Dismantling A Household, Part 1

Listen carefully. This is how you dismantle a household:

You begin by shedding; getting rid of stuff. Begin in the back, wherever that is for you, and work towards the front. Those boxes you never unpacked from the last move over a decade ago? You’ll have to make a decision: keep or dump? Open up and wonder or keep it closed and drag it along. Move on to something easier. The stained mattress that’s holding up the wall? That can go. That faded blue chair holding plastic bags of random balls of yarn? Keep the yarn, say goodbye to the chair. Books and papers piled high on flat surfaces? Weed the books. Make stacks of those that have outlived their active service, you will not miss them. I know, they’re books, but you’ll take them to a place where they’ll line up with other books, ridiculous books you’d never known existed, and those books that used to be yours will be swallowed into the mass of other people’s discards. It’s OK. Many books never even make it this far. You’ve done your best and they’ve done theirs. Say goodbye.

Toys. So much waste! Get rid of as much as possible. This is all the stuff you can’t give away to friends with younger kids. You can really only pitch the majority of it. Stray Lego pieces, Chocolate egg surprises, monumental plastic detritus in boxes, bags – all forgotten and irrelevant now, yet urgently desired at the time of acquisition. There’s a sweet revenge to seeing these micro momentos meet their end. Collectors of dust! Hazards to bare feet! Oh, but it’s harder with the soft creatures! To send them off in unceremonious fashion, you’d have to be a kind of monster. The pandas, bunnies blue and beige, ducks and doggies, fluffy and furry with the patience of saints. They wait to catch your eye, to pierce your otherwise rugged shell and trigger a fountain of warm memories. You cannot possibly let me go, I belong to your past, your present, your future, they say, almost in chorus. Oh my God, they know you, they know your children, they have you cornered. Collect a few and put them in the washer. If you must take them with you, they will at least be less dusty.

You are still in the back, mind you. It will seem like you are stuck here but at some point you will emerge. Promise. Don’t get discouraged. Keep coming back. Bring your mental shovel and just take one small pile after the other. Dig, sort, remove. Dig, sort, remove. Distinguishing between history and trash gets easier. There’s no need to hold onto every thing you’ve ever written. Leave a bit of a puzzle behind. It will make your legacy ultimately more interesting. That’s what I tell myself, at least. Give back the painting you never intended to hang up. Release the unused massage table from its storage room confinement. The blue chest of age old children’s refuse? Empty and clean it – repurpose for holding growing things. This will be a relief in the long run: to have salvaged and gently reclaimed a thing. A silent ode to middle age.

Space is beginning to show itself in the gaps where things used to be. Ever so slowly a sense of control returns. You are no longer as beholden to objects that seemed for a moment to own you. Whether you see it or not, you are creating freedom. In fact, freedom becomes action. You are freeing yourself. Keep going. Don’t stop short. Yes, it means disposing of things that are not directly yours. You are a parent making decisions for your children. Tough luck. They also don’t get to take everything with them. Out with the old math workbooks and kindergarten art projects, stacks of prized manga, a kite that never flew, the rod and reel that never met a fish. Some things can be recycled; carried to a place where other children will find favor with a wooden sword and painted shield. Not all will be lost, lost. As you collect such objects, you may need to remind yourself that the process will not be perfect but in each moment that you persist, it is decisive and that is what counts now. Disposal need not be painless, but always purposeful.

In Sickness and In Health: Reading ‘On Immunity’

Book cover of On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss features a Reubens painting, Achilles Dipped In The River Styx. Baby being held by one leg and dipped in river up to navel.

When you are pregnant in Austria, you receive a booklet called the Mutter-Kind Pass (Mother-Child pass) which records all the exams during pregnancy, details of the birth and forms for mandated doctor visits including the immunization schedule for the first 2 years. As a mother I found it an incredibly useful and reassuring thing to have since it kept so much information in one place. It also saved me from having to think too much about what needed to be done. I’m a rule follower so the document hit my compliance sweet spot.

Looking back, I can say that the document provides an effective public health nudge to parents. For every encounter with physicians from pregnancy through the first two years, there’s a place to collect and track a slice of family health information. While I was able to see myself as a beneficiary of sound public health policy, through my compliance I also became an agent of public health. Few of us think of public health until there’s a crisis.

