Shifting the Baseline: Thoughts on Mature Fitness

The skates await.
The skates await.

When I was 30 I had some very firm ideas about what I wanted to accomplish as an athlete. I had target times I was shooting for, ideal racing distances, and a humane training regimen that left adequate space for family and work commitments.

By 36 the bulk of my athletic curiosity was satisfied. I had a fairly strong sense of what my body was capable of in light of the sacrifices I was willing to make or not make. I had accumulated sufficient medals, trophies and PRs to enjoy a sense of accomplishment that made stepping out of the heavy running scene feel like a natural step.

In my 40’s I aimed to “look the part without paying the full price” which is another way of saying, I maintained a baseline level of fitness without committing myself to any specific performance outcomes. The odd road races or other sporting events I entered were occasions to have fun and enjoy the scenery. Friends and acquaintances still asked about my running intentions during marathon season as I gently reminded them that I was fully out of that game.

Now, at 50, I have set my sights a little differently. Honestly, I am no longer interested in running a new marathon PR or seeing how I match up with masters in the 400m. Rather, I’m thinking longer term. What do I want to still be able to do at 65, 70, 75? And not just be able to do but enjoy doing and feel good doing?

Here’s my initial list:

  • Walk briskly for up to 2 hours on trails or hilly terrain.
  • Speedskate on ice for 1-2hrs.
  • Comfortably do 6-8 cycles of sun salutes and up to 1 hr of gentle yoga
  • bend at the waist and touch my toes.
  • Cycle on gently hilly terrain for 1-2 hrs.
  • Do some push ups
  • Do a wall walk and/or handstand against the wall
  • skip rope
  • skip, gallop, and grapevine
  • swim for 20-30 minutes

I say this now because these are movement capabilities I almost take for granted. While I have my little aches and pains here and there, I enjoy the benefit of tremendous health and well being. Given that context, aging doesn’t seem like such a big deal. On the other hand, I recognize how suddenly matters can shift: through injury, prolonged illness or significant life changes. When I look at my list, I see a need to remain ambitious and accepting; optimistic and also forgiving.

Being fast, faster or fastest feels out of place. Rather, the desire to be fluid, graceful, balanced, and at peace rushes to the foreground and sets the tone for whatever follows. This is how a new baseline fitness idea evolves. No longer mired in besting what was, my new baseline aims to bolster and extend what is. I don’t know if I intended to be a lifelong runner when I was racing in my 30’s. I think I’ve decided I won’t be. I think I’ll be a lifelong mover, shaker, and dancer instead. Sounds like more fun and less hassle. Which, at this age, also seems to make a lot more sense.



*I entered the title after writing the post (a pattern of composition, I dare say). Fitness and Aging seemed odd. Fitness and Getting Older, stranger still. 50 still feels too young to be writing about aging or getting older in most contexts, although we are all doing it at every age. So I opted for that wonderful middle age euphemism: “mature” to describe all things past the age of 50. If you have a better title idea, please let me know.


My #DigiWriMo 2015


What I wanted to do here was display my new found bravery in the creative sphere and offer you a cool infographic or other excellently crafted visual that would show you what a great time I had being a part of Digital Writing Month (#DigiWriMo).

The truth is, I don’t have that kind of time. I could have tried speaking it but that would have meant having to listen to my own voice. I’ll save that torture for another day.  I might have found a cool template on one of these sleek graphic tools that are all the rage and simply fill in the blanks. But you know what happens there. You spend all this time trying to get your icons all facing in the right direction, your fonts all neatly aligned and before you’ve even addressed the content two hours have flown by and you have, like, nothing.

So I am back to words and lists and narrative. At least I know my way around here.

Here was my November 2015 in #DigiWriMo:

[Actually, I got a head start in late October with the warm-up activity to create an alternative CV. Couldn’t resist that one.)

November 1st: Turned 50

November 2nd: my guest contributor post, Author, Audience and Parts of Speech, kicked off

November 2nd-7th: I encountered the warmth, generosity and openness of the #DigiWriMo community as expressed in comments, tweets & retweets on my post. It was a joy to respond and interact and meet some of the crew. I received TWO poems in response to that post and I still am blown away by that. Poetry, y’all.

In the second week, the emphasis was on visual expression in digital writing. Right off the bat in Kevin Hodgson’s introduction to the visual as a theme I found a spark to explore the novel Wonderstruck by Brian Selziek. Then I was inspired by Kim Douillard’s post to add a photo of my corner of the sky to a collaborative collection titled: Our Eyes on the Skies.

By Nov. 11th I was ready to follow Troy Hicks’ pointers and consider producing my first infographic. Although initially at at loss as to what I would want to demonstrate, as I let myself play with the tool, the actual content announced itself in due time.

Here is what emerged: DigiWriMo2015(2)

By the time week three rolled around and the focus was on using sound in writing, well, let me just say, I had my reservations. Not about the relevance and possibilities but simply my own capabilities to build this aspect into what I already do. Once again, the community had my back and the guest contributors that week provided the encouraging nudges that led me to share this post: Shhhh! An Audio Revelation. And revelation was not at all an exaggeration – being able to listen to the opening of a number of different classes was so revealing and fascinating. How do I actually manage to get a group of 16 five-year-olds to settle down long enough to give some instructions? How do we negotiate those openings with each other?

