seem to be a culmination in response to a recent event and related conversations. This week she asked folks to talk about their understanding and/or experience of family wealth. Following the announcement of the student loan relief package, almost everyone had something to say about money, debt, responsibility and inequality.
Here’s part of her prompt:
Family wealth is similar to societal privilege, but it is also different in some tangible ways. When multiple people in a family have some form of wealth, there are also multiple wells to draw on. When only one person does, there’s less wealth to save, to replicate. Wealth begets wealth, but usually only when you’re also not supporting an entire extended family and/or community.
So the question is: what has familial wealth made possible in your life? And, alternately, what has lack of familial wealth made really fucking difficult in your life? AND EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, how do you and your family think of “wealth”? Do you call it that? Why or why not? What *do* you call it? And what have been the effects of that choice? Be as explicit as you’re willing to be.Anne-Helen Petersen, Culture Study, Friday Thread, Aug. 26, 2022
I first read this on my phone and immediately began reading the responses which seemed to be pouring in minute by minute. I wanted to respond too and also knew that I needed time and to be seated at laptop keyboard in order to get my thoughts together. When I finally found the words, here’s what came out:
|Wow, this is a powerful prompt and necessary discussion! There’s a lot that comes up for me as Black person who grew up in a family of educated working class folks in the 70s. I’m hesitant to call us middle class because the disparities between white and Black middle class are simply too great to consider them equivalent experiences. |
My parents were homeowners who borrowed against the house to put 3 kids through college between 1975 and 1987. I was able to pay off my undergrad and graduate loans in my mid 30’s. My siblings and I (at 75, 61 and 57) seem to be in relatively stable financial shape which is great news! But the house my parents worked so hard to own was virtually worthless once they passed away. Through no fault of their own. It was simply located in a deteriorating Black neighborhood that was not being gentrified (and therefore invested in). My siblings decided to let it go and gave it to the city in order to stop paying taxes on a property that they could not use or develop. So that major potential source of wealth creation did not materialize for us as a Black family.
Now in middle age, I feel like the best I can do for my own kids is to try to leave this earth without any debt for them to have to deal with. It’s hard for me to think in terms of inheritance and having the potential to pass on wealth to my kids. It might happen but I’m not (nor are they) tied to that outcome. For me the financial stability I enjoy living in Central Europe, with great health care and without debt, is my first real taste of wealth. I am cautious in my optimism and fierce in my realism. I have no expectation that the advantages that I now enjoy will necessarily grow or expand for my children and their children. History says Black wealth is never a safe bet. Which helps me understand my parents’ emphasis on cultivating our *independence*. That was their mission: to see us become independent adults and we did it. That’s a more enduring form of wealth in our family it seems.
I’m sure these questions will keep turning in my brain for a while to come. Thanks to everyone who has contributed here. It’s eye opening and instructional to read so many different stories.
In both reading the hundreds of other responses and thinking about my own experiences, I felt grateful for the degree of financial stability I have been able to enjoy throughout my life. The pursuit of wealth, however, feels foreign to me, like that’s not what I’m here for. I realize now how that has been fundamentally shaped by my upbringing. Also the very real understanding that Black wealth is never guaranteed. That’s another factor that sits deeper in my bones than I have previously acknowledged.
Instead, the legacy of independence is what I have held onto, perhaps beyond reason at times. We cannot talk about our relationship to money without reckoning with our ideas of what constitutes “enough.” While my own definitions have certainly shifted over time across various material contexts, I have generally felt most content when I have enough money to do the things I/we want to do (travel, buy books, attend desired events…). That’s it.
So when my marriage broke up a year and a half ago, while I had a lot of extra expenses with moving and other start up costs, I was financially stable enough to manage it. That’s my idea of wealth. It’s having the resources to keep going after setbacks. Where my approach seems to diverge from several of the people responding in the thread is my lack of focus on providing certain outcomes for my children and grandchildren. My cognitive financial temporal organization seems more present- rather than future-oriented.
It’s not that I don’t think of my children and providing for their needs into adulthood as needed and possible, but it’s not the primary focus in how I’m thinking about what to do with my money. This may be a fault and something I’ll regret later. I mean, I’m not in debt but I also don’t own any property. Some would call that a foolhardy and precarious position to be in at my age, and perhaps that is the case. Or not. We’ll see.