Author Eula Biss invites us to  accompany her on a journey to understand the interplay between health, immunity, disease and society. On Immunity: An Inoculation was published in 2014. In it Biss asks readers to consider how we arrive at and think about public health, particularly in response to disease prevention through immunization. To follow her lead in 2021 through this multifaceted and complex set of topics in the midst of a global pandemic feels like a lifeline I didn’t realize I needed.

COVID-19 has put us all on notice: We are interdependent. Public health is a shared endeavor. Individual actions hold consequences for the community with or without direct intention. That so many folks choose their personal privilege to publicly shop, dine, socialize, etc. over the opportunity to make their communities safer for everyone by putting those activities on hold tells us a lot about the trouble we are already in. Capitalist consumerism (and its destructive toll) seems determined to have the last word; sooner rather than later.

Eula Biss raises questions in these connected essays that offer us dry ground in an informational swampland. How are we related to each other in health and illness? Who is responsible for the health of the community? Which metaphors do we use to talk about immunity and how do they inform our actions? What does it mean as a parent to protect our children? I found myself both unsettled and sobered through these explorations. In each chapter we learn precisely how deeply these questions and their answers overlap and intersect. Biss consistently acknowledges the dark, the murky, the foreboding and the promising.

In considering the nature of risk perception drawing on research by Cass Sunstein, she notes

“…risk perception may not be about quantifiable risk as much as it is about immeasurable fear. Our fears are informed by history and economics, by social power and stigma, by myths and nightmares. And as with other strongly held beliefs, our fears are dear to us.” (p. 37)

I’ve been thinking about this quote ever since reading it the first time. Yes, our fears are dear to us. In an age where disinformation can take hold in the popular imagination faster and more fervently than ever, those dear fears mutate into an arsenal of potentially deadly actions (or inaction) that can hold communities hostage. We are living this reality right now as anti-maskers continue to assert their right to put themselves and others at risk of infection. The fear: that their rights (power) are being removed or curtailed. The threat of illness (to themselves or others) is not permitted to enter the discussion. Fear can make us do outrageous things. Our positional sense of power will influence our sense of appropriate measures we can and should take to counter those fears. In a different context I wonder about how the most entitled among us may respond when they feel threatened: call the police, demand protection, escalate violence, claim immunity

Biss raises the question “What will we do with our fear?” (p. 152) And I have to acknowledge that it very much depends on who you are and where the fear is coming from. Throughout the book, she bears witness to the ways in which race, class and gender impact who is most often in a position to decide how medical care will be administered and whose health will be prioritized in the face of contagious and other forms of disease. Eula Biss does not allow readers to dwell solely in the realm of well educated middle class whiteness from which she hails. She shows us other times, places and circumstances and how these connect to a present day health care system which still caters to privilege.

On Immunity is a work of tremendous care and nuance. Where we might be inclined to jump to conclusions, Biss offers us earnest words of caution. In describing the tendency of anti-vax adherents to buy into shaky research, she suggests that they

“…are not guilty of ignorance or science denial so much as they are guilty of using weak science as it has always been used – to lend false credibility to an idea that we want to believe for other reasons.

Believing that vaccination causes devastating diseases allows us to tell ourselves a story we already know: what heals can harm and the sum of science is not always progress.” (p. 70)

Her use of “we” is instructive. Underscoring the interconnectedness of individuals, communities and societies, she reminds us that “we are protected not so much by our own skin, but by what is beyond it. The boundaries between our bodies begin to dissolve here…Those of us who draw on collective immunity owe our health to our neighbors.” (p. 20)

Biss refuses to cast us in our anticipated roles. She resists painting sides with a broad brush. On the contrary, she uses detail from immunology, the history of medicine, vampire literature, and personal experience as a parent and daughter to provide us multiple ideas which both contribute to and complicate our understanding of disease and society. In the end, we are still in the swamp but perhaps better able to appreciate all the ways we are also of the swamp that we create on the daily.

The pandemic has not yet left us. As the vaccine rollout reaches larger numbers we can begin to hope for better days, safe in the company of friends and family. Some of us have learned more than our fair share about the limits of a society running on unchecked capitalism and worker disposability. The weight of our losses will bear down on us longer than we can imagine. Given the socio-historical moment I am grateful to have spent time with this exceptional writing. I step away mindful of my role in supporting public health and also wary of the faith I have to place in others to keep society afloat. The more I know, the more I fret. Thanks to Eula Biss my fretting at least has a home away from home.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss, Graywolf Press (2014).

