I’m not a tidy individual. I believe in allowing things to collect and form piles. 2020 held a lot; created more than its fair share of exhaust, debris, residue. There’s a lot of this particular year I will be relieved to leave behind me. And yet, here’s this list just the same. Stuff not only happened; I made some stuff happen. Opportunities opened up. I walked in and said yes. It seems important, perhaps more important than usual to lay claim to what I and you and everyone still managed to accomplish in 2020, despite 2020. Even if it’s simply a note to self.
Earlier this year I wrote about feeling confident, like a *&#$=/ Boss, in fact. I said, “ make sure you own some confidence somewhere. And feed it.” Making list is one way to feed that confidence for later days.
If I were looking for a title I might choose The Wrong Feelings. The wrong feelings, you know,
one of these feelings is not like the others…
Or can you see which feeling does not belong?
Child’s play essentially / so easy to spot because
of course THEY ARE THE WRONG FEELINGS
Anyone can see that!
The wrong feelings put tears in the soup, rage in the linen closet,
simple ass frustration under the underwear.
The wrong feelings love white bread and dark beer mixed with ginger ale
Will take vanilla ice cream also with ginger ale and a shot of rum well after 9pm
but just before 10.
The wrong feelings shun exercise and meditation, feel like
yeah, been there, done that, nah.
My very wrong feelings are so familiar like house slippers only
a few months old and already worn beneath the heel. The wrong feelings know how to create
their own groove, carving themselves deep into my hyperactive psyche
trying to get free on the cheap.
The wrong feelings got legs when all I want to do is sit down
They got time, they got patience
They wrong, not hurried.
The wrong feelings know my name, call me over
and over; they sing
girl, don’t you know we here ’cause we yours?
We not wrong. You can’t read and don’t wanna listen.
We are not what’s wrong here.
We just real.
Fear of sitting down
It’s never fully OK to report the extent or depth of my exhaustion. I have learned to lean in so close to the door frame that it’s impossible to tell who is holding whom or what. I hold myself over the flames that will also roast the chicken which will hold the flavor better if I keep it and myself covered and preserve the moisture of the flesh careful not to let it bake too long lest we become tough and unappetizing. The chicken and I are at risk of failing our potential. The parallels are so striking. Watch now. We are both done. Which of us is the burnt one?
is late and undernourished. lacking purpose, vision, art.
REally no reason such a stretch of words should bother to take up
Something I’ve perhaps forgotten about having a personal blog is that it can be fully what I want it to be. I can write what I want and need to write about. I don’t require an outside prompt or a random deadline. This is my space, for my thoughts, at any given time.
This has never been a blog to sell things. Yes, I published a book but that’s not my point. I’m not here so that I can sell you that book. At the same time, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a sense of audience. There are in fact a number of kind, generous folks who not only willingly but even gladly spend time with my words, and also tell me so. That’s a remarkable gift every time it happens. I will never outgrow the thrill of learning that my ideas meant something to someone else.
And yet this blog feels like it has become an addendum, a side bar to my other social/intellectual/educational activities. I now put out a monthly newsletter designed to inform and inspire. I still have a publication that holds an impressive archive of writing from educator authors I admire and hold dear. I tweet a lot. I’ve done more presentations in the last 3 months than over the last 2 years.
I wonder about this particular form of what has become pandemic productivity. In this particular year where I have spent so much more time at home, in front of a screen, in correspondence with my students and almost everybody else, I feel like a kind of productivity has arisen that has a lot to do with reassurance in the midst of uncertainty. We write to indicate that we’re still here, still in the world, still at it, still fighting the good fight. We write to let our people know but perhaps even more to let ourselves know – something still works, some things can still be managed, some things are still possible.
I was in a conversation recently where a person spoke of a tension in the shoulders and neck that eased up a few days after the US presidential election. It’s only when we exhale and feel the rush of air escape our mouths that it becomes apparent we were holding our breath the whole time.
I’ve missed writing about feelings more than ideas. It’s a relief to step away from a false need to assert and substantiate every little statement. I am not a study. My emotional dips and crests are not the topic of extensive research. And yet I am a whole person; complicated, thinking, acting, venturing.
Sometimes I ask: what good is writing? when the world keeps asking: which writing is good? My courage these days lies in responding: IDC and that’s not the point.
That is not the point, that is not the point, that is not the point.
I voted by mail
won in the end.