In the process, I also learned how to use Sound Cloud and audiocopy. My #DigiWriMo treasure chest continues to grow. Along the way I discovered so many great voices and perspectives which gave me both pause and inspiration. In the final week when the emphasis was on transmedia expression I found that I had indeed hit a wall of sorts. The notion of “transmedia” somehow overwhelmed me at that moment, in that week, although the whole month long I had been doing precisely that in bits and pieces. Once again, the community was right there with me offering both understanding and opportunity. In the final guest post, “It All Falls Apart,” Anna Smith documented and shared her production process in creating her transmedial oevre “Pieces.” In my comment I was able to give voice to the odd uneasiness I was feeling for not having gone “the whole nine yards,” as they say. And I was able to sum up what this month of creative community meant for me:

#digiwrimo is more than a number of days, more than a collection of interested and interesting people, more than the numerous artifacts which were created under its auspices. For me, #digiwrimo has become a frame of mind that I want to hold onto: a reminder to dare to experiment and contribute to communities of play and experimentation, digital and otherwise.

Just like that, it’s suddenly December and all manner of fresh engagements fill up my calendar (and probably yours, too). But #DigiWriMo as an experience, as a source of inspiration, as extraordinary meeting of the minds – will remain with me. Practicing “being the audience I want to have” is an ongoing commitment and one I gladly honor. It’s the frame of mind that will grow along with me. For that I am immensely grateful.



Assorted Thoughts on Make-Up

No kidding, this really is a post about make-up, as in cosmetics.


One of the ironies of our existence is that even with the gift of vision, we cannot see our full selves without the aid of a mirror or other reflecting device. I say this because there is something unusual about me today. I am wearing make-up: foundation, mascara, eye shadow, blush and a hint of lipstick. Anita, a seasoned make-up artist, applied it gently with nimble fingers and with careful attention to my response. This was part of my collaboration with a professional photographer.

I am wearing make-up and it would most likely be obvious to you if you were looking at me. Yet I am the one who barely sees it. Make-up in this form changes my appearance although I am hard-pressed to say exactly how. My eyes are more prominent perhaps, or my eyebrows more shapely, I don’t know. I don’t do this on a regular basis or even from time to time. This is a once in a blue moon affair and I can see why.

If I am wearing make-up but can’t see it, who is it for? That’s the question that keeps bubbling up. And I don’t have an answer.

My desire to keep checking my reflection to see if it’s all still there or if it’s still me waned fairly quickly.

I am also wondering about the term “make-up”. What comes to mind is imaginative play – the act of “making things up,” of creating a fiction. And this seems to capture the spirit of applying make-up: to make visible that which was not previously visible, to highlight and enhance certain features, to create a sort of facial fiction.

It’s not that I am against make-up. I have just never understood how to apply it to my life. Cosmetics have never made much sense to me. They cost time, money, and patience that I am not inclined to spend. I went through a nail polish phase a year or two ago and really enjoyed taking that time for myself.  Then I switched and filled those moments with crocheting instead. This year crocheting has given way to writing.

During my junior year abroad, I roomed with a girl named Jackie. She was from Tulsa and a virtuoso with make-up. Every morning she would rise early and put together color combinations on her eyelids and cheeks which were as astonishing as they were elaborate. Her make-up kit was extensive and well appointed and Jackie did not shy away from daring shapes and radical color choices. I admired both her discipline and bravery and I have not met another person with her level of make-up expertise or dedication since.

I wonder if aging will bring me into the cosmetics fold?

On the other hand, the market will not miss me if I never show up.

My 8 year old noticed my new look with “what’s that blue on your eye?” (or did he say “goo”?). I wanted to find out more. His take: “It’s too dark, it makes you look bad, like you’re sick.” Which I suppose is his way of saying “I love you just the way you are.”

By now I have taken the liberty of removing whatever was left. Show’s over. It’s back to the every day, no frills look. Back to the me I know and recognize and even love. My questions about make-up, its lure and drawbacks, however, will continue to pop up and tickle my curiosity.





Chief Enthusiasm Officer

Just at the end of a six month tenure with the official title of “Project Leader,” I am feeling a great deal of pride, relief, exhaustion and wonder. As part of a volunteer organization, I had the pleasure of leading a fantastic group of  8 professional women. In total we represented 8 different nationalities and our charge was to undertake the process of re-branding our network.

Now that we have celebrated our accomplishments with a culminating event, I feel compelled to look back and try to capture my very personal gains from the process, especially in experiencing myself as “the leader.”

  • I was invited to lead the project.

An invitation is a powerful thing. I had the power of choice. I enjoyed the sense of trust and confidence which others were willing to place in me. As a result I felt honored and pleased and eager to serve.  Think about that for a moment: eager to serve. I could find no other response beyond  “yes” – a “yes” expressive of the desire to contribute primarily because I was asked to. And because the requested contribution was not for money but for my time and skills.

  • I am no expert in marketing or branding. I do have a good grasp of team building.

Knowing this freed me from having to pretend like I did know and opened me up to investigating the diverse and multiple talents and skill sets in the team. Getting to know my teammates was by far the most rewarding aspect of the whole enterprise and that felt like my strength: finding out what others were good at, learning how each wanted to apply her talents, and locating that sweet spot between task, talent and availability for each of us.

  • As the “leader” I got to set the tone.

