Worth Knowing

My relationship to knowing has changed over time. I used to think that I had to know how a thing worked, almost in its entirety, before attempting to try it myself. I spent a lot of money on personal and business self-help during my 3os and early 40s. I thought I could learn how to

parent well and wisely

understand people by understanding corporate cultures

prepare myself for leadership by reading about business management

train more effectively as a runner

allocate my time effectively without sacrificing relationships

be a better capitalist and become more lovable.

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

I thought books could tell me, instruct me. And some of them did. Some of them helped me recognize a few things about myself. It was not all time and money spent in vain.

I worry less about not knowing enough these days. Instead, I have to think carefully about what it is I need to learn and with whom I might do that best. I’m into learning more than knowing. I have eyes on experimenting and trying, rather than the fool’s errand of perfecting. My interest in self-proclaimed authorities has waned, however targeted and invasive their marketing has become.

I’ve become more open to my own experience and its gifts. I worry less about the value of my offerings for others and instead take heart in the layers and depth of discovery that still await me; in myself and in the world. I choose words to do that more often than not and am curious about other kinds of representation.

One of the things that happens as I read more scholars across a range of disciplines is a fleeting unease at not having read other authors referenced or not recognizing the titles mentioned. It can be intimidating. As a reader I have at times felt excluded, placed at a remove from the author’s insights. Over time I’ve learned not to take this personally. It’s not a failing on my part, it’s simply that my time and energies for reading or other related activities have been spent elsewhere. Plus, each referenced work creates an opening, a potential.

Again, there’s that contrast between feeling obligated to know versus developing an interest in learning. The former feeds my sense of shame and unworthiness, the latter encourages me to make choices that may expand my horizons. The upshot is that I now read far more texts that stretch my thinking; that invite me to feel a little out of my depth for a bit. Successful authors are the ones who seed my curiosity and allow it to bloom as I read. Venturing into someone’s narrative becomes a co-created path. Yes, the author makes their case sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter while I as reader come along in my own tempo, following my own tangents where needed. No two readers are required to travel on the same reading trajectory of a given text. Nor can they entirely.

It’s freeing to realize this both as an impassioned reader and enthusiastic word wrangler. It’s fine and expected to not know loads of stuff. Even better, as adults in particular, we frequently get to choose what it is we want to learn more about as well as how, when and importantly with whom. That’s worth knowing.

Justice Moves

Photo by drmakete lab on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about justice because the more I look at society, the less I feel like I understand what justice represents.

Is it this: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments”?

Or does this come closer: “the administration of law; especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity”? (Merriam-Webster)

How might it help to think more closely about what it means to be just? Try these on: “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good ,” “being what is merited,” or “legally correct.” (Merriam-Webster)

Tell you what, try to decide what’s fair and you cannot get around asking “for whom? Under which policies/laws/structures? To what end?”

By now more of my attention runs in the direction of injustice because we’re surrounded by it. (Whether we know to acknowledge it or not.) Yet my picture of what justice is, does, sounds and feels like is so ill-defined as to be nearly illegible.

The immediate association with the courts and therefore the state prompts grief and bone-deep distrust. I do not trust the state to deliver justice to anyone really.

When we see the crime with our very eyes, on our devices, through 100 media outlets, we call for justice. We demand accountability. We expect the perpetrators to receive punishment. We speak of charges, sentencing, damages, jail time. The process is usually long and deeply uneven, depending on whose life, whose honor, whose reputation, whose money is at stake. Right and wrong are not necessarily the measures against which all crimes are actually measured.

How can I be an aspiring abolitionist if I desire to see certain people serve impossible jail terms? How can I say I dream of community repair while lusting for the punishment of vigilantes, terrorists and insurrectionists?

