Dear Shea,

Once we got to the point where we could publish your piece, I was pleased, relieved, proud. The sentences had become familiar to me and there were passages that lingered in my mind hours after I had last read them. And I told myself, this is Shea’s story. This story of bearing burdens, of carrying heavy loads most often for others, that’s their story.

Well, we published the piece and I went to bed. Of course I stayed up later than I intended. I went to bed tired and woke up almost the same way. I know there is a better way, but I’m not pursuing that right now. I’m not.

I teach Physical Education. I rely on my body to tell stories that children will understand and follow. I paint the movements I just described with words so my kids can see what it is I want them to try. I walk up and down lots of stairs in a day. Depending on the lesson plans, I may end up performing any number of stunts including cartwheels, handstands, or squat jumps. And yet most of my class time is spent moderating, guiding, correcting, comforting, cautioning. My classes are full of movement, words, expression, music – they are loud and busy affairs.

When I woke up tired (again) this morning, I remembered your piece. About burros, about being a strong Black woman bearing loads proudly and without complaint. Until of course, you learned different. That you cannot bear the weight of the world without attending to yourself, to your own needs for rest and recovery and all the things that belong to keeping yourself well. I told myself, that’s Shea’s story.

Until it dawned on me that I am doing a lot of the same things, not to the same level of selflessness, mind you, but apparently more than I can bear well. The more public I become in my personal disclosures, the more thinly spread I feel. An avid communicator, I like to talk and listen and dialogue and share. But 200 or 50 or 3000 to one is not serving me especially well, I fear. I’ve become one more megaphone among many. And even if I believe that I am using that megaphone for good – good people and good things, I am losing things in the process.

It probably begins with sleep. I certainly need more of it than I am getting. Less time in front of a screen would make sense. Fewer simultaneous projects, less multitasking, more time off, time away; more recovery.

I stay up writing because I want to be a good responder. To show people I care, I’m here, I’m thinking alongside you. Putting my thoughts on the screen can seem like a relief but perhaps that’s merely a mirage. Those same words could just as easily find space in one of several journals I have handy, right?¬† But those are the words that stay private, that have no audience, that garner no further attention.

Yeah, so I’m wrestling with this tension between being in multiple places at once and ideally with the same level of care and authenticity in each space. And now I am spent. Your writing helped me see it because I really didn’t want to look too closely. Although I’m still standing, still climbing stairs, running down the halls, running to the store, my days at full steam are numbered. I need to put rest higher up on the agenda and let it stay there for a bit. The world will not fall apart if I take my foot off the gas for a minute. Everyone will have more than enough to read and process without me tossing more words on the pile day after day.

I hope I can learn to step back before I get knocked back the hard way. Thank you for helping me to see myself in a way that I needed but didn’t necessarily want. Honesty stings sometimes. This is one of those times.

Healing with you,

Sherri

*in response to “a burro learns to breathe” by Shea Martin

Once it’s done

Once this book is done…

Once this conference is over…

Once this school year is past…

Once I get over this illness…

Once that bill becomes a law…

Once that child is out of diapers…

Once we’re done paying tuition…

Once my loans are paid off…

Once I get my paycheck…

Once he realizes that I’m gone for good…

Once she sees that his talk is really cheap…

Once we know who the winner is…

Once we find out how much more it will cost…

Once they discover the extent of the damage…

Once we hear our own hearts grow faint…

Once we notice how wrong we were…

Once we come to our senses…

Once we decide to make the change…

It will all be more different than we ever imagined.

Only

Once.

*Shout out to everyone who accomplished something they set out to do. I see you and celebrate you. We did it!

Also, the book is really done. You can order it here if you’re so inclined.

Shame Cycles and Twitter Rage

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image credit

While scrolling through Twitter recently I kept coming across explicit mentions of shame. Shame associated with being called out for misogyny/homophobia/racism/islamophobia/transphobia/ or ableism; shame for avoiding debt paperwork; shame for not knowing better… And each time I could relate, relate, relate. I want to try to reconstruct some of what was going through my mind in these different instances.

Let’s start here:

The thread that I started was in response to another thread detailing the progress of recruitment of young white males into white supremacist thinking through gaming and social media channels. Specifically this tweet where Joanna Schroeder (@iproposethis) suggests that a young person’s first response to being called on posting racist or misogynist stuff is shame which then leads to poor decisions.

This made soooo much sense to me. I have 2 sons who like their games and although they are not white, they are still ripe targets for all the other messages which demean girls and women, ridicule gay and trans folks, and promote obnoxious, toxic masculinity as peak coolness. Confronting them with my concerns and objections can be more than a little challenging. Shame corners us. So we put on our armor and fight back.

I say “us” because I know shame quite well. I experience it on the daily. And no matter how well I can rationally tell myself that shame should not be my default response, it posts up with stunning regularity and confidence. So I fight back, too. My armor comes out faster than Ironman’s suit. Ask my loved ones. They know.

Shame is powerful. It will make us behave in ways we may not intend, have difficulty controlling, and in fact, lead us in directions we weren’t prepared to go. But we go anyway. That’s the catch I’m wondering about how to avoid – in myself and in others. Which is where a different thread had me thinking about this dynamic of calling out – generating shame and defensiveness in the other – responding to that defensiveness – and escalating to point far past learning or real recovery.