And the tone I decided to go for was fun, personal, and optimistically realistic. I kept reminding the team and myself that we were all volunteers. We were electing to take on these tasks out of the goodness of our hearts. Therefore I put a high premium on making sure that as much of our journey together was enjoyable and productive.

  • I value other people’s time like I value my own.

 We kept face to face meetings to a minimum – 4 all-team meetings in the whole 6 months. Intra-group communication worked really well using a teamwork platform, When we did meet, we chose comfortable locations with a suitable selection of beverages. I planned interactive meetings to insure that all voices could be heard and a variety of ideas expressed. Several teammates commented on how much they enjoyed and looked forward to our meetings!

  • I have a great deal of faith in humanity in general and gladly placed a huge amount of trust in the women with whom I shared this project. (As they also placed in me.)

Trust means that I believed people when they told me they would complete this or that task by a certain deadline. Trust means that when we wondered about our capacity to meet our final deadline in mid October, I emphasized my belief that we could accomplish the necessary tasks in time. And I assured everyone that our best in mid-October would be our best in mid-October – meaning that we would get as much done as possible by focusing completing the non-negotiables to the best of our abilities and worry about what’s left after that. By the end of our project and leading up to the finale, the degree of mutual trust and cooperation showed up in every e-mail, each phone call. We felt like a real team.


  • Optimistically Realistic

I need to say a little more about this. While the tasks before us seemed formidable – a website redesign, a whole slate of new graphic design products, strategies for communicating the change – they also struck me as doable within the frame of trying not to do too much. (I will say that our graphic designer had already prepared most of the elements in line with our global umbrella organization, so that gave us a significant head start on the remainder of the graphic tasks.)


That said, I lacked the experience to estimate exactly how much time it might take us as volunteers to build a new website and populate it with updated, fresh content. In the end, the team put together an informative, engaging and user-friendly website complete with all the essential pieces and some added features to boot. I like to think that that was possible in part thanks to a shared capacity to stay optimistically realistic.


  • I was able to test my theories about leading by example, with heart and head.

I wasn’t the boss of anyone and didn’t need to be. I did make some decisions for our group along the way and delivered on the promises I made. While I had many jobs on this team, one of the most valuable was the ability to tie up loose ends without resentment. I had the benefit of the overview (mostly) and understanding how to use that to lighten one person’s load here or boost someone else’s involvement there seemed to make a positive difference in how members experienced their individual roles and impact. In my mind, I could only expect and ask of others what I was also modeling: meeting deadlines, keeping appointments, sharing information freely.

  • Questions get great mileage.

My favorite questions were: How can I help? What do you/we need?

  • It struck me that saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ sometimes matters more than the actual content of the request or statement.
  • My most effective leadership tool turned out to be: (drum roll, please) Showing up as myself.

After the many tomes, pamphlets and essays I have read on leadership, what served me and our team best proved to be the gift of daring to be myself. I fell in love with my team, with their individual enthusiasms and desire to be a part of something positive. I felt tremendous gratitude for their trust in me and used as many opportunities as possible to express that in word and deed. We had a great time with each other and when we celebrated at our culminating event, ours was a shared victory.

image: owned by PWN Vienna
image: owned by PWN Vienna

It’s fascinating to me that this all happened within the frame of volunteering within a women’s organization which boasts its many opportunities for members to gain valuable leadership experiences by getting involved. As a relative newcomer I suppose I was waiting for the magic to take its effect. With the completion of this project, my learning has been significant and the spell has been cast. All the language around empowerment, initiative, growth and support which appears widely in our publications has now been evidenced for me in a deeply personal way. The network works and the process helped me see ways to indeed “advance the way we work together.”

What still amazes me in this process is how much I enjoyed both the role of leader and the opportunity to enact it in ways that felt authentic, effective and joyful. “Chief Enthusiasm Officer” might capture how I experienced my role much of the time. My enthusiasm for the project was only outdone by the enthusiasm I felt in working with my team of dynamic and accomplished women.

And when this is done…

How many times do you say that to yourself?

“…and when this is done, then I’ll…” Oh, illusion!

My list usually includes verbs like finish, clean, collect, store, organize, write, read, re-read, call, listen to, sit down with, and on and on. And in rare cases, some of these events actually come to pass. Like “When I’m done with the laundry, I’ll sit down with a nice cup of tea.” Or “When I’m done recording students’ tickets, I’ll make a list of what we got done.”

Like most folks I know, I feel like I have a lot on my plate. That means that I am always in the process of trying to empty it. I complete this task, then move on to the next. Or, I get started over there while I am still in the middle of this thing right here. Fully in the maelstrom between activity and recovery, I habitually bite off just a little bit more than I can chew and hope for the best. There are moments when of course the plate is full and so is my mouth. I’m chewing but not really digesting.

I’m making mistakes. I recently double booked myself with two appointments I definitely wanted to keep. I am getting things done, well enough but likely not at my very best. My efforts lack efficiency and at times, effectiveness. Things are going – with or without me.

Be that all as it may, these seem like good opportunities to let go. That’s right, to let go. I am learning how to let go of getting everything right. I am letting go of being right. I am learning to let go of the need to be the one. The one who gets A’s, is everyone’s favorite, always wears a smile, hardly complains, is always calm and positive. Some of those attributes fit me sometimes but certainly not always, and I’m getting better at being OK with that.