Abolitionist Mariame Kaba references Oakland organizer Morgan Bassichis’s idea that

“basically the very systems that we’re working to dismantle live inside us. And that really stuck with me when I first read it. It forced me to acknowledge my own complicity in forms of violence that I may not even personally be perpetrating in a intentional way… When you’re always in a position of seeing everything as outside of you, then you’re always on the outside looking in, which isn’t necessarily the best way to address forms of violence. We have to do both. We have to be on the outside looking in but also on the inside looking out.” –

Mariame Kaba, “Accountability Is Not Punishment” in We Do This Til We Free Us, p. 140

Cultivating a different, more humane understanding of justice requires a level of unlearning that I do not always feel prepared or equipped to take on. Sometimes the prospect of vengeance suggests an eventual relief. But I’m also sure that’s an illusion. I want to be in right relation with others

But hesitate to give anything up for it.

Again, Kaba

“If my focus is on ending harm, then I can’t be pro-deathmaking and harmful institutions. I’m actually trying to eradicate harm, not reproduce it, not reinforce it, not maintain it. We have to realize that sometimes our feelings – and our really valid sense of wanting some form of justice for ourselves – gets in the way of actually seeking the thing we want.”

“Accountability Is Not Punishment” in We Do This Til We Free Us, p. 155

“[S]eeking the thing [I] want” means holding this tension between my rage-adjacent feelings and my lofty hopes for a better, more just society. It means looking for how I practice justice in my day to day. How am I acknowledging harm, seeking repair, rebuilding trust?

Unlearning will tire a body out. Uprooting mental models that are so deeply ingrained requires support and community. Where will we open up space in our minds for justice to move and breathe? When will we become the sowers of justice in our communities? How shall we prepare the soil for forms of justice that allow us to grow in right relation with each other and our planet?

Knowing more is not always the answer I need. Some things require action – doing more, while saying less. Paying attention. Observing closely. Reflecting. Justice moves, a workout.

Swimming while Black

Black Swimmers Overcome Racism and Fear, Documentary film by RetroReport

I know how to swim because my mother saw to it.

My aunt saw to it.

I remember learning on a cross-country road trip. Every hotel on our AAA Trip-tik route had a swimming pool. Evenings, my aunt took me out, held me up and by the end of summer and our long trip I had become a swimmer. I was 5 years old. My mother watched, laughed and stayed in the shallow end. I didn’t know it but she was not yet a swimmer like me.

Really only at the very end of this short film did all of these memories come flooding back. I only remember that learning to swim was a family non-negotiable. Decades later I can piece together where some of my mother’s urgency came from.

Watch the film. Black folks swim.

Wrap it up

March: a month and also a command. I Marched. I marched.

Three conferences in three cities between March first and thirty-first. More travel than I am accustomed to. More school days missed than normal. More public speaking than ever. Today marks the end of a streak and it’s time to come down.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Conferences can be sites of professional learning but they don’t have to be. Meaning that, both how folks show up and decide to contribute (or not) is contingent on too many factors to count. Conferences are collected, curated offerings. Participants choose what they will do with the information and experience.
  • I’m not convinced that speaking is my jam. Facilitation definitely is. That means I make every speaking invitation into a facilitation opportunity. That’s how I roll.
  • Of all the types of vigorous social interaction that I participated in, attentive pair or small group dinner/lunch conversations are my faves. I call myself a situational introvert and I tend to feel the need to withdraw quickly after lots of large group activities.
  • Shout out to my physical education colleagues who really know how to make conferences joyful learning experiences! We talk and PLAY! It’s really what sets PE conferences apart from other educator gatherings. We practice, share, and laugh. We open ourselves to each other in session after session by doing the thing. Having #ECISPE2023 at the end of my conference run felt like a genuine reward.
  • At two of the three conferences, students were visible and involved in a number of sessions. More, much more of this, please!
  • Meeting my online friends and colleagues in person continues to be one of my favorite genres of conference delight.
  • Conference attire can vary. Comfort, warmth, functionality trump all the other stuff in my book. I’m getting better at focusing on my needs, rather than imagined public expectations.
  • Carry-on travel requires practice but I’m getting the hang of minimizing my volume of clothing.
  • I got to do two movement things in one talk and the thought of that makes me pretty happy.

Throughout the month I also took part in the Slice of Life Challenge. It’s a blog-every-day-for-a-month event hosted by Two Writing Teachers (a website team, by now, of about 8). This was year five for me and although I had lots of other things going, I didn’t want to leave it out. So I wrote a little something every day and commented on at least 3 other blogs in the community. It was lovely and fortifying and a welcome release valve on occasion. The positive comments received, as well as the steady community building that ensued, provided reason enough to keep that commitment and enjoy it.