Wrap It Up

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

Some stuff I did in 2020 that I’m actually proud of.

  1. Gave my first keynote ever.
  2. Led some online anti racism workshops that went well.

3. Got a 10 person group from my school to attend The online NAIS People of Color Conference.

4. I’m advising a HS Junior on developing & implementing diversity awareness projects at school. (This is the ultimate Privilege! I mean, my girl is all about it!)

5. Figured out how to keep my students involved with PE throughout longer and shorter phases of distance learning.

6. Was forced to get over myself. Having to create, edit & watch videos of myself doing PE stuff in my yard & in the living room for several weeks of the year worked a charm.

7. Kept Bending The Arc going.

8. Identity, Education and Power is still in the world.

9. Led the Digital Identity track of the first fully online Digital Pedagogy Lab.

10. Enrolled in a 10-week memoir writing course.

10.5. Collected some of my favorite threads & gave them a page on this site.

11. Seriously upped my skating game.

I’m not a tidy individual. I believe in allowing things to collect and form piles. 2020 held a lot; created more than its fair share of exhaust, debris, residue. There’s a lot of this particular year I will be relieved to leave behind me. And yet, here’s this list just the same. Stuff not only happened; I made some stuff happen. Opportunities opened up. I walked in and said yes. It seems important, perhaps more important than usual to lay claim to what I and you and everyone still managed to accomplish in 2020, despite 2020. Even if it’s simply a note to self.

Earlier this year I wrote about feeling confident, like a *&#$=/ Boss, in fact. I said, “ make sure you own some confidence somewhere. And feed it.” Making list is one way to feed that confidence for later days.

3 Unfinished Coming Home/After Work Poems

The Wrong Feelings

If I were looking for a title I might choose The Wrong Feelings. The wrong feelings, you know,

one of these feelings is not like the others…

Or can you see which feeling does not belong?

Child’s play essentially / so easy to spot because

of course THEY ARE THE WRONG FEELINGS

Anyone can see that!

The wrong feelings put tears in the soup, rage in the linen closet,

simple ass frustration under the underwear.

The wrong feelings love white bread and dark beer mixed with ginger ale

Will take vanilla ice cream also with ginger ale and a shot of rum well after 9pm

but just before 10.

The wrong feelings shun exercise and meditation, feel like

yeah, been there, done that, nah.

My very wrong feelings are so familiar like house slippers only

a few months old and already worn beneath the heel. The wrong feelings know how to create

their own groove, carving themselves deep into my hyperactive psyche

trying to get free on the cheap.

The wrong feelings got legs when all I want to do is sit down

They got time, they got patience

They wrong, not hurried.

The wrong feelings know my name, call me over

and over; they sing

girl, don’t you know we here ’cause we yours?

We not wrong. You can’t read and don’t wanna listen.

We are not what’s wrong here.

We just real.

Fear of sitting down

It’s never fully OK to report the extent or depth of my exhaustion. I have learned to lean in so close to the door frame that it’s impossible to tell who is holding whom or what. I hold myself over the flames that will also roast the chicken which will hold the flavor better if I keep it and myself covered and preserve the moisture of the flesh careful not to let it bake too long lest we become tough and unappetizing. The chicken and I are at risk of failing our potential. The parallels are so striking. Watch now. We are both done. Which of us is the burnt one?

Poem 3

is late and undernourished. lacking purpose, vision, art.

REally no reason such a stretch of words should bother to take up

space.

And yet, here it is, a paucity all its own.

Unload.

Something I’ve perhaps forgotten about having a personal blog is that it can be fully what I want it to be. I can write what I want and need to write about. I don’t require an outside prompt or a random deadline. This is my space, for my thoughts, at any given time.

This has never been a blog to sell things. Yes, I published a book but that’s not my point. I’m not here so that I can sell you that book. At the same time, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a sense of audience. There are in fact a number of kind, generous folks who not only willingly but even gladly spend time with my words, and also tell me so. That’s a remarkable gift every time it happens. I will never outgrow the thrill of learning that my ideas meant something to someone else.

And yet this blog feels like it has become an addendum, a side bar to my other social/intellectual/educational activities. I now put out a monthly newsletter designed to inform and inspire. I still have a publication that holds an impressive archive of writing from educator authors I admire and hold dear. I tweet a lot. I’ve done more presentations in the last 3 months than over the last 2 years.

