About Fear

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I think it’s time we had a talk about fear.

Yes, fear. The stuff that makes you afraid,

that provokes anxiety, that keeps you up at night

Or makes it seem impossible to get out of bed.

Fear.

I have a couple of books on the topic.

Whole books dedicated to helping me

cope with,

understand,

manage,

and investigate

my very own special, unique and distinct

fears.

And I’ll be honest,

my fears are not for my safety

or that of my loved ones.

They are not about having enough

of what one needs to survive.

Rather they are more about

being enough.

About my capacity to measure up,

follow through,

deliver as promised,

and smile at the end.

Those nagging fears about

leaving things undone,

failing to finish

in time,

of not satisfying

someone else’s requirements of

my time, energy and talent.

*Suddenly I’m getting all warm

and beginning to perspire under my sweatshirt

as I write this

because fear of telling the truth

sparks a nerve.

There’s something at stake,

something at risk,

something to be afraid of

because that’s how fear works

expertly curving back on itself

always leaving the heavy residue of doubt

and misgivings

and sense of loss.

Isn’t it funny and isn’t it typical

that I would ask myself:

what’s a nice way to end this post?

so no one needs to feel too uncomfortable;

already afraid again

that I might upset the apple cart by

telling you what happens

so often,

so reliably,

so stubbornly

to me.

It’s only fear and it has a name

and so many faces and forms.

My fears like to dress up

and show up in disguise under an assumed name.

I can’t always recognize them at first.

But I can recognize their whispers after a time

and respond accordingly.

A Sight to Behold

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My students are always a sight to behold.

Sometimes when I meet a line of students and lead them through the hallway to the gym, I turn around to look at them. Often, I admit, I am giving them the “Don’t-make-me-ask-another-rhetorical-question-about-our-understanding-of-line-behavior” look. And sometimes I look at them and smile.

I look at them and actually see them in their 6, 7 and 8 year old bodies. I see them smile back at me. I see them skip and wiggle at the same time. I see them jostle to get closer to their closest friends. I see them doing what kids do. I see them being who they are.

My students surprise and amaze me. They race into the gym whooping and hollering because they are HAPPY. They chat with each other because they know friendship. They will stop and listen to me for a hot minute because we practice respect.

I have first graders who can pair up and do their own set of stretches together. I have students at all levels of the elementary for whom a handstand or cartwheel is no big deal. I have fifth graders who have shown me tricks for juggling a soccer ball and managing a back walkover.

My students blossom and bubble when they talk, when they move, when they share. How quickly they comfort one another when someone is hurt, how sincerely they apologize to each other when feelings have been bruised. How open they are when they feel listened to.

How often I forget to drink in the beauty of the students I have before me. How accustomed I become to our habits of discourse that I forget that each child who tells me a bit of news is sharing part of their very special story, their very distinct view of the world WITH ME. I should feel honored and humbled. I forget that sometimes.

My students are lovely and wonderful and miraculous and sometimes I forget to look at them. I forget to see them. But when I remember, they are always a sight to behold.

 

image: courtesy of AISVienna

The Undercover Familiar

“Ich habe gedacht, Sie sind Oesterreicherin!”

Someone said this to me today (“I thought you were Austrian!”). Yes, they genuinely thought I was an Austrian, that I grew up here. And the reality is not so far from the truth. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio but Vienna is where I came of age. Surprising, though, even post 50 how muddled and mixed I portray my own identity in this special context – on Austrian soil, in my adopted homeland.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“I live in Vienna but grew up in the US.”

That was a new description. It felt a bit like flipping the script. Where I previously tended to confess the American citizenship first before adding up my decades of residence in this German speaking country, I decided on the spot that this description is far more accurate. Vienna is home, home, home.

Vienna is where I have lived in one district for 15 out of 25 years, where both of my sons were born, where I’ve worked at the same school for two decades – home. But I’ve never been Austrian. I neither have citizenship nor do I look the part (stereotypically speaking). I am an immigrant, not an expat. I am here by choice and this is my life.

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So while I’m out at my favorite mountain lake in a very different part of the country, enjoying the best speedskating conditions one could hope for, my unexpected presence as black woman traveling in the singular raises questions among fellow hotel guests and skaters. The attention I receive is friendly curiosity from the Dutch and German table neighbors. It’s funny to recognize that we belong to a common age range of well past 40 and maxing out probably under 65. Middle-agers mostly in couple formations, I probably fit right in – economically, socially.

Meanwhile, my language usage gives me away. I no longer sound very American when I speak German. Austrian service personnel usually need a moment to size me up and make that split second guess as to whether I will understand whatever query they might have in store for me:

“Sind Sie Frau Spelic?” (Are you Ms. Spelic?)

“Zum trinken, was moechten Sie?” (To drink, what would you like?)

“Haben Sie eine angenehme Anreise gehabt?” (Did you have a pleasant trip here?)

The relief when I respond without hesitation in a clear and comprehensible German is immediate  and visible. This often gives rise to another, different level of curiosity. Often people want to understand how this is possible: such clear German, so colloquial and familiar. That’s what throws people – the familiarity. How could she, how does she seem so comfortable, so at home here?

