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.
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.Jennifer A. King, Do You Have Autumn Anxiety?
Threat to Ego. Situations that leave you feeling as though your competence is in question.
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.
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.
When I was going into 10th grade at a new school, I encountered my first summer reading list. I believe I had to choose one novel from maybe 5 or 6 options and have finished reading it before the first day on campus. I chose Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I have no idea what the other choices were or what made me pick that novel but I do remember reading it and being fascinated.
Reading as an assignment that turned out to be quite enjoyable. Yay!
As an adult, I’m a committed reader who enjoys the collection, discussion and contemplation of books, books, books. In that I am my mother’s daughter. What’s different, I suppose, is that I get to write about some of that reading and share it publicly. It also feels as if I simply read more than usual: more books, more fiction, more hours. Writing it down is more for my own benefit than anything else and sharing can’t hurt. Maybe there’s something in here for you.
I started off the summer finishing up my sci-fi streak that had me reading three Ursula K. LeGuin novels in a row and continuing with my first N.K. Jemisin title, The Fifth Season. All of this new exploration of science fiction was set in motion by a single podcast episode, Crafting With Ursula: Social Justice and Science Fiction with adrienne maree brown. I knew basically nothing about LeGuin beforehand and afterwards I rushed to the library and checked out The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Bowled over by LeGuin’s versatility, I picked one more, The Eye of the Heron, which charmed me maybe most of all three. Imagine, that’s only the backstory for why I picked up The Fifth Season.
While I knew that Jemisin is a Black woman author who has a remarkable track record in her field. I heard one of her award acceptance speeches (really worth your time!) and began following her on Twitter a few years back. Even so I wasn’t ready to spend time reading a genre I was convinced was not of real interest to me. On recommendation from my favorite librarian, I decided I was ready to tackle my first. And I was not disappointed. While I struggle to recall the details of the story line several weeks after reading, what struck me was Jemisin’s capacity for deeply original world building in really every aspect: societal structures, energy sources, languages, transportation, architecture, natural world – truly everything! Just breathtaking! And following adrienne maree brown’s assertion that social justice organizing and science fiction revolve around creating radically different worlds in the mind’s eye, I was able to see the possibility in a genre I had previously shunned. Yay!
Of course, brown’s Emergent Strategy has been on my radar for a while but this summer I felt more urgently drawn to a pamphlet she wrote in response to intra-movement conflict: We Will Not Cancel Us. She referenced it in the interview with David Naimon and it stuck with me. I’ve often felt uncomfortable with the dynamics of what she terms a “feeding frenzy” in response to a reported harm within community. She uses these pages to inquire what’s going on in those instances; to express her “unthinkable thoughts.” I suppose what I was looking for and also found were the kinds of affirming messages about the complexity and value of living and struggling in community. brown writes,
“I want us to do better. I want to feel like we are responsible for each other’s transformation, not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.”adrienne maree brown, We Will Not Cancel Us, p. 74
Partly in parallel I was reading Akwaeke Emezi’s Dear Senthuran, A Black Spirit Memoir. Now, I cannot tell you what I was expecting but the immediacy of each letter left me shook, rattled and/or moved. There was one passage that I promised myself to hold onto because I need/have needed/will need it:
We never understand how vast we are. We may spend the rest of our lives finding out that we have no borders, no boundaries, pushing into greater sizes, being both terrified and delighted when we discover there’s nothing there to stop us.Akwaeke Emezi, Dear Senthuran, p. 149
I mean, what? and YES! I hesitate to say more but I felt seen while reading, collected, even. Emezi is a young, dynamic and eclectic artist whose insights on what it means to be alive, to be held on the earth in a particular body sang through me. There was a way that their analysis of self and the world laid bare some realities that I know as a middle aged person but had managed to avoid looking at. All in all, I felt strengthened by Dear Senthuran and need to get my own copy soon.
Imagine following that up with The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., previously known to me as Son of Baldwin on Twitter. In June Jones announced his departure from social media in an open letter, “To Fare Well.” I kept that tab open for days. The letter felt personal and instructional. I continue to refer back to it. My decision to read The Prophets had to do with me trying to catch up with the culture.