I wonder about this particular form of what has become pandemic productivity. In this particular year where I have spent so much more time at home, in front of a screen, in correspondence with my students and almost everybody else, I feel like a kind of productivity has arisen that has a lot to do with reassurance in the midst of uncertainty. We write to indicate that we’re still here, still in the world, still at it, still fighting the good fight. We write to let our people know but perhaps even more to let ourselves know – something still works, some things can still be managed, some things are still possible.

I was in a conversation recently where a person spoke of a tension in the shoulders and neck that eased up a few days after the US presidential election. It’s only when we exhale and feel the rush of air escape our mouths that it becomes apparent we were holding our breath the whole time.

I’ve missed writing about feelings more than ideas. It’s a relief to step away from a false need to assert and substantiate every little statement. I am not a study. My emotional dips and crests are not the topic of extensive research. And yet I am a whole person; complicated, thinking, acting, venturing.

Sometimes I ask: what good is writing? when the world keeps asking: which writing is good? My courage these days lies in responding: IDC and that’s not the point.

That is not the point, that is not the point, that is not the point.

What good is writing?

That it is.

Post-Election Hangover

This is just to say

I voted by mail
for Biden-Harris
who actually
won in the end.

I know you're 
celebrating
and I wish
I could cheer too.

Forgive me,
I'm still not over
the damage
we have left to repair.

I envisioned being much happier, jubilant even. But it has not worked yet. No, not yet. Instead, I am restless and more than a little baffled at my willful contrarianism. My gratitude to all the poll workers, door-to-door canvassers, phone and text bank volunteers, in-person voters who waited in line for hours to cast a ballot, mail carriers who did double duty to insure that ballots reached their destinations – all of this in the middle of a raging pandemic – my gratitude is huge. And while there is no adequate means to express that at scale from where I sit, it is a gratitude I will carry for a long time to come.

I salute the President- and Vice-President-elect, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They were enough to bring the challenge across the finish line. They will represent a welcome change from what we have endured these hard four years.

And yet, I’m still not over the damage we have left to repair.

In conversation with a dear friend who kindly validated my ambivalence and sense of displacement, she mentioned the word “mourning.” And it clicked. Somehow, somewhere, a part of me is mourning. A part of me is very afraid of getting distracted, of taking our collective foot off the gas, of forgetting all the sacrifices people have made and that systems have made of people to arrive at this point. I refuse to be one who will forget.

Because already we – POC, Biden supporters, Dems – are being asked to forgive, which in the American fantasy also means forget. No. I will neither forgive nor forget the unfathomable level of corruption, crime, deceit, fundamental disrespect enacted by this administration. In a New York Times op-ed, Dr. Tressie McMillan-Cottom lays out exactly what a Biden presidency must prioritize in order to effectively govern:

Restoring baseline trust in social institutions’ survivability, and not necessarily their fairness, is critical to the integrity of governance. A President Biden should pursue all available avenues of punishment. Only a transparent accounting of what exactly happened during the last four years would allow us to pivot to radical responsiveness.

Dr. Tressie McMillan-Cottom, “The Danger In White Moderates Setting Biden’s Agenda”

“[A]ll available avenues of punishment” stands out for me here. Who wants to talk about punishment when we’re finally able to dance in the streets? Maybe no one wants to, but we have to. To speak of Punishment feels harsh in this feel good moment and yet, it must be a deliberate part of the plan going forward. And this is not about vengeance. It is about justice; about restoring the integrity of the rule of law.

I find this thread on forgiveness and repentance very helpful:

Surprising to me but true: the posts I wrote following the election in 2016 still burn. In some ways, all that fear, anger, and dismay accumulated over these four years were not suddenly washed away with a media broadcast. Corona will continue to claim lives at an alarming rate while universal health care remains a distant dream. Corporate interests will continue to rule the roost ahead of programs to benefit the greater good, I’m afraid.

In January 2017, I wrote this:

“People will bow to authority before they recall

their humanity and

acknowledge yours.

Each of us has power and often we hand it over

because we trust,

we have faith,

we believe

that others mean us no harm.

What we forget is how poorly

we understand harm when it is not us

but our neighbor,

our colleague,

the guy across the street, city, county, country

whose livelihood, dignity, existence

is at stake.”

I cannot shake my reservations about the change we envision versus the change we will get.