Tumbling into April there’s plenty to celebrate and also a need for recovery. A break is right around the corner. I’ll need the time to process March as noun and verb.

Large screen on stage with colored background (yellow, orange, pink)
"Begin with dominant culture"
Specific to our context: Physical Education teachers in English-speaking international schools (that's us, right?)
below in left corner, Slim Black woman in black t-shirt points up towards screen. in audience heads of several listeners.

image via @MrsV_MM10

In good company

Haven’t been blogging much lately but that’s not for lack of thinking!

close up of new green plants in carton pockets: view of 3 x 3 section of a larger container.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

In many ways I’m very much back on my BS. Still on Twitter, still putting out my newsletter, still engaging in my school and regional #DEIJ efforts. Oh yeah, still teaching full time. And parenting; all while living in the world as it is. Adequately engaged and not yet overwhelmed. Fine. Feeling privileged to have most of the day to myself to read, write and think.

Something I notice as I accept opportunities to speak or contribute is a certain accompanying ambivalence. What do I gain from occupying the spotlight? What can I contribute to the context into which I’ve been invited? How am I adding value to the event and participants’ experiences? Am I really the best person to be speaking/writing here? I will not call this imposter syndrome because there are reasons I said yes to invitations in the first place. Before accepting every invitation, I try to be as transparent as possible with organizers about what I feel best poised to offer at a particular gathering. I will not volunteer to do something that I can’t deliver. So, no, I don’t feel like an imposter. I know who I am and what I can offer.

The ambivalence I experience seems to have more to do with questioning whole systems of assumptions under which most events and major projects are operating. What is the role of a keynote speaker? What kinds of hierarchies are we buying into by elevating certain individuals as worthy of holding the floor for an extended period? How do we position our particular levels of expertise and understanding as participants/listeners in those contexts? What options do we have for disrupting our ideas of what a keynote can and should be, given the particular context?

This last question is the one I am taking into my planning for upcoming events. Every time I show up as a featured voice on a stage, in a publication, on a podcast, it feels vitally important to point out who else is with me/part of me as I speak. If you are listening to me at all, then that may be due to my role as an impassioned and eclectic curator of the world as text. My greatest joy is to gather whole orchestras of ideas and share various compositions with all of you.

Book cover: SABOTAGE 
In the American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief and Revenge 

Edited by Martin Sprouse

Features a dark collage of a male face that includes a telephone receiver, 3 clock faces surrounding the face; a painting of the American flag at shoulder. Title is in bold White letters across top in 3 lines.

Recently, I pulled a beloved book off my shelf: Sabotage In The American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief and Revenge, edited by Martin Sprouse. (Who, I’ve just learned, is thriving as a designer in SF/Oakland area.) At any rate, this was the very first book that I ordered through the mail. It came out in 1992 and I caught wind of it in the “Readings” section of Harper’s Magazine, which typically pulls together a wild mix of texts and images. Exposure to that format on a regular basis was huge in my development as an eclectic reader. Delving into the whole of Sabotage proved to be absolutely delicious in its range, reach and mission. In its own way, the compilation of stories, statistics and labor-related quotes read a bit like Twitter way before Twitter existed.

So here I am, here we are 30 years down the road and I realize that my mind was built for Twitter: the reliance on text punctuated by clever and often pointed images; the potentially-but-no-longer semi-random flow of information from a range of sources; the opportunity to curate, collect and respond as desired. Harper’s Readings formed the gateway; Sabotage lit a fire, and Out of Twitter, I’m able to cultivate my own particular nest and networks of stories, tendencies and possibilities.

With a mental excursion into my literary roots I give myself some credit. I clarify my foundations. I remind myself that I am a product of time and opportunities thus far. Clearly, I wasn’t born yesterday.