I know you're
and I wish
I could cheer too.
I'm still not over
we have left to repair.
I envisioned being much happier, jubilant even. But it has not worked yet. No, not yet. Instead, I am restless and more than a little baffled at my willful contrarianism. My gratitude to all the poll workers, door-to-door canvassers, phone and text bank volunteers, in-person voters who waited in line for hours to cast a ballot, mail carriers who did double duty to insure that ballots reached their destinations – all of this in the middle of a raging pandemic – my gratitude is huge. And while there is no adequate means to express that at scale from where I sit, it is a gratitude I will carry for a long time to come.
I salute the President- and Vice-President-elect, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They were enough to bring the challenge across the finish line. They will represent a welcome change from what we have endured these hard four years.
And yet, I’m still not over the damage we have left to repair.
In conversation with a dear friend who kindly validated my ambivalence and sense of displacement, she mentioned the word “mourning.” And it clicked. Somehow, somewhere, a part of me is mourning. A part of me is very afraid of getting distracted, of taking our collective foot off the gas, of forgetting all the sacrifices people have made and that systems have made of people to arrive at this point. I refuse to be one who will forget.
Because already we – POC, Biden supporters, Dems – are being asked to forgive, which in the American fantasy also means forget. No. I will neither forgive nor forget the unfathomable level of corruption, crime, deceit, fundamental disrespect enacted by this administration. In a New York Times op-ed, Dr. Tressie McMillan-Cottom lays out exactly what a Biden presidency must prioritize in order to effectively govern:
Restoring baseline trust in social institutions’ survivability, and not necessarily their fairness, is critical to the integrity of governance. A President Biden should pursue all available avenues of punishment. Only a transparent accounting of what exactly happened during the last four years would allow us to pivot to radical responsiveness.
“[A]ll available avenues of punishment” stands out for me here. Who wants to talk about punishment when we’re finally able to dance in the streets? Maybe no one wants to, but we have to. To speak of Punishment feels harsh in this feel good moment and yet, it must be a deliberate part of the plan going forward. And this is not about vengeance. It is about justice; about restoring the integrity of the rule of law.
I find this thread on forgiveness and repentance very helpful:
Surprising to me but true: the posts I wrote following the election in 2016 still burn. In some ways, all that fear, anger, and dismay accumulated over these four years were not suddenly washed away with a media broadcast. Corona will continue to claim lives at an alarming rate while universal health care remains a distant dream. Corporate interests will continue to rule the roost ahead of programs to benefit the greater good, I’m afraid.
I cannot shake my reservations about the change we envision versus the change we will get.
That said, as my friend reminded me: It’s what all the people did – by voting, by canvassing, by supporting one another – to make a Biden-Harris win a reality. That’s exciting, that’s empowering, that’s what we need to celebrate! And of course, she is right.
I’ll come around in time. You may not get a “Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead” vibe from me anytime soon, but know that I am glad that the outcome is this and not a different one; that there’s dancing in the streets rather than violence. I want to believe that we’ll get better, be better at taking care of each other and the planet. I do. I’m trying hard not to be a resentful curmudgeon. My inspiration may have to arrive from a different source. I long to feel your release and revival.
On being a Black woman educator/facilitator during an antiracism workshop boom
If I’m facilitating a group, my goal is for participants to do the work.
If my goal is to get people to interact in equitable ways, I need to provide structures that ensure the group’s success.
My facilitation tone is deliberately encouraging and invitational.
Listening as a central practice is ALWAYS on the agenda.
I see it as my duty to educate by introducing participants to potentially new voices – scholars, artists, new media.
This keeps my own practice fresh and my curiosity piqued.
When breakout groups are assigned I stay outside and welcome reflection after the fact.
I trust participants to do what they need to do.
That may or may not correspond with the given instructions and I still trust the people and the process.
It is not always a comfortable thing as facilitator to get out of learner’s way but I believe it’s necessary.
Every participant’s outcome is their own. I cannot predict or demand exactly what that outcome will be and what weight it will carry outside the learning space.
Every facilitation event presents a beautiful challenge: leading participants to see, appreciate and embrace whatever work emerges before them as a result of our time together.