I left home without my passport as I usually do when I travel within the country. I’m driving my own car, I have an Austrian driver’s license and my residence permit with me. I also know where I’m going. I’ve been in this particular place often. Just yesterday I ran into the owner of another hotel down the road who greeted me warmly and we shared news of our respective children. Another reminder that my presence here is not incidental, it has a history and background. This place is familiar and so too am I.

I am a domestic foreigner. Outwardly, because of my skin color I am readily perceived as a foreigner, a non-native for sure. Once I speak and engage in easy conversation, then things change. I am that unexpected foreigner who defies the stereotype. I become a source of fascination. Internally however, I am working with a full deck of previous experience and local savvy. When I move about in this country I become the undercover familiar.

images ©Sherri Spelic / @edifiedlistener 2017

Document 2017

The peaceful transfer of power

We all watched it happen: the shaking of hands, the sitting through ceremony,

hands on Bibles. Peaceful Transfer

of power.

To witness the immediate consolidation

and abuse

of power.

To stomach the legislative complicity of

that abuse of

peacefully transferred power.

If this is where we are after 10 days,

where are we likely to be in 100 days?

I am told not to despair,

that we will fight back. Yes.

But all that power we handed over,

so peacefully

Is being used to frighten, silence and beat

us all.

If you think this is not you,

just wait.

Unless you belong to someone in that room

applauding each fresh signature of doom,

don’t believe that this won’t catch you

someday.

People will bow to authority before they recall

their humanity and

acknowledge yours.

Each of us has power and often we hand it over

because we trust,

we have faith,

we believe

that others mean us no harm.

What we forget is how poorly

we understand harm when it is not us

but our neighbor,

our colleague,

the guy across the street, city, county, country

whose livelihood, dignity, existence

is at stake.

‘No harm done’ we say so easily

because we followed protocol

when it came time.

We witnessed the peaceful transfer

of power.

Laws will be broken.

Orders will be given.

People will suffer. Always.

And that room of self-satisfied men

will know

That they got the power cheap at a

fake news rummage sale.

And they will hoard it and flaunt it

and use it against us,

because we gave it to them,

we handed it to them through

our quirky institutions and unspoken appetite

for criminal political theater.

The power they got peacefully handed over

will be the instrument of our undoing.

It already is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unsettled Here and Now

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I’m going to get personal for a minute here.

Sometimes I can be particularly observant of what’s going on around me and also in me. At present it feels like my powers of observation are a little out of whack. And I think this has to do with my increased traffic on social media platforms.

Since the US Presidential election, I’ve delved more deeply into my online engagements. Twitter has become my primary news source as well as my go-to space for a sense of community in troubled times. As incredibly grateful as I feel for the tremendous wealth of good will, necessary political resistance, and human warmth I experience, I also recognize the slow drain on my attentional and emotional resources.

Every day and on every tweet that I raise my #resist flag, I know this is what I must do, at the very least. I have picked a side and it happens to be against the incoming administration and majority aggressively Republican legislature. Even though I am geographically very distant, I experience the sense of dangerous and targeted upheaval on a very personal level. I fear for individuals as well as systems. And as I watch a group of overwhelmingly white, straight, so-called Christian males parade before multiple TV cameras and announce their policy plans, I feel sickened to know how quickly the country will likely find itself flat on its back not knowing how it got there.

I fear for our individual and collective exposure through our very willing and often enthusiastic embrace of digital tools and platforms which offer us convenience, speed, and seemingly unlimited choice. We are, at the same time, in fairly constant danger of becoming hostages of all the data we give away daily. With our clicks and instrumentalized acquiescence, we have created our most sophisticated and unforgiving monsters yet, which still maintain a miraculously rosy veneer of being society’s new great helpers.

All told, I’m feeling a lot of fear.

At my core I am an educator. My dialogues with students provide some of the richest contours to my thinking and doing. I look forward to starting classes soon in order to get grounded again; to be brought back to my core mission of helping students “Get fit, get better, and get along.”  We’ll have conversations about how we include, nurture, challenge and respect each other. They will remind me about the importance of fair play and being kind to one another. They will remind me to keep working on being my best. Perhaps more than at any other time in my teaching career, creating a classroom where fairness, openness and care are built into everything we do is the most important work I can do – for my students and for myself.

 

image: Spelic/@edifiedlistener

Words Worth Reading

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image via Gratisography

For days I was eager to get back to my laptop to finally be able to write again. Really write. And here I am with a little time and peace and I feel empty rather than full. At the same time I do have a need and desire to share a few helpful/useful/peace-bringing reads which have made this challenging political moment a little less dim, a bit more manageable.

Tressie has become a trusted source of wisdom, clarity and wit. In this post-election essay, she explains how so many “professionally smart people” completely misread the signs and signals that the Republican candidate could win. Understanding how she arrives at hopelessness as a point of departure requires more of the reader than surface comprehension, it demands empathy.

My hopelessness is faith in things yet seen and works yet done. Hopelessness is necessary for the hard work of resisting tyranny and fascism. It is the precondition for sustained social movements because history isn’t a straight line. It is a spinning top that eventually moves forward but also always goes round and round as it does.