When it is my turn to step to the mic, I’ll remember that I’m bringing a full combo of voices and instruments to accompany me. My assessment of various contexts draws on varied sources. My dedication to participants’ growth and well being remains central. Joy and fellowship justify standing up at all. These are the tools I need to create an experience that builds community and song. That features many voices rather than just one. That celebrates the emergence of new sounds of our collective making.

The Chumps Are Winning

I have a draft post that’s still waiting to be finished. Perhaps it will never be completed. I wanted to write about Twitter and user migration, about the tension between staying and leaving, about anticipated loss and diminishing returns and I stalled out. No great insight was revealed to me in the placing of words on the page. I’m reminded of the first months of 45’s term in the White House. How we hissed and scratched against his wanton disgrace of the office. We were not just upset with the awful policy decisions. Those of us who could afford to protest loudly without ever having to feel the immediate effects of said policies, could barely contain ourselves over the gaudiness of each new affront. So much of what was uttered by that ill-mannered and seemingly inarticulate brute was just plain dumb. Logic and reason were not required protocol. The country chose a chump as its leader and our embarrassment was unbridled.

And here we are again faced with the reality that another chump is gobbling up all the airtime, because he bought it. The point is that we as a public are not wiser. We continue to conflate wealth with intelligence; power with inherent value. Our media structures, harnessed as they are to capitalism’s logics, support these confusions. Actually, many amplify and promote them. And do so widely for the benefit of clicks, which is apparently the only way to stay alive among the conglomerate media sharks.

The chumps are winning. They are having their way. With us and then without us, they are having their way. And please let’s be honest that it truly galls us that they do it with zero attention to style or sophistication. If only they were clever about it! we lament internally. It pains us, with our multiple degrees, elevated humor and lust for nuance, that these loser dudes are dominating the attention wars. That their branded cruelties continue to find supporters across time zones and income registers, still appalls and confounds us. Think pieces, explainers and primers flow generously from various platforms promising to illuminate the obvious for the non-believers: The chumps are winning – here’s why.

If I seem angry it’s because I am but also kinda done. The accompanying theatrics of a media landscape as corrupt and jaded as the villains they report on leave me cold by now. We are caught in a spin cycle of billionaire power plays and we, the public, are not even collateral anymore, not even pawns. That’s maybe my most significant takeaway from this: Neither this billionaire nor that cares one whit about my micro platform, or communities, or political leanings. My existence does not register for them. It simply does not.

Given that, I feel a bit freer. I can stay on my BS with abandon. I can plant seeds, fertilize ideas, cultivate cultures with or without billionaire controlled platforms. I really want more of the so-called liberal elite to get wiser, but that’s a fool’s errand, like waiting on white folks to eradicate racism, or for the West to unhitch itself from neoliberal doctrine. I will do what I have done until now: Write into the wind. Speak as if someone, somewhere might be listening. Read alongside readers. Become an illustrator who paints big pictures with words.

Anyway, I think everyone should listen to these smart things that Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has to say about the current state of affairs. She has a habit of making sense, even when the chumps are winning.

Every Single Time

Every single time 

laying claim proves fraught

Belonging can feel like battle
without a winner

Familiarity think it be knowing,
says go here, x marks the spot

Not home, not ours, not only
a place

where arrival meets departure

every single time

guessing that here and mine go hand
in hand
Praying that here and mine stick
together like sisters

But no
just passing fancies
strangers who stay that way
here, not mine

Not from here
familiar stranger
comer and goer
I am strange and familiar
I know

every single time

*Original draft, Jan 1, 2022

Tired is not the word

Old park bench in wooded area surrounded by and partially covered by fallen leaves.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com
Tired is not the word you use when you really mean weary when you really mean tapped out when you really mean that you just don't have the words or the patience or the foresight or the wherewithal. Tired is not the word you use.

When they ask how it's going you say that it is, going which is true because in fact there is no stop, no pause, no break in the action, it's going as you said, there are no lies, it's going and hardly matters how just that it's going and we see that's going and we ask how it's going as a courtesy not an investigation. It keeps going and I keep saying so.

Tired is not a word you use when you really mean overextended when you really mean depleted when you really mean imbalanced when you really mean that you are no longer sure what counts as any of those things only that you expect to keep going until you can't because if you can't find the word, how can you possibly define the reality?