That said, as my friend reminded me: It’s what all the people did – by voting, by canvassing, by supporting one another – to make a Biden-Harris win a reality. That’s exciting, that’s empowering, that’s what we need to celebrate! And of course, she is right.

I’ll come around in time. You may not get a “Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead” vibe from me anytime soon, but know that I am glad that the outcome is this and not a different one; that there’s dancing in the streets rather than violence. I want to believe that we’ll get better, be better at taking care of each other and the planet. I do. I’m trying hard not to be a resentful curmudgeon. My inspiration may have to arrive from a different source. I long to feel your release and revival.

In the meantime, it helps to see Kamala at work:

Teaching Outdoors and Incomplete Pictures

So many leaves! (image via Pixabay.com)

Late October/ early November of a (N. Hemisphere) school year – by this time we know some things: about our students, our schedules. We may have a sense of the way things might go for the year. Or, we know that so much is up in the air it would be absolute folly to try and predict where things may end up. I’m at that stage in the school year where I’m beginning to hit my stride; where my routines with students are familiar; we may even have a rhythm.

Here we are (in Austria, mind you) holding regular school in the middle of a pandemic. As a learning community we’ve been blessed with very few cases, all of which could all be traced to contacts outside school and turned out to be asymptomatic. Every week without a significant change in the building’s population has felt like a victory. We seem to be getting things mostly right.

Among the adaptations my PE colleagues and I have had to make is shifting to majority outdoor teaching. Particularly for me and my team colleague, this has meant truly changing our ‘regularly scheduled programming.’ There’s a lot to appreciate with getting kids outside and taking advantage of different parts of the campus. We’ve gotten both creative and clever in developing plans that get us close to what we have planned in the pacing guide. That said, it has also been hard.

Not hard as in gut wrenching or emotionally draining but mistifyingly frustrating. Yes, my colleague and I have been conducting our PE classes – differently, yes, but still. I even did a kind of question mind-map at the beginning of October to try to help me understand.

Questions to help me think through my challenges with teaching outdoors.

It took me literally until this past week to figure out why.

My colleague commented on teaching indoors due to wet weather and how much easier he found it. “We’re by ourselves, there’s nobody else kicking a ball around … there’s not a leaf, or wind…” Oh my gosh! Exactly when he mentioned the leaf, I laughed out loud in recognition. And then it dawned on me: for at least 2 classes I am outside during middle and then high school recess! I’ve been trying to “teach” my classes next to big kids playing soccer on the field, basketball on the redtop, strolling, laughing, chilling. When I march my 1st graders and Pre-K out to the field and back, it’s a given that someone will be collecting something along the way. Of course! They’re children, they’re curious and all kinds of things can be fascinating: bugs and leaves and big siblings; jackets in the wind and water bottles along the fence.

What’s striking for me is that I couldn’t put my finger on what the real differences were until now. Over 9 weeks in. Instead I focused on what I was doing wrong or that the kids were distracted while functionally excluding the impact of the context we’re suddenly trying to operate in. How could I behave as if teaching next to recess should proceed normally? What on earth would lead me to believe that my students would find having PE outdoors instead of indoors an easy transition?

Here’s my theory: As educators we spend years building (or attempting to build) a positive track record. We develop a sense of what works, what we do well, how we maneuver towards success. When the success doesn’t happen when and where we expect, many of us will attribute that to ourselves. We look first to see what we’re doing wrong. Or, we locate the trouble in our students’ behaviors or histories. The point is, on our own, the picture we’re most likely to create will be incomplete. We will focus on what occurs to us with remarkably little awareness of what we may be missing.

Even under these extenuating circumstances many of us are still very wedded to our sense of “normal” in how we operate. Yes, we’ve changed modalities (multiple times even) and adapted to new schedules, dramatically shifted our approaches to any number of routines and habits – and still, when things go south, go off or don’t go at all – how many of us are quick to blame ourselves? To ask what we did wrong? Our self-constructed picture can easily leave out some little (or big) things that may, in fact, be having a sizable impact on our capacity to do even the least of what we intend with our students.

All this to say, it’s not just us. It’s not just the kids. It is literally EVERYTHING. We are doing the best we can with what we’ve got. The more we talk to each other, the greater our chances of expanding our field of vision for what’s going on both in front of us and behind the scenes. And as I learned, this may take a minute. (9 weeks, y’all, just sayin’.)

Let’s be both gentle and generous with ourselves and each other; with our families and students; with colleagues and neighbors. We don’t need to be superheroes especially when it’s already asking a lot to just be.