Described as a Black queer love story set in the slaveholding South of the 1800s, The Prophets won me over early on with the rich cast of characters. (“Rich” is really inadequate here, forgive me.) Each one was surprisingly real to me. The story, however, and it’s mutifaceted telling are what sent me. The book is so expertly constructed – every detail contributes to the whole in a meaningful way. It’s not light reading but it is extremely tender in many parts. You just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean but wow, the whole package is simply astounding in all that it contains.
Everybody Looking is a novel written in verse and it was my spontaneous YA choice for the summer. Fairly breezy reading about a young woman entering college and figuring out who she is and balancing that against who she believes she needs to be for various others: dad, mom, friends. Objects of Desire is a short story collection that I read in between other things. The stories worked like palate fresheners – crisp, tasty and fleeting. I should also add Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi here. It was such a fast read that I gobbled up in a couple of days. It’s also YA fiction and the prequel to PET which I adored.
On my Kindle, I worked my way through The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change by Michelle MiJung Kim which I now consider social justice essential reading, especially for the US context. Above all, I welcomed Kim’s focus on the importance of context, positionality and tolerating complexity. The messages are clear, her approach is transparent, and understanding of the challenges lucid. In response to the question: “What’s the point of even trying if we’re never going to be anticapitalist?” she writes,
But what if the answers reside within the trying? What if the tension is the point that breaks open the pathways – not to a simple, singular, and reductive solution but to multilayered, collective, and complex solutioning toward possibilities?Michelle MiJung Kim, The Wake Up, ch. 4
I also added Patriarchy Blues to my e-reader stack. Authored by Frederick Joseph, this book surprised me with it’s nearly mixed-media approach to looking at patriarchy. Joseph uses personal anecdotes, poetry and essays to illustrate all the ways that we are constrained not solely by patriarchy but all the other systems of oppression that intersect with it and/or rely on its support. There are some choice insights that again remind us of the multiple roads we can travel towards social justice.
Near the end of the summer I took the opportunity to reread Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford. I’m glad I did that because the second time around I got to think more about the writing and what it is that draws me to Ford’s voice. The openness, yes, and perhaps more than just openness, there’s a delicacy and care in the choices she makes in telling us about her family. I suppose I appreciated the struggle it took to get the book done; letting that part also surface felt meaningful for me. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Almost done… The last book I finished is the one I started early on and put aside. Recommended by a dear friend, I wanted to find its charm but it took a minute. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is like nothing I’d ever read before. A novel, but in oral history form. And it’s a debut by Dawnie Walton. At the end of the summer, once traveling was done and we were back to household lounging, I guess I was ready for this multiperspective story to claim some real estate in my brain. Once I got into the characters and the larger context I was absolutely fascinated by the complexity with such a careful, light touch. Nothing is overdone. Each voice maintains a radical authenticity that strikes me a remarkable achievement. Again, a wonderful revelation of what young authors are bringing into the world already.
Last book on my nightstand is a memoir I picked up at my local bookstore. While I have know the name Ai Wei Wei, I didn’t know much about his art or the source of his prominence. It’s interesting to read his telling of his parents’ histories and recognize the expanse of my own ignorance of Chinese history specifically and of Asian history more generally. I suspect I will be working on this read for a while. It’s very personal, real and for me, uniquely instructional. I’m looking forward to the ways this book will stretch me into new areas on interest and investigation.
This post turned out to be way longer than I anticipated. But that’s ok. It’s only words and time and a record of significant contributions. Once in a while it’s good to look back and remember where we got stuff: ideas, quotes, questions, insights. My reading life keeps me open and curious. That is actually a gift for the ages, friends. Truly.
for spending my adult years in school:
- People person, socially interactive
- professional autonomy
- Regularly scheduled restarts
- structural predictability
- Wide but manageable margin of unpredictability
- tangible appreciation
- recognizable progress
- dynamic relationships
- Huge range and variety of relationships
- library access (Wild!)