“When this project is done, I’ll have more time to write.”

That statement is still probably not true. In the interest of learning to let go, I want to practice focusing on what is true:

  • The project will have an end.
  • I will make choices about how I allocate my time and energy to other topics.
  • I will make choices about how I frame my thinking about the priorities I set.
  • Every conversation I have is with myself (and may involve other people). *

I began by talking about the “state of my plate.” And ultimately, my plate is not the issue. What is on or off the plate will change. How I approach the plate will change. Right now I notice a real taste for release, breathing space, an open calendar. These are things I can begin preparing or perhaps only need to take off the shelf – because I have them in store, but I’ve placed them out of sight and/reach. The metaphors here around eating and digesting are hardly lost on me. My search for nourishment, for sustenance, is never ending. My awareness of and engagement with that search takes many forms, of which writing is one, living my family life is another, cultivating relationships private and professional, yet another.

I have a healthy acquaintance with satisfaction. And I need to frequently remind myself of that fact.

“When this blog post is done…”

…let’s just see.

*Insight from reading Susan Scott’s  Fierce Conversations.






Who We Are Is Often What We Teach

While perusing my Twitter feed for info and inspiration I came across this post by Debbie Donsky: The Mantras of School Principals and Shaming Helicopter Parents. She talks about being a principal dealing with angry parents and how she consistently reminds herself that their behavior is coming from a place of love. That even as those parents may be threatening and intimidating, they are in that moment very likely also feeling powerless – to protect, help or cope with their child’s behavior or situation. This struck a chord with me on many levels: as a teacher who has been the bearer of bad news to parents, as a parent who has been told that their child is lacking and requires a dramatic intervention, and also as an aspiring school leader.

I was so moved, that I wrote this in response:

Thank you for this wonderfully insightful piece. It highlights the core of what I think makes teaching so very challenging, humbling and also rewarding: who we are is often what we teach. Implicitly and explicitly. Intentionally and unwittingly. Today, tomorrow, yesterday, again and again.

Every time that I recognize a situation as a problem, I go on a hunt. And I have choices in what to hunt for and how I will go about it. I can be on the lookout for someone or something to blame. I can also try looking at the situation itself, not only from my perspective but from the perspective of the others involved. The latter is a decidedly more complex, time and labor intensive kind of hunt. It’s hard and the results are not always readily visible or apparent. What you describe in your piece is an attempt to take a chance on the second kind of hunt. You encourage us to look not only at the other in judgment but to also look in the mirror.

What I continue to find at once troubling and affirming in my teaching is there is so much work I have to do on myself — on being, on becoming and also changing myself. This is the work that is never ending. It is precisely the work which also allows us to grow with and alongside our students. It is the work which allows us to partner meaningfully with parents and colleagues. This is the work for which there are no certificates or degrees and the criteria for success keep shifting case by case.

For this reason I feel utterly uplifted by your post in which you describe what this work can look like and where it can lead us — to a place of understanding and cooperation; exactly in the face of turmoil when it certainly feels a lot safer to lay blame and run up the high road. And of all things, LOVE! Who dares talk about love in our day-to-day educational interactions, especially in connection with parents? Remembering and centering love as a source and motor for a whole range of behaviors is not necessarily the professional practice we are taught to employ. Yet we need this capacity to see, witness, understand and also work with evidence of love in so many aspects of our lives in schools. Thank you so much for the rich reminder of the tools we have at our disposal to learn, understand, empathize and therefore also educate.

I had been off my writing rhythm for a while and was certainly feeling it. Donsky’s thought- and emotion-provoking piece brought me back to life, in a manner of speaking. When a message resonates deeply, I almost have no alternative than to write what is on my mind and heart. I want to think more about where love fits into the curriculum of who I am whenever and and wherever I may be teaching (or not).

Woman. Black. Fit. Angry. (In)visible. All of the above.

Two essays this week caught me unawares and have left me restless in their wake. The first is “Yes, I Am An Angry Black Woman” by Stacey Patton, published in DAME magazine and the second is “Fitted” by Moira Weigel in The New Inquiry. While it is easier to guess the thrust of the first essay based on the title, the second is less overt.  Weigel talks about the rise of FitBit and other activity trackers and their association with a whole new brand of female productivity. Both of these essays spoke to me in significant ways. And their separateness from each other presents me with an internal dilemma I hope to solve by writing about it now.

First of all, I encourage you to read Stacey Patton’s stirring call to attention, whoever you are. With her words, she invites the reader to inhabit her simmering state of mind in all its complexity, fervor and power. On the day after the Charleston Massacre she describes her ride on an East Coast train:

…The news of Charleston was difficult to process, even more so while riding a D.C.-bound train packed with White people, most of them dressed in business attire, who seemed oblivious to the tragedy. It took everything I had in me to keep from erupting with rage in that Amtrak car.

I thought about racial terrorism and its larger history while a nearby White woman worked on a New York Times crossword puzzle, and sipped her Starbucks coffee. I raged thinking how not even churches are safe from the pathologies of White supremacy. Others talked on their cell phones about trivial shit or tapped on their laptop keyboards and tablets.