I’ve been thinking almost non-stop about facilitation since March. In fact, since Mid-July I have led a 5-day online course, 5 virtual workshops, 1 live workshop, and given 1 keynote talk. My google drive is full of slide decks of varying lengths, reflecting a range of topical objectives. But it’s still me. I’m the same person fumbling with the screen share button, responding to questions in the chat, hanging out while participants delve into breakout room conversations. I still go to work every day walking my kids through the building, out to the field, then back up to the playground.
In my dream world of facilitation, I spend more time in the background than in the spotlight. In most cases I end up doing more talking than I intended and it’s usually in the service of providing adequate context for the steps I’m asking participants to take on their own. I also consider my own energy household – how much do I have to give? With that in mind, I remind myself that I am not the miracle worker, nor does anyone expect that of me. I am not alone in this effort. On the contrary, the participants are there to make their own miracles. I provide processes and touch points as vehicles to those ends. I do not have the answers and I’m deeply interested in responses. Every time I engage with a group these thoughts are on my mind.
As I have recently been called to facilitate specifically in and around the umbrella of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), my mantra has become: I am not the race whisperer. Grounds enough for a poem:
I Am Not The Race Whisperer
Didn’t know I’d be here.
holding forth, expounding on the state
we find ourselves in.
I am not the race whisperer I tell them.
I am not.
Not a diversity practitioner or equity consultant.
To facilitate – to make an action or process easier.
In some ways this feels, has long felt like my calling. The thing I am meant to do.
My teaching is a case study in active facilitation. I set the stage for practice. Offer a few instructions and a brief demonstration and the remaining time-space is for doing the thing. Over and over again.
Make it easier. I make it easier to try. To give it a go. Perhaps to keep at it for a bit.
I facilitate groups. Of adults. I set the stage for practice. Participant interactions with each other are usually at the core of my workshops. They should do more talking than me. Everyone should practice lots of listening. I create the conditions for fruitful conversation and exchange to take place. Then I get out of the way.
Getting out of the way is a habit. Especially when working with adults, it feels important to leave them space to engage each other without an audience. Their conversations are their own. When we come together as a whole group we typically reflect on the process, not the content. In some ways I want to stimulate an internal process for each individual. The conversations with others animate and stretch our own thinking.
I get out of the way and participants don’t owe me their enlightenment.
I will continue to wonder if and when I have taken myself too far out of the way. My faith is tested here and will continue to be.
I facilitate. I want to make it easier for each of us to try, to listen, to bear witness, to reflect, to take action. I practice getting out of the way.
Reading is so often about searching, whether we realize it or not. An excitement, a secret revealed, a worry, a fulfillment – we don’t always know what it is we’ll get, but when it comes, we know it and recognize it as ours. This is for me. We feel seen, realize we’re not the only ones. Sometimes it’s a comfort. But horror is also a possibility, I suppose.
To read is to be on the lookout. To have your eyes peeled. Reading lets us pretend that we’re ready. At least that. The truth of our inner state is not the point. Words on page after page that mysteriously hold us – in suspense, in awe, in shock. Reading is a magic trick we keep learning and relearning. The same trick that keeps changing and changing every time we perform it. I do it but I don’t always understand exactly how.
To write feels less like a trick, more like a bodily function, sometimes voluntary but not always.
I regret that this format is so boxy. My blog posts show you boxes of thought (paragraphs), neatly stacked which is a very poor and inaccurate semblance of what I would rather express. What I would rather show you today is the chaos of my thinking, the conundrum of too many threads which resist being woven alongside each other.
The platform itself wants to steer me towards greater boxiness with its “block editor” which I continue to reject as long as I can. I want less standardization, not more. And yet, I keep writing here, where whatever I type begins Black against white but once published, lands Black against cornflower blue – a design choice of questionable merit. The typeface is always Black like me, though.
I will now plunge this post into the chaos I intended.
Never have I felt a need for a king. But now that the greatest of fictions has left us, I mourn. Wakanda forever.
Identity has become my latest soapbox, the one folks ask me to speak from of late. I have mixed feelings about this.
Sometimes I feel a little guilty about how well our school reopening is going so far.
In a conversation about the link between acknowledging the multiple aspects of one’s own identity and seeing the need for anti-racist action, for a brief shining moment it felt like I had an answer that made sense.
I hope that folks do not make me out to be wiser than I am. I try to remind myself that I am more parts ignorance than knowledge. I keep reading. I listen.
Reading can be such a delightfully private affair, especially offline. No one is tracking my tastes, habits or timing while I read a bound book. I wonder how relevant this will be in the long run.