One resource that has helped me develop my own sense of financial health is The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. She talks specifically about understanding money as something that flows through our lives. I appreciate the distinction she draws between allocation and accumulation as well as her advocacy of building sustainable legacies for and with our children:
More valuable and useful than any amount of money itself is to leave our children a relationship with money that is healthy. Leave them with an understanding that money flows in and out, that it should do that, and that it is a privilege to be able to direct the flow toward their highest commitments.Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money, p. 241
That seems worth striving for. What is financially attainable at any given time can shift. Developing the kinds of supportive relationships that allow funds to flow when and where needed becomes the greater investment of my lifetime. Which also means rethinking my reliance on stalwart independence. So there we have it: the investment and the challenge – hand in hand.
I’ll try to make this a quick one. Last week, I had what I’m calling an anxiety flare up. The feelings were neither entirely new, nor overly threatening but for a couple of days I just felt out of sorts. I was both dissatisfied with myself and annoyed at my relative vulnerability. At least one night’s sleep and a rocky day at work were the tangible prices. But of course it was also a significant blow to my ego, so the last few days involved nursing my ego back to some sort of equilibrium.
The nursing process is what I want to share here. I mean, how do we rein ourselves back in after an emotional setback?
Well, in the night that I couldn’t sleep, I journaled. I described what was going on in my head. I named my fears and frustrations. In fact, I began using a stem phrase: “My anxiety has to do with…” and created a list of 10 things. There was so much more there than the triggering incident. Writing offered some immediate relief that rippled out over the next days.
I read an article on Autumn Anxiety by Jennifer A. King that provided some further context for why I might be feeling the way I was. Two characteristics in particular seemed to hit the nail on the head:
Sense of Control. Situations where we have no control over what is happening or what outcomes may be.Jennifer A. King, Do You Have Autumn Anxiety?
Threat to Ego. Situations that leave you feeling as though your competence is in question.
These could not have been more on target! Gaining validation for my emotional state let me know that I was not alone, that there are many reasons why I could be experiencing a degree of disorientation given my recent return to work, the interpersonal professional demands that entails coupled with whatever personal frailties I had going on anyway.
This weekend I made space for recovery. I..
- Had a long zoom chat with my best friend,
- met friends for drinks and a movie – absolutely delightful time!
- got outside for exercise on both mornings,
- did a load of laundry,
- washed, conditioned and braided my hair,
- prepared nice meals and ate slowly,
- took time for reading and writing.
These all belong to what I call “control moves:” actions that help me feel in control – of my time, energy and body. They are not the cure, they are the process. As a result, I feel less anxious, more grounded, closer to how I would like to experience myself on the regular. Each task functions like a mini-reminder: “You’re still here, you’re OK, take your time.”
I have no idea if this will be helpful to anyone else and I’m sharing anyway because there’s a chance it might be. In How We Show Up, Mia Birdsong reminds us of the following:
We are living in a contradiction – we are made for interdependence, connection, and love, but part of a culture that espouses the opposite…There is a tension between existing in one world while trying to live into another one. That place in between them is full of friction.Mia Birdsong, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community, p. 226
Living in contradiction challenges us which makes our sharing of struggles and recoveries all the more important. It is in that spirit of building community and living in connection that I offer this window into my experience.
Be well, friends.
Perhaps I am very late to the party but I see now that capitalism and justice are incompatible.
The longer I write, the more I chafe against established structures in form, in genre.
Maybe it’s something about middle age but I’ve also started to hate my bras no matter how stretchy and temporarily comfortable.
I keep wanting out but without actually wanting to go out.
I wonder what anti-capitalist bookmaking looks like because I might want to do that.
Talking to my bestie on Zoom I just realized that my summer has been about loss and recovery.
After peak experiences my body goes through a phase of recalibration.
I need more rest.
I have an idea that’s so hot and trying to figure out a way to realize it while resisting a capitalist structure is blowing my mind wide open.
Much to my surprise, I may have a literary future in German.
I’ve made a lot of promises in the last 24 hours.
What makes me click on an essay that suggests laughter but is really about suffering?
I seek out evening sweetness as a private reassurance; sugar and rejection are fundamentally at odds.
We broke a family pattern today which was hard, and then fun.
No one tells you that show-and-tell in kindergarten exists to prepare us for adult office parties later in life.