- Librarian friends
- Witness others’ growth
- physically active days
- music selection of choice
- experimentation belongs
- space and time for humor
- intellectual challenge
- emotional workout
- continued learning
- Possible to show and receive love
This will be the 27th school year at my institution and my 30th year of teaching. I know my why; it’s selfish and social at the same time. My why is multifaceted and contextual, elastic and generous. There’s no one word to capture the whole. No way to condense all the benefits down to a spunky slogan. I keep choosing school because school (and children and colleagues and families and all the energy wrapped in that) choose me. In school, I am, in fact, chosen.
Debbie Millman says that after years of offering her workshop on visual storytelling all over the world she has found that there are two main stories: of love or of loss/longing.
I have told myself and others that I am not much of a storyteller. That is both true and false. We are, as humans, all storytellers. I do not see myself as someone who relates stories well or with great relish.
A title I do claim, however, is listener. Listening is my wheelhouse and making sense of the stories people share feels like a calling.
So when a loved one I have not seen in several years takes the time to tell me parts of her story I never knew, I listen intently.
I learn about myself when I hear you tell me about yourself. My response to your story tells its own story. What you choose to share reveals another story about trust and intimacy. As I listen I become a part of your next stories.
I notice how age calls us to learn our stories by repeating them over and over. We tell the same story in different contexts to show that we know our own minds. We tell the same stories to confirm not only who we are but that we are. Often, the truth and the story do not need each other as much as we think they do.
Not every situation demands a retelling. That is a blessing.
If you listen, you may be surprised to hear which story your own voice is eager to tell.
To create a story from scratch, to build a world far from my own strikes me as by near impossible. I am grateful to the artists who manage it, who demonstrate what’s possible. I sit close and listen.
I began this post while I was still elsewhere but now I'm here, I'm back, I've returned. Re-turn, to turn again. Where I find myself without knowing exactly what I'm looking for. A moment passes and instantly we traffic in the past. What came before is neither news nor novelty, it's memory - unreliable and fuzzy, a liquid relic in a leaky container. A jumble of instances, experiences within and without, so much to remember and forget. Re-member, to piece together again. An instinct with difficulty, this process. I am back and I remember. I return and tell myself stories. I am here in the now and it is already past. I return and pave the way to forget.
Story requires permission, right? Along the way to becoming it is subject to decision-making. The storyteller makes the rules.
What I hope you’ll hear could not be farther from my control. I release a story to the wind and its landing will always be a form of mystery. Understand: a feature, not a bug.
Author of fragments, assembler of impressions, writer/unwriter.
I’m back, I’ve returned and the exquisite dilemma of expression teases me with its dance.
This is the view.
For a few summer days this place is my own backwooded insect rich heat resistant spot A peace a piece apart alone. Space for writing, reading, cooking, eating slowpaced, downshifted, nature sounding spot a gift a gem an absence a departure. License for imagination and doing nothing both who I am what I want what I see and don't a blessing a curse a bending a stance. I digress
I recently experienced two major professional successes and feel a need to unpack the what, how and why of both. The first was the elementary school field day that I organized after a two year hiatus and the second was a full faculty professional development event at an international school across town. Although I thought I would look at these events separately, it dawned on me that considering them in parallel could offer some useful insights that I might not otherwise catch.
For openers, I need to provide a bit of context for each event:
Field Day took place on the next to last day of our school year. It involved all elementary students who participated in 3 distinct multi-aged shifts (4th grade + PK/KG, 2nd + 5th grades, and 3rd +1st grades). Each large group was divided into 9 mixed level teams which then moved through 9 activity stations together in the space of about an hour.
The all-faculty professional development session was scheduled for an hour and 40 minutes and was designed to get participants thinking and talking about dominant culture in both broad and specific terms. There were over 160 folks on site and it was my second visit to the campus as a speaker.
How do I know the events were successful?
Participants told me!