12 Truths And A Poem

Photograph by Alexandra Thompson

On facilitating in an antiracism boom

On being a Black woman educator/facilitator during an antiracism workshop boom

  1. If I’m facilitating a group, my goal is for participants to do the work.
  2. If my goal is to get people to interact in equitable ways, I need to provide structures that ensure the group’s success.
  3. My facilitation tone is deliberately encouraging and invitational.
  4. Listening as a central practice is ALWAYS on the agenda.
  5. I see it as my duty to educate by introducing participants to potentially new voices – scholars, artists, new media.
  6. This keeps my own practice fresh and my curiosity piqued.
  7. When breakout groups are assigned I stay outside and welcome reflection after the fact.
  8. I trust participants to do what they need to do.
  9. That may or may not correspond with the given instructions and I still trust the people and the process.
  10. It is not always a comfortable thing as facilitator to get out of learner’s way but I believe it’s necessary.
  11. Every participant’s outcome is their own. I cannot predict or demand exactly what that outcome will be and what weight it will carry outside the learning space.
  12. Every facilitation event presents a beautiful challenge: leading participants to see, appreciate and embrace whatever work emerges before them as a result of our time together.

I’ve been thinking almost non-stop about facilitation since March. In fact, since Mid-July I have led a 5-day online course, 5 virtual workshops, 1 live workshop, and given 1 keynote talk. My google drive is full of slide decks of varying lengths, reflecting a range of topical objectives. But it’s still me. I’m the same person fumbling with the screen share button, responding to questions in the chat, hanging out while participants delve into breakout room conversations. I still go to work every day walking my kids through the building, out to the field, then back up to the playground.

In my dream world of facilitation, I spend more time in the background than in the spotlight. In most cases I end up doing more talking than I intended and it’s usually in the service of providing adequate context for the steps I’m asking participants to take on their own. I also consider my own energy household – how much do I have to give? With that in mind, I remind myself that I am not the miracle worker, nor does anyone expect that of me. I am not alone in this effort. On the contrary, the participants are there to make their own miracles. I provide processes and touch points as vehicles to those ends. I do not have the answers and I’m deeply interested in responses. Every time I engage with a group these thoughts are on my mind.

As I have recently been called to facilitate specifically in and around the umbrella of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), my mantra has become: I am not the race whisperer. Grounds enough for a poem:

I Am Not The Race Whisperer

Didn’t know I’d be here.

holding forth, expounding on the state

we find ourselves in.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them.

I am not.

Not a diversity practitioner or equity consultant.

I am a writer, a facilitator, an educator.

By now also an accidental speaker.

I prefer a page to a mic;

Feel more comfortable taking aim

in text

rather than raising my voice

to pierce the silence.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them.

Not here to instruct

but to lead you to your own

necessary reflection.

I don’t have your answers.

I do want you and me to

work out better questions

and by better I mean

deeper, more thoughtful

braver, imaginative, more

compassionate questions.

the kind of questions that make us sweat;

that reveal and reckon,

that show us what we don’t know and

exactly how mistaken we were.

Those kinds of questions.

I am not the race whisperer I tell them

I am not.

5 slide decks for reference:

Practice Over Perfection: A Keynote Talk, August 2020

Diversity and Inclusion: Which Questions Are The Right Ones? September 2020

Unpacking Systemic Racism: A Learning Conversation, September 2020

Boundary Work, October 2020

Beyond Armchair Racism: Gearing Up For Action, October 2020

Facilitate This

To facilitate – to make an action or process easier.

In some ways this feels, has long felt like my calling. The thing I am meant to do.

My teaching is a case study in active facilitation. I set the stage for practice. Offer a few instructions and a brief demonstration and the remaining time-space is for doing the thing. Over and over again.

Make it easier. I make it easier to try. To give it a go. Perhaps to keep at it for a bit.

I facilitate groups. Of adults. I set the stage for practice. Participant interactions with each other are usually at the core of my workshops. They should do more talking than me. Everyone should practice lots of listening. I create the conditions for fruitful conversation and exchange to take place. Then I get out of the way.

Getting out of the way is a habit. Especially when working with adults, it feels important to leave them space to engage each other without an audience. Their conversations are their own. When we come together as a whole group we typically reflect on the process, not the content. In some ways I want to stimulate an internal process for each individual. The conversations with others animate and stretch our own thinking.