I am grateful for a lifestyle which affords an incredible access to the printed word in myriad formats. This is my parents’ most enduring legacy. They raised me a reader.
Here’s what I’m reading right now: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero, Überseezungen by Yoko Tawanda, and How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism by Cory Doctorow.
My thoughts are scattered, fragmented. I am used to this state. My young students call me back to attention in a heartbeat. I need them to keep me upright and on task. While I’m away from them I read and write with abandon. It’s a form of balance; the very nature of my both/and.
Weekends are for remembering. I forget so much as I go. I fall apart as the week goes on. I pull myself back together – re – member – in these few days of rest.*
Yesterday I had no words but lots of feelings. Today I have the morning and an almost clear conscience.
I wish I could make this post into an assortment of baskets for you to rummage through at your leisure. Instead, I and wordpress give you these boxes of thought. Packaged, contained, labeled.
Even our freedoms are full of constraints.
*The idea of re-membering was introduced to me by Gregg Levoy in his book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.
If you’ve read my blog or my tweets before, you’ll know that I use swear words only sparingly. That doesn’t mean I’m not thinking them or using them in more private contexts, I am simply cautious about when and where I write them out or share in other people’s posts for public consumption. But this morning, however, I had an experience that was swear-word worthy, in a good way.
I tweeted this as part of my thread of #delights:
July 17: Getting on my bike and riding with abandon. What's that called? It's CONFIDENCE and it is fricking #delightful, y'all. Feeling like a boss is a delight sometimes. pic.twitter.com/SPcYuGYZzK
In my late 30’s I lived with a bike messenger for 4 years and he taught me how to ride my bike like I belonged on the road. Once, I shadowed him for a half day and it was certainly one of the best forms of teaching I have ever experienced. We were riding assertively, intentionally with speed, drive and adequate caution. While getting shit done. I live that learning every time I jump on my bike now.
I was thinking of that this morning and how my well of confidence is largely rooted in my body – my body’s ability to perform. In my early thirties I had a phase as a competitive runner. I ran road races and on the track. The 800 ended up being my favorite but my 400 and half marathon best times are objectively the more impressive ones. As a competitor I learned to trust my preparation, to risk more than I thought possible and also to cope with the disappointment when it didn’t work out the way I wanted.* In those countless processes of trials and testing and proving, I enjoyed some great successes. My efforts were rewarded more than a few times. I won some races, picked up my fair share of trophies.
This makes a difference.
I know how to win.
I know how to kick ass
and enjoy doing it.
So now that I’m this older lady and spending time on very different pursuits, I note: the roots of my confidence extend deep into the soil of so many wins. Not only the physical ones, also the intellectual and academic successes along with some professional and personal highlights. It also means that I have learning templates that allow me to grow confidence.
This summer I’ve been doing more inline skating. I’ve got a nice routine that involves about 30 minutes of biking and 50-60 minutes of skating. I LOVE IT! Every time I repeat this exercise, I get a little better, a little stronger, more enduring, more confident! As a middle aged person I chalk this up as a big friggin’ win! It’s something I’m doing for ME! Because I WANT TO! And in those brief shining moments when I can feel the full effect of all that healthy growth and striving and satisfaction and reward – all of that coursing through me while I pedal or push off – well, you better believe I am gonna celebrate LIKE A BOSS!
So the next time someone wants to disparage you for thinking back to your glory days of whatever, know that they are missing the point. Glory Days remind us of who we really are, what we’re capable of and that we are here to do the thing! Check your confidence roots. How are you feeding and nourishing them? Are they housed in the right soil? Do you require a repotting, replanting, relocation or, in other words, a significant change?
Writing this post felt urgent, probably because that sense of badass confidence tends to be so fleeting.** I don’t usually wake up feeling like this but I do know it’s possible. I’ve learned how to increase the probability that it will show itself again. And again. Getting on my bike often works a charm. It’s a little lesson and extremely effective. Find your confidence roots, friends. Especially my friends who identify as women. Make sure you own some confidence somewhere. And feed it. I’m here to support that.
*On this vidcast with Rissa Sorenson-Unruh, I got to talk about the background to this understanding which I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Our general topic is self-care but the elements contributing to growing confidence run throughout our conversation.
**This is simply too true. I could barely get this out before I felt someone actively stealing my joy. (Perhaps not intentionally, but still.)