It was clear I was not among friends or a community that shared my sadness, anger, or angst about what it means to be Black in America in the 21st century. A pair of women sitting behind me chatted and laughed loudly. They were free of worry, they were fearless and enjoying their privilege to live, to exist apart from the horrors of racial violence. Their joy made me resentful. Fighting waves of grief and tears of sorrow, I got up to change seats to get away from the noise of White privilege. – See more at:
“The noise of white privilege.” yeah, that landed.
Patton goes on to describe the historical roots of the Angry Black Woman stereotype. And this stereotype, while familiar to me, is the very one I have sought so carefully to avoid. Although I  have a temper and can get loud, this tends to happen within the safe confines of my own four walls among family, where I’m allowed to be just angry me – minus the socio-political layering. In my professional life and among friends, few would readily identify me as ‘that angry Black woman.’  And yet I know and feel the anger about which Stacey Patton speaks.
Far too long, we have been fighting to dispel the Angry Black woman stereotype. But that’s not the solution because the truth is, we are angry. Our rage is righteous. Our ire is understandable. Yet our anger is misunderstood.
And she makes the brave suggestion that we learn to see our rage as a creative power for change:
Let’s stop viewing our anger as a negative and appreciate it as a gift. Neuroscientists’ research reveals that anger is a powerful means of social communication, and a natural part of any person’s emotional resources. Anger helps us reach our goals, allowing us to be more optimistic, creative, and to solve problems. Anger is a source of fuel for motivating us to meet life’s challenges and persuade others to do the right thing.
It’s at this point in the essay where I get on my feet and start to wave my hands: “Yaaaasss!”
 She closes with this:
To feel our anger at injustice is to be wholly alive. Our ability and willingness to express that anger, is to be committed to progress. To wield our anger strategically is the key to the justice and freedom. And to fully embrace our anger is the most healthy, sane, self-loving, nurturing thing that we can possibly do – See more at: (Do read the whole essay. You will thank me.)
“To feel our anger at injustice is to be wholly alive”  provides a frame for why I engage here at all. It’s not always because I am angry, but often enough  I am astonished, flabbergasted or amazed at the injustices we tolerate and let pass without addressing the root causes. There is plenty to be up in arms about – channeling that energy to agitate and push for change is what movements are made of.   Stacey Patton’s statements remind me that I may have to let go of the need to put on my happy face when I decide to engage for change outside of my precious four walls.
And then there’s this second essay, “Fitted” which after “Yes, I Am An Angry Black Woman” reads a bit like “the noise of White privilege.”  Moira Weigel, however,  expertly describes both the allure and burden of embedding 24/7 activity tracking in her own and other women’s daily lives.  She talks about the act of tracking emerging like a new, fully personalized religion. The sharing of one’s most intimate data regarding movement, food intake, sleep and even sex in pursuit of constant improvement becomes the new vehicle towards salvation. The desire to not just be better but to also show off your new “better” is fueled  by competing and commiserating with fellow activity trackers.  While I consider myself a modest fitness enthusiast, this more recent trend of constant self-monitoring remains foreign to me even if I can understand the various motivations behind it.  All of these elements tied up with our  cultural notions of what fit femininity looks like and how it is assessed in the current media climate made the essay a deeply compelling read for me. And as I read and re-read the essay (which is a repeated pleasure) I was struck by  how very White it all feels. Even if  I know that FitBit users come in all colors, shapes and sizes, the folks who best conform to Weigel’s  distinctive portrayal strike me as most likely to be White, straight, upper middle-class  women.  After describing the new beauty/fitness ideal of our times as exorexic, she clues us in as to how this  movement trend is likely to play out in practical and ideological terms:

Today, the ideal woman is exorexic.

In Ancient Greek, orexis means “desire” or “appetite.” The prefix an means “not.” A true anorexic wants nothing. Ex is Latin, for “out of”; arcere means “restrain.” “Exercise” meant to break out of what is holding you, and to push the limit.  The exorexic craves a challenge. Specifically, she aims to work her way out of desiring itself. …

Today, the exorexic eroticizes work itself. The army of women in Lululemons and Nike Frees who bound purposefully along the sidewalks of more and more American cities proclaim no specific taste, but rather an insatiable appetite for effort. They wear the uniform of an upper middle class for whom the difference between leisure and work is supposed to have disappeared.

Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life. When the guidance counselors say this, they suggest that if you work, you will be loved—or at least deserve love. Make yourself lovable first, they say, and sure as day you can trade that strange coin, ability, in for happiness later. They do not tell you the principle that follows. Love work above all and you will never rest.

Granted, I am enamored of this particular passage.  Weigel’s subjects present themselves vividly in my imagination: they are ambitious, well-educated, weight conscious and (to my mind)  oh so very White. These are some of  those same women who go on to become helicopter perfectionist parents, I suppose. (Cliché  I realize, but irresistibly so.)  I, too, am ambitious, well-educated and weight conscious. I enjoy feeling productive and disciplined and operate much better in the world when those two characteristics are visible. The plot thickens, however, when I consider that my White sisters’ ambition and effort will be judged and assessed quite differently from mine based primarily on  well-worn yet  invisible unconscious bias.

As a black woman, my work is consistently cut out for me.   The way the world tends to view my effort and the body I produce with that same effort is likely to be  perceived differently than those of Weigel’s “army of women”.  My muscles have often been interpreted as defying femininity. I get to be “strong” but not “pretty”.