It’s cycle we see displayed regularly on social media. In fact, social media platforms live for this kind of inflammation that raises emotions, blood pressure and above all, engagement. How often have you found yourself drawn into an online confrontation, even as a bystander, and felt emotionally tapped? We don’t even need to be directly involved. Those emotions – the embarrassment, hurt, defensiveness, and often aggression – reach us right where we are sitting or standing. All the more, if we are the ones engaging head on. Overexposure is certainly unhealthy.

A couple of people brought up the topic of tone in confronting students expressing misogynist or racist beliefs. Confronting, yes but in a way that is not entirely damaging to the prospect of learning from the exchange. That is a tough challenge. Yet in the classroom we at least have a frame for structuring our dialogue; there are also power dynamics at play which will further influence the possible outcomes. Out on social media, while we may not be entirely on our own, we are open to public scrutiny and commentary in a way that poses different and potentially farther reaching consequences and challenges than a classroom exchange between teacher and student.

How do I engage someone whose viewpoint differs significantly from mine without necessarily triggering the shame-defensiveness-anger cycle?

I don’t have definitive answers but I’m thinking of ways I can help myself wrestle with these situations more effectively – which means in a way that I consider my own care and safety first before trying to save the world that’s already on fire.

  • Ask myself seriously: Is my engagement here necessary or essential? If not, then maybe leave the debate to others. I’ll go drink tea and read a book.
  • Before I wade into an ongoing conflict – I try to get as complete a picture of the existing context as possible. I read up and down the thread of tweets and responses to find out exactly who’s involved and try to guess why. Will this conversation be helped by my intervention? In what way? What do I have to offer that might be constructive or helpful?
  • I can use a side commentary by quote-tweeting the original source of conflict. I did that in the example below to make a point about context collapse and how we might mitigate the shaming cycle:

  • In the event that I decide to confront someone, I use questions or invite the person to elaborate on a point of confusion. I only do this where I see evidence of learning potential based on other tweets, the person’s profile and timeline. I do my research first because if this is going to cost me some extra energy, then I want to spend it judiciously.
  • I pay attention to my own emotional household. What is this involvement calling forth in me? Where and how do I need to be careful? Who’s got my back if I need it?
  • I pay attention to my time expense. Is this time I have to dedicate to this cause right now? Should /must it wait? Often the real answer is yes. Not responding immediately gives me time to also sort out the steps above.

 

While this may not be much of an answer to dealing with shame in online confrontations (or elsewhere), it feels helpful for me to articulate how I decide which hill I’m willing to go to battle on (if not die on). Being intentional takes time. And everything about the platforms we use argue precisely against taking our time, pausing, and resisting urgency.¬† The platforms we use are everything but neutral in shaping our online experiences. We make our decisions within the frameworks we are given, not those we have created on our own. This matters greatly.

The next time we feel drawn into a rage-inducing exchange, we can perhaps first ask ourselves how the platform benefits and if that’s where our energies are really best spent. Twitter loves our rage. Our individual and public health do not.

Summer Thoughts and An Urgency

A remarkable summer has passed its midpoint. And yet there’s still so much yet to come: excitement, thrills, reunions and first meetings; a publishing and presenting, adventure and lots of the unknown. It’s been almost 9 months since Sean Michael Morris approached me about joining the faculty of the Digital Pedagogy Lab at University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It’s now July 2019 and we’re less than 2 weeks away from Day 1 of the Lab.

On the one hand, I can hardly wait! So many wonderful personalities gathered together for a whole week of reading, thinking, collaborating and creating. My mind becomes a flurry of enthusiasms at the thought: I get to be there! And not only that, I get to lead a track on Digital Identity!

On the other hand, I am also nervous. All of my insecurities come calling whenever I sit down to rethink my plans. I’m perfectly confident until I’m not and then I distract myself with Twitter and the downfall of liberal democracies everywhere and then I sit down to prepare and the cycle begins anew.

The good news is that as part of my prep I’ve been dipping into Sean Michael Morris’s and Jesse Stommel’s collected essays: An Urgency of Teachers, the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy and wow, I described it in my journal thus:

“like arriving in the harbor,

like finding a lost volume you missed on your shelves,

like arriving at a favorite but seldom visited restaurant and finding a bunch of friends thrilled to see you,

like being in a bar where they’re playing all your favorite songs, especially the ones you forgot were your favorites.”

Above all, reading their words helped me recognize how my thinking aligns with critical digital pedagogy. They also show me where I can find and create space in the field.

In one essay near the end, Sean describes how nervous he becomes before public speaking. The physiological symptoms sound both challenging and familiar.

I bring this up because nervousness – shaking, quavering, nauseated nervousness – is exactly what critical digital pedagogy feels like. Maxine Greene says that “experiences of shock are necessary if the limits or the horizons are to be breached.” It is therefore unwise to sit in our comfort when what we hope to do is unseat, to shrink when what we want is to grow. (From “Wide-Awakeness and Critical Imagination”, p. 271

Yes, exactly, I want to grow. I want to challenge what has been done before. I want to experiment and risk failure. So, heck yeah I’m nervous! And alive with all kinds of possibility. That’s the beauty. That is the frightening joy.

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image: ©Spelic

 

Travelogue #3: Water Stories

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Water

falls, runs, rushes, gushes, gathers, laps, trickles, carves, digs, advances, retreats, holds, shapes, reflects, destroys, moves, wanders, travels, covers, reveals, smooths, softens, breaks, bursts, begins, ends.

Water

will have/make/work

its way

without asking.

 

 

*These photographs are part of a series, all taken in Iceland, June 2019. ©edifiedlistener