I love this conversation because it’s probably the only way I can “be in the same room with” these people I so deeply admire.

I described this essay on place and identity as a “gentle and exquisite read”.

“We live in a world where love of land, love of place, love of home, means very little. We might value it in literature, but if a place must be sacrificed for a higher use, meaning a use that generates money, then love will not save it. That doesn’t make the love any less real.”

This article is the most uplifting yet practical piece I’ve read since the election. Taking care of ourselves and our loved ones while resisting political bankruptcy is a tall order for long stretch. The article shares how to do both.

Our first task, then, is to get ready to resist in ways small and quiet, and large and loud…

Much of the progress in the coming years will happen locally—in cities and neighborhoods, and sometimes statewide. Cities are locally accountable and far less gridlocked by partisanship, and they have some latitude to get things done, even with a hostile federal government. City leaders understand the need for living wages, they value their immigrant populations, and they see firsthand the impacts of climate change. Change is still possible in our communities.

This collection of White House photos of the first family are, well, a little bit of comfort in stormy times.

By the way, The New Yorker has had some outstanding cartoons out these last few weeks. go treat yourself to some well crafted humor.

Be well, everyone. We have work to do and we have each other.

 

 

What Vision? Whose Vision?

While we haven’t landed yet, we can see the ground coming closer and we’re scared.

OK. Below is the post I wrote before I found a clarifying statement AT THE BOTTOM of the offending document. So please read the post as is with my first understanding.

Recently, the Fraternal Order of Police (the largest national law enforcement union, apparently) released it’s proposed actions* for the incoming US President in his first 100 days. It’s not an overly formal document so that it is easy to understand what this group is asking of the new leadership.

Among other things, there is a general sentiment of “make policing overly powerful and unaccountable again.” Hurry up and repeal whatever safeguards undocumented children and adults have and deport them as soon as possible. Restore local police access to military weaponry. Reverse most recent presidential initiatives to reduce police authority in use of force. As a letter representing an organized body of law enforcement employees, it is more than disconcerting to hear what their most immediate priorities are in a new political climate.

This document is just an example. An important example because it draws my attention to a larger issue of what members of law enforcement hold as a vision of the world. While many police departments claim to “serve and protect,” reading and understanding this list of priorities made me ask – what vision of the world, its citizenry and their role to members of US law enforcement hold?

When charged with the tasks of maintaining law and order – how are you most likely to see people: as helpers or potential wrongdoers? How are you likely to perceive the way of the world – as primarily good and fair or as harsh and unkind? When you encounter the citizens you are sworn to protect – do you see them mainly as keepers or breakers of law and order?

I am not assuming that it always has to either/or. I believe that organizational context, geographical and historical frames will influence how any police officer takes up his or her given duties. But in speaking on behalf of a vast number of law enforcement members, the Fraternal Order of Police, clearly expresses  a prevailing world view and a set of political imperatives.

I ask these questions, too, because the rise of the president-elect and his supporters has given life to many new visions of what the US can and should become in the months and years to come.  We need to interrogate the content and sources of these new visions and recognize that there will be many. Every group will have its special set of desires and parameters to fulfill and will seek to arrange these with the new power structures as best possible.

So as we discover many mores such disturbing documents, let us not flinch from grasping the possibilities which white supremacists, militia groups, Wall Street tycoons, oil barons and several others see opening before them. There are ways that they see and envision the world which would hardly occur to many of us. We must keep asking, asking, investigating, interrogating.

 

Now here’s that clarifying statement from the FoP:

Please Note: This document is a predictive summary of potential actions that the Trump administration may take in its first 100 days and is based on statements from the campaign and media reports up to the time the document was distributed to FoP members. It is not an advocacy document and does not represent the FoP’s agenda for the first 100 days of the incoming administration. It is an advisory to our members as to what may happen when the new administration takes over.

Given that disclaimer, I see that I have unfairly assumed ill of the law enforcement union. At the same time, I see that I am not alone in my concern and outrage at what the document nevertheless reveals. If the incoming administration did in fact pursue these measures, how then would law enforcement act?  What is the connection between executive direction and on-the-ground compliance?

If this is not an advisory document, what would an advisory document then look like given these anticipated steps? This is where the vision question becomes all the more significant. If national law enforcement has a vision – what does it really look like and is there a chance that the objective to “serve and protect” will remain as intact priorities?

The FoP mission statement:

To support and defend the Constitution of the United States; to inculcate loyalty and allegiance to the United States of America; to promote and foster the enforcement of law and order; to improve the individual and collective proficiency of our members in the performance of their duties; to encourage fraternal, educational, charitable and social activities among law enforcement officers; to advocate and strive for uniform application of the civil service merit system for appointment and promotion; to support the improvement of the standard of living and working conditions of the law enforcement profession through every legal and ethical means available; to create and maintain tradition of esprit de corps insuring fidelity to duty under all conditions and circumstances; to cultivate a spirit of fraternalism and mutual helpfulness among our members and the people we serve; to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement profession and thus more firmly to establish the confidence of the public in the service dedicated to the protection of life and property.

“… support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” Looks like they may well have their work cut out for them.