That moment when you realize you're not invisible. (1997)

That moment when you realize you’re not invisible. (1997 Frauenlauf Wien)

I am good at my job; yet to advance beyond my current status can seem more like a mountain to climb rather than the logical next step it might be for an equally educated and experienced candidate from the dominant group. This realization has been decades in the making:  It’s not just me and my personal inadequacies, there are systemic factors at play. Being female and Black pose barriers that I previously did not wish to acknowledge. And my identification with and understanding of the dominant group’s ways of being and functioning help and hinder me in unique ways.

Weigel sums up the significance of  the FitBit mania for her particular demographic in the following way:

FitBit users remain, above all, productive, in our data and our visibility. We do not succumb to that wan, sick decadence, the aggressively infertile unproductivity of the true anorexic. This is female labor becoming frictionless. The point of the game is to just not disappear.

That’s it! That’s the critical difference I have struggled to name. For Weigel’s exorexic women “the point of the game is to just not disappear.”  Of course!  Weigel’s “army of women” is highly visible. They are prominent, ubiquitous – seen everywhere you look from screens to billboards, to print media; in the majority of our retail spaces.  For me in my Black female physicality and intellect, the point is to appear, to become visible, to cease being invisible.  Aye, there’s the rub! To be a black woman in majority white spaces so easily becomes a form of invisibility: either in the way that we bend over backwards to assimilate into the dominant culture and its going narratives, or we stand out through our behavior or appearance which become the excuse for Whites to look the other way and ignore our very presence. This feels like a revelation. This is where my path diverges from Weigel’s  hyper-productive women  and draws me into Patton’s harbor of validation and understanding.

In my struggle to be seen for all that I am, for all that I offer – I face barriers that are not of my own creation. The work-arounds, passwords and gatekeeper relations I develop are original and unique to me. Both Weigel and Patton offer me insights to both the world that I inhabit and the world that I am. Both authors open my eyes to fresh perspectives and for that I feel deeply grateful.

So for the record: I am Black. I am a woman. Sometimes I am angry. I am fit. I am an educator. I am a coach. I am a runner. I am a parent. I am a reader, writer, thinker, listener, observer. And more. Always more.

On “Content Awareness”

I recently used the phrase “content awareness” in a blog post about a standardized testing experience I had:

“… ultimately the exam process is hardly about the content, it’s about the presumed measurement of content awareness (“knowledge” seems too generous here)… Passing the exam is not about knowing the content well or deeply, it’s about seeming to know enough and indicating awareness of what these particular test authors deem relevant, representative, and necessary to practicing in the field.”

A couple of conversations on Twitter in response to this phrasing and to the certification process of which this exam was a part, got me thinking. My primary insight about “content awareness” is that I live from it, by it, with it, all day, every day. “Content awareness” is what allows me to participate in most conversations which interest me, particularly on social media.

Engaging constructively in conversation does not and should not require specialized knowledge or expertise. It does require a healthy dose of self-awareness and humility. (That’s the “knowing when to shut up” part.)

Here’s an example: I follow ed tech coverage, commentary and classroom stories because they reflect an expanding field that is having an increasingly strong impact on teaching, learning and our forever shifting interpretation of what education is and does. My interest extends beyond me and my particular needs as a teacher and learner. Rather, wrapping my head around what the influx of the latest digital technologies means for all of us as learners, consumers, citizens, and communicators has become a far more compelling task. What we do in our schools, homes, businesses and governments are no longer isolated happenings. Our individual and collective choices, both online and off, are often more deeply interdependent and strangely connected in ways we are challenged to envision. All the more so since the arrival of Google, Facebook, Apple and Co.  So I follow education technology threads as a way of keeping track of developments related to my field but also influenced by and with influence over so many other areas of our day-to-day existence.

I am not an IT or tech integration specialist, nor do I need to be. Rather, I have a level of content awareness of ed tech and other fields which allows me to engage in meaningful conversations with others around these topics. The more I read & listen, the higher my content awareness and the more precise and fruitful my questions. In relation to the exam, “content awareness” has a negative framing. I refer to it as less than content knowledge. After the fact, however, I want to rethink that stance. Because, literally, what do I know? And how can I be sure that I know what I know?

I will spare all of us a long trip down a rabbit hole of epistemological soul searching. (I looked it up: epistemology is, in fact, the study of knowledge and how it is constructed.) My point here is that “content awareness” has more to offer than I was originally prepared to admit. serves as my intellectual operating system. There’s the full truth. I am willing to say that there is so much I do not know. And there is a whole lot of which I can become aware.

And in that awareness, I can cultivate and grow interest, seek out practice, and raise useful questions. With my content awareness I can do more than contribute to ambitious cocktail chatter. When I choose to go deeper by reading the book rather than the single blog post, by deciding to teach a concept to others and researching sufficiently to that end – then I put myself on a path to some pieces of knowledge which remain fragmentary; always pieces of a much larger and more complex mosaic.

I would love to stop here and let us all feel a little warmer and fuzzier realizing that we may no longer have to play the expert quite so often. But there’s another level.