At field day, it was the smiles, laughter and pure delight among students which provided the telltale signs that the plan was working. Additionally, several colleagues commented on the smooth organization. They marveled at the students’ relative independence and shared how much they enjoyed themselves!
At the PD session, it was the level of buzz during and after the session that wowed me. Several people thanked me individually and there are few words to describe the satisfaction of seeing colleagues so deeply engaged in conversation with each other around the given topic. It was marvelous and wildly affirming.
What contributed to the successes?
In both cases I had remarkable autonomy to build the event that I thought would yield the best results for participants. As my friend M pointed out, I was trusted to use my professional judgment to get the job done. I’m grateful for that insight because it was not at all on my radar. It means I felt empowered and supported already in my planning to correctly assess the needs and desires of my audience.
I applied my specific knowledge of my audience and catered to their anticipated goals. Since Field Day is set up for students between the ages of 4 and 11, it takes some real thought to select activities that will be both accessible and fun to play for all levels. My strategy for addressing this was to include a fair amount of choice at different stations, like building with hula hoops and/or stacking cups, shooting at a bigger or smaller soccer goal, swinging on the climbing rope from a higher or lower platform. Simple options that make a big difference.
Previous to the PD session I met with organizers to hear about their hopes and aims for the opportunity. Those conversations were clarifying and informative for all of us. I was able to reiterate my role as facilitator, not as a DEIJ consultant. I also understood that my session should help prepare the audience for a follow-up discussion of concerns specific to their community.
I planned both events with maximum participant activity in mind. Field day is clearly about kids being active and having fun with each other. Stations were familiar to students and the multi-aged groups allowed for peer teaching and support where necessary. So the teachers supervising the stations could mostly step back and let the kids get on with the game with very little intervention. For the adult PD, I built in two significant chunks of time where they were in dialogue with each other: a 15 min dyad on a walk and then a 6-8 member breakout session for about 25 minutes. My primary message to them: Their listening to each other would be more important and useful than time spent only listening to me. Their dialogue becomes the basis for what happens next and must therefore be prioritized.
What are some foundational beliefs that show up?
- I trust my participants to do their best.
- I am conscious of my role as facilitator – one who makes things easier, accessible, worth doing.
- I love the idea of handing over the keys to the experience to participants. The content is structure we build and/or enter.
- I plan for my own enjoyment.
- I design opportunities for participants to learn from and support each other.
- I apply time boundaries appropriate to the occasion and audience.
I’ve written before about the joys and challenges of facilitating groups. It is work that I continue to prize because of its potential to truly shift perspectives. It’s deeply creative and relational work that in many ways brings out my best qualities. In the role of facilitator I find that I am inherently affirming of the folks in my sphere, I’m able to show up for them in my most authentic form, even if I’m on the stage holding the mic.
That said, I am aware that I have no desire to make it my day job. I probably love it so much because it’s intermittent and highly contextual. It’s the opposite of a grind. There’s a relief in seeing how this work helps me remember who I am and to what ends.
This is a before post. In a few days I expect there will be an after post. I’ve organized a modified Field Day for our elementary students that will run tomorrow morning. It has been three years since we last had anything comparable. Most kids have no real memory of what “Field Day” actually looked like. Which means that this year is a bit like starting from scratch.
In the past we had a whole school event involving 18 multi-age teams moving through 16 activity and two rest stations in the space of about 2 hrs 15min. 5th graders served as leaders and would marshal their groups from station to station while playing along within the 6 minute intervals. It was usually a highlight that garnered a lot of praise from students and colleagues after the fact.
We’re still in a pandemic and although masking is now only selectively required in school (i.e., when there’s a case in a classroom group), taking at least some precautions makes sense. Instead of an all-school, everybody-moving-at-one-time event, I decided to scale the whole thing down to two grade levels (around 100 -120 kids) at a time for about an hour. Tomorrow morning we’ll run Field Day three different times between 8:30 and 12:00.