The final sentence dreams of greatness and barely manages closure.
When I was going into 10th grade at a new school, I encountered my first summer reading list. I believe I had to choose one novel from maybe 5 or 6 options and have finished reading it before the first day on campus. I chose Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I have no idea what the other choices were or what made me pick that novel but I do remember reading it and being fascinated.
Reading as an assignment that turned out to be quite enjoyable. Yay!
As an adult, I’m a committed reader who enjoys the collection, discussion and contemplation of books, books, books. In that I am my mother’s daughter. What’s different, I suppose, is that I get to write about some of that reading and share it publicly. It also feels as if I simply read more than usual: more books, more fiction, more hours. Writing it down is more for my own benefit than anything else and sharing can’t hurt. Maybe there’s something in here for you.
I started off the summer finishing up my sci-fi streak that had me reading three Ursula K. LeGuin novels in a row and continuing with my first N.K. Jemisin title, The Fifth Season. All of this new exploration of science fiction was set in motion by a single podcast episode, Crafting With Ursula: Social Justice and Science Fiction with adrienne maree brown. I knew basically nothing about LeGuin beforehand and afterwards I rushed to the library and checked out The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Bowled over by LeGuin’s versatility, I picked one more, The Eye of the Heron, which charmed me maybe most of all three. Imagine, that’s only the backstory for why I picked up The Fifth Season.
While I knew that Jemisin is a Black woman author who has a remarkable track record in her field. I heard one of her award acceptance speeches (really worth your time!) and began following her on Twitter a few years back. Even so I wasn’t ready to spend time reading a genre I was convinced was not of real interest to me. On recommendation from my favorite librarian, I decided I was ready to tackle my first. And I was not disappointed. While I struggle to recall the details of the story line several weeks after reading, what struck me was Jemisin’s capacity for deeply original world building in really every aspect: societal structures, energy sources, languages, transportation, architecture, natural world – truly everything! Just breathtaking! And following adrienne maree brown’s assertion that social justice organizing and science fiction revolve around creating radically different worlds in the mind’s eye, I was able to see the possibility in a genre I had previously shunned. Yay!
Of course, brown’s Emergent Strategy has been on my radar for a while but this summer I felt more urgently drawn to a pamphlet she wrote in response to intra-movement conflict: We Will Not Cancel Us. She referenced it in the interview with David Naimon and it stuck with me. I’ve often felt uncomfortable with the dynamics of what she terms a “feeding frenzy” in response to a reported harm within community. She uses these pages to inquire what’s going on in those instances; to express her “unthinkable thoughts.” I suppose what I was looking for and also found were the kinds of affirming messages about the complexity and value of living and struggling in community. brown writes,
“I want us to do better. I want to feel like we are responsible for each other’s transformation, not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.”adrienne maree brown, We Will Not Cancel Us, p. 74
Partly in parallel I was reading Akwaeke Emezi’s Dear Senthuran, A Black Spirit Memoir. Now, I cannot tell you what I was expecting but the immediacy of each letter left me shook, rattled and/or moved. There was one passage that I promised myself to hold onto because I need/have needed/will need it:
We never understand how vast we are. We may spend the rest of our lives finding out that we have no borders, no boundaries, pushing into greater sizes, being both terrified and delighted when we discover there’s nothing there to stop us.Akwaeke Emezi, Dear Senthuran, p. 149
I mean, what? and YES! I hesitate to say more but I felt seen while reading, collected, even. Emezi is a young, dynamic and eclectic artist whose insights on what it means to be alive, to be held on the earth in a particular body sang through me. There was a way that their analysis of self and the world laid bare some realities that I know as a middle aged person but had managed to avoid looking at. All in all, I felt strengthened by Dear Senthuran and need to get my own copy soon.
Imagine following that up with The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., previously known to me as Son of Baldwin on Twitter. In June Jones announced his departure from social media in an open letter, “To Fare Well.” I kept that tab open for days. The letter felt personal and instructional. I continue to refer back to it. My decision to read The Prophets had to do with me trying to catch up with the culture.