My newly revered “content awareness” is also the product of a very privileged educational path. I attended private schools from pre-school through graduation and continued on to a prestigious 4 year college. The amount of teacher attention and deeply personal feedback received in highly positive learning environments means that all the conditions were right for acquiring strong academic and non-academic foundations in which specific knowledge accumulation is readily matched with opportunities to explore areas of interest and encouragement to take learning risks. My “content awareness” goes together with the trappings of educational privilege where the benefit of the doubt is more easily given once I’ve mentioned my alma mater or submitted a writing sample. Rote learning  tends to be what our society requires of those we anticipate will become the employees of the pleasantly “content aware.”

In this parallel reality, “content knowledge” or rather, the lack thereof, becomes the measuring stick for deficits. It becomes an instrument for locating and exposing all manner of lack in the primary players in the system: students and teachers.  Content knowledge is what standardized testing purports to measure and in doing so provides school systems with mountains of data about who and what needs fixing. But the tests, it would seem, begin from assumptions rooted in very middle class “content awareness.” The tests are therefore rigged against the bulk of the students assigned to take them. This is hardly news to those of you who follow the reform wars in K-12 public education. But this line of thinking throws my self-flattering take on “content awareness” into stark relief.

Claiming “content awareness” constitutes privilege, plain and simple. Now that that’s established, how will I use this particular privilege? Being able to “think out loud” here in this space is one avenue. Broadening the conversation among friends, colleagues, newcomers is another. This post, and the meandering thought process it reveals, remind me once again that we are not finished. This much I know.

In Praise of Men Who Matter

For more than a few weeks I have had the intention to write a post about my positive relationships with men. And the difficulty starts right there. I can’t just say “relationships with men” without immediately clarifying that I am not referring to romantic or intimate relationships per se, but to friendships and familial relationships with men. I want to speak about men whom I know well, whom I like and respect and whose presence add value and meaning to my life. I want to write about them because they matter and need to hear from me directly that they matter. And the questions that came up for me in this process tell another story, though: Why does it feel risky to write good things about men? What is the significance of being a strong, independent woman and saying nice things about men?

What got me started on this idea was a series of empowering conversations I had earlier in the year with three very different male friends of mine on three consecutive days. Following each conversation I felt so remarkably grateful for the friendship we share and the way we can go deep on topics of personal importance. Each of these men challenged and encouraged me in these talks. Each of them was open to the feedback I had for them and in each instance I enjoyed being on equal footing. There was no competing for air time; no awkward power differential to overcome. And yet I could recognize some differences to conversations I might have about similar topics with female friends. My male friends offered some approaches I hadn’t considered, they shared their estimations of certain situations from unique perspectives as males and I felt enriched.

The weeks ticked by and still the post was not written. More positive conversations and connections had with other males in different contexts, still no post written. Rather, other posts were written, but not the “nice things I have to say about some men” post. And I began to wonder. Of course, public writing has made more sensitive to a host of social and political undercurrents in current discourse. In my self-selected filter bubble which is decidedly left-leaning, feminist, strongly social justice  and education oriented, men are welcome but need to watch their step, check their privilege and avoid saying the wrong thing in the wrong way or both of those. Women acting in the same forums, of course, face challenges in other dimensions (death and rape threats) which put those male ‘constraints’ (for lack of a better word) absolutely  into perspective. It is fairly uncomplicated and certainly a pleasure to write great things about the women in my life as I have done before. It also striking to acknowledge the ambivalence I feel in doing something similar for men.

And this intersection is where I think we need to go.

Appreciation and acknowledgement of men as allies, as valued members of the same society may seem redundant to some. I mean to let major media tell the story, men get all the gold, glory and the credit or at least most of it. Yes, and. This is not true for all men. As a rule it benefits me greatly to listen to women and men. In order to write this post and be witness both to the struggles women face daily and the good things that I observe among men I know, I have to maintain a mindset of “yes, and” rather than “yes, but”.  Holding the space for both realities, for differing perspectives and experiences is critical to taking this walk. “Yes, and” is the walk I commit myself to every time I press “publish.”

When I was a 13 year old boy-crazy girl growing up in Cleveland, my dream was to be surrounded by good looking guys. Well, as the saying, goes: watch what you wish for because you might receive. Here I am at mid-life and when I celebrate Christmas I am surrounded by good looking guys, only (my husband, my Ex, and 2 sons). The irony.  I love them all and I think each time anew about options for recruiting some female energy into our party next year. The ingredients I consistently seek in promoting my own growth and those around me are balance and diversity. So the value of male voices in the dialogues in which I engage is not lost on me, even if their messages can infuriate me. Sometimes I forget that I, too, have the potential to frustrate and infuriate my dialogue partners, male and female. No one holds a monopoly on this capacity, I’m afraid.

On social media I have had the pleasure of encountering numerous male contributors who regularly expand my horizons and stretch my thinking. I find much in common with them on several themes specifically around education and social justice and I appreciate the many ways in which they have supported and championed my voice in digital spaces. I am so glad they are present and engaging and also willing to wrestle with some of the tough stuff. These are also men who can examine and unpack their various layers of privilege which are unique to each of them. In their company I feel safe, valued and welcomed.

I have a brother who is five years older. Although we have lived on different continents for most our adult lives, what impresses me most about him is his role as the family connector. He is the one who has maintained and strengthened ties with uncles, aunts and cousins across the country on behalf of our family. Every cousin imaginable is only a phone call away for him. I love this about him and my gratitude to him is immeasurable. And I applaud the fact that he is a male taking up what has traditionally been ‘women’s work’ in our family.

