Welcome, THICK!

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has a new book out and I’m beyond excited to have it in my hands very soon. In THICK she offers us a collection of essays which connect the personal with the political, the theoretical with oh-my-God-that-really-happened real. I can tell you this because while I wait for my own precious copy I am reading as many tweets, excerpts, and early reviews as I can to get ready.

More than a fan of Tressie McMillan Cottom, I am a deep admirer of her writing, her wit, her generosity and leadership. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that I reference her work often. I consider her one of my primary digital mentors who has in ways large and small helped me arrive at a form of digital presence that is meaningful, critical and increasingly bold. Her capacity to apply theoretical frameworks to illuminate the scope and scale of tragedy and treachery of modern American life, particularly for Black women, has given me pause on too many occasions to name. She is a scholar I would stay up all hours to catch an hour’s or even just a few minutes’ worth of her wisdom live.

Knowing that in this new collection of essays she tells us more about herself than ever before, I am eager and also wary of a voyeuristic impulse that occurs in any of us, I suppose, when we have a chance to gain greater access to the people we most admire. I’ve never met Tressie in person. That’s on my bucket list. But I have had the opportunity to be in conversation with her and to benefit from her generosity. Just 3 years ago, she was instrumental in helping me put my publication, Identity, Education and Power on the map by writing a wonderful opening essay.

One of the things that excites me most about Tressie’s new book is seeing how excited she seems to be about having it out in the world. I am happy that she has given us more of her delicious writing and overjoyed that she appears to be more than pleased with the outcome. She has done so much for Black women, so much for me; my greatest wish is for Tressie to be able to truly enjoy and celebrate the fruits of her labor.

Welcome THICK into the world: order it, buy it, read it, share it.

Weight Gain (An SOL Extra)

I hemmed and hawed about sharing this. My dear friend, Maria read it and shared all the connections she was able to make with the post. She convinced me it was worth sharing with more people.

Sherri's Slice of Life Project

Disappointment

I’ve stopped being skinny. I have folds around the middle. I think less of myself and suppose others must think less of me too.

In this new state, I am a disappointment.

Shame

My pants no longer fit comfortably. Some waistbands are tight. Some pairs fit snugly across my behind and cause the waistband to slide down in the back. This is a secret disgrace.

Most people cannot see these developments or at least don’t indicate that they notice. By modern Western standards I am still considered slim.

But that no longer describes how I feel. Or how I see myself.

Instead, there is a private shame. A shadow that casts itself over each view in the full length mirror. A mourning for a long battle finally lost.

Guilt

I nearly left out guilt. It fuels my shame and hunches over the struggle. Guilt is active – it should…

View original post 893 more words

Yes, and

2019 arrived and I didn’t much care. On New Year’s Eve my stomach hurt. I cut out at 11:30pm with no regrets.

We’re on the tail end of a family vacation which has gone remarkably smoothly. Everybody has gotten to do most of the things they wanted to do: speedskate, ski, run, play video and/or board games, sleep in, stay up late, read a lot, watch TV, go for a walk, eat out, eat in, eat chips, drink beer, drink wine, not drink at all, leave a mess, clean it up, snack, snack, snack, and write.

Released from a lot of my regular duties, I experience a bunch of emotions that I’m not all the way prepared for. I find some leftover guilt in my pockets, a curtain of despair in the wind that stalls me on the lake, a crusty strip of resentment I almost trip over while strolling on a wooded path. I take comfort in reading about other people’s sorrows. I’m able to read with a bit more empathy than usual perhaps.

My capacity for easy conversation strikes me as limited. I can say some things that seem to fit and then I hit a wall. I listen and nod but let others carry on from there. At some point I may check out, gently excuse myself to another corner of the room. It’s the holidays so it feels like even that’s okay.

Internally, however, my word machine keeps blowing at full speed. My head swells with waves of words. Sentences on the page before me spawn another set of thoughts that require their own peculiar expression. To an outsider it looks like I’m maybe spaced out or deep in thought. I don’t know. I’ve never asked anyone. It occurs to me that once I’m gone, I will have left a trail of words behind me.

I check into my social media saloon and it feels like a ‘Cheers’ re-run – that place “where everybody knows your name.” Which is of course not true at all, but there are plenty of people I find and can huddle up with. This, too, is a surprising comfort. I stumble into some conversations and get caught up in the richness of the exchange. I feel part of community. I have some things to say and discover much I want to listen to – I do not hit a conversational wall. Word squalls form in my head and the relief is great when I can release some of them into a little blue box of 280 characters or less.

I’m learning to make peace with exercising early and staying inside for a greater part of the day. I am no longer the endurance addict that I once was. I’m still getting over that fact. Part of maintaining a vacation tradition involves noticing changes over time: the steadiness I feel on my skates after a decade of tentative practice, the way my outdoor equipment fits, the way my eyes never tire of the lake + mountain view when I cross the bridge. Yes, and it’s no secret that I am getting older.