I get out of the way and participants don’t owe me their enlightenment.

I will continue to wonder if and when I have taken myself too far out of the way. My faith is tested here and will continue to be.

I facilitate. I want to make it easier for each of us to try, to listen, to bear witness, to reflect, to take action. I practice getting out of the way.

And still I am learning.

It’s a process.

Photos via edifiedlistener

Truth Lookout

edifiedlistener

Truth is slippery in certain folks’ hands. I say

I’m looking for truth and what I mean is that I’m expecting

an insight I can connect with,

a plausibility that makes strong common sense.

My ears are open for that deep, drumming undertone that I felt before I could actually hear it.

I long for one clear explanation

a sermon on the mount to relieve all my worries that I might be

out of my mind and yours, too.

Ed Yong writes that America Is Trapped In A Pandemic Spiral and he’s correct it seems to me.

I want to clap, say Amen and ‘Truer words were rarely spoken”

He produces a laundry list of reasons why America, home of the brave, is marching resolutely in unwitting pursuit of its own demise. Like ants in a circular death march. The comparison is apt and painful.

In a country that seems to prefer off/on switches rather than dimmers or dials for EVERYTHING including thought patterns, it makes sense that

“Showiness is often mistaken for effectiveness.”

“Fixing systemic problems is more difficult than spewing moralism, …”

“…we started working our way through a serial monogamy of solutions, and, like spiraling army ants, marched forward with no sense of the future beyond the next few footsteps.”

That feels truthful. full of truth.

From where I sit and where I stand

I can know what it means to live in a country where the virus is managed, where health care is part of the package, where a pandemic federal response exists and can take effect. It’s not perfect but at least we know what works. And those are the things that get done.

Meanwhile, I read.

This time about feminism. Not in the abstract, not in the upper echelons of corporate management, no, feminism that is much closer to home, the kind I grew up around, the kind my mother and grandmother and aunts raised me in: Hood Feminism. A survival and every-day feminism of poor folks, working folks, queer and trans folks, Black, brown and Indigenous folks. I was familiar with academic feminism, with ‘we need more women CEOs’ feminism which felt like yeah-I-get-it-but-that’s-not-me feminism.

Reading Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism feels like a homecoming. She takes on everything from gun violence to housing to health care to eating disorders and explains how white feminism has managed to sidestep or purposefully limit the scope of concern about topics that affect a much higher proportion of women in the US and the world.

Over and over again, Mikki Kendall illustrates all the reasons mainstream (read white and middle class) feminism has failed women who do not fit that demographic, particularly women of color and poor women.

“…you can’t “lean in” when you can’t earn a legal living wage and you still need to feed yourself and those who depend on you.” (p. 36)

“Why is it that we’re more inclined to create programs to combat obesity than ones that meaningfully address hunger?” (p. 37)

“We expect marginalized voices to ring out no matter what obstacles they face, and then we penalize them for not saying the right thing in the right way.” (p.134)

“…the reality is that white, mainstream feminism has to confront the idea that the power to do harm rests in women too.” (p. 165)

“The fact is that harm-reducing votes of marginalized people will never be enough to outweigh the stupidity of white people who vote for racism at their own expense.” (p. 183)

So much truth!

I call it a felt truth. An undercurrent truth, the kind that runs through arteries – makes a heart keep beating. Experience truth.

Black girl woman experience truth. American truth. Slippery truth. Threatened-to-be-ignored-dismissed-overlooked Black girl woman American truth.

When Ed Yong is describing the American hankering for normalcy, the insistence on either/or framing, a media and public resistance to embracing necessary complexity, I hear reality speaking. I recognize the commanding voice of grade school film strips and pledge-of-allegiance-first holiday ceremonies. I know that America he’s talking about. I am a product.

An export.

Like most folks I want to believe that I will know truth when I see it.

For now I’d rather be honest.

Quantities of truth have not saved us so far. There’s more truth than we know what to do with. We’re not acting on the truths of climate destruction (we can really dispense with “change” by now). We’re not acting on the truth that rampant inequality is a societal design feature not a bug. So many truths!

Qualitative truth? Is that a thing? Should it be?

Truth with a quality that causes us to bend, to stretch, to reach, to remember.

These truths, the ones I feel and have felt, that have kept and keep me alive. I’m holding onto those and finding mirrors where I can.

Truth doubled makes me braver.