In my world, the men I care about and value are several. Who they are, the gifts they bring, the time they take – all of these mean so much to me and certainly to many others. Being male is but one aspect of their identity and each one of them expresses their maleness distinctly, uniquely and vitally. Our mutual capacity to sustain each other in life-affirming ways, friend-to-friend, brother-to-sister, partner-to-partner, requires careful tending to from both sides.

In this spirit, I raise my glass in honor of the great men in my life. You matter. Live long, prosper and please stay in touch.

The Integrity Diet

The calendar I never kept. Lipstick? Really?
The calendar I never kept. Lipstick? Really?

Throughout this year I have spent a fair amount of time wondering about what it is I am actually supposed to be doing. For about 8 more weeks I will still be working, living and learning entirely on my own dime. Time away from the classroom has brought an astounding degree of freedom and plenty of thinking and dreaming space. As this designated phase draws to a close, I am looking for the list of achievements I can hang my hat on; evidence of my productive use of this precious time. I keep asking myself: so where is the evidence? What have you actually done with yourself this year?

A valid question, yet not the ideal. Rather, to ask about what I gained, how I grew and which capacities I strengthened – these are the questions that bring me closer to understanding the value of this time better than lists of what I did and made. And on closer inspection, I see that above all – I changed my diet. I paid closer attention to what I was taking in, how it affected me and this in turn changed what came out. I didn’t realize it while it was happening but now I see that this year had everything to do with my integrity – how I live my life as my whole self and how I express and share that whole self with the outside world. I treated myself to an integrity diet.

I recently shared one of my biggest revelations on Twitter:

I joined social media, specifically Twitter, to “hang out” in a sense but instead got “caught up” as I described in a recent post. The deeper and wider my education-related conversations became, the greater my interest and focus on the very things that school and education, in and of themselves, can hardly fix or solve. In fact, the more I engaged with educators, journalists, activists and academics around these topics, the more keenly aware I became of the potential for school systems and political systems to harm students, exacerbate disparities and claim ignorance about how such circumstances (i.e., school-to-prison pipeline, excessive police brutality against black and brown people, also in schools) could come to pass. Internally, I note a shift in myself from accommodating to critical. While I love the idea of speaking to a broad audience,  it has become more important for me as a person, as a writer and as an educator to speak out and speak up and accept that not everyone will feel included, or comfortable, or agree with what I have to say. I am now willing to run that risk. My ego may take a hit but my integrity finds sustenance.

While I feed my integrity, where does the time go?

It seems to me that I read for hours on end each day: books, articles, blog posts, e-mail. I read and I seek to become wiser, better informed. I read in search of nuance and depth. I read in search of examples of healthy daily coping. I follow my friends’ recommendations. I develop opinions and then read on to have those same opinions challenged. When I find nuance and depth, I am grateful and compelled to share. One think piece that struck me in particular was Why Women Talk Less because the author did not leave well enough alone. Rather, she  examined research and arguments from various angles refusing to sum up her findings in tidy tweetable bullet points. She let the reader grapple along with her as she laid out the complexity and stickiness of the options that women appear to have in choosing to speak out and up. This type of reading is like a good workout. It leaves you a little tired and mentally sweaty but satisfied. And stronger; ready for the next solid think piece to come along and start something. And there goes the time. I read,  feel edified, and wonder where all this reading may be leading me.


Into the arms of writing, it would seem. The other chunk of time when I am not reading, I am seated at my laptop, pecking my thoughts out onto white screens with hyper-interactive sidebars. I used to write in journals, on paper. I do less of that now and tend to go straight to the screen. Since June 2014 I have published 65 posts on this blog and about a dozen on Medium.  At the outset I was fairly sure that I would be writing about coaching and teaching. But the most passionate pieces are best characterized as responses. Something I read or saw or thought about struck a chord and affected me. Like when a post by Audrey Watters nearly sent me over the edge (in a good and slightly revivalist way). Or when I  needed to dissect the reactions I was seeing on Twitter and elsewhere to a NYT piece on Success Charter Schools. Or most recently when I felt a little out of my depth venturing to take higher education to task but I did it anyway and am glad  that I did. In all of these pieces there was an emotional boiling point which made writing imperative and allowed me to push past the weighty apprehension I typically feel before I click “Publish.” Writing this year has meant jumping over my own shadow. Repeatedly. And with bigger and bigger leaps.

What did I do with myself this year?

I grew and I learned. I have found that my interests extend far beyond where I thought my borders were. In my reading and writing, in fact, I’ve gone abroad. I have ventured into unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory. I have gained a new appreciation for this wonderful brown skin I am living in.  I have come to better understand and value the ways in which it interacts and intersects with all the other aspects of who I am and how I identify.  I have explored aspects of my otherness while finding commonalities in likely and unlikely places. Opportunities to get down on the ground and truly wrestle with my most stubborn biases and blind spots have been multiple and recurring. I have made many friends and so far, very few enemies. I have come to value questions and responses over supposed answers and solutions. I have found a deeper desire to connect not simply with people but to their ideas and  connect those ideas to other people who may not be seeing the same things.

At the end of this year I have no product to market, no book to pitch, no course of study to offer. What I do have is the well nourished integrity of my intellectual, social and artistic pursuits. Perhaps I have never been as fully myself as I am right now. My integrity has never been in better shape.