When they ask you if this is the best you've got and if this is what it's going to be and if you're planning to send it out like that and if you're sure this is how you want it to look and you don't say, you just stare and stare and stare. Tired is not the word you use. Tired is not the word.

Anxiety Flares and Control Moves

field of yellow flowers, green stems, blue, cloudy horizon. Pair of brown skinned arms and hands sticking up in the middle.
Hands in Sunflower Field via @alyssasieb / nappy.co

I’ll try to make this a quick one. Last week, I had what I’m calling an anxiety flare up. The feelings were neither entirely new, nor overly threatening but for a couple of days I just felt out of sorts. I was both dissatisfied with myself and annoyed at my relative vulnerability. At least one night’s sleep and a rocky day at work were the tangible prices. But of course it was also a significant blow to my ego, so the last few days involved nursing my ego back to some sort of equilibrium.

The nursing process is what I want to share here. I mean, how do we rein ourselves back in after an emotional setback?

Well, in the night that I couldn’t sleep, I journaled. I described what was going on in my head. I named my fears and frustrations. In fact, I began using a stem phrase: “My anxiety has to do with…” and created a list of 10 things. There was so much more there than the triggering incident. Writing offered some immediate relief that rippled out over the next days.

I read an article on Autumn Anxiety by Jennifer A. King that provided some further context for why I might be feeling the way I was. Two characteristics in particular seemed to hit the nail on the head:

Sense of Control. Situations where we have no control over what is happening or what outcomes may be.
Threat to Ego. Situations that leave you feeling as though your competence is in question.

Jennifer A. King, Do You Have Autumn Anxiety?

These could not have been more on target! Gaining validation for my emotional state let me know that I was not alone, that there are many reasons why I could be experiencing a degree of disorientation given my recent return to work, the interpersonal professional demands that entails coupled with whatever personal frailties I had going on anyway.

This weekend I made space for recovery. I..

  • Had a long zoom chat with my best friend,
  • met friends for drinks and a movie – absolutely delightful time!
  • got outside for exercise on both mornings,
  • did a load of laundry,
  • washed, conditioned and braided my hair,
  • prepared nice meals and ate slowly,
  • took time for reading and writing.

These all belong to what I call “control moves:” actions that help me feel in control – of my time, energy and body. They are not the cure, they are the process. As a result, I feel less anxious, more grounded, closer to how I would like to experience myself on the regular. Each task functions like a mini-reminder: “You’re still here, you’re OK, take your time.”

I have no idea if this will be helpful to anyone else and I’m sharing anyway because there’s a chance it might be. In How We Show Up, Mia Birdsong reminds us of the following:

We are living in a contradiction – we are made for interdependence, connection, and love, but part of a culture that espouses the opposite…There is a tension between existing in one world while trying to live into another one. That place in between them is full of friction.

Mia Birdsong, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community, p. 226

Living in contradiction challenges us which makes our sharing of struggles and recoveries all the more important. It is in that spirit of building community and living in connection that I offer this window into my experience.

Be well, friends.

16 Sentences

Perhaps I am very late to the party but I see now that capitalism and justice are incompatible.

The longer I write, the more I chafe against established structures in form, in genre.

Maybe it’s something about middle age but I’ve also started to hate my bras no matter how stretchy and temporarily comfortable.

I keep wanting out but without actually wanting to go out.

I wonder what anti-capitalist bookmaking looks like because I might want to do that.

Talking to my bestie on Zoom I just realized that my summer has been about loss and recovery.

After peak experiences my body goes through a phase of recalibration.

I need more rest.

I have an idea that’s so hot and trying to figure out a way to realize it while resisting a capitalist structure is blowing my mind wide open.

Much to my surprise, I may have a literary future in German.

I’ve made a lot of promises in the last 24 hours.

What makes me click on an essay that suggests laughter but is really about suffering?

I seek out evening sweetness as a private reassurance; sugar and rejection are fundamentally at odds.

We broke a family pattern today which was hard, and then fun.

No one tells you that show-and-tell in kindergarten exists to prepare us for adult office parties later in life.

The final sentence dreams of greatness and barely manages closure.