As a way of building back towards large multi-age groups, I tried to put different grade levels together who normally might not have much to do with each other. I also tried to get the whole groups balanced numerically in order to guarantee manageable group sizes. Having multi-age groups was a kind of non-negotiable for me. There’s something very special about putting children into groups and asking them to yes, have fun together, but to also take care of each other as they go. And the dynamics of multi-age groups changes the games entirely. Few of the games are particularly competitive. If so, the competition happens in pairs or trios and is remarkably short lived. The goal at each station is to play as long as there’s time. When you’re a 4th grader playing alongside a Kindergarten student, you’re going to show up differently than if you’re surrounded exclusively by your peers.
Planning activities that will appeal to and work for students between 4 and 11 years old takes some practice and thinking. Throughout the year our students have built up a repertoire of games of low organization that are familiar and easy to manage on their own. Field Day is like a greatest hits album of fun, easy to play activities. And even for kids who haven’t played these games often, there are plenty of kids who have and who can explain (often better and more efficiently than an adult). Although there will be teachers available at each station, I’ve asked my colleagues to hang back as much as possible and allow the kids to show how capable they are.
An event like this has lots of moving parts AND the kids are prepared. They know the activities. They’ve seen the layout of the gyms and understand how stations work. The vast majority of them are literate and can read signs, pictures, maps. We believe they can manage it and they absolutely will. I’ve asked my best organized administrator and someone from his team to be the timekeepers, to help us stick to our schedule. My classroom teacher colleagues are sufficiently informed and will get their kids to the event in time. Water fountains and toilets are in relatively close proximity to all the different sites. Kids should all be wearing name tags with the number of their starting station, so if anyone gets lost, based on the time we should be able to locate their group pretty quickly. Also, there are only 9 possibilities, and within that range, each classroom group can only be a part of 3 teams, so I’m not worried about kids getting lost.
I’m writing this now to remind myself that my colleague and I put a lot of thought and effort into crafting this event. I’m feeling confident that everything will go as well as it possibly can. Of course there will be glitches. That’s a given. But there will also be a lot of joy and marvel and care. That’s what I’ll be on the lookout for: the smiles, the hand-holding, the new friendships, the adoring looks, the wild fun, the screams of delight and surprise. I’ve been watching these kids all year and tomorrow they will shine again. I know it.
Organizational mourning is a thing, I've decided. It's a putting off of what you could do today, could have done yesterday, might have done weeks ago yet still the task goes undone, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Your organization, that is you, your personal capacity, or in this case, incapacity to do what ought to be done - all of that, is stalled. Your ability to plan and execute has run aground. You are organizationally stuck. In the mud that might as well be quicksand; you are making no progress. That much is evident. Your task immobility has roots, is rooted in an ill-defined sadness: a pervasive, persistent dread that renders you limp and distracted and distressed all at the same time. You are in mourning. You are grieving a loss you cannot easily name, a loss that makes you seek out the difference between lonely and lonesome only to find that in the American vernacular they are said to be the same. Loss that makes lonely, loss that makes lonesome - same, same. There you are, there you find yourself without really having to look, ah, submerged and silent in the throes of your organizational mourning. But wait, what about this? Perhaps what you mean is not organizational mourning but procedural grief: the prolonged reluctance to act in accordance with a known number and sequence of steps which stems from residual and cumulative sadness and/or potentially, despair. Procedural grief - a deep sense of loss preventing or blocking forward momentum created by taking concrete action. The habit becomes one of pressing onward, groping your way through eventualities while still managing to avert disaster with surprising regularity. The lights stay on, you continue going to work, time passes and you do not dissolve. You keep yourself and the tasks that dog you in a time-worn holding pattern; circling, circling, never landing. Calling it as you see it, calling it as you feel it, calling it out, calling it by its name, calling it heads, then tails. Called it. Whether in grief, in mourning, in sadness, in place, you make the call. Call forth, call back, call attention, call home. Do not despair, this fog will lift. You will proceed. You will accomplish and complete. Hold your pattern for now. Let your organization mourn, let your procedures acknowledge grief, accept the task and the disorientation it provokes, you shall not melt.