Described as a Black queer love story set in the slaveholding South of the 1800s, The Prophets won me over early on with the rich cast of characters. (“Rich” is really inadequate here, forgive me.) Each one was surprisingly real to me. The story, however, and it’s mutifaceted telling are what sent me. The book is so expertly constructed – every detail contributes to the whole in a meaningful way. It’s not light reading but it is extremely tender in many parts. You just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean but wow, the whole package is simply astounding in all that it contains.
Everybody Looking is a novel written in verse and it was my spontaneous YA choice for the summer. Fairly breezy reading about a young woman entering college and figuring out who she is and balancing that against who she believes she needs to be for various others: dad, mom, friends. Objects of Desire is a short story collection that I read in between other things. The stories worked like palate fresheners – crisp, tasty and fleeting. I should also add Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi here. It was such a fast read that I gobbled up in a couple of days. It’s also YA fiction and the prequel to PET which I adored.
On my Kindle, I worked my way through The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change by Michelle MiJung Kim which I now consider social justice essential reading, especially for the US context. Above all, I welcomed Kim’s focus on the importance of context, positionality and tolerating complexity. The messages are clear, her approach is transparent, and understanding of the challenges lucid. In response to the question: “What’s the point of even trying if we’re never going to be anticapitalist?” she writes,
But what if the answers reside within the trying? What if the tension is the point that breaks open the pathways – not to a simple, singular, and reductive solution but to multilayered, collective, and complex solutioning toward possibilities?Michelle MiJung Kim, The Wake Up, ch. 4
I also added Patriarchy Blues to my e-reader stack. Authored by Frederick Joseph, this book surprised me with it’s nearly mixed-media approach to looking at patriarchy. Joseph uses personal anecdotes, poetry and essays to illustrate all the ways that we are constrained not solely by patriarchy but all the other systems of oppression that intersect with it and/or rely on its support. There are some choice insights that again remind us of the multiple roads we can travel towards social justice.
Near the end of the summer I took the opportunity to reread Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford. I’m glad I did that because the second time around I got to think more about the writing and what it is that draws me to Ford’s voice. The openness, yes, and perhaps more than just openness, there’s a delicacy and care in the choices she makes in telling us about her family. I suppose I appreciated the struggle it took to get the book done; letting that part also surface felt meaningful for me. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Almost done… The last book I finished is the one I started early on and put aside. Recommended by a dear friend, I wanted to find its charm but it took a minute. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is like nothing I’d ever read before. A novel, but in oral history form. And it’s a debut by Dawnie Walton. At the end of the summer, once traveling was done and we were back to household lounging, I guess I was ready for this multiperspective story to claim some real estate in my brain. Once I got into the characters and the larger context I was absolutely fascinated by the complexity with such a careful, light touch. Nothing is overdone. Each voice maintains a radical authenticity that strikes me a remarkable achievement. Again, a wonderful revelation of what young authors are bringing into the world already.
Last book on my nightstand is a memoir I picked up at my local bookstore. While I have know the name Ai Wei Wei, I didn’t know much about his art or the source of his prominence. It’s interesting to read his telling of his parents’ histories and recognize the expanse of my own ignorance of Chinese history specifically and of Asian history more generally. I suspect I will be working on this read for a while. It’s very personal, real and for me, uniquely instructional. I’m looking forward to the ways this book will stretch me into new areas on interest and investigation.
This post turned out to be way longer than I anticipated. But that’s ok. It’s only words and time and a record of significant contributions. Once in a while it’s good to look back and remember where we got stuff: ideas, quotes, questions, insights. My reading life keeps me open and curious. That is actually a gift for the ages, friends. Truly.
for spending my adult years in school:
- People person, socially interactive
- professional autonomy
- Regularly scheduled restarts
- structural predictability
- Wide but manageable margin of unpredictability
- tangible appreciation
- recognizable progress
- dynamic relationships
- Huge range and variety of relationships
- library access (Wild!)
- Librarian friends
- Witness others’ growth
- physically active days
- music selection of choice
- experimentation belongs
- space and time for humor
- intellectual challenge
- emotional workout
- continued learning
- Possible to show and receive love
This will be the 27th school year at my institution and my 30th year of teaching. I know my why; it’s selfish and social at the same time. My why is multifaceted and contextual, elastic and generous. There’s no one word to capture the whole. No way to condense all the benefits down to a spunky slogan. I keep choosing school because school (and children and colleagues and families and all the energy wrapped in that) choose me. In school, I am, in fact, chosen.