Adult development can be a bit of conundrum. We gain experience as we age and may learn from our successes and mistakes but that’s not a given. Wisdom is not free or guaranteed. In middle age I may be enjoying the height of my financial resources and benefit from all sorts of amassed social capital. Yes, and I struggle with keeping myself upright and on task.

Writing assignments I have placed on my docket both intrigue and daunt me. I have reservations about what and how much I can actually achieve. I keep writing nevertheless. Spending time in this somewhat vulnerable and questioning space, feels oddly helpful, neither pressure raising nor reducing. There is fresh air in abundance. Yes, and I am breathing.

2019 one breath at a time.

image © edifiedlistener

 

2018 on edifiedlistener, selected blog posts

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January 2018

I published a book of poems. In German.

February 2018

I visited Cairo and got to spend time with Maha Bali and Paul Prinsloo. I discovered

The care is real,
The warmth is genuine,
The trust is grounded,
The love is what we thought it could be.
Yes.
Yes, it is.

March 2018

I gave a speech at the Vienna #MarchForOurLives demonstration against gun violence featuring thoughts shared by public school students from across the US.

Also, inspired by Tressie McMillan Cottom’s thinking, I reached this conclusion:

Democracy, and what we think we mean by that term, is in danger. And Facebook (along with other platforms) – its fundamental architecture, business model and incentive structure – packs enough of a corrosive effect for its users, unwittingly or not, to dissolve citizens’ trust in democratic institutions or even the desire or need to maintain such political practices.

April 2018

I attended the Education Collaborative of International Schools Physical Education (ECISPE) Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany and returned with many thoughts about professional learning and conference structures.

We are physical educators working to improve our teaching practice by practicing teaching, learning, demonstrating, discussing, and observing. This conference is professionals’ development – the kind we create for ourselves, the kind that sustains us for the long haul, the kind that invites us to question and re-evalute our practices, the kind that makes us leave loving our work, the kind that makes us come back for more year after year, if we can.

May 2018

I used liberation in a blog post for the first time in response to an especially impactful talk by Dr. Danny Martin at a meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Perhaps what I found so refreshing about Dr. Martin’s address was his insistence on centering Black children and their flourishing in his research and practice. His advocacy is fierce, unapologetic and precise. And his bravery in articulating a way forward that does not aim to first assuage white sensibilities came as a little shock to my system but then as a useful corrective to my previous understandings.

June 2018

A thread by Valeria Brown gave me pause. Our Work Is Everywhere We Look is a meditation on Black identity in relationship to whiteness. And my Uncle Thad commented which means a lot.

July 2018

I wrote about how I do fitness now in middle age and I think this post has more likes than any other. Go figure!

And Tricia Ebarvia had me thinking deeply about identity and reading.

August 2018

The Director of my school described it as a PWI (predominantly white institution) at our opening all staff meeting and I nearly fell off my chair.

September 2018

My youngest son is a ski jumper and I wrote about being a spectator-parent.

October 2018

What I Will Fret Over 2018 – new worries layered on top of the usual.

…this morning I have fear and some faith. I have community and back up. I know which side of history I am on. Today I will fret. I will also fight.

November 2018

I had a lot going on. I attended a conference and actively followed another conference on Twitter enough to write about it. And I read some poetry which moved and challenged me. Laura Da’ s Instruments Of The True Measure left an impression I was eager to share.

I hesitate to tell you what I believe I read because I fear I could be wrong. But there are moments where we see with our own eyes the greedy claims of Manifest Destiny.

From “Greenwood Smoke”

To the south, a surveyor

crosses the river

once called simply

after the shape of its bend,

soon to be baptized anew

with an Irish assessor’s surname.  (p.36)

December 2018

I read a book almost in one sitting so I wrote a letter to the author.

 

Thank you for reading my words and thinking alongside me this year. I’m glad you could make it. Let’s see what 2019 holds. More words are nearly a given.

 

 

 

Be The Power And The Point – A Recap

I did the thing. I shot my shot, sang my song. And it was glorious! I offered a workshop at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (NAISPoCC) in Nashville, Tennessee. The title felt clever when I came up with it in the proposal-writing phase. In the execution of the workshop itself the participants gave that title more life and meaning than I imagined possible. They were, in every sense, all power and fully the point.

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My goal was for each participant to leave with an intention to share their experience and expertise with professional peers at a conference or other public learning event.

My premise in addressing educators of color specifically was first to acknowledge the brilliance of the people in the room. We are knowledgeable, have a remarkable wealth of experience, bring distinct and compelling perspectives to every context and in most education conference spaces are typically underrepresented. Once we can lay claim to those realities, then we can proceed to consider which ideas we would most like to champion and cultivate in our professional worlds.

Early on I asked participants to meditate on this central question:

Given your experience, special interests and variety of strengths, what would would be your dream workshop or presentation to offer others?

I encouraged everyone to think broadly – outside and across disciplines, to consider interests outside of school, long term passions and newfound talents. To place my own approach into context, I shared this story:

This fall I was invited through my Twitter direct messages to contribute to a major learning event – not as a keynote speaker or to offer a workshop of a couple of hours – no, I was invited to lead a course. For a whole week! And I could choose the topic! The person who invited me is a friend and mentor and I was overwhelmed with surprise and shock initially. I said yes quickly before my reservations would have a chance to change my mind.

I had to admit to myself that this was not an accident and that it had been several years in the making even if it was never the possibility I would have imagined for myself at the outset. The invitation was the result of having put myself ‘out there’ on Twitter, by blogging. By participating in various forums, online and off. So I will be leading a track on Digital Identity at the Digital Pedagogy Lab next summer. And please note, this is not directly connected to Physical Education.

It felt important to illustrate that we may have talents, strengths, perspectives that are unique that will be valuable to someone else, if we take the opportunities available to share them with others. The point is not that I am authority in the traditional sense. I don’t know all there is to know about the topic. My particular expertise is in the area of facilitation. I have a deep interest and curiosity and given the chance to convene a group with equal interest and curiosity I know that we can construct a series of experiences which will grow our mutual knowledge and individual expertise. That’s what I suggested our knowledge sharing at conferences can be. Claiming expertise is not an all or nothing game.

We worked our way through a series of other questions and I offered a simple graphic organizer to help with the process.

  • Describe your last public professional learning event. How did you share your knowledge and expertise with colleagues?
  • For your future workshop/presentation/panel, where will you find your audience? Who can support you in your pursuit?
  • What are some barriers to presenting at or attending conferences? What kinds of support would you welcome?

At each section, participants spent time sharing thoughts with a different partner. This meant unlinking the chairs and moving around the room. It meant engaging with a number of fresh minds. It looked like this:

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“It’s called a workshop because we are all going to work.”

When it came time to write down intentions, folks did not hesitate. They did not skimp, waffle or hold back. They brought it! With clarity, precision and all the soul you can put into words on a big colorful sticky note. In another post I will share a full list, but here are some shining examples:

There is no encore after that.

Our success was epic. We were epic.  Look out edu conferences far and wide. We are coming and we’re bringing vision, commitment and beautiful brilliance!

 

 

Workshop slides can be viewed here.

*Images are mine. Please request permission to use elsewhere.

What’s My Story?

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Helsinki Airport Baggage Claim. Surprise representation.

 

Truth: I’m at a 2-day seminar for women educators interested in leadership. It is being led by a dynamic current head of school who has made it her mission to help stock the pipeline with capable women who belong in international school leadership.

We’re talking about the power of storytelling. Strong stories, told well and with intent create connections. The premise makes sense. Neurological research suggests that our emotional responses to stories feed and change our social brain. Being inspired has physiological consequences.

Our stories matter. How we receive and process stories matter.

And I am stumped. Because I consider exactly this – storytelling – to be an area of weakness. It’s why I never try to retell a joke or describe a supposedly funny thing I did. I’m willing to read fiction but not create it. Even true stories from my life feel odd to relate. To think of a story that is of emotional heft for me that then bears out some truth about my larger message feels like a significant hurdle that shouldn’t be.

Which is why I have taken on the expense of coming here, of taking part, of learning from fresh voices. As I run through my mental files, searching for the story I might need or that might do the job, I keep coming up with a blank. Or with stories I can’t find a connecting thread to. This is the point: facing the challenge of not knowing, of feeling off-base. By tomorrow, something will emerge. And it will be the right thing because it will be what I have at the moment.

From there I can build.

Right this moment I don’t know what my story is. Or which story is mine. Tomorrow I’ll know. I can hardly wait.

The Problem That Is/Isn’t

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“The problem,” she said, “is not that I read too much. It’s that I feel too much of what I read.”

“The problem,” he said, “is not that I watch too much, It’s that I have seen more than I know how to handle. And I cannot turn away.”

“you know what your problem is?”

“My problem? My problem is that I am empty and full at the same time.”

My responsibilities are not my regrets, but they do cost me some energy. I take these responsibilities. I have chosen these responsibilities. They give me purpose and keep me going but they are not weightless. They don’t defy gravity. I get tired. I run out of steam. And my stuff still gets done. That’s the deal. That’s how this works. You know that.

I put words on the screen. Not even on the real page. So that I’m writing without really writing. Just putting stuff down. And then someone will come along and say, hey, I get it. I hear you. That’s the shit! And I will feel humble and arrogant at the same time because nothing is just one thing anymore. It’s always more than one thing. Multidimensional both/and, never ever just tidy and set. And it tires me out. And here I come again, scrolling right through to the next set of problems I want to think about but don’t have time because you know, I need to hang up the laundry and clear the dishwasher and thank God, the cookies are already baked and packaged for tomorrow.

Then someone asks, “Hey Sherri, can you…?” And I say “sure, not a problem.”

Because what is and what isn’t a problem can shift.

“My problem,” I said, “is, in fact, nothing more and nothing less than me just trying to live a life that makes sense some or even most of the time. I’m a beginner and a veteran at once. I’m gifted and I suck. I need more sleep but I keep staying up late. I’m a mess and a marvel.”

“Hey,” they said, “what you need is a vacation!”

And I said, “you know what? You are right.”